You name it, I’ll bet you’ve heard or read it.
Turn on the TV, read a magazine, talk to a friend, watch the news, or read social media and there it is.
Advice about money.
Everyone has an answer or opinion on how much you should have and save, what’s the appropriate amount to spend and on what, whether to use credit cards or not, and of course, the magical amount you MUST have stashed away to retire.
The advice and opinions run the gamut — from basic and simple to complex and elaborate.
Much of it conflicts with the other. What one expert says is often dispelled by another. You’re told this is the best way to handle your money but then, change the channel and another expert says, the opposite.
So, who do you listen to? Who do you follow?
You want me to do what with my money?
Life can turn on a dime. One minute all is going along swimmingly, the next, you wonder what happened.
You thought you had saved enough. You thought you were spending wisely. And, yet, you wonder, where the money went? How is it possible you don’t have enough to cover your lifestyle and basic needs?
You swear you did everything right, by the book — Or, as close to the book as you were able.
But, here’s the hauntingly difficult question to ask — were you reading and following the right book? Not the one meant for EVERYONE, the one meant just for you?
My husband and I know this one first hand. We funded our 401(k) regularly. Lived within our means. We did not use credit — we found out how toxic it was for us and stopped using it altogether. We saved. We bought a house. Our net worth was growing nicely.
We even downsized into a more efficient home, a townhouse with less maintenance. We cut our mortgage in half, and ended up with a beautiful view of the river out our back door. Who needs the cost of a pool when you can breathe in the magnificence of a large expanse of water for free?
All was going well, as I mentioned above, swimmingly! (no pun intended) UNTIL… my husband lost his job.
Can you say gut punch?
Who knew when he took his retirement from 30 years at the phone company and jumped ship to a company that wooed, wined and dined him, that this new job would end in less than a year? Never did we expect this as he was offered double his current salary, a signing bonus, and a car allowance.
Not to mention, he was joining a great team he already knew.
All seemed a perfect fit.
We transferred his phone company 401(k) into our own investment account, managed by our handpicked investment guy. We picked out the new car and off we went into the wild blue yonder of change.
All done in the name of financial progress. All wise decisions, within our means, at the time we made them.
Or, so we thought.
Then wham, overnight, we were on unemployment with no real job prospects in sight. Add to that, the car payment, now not funded by a car allowance, plus a higher mortgage from a 2nd mortgage for home improvements we had made.
Oh, and let’s not forget the crash of 2008, where our 401(k) was now half of what it was the day before AND our house was now valued at less than we paid for it, considerably less. We were upside down, and sinking fast!
Could we have seen this coming? Were there warning signs we were overextended or living on the edge? Without a crystal ball, that is, foretelling the future? Or, is it just hindsight that gives us the ability to see the traps we fell into at the time?
Could we have made better choices?
Good questions indeed.
Certainly hindsight has given us a different perspective and the ability to notice those moments we could have chosen more wisely.
What were those warning signs or moments we could have chosen differently, or more wisely?
Let me share five of those moments — maybe they will help you avoid the same traps:
Trap one. Buying a new car. There was no need for us to have bought a new car. A used one would have been smarter and cheaper. After all, most new cars lose more than half their value within the first year to two years… drive it off the show room floor and, whammy, it’s now worth less than seconds ago.
Trap two. Financing that car. Why have a car loan on a declining asset and pay all that interest as its value goes down, down, down! Instead, we could have pocketed the car allowance, used it to help defray the costs of gas, insurance, registration and maintenance.
Trap three. Getting a home equity line. One of the major reasons we moved was to lower our cost of living and monthly mortgage. So, why then did we immediately crank it back up just to do some home upgrades or improvements? What happened to saving for those improvements or simply being satisfied with what we had?
Trap four. Raising our spending to match our pay raise. There was no need for us to spend more just because we made more. We already had a great life — Our lifestyle was plenty comfy and enjoyable. Did you know this is usually subconscious? Yep. Even knowing this, we did this anyway.
Trap five. Using credit to pay off or buy stuff. We bought more for our new home than we needed — used our line-of-credit to pay for it, too. Before we knew it, the line was maxed out. And, now we have a higher monthly “nut” for way more years than the stuff lasts.
Maybe these traps don’t relate to or resonate for you? That’s okay. Just keep them in mind, as you make major money decisions in your life. These decisions often mean more than you realize at the time you sign the dotted line.
Because, let’s face it folks, you cannot live on the net worth of your house. Nor, buy groceries with that expensive new toy sitting in the driveway. And, NO job is forever. Gone are the days of a lifetime job or career.
Let’s stop spending money as if there is no tomorrow, as if our wages and salaries are keeping up with the cost of things (with inflation). They aren’t.
“According to a 2015 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, D.C., ever since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. This is despite real GDP growth of 149 percent and net productivity growth of 64 percent over this period.” Cost of Living vs. Wage Stagnation in the United States
Besides, it has been proven, again and again, that all that stuff cannot buy you happiness. In fact, it might cost you that very happiness trying to keep up with it as you sit and watch the flow of money go out more than it comes in!