Hard Lessons in Money pt.1: The Right Mindset

September 04, 2019

Hard Lessons in Money pt.1: The Right Mindset

“It’s okay to be young and broke, but it’s absolutely unacceptable to be old and broke.”

I heard these words from a life insurance agent looking to hire me as I was coming off a stint at another major provider. Dave, the agent in question and a retired Marine Colonel, spoke these words during my interview as if I was one of his prospective clients. These words may as well have been a cinder block chucked at my face. I’d been one of the more financially savvy people in my circle in recent years, but something about that sentence really made me itch.

The first thing that came to mind was the wasted financial opportunities of my younger days. That’s not to say I missed opportunities to make money, but I missed opportunities to conserve and grow the money I made. As a Marine Corps recruit, and at other times throughout my four-year enlistment, I sat through many “financial awareness” classes, all of which blandly and halfheartedly covered budgeting and the TSP. That was it.

What kind of 18-22 year old kid is going to care about budgeting when he’s guaranteed a paycheck every two weeks? Why would the same individual care about retirement? The problem with the structure of military financial awareness classes is they don’t truly put the fear of God in young service-members. I must have made at least $70,000 over my four years, not including bonuses, between E-1 and E-5. I had no expenses as my food, clothing, and room and board were all taken care of. I didn't even contribute to my TSP and I had nothing to show for it in the end. Somehow I had lived my entire enlistment paycheck to paycheck and the thought was sickening.

Humans are arguably the only creatures that sacrifice short-term gratification for a long-term payoff. We put our lives on hold for four years to earn a GI Bill. We go to school and study late into the night to earn a degree. We don’t speed dangerously to work because we don’t want to be pulled over. Why then is it so hard for us to prudently manage our expenses? Even at almost thirty years of age, my friends and I still struggle to prioritize our futures over the sense of instant gratification a stable paycheck allows for. Let’s go back to that sentence. I’ll write it again so you don’t have to look back up to read it.

“It’s okay to be young and broke, but it’s absolutely unacceptable to be old and broke.”

What this statement is describing is the opportunity cost of money-management, that is, what is it costing you now to be financially savvy versus what it will cost you if you aren’t. Envision yourself at 80. Arthritis has taken your hands, cataracts have taken your vision, and you can feel your organs lay against the inside of your rib cage when you sleep. You're incontinent, you can’t breathe correctly, and you’re not sure if you had slop or goop for breakfast. You’re more tired than you used to be and you can’t hear your significant other scream at you for more prune juice. Do you really want to be working?

The answer should be a desperate “Dear God, no!”

By not figuring out how to manage your money now, you are essentially setting yourself up for this outcome. Do you want to be the liver-spotted woman who has to ring up groceries? What about the wrinkled stub of a man who has to deliver pizzas? If you don’t think it can happen to you, I’m sure you haven’t yet seen an elderly person working for virtually nothing to make ends meet.

The fact is you don’t want to be the people I’ve just described. This should be a hard pill to swallow, and you can either do one of two things: you can toss this pill to the side and live a life of false decadence in your youth, surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, or you can break free of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle and set yourself up for a comfortable future. It’s your call, but you need to prioritize your resource allocation and this guide won’t help you figure out the most efficient way to party.

This series will be a step by step guide to get your finances in order and leave your money worries in the rear-view mirror. With all the harsh realities addressed, let’s move on to the second part: budgeting.




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