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The Dangers of Short-Sighted Vision

Submitted by on January 27, 2014 – 12:46 am 79 Comments
You CAN do this!

You CAN do this!

After I wrote my recent post titled “Can You ‘Bootstrap’ Your Way Out of Poverty?”, someone asked me a very valid question, and that question was,

“Given your situation growing up, how did you end up in such a financial mess as an adult?”

The answer, quite honestly, is that I had, for years, short-sighted vision.  After going through what I went through as a child, a seed was planted within me.  My work ethic, which was good before, was now great.  I got my first job at 14, painting the interior of rental properties with my mom.  From there, I continued to work.  Fast food, slow food, retail, whatever work I could find as long as I was working and, more importantly, making money.

You see, I had made up my mind that I was NOT going to be poor as an adult like I was as a child.  That is a great goal.  And I knew I needed to earn money to reach that goal.  That, however, is where my wisdom at the time ended.

I worked, I made decent money – even as a teen.  I then had the ability to buy clothes and whatever else I needed or wanted.  And buy I did.  The moment I got my paycheck, it was gone, as I perused the stores and bought whatever my little heart desired.  I soon, instead of thrift store clothes, had an awesome wardrobe that people envied.  As I entered adulthood, the trend continued.  I had a nice car, a decent apartment, and I was one of the first in my group to have a cell phone.  I was cool.  Super cool.  After Rick and I got married, I became even “cooler”.  We bought a nice townhouse and upgraded five years later to a mini-mansion.  We bought a brand-spankin’ new minivan and a brand new pickup a year later.  Oh yeah – we had it goin’ on!  Our kids took part in all of the activities that proper suburbia kids should take part in: dance, swimming, etc., etc.  Debt would come and go, but we never had money in savings for more than five minutes.

You see, I had short-sighted vision.  I wasn’t thinking of the broader perspective, the bigger picture.  I thought that wealth meant nice stuff, and we had plenty of that.  Even with our income fluctuations and tried-and-failed businesses we still managed to pay the bills on time.

Then Rick got laid off in February of 2010.  Still no wake up call for us, though.  He took a job at a great company seven months later, at 80% of what he had been making at his old job.  No problem, we thought, we’ll just charge the difference on our credit cards until he moves up in the company.  We didn’t actually think this, but that’s what we did.  Three years later we were in a massive amount of credit card debt.  Oh, crap.  Now what?

It was then that our epiphany came.  I started to browse the Web with search terms like “How to get out of debt” and “How to get rich”.  I started to see blogs – personal finance blogs – of people who were much younger than us yet kicking it financially.  I started to learn terms like instant gratification and early retirement.  I had, up until this point, read the Dave Ramsey book, The Total Money Makeover, several times but it wasn’t kicking in.  There was something about reading “live” ongoing stories of people who were like us who had broken the cycle and gotten free of debt, though, that instilled in us that “a-ha moment”.  We were starting to get it!  Whereas before we thought that financial freedom was unobtainable, something only “lucky people” got, we were now learning that we had a choice.

I started to view budgets differently.  Instead of a punishment, I came to understand that a budget is a blessing – that we deserved financial freedom, and that the accumulation of “stuff” wasn’t going to get us there.   Today, we are just a tiny bit into our journey to debt free, but we are on our way.

Today, we are no longer “cool”.  Most of our old suburbia friends have dumped us by the wayside, shaking their heads at the simple way of life we’ve chosen.  I’m sure they’re reveling in glory as they jet off to Mexico and dine at fine restaurants, peeing away all of their hard-earned cash.  Don’t misunderstand – I’m not against those things, per se.  What I am against is people’s choices being limited because they have bad debt and anorexic savings.  I am against working at a j-o-b (just over broke) because you have to, not because you want to.  I am against mindsets that convince people that early retirement and a financially peaceful and prosperous life are out of reach for them.  I am against these things because the truth is that if you want it bad enough, you can have it.  You’ve just got to get creative and be prepared to work for it.  You’ve also got to be prepared to give up your short-sighted vision for your long-term happiness.  Are you ready?  Let’s do this.  

