One misconception that people have about me is that because I'm a financial coach, I have always been good with money and personal finance. “Brad, you just get this stuff! That’s why you're debt free!"
I am about to shock you. I was terrible with money and personal finance. I did just about everything you shouldn’t do with money. I was deep into debt. I didn’t have very much in savings, in fact, most of the time, the balance hovered around $0. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck and was just barely getting by each month. “If I could just make more money, that would fix everything,” I would tell myself. WRONG! I just ended up going further into debt and spending money on stuff I didn’t need.
Fast-forward to today, and my financial life is nothing like what it used to be. I'm now completely debt free. I have money in the bank. I save for retirement. I'm currently saving to buy a home with cash. I'm saving for my son's college education, and we also have a baby girl on the way and we will be doing the same for her too!
Looking back at my past mistakes, and now helping people through their financial challenges, I learned that we didn’t get into our situations overnight. We don’t magically wake up one morning with car payments, student loans, and credit card debt. Where you currently find yourself with your finances happens one decision at a time spread out over years.
It’s buying that shirt or those jeans on credit that you just couldn’t live without.
It’s buying that music for $1.29 a track and putting it on the card.
It’s that day you couldn’t say no to the deals online and you couldn't pass up on FREE shipping!
It’s financing that car right out of high school or college, and then trading it in to buy another, and then doing it again and again.
It’s that day you forgot your lunch, and you headed out with your co-workers, and you didn’t have cash, so you swiped that card.
It’s that time you signed up for the latest phone, and then the time after that and the time after that.
It’s the day you signed up for that credit card to save at the register with the intention of, “I’ll pay it off right away.” But, you didn’t.
It’s that time you desperately needed a vacation, but you didn’t have the cash, so you charged it. “Everyone needs a vacation; you only live once!”
It’s that time you got let go from your job, and you had to live on credit cards or payday loans for a few weeks or even months until you found another job.
It’s that time when Christmas just snuck up on you, and you didn’t have any money to buy your kids and family presents.
It’s that time you signed up for every channel the cable or satellite company offers.
It’s that time you decided to buy a $3-4 cup of coffee, but now you find yourself going there every day.
I wasn’t broke, and other people aren’t broke because of one purchase or one decision. I was broke for hundreds of tiny bad decisions that I made over the years that added up to an enormous financial mess. It isn’t death by one cut; it's death by 1,000 cuts.
So how do we change this? One good decision at a time. We can’t keep doing the same things and expect a different result. If you want to lose weight, you can’t eat a whole package of Oreos. If you want to get more sleep, you can’t stay up until midnight watching late night TV. If you want to get out of debt, you have to stop using it! If you want to save money, you can’t spend all of the money you make.
The best way to make better decisions is to begin writing down what you're spending your money on. Most people who are struggling with debt are very unorganized, and they aren't paying close attention to where their hard-earned dollars are going. Print out your bank statements, and if you're using credit cards, print those statements out too. These will be a great tool to help you see your past and current spending habits.
WARNING! You are about to get a real sickening feeling in your stomach when you see how much wasteful spending is really going on; I see this time and time again. The good news is that sickening feeling will fuel the need for change which will help you improve your financial life and it will cause you to make better decisions. These decisions over time will put on a new course to a stress-free, and maybe even a debt-free life!
If you want something different for your financial life, you have to start doing things differently. I did, and so have our Roots of Personal Finance members. We are winning because ultimately we have decided to do money differently. You can, too!