The biggest excuse I see that stops people from taking control of their financial situation is the victim mentality. Any combination of demographics, “greedy” corporations, personal economic circumstances, lack of education, etc., are perceived by many as actively holding them back from achieving financial breathing room.
While some people certainly are facing situations that act as a definite barrier to getting on solid financial footing, I do believe that often what holds people back is their own self-limiting beliefs. And this belief is built on my own personal experience.
In late 2012, my wife and I had $83,000 of debt. Most of that was student loans, with about a third derived from a fully-loaded 2012 Honda Civic. We had over $1,000 going towards monthly minimum payments and we were making those payments with my Taco Bell $11.50/hour position and Georgi’s Office Depot job at $11/hour. To make matters worse, we were living in one of the most expensive cities in the country: Seattle.
If you want to see the victim card played, all you had to do was listen to us during this time. I had set state academic records and Georgi graduated from UW with honors, yet the only jobs we could get straight out of college were at a fast food restaurant and office supply store. Every job we applied for seemed to have the paradoxical requirement of experience and education. While we had the latter box checked, we constantly complained about the experience requirement employers seemed to thoughtlessly tack on to entry-level white collar job ads. Stuck in our jobs, every penny we made was going towards our student loans or car payment and we couldn’t seem to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
But then something happened: I got a different job that paid $13.50/hour. Ecstatic at the prospect of earning hundreds of more dollars each month, surely we’d be a little happier now, right?
Nah. Our complaints were just as frequent and our frustration seemed to keep growing. Yet just 6 months later, my wife found a job at $17.00/hour and I got a $0.50/hour pay bump. Woohoo!
Surely if we could live off nearly 50% less just a year prior, we would definitely start putting away some money for savings and start taking control of our financial situation with this newfound money, right? Wrong. Lifestyle inflation reared its ugly little head and every raise we got went to a slightly nicer apartment, nicer gifts, and regular dinners out. Throughout this year and its various pay ranges, our mentality stayed the exact same. We were “burdened” by substantial student loans and frustrated by employers, still stuck in a picky recession mindset, who seemed to have unrealistic job requirements.
Then, one day, after casually talking about wanting to prepare to start a family, we decided that we would pay off our Honda Civic within a year. This seemed difficult, outlandish, even. How could we pay off $23,000 in one year if we didn’t have a penny leftover at the end of each month? I started to google different ways to pay off car loans quickly, when I stumbled across the forums of a site called Mr. Money Mustache. From the forums, I started reading a few blog posts and within a month I had read all his content. This simple google search drastically changed the course of our lives. The focus went from complaining and making excuses as to why others could change their lives, but I couldn’t because of X, Y, and Z, to outrageous optimism, intentionality, and focusing on the long term bigger picture. I started to realize that, since I had no control over all of these companies and institutions that I had spent all of my energy and time complaining about, why should I waste my breath complaining about them? Instead, I redirected that time and energy to fixing what I could control: my spending, and ultimately, my income.
I became the best employee I could be. I took on as many on call shifts as I could, and when I was maximizing my income to the best of my ability, I turned to my expenses. We found a deal on Craigslist for an apartment that was just across the Ballard bridge, allowing me to walk to my office located in Ballard while avoiding the 50% Ballard markup on condos and apartments we would have paid living there.
By searching Craigslist for “need to rent asap,” we were able to find great deals from landlords that needed a tenant right away. We cut our grocery bill in half, switched to a low-cost cell carrier, cut cable, stopped eating out, replaced our car with a paid-in-cash 2000 Altima, reduced our absentminded spending, and started to spend more intentionally. Our savings/paying off debt rate eventually skyrocketed to nearly 70% of our take home pay, and for the first time in my life, I felt deeply motivated by my new purpose: to reach and achieve financial freedom through reasonable, frugal living that would allow me to maintain a happy, fulfilled life.
We started in a rough place that many college graduates might find themselves in: low-paying jobs, city-living, and a whole lot of debt. It was only when we shifted our mindset from a victim mentality to a mentality of personal responsibility and focusing on what we can control through intentionality, optimism and frugality that we started to see the power of this paradigm shift.
So if you find yourself complaining about your financial situation, take a step back. Look at your financial habits and see what you can actually do to make a difference. Chances are you have a lot more flexibility than you think. Maybe you don’t need that Iphone X. Perhaps you don’t need to go out to eat three times a week. Maybe you’d be just as happy in a cheaper, used car that frees up cash flow each month for you to pay off debt, save, or invest, than you would be in your brand new Civic that keeps you living paycheck to paycheck.
Stop focusing on things you can’t control and start focusing on things you can. This simple shift in your frame of mind can truly change your life.