I’ve touched on the idea that our words influence our beliefs which in turn influence our actions. In this post, I want to discuss the words and actions of two people who had trouble understanding the word “stop” in the phrase, “Stop spending money.” They thought it meant something other than quit, cease, end, discontinue, terminate, or bring to a halt.
It’s funny in a way. Who doesn’t know what “stop” means – really, come on, you have to be kidding. How might you explain to law enforcement that the meaning of “stop” on that large red sign back there just wasn’t abundantly clear in your mind?
Anyway, here are stories of two people who just didn’t “get it” when they were told to “stop spending money.”
Before we dive into the personal lives of others, let me be clear about my intentions. I’m not here to embarrass anyone, find fault or make fun. My intention is to use examples from real life situations that will help some of this “soft technology” stick better, so we can improve our chances of success in personal financial matters based on insights from genuine experience. If we keep these “dirty little secrets” in the closet, they do no one any good at all. And, if you think the truth is uncomfortable, just wait until you proceed unaware into the swift and deep waters of financial irresponsibility. It’s no fun, so let’s learn from others to the extent that we can.
An acquaintance of mine went through bankruptcy because his wife didn’t know what her husband meant when he said, “stop spending money.” It seems clear to me, but it wasn’t to her at the time. When I spoke with her later on, oddly enough, she explained that she thought what he meant was something akin to a stop sign. Her idea was she needed to stop, and then go again. She even held her hands up to gesture as if she had a hold of a steering wheel when she explained her understanding of the word “stop.”
The doubter inside me believes that this was simply a cover story to save face. Okay, be that as it may, perhaps her husband should have used other, more specific instructions. How much more specific does it need to be? I think “stop spending money” is quite clear.
As near as I can tell, our bankrupt couple are still together, but I can’t say that for the next couple who also had their share of money problems.
This story is similar. A friend’s wife was spending tens of thousands of dollars each month, and was instructed by her husband to “stop spending money.” Again, it’s pretty clear to me what that sentence means. Nevertheless, this man’s wife pleaded misunderstanding of the word “stop” by explaining that she thought he meant, “stop spending money on me.”
Okay, this is a plausible explanation, but again, it’s likely just another excuse being offered to save face and justify all of the “fun” that spending gobs of money can be. Well, my friend solved the problem through divorce after he had been brought to his financial knees. In other words, their relationship ended, it was terminated, it was discontinued – all good synonyms for the word “stop.”
Enough of the stories. Let’s get down to the business of seeing what we can learn from the behavior of these couples. From what I know, here is where I think they went wrong, and where others have an opportunity to learn from their poorly managed financial and personal affairs.
- Mismatched values – something that is essential for individuals to get along. The values don’t have to match perfectly, but they should be close. We need to keep our eyes open with respect to the values others exhibit with respect to financial matters, especially if we’re going to marry, go into business, or otherwise share financial assets and interests with them.
- Never established a clear understanding of how household finances would be handled. Money is perhaps the single most troublesome topic for couples. The issue of personal finance needs to be placed out on the table so it’s clear how things will be managed.
- Failure to resolve problems in the formative stages. Problems can be a lot like a leaky pipe – they don’t get better on their own. Problems need effective solutions if you expect to put them to bed.
- Lack of “skin” in the game. It’s easy to engage in “guilt-free” spending when you don’t have an appreciation for how much effort is involved in creating income in the first place. Requiring all parties to contribute creates shared risk and helps everyone better appreciate how their collective actions create outcomes.
This discussion has been about a kind of “soft technology,” the very type of know-how that just doesn’t seem to pass on very well from one generation to another. The world is full of examples of poor decision-making, lack of foresight, failure to pay attention, and downright goofy stuff when it comes to money matters. We need to make good use of these examples to help us formulate a better understanding of personal fianance, implement what works, avoid what doesn’t, and at the very least, avoid repeating the mistakes of others.
Every time I hear someone say, “I learn from my mistakes,” I can’t help but think that that’s aiming rather low. We ought to be able to learn from the mistakes of others. And, better yet, simply learn from the experiences of others, be they good, bad, or somewhere in between.