I realize that this post might get me in hot water with some, but I recently read another article about the dire money situation of Americans and how it’s not their fault. Being an American who for many years took little responsibility for my own money situation (along with my husband) and being one who is digging out of a dire financial situation, I know whereof I speak.
In this particular article, the author said that Americans’ financial woes are the result of “wage stagnation and numerous structural economic changes over the years.” While these factors definitely have an impact, the fact of the matter is that one’s money situation will not change until they work to prepare themselves financially for whatever outside factors hit their personal and global shores.
Because I Care
Before you get offended at what I have to say here, know that I speak from a place of love. This is not about condemnation if you’ve made a mess of your money. I can almost guarantee that the mess Rick and I made of our money is far worse than your mess. But my heart is for all people to have that “light bulb moment” and begin changing their situation. I struggled with money for nearly fifty years, from the time I was a child, living with impoverished parents who were never taught about budgeting and saving and then marrying a man who also had little clue about money management.
Money – or more accurately my lack of knowledge about it – had caused me pain and heartache for nearly five decades. And then I learned that I had a choice in how I managed my money and it changed everything. Friends, I cannot tell you what it is like to live a life of financial turmoil for so very long and then to learn and implement a different way. The peace level we have now is amazing, and we’re not even debt free yet!
It brings such a calm knowing we are paying down our debt each month and that we have money in savings. We don’t save a ton simply because we’re working on debt payoff right now, but it is amazing how quickly saving even a small percentage of your income adds up over time.
So as you read, if you are feeling convicted or hopeless over your financial situation, know that I speak in love and know that you CAN change your money situation. Yes, it will take some effort. Some discipline. Some sacrifice. But I speak from personal experience when I say the journey is worth it. We started our journey with a 65% DTI ratio. That means that sixty-five percent of our gross income was taken up by debt payments. If we can turn things around, you can too.
How Things Have Changed
There are several factors that have changed since the days of the Great Depression that are causing people to dig their own financial holes. Our mindsets have shifted, friends. Back in the days before the Great Depression there were a small group of people living it up 21st century style – it was called the Roaring Twenties.
Basically, this group of people had been doing well financially and were partying it up big time, sure that the wonderful economy would never end. They were making big bucks in the market, and it had become more commonplace than in previous decades to borrow money for homes and cars, so people could have better homes and cars than they would have thanks to monthly payments, and they took full advantage of that new and budding system.
Then the Great Depression hit and it all came crashing down for over a decade, until we got involved in WWII and the economy started to look up.
Recommended Reading: Stories From the Great Depression
The problem we have today is that we have a much larger percentage of people who are living on the edge financially. It has become completely normal to be awash in debt. For the first time ever, the average credit card debt for those carrying debt rose to over $16,000. My own age group, age 45-54, carries the most credit card debt by age. Nearly half of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to recent reports. In 2013 it was reported that nearly 76% of Americans were living paycheck-to-paycheck.
If you’re one of them, don’t fret. You can turn things around, if you are willing to reject the following money beliefs.
The 5 Most Destructive Money Beliefs
I Want it NOW!
We live in a society where it is normal to cave into our every whim. I can’t tell you how many financially struggling people I see with $150 tennis shoes and $600 cell phones. Many have convinced themselves that “we deserve” to have the best of the material world, even though that version of “the best” is strangling them financially.
I get it, friends. We were there. Stressed out. Overloaded with work and life, and then you look for some glimmer of joy. You get your new and shiny whatever it is even though you have to buy it on credit and then – if only for a moment – you feel normal again. You feel encouraged and excited about your new purchase.
Then the new and shiny wears off and you’re even more burdened by the financial weight of what was meant to be a reward for you.
We need to come to terms with the truth that financial security will make us happier than any toy or gadget – big or small. We need to learn discipline and delayed gratification and tame the 2-year-old inside of us. This is not easy. The world today is set up to convince us to get what we want without delay, but it’s a scam and a lie that will take away any chance of true, long-term happiness.
Now, I’m not saying that money brings happiness, but the lack of having to think about money, manage money or worry about money certainly does. The sooner we can make money not be the center of our lives – because it isn’t when you don’t have to worry about how you are going to pay the bills – the happier we will be.
