A shoddy workman blames his tools. We’re all familiar with some form of this proverb. Sometimes however, recognizing that we are the “workman” in certain recurring, undesirable life situations may not come naturally to us. For various reasons, a victim mentality permeates our thinking with respect to the bad situation in question. This attitude may not be pervasive in our thinking, but certain situations just cause us to throw up our hands and say that no matter what we try, nothing changes and give up easily.
I have a problem with my weight. I have had it for a few years now. Every so often I decide that I’m fed up of being overweight and start exercising and watching my diet. But somehow within a few days, there is an office party, a get together at a friend’s house or a real stressful day at work and all my resolutions to not give in to comfort food goes out the window. Next thing I know, the couple of pounds I lost through hard exercise are back with a vengeance and I feel sorry for myself, wonder what the point of all the work is and just go back to my old eating habits.
Below I highlight some of the financial situations that many of us commonly struggle with in a similar fashion to my struggle with my weight. Now I’m not saying that there are no external factors to blame. Of course there are, but that doesn’t mean the problem can’t be overcome in spite of them. Hopefully, you see the areas that you struggle with and this helps you focus on what you need to fix on your end, to finally overcome the problem despite external extenuating circumstances.
1. High credit card debt
Who we blame: The evil credit card companies.
What we complain: How is it possible to pay off the debt when the interest rates are so high?
Potential solutions: Take responsibility for your debt. If it means cutting out fun activities for a year or two, bite the bullet. Until expenditure is less than income, you are not going to be able to knock down the debt.
2. Not saving for retirement
What we blame: I’m too young to think of that right now.
What we complain: I’m only young once. Unless I enjoy life to the limit right now, I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.
Potential solution: As with all things there is a balance. You can enjoy life, but do that after setting aside some money for the golden years. Remember compound interest, according (supposedly) to Einstein is the strongest force in the universe, and it favors the young. So even if you set aside a meagre amount, time will help grow it into something of significance.
3. High mortgage on a McMansion.
Who we blame: Those Shylocks (lenders)
What we complain: The lender tricked me into getting a mortgage whose terms are ruining me in this economy.
- Call your lender and try to re-negotiate the terms of your agreement. A lot of lenders are still trying to keep foreclosures down and will be willing, within reason, to help you out.
- Get a roommate to help with the mortgage.
- Get a part time job to bring in more dough.
4. Living paycheck to paycheck
Who we blame: Our employer for measly raises and payscales, the economy and the government for not fixing it.
What we complain: I’m underpaid and no matter how hard I work and how well the company does I don’t get a good raise.
Potential solutions: Take charge of your career. Are there classes you can attend in the evening, which when completed allow you to go to a higher pay grade? Talk to your manager about taking more responsibility at work. That will lead to more recognition and higher pay. If none of these work, its time to look for another job.
5. Spending more than you earn.
Who we blame: Everyone else.
What we complain: There is just so much to buy for the people in my life or I work hard, therefore I deserve X even though its well out of my affordability scale.
Potential solutions: Take responsibility for your spending habits. If it means saying no to going out with friends frequently, so be it. If it means not getting the latest iPod, then that’s what you have to do. It will be hard at first but keep at it. he financial benefits you see will be your reward and motivation to go further.
6. Not bargain shopping or using coupons.
What we blame: Lack of time.
What we complain: The time is too valuable to be spent bargain shopping or looking for coupons.
Potential solution: The complaint above works only if you spent that time earning money. Using the extra few hours to throw angry birds at caged pigs is worth $0.
7. Not putting money in a 401k.
Who we blame: Confusing investment vehicles.
What we complain: I don’t know how to invest and with so many choices and companies offering so many options, I just don’t know what to do.
Potential solution: You are never too old to learn. There are a number of online tutorials and videos explaining the basics of the stock and bond markets. There are also a number of places where you can find example portfolios. Pick one and try the mock portfolio builders available from places like Google Finance or Yahoo Finance . This will allow you to get a feel for investments as well as teach you about you risk tolerance levels allowing you to then take on the real thing with more confidence.
Changing behaviour is never easy. When it involves areas of chronic trouble it is all the more hard. This time when I decided to lose the extra weight, I got rid of all the temptations around the house. When I have to attend an event with a lot of junk food I make sure I eat before I go there. Having sated my hunger, I am a lot less likely to succumb to the temptation of stuffing myself.
I might not succeed this time either but the important thing is that I keep getting back up that horse to try again. I might feel sorry for myself when I fail but I make sure the feeling doesn’t last more than a few days. It take effort and patience but the rewards are well worth the effort.