The Road to Misery is Paved With Good Intentions



Image Credit: Bill Rice

This is a guest post from Ree at Escaping Dodge.  Ree believes (as I do) that prosperity happens when you change your relationship with money.  I enjoyed her message the moment I discovered her site, so check it out!

It’s true that for many, living in misery is beyond their control. But over my lifetime I’ve heard story after story of people who end up living in misery because of their choices. They may not see it, but it’s true…

I know this because that’s the path I started down. Born in 1959, I grew up in a middle class family living in California. I spent the first dollar I was ever given faster than the wrinkles could set in from being folded in my little plastic wallet. I was attracted to shiny objects from an early age.

My first “real job” out of high school was working as a bank teller for Bank of America…those idiots gave me a credit card with a $500 line of credit just for becoming an employee.  That was about the same amount I made in a month and it seemed like a fortune. Oh yeah, I got started “building my credit” as soon as possible.

It wasn’t until I hit a financial and emotional low in my late 20’s that I began to see how my horrid money management skills were bankrupting me in more than one way.

How Good Intentions Can Suck You Dry

It all starts with good intentions. Mine looked something like this:

  • It takes debt to build good credit.
  • I need that outfit so I’ll be attractive to employers, dates, etc.
  • I need a gym membership to get fit.
  • I can handle that monthly payment.
  • I need furniture.
  • I’ll pick up the tab because I make good money.
  • I deserve a nicer car.

You get the idea. You start putting things on credit thinking you can make the monthly payment. You join memberships thinking that by paying the bill each month you’ll be motivated to go. You hang out with friends who spend as wildly or more so than you. Wants become needs and the snowball picks up steam.

Other Ways Good Intentions Can do Damage

Being a giver is another way good intentions can be dangerous. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be givers, but I am saying that it should be done with careful consideration to the long-term effects on you and the person who is being helped. Here are a couple examples of what I see happening:

  • Parents take on debt for their children so they won’t be burdened with school loans after graduation. If you have to take on debt to help, it’s probably a bad idea. Let the student take on the debt if it’s necessary; you can always pay it off later or help without risking your long-term financial security.
  • Children subsidize assisted living arrangements for aging parents. These costs are exorbitant and if anything goes wrong everyone loses. Parents can outlive the child’s resources leaving the entire family in a mess. Try to find other options before committing to monthly subsidies like this. (This is close to my heart as I’m working on a solution to this problem myself.)

These are tough subjects because they are fraught with societal pressures and guilt. I don’t have the answers, mostly questions.

Picking a New Path

For most of us, changing our behaviors comes at the cost becoming miserably uncomfortable with our financial state. That’s what happened to me. Once you know you have to change, here are some tips for making the transition less painful:

  1. Get clear on what you really value in life. When you try to live a life too broadly, you’ll find yourself in trouble because you don’t have a compass by which to navigate.
  2. Track every dollar you spend. In the beginning, budgets seem impossible. Start by tracking what you spend and group them into categories (dining out, groceries, clothes, etc.).
  3. Bump your spending against what you say you value. This can be enlightening and you may find that you can easily cut out spending that doesn’t really enrich your life.

There’s more, but that’s a great start. Be honest with yourself, get to know yourself and tailor your spending to what you value. We have no control over others, but we do have control over many aspects of our own financial well-being.

What Can You Add to the Conversation?

Have you found yourself paying the price for your good intentions? What’s your story? I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Ah, yes, all of the “good” things we’re supposed to do.

    We ran into trouble “building credit,” then we got a house, because you’re “supposed” to do that, and you “need” one if you’re going to “have kids.” This led to me spending 10 years “stuck” in a job that made me miserable, to pay for a house I really didn’t want, in a town I didn’t like living in.

    Friday (two days ago) was my last day at this job, and the house is going back to the bank at the end of the month. Because sometimes the road to happiess is paved with “irresponsible” decisions. :-)
    Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca recently posted…Day Two: Out of the Midwest and into the South!My Profile

    • Hi Bethany,

      I’m so happy for you that you’re on a new path. It’s funny how once you recognize what you’re doing is causing you miser, it’s so much easier to make the changes necessary to live a fulfilling life despite how unconventional it may be. Thanks for starting the conversation!

      Ree Klein recently posted…How Do You Define Prosperity? (And a Give Away)My Profile

  2. Good points. Sometimes, we do justify our actions but we’re actually doing it wrong. Everything needs careful consideration, yes, even with helping other people.
    KC @ genxfinance recently posted…How to Kick Your Bad Money HabitsMy Profile

    • Hi KC ~

      I was fortunate that I had a mentor poking at me from a young age. Of course, I didn’t actually listen to the awesome advice I was being give until my pain threshold hit an all-time high! Good thing they never lost faith in me and just patiently waited until I was ready to listen. I’m looking forward to checking out your site. Thanks for weighing in!