79 Comments »

  • “I am against these things because the truth is that if you want it bad enough, you can have it. You’ve just got to get creative and be prepared to work for it.” I LOVE this Laurie, because it’s so true! We’re told by society that “things” will bring us happiness and to take the easy way out to attain what we need. It’s those that see what they really want and put in the hard work that are able to get where they want. I’d much rather not be “cool”, but be where we want to be financially. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Amen to that, John! We’ve been “cool” and it’s stressful and short-term in terms of happiness. “Weird” is a much better way to go. 🙂

  • I’ve asked myself that very same question…my parents taught me all the right things with regard to handling money. When I headed out on my own after college I just disregarded everything they taught me. It’s completely baffling to me…looking back I can’t help but wonder how things would be different if I had just headed my parents advice. Kids, listen to your parents!!!!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I think we all come to face the truth that our parents were right sooner or later. 🙂 Now we just have to wait for our kids to grasp that truth!

  • I hear ya, Laurie! Your story sounds a lot like ours back in the day. We made plenty of money but we never saved any of it or looked ahead past the next month or year. I’m glad that we all changed our ways =)

  • I’m ready! I was short sighted for many year too! Glad I’m looking at the bigger picture now. My family and I are about 10 months from being debt free and it feels really, really good!

    • Laurie says:

      SO excited for you guys, Brian! We aren’t there quite yet, but we are starting to enjoy the peace of being in control of our finances, and it feels awesome!

  • This is kind of hard to hear: “Most of our old suburbia friends have dumped us by the wayside, shaking their heads at the simple way of life we’ve chosen.” I like to think people, myself included, do not judge others based on their situation or decisions in life,especially when it comes to personal finances. In reality I think more people than are willing to admit DO actually pick and choose friends who are very like-minded.

    • Laurie says:

      I think you’re right on there, DC. As is human nature, it’s hard for us to identify with those different than us. It feels awkward. Hence the kindred spirit of us PF bloggers/blog readers. Most everyone else thinks we’re freaks. 🙂

  • Yeah! I’m pumped up now, Laurie.

    I can see how the recession could really magnify any less-than-optimal financial habits. And I personally know how credit card debt can grow quickly if you let it. Sorry your friends reacted the way that they did, but good friendships have broken up over less, I suppose.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny. 🙂 The friendship thing really doesn’t bother us. We know now who our real, solid-core friends are, and we’ve got an awesome group of them. The friends that went by the wayside were the superficial friendships, so we’re saving a ton of time in that respect. 🙂

  • Brit says:

    I was the same way. I didn’t want to be poor like we were when we were growing up!So I worked hard, made money, and sadly spent my money. 🙁 I wasn’t going hungry, my bills were getting paid, and my debt was growing, and I didn’t have an emergency fund 🙁
    But now that I’m “not cool” I’m happy and less stress. I tell you less is more. Great post Laurie.

  • Glad that you had that epiphany! And even better that both you and Rick were on board to make the drastic changes in your lives. I can understand the earlier mindset though…some of my friends who didn’t grow up in the best financial circumstances decided to make up for it by buying and spending once they had the money. Unfortunately, many haven’t had that epiphany yet.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, Rick and I being on the same page definitely helps. Sad to hear some of your friends still don’t “get it” – we have many friends in the same boat too. If only they could experience the peace that comes with financial stability! Thanks, Andrew. 🙂

  • Laurie – I was exactly the same way. We didn’t have much growing up, so I worked hard from 14. I ALWAYS made money. The problem was, I didn’t think about what I would do if I did not WANT to make money any more. I was trapped in a career I didn’t like so I could pay our bills. We definitely do not have the friends that we had before, but I feel like we have “smarter” friends who are focused on long term financial health like us.

    • Laurie says:

      “I didn’t think about what I would do if I did not want to make money anymore”. GREAT statement, Shannon! We have smarter friends too now, Shannon, and it’s so much more fun that way. No more being pressured to have things and do things we can’t afford. Instead, our friends love doing entertainment the frugal way. 🙂

  • I’ve been finding these past few months how easy it is to get stuck in the ‘Jonses trap’ as I like to call it. Being able to eat out, buy new clothes and take vacations is only a quick car ride or mouse click away. It takes real dedication to break away from it and go the other way, and it’s one of the reasons that I love everything about your blog. You and your family have really taken it to the next level!

    • Laurie says:

      You’re right, Amanda, it does take real dedication!! Thanks so much for the kind words too. You know, it’s funny: I thought after our first year that we’d gladly ease up on the budget a bit, but now we’re even more gung ho about kicking our debt to the curb. 🙂

  • So true. I fell into this trap as well when I first started working. It’s one thing to make money and get out of poverty but if you don’t learn how to manage that money well then you could end up right back there.

  • It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. You’re going to be fine!

