Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.
Heard this quote recently and I think it is so true.
Very seldom do we find ourselves in a difficult position financially overnight. Occasionally a disaster or major health issue might leave us nearly bankrupted, but these are rare exceptions. It is nearly always a series of small choices. Made day after day after day. Week after week. Month after month. We dig our holes with a spoon instead of a back hoe.
There is actually good news in that. If we find ourselves in a mess because of little choices we have made that were poor decisions, in the same way we can turn that around over time by changing those decisions. We are in control of those little decisions. We don’t have to wait for someone else to come along and fix things for us. Often we need go no further than the man in the mirror to find the real answer to our problems.
Much like a diet
It’s kind of like going on a diet. One day we wake up and find ourselves 50 lbs overweight. Stopped at McDonald’s last night and got a Happy Meal and woke up this morning weighing 50 lbs more. Who knew a cheeseburger and small fries could do that to me. Now we’d say that was ridiculous if someone tried to suggest one Happy Meal was the cause of all their weight issues. That’s just nonsense.
No, we find ourselves overweight because of a Happy Meal here and a Happy Meal there. Spending the night watching Seinfeld re-runs instead of going for a walk. Couple candy bars at the grocery checkout. The Ho Hos from the vending machine. Etc. Little by little. A few ounces of weight gained here. A few ounces gained there. And over a period of a few years one day we wake up and find we can’t see our shoes anymore when we look down.
So how do you fix that? Well it would be great if there was a magic pill that would make it all go away. (Want a fool-proof get rich quick scheme? Just invent that pill, and I guarantee you’ll be a billionaire.) But no, it doesn’t work that way. Weight comes off the same way that it goes on – a little at a time. You have to take fewer calories in than you burn each day. That means eating less. It means eating healthier. And it means exercising more. And slowly, over time, you’ll lose a pound here, a pound there. Just as the weight came on gradually, it will come off gradually.
A financial diet
Financial matters work the same way. If you are struggling because you have more going out each month than you have coming in, then you need to make different choices. Just as you eat less to lose weight you need to spend less to get things under control. Maybe like exercise increases the amount of calories we burn, we need to temporarily take an extra job or work some overtime to increase our income.
While the good news is we can improve our financial situation by making better choices, it’s also the bad news too. Because that means we need to change habits and behaviors and that is hard.
No quick fix
It is also hard because just as we didn’t get into a mess overnight, by the same token we don’t get out of our mess overnight either. Just as we’d love that magic pill that would make our excess weight disappear, we’d love to have one that made our debt disappear too.
Here is why a quick fix pill wouldn’t work even if such a thing existed. It’s our habits that land us in the mess. Without a change in habits we will soon find ourselves back in the same place we are today. This is why debt consolidation loans are such a dangerous idea. It makes it seem like we took a magic pill to eliminate our debt since we may have a smaller more manageable payment. But without changing habits we’ll find ourselves even further in debt in a few years because we continued to do the same things that got us in trouble in the first place.
Inch by inch
So if you find yourself in a place where you continually have too much month left at the end of your money, what do you do?
You have to find ways to consume less. Cut your lifestyle back. Cut up those credit cards so you aren’t tempted to dig your hole deeper still. Create a budget. You might need to find some part-time work to increase your income for a while until you can fill that hole back up.
I wish there was an easier answer but the reality is that we simply don’t have the option of spending more than we make on a continual basis. If we do we’ll find ourselves looking up out of a hole that we dug one little decision at a time.