One of the major things I have noticed during my journey towards a debt-free lifestyle is how little of a backbone I used to have! And sadly, still do in some areas. These are things that even before creating a mindset to become debt free, I knew were signs of weakness and were my own fault. Some come down to laziness and the strange idea I could wake up tomorrow a millionaire and all my problems would go away. However, they all come back to the root issue that when it comes to my wallet, I had no backbone.
Here are some examples of my spineless financial behavior:
- While activating the credit cards that led to my demise, I would agree to sign up to the so called “Credit Protector” and “Identity Manager” programs these services offered. Many times, these programs would account to $15.00 per month or more! Just to get the people off the phone, I’d agree to the first free month. However, I would let these charges ride for months, even years due to laziness, and guilt that I was already paying hundreds in interest each month, what is $20 more. I estimate I’ve lost several thousand dollars due to this. All it would have taken is a firm “no” and I might be farther along my path to debt freedom.
- Something I know I will be buying down the road is on sale today, so I flash the plastic and it’s mine. Sounds good, but after a year I’m still paying for that shirt, and have probably already doubled the non-sale price in my interest payments! Yes, it was on sale, and if I had the money in my budget it might have been smart, but I wound up getting a worse deal. Do this with technology, and it not only doubles in total cost, but you also get an inferior model compared to if you had saved and waited. All it would have taken is a little more backbone to say no to my inner desires and bad mathematics. This is the primary reason for 90% of my current debt. I’m still paying off a laptop I bought 4 years ago, and sold last year for almost nothing.
- When the budget (what little I had) ran dry and my credit payments were going to be late, I ignored the calls from creditors. I racked up tons of late fees, and got myself into a situation where it was almost impossible to get out of the cycle of late payments. If I had answered the phone and been forthcoming that first time it happened, they could have easily helped me out, and it might have been the difference in several thousand dollars of my current debt. Not to mention my credit score might not be in the low 500s right now.
- For some reason, I always just “expected” to win that lottery (even though I never had tickets for it!) or get that major raise, or have a creditor magically erase my debt. Maybe the creditors would forget about the debt until I finished school and could pay them off. Because of not standing tall and really evaluating my current situation and finding a way to solve my problems, I spiraled down into a situation that actually has become nearly impossible to fix. If I had really evaluated it back then, I could have easily fixed my problems in just a few months, and would be on track right now to perhaps owning a house, or at least being free from debt.
- For awhile, I let my insecurities play out in terms of me having to buy cool things. I didn’t just get the cheap Ipod, I had to get the best and biggest. I didn’t just get a basic stereo system for my car, I had to get the best audiophile quality out there (ironically, I don’t even have that car anymore, but I do indeed miss that system). By not having confidence in who I am as a person, that little piece of plastic used those insecurities to make me buy more stuff. Right now, I’m finally at a place in myself where I only buy what I need to get by, and occasionally some of my long-term wants.
Of course, there are many more reasons my spine, or lack thereof, has caused a lot of my debt issues now. They always say the first step to anything in life is admitting you have a problem. I think the second step is admitting that problem is likely inside yourself! Most people skip that, and blame creditors, or fancy marketing, or whatever the villain of the day is. For me, the problem was (and still is, to some extent) inside myself. It’s my own lack of backbone that has caused me to spiral down the path of bad financial decisions.
So how do I fix it, and how can you fix it? First, stop blaming circumstances and others. While it may be partially their fault, that doesn’t help your situation. What does help your situation is to accept the blame yourself, and figure out why you do the things you do. Before you even sit down and list your debts, start an emergency fund, etc., you need to evaluate yourself. In fact, I have a weekly ritual where I check my credit report (one service that has been invaluable), check my accounts online for any strange activity, evaluate my spending and budget, and also evaluate my psychological state towards finances.
Each week I try to find one thing I had problems with in the past, write it down (or blog about it), and become determined to not behave that way again. This week is Spine Week. I’m going to call and cancel those services I still have. I’m going to try to sell the things I bought on credit long ago, and hopefully let it help pay themselves off a little bit. Moving forward, I have learned my lesson and will not slip up again.
In fact, you can do this in any area of life of which you’ve had problems! If you are religious, incorporate prayer or meditation into the process if you wish. For the area you are having a problem with, think back to the situations that got you there. Now, inside each situation, ask yourself what internal mechanism caused that to happen, rather than the external circumstances. Then, think of different ways to correct that personal flaw, and resolve to not behave that way moving forward. Find a few concrete things you can do to combat it right now (calling creditors, whatever), and write down a statement of intent that you read every day in that week claiming you have changed as a person. My statement for this week that I will read every day simply reads:
I resolve to stand up for proper financial decisions when faced with insecurity, external manipulation, or laziness, and commit to always look at the long-term picture before making any financial decision.
Just think, spending a few minutes each week meditating about yourself, in 52 weeks you will have corrected 52 internal problems! For me, being out of debt by the end of 2008 is important, but knowing I will have corrected over 75 internal flaws by then is worth even more. It’s the same idea as debt management, small incremental changes to make a very large long-term change. In a year, I will be a completely different person, but this week I only need to worry about a little backbone growth.