  • The importance of having a long term outlook and a bigger perspective on financials is something I’ve come to realize lately. I’ve been lucky to have never acquired debt (excluding mortgage and my husband’s student loan when we first married), but I was short-sighted and focused on the now and wants. Now I’m learning to focus on my legacy goals and how to be a good steward of my hard earned money. It’s changing the way I spend and save and given me more defined long-term goals.

    Okay, sticking to a budget might not always be fun and cool, but the new “cool” is definitely to be financially free! You’re on your way.

    • Laurie says:

      Good for you guys for not accumulating debt – that is a HUGE key to success, Emily! Yeah, we are lovin’ the new cool. Super fun. 🙂

  • Ah, this is exactly the motivational article that I needed since I was in a pretty bad mood regarding… everything. I do believe that most of us are not lucky enough to be able to have what they want without having to work hard to get there. You have to work hard, you have to try, and you will do it eventually. Thank you for this article!

    • Laurie says:

      So glad it was encouraging, C!! Finally I can give you some reciprocity for all of the encouragement you give me through your blog. 🙂 I was in a crummy mood last week, so I know exactly how you feel – it’s tough sometimes, isn’t it? Here’s to a better week. 🙂

  • E.M. says:

    I think it’s understandable that you were overwhelmed with the possibilities after you were making money for yourself. You could buy all the things you never had before. I fell into that trap for a bit when I had my first job. I purchased an Xbox for my dad as a Christmas present because I could afford it, and my parents couldn’t. I spent on clothes and makeup here and there, enough to where it added up.

    Then I met my ex, who was living paycheck to paycheck, just like my parents. For some reason watching him struggle and stress out solidified my resolve to not end up like that. My parents weren’t 100% open about their debt situation, so I guess when I saw it unfiltered it was a bigger deal. At least we know better now!

    • Laurie says:

      That’s awesome, E.M., that you were able to have that lesson to watch and learn from. We see those same types of paycheck to paycheck lifestyles all over our families, and it’s painful to watch. I just want all of our family to experience the freedom of being in control of your money – it’s wonderful!

  • Jim says:

    Laurie, you’re ‘cool’ in my book! It’s hard to learn this stuff, cause it is not the way we are programmed as a society. We are programmed to keep the pump primed, keep spending cause its what makes the economy go. So, keep being ‘cool’ and teaching others how to do so!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yes, I am. 🙂 Seriously, though, you’re right – we need to keep spreading the word so that our “weird” becomes the new normal, right?

  • anna says:

    I can relate *so much* to this post, especially with having a good work ethic, but then spending the earnings as fast as I made it as a teen/ early 20’s adult. I can relate, too, to the ‘a-ha’ feeling of reading blogs and seeing there’s a whole other set of people who don’t live with debt – it’s very enlightening, especially with the connections you’re able to make with actual people versus the people you just read about. Really great post, Laurie!!

    • Laurie says:

      Isn’t it, Anna? I really felt like I’d walked into another dimension when I found the PF blogging world. Wealth used to be this elusive thing that was only “granted” to certain “lucky” individuals, then I find this new PF world and find out that we all can take the road to financial freedom. WOW!

  • LOVE, LOVE this post, Laurie! We tend to have a very skewed view on wealth in this country (well, other places too!). We think it means having and being able to do things, which to an extent is true. But true wealth is about CHOICES. To be able to choose how to use your money WITHOUT creating debt. To live on your terms. Your story is so relatable. One that many people find themselves in. I’m glad that you and Rick are on a better path now and have a long-term vision of what you want your lives to be. And, my friend, that’s what really makes you cool!

    • Laurie says:

      SO true, Shannon!!!! Choices is right! I can’t wait until Rick has the choice to stay at his job or go find another, instead of being stuck there because of the salary he makes. I can’t wait till we can buy what we want because our savings is fat and sassy and we have no debt. This is what we traded our YOLO lifestyle for, and I’m SO glad we did. 🙂

  • “I am against working at a j-o-b (just over broke) because you have to, not because you want to.” That was absolutely the catalyst to make sure I got my financial act together. I hate feeling like I’m owned by some company I’m unhappy at just because I can’t afford to up and leave. It’s terrible.

    And congrats on overcoming your short-sightedness. Not many people can say they’ve achieved that!

    • Laurie says:

      Mel, I SO agree about the j-o-b. It’s perfectly fine if you like it and you’re happy, but not so much if you want to leave and you can’t. This is what we’re working toward for Rick. He’s lucky that he likes his job now, but if the day comes that he doesn’t, we don’t want to be bound there for financial reasons.

