Why it’s Dumb to be Clueless About Your Finances

Tue, Nov 22, 2011

budget, debt, goals, rant, saving, spending

Last week I had a conversation with a coworker (I’ll call her Beatrice) about quitting my job and how I’ll survive with no guaranteed income. Now, I’ve known this girl for years - we got our undergraduate degrees together - and I never realized what an idiot she was until this conversation. Here’s how it went:

Beatrice: I’d love to put in my notice like you did, but I don’t think we could make it on my husband’s income alone. We spend way too much money.

Me: I used to be the same way. One day I got tired of it, so I printed out our bank statements, got some highlighters, and figured out where all the money was going. That was the only way to change things.

Beatrice: Yeah, that’s probably a good idea, but I’m not going to do that because I don’t want to know how bad it is.

Me: …


Don’t get me wrong - I spent more than my share of time avoiding my financial truth. If denial was edible, I could have lived off mine for three decades. But that was dumb and only made things worse.

As for Beatrice, I always thought she was smarter than me. She and her husband have a nice home, nice vehicles, and nice clothing. Nothing extravagant; they just take good care of what they have. I never would have guessed that their spending was out of control or that they would flat out refuse to find the root of the problem.

I remember being scared to check my bank balance or open the bills that came in the mail. I know what it’s like to have those inner freak outs when swiping a debit card, praying your transaction will go through. But once I became aware I was doing those things, I took steps to fix it.

I can’t imagine just casually saying to someone, “My finances are a mess and I don’t care enough to do something about it.”

Another Example

Remember my cousin? The one who bought the big, expensive truck? I’ll call him Dave.

I ate lunch with Dave awhile back. As we were eating, he asked me, “Is there some type of company that will pay all my bills for me? My work hours are so chaotic I can never remember to pay bills on time, and I keep getting all these fees for overdrawing my bank account.”

I’m like, “Dude, set up online bill pay through your bank. I’ll help you get started. Or better yet, switch to PNC Virtual Wallet and you’ll always know how much you can spend without affecting your bills.”

What he actually responded: “That all sounds too hard. Never mind.”

What I heard: “No thanks. I’d rather give half my paycheck to the bank than spend 30 minutes fixing the problem.”

Don’t Be Stupid

Maybe you’re reading this and finding some common ground with Beatrice or Dave. You may have no clue where your money goes, and you may be afraid to find out. I’m telling you right now - that is NOT going to fix anything.

Don’t spend your life floating along, hoping things will turn out okay, when you can TAKE CONTROL and MAKE things turn out okay. You do have a choice in the matter.

You can’t magically change your income, education level, or experience. You can’t wake up one morning and decide you are tired of being a restaurant server, so you’ll just be a lawyer today instead. But the one thing you CAN change is the way you spend money.

But I Don’t Want To!

If your financial situation doesn’t bother you enough to make you want to do something about it, maybe things aren’t so bad. Or maybe you’re paralyzed by the thought of facing your financial truth. It’s important to know which of those statements are true for you - are you swimming or drowning? You can’t have it both ways.

If you aren’t ready to take action, nothing I say will change your mind. Your money has to be important enough (or messed up enough) that it drives you insane and keeps you awake at night. Ever hear the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? It’s not enough to just say, “Oh yeah, I should probably do something about that.” Until you acknowledge that something in your current system is completely broken and MUST be repaired, you aren’t ready to change.

Are you seriously unwilling to make financial changes? Or do you need help knowing where to begin?

35 Responses to “Why it’s Dumb to be Clueless About Your Finances”

  1. Jeff | Sustainable L says:

    wow - the stupidity of these people is impressive, however it does lead to an opening for you to offer your services.
    You can offer to pay your cousins daves bills for him with his money - ensuring they are always on time.  For this service, I suggest you charge him 1 less overdraft fee than he has been paying (on average) for the last 6 months.  For instance, if it costs him 30 per overdraft and he has been over-drafting 5 times per month, you can charge him 4 overdrafts, or $120 per month.  This way, you'll both save money.

  2. Jolyn Myers says:

    So many people seriously have to be backed into a corner with no way out before they will face their fear or laziness and do something different. I am convinced. It's a human deficiency. Which is why government-backed programs do not work for the long haul: they cater to this natural tendency of Ignorance is Bliss. (Or at least less work.) And no amount of tax dollars will smack the Avoidance out of someone. (I'm not talking about a short-term handout in times of trouble or disaster but long-term programs that people become dependent upon.) But I'm sensing a rant here so I will stop. 

  3. Anonymous says:

    I'm glad that WordPress posted this early! This should really slap some people in the face.

    I've never been like this, but sometimes I'm still not as diligent as I should be with our finances…especially when it comes to eating out. Sometimes I would just buy something without even checking my bank account! 

    I don't want to be the next Dave or Beatrice.

  4. Carrie Smith says:

    Stupid tax is expensive. I've paid my fair share, and you're right. People will only stop paying stupid tax when they are tired of it, and want to make a change.

  5. Tanner E says:

    This article needs to be pinned and printed. I need to wallpaper my mother's room with this stuff. I swear she thinks that way. She thinks all the charts and graphs and budgets and payment schedules are just too hard or not worth it, or she really is in pure denial and does not want to acknowledge how bad it really is, which is terrifying for me. (I love the photo by the way. Perfectly fits the topic. Now I have the remix version of his 'song' on my head.)

