Last week, in celebration of Halloween, I shared a tweetstorm of the scariest things you could say to a Personal Finance Geek. Maybe you read that and felt bad about yourself because you have done some of those things (or still do). DON’T. I shared the original tweets. What I did not share were all of the conversations that followed. SEVERAL of these tweets inspired responses from other personal finance bloggers that said things like “Me 2 years ago,” “…said my husband,” “been there!” or “still paying off that debt!”
We are not better than you. And you are not worse.
Be Truthful About Your Situation
When Florin was born, she had colic. She was adorable and we loved her, but she cried all. the. time. If she was awake, she was screaming. During the first two weeks of the colic, I lied. Everyone would ask: “how’s the new baby? are you just loving it?” and I would say: “Yes. It’s so great. She’s cute.” Two weeks in, I remember reading the Wikipedia article on colic which mentioned the chance of depression or car accidents in the moms dealing with the colicky baby. “YES,” I thought. This is HARD. The next time someone asked me how great everything was, I immediately responded: “Well, she has colic, which is really hard, but she’s cute and we’re doing alright.” I still remember how freeing this was.
Could I do anything to change the situation? Nope. (Trust me, we tried.) We just had to wait it out. But admitting the reality of the situation was revolutionary! Part of the burden was lifted because I was honest about it.
Getting real about your numbers is hard. Maybe you don’t want to know your debt balances because you know they’re bad. But if you ignore them, they get worse! And if you know you’re in debt, but pretend you’re not, you’re fooling yourself into thinking it doesn’t bother you. It does. In your quiet moments, you’ll feel like you’re alone with a screaming baby that just won’t stop because that debt won’t just go away.
Make a Plan
The good news is that (unlike a colicky baby) you can change your financial situation!
As personal finance geeks, these phrases scared us not just because they may be unwise financial choices, but because most of them involved ignoring the problem. They bother us because WE’VE BEEN THERE. Do you know phrases that PF geeks LOVE to hear?
I have $60,000 of credit card debt… but I’ve got a repayment plan.
We bought a house without any money down… but now we’re working aggressively to get rid of our PMI
We haven’t started saving for retirement/we liquidated our 401k a few years ago… but now we’ve got a plan and we’re saving aggressively.
Do we all wish the first part of the phrases didn’t happen? YES. But we can’t ignore reality. What we can do is change it!
It doesn’t matter what your financial situation is. What matters is that you’re MOVING FORWARD. Find out your numbers. Stick them into a spreadsheet and set small, attainable goals to get out of your predicament.
Give Yourself Grace
The personal finance blogging world is FULL of amazing people who have started in horrible financial situations and changed them. Many of these people have even created a new career path based on their experiences. If these people had spent their lives ignoring their problems or regretting the past too much, they would have stagnated.
Instead, they were honest about their situations (very publicly in a lot of cases!), they made a plan, and they changed their situations (and lives!).
Fear and regret do not help us lead better lives. Do not forget the past. Learn from it. Move out of it. Use the past as a step-up to the future you want to experience.
Tell Your Story
The other common theme with financial scary stories is a lack of knowledge. People don’t know what PMI is, how much home they could comfortably finance, the impact of ignoring retirement accounts, what a credit limit increase really means, how credit cards work, or the reality of student loans.
Do you know why I keep writing about money? Because THE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW! Is there a general lack of personal finance bloggers. NO. There are THOUSANDS. But if I can change the path of ONE PERSON it will have been worth it. If there are enough of us blogging about sound financial principles, maybe a basic internet search for student loans will lead them to ways of avoiding or paying off student loans rather than all the money available (with interest) to students. Maybe someone else will figure out how to make sure they’re ready to retire at 65. Maybe another person will realize they don’t have to wait until 65 to retire.
Everyone’s story is different. We can learn from each one. Your story is valuable. It’s worth telling no matter where you are on the journey.