Show of hands: Who wants to stop wasting money? Specifically, money you don’t have? Yeah, my hand is up too. By the time we reach midlife, most of us are aware that physical, emotional and financial health are all interrelated. Basic as it may seem, there is truth in the idea that to change your mind is to change your life. Sadly, so many of us spend decades in denial, ignoring the looming disasters in our personal lives. We struggle to break free from mindsets, beliefs and family history in all areas. (The above link is to one of my favorite mindset podcasters, Ed Mylett.)
Denial. It is not just a river in Egypt, people.
Let me share a concerning conversation I had today:
This morning, I was in an office lobby, waiting for my meeting to start. I was chatting with a casual male friend. Nice guy, mid thirties, wife, two kids, healthy and smart.
He was he was hoping to golf today. I asked him how his schooling was progressing. He has enrolled in a local law university to finish up a degree. He was sharing how he was waiting to hear if he had received approval for a credit transfer. Then he mentioned that he was taking two more classes this summer for the fun of it.
Joking, I asked him if he enjoyed wasting money on the “college burn pile.” I still can’t believe what he said next. He looked straight at me and said “Oh, it’s all on federal loans. I took my first loan out in 1998 and still taking them out today.” I stared at him, stunned at his casual response. Then he offered this information-
“I think my loan amount is around $235,000.00. Wait, maybe closer to $240,000 since I am taking those two summer classes. “
Holy Debt Load Batman!
How do I respond to that revelation? Maybe- Congratulations? Or possibly- OMG? How about – No freakin’ way?
I stood there, shivering in shock and awe at the weight of his loan spreadsheet.
And to sweeten the story, he isn’t employed. Not sure exactly how or why he isn’t working, but he does not create a paycheck. His wife is employed in a financial sector job. She might need to start robbing banks to prepare for his school loan payments! (Joking!!)
Pretty sure my friend has been snorkeling in the good old river of Denial.
Denial- refusing to admit the truth about or reality of something unpleasant.
Apparently, this guy has chosen to live his life in state of deferred financial reality. His pictures on social look like an average family, enjoying vacations, sports events, and personal hobbies. All the while, the specter of debt floats next to him, a quarter of a million dollars. As our chat continued, he shared a couple of golf stories with me and then it was time for my meeting, so we parted ways. He seemed to be pretty happy when he left. I was a wreck, thinking about that staggering amount of school loan debt.
I remember back to the early years of my former marriage, when we were in a large amount of credit card debt. My feelings about that debt would vacillate between two polar opposites. First, I would feel convicted, vowing to stop wasting money. Realizing the trouble we were in, part of me hungered to get out of debt and never go back. But then, something “fun” or “shiny” or “must have” would come along, and I would immediately whip out the plastic therapy card. Making excuses for my lack of self control, I would buy whatever the thing was that I had to have, eat or wear. I know how to ride the inner tube on the river of Denial, I remember how helpless it can feel to be sucked into the swift, moving financial currents.
In fact, I could probably captain a Denial river cruise ship.
I wanted to share this story for the following three reasons:
1. We all must admit that at some point, in some area, we are operating in denial.
Denial about our health. Denial about our kids choices. Denial about our marriage troubles. And like my friend, denial about looming financial storms. Routinely wasting money is a form of denial about our inner emotional needs. Immaturity, pain or self soothing, the decision to waste money needs to be identified and emotionally resolved.
2. When we operate in denial, we hurt other people.
Our lack of self control impacts others, creating a rough ride for our family, including our children. There is a very good chance those cute kids, who think the world of their daddy, will continue in the debt cycle when they enter college. There can’t possibly be enough money in that family’s single income to pay for Dad’s accumulated school debt and to fund a college education for both children. I do not doubt his love for his children and his wife, but his choices have set a course that the whole family must sail through for decades.
3. The more debt you carry, the less flexible you are to new opportunities and life changes.
When you are in large amounts of debt, you can’t pivot quickly as circumstances might require. Debt and denial can hold you back from the larger plans and purposes you have for this life. Life is long and change will come, it is critical to be as financially flexible as possible. It is critical to stop wasting money you don’t have!
Midlife is Magical
To be clear, I am not against wealth. Have nice things if you can afford them. Get educated as cheaply as possible. Be creative with your income. Spend, save and give some of your paycheck away. But please choose to be healthy in your finances, your body and in your soul.
Please, at least take this one step to help you with your money:
Be real. Be painfully real. Look at what your choices are doing to your family. Ask your spouse to be transparent with you. Request feedback on how your actions are impacting your marriage. Consider the messages you are sending to your children. Begin instilling in them emotional and financial skills that will serve them as they journey to independence.
Start today, commit to a lifestyle of financial responsibility. “Midlife you”will thank you and your family will thank you when you build financial stability.
And for the love- stop swimming in the river of Denial!