3 Tricks our Brain Plays on Us to Keep Us in Financial Distress

by Chris Tecmire

Brain

 

Do you want to be in debt?  Of course not!  What a silly question.  No one does.  So, why do so many people continue to drown in debt?

You know the answer, so let’s all say it together…

Their Expenses > Their Income

It’s simple and irrefutable math.  However, sometimes the problem’s more psychological than mathematical.

My crash course in financial psychology 101 occurred when I worked in the collection department of a community bank a few years ago.  In fact, I learned more about how the mind works and what holds us back during that job than I ever did in college (and I minored in Psychology).  I guess I had never really considered the role our psyche plays in our pocketbook until then.  Now that my eyes have been opened, I see the same stories play out everywhere…all the time.

Our mind can be a powerful tool to either help us overcome incredible obstacles or disable us from passing even the smallest hurdles.  Here are 3 of the brain blocks that hurt our chances of finding financial freedom.

 

1.  The “I Deserve It” Mentality

 

We all want nice things, but the key to financial responsibility is balancing what we want with what we can afford.  However, sometimes the “I deserve it” mentality sneaks in and sabotages our efforts.  This has become more and more prevalent in recent years as society continues to inform us all of the things that we’re missing out on.  Advertisers consistently shout, “go ahead, you’re worth it.”  We are made to believe that we MUST have a certain type of smart phone, drive a specific vehicle, or eat at a certain restaurant to be perceived as successful in this world.  After awhile, we believe it.  We believe that we deserve a $80,000 wedding, a $60,000 vehicle, and a $600,000 house because the nice people on TV say so.  And, if you can’t believe Charlie Sheen, who can you believe?

I couldn’t tell you the number of people with very healthy incomes who I had to call month after month while working in collections.  Most of them were struggling due to this mindset.  I’ve talked to everyone from teachers with too many toys to doctors with $200,000 in credit card debt.  One time I called a family to find out when they would be able to make their mortgage payment (consistently over 60 days late for 5 or 6 years), only to find out that they were on vacation in Cancun…again!  When asked about it, they explained that just because they were behind on their mortgage doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a vacation like the rest of us.

Have you ever heard of camping?!

The Solution:

Take your expectations down a bit.  Ambition is great, but contentment is better.  Center your ambitions around helping others, creating something beautiful, providing for your family, or being a better spouse instead of owning this or that.

Not sure how to put it in perspective?  Visit the non-tourist areas of Haiti, India, or just about anywhere in Africa.  I went to the Dominican Republic to help build a school in college, and the things I saw struck me to the core and changed my viewpoint forever.  It’ll cost you some money for the trip, but think of it as an investment, because it will redefine what you deserve.  You’ll see people who have less than nothing by our standards and are often still able to put our smiles to shame.

80% of the people in Haiti live in poverty and, yet, there are 18 countries in the world that are poorer than Haiti!  Did you know that every 3 seconds, someone in the world dies of starvation? Visiting a country where this is a struggle each and every day really makes those statistics real.

 

2.  The “Live For The Moment” Mentality

 

This is the mindset that I struggled with in my early 20’s.  I call it “Financial Willy-nillyness.”  It’s common at that age.  Don’t get me wrong – I think embracing each moment and not taking anything for granted is a splendid idea.  That’s not the problem.  I’m not talking about spontaneity.  It’s financial spontaneity that’s the worry here.

At that age, I didn’t balance my checkbook, let alone create a budget or worry about my credit card balances.  Why?  Because I had no interest in worrying about the future.  I hardly looked past next weekend, so I certainly wasn’t concerned about creating an emergency fund, savings account, or 401K.  I assumed that I had enough money in my checking account, and for the most part I was correct, but my assumptions didn’t leave any room for leftovers.  I used every penny and more. 

Therefore, I wasn’t able to pay down my current debt, and I ended up racking up even more debt because each new emergency created a reason to use my credit cards.  I was deep into the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

People choose to live this way because it’s easy.  And living for the moment is more fun, right?  But, it’s only fun for awhile.  After that, it tends to be pretty miserable actually, as all of the perks that you used to enjoy are no longer a possibility.  Living for the moment is short-lived.  I ended up with around $40,000 in non-mortgage debt by my mid to late 20’s.

I’m 32 now and it’s all gone.  Much of my recent success can be attributed to a willingness to budget, save, and track my expenses.  A willingness to plan.  I take great joy in planning ahead these days because I’ve seen the results.  The irony is that my salary then and now has changed very little, which clearly demonstrates that there was extra income there all along.

