Some People Are Money Disasters But They Don’t Have to Be

When you really break it all down to basics, some people seem to have money completely under control and others are walking money disaster areas.

Do you know someone who's a money disaster? Are you that person? Here's how to start climbing out of that hole and become responsible with money.

Yes, it is true that sometimes out of control circumstances deal us a bad blow and money matters can get rough. I think everyone goes through those difficulties from time to time and it doesn’t make you a bad person or irresponsible with money when it happens.

Many of the personal finance blogs that you read are based on the fact that the blogger themselves was a huge money disaster and then somehow turned it all around and overcame it. That’s what they write about.

As great as that is, it has always seemed to me that it comes from never learning or understanding how to handle money. It’s like a story about someone who deliberately crashes their car into a tree and then gets it fixed at the shop to make look as good as new again. Why go through all of that insanity that winds you up in the place and condition you should have been from day one? Well, there are some real reasons for it and it helps explain why some people are just money disasters.

Do You Know This Guy?

He’s perpetually broke. He always uses his credit card, but holds his breath when they run it through because he’s worried the balance has finally tipped him over his limit.

Being good or bad at money causes us to sometimes view others in moralistic terms or as a measure of someone’s character. Face it, when you know someone who manages their money poorly—or worse, doesn’t even try to manage it—what do you think of them?

Chances are pretty good that you will learn not to gravitate towards them and perhaps that comes after you have been burned by them. Maybe they asked you to lend them some money and never paid you back. Even more subtly, they just mooched off you when you were out with friends and never reached in to their pocket to help with the bill. That’s because they already ran out of money the evening before when they were out spending, and the night before that, too. Some people just don’t get it and they think nothing of “getting” it from you.

These are the people that never learned the how’s of managing their money and somehow, no matter how much they get their hands on, it goes out faster than it comes in. That’s what true money disasters act like, and, we all know some of them.

So Why Are There So Many Money Disasters?

First of all, money is an intimidating subject to talk about. That is because we have no idea where to begin. Why? It is because it’s such a taboo topic. We’re discouraged from bringing it up at a young age, and we’re taught that it’s impolite to ask how much someone makes or how much they have saved. It’s hard to learn about something when no one ever talks about it openly. Combined, this all makes it easy for us just to ignore money responsibilities altogether.

Unless you are lucky enough to have parents that are good with their money, you may never have any clue as to how they actually do it. You never get any of the nitty gritty details of their income and budget management. If there is a problem, you find out usually with a constant “no” being issued for anything that you want. Even saying no to the kids on spending doesn’t solve a money disaster in a family.

But you can’t learn everything about money overnight anyway. Being good with money is an ongoing habit. The first step is to pay attention in as many situations as you can and invest the time and energy in learning about it little by little.

What NOT To Do Is Very Important!

Impulse Spending

A little “retail therapy” is fine once in a while, and it isn’t the main reason anyone suffers from financial distress. However, when you are doing that spending constantly and thoughtlessly all the time, then it’s no longer retail therapy and it’s a really bad idea. Find the root of whatever is making you spend like a drunken sailor and address it head on. Spending constantly just to make you feel better quickly is always a bad idea. Don’t do it.

One way to avoid impulse spending is to have a plan for your money….yes, a budget. Think of it just as a list of priorities for your money and it will tell you whether or not you can afford to make that purchase you want.

Being Unprepared or Just Lazy

You waste a lot of money on things like take out food and drinking. OK, you don’t like to cook and you are truly terrible at meal planning and buying groceries, I get it. It can be a complex issue. Learn to cook at least the basics and do it. You can even do that on YouTube.

Or maybe you find yourself paying through the nose for services, like cleaning your apartment or simple repairs, things that you could do yourself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with paying someone else to perform work for you, as long as you can afford it, but if your budget is stretched, then cutting back not only makes sense, it is a requirement.

Find ways to make the necessary work more bearable. If it’s meal planning, take a look at websites and meal planning apps that help you plan, shop, and cook. Enlist the help of your favorite music while cleaning or doing laundry.

Following Bad Money Role Models

If your parents were terrible at money and you learned their bad money habits, it can be hard to break out of that mold. Old habits die hard.

It’s never too late to learn good money management skills. The internet is your friend when it comes to money management. You can peruse personal finance websites or even take a free online course in money management.