  • Why do our epiphanies have to come so darn late?!? I speak for myself of course here too! Why does so much damage have to be done before we really start to take action? I’m not sure I’ll never know the answer to that question. The good point is that you did reach that point and started to take action. I agree about reading live blogs as people move through their own financial journey. It’s something that the expert books out there don’t hold a candle to. Great post as always Laurie!

    • Laurie says:

      Tell me! Yeah, even though many of the experts have been through their own financial messes, there’s something different about learning from the average joe, (well, and THE Average Joe too! 🙂 ), isn’t there? Happy day to you, Tonya!

  • Wow. Our stories/past is so similar Laurie! I feel like you are writing my past and learning lessons, minus the kids, Rick and the farm. 😛 I am no longer cool either but in the personal finance world I feel pretty darn cool. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, glad that my younger self has her crap together earlier than my real, older self, LOL. 🙂 Yeah, it’s really fun being in our not cool group, isn’t it?

  • Liz says:

    You are so right about short-sighted vision. I think hubby and I do think about our future plans but maybe not as concrete as we should. I know we need to be contributing more to our retirement for example, but sometimes it’s easy to let that go since its at least another 34 years away for us. I do try to remember though, that someday we will really appreciate the small sacrifice we make now.

    • Laurie says:

      Liz, SO true – you really will appreciate the small sacrifices now. Rick and I are having to make BIG sacrifices to make up for lost time to get to where we would have been had we been thinking long-term from the beginning. We’ll still get there, thankfully, but it’d have been nice to be there already. 🙂

  • Let’s do it! I’m glad that this early in my life I was able to read different finance blogs and books that taught me what is important in life, that not every rich people are rich and how important it is to be financially independent. That’s been my goal ever since, and I’m prepared to do anything just to achieve it. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      I’m glad for you, Mark! Your wisdom at such an early age is going to open up a world of freedom for you – a place where money doesn’t have to be first in your life, people can, because you’re not stressed or worried about being able to pay the bills.

  • A short-sighted vision is what got me in trouble. I wasn’t thinking how my overzealous spending habits were going to affect me long-term. All I cared about was making myself feel good in the moment. Glad I got that issue fixed…don’t know where I’d be today if I hadn’t.

  • jefferson says:

    Great post, Laurie. The road to financial stability is not easy. It will be challenging. And it will ABSOLUTELY take a long term vision.

    I think that in today’s society many people are absolutely plagued by short-sighted vision in EVERYTHING. They expect a circus of entertainment every second of their lives and are not willing to go through a little bit of adversity to achieve their dreams.

    It sounds like you, however, have the right mindset!

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Jefferson! LOVE the way you put that. As far as the mindset, yeah, we’ve got the right one now. Better late, as they say. 🙂

  • Great stuff as always, Laurie! Love your point about not being against spending, necessarily, or a certain lifestyle.. but definitely being against the mindset that says “you can’t do more with your money than blow it.” Early retirement and financial independence ARE within reach for so very many of us, but people fail to see it because they don’t fully understand how money can really work for them!

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Kali!!! They can’t imagine what putting 10% into savings each payday will add up to, but they can see the shiny new “whatever” at the store, so that’s what they go with. Sad stuff. As we learned first hand, it can really wreak havoc on your life.

  • I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the richest towns in the USA. I can’t tell you how many eye rolls I get for my frugal choices.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, yes, I can imagine that you are quite the oddball in that situation. But I wonder how many of them have a healthy savings account and no debt?

  • Matt Becker says:

    It’s funny. My wife and I were just talking about this the other day because we have friends who tell us how “unstable” we are because we don’t own a home. Meanwhile, they’re about to move for the 4th time in 3 years (3 of which were homes they bought), they’ve had 5 different cars in that time, but they feel stable because they’ve owned a home I guess. But what would happen if they lost their jobs? They would be screwed. Meanwhile, we could weather just about anything because of the savings we’ve built up. I don’t say that to brag, though I am proud of it, but it’s just sad what people view as “stable” or right or whatever their term is. I’m glad you guys have been able to find what works for you.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, that makes me just cringe, Matt!! The smart thing about renting is that you owe no one anything. You can up and move anywhere you want, any time you want because of your lack of debt and your savings. Why doesn’t the rest of the world get that this is real stability?

  • Great post Laurie! Thank you for sharing this. I too have been so shortsighted with my finances. I followed a similar path to you in that as soon as I got my paycheck (which I worked hard for), I spent it on ‘stuff’.