It’s Okay as Long as I Can Make the Payments
Here’s another lie that we are told. But while the payments may be affordable, the interest is destroying your chances for financial security. At our highest debt load, we were paying nearly $1200 a month in interest on our debt. Holy crap. That is a house payment, folks!!! We were wasting over $14,000 a year by giving it as a free gift to banks and credit card companies!! Do your self a favor and add up the monthly interest payments you are paying on your debt.
Now imagine, just for a moment, what other fun things you could do with that money. And then, when you’re thoroughly PO’d at yourself and the system, make a plan to pay off that debt so you can enjoy your money for yourself. This is what you TRULY deserve.
Outside Help Will Come
When we were neck deep in debt, we never worried because “someday things will be better”. Rick would get bigger raises, we’d get a massive tax return or inheritance, we’d win the lottery or one of my business ideas would take off. Unfortunately, “someday” never came and we kept right on living paycheck-to-paycheck and struggling financially. And the funniest part, looking back, was that we couldn’t figure out why. We thought it was just a sad luck-of-the-draw situation. We didn’t make enough money, no matter how much we made.
I Have No Control
We thought for years that we had no control over our financial situation. We thought that if we just got a break things would be better, but they never were. The $3k tax returns didn’t help. Nor did the raises. Even when we did foolish things like pay off our credit card debt with 401k monies we weren’t any better off financially. We just ended up “having” to use the cards again and ran the debt right back up. And we couldn’t see how any of it was our fault because we justified our expenses by telling ourselves that we weren’t really spending that much so it was acceptable. This is one of the many money mindsets that keeps people broke.
There’s No Point
Eventually at some point we resolved ourselves to the “fact” that a life deep in debt was just the way it was going to be for us. We weren’t the Rockefellers and never would be. Why bother trying when things just weren’t going to ever get better. We believed that there was no point in trying because we had spent years trying (in our minds) and things never got any better.
The Money Truths That Will Help You Change Things Around
The problem was that we were only trying in our minds. We wanted things to be better, we truly did, but we had spent zero time educating ourselves on how to make things better. For some reason we equated “wanting” with “trying”.
It wasn’t until we began seeking the truths about the wealthy that we began learning concrete steps for improving our money situation.
Truth #1: My Money Situation is My Doing
I know. Tough pill to swallow. But even if you have had extenuating situations like health struggles or a job layoff that have caused major financial trouble in your life, you must keep in mind that you likely had several years or even decades prior to those struggles to avoid or pay off debt and build up a substantial savings account.
When I think back to our days of making big money and having a teeny mortgage payment, I realize we could have paid for our next house with cash had we managed our money well way back then.
The sooner you accept responsibility for your financial situation, the faster things will start to change.
Truth #2: Education Must be a Priority
Studies show that 88% of the wealth read non-fiction books every. single. day. They make education about reaching their goals a priority because they know it will accelerate how quickly they accomplish those goals. If you want to change your money situation around, you’ve got to make education about money a priority. Here are some books I recommend. These books have done wonders in changing my view about money, spending, and money management.
Money Love: A Guide to Changing the Way That You Think About Money
Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy
The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By
The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant: Twelve Keys to Successful Living
The Automatic Millionaire, Expanded and Updated: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich
Every book I’ve read on money management gives me tidbits of information that help my family and I to become more financially stable. Don’t “wish” for a better understanding of how to have more money – go out and learn how to get it!
Truth #3: Actions Must Follow Desire if You Truly Want Success
With any goal, you have to take action steps to get there. Changing your money situation is no different. I know that it can seem overwhelming and difficult to start taking steps toward wealth when you’ve spent so many years struggling for money. When that overwhelming feeling is keeping you from taking action, just make a commitment to do one small thing every day to make your money situation better. Here are some ideas of “small things” you can do to better your finances.
- Make a budget. Determine how much you need to spend to have what you need -and a little of what you want – each month.
- Start tracking spending. Make up a spreadsheet with separate categories and write down what you spend every day. This little task will give you insight into where your money is going so that you can redirect it toward things that are more important to you if need be.
- Make an extra payment on your smallest debt. Take an amount of cash that you know you can afford to spare, and use it to start paying down your smallest debt.
- Start tracking your debt balances and your net worth. This will give you motivation to keep moving forward with wealth growth.
- Start putting a designated percentage of each paycheck into a savings account, and vow not to touch the account. Pretend the money is gone, just as it would be if you paid a bill. The percentage amount doesn’t matter; what is important is that you learn to develop a habit of saving money and leaving it there, even if you start out with just one or two percent of each paycheck.
