If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. What does that quaint Olde English saying even mean? Basically, it says that if wishing made things come true, you’d never have to work to get what you want. You can reverse the sentiment by acting as if something doesn’t exist because you wish it didn’t. I call it “wish politics” – being unable to acknowledge what people actually do and thus refusing to create realistic policies to govern that behavior. We can’t wish away poverty, Hurricane Matthew, unwanted babies, racially motivated police shootings, domestic abuse, or any of the many other difficult things that happen. When either political party subscribes to policies that pretend this stuff doesn’t happen, people suffer needlessly. People have to personally force themselves – and governments need to collectively demand – that reality is acknowledged and dealt with.
I understand the intense desire to subscribe to wish politics and other forms of denial. I’m the worst about wanting to put my head in the sand. I go to great lengths to avoid conflict, sadness, or unpleasantness. The whole family helps me keep my blinders firmly attached. My husband reads selected items from our sanitized small-town newspaper over breakfast during which I often say “Stop...too much.” A substantial portion of the few TV shows I watch find me with eyes covered and ears plugged until someone tells me “You can watch now.” I cried over a documentary on the building of the Cooley Dam because the workers were oppressed. The desire to avoid the hard truths of life has not been an asset to me, and I have to work to overcome it.
At this point you might say, ok, Financial Lady...what do your musings and your inability to watch a full episode of Elementary have to do with my financial future? This is what – you have to pay attention to your finances even if you don’t want to. You won’t get safely from your house to Kroger without watching where you’re going, and you’re not going to get through a safe and successful financial adulthood without looking either. For most people, reviewing their financial situation is boring, tedious, frustrating, depressing, and a host of other negative emotions. How can you make a tough situation better?
Just do it
You brush your teeth every day; you pay the electric bill every month; you file taxes every year. These activities are non-negotiable. Managing your finances needs to be just as routine, expected, and required of yourself. Put it on your calendar, link it to a holiday, equate with a season, or connect it in some way that works for you. The important thing is to commit to yourself that you’re going to do this unpleasant but necessary task with some measure of frequency.
You create the perfect setting…kids at play date, dishes and laundry done, house cool, rooms tidy. It’s time to look at your 401(k). It takes you 5 minutes to figure out the right website and find your login info. You enter your info, hit submit, and…their system is in a maintenance period. Or you need authorization. Or your computer blue screens. Time to watch a few kitten videos? Well, maybe one. But if you can resolve the problem right then by making a call or rebooting, do it and press on. We experience plenty of obstacles on our way to having fun, like the long line to get into Boo at the Zoo or 20 hours in the deer stand before you get the 10-point buck. When problems crop up in connection with dreaded activities, you’ve got to try to work through them with the same determination as a 6-year-old demonstrates in getting on the Dumbo ride at Disneyworld.
Forbes contributor Nancy Anderson suggests that a great way avoid procrastination is to work with a financial professional. That’s good advice, but not everyone is in the financial position to be able to afford professional assistance. If that’s the case, try and drag your spouse, significant other, parent, doting aunt, or adult child into the effort. Read reliable books or online sources about money management. The safest websites and publications to access are those offered by the government at sites like the SEC’s investor website or non-profits like America Saves.
Be a realist
It’s tough today to make it financially. The un-relenting needs and seductive wants of our life make it hard to keep your wallet closed. Whether you’re making $30K or $300K a year, it’s probably not going to be enough to maintain the lifestyle you’ve set up for yourself. When you go through your short- and long-term finances, you’re probably going to realize that you’re spending too much and saving too little. And that’s one of the main reasons we avoid financial temperature-taking and just wish for the best. Try to be as honest with yourself as you can so that you can take control of where your money is going.
Practice, practice, practice
Remember the movie The Music Man? In it, a square-jawed salesman swings into a small town where he dupes the citizens, captivates the heart of the local librarian, and transforms into a good guy at the end accompanied by a marching band playing “76 Trombones.” Professor Harold Hill tells the boys in the band that they can learn to play the band instruments with the Think System. They just have to think about playing and in weeks they’ll be Wynton Marsalis. You can’t apply the Think System to your daily cash flow or your long-term retirement. You have to actually practice until you’re good at it and then keep practicing to stay proficient.
Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, points out that “for most, the impulse to withdraw, or to force the withdrawal of others, is rooted in a reluctance to face this reality: no matter who wins the election, or the next skirmish in the culture wars, most Americans must live together, and will live together, within these borders, with people whose actions or views are anathema to them.”
Ultimately, you have to live with your money decisions. Whether you hoard every penny or gamble it all away, you’ll live with the results. Ignoring bills, lapsed insurance policies, excessive spending, tax deadlines, or retirement plans will hurt you more than forcing yourself to deal with them routinely. Apply these tips to turn wishes into wealth.