    Even if your suburbia friends no longer think you’re cool Laurie, I think you rock!

  • I can relate, Laurie! While I was good about not spending more than I could afford, I always spent my paycheck and lots of times on stupid things, just because I could. Some days I would even feel anxious if I couldn’t find something to spend money on. These days I’m a lot better, partly because my paychecks are smaller so I need to be more mindful but also because I’m no longer that person. I like having nice things but I don’t want to ever be a mindless spender again. I had the same short-term vision. I had a 401k but otherwise it was about living in the now. Now I want to have both. A good today and tomorrow!

  • Great read Laurie! My parents weren’t the best examples when it came to finance, so when my wife and I found ourselves in the same situation they had been in time and time again, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. And I totally agree about reading examples of real-life people doing it everyday, and breaking free of the debt cycle. It makes it that much more real, and you begin to think “I can do this!” I’m glad we did, and I bet you are too. Even though some of our friends have done the same, and stopped calling because they know we think fancy dinners every weekend or $100 bar tabs are just a waste of money (to us, at least). Keep rockin it!

  • I was sorry to hear that your old suburbia friends have turned away from you, but I’m not surprised. Most people don’t understand this type of lifestyle. I don’t talk about it at work, I just try to “blend in”. People would look at me like I had two heads if I said I wanted to “retire early”. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Kay! It’s amazing how short-sighted most people are in their vision. It’s just a matter of asking yourself a simple question: do you want to be in the same tight financial spot 5 years from now that you are today? For us, and for you, the answer is a resounding “NO!” 🙂

  • Pauline says:

    I am not surprised your friends dumped you. But I am sure you found more meaningful relationships with people who share your values.

    • Laurie says:

      We sure have, Pauline! The journey so far has been well worth everything we’ve been through to get there. 🙂

      • Ajaveen says:

        Laurie I have also notice since I have become more fiscally conservative with money I get teased from time to time from my beau. I did a 360 degrees since I met him in 2007.I went from being a spendthrift to saving 20% of my income.

        • Laurie says:

          LOL, isn’t that funny? Same here. I was always spending, now I have to tell my frugal husband when to slow down on the spending. 🙂

  • It is soooo easy to believe you deserve all the things that society values as wealth. Doesn’t matter if you can afford them or not. Credit makes instant gratification easy, and everyone does it, so it’s acceptable. I also could have never started believing in financial independence without finding so many real people online who have achieved it. I can only hope someone might see how dumb we were and realize past does not predict your future.

    • Laurie says:

      What a great comment, Kim!! It’s funny how we all just settle for status quo simply because everyone does, isn’t it? I for one am looking forward to never “settling” again. If we can control the guy in the mirror, as Dave Ramsey says”, we can see great things!

  • “I am against working at a j-o-b (just over broke)” So true and so interesting. I’ve never heard the “just over broke” thing but I definitely agree with the sentiment. 5 years from now I don’t want to be working just a job. I want to be working doing something I’m passionate about.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, KK!! This is what I want for Rick, too, and what I have found in freelance writing and side hustling. It’s so much more gratifying to work at something you truly care about, which is, I think for many people, a large part of the reason for wanting financial independence!

  • Short-sightedness sucks! I’m glad I figured that out now, instead of continuing to live a life I couldn’t afford. People think I’m nuts for living in an unfurnished studio apartment and not buying stupid stuff, but those people are broke.

    • Laurie says:

      I’m glad you figured that out now too, Erin!! LOVE what you said about the people thinking you’re stupid being broke. That is absolutely what you, I and all of the others reaching toward financial independence have to keep in mind.

  • Isn’t it funny? We truly are the product of what we surround ourselves with. When you surround yourself with long-term, driven thoughts you’re likely to begin to have those yourself. Great stuff.

  • Ajaveen says:

    Great article Laurie. I am going to print this:

    They have bad debt and anorexic savings.

    So when I am tempted to spend money I do not have I can remember this saying. I have paid off 8 consumer credit cards in 4 months, have not used a payday advance in 8 months and have my first $1,000.00 in emergency savings. Your website is a good resource.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Ajaveen – you’re doing great! Come back anytime for more articles and tips on paying off debt. We’ve got lots of them. 🙂

  • Laurie, I loved this post! I know the feeling, it feels great to understand where you stand and headed to in your financial life. I don’t want to be cool anymore either.. well, maybe a little cool, you know. 😉 It’ll be nice to buy something special every now and then. But if I ever buy anything “cool” again, I’ll make sure it’s budgeted and paid for in cash!

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