May 27, 2008

Staying on Track with Personal Finances

All the time, in personal finance blogs, you hear people talking about personal finance and financial planning. They discuss the best ways to reduce debt, the best ways to save for retirement, handy-dandy tools to get things cheaper, and generally how to better handle your money.

I know this, and I know that they know this, and I know that you know this, but managing money is not easy. It is extremely difficult to stick to a budget, to stay at home and eat instead of going out (which I would guess is one of the top 2 ways money is wasted), to put off that lavish vacation until the money to go has been saved, and just generally to do what is necessary to maintain a healthy financial situation.

Now, the people at these other sites have great information. The Get Rich Slowly author is in my blog reader, and I check out what they have to say every day. The information helps to keep everything in perspective for me. Same with I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit's site. His information is geared more toward the 20 somethings coping with new money and accumulated debt, and I think the things he has to say are great.

But it is hard, and I just wanted to let everyone know that I know it is hard, and I struggle with it as much as you do. A perfect analogy is this. Yesterday, I was playing golf with my wife. My wife is a pretty good golfer - so am I. She always talks about how she is going to beat me, straight up. Yesterday we put it to the test. Now, I am an avid golfer. I play at least 3-4 times a week and practice whenever I can. My wife plays a couple times a week, but not nearly as much as I do. As we are out on the course playing she hit an errant shot. Being frustrated, she asked me if she could hit it again or not count it. I said "sure, but this round won't count as you beating me." She was confused as to why not. I told her that the only way you can say you beat me is if you play by the rules, no cutting corners. She took her stroke, I beat her by 4 (she is gaining fast though - a little practice putting and she'll be close).

This story fits exactly into the way personal finance works. When you are out there making decisions, every day you are faced with whether to do the right thing, the thing that will get you where you want to go, the thing that will get you closer to your goals, or the thing that will provide instant gratification and make you feel good at that instant. It doesn't matter if technically it is cutting a corner because everyone (your spouse) agrees that it is okay, just this one time. Well, when it comes time to play for real, or in this case balance the checkbook, it becomes clear that your goals have not been reached. Playing by the rules all the time is hard, but if you want to win the game, you have to practice, according to the rules, even if they are hard. In time you will groove your personal finances like you groove your golf swing, and success will come easy. But taking shortcuts doesn't do you any good, even if it causes pain you'd much rather alleviate.

I guess where I really wanted this post to go was to acknowledge that yes, personal finance is very hard. That yes, you will have to do some things and give up some things that will make you uncomfortable in the short run. But in the end, when your financial goals have been reached, and the lessons of building wealth are ingrained in your every day habits, you will look back on those hard times with longing and include them in stories to your kids and grand kids about "walking up hill both ways in the snow."

So keep at it. Keep working, and even if you hit some bumps in the road, take that next step toward financial freedom.

Building Our Empire

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