Take Responsibility for Your Money Problems

Do you have money problems? A bad credit score, perhaps, a low income, or crushing debt payments to make each month? It’s easy and all-too-tempting to blame the government, credit card companies, or maybe even your parents for your troubles. But many people fail – or pointedly refuse – to consider the part they play in creating their financial problems.

As this MSN Money article on the subject points out, the problem with making endless excuses and blaming others for your situation is that you render yourself powerless to improve it. After all, if your problems are beyond your control, then there’s nothing you can do about them, right?

Here are some examples of when your money problems are primarily your own fault:

  • You took out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans in order to get a degree that you should have known would provide a low salary.
  • You racked up credit card debt in order to travel, buy clothes, eat out, and purchase other non-necessities “because you deserve it.”
  • You have no concept of a budget. You signed up for all your fixed expenses (rent, mortgage, loan agreements, cable, etc) without even calculating how much of your take home pay would be leftover after making those payments. Now you can barely afford food and gas after paying your bills.
  • You failed to get adequate insurance and then got slammed with “unexpected” medical or auto bills.
  • You have never checked your credit report and are therefore unaware of past due bills, errors, or other factors that have trounced your score. Now you can’t get good rates on loans. Even worse, you’re oblivious to what rates you’re paying and to whether or not they are reasonable.
  • You took on more debt that anyone with your income could ever handle, and now you can’t pay it back. Collections, foreclosures, and/or bankruptcies have ruined your credit. Now you can’t get a loan and you might even be denied housing and certain jobs.
  • Despite your relatively high salary, you spend everything you make and have failed to set aside any cash reserves for unexpected expenses.
  • You choose to live in a high cost of living area. If you have money problems and still insist on living in NYC, LA, or any other expensive area, then you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
  • You work for minimum wage. Yes, this is your own fault, not your employer’s or the government’s. Few jobs actually even pay minimum wage, contrary to popular belief, and the only people who should be working those jobs are those who have been in the workforce for less than 6 months. If you haven’t gotten a raise by then or switched to a higher paying job based on your newfound experience/skills, then it’s your own fault for being a bad employee, being ignorant to your options, or insiting on living in an area with no other jobs.
  • You work less than 40 hours a week and/or do not even have a job. If you have serious money problems but aren’t working for whatever reason (you’re in school, you’re too proud to work an entry level job, you have a criminal record), then you can’t blame anyone else for your money woes. FYI, a surprising majority of “poor” households in America work less than 25 hours a week combined. No wonder you can’t pay your bills.
  • You are addicted to alcohol, gambling, drugs, cigarettes, or anything else that sucks up your income and/or negatively affects your ability to earn money. [I found out on Oprah yesterday that a pack of cigs in Chicago averages $7 a pack! Wow.]

Ok, I KNOW a few of those might bother some of you, especially the “working for minimum wage is your own fault” one. You don’t have to agree with me; I’m just sharing my widely held, non-politically correct perspective. It’s not like I added “having children when you’re single and/or have no job skills” to the list. Actually that one probably should be up there…

I’m not unsympathetic to those with financial problems. We all have them at some point, and sometimes there are justifiable reasons for them. I know that things cost more than they used to, credit card companies can change their rate abruptly, student loans are tough to repay, health care costs are soaring. Maybe your parents didn’t teach you to handle money; you may even have been lied to or defruaded. Money problems can also stem from illness, disability, and various mental problems.

Too often, though, money problems are the result of personal disorganization, laziness, lack of motivation/work ethic, lack of impulse control, ignorance, negligence, immaturity, or some combination of factors over which you have or had control. In these cases especially, there’s no excuse for playing the victim and refusing to improve your financial situation.

Yes it might be hard, and yes it might take some time, but we can’t expect anyone else (especially the government) to educate us, to prevent us from making bad decisions, or to fix it every time we get in trouble. We can realize that we live in the best country in the world where taking initiative, getting educated, and working hard are relatively straightforward paths to success – or at least to financial stability and comfort.

Thankfully there are a lot of counselors, social programs, and support networks out there if you need a little help getting started. All you have to do is recognize the part you play getting into financial trouble in the first place and take responsibility for finding your own solutions. Only then you enable yourself to succeed and to avoid those problems in the future.