      Ree Klein recently posted…How Do You Define Prosperity? (And a Give Away)My Profile

  3. Great post, Ree! We thought we needed debt for good credit too and we certainly got plenty of both. But we got real mad about it and we are now on our final two debts and grinding them down. Glad you mentioned being a giver too. If your finances are not in VERY good order, I cannot see giving. No one ought to feel pressured to give/donate.
    cj recently posted…Getting What You Wish ForMy Profile

    • Hi CJ,

      Yes, that giving subject is a tough one. I love the idea of being wealthy because it opens the door to being able to give without worry or guilt. I don’t know why some people think the wealthy are greedy, evil people. Most of them do a lot of good in this world. Congratulations on the debt-reduction progress and I’ll check out your site!

      Ree Klein recently posted…Is It Possible To Be Too Generous?My Profile

      • Well said Ree!!! I have a pretty wealthy sister and she’s a real good girl. Gives a lot back to her community and her fam. Most of us would like to be rich. Does that mean we’d excuse ourselves from being greedy and evil once we were? Gotta run the hypotheticals once in a while, don’t we?
        cj recently posted…Getting What You Wish ForMy Profile

  4. Good intentions can lead to good things, too! But yep, I have been there. I had good intentions when I helped a friend get out of a sticky situation to the tune of $1000 on my credit card, and she didn’t pay me back. And also every time I bought a new outfit, telling myself that how I present myself to the world is important. But really I was only spending $15 on these outfits every few days and they looked and felt cheap.
    Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter recently posted…11 Fast, Cheap Ways to Look YoungerMy Profile

    • Hi Daisy,

      I absolutely agree, good intentions often result in great things. Like taking the time to be a mentor to someone who really wants and needs the support only you can give. I see blogging as a way to do just that. Each person blogging about personal finance has a unique story, voice and point-of-view so it enriches the conversation.

      Ree Klein recently posted…Are You Waiting for Your Partner to Change?My Profile

  5. Wow, Ree. I love your honesty about giving (that’s a tough one – especially since everything you read is about give, give, give) and the Good Intentions bulleted list you provided really hits the nail on the head for many people out there. Social pressure is a big one, but once you realize you have control over it, you can start taking action.

    I am attending a retirement party and a graduation party. While there are many events I politely decline, this is one of my best teaching partners ever and one of my former first grade students. They are both very important to me, but I have decided on an amount for their gifts that to many might not sound like a lot. In fact, it is exactly half of what I would have given in years past. Even though I make more money than I did five years ago, I am still not in a position to buy lavish presents. How cliche, but I really hope me my presence is more important than my presents.
    Tammy R recently posted…Getting What You Wish ForMy Profile

    • Hi Tammy,

      Thank you for weighing in on gift-giving. I pointed out two biggies, but the little gift-giving opportunities that come up (seemingly daily) can $50 and $100 you to death. Just cutting what you do in half can make a big difference. I believe that when you start to change your life, even in small ways, people notice. For the observant ones, they may be encouraged to model your behavior and improve their own lives.

      Ree Klein recently posted…How Do You Define Prosperity? (And a Give Away)My Profile

      • Gifts can be a budget buster for sure, especially with the expectation that gifts will be given for every sort of event these days. I like to give a small food gift, or candles beautifully wrapped. These things don’t cost much, and today, with the hurry sickness abounding, a gift, no matter how modest, that was specially designed for the recipient gives twice. Once to them in thoughtfulness and to you by preserving your ability to give again without pain. Sustainable giving. Everybody wins.

  6. Too often I am not sure if we understand what we should be doing vs what we need to be doing. For a while i was doing the things people said I should do and I thought to be right. Then I came into my own and decided I am going to decide whats best for me. Getting in debt to build credit or buying a home because well everyone else is. Those are ways to end up living in misery as you put it. I like the nicer car one…i traded up from a used to a new cheaper used and I couldn’t be happier.
    Your Daily Finance recently posted…Personal Finances for Everyone – Even YOU!My Profile

    • Sounds like you have it pretty well figured out! Last year I bought a six-year old “new” car. I drove my 1998 Camry over 220k miles (still runs great). The funny thing is that once you have saved up enough money to buy a car with cash, it’s pretty hard to plunk it down on a car!
      Ree Klein recently posted…Part I: Why You Should Have a 10-year PlanMy Profile

  7. I guess we were lucky starting out. We had no money saved and one very low paying job so we couldn’t get into trouble – except with the gasoline credit card. Although it took most of the low paying monthly paycheck, we did manage to pay it off in full each month.
    Marie at Family Money Values recently posted…A whole lotta dyin’ goin’ onMy Profile

