Moore for your Money
BYRON MOORE, CFP®
Question: My husband and I set a goal this year of getting out of debt. Everything except the house. We’ve made some progress, but we are both finding it harder than we thought to slow down our spending. Frankly we both blow it under stress or when we’re not careful. Should we just bag it and try again when life is less stressful?
Answer: “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Winston Churchill’s advice still applies. Now is definitely not the time to stop. Now is the time to get back up, dust yourself and off and redouble your efforts.
“Pamela” and “Stan” are typical of people I’ve talked to about getting control over their spending habits and getting out of uncontrolled debt. Like most, they show up in crisis with stories of bounced checks, wrecked credit scores, overdraft fees and assurances that if I can help them I can have naming rights over their next child.
We worked with them to balance their checking accounts, stop the overdraft fees, begin a coherent plan to pay down their debts and sooner than either would have thought possible, to begin to save money. That was the plan and it worked perfectly on paper in my office.
Real life was another matter.
Once they began trying to live by the plan, it became apparent that spontaneously spending money was both a weapon with which they exerted power over one other and an analgesic to mask the pain of life.
In fact, they failed. Several times.
But they never gave up.
By their own request, we had them on a pretty short leash. They came in regularly to report on their spending for that week or month, sometimes triumphant, other times having to confess their sins to Father Finance.
What they discovered is that their money problems had very little to do with credit scores, credit cards, interest rates or bank accounts. Those things were simply where their problems were showing up.
Their real problems involved self-control, selfishness, shortsightedness and poor habits of discipline, to name a few. In other words, they discovered they are human. They had a lifetime of learned behaviors that wasn’t going to change without a very concentrated effort on their part.
Goals and milestones that should have taken weeks took months because of the “two steps forward, one step back” nature of their adherence to their plan.
But they didn’t stop.
I would like to tell you that this story has a perfect Hallmark Channel ending with everyone living financially happily ever after.
The truth is they are still in process. More good than bad is going on, but they haven’t arrived yet.
But I’m pretty sure they will, because they’ve learned that when they fall down, they just get right back up and get going again. It’s amazing what happens when you just do that.
I can see in them a growing hope that they will one day be free.
Hope gives you emotional energy to persevere. That’s one role a good financial plan can play. If you see a realistic chance that you can “get there,” you’re much more likely to keep it up and not throw in the towel, saying, “Oh what’s the use!”
So when it comes to turning around a lifetime of financial bad habits, perfection is not required.
But perseverance is.