The Solution:

Ask yourself these questions.  How long will the “fun” be able to last?  Wouldn’t new and exciting opportunities arise if you were able to get out of debt and have some disposable income?

Also, realize that much of the live-for-the-moment financial strategy is simply laziness disguised as spontaneity.  Try making a budget and tracking your expenses for a couple months and see what happens.  You’ll find that it’s painless and keeps you from being ignorant about your finances.

 

3.  The “Woe Is Me” Mentality

 

I heard a lot of very sad stories while working in collections.  Medical emergencies and lost jobs are two of the most common.  It’s heartbreaking to hear what people have to go through.  The goal of the next couple paragraphs is not to make light of their situations.  The goal is to provide insight into why some people struggle for years and years after tragedy strikes.

Everyone on earth will end up neck deep in their share of truly difficult circumstances at some point in their life.  It’s inevitable.  During these times our finances often end up in shambles.  If you haven’t been able to save enough, a lost job will most likely cause you to pile up debt.  Even if you have planned ahead, a long layoff may very well wipe out your savings account.  This is obviously a trying time for everyone.  The key is how you respond after the storm is long gone.

The “woe is me” mentality is about those people that let past difficulties linger.  I’ll give you an example.  We have a customer who used to construct new homes.  Once upon a time, he did very well for himself.  He had nice income, a nice home, and plenty of disposable income.  But, that was 7 or 8 years ago when the economy was flourishing and homes were being built left and right.  He’s been on our collection lists every month since that time.

Recently I spoke to him about a plan going forward (one of the many times we’ve spoke over the years), and nearly every other statement referenced the good old days – how much he used to make, how cheap gas used to be, and on and on.  The point of the meeting was to discuss the future.  We were looking to help him in any way we could, but he couldn’t get past 2005.  His mind was unable or unwilling to consider any of the alternatives and options that could help him.  Unwilling to do anything but hope for a recovery, there’s a good chance his story will end with foreclosure.

I feel bad for him as I do for so many people who are struggling, but “woe is me” won’t help.  Don’t let your mind get stuck in reverse.  Instead of constantly reliving the past, make a plan to adapt to the future. 

The Solution:

Make a new goal.  Make it a reasonable and realistic goal, and focus your energy and creativity on making it happen.  Keep your mind on the next step and look forward to the future.  It has the chance to be bright.

 

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line.  We know what we need to do to get out of debt and live a more fulfilling life.  We have no shortage of financial knowledge and resources at our finger tips.  There’s only one thing standing in our way – our brain.  Don’t let it play tricks on you.

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Brain Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa August 22, 2012 at 9:22 am

Thank you SOO much for this article-it is all VERY true and at one point or another I have been in every category-sometimes going back and forth between 1 and 3. But if I am down about the circumstances I try to remember that I think my life is in a terrible spot-but there are many people out there who would love the chance to live as good as me, to have healthy kids, to only have the “small” in perspective worries that I have, that there are people who are walking miles today to get clean water and I am so lucky, so blessed to be who I am. I just wish I could remember that all the time. But baby steps right?

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Chris Tecmire August 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Yes…baby steps. We ALL forget how good we have it from time to time. We take our lives for granted because we have our own issues to deal with, even if our financial issues don’t begin to compare to 75% of the rest of the world. Either way, the first step is just realizing that this is the case, and it sounds like you’ve done that. Good luck and God Bless Lisa. Thanks for the comment.

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Dave Wisniewski August 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Great perspectives! All very true…

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Grandmama August 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I’m so proud of you! You got your “thriftiness” from your mom – she got it from her grandma and I. well, I fell somewhere in between the cracks!! However, I like to think you got some of your amazing ability to write about it so “cleverly” from me!! Love you all so very much! Grandmama (GG to Landry)

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Dianne August 23, 2012 at 9:44 am

Thank you for making this so easy to understand! As the price of everything continues to rise, your advice to all of us couldn’t come at a better time! The “I deserve it” mentality reminds me of a business that made a ton of money using the slogan “you deserve a break today”. With the belief in the Mayan (sp?) calender I’m thinking that “live for the moment” mentality may cause some overspending this year….keep up the great work Chris!