- Sell something you no longer use and put the money toward debt or savings.
- Read one blog post or small news article each day about improving your money.
- Do something to improve your self-care every day. The more you take care of yourself, the more you will find yourself understanding that you deserve financial security.
Here are some links to some other Frugal Farmer posts that can help you develop concrete steps for paying off your debt.
How and Why You Should Get Out of Debt
4 Ways to Jump Start Your Debt Payoff
Truth #4: The Wealthy Got Wealthy by Practicing Patience, Persistence and Diligence
If you really want to change your money situation you’ve got to get out of the instant gratification mindset. Start training yourself to practice doing so by not giving in to your every desire. Wait to pick up your phone until you’re out of the car and at home. Cut your Facebook time in half. Commit to regular exercise, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Choose an apple over a cookie for your snack.
These little steps will help you choose long-term success over short-term satisfaction. They will help you to deny those instant gratification desires and start thinking long term about your money and your life.
I hope and pray that if you want a better financial situation that these many words have given you some food for thought. I spent decades struggling for money, and even though the path to changing things around has been a lot of work, I wouldn’t change it for the world. We’ve found it’s been worth every effort we’ve had to make to retrain our minds and retrain our actions, and I think you will too. Commit to do something different with your money, starting today. Give yourself the gift of financial security.
What’s stopping you from changing your money situation around?
Preach Laurie! I hate the blame game. Yes life can be unfair and downright cruel, but everyone has their own version of cards to deal with. You (meaning everyone) drew your cards and you just have to play the hand smartly and with fierce determination. No one is coming to save you!
Thanks for the support! I hate writing blunt truths, but for the love of the people…….. I don’t want anyone else to spend years and years living in denial like we did when they can start changing things around right now and having a better life!!
Have you ever thought of freelancing? This is an amazing post! I, too fell victim to blaming the for profit college industry for all of my debt until I snapped back to reality. I didn’t want to admit that it was MY doing and MY choice to go to the expensive school and live on campus. My PO’d at myself moment came when I began to diligently track every penny we spent for a few months. One month, we spent $1150 on stuff. Unimportant, non-vital stuff. I cried. That may seem a little dramatic; but my husband and I have all of these big dreams that require a secure financial situation. We were just crapping on these dreams by being awful stewards of our money.
Thank you for this post. Although we are on our way to become debt-free, I am going to print this out and use it as reference when things get hard.
Thanks, Daisy! I’ve been freelancing for about four years now, actually. 🙂 I don’t advertise where but if you start looking for it you’ll see my name pop up occasionally. 🙂 “We were just crapping on these dreams by being awful stewards of our money.” WONDERFUL comment!!! Daisy, stand strong. You guys deserve the best – keep working toward it!!
Wonderful article and I for one not am not offended. Sometimes, I need to have it shoved in my face. My husband and I are in the same boat, being okay for years. Since last March, he hasn’t been able to work because of his fifth heart attack and quadruple bypass. Now I know, the first four heart attacks over 10 years should have given us warning, but he would get better, go back to work and things would be normal for a while. Now, with no disability (they denied his claim and we have appealed), we are trying to live on my paychecks (one full time job and one I took for weekend work). And still trying to learn my lesson…. I love reading your stuff, keeps me thinking.
Deb, I cannot tell you how very happy I am to hear that!!! As you know, it absolutely sucks living paycheck-to-paycheck. Rick and I spent nearly twenty years doing so, and we just can’t – and won’t – do it anymore. I want others to avoid the pain we had to go through and face up to spending problems now. I don’t want them to have to wait twenty years or more like we did. God bless you and your family, Deb. With an attitude like yours, I am certain you will make the necessary changes you need to make. Wishing you the very best of luck. Keep on trying and don’t give up – you can win with money!!!
I will keep trying as long as you keep posting inspiration! Have a great day.
Deal. 🙂 You got this, Deb!!
Great post Laurie! I think your voice is powerful because you speak from experience so it comes from a place of love and should not be offensive at all. While wage stagnation and other economic factors can certainly help wreck one’s finances, we can’t just play the victim. We have to take responsibility for our money situations since those other factors are out of our control. My co-workers have those destructive money belief and it’s frustrating because they just blame the others and continue living and spending like everything will be okay.
