Johnny’s confession: “I used to suck with money”

At times I may come off as someone who isn’t sympathetic to those who struggle with consumer debts, car payments, or who generally don’t make enough money to cover their lifestyle. This is more of a half-truth than anything, because I’ll let you in on a secret: I used to be one of them.

To be honest, I used to have a pretty terrible financial track record. When I was younger I had such a bad spending problem that I had to give my mom my debit card so I wouldn’t spend money…on multiple occasions. That was always a pretty good deterrent from spending for me, but I’d always end up in withdrawal (from not making withdrawals). I’d resort to writing $50 checks for $5 worth of groceries so I could receive cash back. I lived paycheck to paycheck and way beyond my means.

It was all fun and games until the debt collectors started calling. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I had a couple maxed out credit cards and stopped paying the bills on them. If you’ve ever had a debt in collections you’d know how awful the feeling is. Your phone will ring. Another random 800 number. You don’t answer it, because you know who it is. You hide your phone out of sight while your chest crushes in on itself, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

It’s truly one of the worst feelings in the world. Your mind will constantly revert to thinking about your finances, which may cause a sleepless night or twenty. You don’t want to look at your bank statements, because you know you’re broke. But you keep spending, because you have to.

I would love to lie to everybody and say that I’ve never been a victim of consumerism, and that I don’t know the sound of a collections call. I would love to tell you that I’ve never tried to run a credit card for a purchase and prayed that it would go through. But I can’t tell you that, just like I can’t tell you that I don’t know what it’s like to tell a cashier “I don’t know why that card would be declined”.

Then all of a sudden one day I started caring about money. No one would have believed in a million years that that was even a possibility, and to this day I’m still surprised myself. I chose the unpopular path of spending less than I made and after not too long I hit a milestone that I had never been able to achieve until that point: I was about to maintain a comma in my checking account. Yep, I was a thousand-aire. I knew I wanted to keep my precious comma, and I never went back to my former life as a spendthrift.

Sometimes when you make an improvement in your life you forget what your life was like before you decided to make the change. You might become more confident and maybe even develop a hint of arrogance. You might possibly look down on those that haven’t taken on the same changes within their own lives. You might think “When are they ever gonna learn?” as if you didn’t just figure it out yourself.

I went through a phase similar to that. And to be honest I think it did a lot of good.

In my younger days when I was lousy with my finances, I harbored financial insecurities. I wasn’t confident with money, and how could I be when I knew my credit card was going to be declined over and over? So when I made my transition, and stopped living paycheck to paycheck, I began to think “Why does anyone else live paycheck to paycheck. It isn’t that hard to save money.”

My thoughts that may have been negative at times actually kept me on track with my own personal goals. I was able to look at a desperate situation and think “That will never be me!” and fortunately I’ve been able to keep my head above water.

I don’t condone outward negativity towards others. I believe that everyone has a unique situation, and without close inspection there’s no true way to make a determination if they’re doing everything they can to improve their life, or if they’re just another hopeless over-spender.

Since then I’ve humbled myself quite a bit. I don’t look down on people who are less fortunate than I am, or even those that just need a wake-up call. I can now understand and respect the struggle that many families and individuals deal with on a daily basis. And I know firsthand what it feels like to be in their shoes. I know what it’s like to have to make the decision to either pay my rent or make a car payment, because doing both isn’t an option.

If you were to try to help me out before I was ready to change, myself, your advice would have fallen on deaf ears. It’s almost impossible to make someone see the bad situation they’re in for what it really is (this applies to more than just finances for a lot of people). Before I was ready, I wouldn’t have taken financial advice from the legendary investor and entrepreneur Warren Buffett.

I’ve also realized that not everyone wants help. People may ask for your advice, because you seem to have your shit together, but they may not have any intention of following through with your suggestions. They may just want to hear themselves admit that they’re in a financial rut. Letting the words leave their mouth is a way of telling themselves that they tried to fix the problem. You can try till you’re blue in the face, but people are always going to make the easier decisions, until they truly want to change.

I feel that if you make a serious positive change in your life you should become a beacon of hope and inspiration for those who need you. You only have the power to help those that you reach out to. Not everyone is going to come to you for help, but at least let them know it’s alright to. Leave your judgments with your bad habits, and try to understand what it’s like to want to help people. Not because you’re better than them, but because you might know what it’s like to be them, and you know that life doesn’t have to be that way.

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