More from Meg at The World of Wealth

25 thoughts on “Take Responsibility for Your Money Problems”

  1. As harsh as it may sound, I totally agree with the post. Alot of people are so quick to blame their financial problems on other people. Take responsibility, admit you made mistakes, fix them and move on!

  2. Well, excuse me for “failing” to get adequate insurance! I earn minimum wage and have student loan payments, did anyone seriously expect me to get adequate insurance? Oh, and if my degree had actually afforded me a “low salary” I would have been able to afford the insurance. What I didn’t expect was a minimum wage income.

  3. There are no raises or promotions to be had where I work. My credit tanked when I had an uninsured extended illness and hospitalization. Employers in retail today routinely run credit checks on applicants. If it’s my fault I earn minimum wage, I’d love to know what I’m supposed to do about it now.

  4. Bravo! This puts into words many of the things I think about and try to communicate to my grown children. We live in a place (San Antonio, TX) where many undereducated people get by just fine through hard work, initiative, thinking outside the box, and frugal living. You can do better in your life, but nobody is going to hand you success, stability, or the ‘good life’. It may take sacrifice and struggle, but anyone can get to a better place financially if they take the initiative.

    Excellent post!

  5. I thought I might hear from you, Minimum Wage. 🙂 If you have a college degree and are working in retail AND you are earning minimum wage, then you certainly have a problem. No offense, but I know high-schoolers who work retail jobs in the summer and earn more than minimum wage.

    I suggest you change jobs. You could earn more than minimum wage waiting tables, and you don’t need good credit to do that. Or you could work at Starbucks or Wal Mart or McDonald’s or any car rental company – at least then you’d get insurance, and you would almost certainly start above minimum wage (and maybe even as a manger or “team leader”) since you have work experience and a college degree. Plus promotion opportunities are abundant in those companies because turnover is high – and after all, it shouldn’t be that hard to outshine your fellow employees there, either.

    OR you could find a retail job that will pay you commission and become good at it. Or be any other type of salesperson (subscriptions, cosmetics, telemarketing) where you can earn commissions on top of your base pay.

    If there are no such jobs where you live then I suggest you move. There are always things you can do!

  6. I couldn’t agree more with you. So many of us are so irresponsible not only about money but international affairs, etc. I think the whole country needs growing up.

  7. Wow. Do you realize how self-righteous your post sounds? People make mistakes – sometimes really stupid ones. But I doubt your finger-wagging will help them much. I hope when you are struggling with the fallout from some really bad decision you have made, no-one kicks you when you’re down like that.

  8. Nicole – I’m not trying to be self-righteous. Of course everyone makes mistakes (and I’ve made PLENTY, to be sure).

    What bugs me is when people blame their mistakes on others and/or refuse to admit they’ve messed up their own lives. I understand this is hard because many of our “mistakes” are hard to isolate, especially when it comes to money. It’s not usually ONE mistake you’ve made, it’s the cumulative effect of many bad habits and choices (or simply the repeated decision not to make GOOD habits and choices).

    But what REALLY bugs me is when instead of making any effort to change, people say things like “The Government should do something about this!!” Ugh.

  9. Meg–great post. A lot of people don’t have the courage to admit when they’ve made mistakes. The more people hear it isn’t their fault, the more they shift what is probably partially their blame on other entities; this post helps to remind people of that blame. Myself included. 🙂 A couple of months ago, facing up to some of these things on the list was a hard but ultimately needed wake-up call and it helps me a lot to weigh future decisions when I get reminders like this post.

    Min. Wage–work another job or two. If you aren’t willing to do so, recognize that you are making the CHOICE to not do so and thus don’t have a right to complain about it (my mom worked three jobs raising my sister and me, I got to hear this from her a lot in college). If the schedule of your current job doesn’t allow such a thing (though I doubt it blocks overnight shifts) then get other jobs that do and drop the current job. If you have literally applied for all available jobs in your area and can’t get more than what you have, find a way to leave. Try to get a deferral or forbearance on your student loans to help save up for the move.