“We have to take responsibility for our money situations since those other factors our out of our control.” GREAT line, Andrew. Oh man, I can SO identify with your co-workers. We were there for years and years. So glad we’ve woken up. It’s a much better place to be.
Phenomenal post, Laurie! Every single word is so important. I love, love, love that you are using your story to help others. 🙂
“The sooner we can make money not be the center of our lives – because it isn’t when you don’t have to worry about how you are going to pay the bills – the happier we will be.” This is one of my (many) favorite statements in the article. When your always worried about how your going to pay the bills or what would happen if the car broke down, the roof leaked or you lost your job – the constant stress is a barrier to peace and happiness.. It is true, when you take control of your money, you actually think about it less, freeing up time and space (mentally and physically) for the most important things in life.
Yes!!! We don’t think about money half as much as we used to. Before, it was the center of our lives because it had to be. We were constantly working plans so we could get the bills paid. No more. Woohoo!!!
Great article! Poverty definitely does exist and there are always factors outside our control that will affect our finances. *Most* people can do something about their money situation, but it’s true that some people need outside help. But unless you take responsibility for your decisions, like prioritizing fun stuff over necessities, you’ll be in a money mess.
Exactly!! Personal responsibility has to be part of the package, even if you do need outside help.
Great points Laurie… I feel that many people are waking up – A new president has shaken people awake and now people are open and willing to change.
Financially? I don’t know. Debt is still increasing…
Thanks for sharing – Henry
Yes, it sure is. I just wrote about that a couple of weeks ago https://www.thefrugalfarmer.net/household-debt-rising-not-okay/ .
Preach it, Laurie! Yes, there are outside circumstances that can play a role in our financial situation but even then we still own our response. And most people, when it comes to money, want their cake and to eat it too. There are days that I still struggle with the comparison game, especially since these days I have to be ultra-frugal, which is not how I want to live and I’m working on increasing my income. It can be so easy to throw myself a pity party and to boo-hoo what others are doing, even mindfully and responsibly. But I have to own how I earn and use my money because that is on me 100%. Great post!
“I have to own how I earn and use my money.” LOVE that!!! That is a powerful statement, Tanya. And the first step toward true and lasting change!
I love everything about this post! I can’t help but roll my eyes when my peers are complaining about the crappy economy but they’ll also spend tons of money they don’t have on extravagant experiences/travel/etc. We have way more control than we think!
“We have way more control than we think!” Well said, Lisa!!!
This is an EXCELLENT post and your points needed to be said! If only we could get more people to read – and then understand and follow – the information you’ve detailed. Financial Fitness is largely a matter of ruthless prioritization… and many Americans have their priorities way out of whack!
Thanks so much, Brad! Always appreciate your input. “Ruthless prioritization” a great way to put it. Love that!
Thanks for such encouragement. You have really opened my eyes.my husband and I have lived life of debts.90% of our salary settles debts and services loan which was not well used. This has brought ideas to us.
Yay! Emilly, you CAN get out of debt and manage your money better. Please don’t give up. Head to our “learn more” tab and you’ll find ideas for how to start paying off your debt. Best of luck to you!!
Not offended in the least and could not agree more! I wish they would make it a requirement for all kids in high school to have a mandatory class on how to handle money. It could help prevent a whole lot of doing stupid with money later on in life…spoken from experience! As for your recommended reading list, I’m pleased to say I’ve read all but two of those books. Knowledge is power!
I wish that too, Lucy!! Yay for reading!! SO happy to hear you’ve made education a part of your financial plan – keep up the great work!
Sing it!!! Great post!
LOVE this! I made a ton of financial mistakes in my early 20s, and I had to work through each & every one of them. Luckily, I learned from them. Being in debt up to my ears and then subsequently paying it all off finally taught me the importance of proper money management($18K in credit card debt paid off in 8 months; $42K in student loans gone in 6 months after the CCs were paid).
When I finally kicked all that debt to the curb, I focused my efforts on building sustainable business ventures (rental properties, websites, blogs) that will provide for my future. I’m technically in the FIRE camp, but I don’t see myself slowing down anytime sooner. Perhaps it’s more of the semi-retired FI camp for me. 🙂
Willow, that is wonderful!! Huge congrats on your success!! You’ve learned first hand that taking responsibility works. 🙂
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