My teenage son Matthew had a bit of a tantrum last week — okay, actually it was a full-scale meltdown — after he found out that I wouldn’t let him ride his BMX bicycle until he got the brakes repaired.
It turns out his bike brakes broke (try saying that three times in a row) while he was doing some complex stunt called, if I remember correctly, a “toothpick hangover.”
Then again, maybe it was a “howyadoin’ grind,” which, as everybody knows, is a rail hop 180, to an icepick, to a half-cab 180 off. (Okay, you got me. Thank God for Wikipedia.)
Anyway, my son got angry because he didn’t have enough money to pay for the repairs — and that meant he couldn’t get around town to visit his friends.
I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t you stop being such a cheapskate, Len, and pay for your son’s brake job?
I’ll tell you why: It turns out that, the day before, Matthew decided to spend his last dollar on a new BB gun — even though he knew I wouldn’t let him ride his bike until it had new brakes.
So, of course, it was now all my fault that his mobility was suddenly severely curtailed.
I love it when people make excuses for why they are always too poor to pay their bills, or unable to afford certain things in life. It’s always everybody’s fault but their own.
Here are a few examples of the most common excuses:
The situation: Johnny finds himself buried under a mountain of credit card debt.
The scape goat: The credit card company.
The typical excuse: “Come on. How can anybody dig themselves out of debt with these high credit card interest rates?”
The more-than-likely reality: A lack of self-control that leads to too many impulsive purchases.
The solution: Make sure to always be aware of your income and outgo and, most importantly, spend less than you earn. There is a reason the latter suggestion is the first of my ten commandments of personal finance.
The situation: Guillermo has nothing saved for retirement.
The scape goat: The clock.
The typical excuse: “I’m living for today, baby! After all, I have plenty of time to save for my retirement.”
The more-than-likely reality: A lack of patience.
The solution: Aside from learning the art of patience, it is essential to let time work for you by taking advantage of the power of compound growth as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself playing catch-up in your later years. Remember, the only thing financially worse than being young and poor is being old and penniless.
The situation: Rangesh is constantly living from paycheck to paycheck and is barely able to make ends meet.
The scape goat: The boss.
The typical excuse: “My boss never gives me a raise. (Besides, I have one of those woefully underpaid jobs!)”
The more-than-likely reality: An unwillingness to put in the additional effort and time required to earn more money.
The solution: In the short term, figure out where your money is going by tracking your expenses. Then set up a budget. Try learning a new skill that is in high demand by employers, or take on a second job to give you the added financial cushion that will enable you to build an emergency fund and make retirement contributions.
The situation: Bjorg doesn’t have an emergency fund. (It’s Norwegian. Just go with it.)
The scape goat: The government.
The typical excuse: “That’s what unemployment benefits are for.”
The more-than-likely reality: Denial — and an unhealthy reliance on the government to provide for everything in the event of a personal financial setback like a job layoff.
The solution: Build up your cash reserves to cover at least three, but preferably six, months worth of expenses. Also understand that: 1) in the event of a layoff, unemployment benefits are probably not going to be enough to cover all your household expenses; and 2) there are plenty of other good reasons to have an emergency fund to draw on besides a job loss, including unexpected home or car repairs, and health issues.
The Moral of the Story
As the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Most of us don’t have incomes high enough to afford us everything we want in life. As a result, we must constantly prioritize and reprioritize what’s really important with respect to our personal finances.
Sure, we can complain all we want and make excuses until the cows come home, but there is no getting around the fact that our spending habits reveal our priorities in life. When we find ourselves in a tight spot financially, it is usually because we’ve misplaced our priorities. Not always, but more often than not.
The bottom line is this: excuses are a convenient tool for those who don’t want to admit they are to blame for their situation.
So the next time you find yourself in a bit of financial difficulty, resist the temptation to make an excuse and instead focus your attention inward. Until you muster the courage to take responsibility for your situation you will never gain the power to do something about it.
Photo Credit: 3/4 of zer0
(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on February 28, 2011.)