FinLit Month: When We Self-Sabotage Instead of Making Smart Money Choices
When 30 people sign up for a class on what to do with their tax refund — and zero show up... Houston, we have a problem.
As I sit and write this, I cannot help but to think of spring, warmer weather (I’m in Ohio), and the end of tax season. Last year I offered a workshop on a Saturday morning in March called, “What to Do with Your Tax Refund.”
I had more than 30 people sign up for this workshop. They left comments like, “I could really use this!” and, “This is exactly what I need!” Then, the day of the workshop arrived and I had a grand total of zero people show up.
That’s right, no one showed up. Where were the people who thought they needed it so much?
The truth is, no one likes to be told what to do with their money, even if they genuinely don’t know what they should do. And the feeling of suddenly having a large sum of money all at once — like a generous tax refund — makes us feel powerful. In that moment, we can do things for ourselves and our family that we normally wouldn’t be able to do.
For example, a single mother may work a full-time job and typically only make enough to get by. But when she files her taxes and receives a large refund (more than $2,000), she is able to treat herself and her kids to things that she normally cannot.
She can take them out to dinner, buy expensive clothes and tennis shoes, get her nails or hair done. She can even put a down payment on a car. Or a family who is barely scraping by might take off on a family vacation to Disney World. But they’re doing this instead of getting ahead on bills or paying off debt.
In those moments of temporary “riches,” you do not want to take the frugal and responsible path. You want to spend because the funds are sitting in your account. You want to feel what it’s like to not worry whether your card will be declined. All you want is to not have to tell the kids no, and to have a reliable car to drive.
You don’t think of the possibility that you will be right back where you were the month prior to receiving your refund.
Here I am offering a dynamic class in hopes of setting you up for success, and you decide not to show up. Why? Because you’ve already decided what to do with your money. You do not want me to condemn you for it or try to talk you out of it.
I get it. All those sleepless nights worrying about money and how you are going to make it to Friday. All those days wondering what you and your family will eat, where to find money for kids’ field trips or soccer cleats. You want it now, and you are buying it now. All caution to the wind when it comes to setting yourself up for a better future because let’s be honest, the future looks pretty grim.
But what if I told you that you can get out of whatever financial slump you’re in and learn how to stop living paycheck to paycheck?
Yes, it will take away from that big thing that you wanted to do or buy. But it will bring you to a place of balance.
First, hold off on whatever you were going to buy. Unless it is a car or car repairs that you need so that you can get to and from your job, delay the purchase. Instead, set aside the total amount of your monthly expenses. Let’s say your monthly expenses add up to $2,000.
Set that much aside from your refund and use the rest to catch up on bills. Now take that $2,000 and pay all of your bills at the first of the month. Do not use money from your paycheck, just the money you set aside.
From now on, save the money you’re being paid over the next month and, on the first, use that money to pay your bills again. Voila! No longer living paycheck to paycheck! You are instead living off the month before and you have a little cushion if there is an emergency.