  10. Meg – agree with absolutely everything you said.

    Min wage – over here, illegal cleaning ladies earn over $15 an hour, a lot more than minimum wage. Washing windows in private houses could earn you a $100 in a day – a friend of mine knew a teacher who supplemented his income on weekends by doing it. You don’t need to climb up, many of these windows can be taken out from inside cleaned, and put back.

    In terms of the list – agreed, but have a bit of a problem with this “You choose to live in a high cost of living area.” Often it is where you job is. I have a friend who is an opera accompanist/vocal coach (for professional opera singers). Her job is in Manhattan, there is nowhere else where the demand for her skills even approaches Manhattan. She is doing quite good nowadays – she works at the Met and with famous singers – but when she was just starting, it was a bit tough. Nowadays she works with other large opera companies as well, but when she just started there was no other place she could get any kind of career going. This is a special case, but even if you consider a more common situation like for example computer science, the best software R&D jobs are on the coasts.

  11. As much as I love to snipe at Minimum Wage myself, I have to say that we’re being a little hard on ol’ MW here.

    The fact of it is — not everybody is actually able to work multiple jobs, either due to the constraints of their main one or due to their physical health.

    Also, it’s not always necessarily easy or possible (either due to geographic location, or age, or labor conditions in the current workforce) to change jobs just because you want to.

    So — while I admit that MW gets on my nerves and I think he’s guilty of the main point of this article (e.g., I think he likes to blame externals for his condition), I also think the posters have failed to recognize that their prescription isn’t necessarily that cut-and-dried a solution.

  12. I have to say just a little more (ok, I got a little upset on Minimum Wage’s behalf).

    What’s bothering me isn’t the idea of being held accountable for one’s own situation. For example, I firmly believe that there are issues with MW’s attitude about his situation that, if he overcame them, would help him improve them. On the other hand, I also know that attitude is the hardest thing to change.

    What’s bothering me is the rather off-the-cuff manner in which it’s supposed that MW could just easily take a second or a third job. Maybe he could. Based on a history of seeing him post I think it’s probably the case that there are medical issues that make this not so doable. MW is also older.

    Like it or not, age and health play a factor in getting and keeping jobs and none of us really know the situation.

  13. db, I see your points. One reason I am not that sympathetic is that MW is about the same age as my parents were when we came to the US from the Soviet Union. My mother was in her early 40s, my father in his late 40s, and they couldn’t even speak English. Yes, they didn’t have student loans – this is a big advantage, but not knowing English is a big disadvantage. They might’ve been engineers in Russia, but they couldn’t get engineering jobs in the US because they didn’t speak English. My mother started to do drafting/designing. But my father ended up getting a job in a factory as a layoutman (drawing on a metal). At his first job he had to lift heavy metal pieces and ended up hurting his back. In his next job as a quality control inspector in a factory, he worked night shift and spent most of his time on his feet; in summer there was no air conditioner there and it was hot. Sometime during these years he had a (mild) heart attack – he found out about it only later when EKG showed it. But they did manage; eventually my mother started doing engineering job. They also managed to save enough money to retire – maybe not as much as I’d consider enough for retirement, but enough to live in the same modest lifestyle they’ve always lived. They don’t have a house, but they did bought a one bedroom co-op for cash, and they feel it is enough.

    When we came to the US, there was a woman in our plane. Back in St. Petersburg she was a history teacher and a tour guide. Obviously, there are no jobs in the US for a Russian history teacher, and she knew it. When people asked her what her profession was she would say half-jokingly “I am a scullery maid” meaning that she had no marketable skills. Her first job in the US was in a nursing home – washing old ladies feet or something like it. She did it while her husband was learning English, so that he could get an engineering job later. When she saved enough money, she opened a tailoring business. She didn’t even know how to sew, but she hired some girls who just finished sewing courses and needed their first experience. Since they were inexperienced, they were willing to work for less. She was also watching them and learning from them. As soon as they got some experience, they left for better-paying jobs, but by that time she learned how to do most of the work herself. Eventually she opened several such shops. She is retired now. Her husband still works part-time even though they are quite wealthy. They also do additional work buying books in used book stores and house sales and selling them on amazon. It doesn’t bring them much money, but she says “if we don’t work, we feel like we are going senile”.

