We’re in a heap of trouble.
We’ve bought too many nice things and borrowed up to our eyeballs to pay for them. We watch commercials for the latest overpriced creations from chain restaurants, and all of a sudden we find ourselves at one trying it out. We look at our neighbor’s driveway and notice the shiny new car sitting there, and all of a sudden our car is old and needs to be replaced. And just when you’re starting to make progress paying off all this debt, your kid gets sick and you can’t afford to pay the hospital bills.
There are so many little things in life that try to pull us off track, it’s no wonder our best-laid plans and intentions so often don’t work out. Your car needs an expensive repair to pass inspection. The air conditioner in your house breaks and has to be replaced. I could go on and on. These things happen, almost always unexpectedly, to all of us. And they cost money. Money that we’ve already allocated elsewhere in our budgets.
That’s why the lack of an emergency fund is the first of your wallet’s three biggest enemies.
If things are going well right now, great. You’ve probably worked hard to get to this point. When it comes to your wallet though, you have to consider the what-ifs. What if you lost your job next week? Would you have enough savings to carry you until you found work again?
An emergency fund is your best friend because it provides a safety net when the unexpected happens. The idea is to sacrifice the surplus today so that when the chips are down tomorrow you’ll have something to fall back on. Start with $1,000. Save just $20 a week and you’ll be there in a year.
Bad habits are the second of your wallet’s three biggest enemies. Daily coffee stops are singled out most often by financial people. Let me throw my voice in with theirs: If you have a habit of stopping for coffee every morning before work, you need to find a different route. Smoking is an another obvious habit that kills your wallet and your health.
But other habits are just as detrimental. Look at cell phone contracts. Yes, renewing that stinking contract every two years with one of the overpriced Big 4 providers is a bad habit. I’ve been guilty of this one too. Since I’m part of a family plan, I’ve assumed that it’s cheaper to stay with them. After looking at the numbers, it would actually be cheaper to go with a non-contract provider that offers month to month service. Do you still have cable? Eliminate it, stop watching all those commercials, get outside for some fresh air and save over a grand a year.
Wanting everything to be convenient is a bad habit that costs you potentially thousands a year. If you think the dealership is a one-stop shop for buying a new car, you need to realize a few things. First, car salespeople are very good at what they do. They’ll dangle a low monthly price in front of you while loading all kinds of fees on the back end. They’ll upsell you every way you can imagine. Second, many dealers engage in disgusting tactics like car spotting, and prey on the feeble or those with bad credit. And last, you need to do some research. Look at reliability, features, crash test scores, and prices of the models you are considering. Being informed helps you fight back against slimy car salesmen. Lesson: Inconvenience yourself a little by arranging the financing at a credit union, negotiating through email, and researching before even setting foot on the lot for a test drive.
The third and final of your wallet’s three biggest enemies is your insistence on keeping up with the Joneses. Free Money Finance says that out of his 52 best ways to save money, this is the #1 way, and I have to agree.
I would go further and say that avoiding competitive consumption is the #1 predictor of financial success. You don’t need to keep up with friends, neighbors or anyone else. The truth is, there will always be someone out there with a newer car, whiter teeth, or a bigger paycheck.
Of the three, this is probably the most difficult to master. Our world is driven by an affinity for stuff. Not only do we need things, we need them yesterday and we need them to be nicer than the neighbor’s. So often we’re driven by envy that we’ll settle at nothing to show off our wealth (or in most cases our lack of it) to others.
Your challenge: Think about everything you already own. You probably have more than you realized. More than most people on this planet actually. You have access to a computer as you read this, which most don’t have. Be content with what you have and spend time enjoying it.
Do you disagree with any of these three? What would you add?