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!

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