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Success is a Journey, Not a Destination

Credit Wise (featured column)
by Jennifer Wallis

I’m not sure who originally said "Success is a journey, not a destination," but I really like that quote. The same thing could easily be said in the context of financial security. Over the nearly 13 years that I have been in the money management realm, I have encountered so many people that feel like they are unintelligent because they have mishandled money. The honest fact is that money management has nothing to do with intelligence. Plenty of highly intelligent people struggle when it comes to things like dealing with credit, budgeting, and saving money. Good money management skills really come from a variety of sources.

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First of all, we have to learn how to manage money. It just isn’t a skill that most people are born with (I know I wasn’t). If you are really stressed about your financial situation or want to improve it, take a class, surf the web (you’re in the right place here on www.BetterBudgeting.com), and spend a little time learning tips to help you stay in control. The more you know, the better you will navigate the financial challenges that life will inevitably throw your way.

Next, good money management takes planning and sacrifices.  Even really good money managers will face financial challenges from time to time. Last year, when my husband and I had to start paying nearly $600 per month in additional daycare expenses, it could have been a financial crisis. Instead, we decided to plan ahead and make some cuts. We sat down and reviewed our expenses. The periodic housekeeper that had been a life saver when it came to dusting and other time consuming jobs was no longer an option for us so we let her go. We reviewed the cable bill and eliminated channels we didn’t need. We changed to a less expensive and slightly slower internet service. We took some money from savings and paid off a couple of small bills so we could eliminate the monthly expense. We started to cook in more often and grew a garden to lower the grocery bill. In all, we were able to cut almost the entire $600 from our monthly budget just because we planned ahead. Even though daycare is still a big expense for us, we were able to make a few lifestyle changes so that we didn’t end up financially strapped.

Good money management takes tenacity. It seems to me that people who are stressed about money think that everyone else must have it figured out. Well, the truth is that we don’t. People who pay their bills on time and have money in savings and retirement still struggle financially sometimes. There is no magic finish line where a cheering crowd stands poised to chant your name when you finally become "financially secure." The difference is that the well informed consumer will fight to make the right choice or to make it right even when they don’t.

Most of all, it comes down to a choice. I have to decide to buy what I need but not always what I want (I can only fit so many shoes in my closet). I have to decide to pay cash instead of using a credit card. I have to decide to pay off my credit cards instead of carrying a balance if I do use one. I have to make the hard decision to come home from work and cook when I’d rather run through the drive through because it will save me money to eat at home. I have to buy the kids school clothes on sale instead of full price.

Financial education strengthens your resolve to make the right choice instead of the one that you may want to make. It empowers you to make decisions that support your financial position instead of sabotaging it. Knowledge is that little voice in your head telling you to log off of the online shopping site because you don’t need anything else and can’t afford it right now anyway. Good money managers aren’t necessarily smarter than anyone else but they may have received enough training to make the angels’ voice on their shoulder telling them to be responsible louder than the devil’s voice that is telling them that they simply must have that new item they can’t afford and that they are a good person and deserve it.

It’s important to remember that financial management is a journey and one that will have its highs and lows just like any other. Even if you make a poor financial choice or a series of ten of them, it’s critical to stay on track or get back on as soon as possible. Don’t just throw your budget out the window and chalk yourself up as a failure. Stop beating yourself up and get back to listening to that little angel on your shoulder.

Earlier this year, at one of our money management classes, we received an interesting evaluation comment. One of the participants said, "I need more time one on one with a counselor to force me to change." That really struck me. That participant hadn’t yet understood that the choice is theirs and that no one can force change. Even if we made them run laps until they promised never to overspend again, there would still come a day where they faced temptation and no one would be there to tell them what to do. Money management is all about learning how to make good financial choices and having the determination to make them day to day, hour by hour.  Once you understand that, you’ll be well on your way to leaving that feeling of dread in the dust when the word "money" is mentioned and to feeling more financially secure.

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Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Wallis. All rights reserved.

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