I know several people who, rather than trying to deal with their finances, have simply thrown up their hands and declared that it’s impossible, so why bother. They say things like, “I owe so much I’ll never get out of debt so why pay anything?” or, “I don’t know where to start; it’s too overwhelming so I just let it go,” or “This stuff is over my head and I don’t have time to learn.” Or, they see some news story about how you’ll never catch up if you’re fifty-five and have no retirement savings, so they simply give up and won’t even try. I try to explain that everything can be fixed and that some progress is better than none, but they don’t want to hear that it will take time and sacrifice to get there.
Refusing to deal with your finances does no good. It won’t make the problems go away and, as with many kinds of problems, financial problems tend to get worse with neglect. It may seem like things aren’t that bad when you deny reality, but eventually reality refuses to be ignored. That creditor you’ve ignored attaches your bank account, or the bank begins foreclosure proceedings. Dr. Phil likes to say that time is going to pass regardless of whether or not you’re doing something about your problems, so you can either spend the time doing something about it and getting ahead, or you can bury your head in the sand and ignore it. Either way, time is going to pass. You’re going to get older. Retirement is coming whether you’re prepared or not. Six months will go by and your debts will still be there, only they’ll be larger or smaller. You’re going to die someday, the only question is whether you’ll leave your heirs with debt or an inheritance. Your kids are going to get older and go to college, whether you’ve saved anything for them or not. Denial won’t make time stop or make money magically appear. You’re going to have to be the one to get past the denial and make the changes.
So how do you get past “It’s impossible” and get to “I can do this.”? The easiest way to accomplish this is to break things down into manageable chunks. When you’re looking at a mountain of debt, fifty unpaid bills and nothing in the bank, it looks impossible to deal with. But what if you’re only looking at one debt, or one unpaid bill? Looks a lot easier, doesn’t it? Try breaking your financial mountain into small rocks. Pay one bill, negotiate with one creditor, save $25, focus on paying down one debt. Then, when that one thing is accomplished, move on to another and another until you’ve gained some control. It’s much easier and more productive than spreading yourself thin trying to do it all at once.
To make the chunk system more effective and fun, make it visual. Make a list, a chart, or a spreadsheet showing all that you have to do, broken down into the chunks you’ve identified. Then, as you do one, cross it off or erase it. It’s satisfying to see the list of to do’s get smaller as the list of completions gets bigger.
Another way to get beyond “It’s impossible,” is to delegate responsibility to others that are capable, or to delegate lesser responsibilities to others so you can focus on your finances. If you’re married or have a significant other (or even a trusted roommate or friend), can your partner help with some of the work? Can he or she be counted upon to pay one bill or put $15 in the bank? If so, delegate. If you don’t have anyone capable of handling your finances, maybe you can delegate some easier work to them, freeing you to work on the money. For example, your twelve year old might not be able to pay a bill, but he or she can certainly clean the house or wash the car or mow the lawn to free up your time to focus on the finances. Delegating tasks can get you in control of your money faster and without as much work on your part.
Asking for help is another way to deal with impossible finances. You’re not expected to be an expert on everything. Tax or estate laws may leave you stumped, and you may not have any idea what to do when a debt collector calls. The good news is, there are plenty of people who know what you need to know. You only have to ask for help. You might not even have to go to an expert. Your neighbor or friend may know enough to help you, or you may find the answer on an internet discussion forum. But people can’t help if you don’t ask. And if you don’t ask, you only end up more frustrated than before. So ask for help.
You’ll also need to accept that some sacrifice is going to be required on your part and admit responsibility. This is a tough one for more people, but it’s crucial if you’re going to get past “It’s impossible.” If you’re fifty-five and haven’t saved for retirement, accept that you’re going to have to give something up and start saving so you don’t have to eat dog food in your old age. If you’ve got thousands in credit card debt, accept that you’re going to have to tighten down and fix it. Whatever the problem, if necessary, admit that you’ve screwed up and move on. Too many people get caught up in “But I didn’t know better,” or “I thought someone else would handle it,” or “You only live once, so I thought I should spend,” or “I figured I get around to that later,” and let that become their justification for not fixing the problem. To get past feeling like it’s all impossible to deal with, you have to acknowledge your screw-ups and then forget it. It’s past. You can’t change it. What matters is what you’re doing today to fix it.
While you’re in the throes of straightening up your finances, don’t forget to reward yourself. Choose something that won’t set your efforts back, like a trip to a free museum or a night at the dollar movie theater. Don’t choose something like shopping, a vacation, or an expensive meal. These will set you back. It’s important to acknowledge that you’re making progress and to reward yourself accordingly. When you pay off a debt or reach a certain savings goal, give yourself a treat. You’ll feel better and be motivated to earn the next reward.
When it starts to feel like too much, take a break and relax. Go outside, do something fun. Don’t get to the point where you get so frustrated that you don’t want to work on it anymore, otherwise you’re back to where you began. And make certain while your working on gaining control that you eat and sleep well, exercise and stay healthy. The healthier you are, the better able you are to deal with things. If you’re tired or undernourished, that only makes you frustrated faster. If you take these steps you’ll find that gaining control of your finances is possible.
Image courtesy of Alex