I recently read a disturbing comment posted on a Facebook group that was devoted to debt-free living:
“Life happens and we have no control.”
The comment illustrates a certain thought process, one we all know exists, one to which you may even subscribe. The member who left it was recounting his hardships, trying to explain why he had fallen into debt and, as a result, had become a worse credit risk than Bernie Madoff.
I had to bite my tongue — or rather, refrain from my keyboard.
After all, I was fairly new to the group. I didn’t want to hold forth with a barrage of unsolicited advice. I understand there are countless people on all different stages of the debt-free journey, and I commend anyone who endeavors to pull themselves out of the financial kill zone.
That being said, the fact that some things are beyond our control does not prevent us from preparing for life’s inevitable challenges.
Perhaps the first step in this process is to stop blaming everyone else, even life, for whatever financial predicament we might land in. Even if it’s truly not our fault, blaming solves nothing. The only sustainable solution is to begin taking responsibility for the things we can control, like how prepared we are.
Allow me to illustrate: I’m racing to a job interview — seriously racing, because I overslept and only left myself five minutes to make a fifteen-minute drive — and suddenly, on a perfectly maintained road, I get a flat tire. This results in me not only losing the job but also being forced to shovel out fistfuls of money for a new tire (as well as covering that speeding ticket I’ll receive in two weeks once the camera that captured me identifies my license plate).
If I told you this story, I might blame all of this on bad luck. But how much of it could I have realistically avoided had I simply planned ahead?
There are infinite stories like this. Someone loses their job, which results in missing debt payments because they haven’t put any money away. Someone wrecks their car, which clears out their bank account because they didn’t have adequate coverage. Someone has to eek out their golden years in poverty because they spent everything they earned while they were young.
The list goes on, and several of these situations are truly unavoidable, but most of them aren’t. Far too often we opt for instant gratification instead of preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario. But once you get accustomed to preparing for the worst, life gets a lot easier.
I sleep well knowing that if my car gets totaled, I’m insured. If my house burns down, I’m covered. If I get sick and keel over into a heap of Cool Ranch Doritos, my family is protected.
I don’t know what’s coming more than anyone else, but sound financial decisions afford us all a modest protection from most financial hits. This can mean anything from conducting preventative maintenance on your possessions to maintaining your health, because both reduce the likelihood of unnecessary expenses.
They also, incidentally, enhance the quality of your life.
I know how preachy this all sounds, but self-aggrandizement is not my intention. I truly believe that anyone, if they take the appropriate precautions, can prevent much of the fallout — financial and emotional — from life’s chaos. All it takes is a strong plan and the will to defer those instant gratification purchases until you can embrace them safely.
Again, forgive my parental tone here. I truly hope you all experience the peace of mind that comes from sound financial planning. There’s no reason we can’t do our best, even when life is doing its worst.