Almost nobody is making it financially. The trouble is, you only see it in the statistics, because people would rather show you their embarrassing skin rash than admit that they’re struggling. They’d rather say how much they weigh than how big their debt is. This makes it hard to figure out what to do. Where are the positive examples? We trade tips on clipping coupons or cutting minor expenses. That type of small-time frugality is like bailing out a leaky boat.
Better to go back to shore and repair the boat, right?
Or maybe get a different boat. Maybe a smaller boat, just for a while.
Sometimes the radical approach is the easiest, best, and fastest. The reason it’s the radical approach instead of the obvious approach is that a radical approach always sounds like madness to the majority. Average people are comfortable doing average things and getting average results. That’s fine when all you want is, say, an average pizza or an average night at the movies. It’s a disaster when the average isn’t really working for anybody.
It’s also a disaster when the negative effects don’t really start showing up for thirty years. Like sun-damaged skin, a crack in a building’s foundation, or heart disease. Or a failure to plan for retirement.
There are so, so many reasons why people would rather stay in a terrible situation than make a change. Sunk cost fallacy. Lack of better ideas. Pushback and naysaying from other people. Disbelief in the consequences, just thinking, “Everything is fine, that will never happen to me.” Annoyance with the preachy, holier-than-thou know-it-all who is suggesting a certain course of action.
Quit smoking, wear sunscreen, save money, lose weight, blah blah blah. Buzz off.
This is why I don’t care anymore about stating my clear opinion and outing myself as a contrarian. People will either listen or they won’t. It’s not my business whether people agree with me or not. It’s not my responsibility if other people would rather do things their own way. I owe it to those who are looking for a better (or at least different) way to share my perspective.
My perspective on frugality is that it’s a sad waste of time to nitpick over pennies when the real issue is tens of thousands of dollars.
Clip coupons rather than move somewhere less expensive. Shop at thrift stores rather than push for a better-paying job. Pack your lunch rather than analyze your finances and run up a balance sheet.
(I do shop at thrift stores and make my own lunch, due to preference, without letting that distract me from higher-impact strategic choices).
It’s good for your basic self-esteem to be able to say, “I’m doing so much better than I was.” That’s self-compassion and it’s vital to any lifestyle upgrade project, whether that’s prioritizing sleep, making physical space to do your art, or releasing debt.
It’s also a guaranteed way to continue to have a perpetual problem.
Personally, I don’t want an A+ grade for tolerating an intolerable situation. I don’t want high marks for working hard. I want to FIX IT and make the bad problem go away entirely.
I don’t want to learn to patiently accept myself for where I am. I want to go somewhere else!
If I spend 101% of my income, I’ll go into debt and that debt will grow.
If I start paying attention and being careful, and I cut back so that I’m only spending 90% of my income, it still might not be enough to pay off the debt I already have. I may feel deprived and vigilant and stressed out, while continuing to fall deeper into debt. That’s how the debt machine works. It takes everything you have at a faster and faster rate. The machine puts numbers over human lives. It’s like an evil robot and it doesn’t care about you or how hard you work.
There are two things about debt. 1. Understand where it came from and 2. Get rid of it as quickly as possible, by any means necessary, before it eats you alive like a cranky crocodile with a bad tooth.
We’re back to my “leaky boat” analogy. If you’re bailing water out of a leaky little boat, and a cranky crocodile comes along, well, you’re hosed.
Debt is closely related to scarcity mindset. In scarcity mindset, everything feels hopeless. Nothing ever feels like enough. Deprivation, deprivation, deprivation. The focus is on how hard things are, how the struggle will never end, how I feel powerless, and how I need little treats to keep going.
Abundance mindset is about gratitude, how even when things are rough, they could certainly be worse. Abundance is about noticing every single last thing that’s going right and enjoying the little things. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more: Friends, hugs, laughter, strategic planning, music, nature and its solace, talent, creativity, love, learning experiences, and infinite second chances.
It’s abundance mentality that allows two people to live in a tiny studio apartment and not own a car, while feeling comparatively wealthy and powerful and still having a good time. That’s my husband and me, saving 40% of our income and laughing about it. Eating lentil soup, proudly, because wow, that was a great soup! Knowing we have the power and ability to move and expand our baseline luxuries, while also knowing that we could be doing that, feeling dissatisfied and jaded, and losing all our financial leverage.
Strategic thinking and abundance mindset are what can allow someone to start over with nothing, and quickly bounce back. Scarcity mindset is what causes wealthy celebrities to squander multi-million dollar fortunes and wind up divorced, addicted, and trapped in lengthy legal battles. Try to guess which celebrity, because that story is a familiar pattern and it’s applied to dozens of people over the last century.
If vast wealth isn’t enough for them, who’s to say it would be enough for anyone else?
Don’t scrimp and save. Don’t count pennies or clip coupons. Figure out what major, drastic changes you can make to get rid of your debts as quickly as possible. Get it over with. Let your burning determination push you through. Make an epic story about it. Just please don’t hunch over with a little paper cup, trying to bail the sea out of a rowboat. If you have to, abandon ship and swim for shore.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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