    • Hi Marie, I’d hardly call it luck. You may be hard-wired to be a saver, but I find that unless you are committed to being who are, you can be derailed very easily. I commend you for living within your means especially when times were hard.
      Ree Klein recently posted…Visual Cues MatterMy Profile

  8. My big mistake was “rewarding myself” for hitting some good financial goals. That reward has cost me an unbelievable amount since that time. Ouch! I won’t be making that mistake again.
    Pretired Nick recently posted…Save money with a tool libraryMy Profile

  9. For me, the cure for potentially detrimental good intentions has always been honesty. I might feel like I need the nice shoes or the nice furniture to impress X but then you have to be honest with yourself – Can I afford this? Will X really care about my shoes? etc. It usually snaps me back to reality and good sense.
    CF recently posted…Recipe Idea: Garlic pork shoulderMy Profile

    • Hi CF, we’re on the same page with respect to personal honesty being a key factor in staying out of debt and building wealth. The trouble is that so many of us never figured out what we really value so it’s hard to run the values test to even start the “let’s be honest” dialog. Thanks for adding to the conversation!
      Ree Klein recently posted…Why Does it Take Tragedy to Remind Us to Live?My Profile

  10. OH my goodness, Ree – story of my life. It took me much longer than you, but we are finally on the right track and on our way out of the mess our “good intentions” created. Thanks for an enlightening post.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…May 2013 Recap – Our Road to Debt FreeMy Profile

  11. Great post Ree! And so true. I love you message that, for the most part, we are the creators of our own misery, financial or otherwise. You’ve got a great way of looking at things . . . find what you truly value and then measure your spending habits against that.

    Or more broadly, find your true self and live accordingly.

    Who knew finance could get so deep?

    I have to admit that I’m quite poor when it comes to the finances. I don’t budget, I don’t track my expenditures, and I tend towards the “giver” side when it comes to spending. I always volunteer to pay the tab . . . most times I get my way. Go figure.

    You’ve offered some valuable food for thought.

    Trevor recently posted…Wipe Your Ass With MediocrityMy Profile

    • You just cracked me up, Trevor, with your “Who knew finance could get so deep?”
      Oddly enough, the numbers part of our financial lives is just the surface of the beast. It really is far more deep than just the numbers.

      I’m glad you liked the post and I hope next time you don’t fight for the check…it takes practice, but it’s really worth the effort. Besides, it’s okay to let someone do something nice for you once in a while, too.

      Ree Klein recently posted…Is It Possible To Be Too Generous?My Profile

  12. What a wonderful post, Ree. I’m definitely going to check out your website. Giving is such a tough subject. I’m definitely nurturing a giving or sharing mindset in my daughters, but it is a delicate balance. I have seen people destroy their own financial well-being to give their children everything they want, which is more than they need. Having a compassionate heart and giving where you can is important but you are correct – you have to make sure your own financial well-being is in a good place first.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…The Power of Money Conversations with KidsMy Profile

  13. Hi Shannon,

    Over my life I’ve been accused of being “too nice” and that I let people take advantage of me. It’s a very difficult subject. In my case there were elements of pure enjoyment, low self-confidence, guilt and other things that drove my giving when I really had no business doing so.

    Now that I have my financial life in order, my giving comes from a more solid place. And, I can recognize when I shouldn’t give. That has been a long journey.

    I’m so happy that you are pondering this as you guide your children, they’ll likely be far better off because of it!
    Ree Klein recently posted…Is It Possible To Be Too Generous?My Profile

  14. Can’t agree more with you about having budget and sticking to it! I also think if you are not monitoring the everyday purchases it can easily get out of control. Before I go to the grocery store or any store for that matter I make sure I know how much I want to spend and what I need to buy. When I am in the store, I am much less likely to overspend on things I don’t need!

    • So true, Paul. I like to use lists, too. That way I get in and out pretty quick and don’t wander around “shopping.” I heard a line once that really struck me: “If you don’t want to spend, stay out of the stores!”

      Thanks for joining in,
      Ree Klein recently posted…Mentors Are Hiding EverywhereMy Profile

  15. Hello Ree,
    I love this post. I think you’re lucky to get out of the rut before it’s too late. While it may sound cliche, experience always teaches us the best lessons in life. When I learned to be wise about money and management of it, I found life was so much easy and simple to live with. Now I have gotten rid of the wants and stay attuned to what my needs are. Living without debt is a great way to wake up to each day, too.
    Amy Turner recently posted…Kids and Money: Raising Money-Conscious KidsMy Profile

  16. I moved out of my parent’s house 6 years ago and have ever since kept a “household” book tracking every expense. To date, I have not given up on this system and it helps me keeping my finances organized and not going bankrupt each month before its 30 days are over.


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