    There are plenty of immigrants from poor countries who come to the US, often when they are not young and often not knowing English. Most people do manage, and eventually work for more than minimum wage and save some money. It is tought, and it requires a certain mindset, but it is doable.

  14. Yes, I have medical issues. I go to a clinic three mornings a week and get hooked up to a machine. So a 9-5 weekday job doesn’t work. Since I don’t have a car, I am limited to jobs within walking distance or accessible by transit.

    The transportation makes a lot of swing shift jobs undoable – I found some great janitor jobs at Intel but they get out at 1 am which is too late to get a bus back into town. (And even if I could get back into town, I’d have to transfer to another bus or to a train which quit running at 1:30.) The job I have is (mostly) swing shift but it’s right on a bus line and I can get home at night.

    Without a car, and with scheduling constraints, managing two jobs is pretty difficult unless you can get a very creative schedule.

  15. “You choose to live in a high cost of living area. If you have money problems and still insist on living in NYC, LA, or any other expensive area, then you can’t blame anyone but yourself.”

    The statement above presupposes that any financial problem that someone living in a “expensive area” has is related to the cost of living of their home region/city rather than to a plethora of other factors that could be the cause. Or that any financial problem, whatever its cause, could be solved or would have been avoided or will be mitigated by moving elsewhere AND that moving elsewhere would be possible/ doable/ beneficial for that person.

    I don’t intend to sing the praises of living in what may be considered “expensive” areas (though I easily could). My point in regard to the above statement is simply that it is the manner of living and of managing money, as well as the suitability of a locale to one’s financial and other needs(which indirectly affect finances), and *not* some generic COL figures about a particular part of the country, that ultimately makes the difference in one’s financial situation or one’s resolution of financial problems.

    I assume the point of focusing on who’s responsible for a problem is so the problem can be acknowledged and then resolved. But that type of resolution simply can’t be achieved by applying one solution to a wide range of problems experienced by a very large varied group of people.

    The answer to *every* financial problem that’s experienced in an expensive area, no matter what its cause, is *not* moving to a cheaper area from a high cost city. How could it be? Complex and diverse problems cannot be resolved with generic, one size fits all answers.

    Moving can often be a financially disastrous choice, especially during times of financial strain, and not all financial problems benefit from or require such drastic measures. The wide variety of financial scenarios and financial problems people experience are much more complex and diverse in cause, nature, duration, and resolution than the black and white statement quoted above allows for.

  16. Minimum Wage – I’m sorry to hear about your medical issues. Perhaps a job you could work from home and on a flexible schedule would be a more feasible solution while you save up money for a car or a move. You could write freelance or maybe start a blog. Any web-based business could work. And I’m sorry for all the comments/speculation about your personal situation; hopefully you aren’t offended.

    M – I never said the answer to every money problem a person in an expensive city might have can be solved by moving to a cheaper place. And I never said that “complex and diverse problems can be resolved with generic one size fits all answers.” I said if you have “serious money problems” ( a general phrase by design which could represent any or all of the bulleted problems in the article) then it doesn’t make sense to insist on living in a very high cost of living area. There aren’t many money problems (especially “serious” ones) that can’t at least be HELPED by moving to a place where you can afford to spend less or save more money. You may not choose to do that for a variety of reasons (you like your job, your family is there, your spouse can’t/won’t move, whatever), and that’s fine and understandable–but it’s a CHOICE you’re making. That was my point.

  17. Sometimes being responsible isn’t enough due to mitigating factors yet responsibility does play a strong part in making and keeping your money. Also a major part in spending it wisely.

  18. While I totally agree that a majority of peoples money problems are their own fault, your attitude shows an immense ignorance of the reality of poverty. It’s easy to say, “Just move”, but how is someone who is barely surviving supposed to save deposits and moving costs? Also, in many poor areas the crime rate is high.. so you can be arrested just for being poor because you were “loitering in known drug area”, trying to walk home!! It’s obvious you have been blessed by never having known poverty….but save that attitude for your having never really known want friends!!!

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