This article is by Suba Iyer, who currently writes for FiveCentNickel.com.
In 2009, I was all excited to start looking for a house to buy. I had been working in a well-paying job for almost five years at that point and I figured I shouldn’t be throwing money down the drain renting. Well, reality came crashing down when I finally looked at my savings. It wasn’t even enough to be a good emergency fund, let alone a down payment. In 2010, I set out to fix my finances. Month after month, I set up and revised my budget. I failed, month after month. I had the perfect budget and it should have worked. But after six months of this, I still was not saving any money. I had so many excuses for not making it work, too: If I were paid a little bit more, of course, it would be easy; I couldn’t have a life being constrained with a budget, etc.
It wasn’t until I got brutally honest with myself that I started to turn a new leaf financially. Most of us lie to ourselves so we feel a little better about our shortcomings — but the danger is that at some point we start believing those lies and stop trying to improve. If we really want to turn our financial life around, we have to recognize and acknowledge what we’re doing and then stop doing it.
Here are the lies I told myself (or some of the most common lies I have come across from family or friends).
1. I am never going to retire, so I don’t have to save.
Lie: I love my job; I am not planning to retire — or I will just work until 70, so I have plenty of time to catch up.
Reality: A job is not in your control. Layoffs happen. Sometimes people become disabled and cannot work anymore. Whether we like to acknowledge discrimination based on age or not, it is very difficult to find a job later in your career.
2. I will get my finances in order as soon as I [random excuse]
Lie: I will start saving tomorrow.
Reality: Tomorrow never comes. There will always be something that prevents us from getting to the ideal circumstances we want to experience before we begin to save. However small the effort is, start something now. If your goal is to start saving, open an account and start an automatic transfer of $25 a month. If your goal is to get out of debt, start paying $25 extra on the debt you want to attack first.
3. Investing is too risky; I don’t understand how it works
Lie: I need to completely understand all the jargon and read complicated books not to lose money in investments. It is better to learn everything before starting to invest.
Reality: Inflation is real. If you just keep your money in a safe bank account and hope not to lose money, you will need significantly more savings to get to a decent nest egg. You do not have to wait to start investing. There are plenty of blogs that spell out what you need to know in an easy-to-understand format. If you absolutely want nothing to do with investing, you can always pick a target date fund and forget about it.
4. My credit score is not important unless I am buying a home or a car
Lie: I am not planning to buy a house or a car in the near future, so my credit score is irrelevant.
Reality: Unfortunately, credit score has found its way into a number of financial areas — insurance, utilities and rental companies to name a few. Even some employers use credit reports as part of their background checks. Get your credit reports regularly and keep an eye on your score.
5. I won’t get married (or have kids), so I don’t have to save for those.
Lie: I will never get married, so I don’t have to save for a wedding.
Reality: This is not just about marriage; this can be for any life event. Life is exciting and it surprises us. You might fall in love at the least expected time or decide to have a baby. Start a targeted account for most common life goals. If you don’t ever get married, your savings will just end up being available for some of the other things you want to experience in life.
6. I should buy a house because renting is wasting money away
Lie: Renting is like throwing money down the drain. It’s building someone else’s equity and the best thing to do is to buy a house as soon as possible.
Reality: Buying is not always a good decision. In some cities, renting is better than buying. There are some good rent vs. buy calculators; check to see if it is worth buying and then buy only after saving up a 20 percent down payment plus any closing costs.
7. I can’t save because I don’t get paid enough
Lie: I get paid way less than what I deserve, so I can’t save.
Reality: Everybody can save something. It might be $1 or $100, start with something and increase until it hurts.
8. I am approved for a $x loan (credit card, car loan or mortgage), so I should be able to handle it
Lie: The banks know better than me. If they think I can handle a $x loan with my income, I should get that loan.
Reality: Banks want you to be in debt for as long as possible. I was approved for a mortgage for five times my income. I could have never handled that payment with my other commitments. I would be spending way more than my income every month. You make a budget and, before you apply for any loan, you decide the maximum amount you want to take.
9. I can’t have a social life if I make a budget
Lie: Budgets are too restrictive. I can’t have a life with a budget.
Reality: Budgets are actually liberating. You don’t have to worry about whether you can afford something because you clearly know the answer. You don’t have to wonder whether you will be able to pay the power bill if you go out for your friend’s birthday. You can also come up with new ways to socialize and have fun by stretching your budget.
10. I don’t need health insurance because I am healthy
Lie: Insurance is for sick people.
Reality: Accidents happen. Unless you have a crystal ball that accurately predicts future events and can guarantee you will never get into an accident, it would be wise to get health insurance — at the very least, a cheap high-deductible insurance policy.
11. I will get Social Security and Medicare, so I don’t need savings
Lie: I pay for Social Security and Medicare that will serve as my retirement savings.
Reality: I don’t know enough to comment on how long Social Security will last, but I know that even if it does pay out when I retire, it will never be enough to cover my entire needs.
12. As long as I get a college degree, I am set in life
Lie: If I get a college degree, whatever it takes (including a huge student loan), I’ll be able to make the life I want.
Reality: A lot of majors won’t pay enough to get rid of the student loan in a reasonable amount of time. Just because you have a degree, doesn’t mean you will be guaranteed a job. For many well-paying jobs, trade school or experience might be all you need.
13. I need to be rich to build wealth
Lie: I need money to make money.
Reality: It is true that money makes money, but that doesn’t mean you need a boat load of money to start making money. Compound interest works for everyone. You could start freelancing on the side to accelerate the process.
14. I don’t need as much money as I am making now when I retire
Lie: My expenses will be a lot less during retirement.
Reality: Yes, some expenses will go down in retirement, like commuting or dry cleaning; but there will be a lot of new expenses that will be way over what you used to spend (ex: healthcare, travel, hobbies).
The harsh reality that I wasn’t reaching my goal is what fueled me to examine my thought process about finances. But how does it work for you? Are money lies holding you back from reaching your goals?