What is financial responsibility about? Is it about paying off your credit card bills before the bill is due? Is it about how much one spends during the year, or how much one debt carries? Although proper management of these things is indeed a big part of being financially responsible, I believe that it goes further than that. Finances are ultimately about money, and money is ultimately about subjective value and preferences. The values we hold and the ways in which we express them can have deep impacts, far beyond an interest payment on a credit card.
The dangers of financial profligacy
Money was not abundant when I was younger. I grew up in a broken home; my mom got pregnant as a teen, my father left for good, and my mother later remarried with an abusive criminal. Huge family feuds meant I didn’t see my cousins for years at a time. These times have left their mark on me, and one of the biggest lessons has been just how devastating financial irresponsibility can be.
My mother didn’t work but her new husband brought home the bacon. We had a house, but money was “tight”. Hamburger Helper was a staple of mine growing up. Money was so tight that we went shopping for used clothes and bought the cheapest food possible. Somehow, though, there was always enough money for a couple dozen packs of cigarettes, a case of beer, and a couple nights of socializing with friends every week; heck, there was even enough for a black-market satellite TV at some point. There was no question of going without these things, and the problems could always be blamed on someone else.
We fell on times so hard that we went to drinking powdered milk, though the fridge was always amply stashed with beer. Eventually we lost the car, then the house and fell into bankruptcy, and mind you, this was all back in the day of uninflated housing prices! We ended up losing everything and we had to move into an apartment in the ghetto after that.
Did all of this really have to happen? What if they had just been a bit more responsible with their money, and ultimately, their values?
The power of financial responsibility
I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my experience. Many people today live their lives as if there is no tomorrow, but if you do not plan for the future, then there will eventually be a day of reckoning. It is often so difficult for us to see the unseen – we see the instant gratification of a new TV, we feel the instant gratification of a cold one. It can be difficult to see the impacts that this can have in the future. Even when responsibility comes knocking or when times get tight, we don’t want to give up our comforts. We can get into a dangerous mindset where we live solely for ourselves and for the present, but the undeniable reality is that the future eventually meets up with us.
Financial responsibility goes beyond just paying off your credit card on time and things like that: what being financially responsible is really about is about having the discipline to trade off short-term benefits today for deeper benefits in the future. The choices that you make today have real, measureable impacts, not only on your own well-being but on the well-being of your loved ones as well. Nobody is perfect and people make mistakes, but we can do much better if we at least think about the consequences of our actions instead of succumbing to temptation and putting off responsibility to another day, another time.
Through financial responsibility, we won’t just stay in good standing with the credit agencies, but we’ll have the potential to genuinely improve our lives and the lives of those we care about.
Looking forward to the future
Responsibility is something I’m always working on and always trying to improve. It was so easy for me to just blame things on my own bad history and give up, but I’ve learned that it’s always possible to move forward. Financial responsibility is ultimately about the values that we hold, so all we really need to do is learn to recognize the harm that short-sighted thinking brings upon us, and the benefits that responsibility can bring. Although misfortune and bad luck can strike anyone, people often stay in hard times because they just can’t bring themselves to choose a better future over instant gratification.
Ultimately, I don’t think that people particularly enjoy going bankrupt and destroying their family, and I believe that most people would be happier if they reaped the benefits of financial responsibility; they just aren’t thinking that far because they keep kicking the can down the road. I believe that we can make our own destiny, though. We can decide to stop kicking the can and deal with it. The moment we start taking on more control over our own lives and our own actions is the moment that we can start changing our lives and the lives of our loved ones for the better.
Kevin blogs at Invest It Wisely, where he writes about maximizing life EV. He loves the journey of life and lifelong learning, and he believes that our destiny is in our hands. No matter where you are in life right now, you can start making a change and moving closer to where you want to be. Follow him on Twitter @InvestItWisely and you can also subscribe via RSS. All posts in this blog swap can be viewed at the blog thousandaire.com.