I’d like to take a moment to be mean. I not going to be a bully-type of mean. Bullies are a special breed of mean — a stupid, slobbery mean. The kind of mean that has little substance and a lot of supremacy. I hate bullies. Several have crossed my path over the years and I’ve done my best to steer clear of their shallow, selfish behavior — even when they pulled out my hair as a kid or tried to get me fired as an adult. So I’m not about to become a tormenting mean bully. I just don’t have that in me.
But I do want to get a little mean with you. A friendly sort of mean. The type of mean where a good friend would take you out for a drink (or coffee) and chat you up in a concerned, caring way. We’re not squawking about an intervention here, but rather, some serious tough love.
Ready? Here goes … and remember I’m buying you that drink (or coffee) by taking the time to tell you the honest to goodness truth. I’ll stop stalling now … gulp!
If you’re broke, please don’t email me to whine about it. I know money sucks when you’re stretched to the limit. I know buying a house is expensive. I know credit cards can be devices of torture masquerading as shiny pieces of plastic pleasure. I know buying quality foods can cost more than buying processed crap. I know that digging oneself out of a pit of dark debt seems insurmountable. I know that school is expensive and paying back that massive student loan is difficult, especially when your degree pays peanuts. I know life is hard. I know being single is expensive. I know being married is expensive. And there’s no doubt that getting divorced can be a drain too. I don’t have kids, but I hear they ain’t cheap either. Yes, working two (maybe even three) jobs is exhausting. I haven’t been all of these things. Maybe you have. But on the surface all these reasons for being broke are just the result of a much bigger problem. So if you’re ready to stop complaining about life’s circumstance, then here’s the remedy — the real reason why you’re broke.
1. You spend good money on crap.
Are you craptastic? Cool, I’m sure the marketers love you since you’re spending your hard-earned money on crap. And you know the crap I’m squawking about. Crap is the stuff that’s cluttering your home and bursting out of your front door. It’s the disposable, upgradeable, and superfluous stuff you buy in a heart-beat because you’re worth it! But crap costs. Crap consumes your space, can initially make you feel good but can lead to feelings of guilt, and can make you broke. Please, learn to identify crap and end the spending spree – you’re worth it. Smile. See Just say NO to crap! for the craptastic details.
2. You don’t have a budget.
I’m dropping the B-word ’cause I know you don’t have a budget, have little clue about your living costs, and don’t track your spending. Yes, starting a budget can be scary and learning about your true financial situation can be a bummer. Get over it. Please. Do the mathy math for once and for all and find your net worth, add up all your debt, track your spending, and build a budget that reflects your real reality — not the la-la land dream-world you prefer to live in. Only when you face the facts by spending the time to manage your money will you stop being broke.
3. You don’t earn enough.
This is a hard one to swallow, so I’m ordering you a second drink. If you can’t balance your budget after cutting the crap from your spending, then you’re probably not earning enough money. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Take a sip.
There was a time in my life when I had three jobs — THREE JOBS — to make ends meet. I worked my tail off to earn enough cash to cover the rent, buy better quality food, and pay off my student debt. You want to know How I Paid Off My Student Debt in Six Months? I worked my arse off with a full-time job plus two oddball gigs evenings and weekends! I didn’t own a car, I didn’t wear fancy clothing, and I didn’t wine and dine on the weekends. I was broke, after all. And I worked most minutes of every day to bring home enough dough to dig myself out. The answer here isn’t easy — you’ll have to find a way to make more money. Check out How To Find a Job for some pavement pounding ideas. Love is tough, I know. Smile.
4. You don’t pay off your debt.
If you don’t have a plan to conquer your debt, then you’re going to be broke forever. Do yourself a solid by downloading the Debt Reduction Spreadsheet to dig yourself out, starting today. While you’re at it, set your financial goals and make your Needs and Wants List — only then can you really tackle that mess you put yourself in.
Once you’re in the know, it’s time to look at ways to increase your minimum payments. Paying just the minimum balance is a sure-fire way to keep the debt hanging around your neck like a noose forever, so dig into that debt by paying it off sooner. Don’t believe me? My handy dandy Credit Card Calculator shows you how many years it will take and how much interest you’ll pay by just paying the minimum. Yes, the results will probably make you cry. So deal with it, already.
5. You don’t save.
If you’re up to your eyeballs in debt there’s no doubt that it’s very very hard to save 10 percent of your take-home pay. I hear ya. But saving even a smidgen of your salary for a rainy day or in an emergency fund is a wise way to get started. I’m a big fan of savings and have tapped my own emergency fund when times got tough in Reasons to Build and Love an Emergency Fund. You may not need surgery like I did, but you never know when tough times happen.
Start a savings plan by taking a good hard look at your spending patterns, your subscriptions and services, and find ways to cut back. For example, downgrading your television package — or canceling it completely — adds up to money that could be put into a high interest savings account. The idea is to be consistent and set up automatic deposits into a specific account set aside for emergencies. Get some ideas in 50 Ways to Save $1,000 a Year. It’s not hard to save — you just have to want to do it.
6. You’re clueless about your investments.
Do you know what you’re invested in, or did you let your financial advisor pick a bunch of posh-sounding investments without asking a single question? It’s your money and you have every right to know your Return on Investment (a calculator), How Much Your Mutual Funds Really Cost (a calculator), and How Long Until Your Investments Recover (another calculator). Not asking these questions or knowing the answers is a smart way to lose your shirt in the market. Not fun.
Getting clued-in to investing is not hard, just follow these steps:
STEP ONE: Learn the basics.
- Ram from Canadian Capitalist links to a Free Download of The Elements of Investing by Burton Malkiel and Charles Ellis. This freebie is fabulous for Americans and Canadians, so go and download it now.
- J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly wants you to learn How to Read a Mutual Fund Prospectus. The Devil is in the details, people!
STEP TWO: Learn about financial advice.
- Preet Banerjee from Where Does all My Money Go offers these articles for hiring a financial advisor: Do you need a financial advisor?, Financial Advisor Compensation Options, and Investors Using An Advisor Could Probably Be DIY Investors.
STEP THREE: Become a ‘Couch Potato’ investor?
- Scott Burns from the The Dallas Morning News shares his Recipes for Couch Potato Portfolios. They look tasty to me!
- Dan Bortolotti from the Canadian Couch Potato answers the question: Should You Use Index Funds or ETFs? and offers these Model Portfolios for Canadians.
There, I said it. So no more whining, hating on my blog, or complaining to me about being broke. If something is broken, then go fix it. I’ll raise a glass to that…
Squawkback: I know I missed a bunch — what are some other reasons why people are broke?