I have moved around a lot in my life and my group of friends is pretty diverse. I have friends from grade school, university, various jobs, church, Mrs AB, etc. Some are pretty successful while others are really struggling to get their financial act together.
While I don’t want to generalize based on such a small sample of people, I have found that people who have the potential to put their financial life together (get out of debt, build up their emergency fund, save like crazy, etc) frequently decide to pursue alternate paths for one reason or another. I want to share a couple of stories about some friends and the choices they have made in their lives. These are just my thoughts – and maybe I’m sharing because of everything going on in my life right now – but you get what you get – so I hope you enjoy!
“Jane and John”
I have a friend – we’ll call her Jane. Jane and her husband “John” have been struggling for money ever since they were married two years ago (she’s been struggling with money longer than that – but that’s not part of this story). Between them they earn approximately $100k/year – which is a great income in the North Texas area and not far from what Mrs AB and I make. Unfortunately they are rolling in debt and for every step they take to pay it off, they take another that sends them deeper. They currently owe money on a car (approximately $13k), a motorcycle ($14k), student loans (low $20k’s), in addition to an uncalculated amount of bad debt that they’ve stopped paying on (mostly from John’s previous marriage).
The good news here is they don’t have any credit card debt – they just finished paying that off in the last few weeks. The bad news is that for a Valentine’s Day gift they bought two new puppies. I love dogs (most of the time – we have two of our own), but John and Jane already have two and it’s hard enough for them to pay for all the existing pet expenses – let alone doubling it!
This may not sound like a huge deal, but Jane’s goal is to be a stay at home mother in the near future. As they’re barely able to pay all their bills right now, this dream is out of reach without some major lifestyle changes. Jane’s level of intensity about paying off debt varies depending on what fun event they might miss, and John would rather spend money than save it, so drastic changes are challenging for them. They keep inching closer to selling the motorcycle, which will free up a lot of cash flow, but Jane has indicated that if her contentment at work doesn’t improve soon she may just quit – even without a new job lined up…YIKES! With such a drastic drop in income it would be hard for them to pay their bills and they would almost certainly fall behind and set themselves back a long way on their plan to financial freedom and stay at home motherhood for Jane.
“Fred and Susan”
I began working with “Susan” about 5 years ago in one of my previous jobs. Since we’ve been friends she met “Fred”, married him a little over a year ago, and is a few months away from delivering their first child. Unfortunately, Fred lives in another city about 5 hours away where he is attending school, and Susan is living at home with her parents to try and save money. Fred will be in school for another two years, but only has a few more months of living 5 hours away. Unfortunately, for the first two or so months of his baby’s life, he will not be around much.
As Susan is the only one working to support their family, she will only be able to take a short maternity leave before going back to work full time. From what she told me recently, she can take up to 8 weeks off, but she may have to go back to work after only 6 weeks because they need the money. Decisions on which supplies to purchase for the upcoming baby were discussed in terms of “next pay check” and “two pay checks from now”. For the record, this was a planned pregnancy.
Personal Finance and Delayed Gratification
I’m not sharing these two stories with you to pick on my friends. No, I’m sharing their stories because delayed gratification seems to have taken a back seat in today’s society. When I was young and my parents took me out shopping with them, I would most likely ask for something (a toy, candy, etc). Most times I wouldn’t get anything, but sometimes my parents would promise me that next time, or in a couple of trips I could get something – so I would have something to look forward to. In the case of my friends, it sounds like every time they asked for something their parents just got it for them and they never got to experience the joy of delayed gratification.
Delaying gratification is a HUGE part of becoming financially independent for most people. Mrs AB and I could easily spend at twice our current level, and not even think about it. Doing this would definitely harm our goals of financial independence and contentment, but hey – we’d have a lot more stuff/fun right now. And to me, that’s the essence of personal finance – knowing just how much to delay gratification to ensure that you are consuming enough now and putting enough away for the future. I know that wanting to be financially independent isn’t a goal that everyone shares, and I’m ok with that. I just want people to take some time and think about their future, and think how their choices today are going to influence that future. How do you feel about delayed gratification? Is it something you practice, or do you just get whatever you want whenever you want it? Do you think that my friends are on the right track? Let me know in the comments!