I wrote this a few months ago, when the entire country was freaking out about Obama’s budget and the bailout, but never got around to posting it. Even though it’s a few months old, I cover why people love to complain about taxes, macro-policy questions, and Obama, but fail to spend even 1 hour managing their own money.
Turn on the TV or read any comments section of an online newspaper — even the New York Times — and you will quickly feel the need to take a shower and to physically distance yourself from common citizens of dubious intellect.
You’ll notice people complaining about their taxes, while never cutting their own spending, earning more, or optimize their spending (like the CEO Model I describe in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge).
The problem is multi-faceted:
First, once something incurs spending, it’s incredibly difficult to stop spending on it. Why? On a national level, because there’s momentum, jobs, and opposition to change. On an individual level, we’re more motivated by loss than by gain, so it’s easier to do nothing than to take away something we’ve grown accustomed to.
Second, people get emotional. You see this with jobs and taxes (and rightfully so), but also with areas as prosaic as design changes on Facebook. In many/most circumstances, we don’t like change, and we over-emphasize our own interests (“I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY DON’T MAKE A MAC PRODUCT!!! GRRR!!), while never seeing the big picture (Macs have a ridiculously small market share).
Third, the natural progression is to do more: more staff, more funding, more spending. Without a conscious spending plan, you’ll find that executing a Think, Want, Do analysis will reveal some huge disparities in where you think your money is going vs. where it’s actually going.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Federal spending almost always increases
When people argue about a local issue, where does that fit into the bigger picture?
Stunning visualization of Obama’s announced $100m budget cut
Now, you can take a couple routes after seeing these:
1. Complain about Obama, Democrats, Republicans, the war in Iraq, etc. The funny thing is, people love to debate minutiae but fail to realize that energy is a valuable resource — and it’d be much more productive to focus on things we can control (like our asset allocation, automation, negotiation, etc). If you do this, you are just like everybody else who loves to complain but does nothing to improve their own finances.
2. Realize that the real message of this post is to focus on the BIG WINS — the things that let us save significant amounts of money. While it might be fun and emotionally liberating to debate over some local issue, the way to move the federal budget forward is to fix the 800-lb gorilla: healthcare costs. The same is true of your spending: The very first tip in my Scrooge Strategy is called the Two-Headed Savings Approach, where I show you how to focus on dramatically cutting the costs on your two biggest discretionary expenses, rather than trying to save 5% on 50 things (as most people do), and ending up feeling guilty and achieving no behavioral change.
Stop complaining about things you can’t control. Realize that the correlation between macro-economic and political decisions has very little to do with our money on a day-to-day basis. Most importantly, we’re cognitive misers, and only have a limited amount of attention. Focus on your own finances first, and let the fools (or politicians) debate the macro-level.