Perpetuating the Cycle

If no one ever taught you the basics of money management and you’ve been winging it poorly, you are in trouble. Now, if you have kids of your own, you may even believe that you are doing the children a favor by not exposing them to the dirty business of money management. Believe me when I say that is a totally misguided notion. Sometimes families have to tighten their belts to make ends meet, and it’s not wrong to explain to children why they can’t go to the movies every weekend. You are actually doing them a real favor.

If you have kids, you can break the cycle of financial silence by allowing your kids to participate in planning meals and family budgets. Although learning basic money management skills can seem daunting when you’re an adult, getting the whole family onboard can make it less so.

YOLO

Living for the moment doesn’t mean that you don’t save for the future. And while you can’t take it with you when you die, you’re going to need those savings to help you out in old age. Sure, it might seem far away now, but you’ll be amazed at how time flies once you hit your 40’s. If you are not prepared for it, you will be a money disaster.

Learning to live within your means while younger is smart, and it’s also easier than trying to learn when you are older.

Bad Luck or Foolish Relatives

Not everyone in a lousy financial situation got there through bad habits. Some people end up having to empty their savings because their families are financially irresponsible. They find themselves having to bail out spendthrift children, siblings, or medically challenged parents.

Medical bills are a major cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.; even people with health insurance can end up losing all of their savings on expensive treatments. Even Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover the full cost of many treatments. That’s why sometimes money spent on purchasing supplemental health insurance makes sense to help cover what Medicare would not.

There’s not much you can do when calamity strikes, other than to pick up the pieces and learn from any mistakes you have made. But all of us can act responsibly and prepare for an emergency by having emergency savings on hand and being adequately insured.

Final Thoughts

Personal finance management is a concrete, learnable skill, just like driving a car or throwing a baseball. The main problem we have is that we just can’t seem to get beyond the structural and cultural roadblocks that prevent us from talking about it.

Today though there is a brighter light on the matter. Our schools are now introducing classes for students to learn about money matters at a young age, and not solely be dependent on family to do it. After all, learning it formally is way ahead of suffering from a money disaster at home in which you have no idea as to the reasons how or why.

Are you living in a money disaster zone and if so, what are you doing about it? Are you teaching your own children about budgeting and financial management to help avoid money disasters in their lives?

6 Comments

  1. Steveark

    I remember when my middle class dad first proudly told my brother and me he was a millionaire. He was very open with his income and investments and later both my brother and I reached millionaire status ourselves. I think that lack of a cultural taboo as well as my dad’s legacy habits of never having a car payment, never failing to pay credit cards off in full every month and paying the house off early were adopted by us because we saw how they worked for him.

  2. “Perpetuating the Cycle” is a big deal. I have lived in several parts of the eastern US (some places more affluent than others) and there are differing mindsets. Some of the most interesting conversations I have participated in (or observed) is at the oil change and tire repair places–I used to drive a lot for my old job and you have no place to go but the waiting room.

    In the wealthier places, talk of setting aside cash in 529 plans, IRAs, etc. were more common. We would sometimes have a conversation on where to do Roth or Traditional IRAs, which Pimco bond fund was the best, etc.

    In the poorer counties which were rural and the industry or mining left several years before, the talk focused more often on “receiving a check.” And it’s not the check you get from side hustles in your free time to get ahead financially but simply maintaining the current status quo.

    Some of the worst moments are when a person would call a service provider to find out why their account was suspended. It was usually due to insufficient funds even on prepaid debit cards. While these events didn’t happen often, you would sometimes see the person in tears after ending the call.

    1. That’s an interesting observation, Josh. It combines the circumstances of your life with the conversations you will have about money and where you fit into the picture. When you’re in the lower spectrum, it’s like being underwater and all you can think of is getting air when you have no way to see out. I appreciate you sharing your experiences.

  3. My family never talked openly about finances and it definitely manifested in a negative way when I started working. Luckily, I changed, made smarter life, and financial habits and I am on the path to early retirement! That is actually why I started blogging, to help my friends and family increase their financial fitness.

    1. I’m very happy that you recognized the need to be more responsible with money despite not having those conversations with your family. Making a great decision to blog and share advice is a step that obviously will help many people and it feels good to do, doesn’t it? I decided to blog about retirement and saving money for the same kind of reasons you did. Thanks for your comments!

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