Let’s face it, looking at your finances and being totally honest about what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong and what you are not doing at all is not on the top of the to-do list for most people.
But if you are not taking a realistic look at your finances, you’ll never understand the mistakes you may be making. If you don’t understand them you may continue to harm your long-term financial security.
To help you in this thought process, we have compiled a list of ways people fool themselves about their finances. See if any of these apply to you:
The first way people fool themselves is to consider debt to be a normal part of modern life. People use credit cards to buy the things they want and make the minimum payment on the credit cards, maintaining a balance and never paying them off in full. If you are digging yourself deeper and deeper into debt each month by using credit cards to finance a lifestyle you can’t afford, sooner or later you will find yourself in a hole so big that you can’t climb out of it.
This is not to say you have to pay for everything with cash; mortgages and student loans are a practical reality for the vast majority of Americans. And using credit cards is a convenience of modern life. What we are saying is that if you spend more than you earn on a regular basis, and use credit cards to fill the gap, it always catches up with you.
If you can’t subtract your monthly expenses (including what you buy on credit) from your income and come up with a positive number, then you are fooling yourself with the numbers. In order to spend less than you make, it’s crucial to make a realistic budget and stick to it, so you can live within your means.
Using the word “need” when you really just want something is another way people fool themselves. There is a difference between needs and wants. Needs are the basics in life—food, clothing, and shelter. Wants are above and beyond needs—like buying the new cell phone when yours is perfectly usable, going out to eat at restaurants, a newer, bigger house, or more clothes when your closet is already full.
To see if you are fooling yourself, think about how honest you are in acknowledging the difference between needs and wants. Philippians 4:19 tells us that God will supply all our needs. He never promised to give us everything we want.
We can fool ourselves if we think that the next thing we buy will make us happy. Happiness is a state of mind and while you may get some temporary satisfaction out of a new possession, it will never bring happiness for long. Because if you set yourself up to be happy based on buying things you will be in a never-ending cycle of “what’s next?”
You will never be content if you are always in pursuit of the next purchase in an effort to buy happiness. In 1 Timothy 6:8 we learn that if we have food and clothing we shall be content. Yet our society always encourages us to be in pursuit of the next acquisition.
If you think you don’t make enough money to save anything, you are fooling yourself. You may not be able to save a lot of money, and financial advisors can disagree over precisely how much you need to save for an emergency fund or retirement. But if you are not saving anything, and you are living paycheck to paycheck sooner or later you will run up debt. You are ignoring the fact that sometime in the future you are going to have a financial emergency: a health issue, accident, pay cut, or layoff can put your finances into a tailspin.
Every American should be saving for retirement in some way. Don’t fool yourself by thinking there is time to save for retirement later. If your employer offers some kind of 401k match, failure to save is an even bigger mistake. You are turning down free money from your employer as a reward for something you should be doing anyway, so take advantage of it. The best way to build a retirement savings account is to start early and save on a regular basis. Proverbs 21:5 encourages us to save via steady plodding—small amounts on a regular basis.
If you just have to make an investment because the opportunity is too good to be true, you are fooling yourself. There are always risks with any investment. Promises of instant profits through day-trading or house-flipping are often too good to be true. Keep your greed in check, save for emergencies and your retirement on a regular basis so you don’t have to take big risks by wasting your money on something too good to be true.
If you do have retirement savings, you are fooling yourself if you think the money in your 401k or IRA is up for grabs to spend on your wish list. Cashing out one of these retirement funds early can result in steep penalties, eating into your hard-earned savings.
In addition to the tangible loss of your saved money and the penalties you pay, you still need to save for retirement. Shifting the shortfall from one part of your budget to another is not a real long-term solution. Any money taken out of your 401k or IRA could have been growing over time—so you don’t just lose the money that’s withdrawn, you also lose the interest you could have earned on the money you withdrew.
It is really easy to convince yourself that you don’t make enough money to be generous, or that you need the money more than the church does, or that you don’t agree with the way the pastor is spending the weekly donations. These are some of the ways you can fool yourself and justify not giving. But the act of giving comes from what you have, not what you think you need in order to be generous.
Giving is not done because God needs the money, it is done as a way for us to honor him and acknowledge God as the source of everything we have. Acts 20:35 tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Money is just a tool yet we give it so much more importance than it deserves. We think money will give us happiness, contentment and peace; and the more money we have the better off we will be. But if you aren’t happy with what you have, you will never be happy when you get what you want.
Mark 8:36 asks us to consider “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
Join the Compass Catholic podcast to find out if you are fooling yourself about your finances.