    I also agree with Jeff. Offer to handle your cousin's bills and you can use the incentive that by warding off late payments, he can raise his credit score and get a better car than the one he was or something. I'm all up for that. I was (trying to) do the same thing for my parents, for free, and got shot down like a sitting duck.

  6. Marissa says:

    Sadly, that is very common behaviour for a lot of adults. I used to be like that too. The mentality of if you dont pay attention to it, then it doesn't exist is rampant these days.

  7. Alex | Perfecting Da says:

    Ok, but you care because you're interested in the puzzle of money.  In reality, money is BS.  Why should people have to worry all the time about bill schedules and which account has how much.  It's crazy and totally detached from life, where we should be thinking about fulfillment.  Don't get me wrong, I am a finance nerd and love talking finance all day long, but other people don't.  Money and banking and investing is a waste of time for people who have better things to do.

    Consider the parallel of lawyers:  Lawyers think they and the law are the most important thing, the fabric that holds society together.  Law makes sense to them, but to me the whole thing is insanity.  To me, I shouldn't need a lawyer, I should just be able to make deals and access justice on my own rather than hire some professional to navigate that.  That's exactly how many people think of finances:  Just a huge hassle, why can't they just do what they're good at and have everything else fall into place.

    • I think you make some good points. Not everyone is as concerned with their money as I am. However, when they're complaining about it, I feel like they're concerned enough to do something. It's frustrating to hear someone say they want to make changes but aren't willing to take action. Especially when a few minutes could save them time down the road. Once I took all the steps to straighten out my finances, I didn't have to worry about them anymore. But I guess that's not everyone.

    • femmefrugality says:

      I agree. Fulfillment is the goal.  But if you're running yourself and your family destitute because you're spending all your money on fulfillment without considering the consequences….no good.  Not everyone should have to understand all the intricacies of their 401k account.  But everyone should know how to balance a checkbook. 

  8. Catseye says:

    This post reminds me of a co-worker/friend from around 15 years ago.  I was at her place one day when she remembered that she was expecting a check in the mail.  I was standing beside her when she opened the mailbox and it was so crammed full, there was literally no room for another envelope in there!
    She rifled through it until she found what she was looking for, then pushed the mass of paper back in while closing/locking the door on it. I remember her telling me that she was so stressed out over her bills, she just couldn't look at them, so she left them in the mailbox.
    There's been times in my life when I've had more money going out than coming in but I've never ignored a bill.  It's never occurred to me to do something like that.

  9. Deena Dollars says:

    This is embarrassing, because I have been a personal finance blogger since 2008. I know the right steps to take in my head, but my willpower has been lacking the last six months. I dug myself out of a massive pile of debt, and then my mental health took a dive, and I fell back into my old ways. The last six months I have had the attitude of "it's already screwed, so what's another $5?" and THAT never gets me anywhere! I need to realize I am being as bad as Dave or Beatrice, and that I can do this.

  10. Restlessbbwoman says:

    I just love your blog.

  11. Mid Life Miser says:

    People amaze me when it comes to their finances.  So many think that anything having to do with money is too hard or too difficult.  For example, setting up bill pay.  How long does it really take?  1 minute to set up a new payee.  Plus, in the long run, online bill pay will actually save time.   So much easier and faster to pay bills online. This goes back to my opinion that schools NEED to teach Money 101 stuff.  Stories like you just posted are so frustrating.

  12. PKamp3 says:

    I sort of am reminded of a different quote - "what you don't know can't hurt you".  Unfortunately, this is the real world.  It can definitely hurt you.

    I don't know where this belief that you have to be a pure type A to automate your finances came from.  It's not a huge deal in the internet age…

  13. 20's Finances says:

    More great examples that turning your financial life around is not just about knowing what to do - there is so much psychological baggage that has to be unpacked before being able to approach it seriously.

  14. Broke Gal NYC says:

    I think that the propensity to put your head in the sand is disturbingly common amongst people in our (20s) age range. I've heard numerous people I know say they don't manage their money because it's "too hard."

    I respond by saying that never getting into debt in the first place is easier than getting out of it and that if you have long-term savings and plans it is heck of a lot less stressful than financial chaos.

  15. Fabulouslyfrugirl says:

    Yep, I know of several people who proclaim their ignorance of their finances proudly.  If I didn't know any better, I would have thought that they were proud to be ignorant and just keep slaving away like there was no other way. 

    Even though it's hard to face reality - even harder when you're pretty sure it's bad, ignoring the problem will not make it go away.  But I don't think everyone sees it that way.  Debt is marketed as a problem, but it's not really marketed as a personal problem.  Hearing all those ads on the radio about companies that will "make your debt go away", is really getting on my nerves.  Debt isn't something that just happens - it happens because people make poor choices and those people need to take some responsibility.

    / rant

  16. Anonymous says:

    Talk about having your head in the sand!  I know because I use to do the same thing…. spend, spend, spend and hope like heck that we would have enough money to cover the bills.  And when we didn't I would just charge my groceries.  Stupid.  



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