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Chris Tecmire August 24, 2012 at 7:08 am

Thanks Dianne! Yeah, I hadn’t thought of Mayan connection. Things might get interesting later in the year :)

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Matthew August 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm

You have some good thoughts and I agree with you about the metal mindset. You had spoke about people who have had major hardships and mentioned the “woe is me” mind set, I think you can take it a step further. I think you can split it off to the “what the crap am I going to do people.” I’d say that is where my family and I fall. My issue is not about dwelling on the past and feeling bad for ourselves, our issue is the fact that I don’t have anything to fall back on. For the sake of repeating myself and spitting out our story, I will let you check out my site. I will sum it up real quick. Last summer I had a major accident that eventually deteriorated to the point that I had no choice but to have a very serious Orthopedic surgery. My surgery was at the beginning of the year and I just as of last month finished about an 8 month recovery. As a result of the accident I am no longer able to work in the 2 previous fields I had worked so hard for and gone to school for. Because of my restrictions I was very limited on what kind of jobs I was able to seek out. We were already living a very basic lifestyle; no car payments, $540 mortgage, no extras, just the basics. Anything lower that this would be jeopardizing my families safety in another part of town. Since I was not able to work, I had not gotten paid since the beginning of the year. We have been blessed to have wonderful family and friends that have helped carry us through this time, but everything eventually catches up with you. Everything really caved in about 2 months ago. All our credit cards are behind, I can’t even start to think about paying medical bills, and we are at the point of the whole groceries vs gas decisions. I was blessed to have found a new career, but unfortunately it is no where close to what I was making before. We have about a $1500 deficit partly because of the credit cards. It is about a $600-700 deficit with just our basics. Unfortunately, we have gas draining cars that aren’t worth a lick, but are in decent condition and are paid for. Due to our job schedules and distance, we aren’t able to be a one car family. Gas alone drains $500. My wife is a teacher and my daughter goes to the same school and we get a very nice discount. We ran the numbers and looked into a higher paying job with more hours, but after outrageous childcare expenses and gas increase, we would only be bringing home an extra $200. And literally killing ourselves to make it happen.

Unfortunately, my job makes it very difficult to add a part time job because of the hours at work. I work at a highly secured place with sensitive information, so that led us to having to sign a conflict of interest clause and pretty much agreeing to no extra jobs. The perk to this job is that even though I am starting very low, there are very good chances to work my way up fast and get back up to the pay I use to make. Unfortunately, when you have no experience or just the restrictions that prevent you from obtaining that jobs that you qualify for, you’re kind of screwed.

We are a family of 3 and literally make $8 over the allowed limit for Government benefits. They actually told my wife to quit her job so we could get the food benefits and assistance. That just did not seem right.

We never thought we would be in this position. Currently, I really need to work an extra part time job just to meet the basics. This leaves us with no other option than to seek out bankruptcy. We can’t even do that now because it cost like $1200 to pay a lawyer. Thankfully, we are current on our mortgage, not ever having a late payment over the 3 years we have lived here.

Here is my issue: Do we let our mortgage go late a few months in order to pay for the Bankruptcy and then pay the late amount due when we get our tax return?

As of right now, the only fix to our situation without looking way ahead into the future is to file, then at best sell our house and move in with family at little to no cost. This would allow us to get back on our feet and start fresh. Thankfully, I am part Cherokee Indian and possibly have the option to have a 3-4 bedroom house built in the near future for about $350 a month. That is only if we stay in state. We have two family options, with one being in state and the other out of state. Both families have a lot on their plate and I feel adding us to the situation could make things stressful. The out of state option would be the better of the 2 emotionally, but then that leaves us with seeking out jobs.

We are at a loss of what to do. We have sold nearly everything we can. We have considered doing different things on the side for cash, but I have to be careful about the whole lifting thing. Sorry to dump on you, just needed someone to share with that is outside of family and my blog world. Also, if you have not read my site yet and just seen the name: this project is not a solve all problems thing we are relying on. It is just something I came up with creatively as a cool trading up challenge and writing outlet.

We have also started Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, but with the lack of income, there is not much we can progress with right now. We have also looked into filing to stop credit card payments for 30-90 days, but right now would not even make a difference. We had no past payment issues until a few months ago.

Thanks for the encouragement and wisdom,

—-Matthew

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Chris Tecmire August 24, 2012 at 7:06 am

Matthew, thanks for the comment. I’ll email you a response to your question.

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Matthew August 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm

whoops, typo: that should be **mental mindset, rather than “metal”

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Kishor August 31, 2012 at 1:51 am

Thanks a ton for having such a nice article / suggestion / treasure, which must help a lot who are in financial illusion.

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