Not too long ago, I sat down with Peter Dunn (a.k.a. Pete the Planner), a personal finance author and radio personality to chat over coffee. With numerous books and a demanding speaking schedule, both locally and nationally, he’s kind of a big deal. He took a break from his very busy schedule to meet with me and I peppered him with questions about the pursuit of helping others to manage their money well. In the middle of our conversation, he paused to ask me a question that I’ve wrestled with for two months.
“Do you consider yourself a personal finance expert?”
I quickly answered no. Because as much as I’ve learned about paying off debt and saving money, I realize there are plenty of people who are incredibly more intelligent and financially savvy than I am.
“I guess I’m a money saving expert?”
I replied in an unconvincing tone. I’m not sure if I was trying to convince myself or him.
A couple of weeks later, I realized how I should have responded to the question, “Are you a personal finance expert?” If I could go back in time, I would have much more confidently replied, “I am a personal finance failure.”
As much as I’m thrilled that we found a way out of more than $127,000 in debt, I frequently remind myself that we were the people who acquired that much debt to begin with. There were so many mistakes, so many unwise choices, and so much inattention to our finances. Ours is a story of financial failure as much as it is one of success. Three years after paying off all of our debt, I’ve come to a realization.
I’m OK with being a failure.
These are big words for me. I’m not one to quickly admit my faults (however, I’m very good at pointing them out in the lives of others, double #FAIL). Financial failure taught me more about my life, faith, gifts (and lack thereof) than any success could have ever produced.
Don’t hear me wrong. If you made mistakes with your money, then it’s not a free pass to sit back and wallow in your poor decisions. It doesn’t mean you cash in your chips and give up the fight. And you certainly shouldn’t blame others for your own choices.
Why get-rich-quick, pay-off-debt-fast schemes fail
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve met someone who wants to get rich quickly. Sometimes their notions are for noble causes. After all, they just want to pay off all of their debt or be incredibly generous. However, when you quickly obtain money or work a strategy that prevents you from experiencing the pain of failing, you will return to borrowing.
You’ve probably witnessed this truth in action in the news report of a lottery winner going completely broke. We all scratch our heads in disbelief and wonder “Why in the world did this happen?”
Paying off debt isn’t complex. It’s just not easy.
If you’ve read my book, our plan to pay off debt wasn’t an economic treatise. It wasn’t highfalutin’ or complicated. While there were hundreds of choices, the bottom line is that we worked more and spent less money.
Fairly simple, right? Maybe not.
Daily, you make choices. Daily you determine where your money will go. Daily you can choose to return to pain and put your fingers on the financial stove of unwise behaviors or daily you can remember, “Ouch. That hurt. Let’s not do that again.”
I hope you embrace your failure.
Maybe it’s not as poetic as a Leann Womack song, but I really hope you embrace your fail. Learn from it. Come out stronger and smarter and better equipped to handle your money. Just because you have made mistakes, it doesn’t mean you’ve been issued a toe tag or been taken out of the game.
It does mean you have to change.
Don’t you want to leave a better heritage to your children? Don’t you want a more healthy marriage? Don’t you want to be able to provide both the wants and the needs of your family? Don’t you want to be able to give and change the world?
The pain is worth the change, debt slayers.
Be brave enough to fail.