Ever bring up the subject of college funds at a party? Just watch the heads bow and the backs turn. It seems like the topic of money is more off-limits than even religion or politics. So, why is it that we keep our money matters so deeply buried in our closets? Well, I think it’s because we’re just plain ol’ embarrassed.
But, really, we shouldn’t be. Total responsibility for our financial lives has been thrust upon us. We’re trying to pony up for our own retirements while anticipating exorbitant college costs. Insurance is through the roof. And, it’s already impossible to face the rising standards of the American Dream: home ownership and family cars are old-hat for some, and more of us seem easily swayed by private schools and pricey vacations. Debt is our constant companion.
Add to this the guilt that we’re either not earning enough or not saving enough. What’s our solution? Panic. Soothe ourselves with the promise that we’ll deal with it later. Still, we know we’re losing precious time. But we don’t know what to do, so we don’t do anything. Except hide.
Of course, we can always find bliss in ignorance, and convince ourselves that money issues — like math — are boring and a waste of our creative talents. We think these are matters better relegated to the world of the drone accountants. It’ll all work itself out in the end, we say. Why dirty our hands with such superficialities?
And, even if we’re among those poised to take charge, our partners may not be. “Opposites attract” doesn’t always work out so well in matters of money. Without common financial goals, we may work against each other and get nowhere. One saves because the other spends. One buys on impulse, so the other refuses to hire out major repairs. Left unresolved, our marital money conflicts threaten our financial futures and can even erode the whole “love, honor, and cherish” thing.
Whatever our reasons for ignoring our finances, the fact is that we continue devoting our daily lives to the pursuit of money. If we ever plan to get off this train, we’ve got to make sure that the money we put away now will be enough for later. It’s important. It’s not about fancy cars. It’s about retirement, our golden years, when we’ll want time to play with our grandchildren. And, if we do get social security, maybe even travel a little.
Look, we’re — all of us — getting heart palpitations over this. So, let’s take a deep breath, march right over to our closets, and yank out this skeleton. When we take back control of our finances, we’ve placed ourselves firmly on the road to financial integrity. And, we’ll know when we’ve arrived because we’ll feel proud that we’re spending wisely and saving deliberately. We’ll feel comforted because the future will stop looming like a big black hole. So, how do we get to this financial Oz? One step at a time.
Personal finance ain’t rocket science. But, it is a maze. And, there is a catch. For most of us, time is the key to a successful financial future. But the time it takes to figure out how to take advantage of time is time we could have better spent growing our money. This column is designed to shortcut the figuring-out process so that we can take advantage of that critical time right now.
What’s up next? Navigating the Holidays.
Berry is not a Certified Financial Planner. Before making any financial decisions, evaluate all information carefully and consider consulting a financial professional.