Part of the preparation for becoming fiscally fit is learning to recognize some of the most common enemies of the money management process. None of us are immune to their siren’s call, so it is imperative that we remain diligent and motivated, especially given the fact that the message we are getting from the culture around us is that these guys can be our friend. In this article, we will take a look at four of these giants.
“A man in debt is so far a slave.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Debt robs you of peace. This sinister monster has taken up residence in 80% of American households according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Not only has it become acceptable, but now it is seen by many to be a necessary part of living the American Dream. With the average consumer credit card balance now over $6,000 and growing every year, we are entering unprecedented territory as a nation.
If you were to analyze the statistics even more in-depth, what you would see is that debt is no longer confined to what some consider the necessities, such as owning a house or going to college. More and more the average household debt is going up because of the purchase of convenient items. We now use terms like “good debt” to describe areas of a personal finance budget in which being a borrowing is justified. What is typically the basis of this justification? Keeping us the Jones’.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Recent research from a large financial firm showed that only one in four Americans have a written financial plan. Those with a written plan were more prone to invest for the long-term and properly budget their money. They also reported much higher levels of satisfaction with their financial situation.
So, if research suggests that having a written plan correlates positively with higher satisfaction levels, why don’t more people have a written plan? The number one excuse given for lack of planning is that people don’t feel they have enough money or income to warrant a financial plan.
Ironically, it is often the very people who think they don’t earn or have enough money to justify having a plan that needs to plan the most. Maybe this feeling is fueled by shame over past financial mistakes or feelings of hopelessness, but it is simply NOT true.
If your household has an income, then having a written plan is not optional. It is a treasure map to financial freedom.
“Instant gratification is soon not enough”
Dopamine is a very influential neurotransmitter that gives us a “high” when we do aggressive things like take big risks, spend large sums of money, or consume alcohol. Don’t miss the connection here. Most people understand that it would not be wise to make major decisions while under the influence of alcohol because our decision-making capabilities can be significantly impaired; however, this same influential brain chemical is at work when you walk into a mall, onto the car lot, or browse e-commerce sites. It screams to get your attention, to narrow your perspective down to a singular moment of gratification, to improperly calculate the risk-return ratio. So, you give in to the impulse, feel that “high”, and justify why you deserve it. Later, you kick yourself for being so weak.
“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gains little by little will increase it.”
It is this enemy is similar to that of “instantaneous gratification”, and it is also responsible for the largest tax on poor people in our nation. While the average middle-class family in the US spends around 10% of their household income on things like social security, insurance, and retirement accounts, the average household in poverty here in the US spends nearly 10% on lottery tickets. How about the wealthy? According to author and researcher Tom Corley, 84% of rich people never bet on sports and 94% don’t play the lottery.
This mentality actually serves as a roadblock on the path to financial peace of mind, rather than a means to achieving it. It promises more than it gives with a false sense of hope, it triggers the dopamine response to give us a short-term “high”, and it can lead to a variety of behaviors and decisions that can quickly compromise personal integrity and character.