For most of my adult life, I acted like a kid with my money.
Kinda like a financial version of Tom Hanks in BIG.
Even though I had a beard and a receding hairline, when it came to spending, I hadn’t changed much since first grade.
If I wanted it, I bought it.
The only difference between the “first grade me,” and the “older me” was that I had a Visa.
And because of my financial immaturity, I racked up some serious debt.
I hated the feeling of owing the credit card company money — never mind all those interest charges. Grrr.
Listen, it wasn’t easy, but today I’m as wise as my grandpa was with money.
(FYI: My grandpa was magnificent with money — he was a natural saver and was always after me to stop blowing my money on Upper Deck baseball cards and start investing in “real stuff.” If I had listened to him back then, I’d probably be a kazillionaire today.)
Looking back, here are the top five things I’ve done that have changed my finances forever.
1. Stop being impulsive
I used to buy things without planning on it. Even when I’d go to “just take a look,” I’d always end up buying stuff. My Pink Floyd box set, most of my wardrobe, and even my red sports car were all impulse purchases — that’s just to name a few.
If you add up all my knee-jerk purchases, I’m sure they’d easily total over a hundred gees.
Now when I get the urge to buy, instead of pullin’ out my credit card, I use the 24-hour rule.
I don’t deny myself for purchasing it forever. Instead, I say to myself “If I want it in 24-hours, I’ll buy it then.”
I find that the urge to buy something after a day just disappears — and if I still want it, I buy it.
2. Giving up the feeling of entitlement
I’m not a “poor me” type of person.
Instead, my feeling of entitlement comes from looking at what other people have and saying “if they have ______ (fill in the blank), so should I.” Kinda like an “I deserve that too” attitude.
I can trace this attitude to Michael Guswaldi’s fluorescent green Nike Air shoes in sixth grade. “Guswaldi” was the best dancer and most popular guy in my school.
It sounds ridiculous, but I thought if I had the same shoes as him I’d be able to bust his moves and become popular too. I explained my thought process to my mom, but she didn’t fall for it — she bought me regular” Nike’s — without the “air” (the horror!)
But later in life, I realized that I would never be happy lookin’ at what other people got and felt that I deserve their stuff.
The Ethics of our Forefathers put it best when they said: “True wealth is being happy with what you got.” And that became my mantra.
Now, I feel fulfilled with what I have and don’t have. I love having a “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” attitude.
3. Take action with my finances
I’ve always been a good procrastinator. Take my second-grade science-fair project for example.
I created this whole prehistoric underwater world in my mom’s glass mixing bowl. We were supposed to bring our projects home the day the science fair was over. Mine sat alone in the classroom for over two months. It became more like a swamp.
My teacher, Mr. Kulig, called my mother on a weekly basis to give her updates on the mold growth. She begged me to take it home. But it didn’t work. I would jet out of class the second the bell rang just to ditch the teacher.
I thought if I avoided it for long enough, it would just go away.
Eventually, my teacher stood by the door before the bell rang and forced me to take it home. At that point, it looked like a petri dish, and when my mom saw it, she got discussed and threw it in the garbage. (She wasn’t a happy camper.)
When I got older, I avoided my finances just like my moldy science experiment.
I feared them. The thought of opening up my Visa bill would give me a panic attack. So I just left all the bills to pile up on my kitchen table — I’m sure I gave Mt. Everest a run for its money.
My financial avoidance made me feel ashamed — and that lead to a downward spiral of even more avoidance.
Hiding from my finances cost a fortune in interest and penalties (plus a ton of stress.)
My sleep patterns became erratic, I had bags under my eyes and was living off sugar highs.
Then one day I remembered what my grandfather instructed me many years before, “when you get your bills in the mail, open them that day and pay them.”
And so I threw the whole pile of bills in the garbage (I couldn’t handle them anymore,) and decided that when I got my next bill, I’d open it right away.
Even though I could only afford the minimum payments, something happened when I opened my bills right away. It felt like I was starting to take charge. Back then, that was a huge step for me.
Ever since then, I’m proud to say that I’ve always dealt with my bills on time.
4. Stop counting my chickens before they hatch
It took me a while to realize this: Even if you’re 90 percent sure that you have some money coming in, it’s really it’s only 50/50.
When I was younger, I relied on my bonuses to keep me financially afloat. I viewed them as “guaranteed” – until one year I didn’t get one. That added whole wack of debt onto my shoulders.
Whenever I’ve made financial decisions based on assumptions, they always cost me and ended in disappointment.
Now, I only spend what I have available at that moment. I don’t put the cart before the horse anymore — and that attitude paid off in spades financially.
5. Be realistic and let go of my financial fantasies
I used to think that money would somehow just appear out of thin air. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I remember looking at my credit card bills and thinking that “somehow” it was all going to work out. Like I was going to get a windfall.
But those fantasies never panned out.
Eventually, I realized that my financial fantasies were as real as being able to move stuff with my mind. And that wasn’t going to happen unless I was Jedi — and they aren’t real. Right??
(BTW, sometimes I still double check that “just maybe” I can actually move things with my mind. Am I the only one that does this?)
Instead, I created a realistic debt repayment plan. I started to chisel away at my debts, and after a few years, I was debt free.
Take that Darth Vader!
It’s never too late
I was a late bloomer when it came to money.
Looking back, it was awkward.
I was starting to learn about how to balance a checkbook while my friends were buying houses. Kinda like getting “financial” acne in your thirties.
I’m glad to say, that those financial zits are a thing of the past. Now, I’m all clear and lookin’ great.
Now it’s your turn…
Now, let me ask you two questions:
Q1: What areas do you need to get more mature with your money?
Q2: How is fear holding you back from being financially responsible?
I’d love to hear in the comments below.