Free falling. This is how bad financial decisions leave you feeling. Completely out of control, knowing you’re plummeting to the ground and when you land, you’ll hit hard and may not survive. So, you close your eyes and wait for it to end, since there’s nothing you can do to stop the free fall. I know that’s how I’ve felt, completely out of control. I’ve felt lost, confused, hopeless and helpless. I’ve wondered why I couldn’t manage to simply control my own actions, why I made the same poor financial decisions over and over again, wondered how I stop the free fall I was in, wondered who around me felt the same.
You feel alone; no one discusses finances. Many behave as if everything is OK, they don’t disclose that they have a car payment that’s too big and more house than they can afford. They don’t tell you how they’re close to maxing out their credit cards while they’re using said credit card to pay for the drinks they’re enjoying out on the town on a typical Friday night. They don’t tell you that they have to use a credit card for groceries, since there’s no money in the bank. They don’t tell you that they’re experts at the credit card juggle; pay the minimum on one and use the other until it’s maxed out. When all of the cards are at their limit, transfer the balances to a new card and start all over again.
Or, they may disclose that they have NO money, things are dire and they’re close to losing their home; as they stop for Thai food for lunch every Wednesday and pay their gargantuan cell phone bill and of course, cable – gotta keep prime time TV going. They may tell you that they’re in a hopeless situation, so they’ve given up. No, they won’t tell you that getting a second job is off the table because they value their free weekends.
You feel helpless. You’ve already signed on to take out the huge mortgage that was on the very high end of what you could afford; so now you figure you’re stuck with it. You’ve already maxed out your credit cards, so what the heck, might as well enjoy life. Or, you’ve already received the notice that the bank is starting the foreclosure procedure, so spending a few dollars here and a few dollars there isn’t going to matter at this point.
You feel confused. How did you get here anyway? You got that great promotion with the huge boost in pay. You “ran” all of the numbers and figured you could afford the new house and new car now, I mean, the mortgage payment is about what you were paying when you were renting, just a bit more. True, you didn’t expect to have to repair the furnace so quickly, and you had no extra money saved for repairs, but still. Also, you figured a brand new car would save you from the annual car repairs you had to do on the old “beater” car you used to drive, so you thought you would break even in the end. You didn’t think that the bank would start to foreclose. I mean, they barely nagged you about the late payments, unlike the credit card company and your cable provider; who nagged constantly about overdue payments. You figured, if things were that bad, the bank would be hassling you every day. Since they didn’t, you figured things may work themselves out; you thought you had more time to get things together.
But the truth is, our finances aren’t to blame for our free fall, are they? We’re to blame. Every single day we have choices, big and small, that determine our trajectory.
We can live day-to-day with no thought of how we spend our money. We can live solely in the present, and worry about tomorrow another day. We can take on debt without a thought as to whether it’s beneficial to our lives in the long run (like a lucrative school degree, an affordable home or a new business venture) and fail to devise a strategy to pay it off. We can purchase our “dream” home and worry about if we can really afford it later. We can drive off the lot with the car we’ve wanted since childhood because the dealer said we don’t have to put any money towards it now.
We can make crazy financial decisions and ignore their consequences. Or we can choose differently. We can decide to live well below our means; we can opt to avoid lifestyle inflation, we can choose to pay down our debt quickly or avoid it all together, we can decide early that we’re going to save and invest.
If you made poor financial decisions in the past, you’re not doomed to stay in the free fall until you hit rock bottom. Unlike a true free fall, you can save yourself. You can say enough is enough. You can start to track what you’re spending and cut out unnecessary expenses. You can sell that dream car and go back to a “beater” for a while. You can get your home on the market and downsize to something more affordable. You can get a second job to help bridge the gap. You can make a plan to get out of debt and build a savings cushion.
You may have to make hard choices, but that’s just the thing isn’t it? You have choices. Open your eyes. You can stop the free fall.