I teach high school social studies, but, as most teachers will agree, a good teacher teaches much more than just her subject. We’re also in the business of teaching life lessons. This week, I was counseling a student about a situation that she’s in with one of her friends. Basically, she needs to talk to the school psychologist and tell her that her friend is addicted to hard drugs. My student knew she had to confide in someone who would help her friend, but she knew that the friend would also get into trouble with her parents. She kept saying: it’s so hard to get a friend into trouble on purpose. And I responded that doing the right thing isn’t always easy, which is where the whole life lesson thing comes in. (Funny, they don’t list “teaching life lessons” in the description of my responsibilities in my contract…)
When I was driving home later, I got to thinking about what I had told my student, that doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and how it is not only true of our larger lives, but it particularly applies to personal finance. Saving and paying down debt is the right thing to do, personal finance-wise, but it isn’t always easy. . And then I thought some more about how a lot of the lessons we were taught in grade school apply to personal finance. Surprisingly, I came up with quite a list:
Most of personal finance is simple addition and subtraction. Subtract your expenses from your take-home pay and make sure that you end up with a positive number. If you don’t, do some more subtracting from your expenses or add in extra income. A lot of us ignore our simple math skills and hope the numbers will just work themselves out. If we just did some basic math along the way, we could avoid a whole lot of trouble.
Treat Others the Way You Would Like to be Treated
Sometimes, saving money is as easy as being nice and friendly. When you call up your credit card company to ask for a lower rate, be personable. You’re more likely to get what you’re asking for. The same goes for asking for discounts with airlines, at department stores, etc. I get discounts all the time just for getting friendly with sales people and mentioning that I’m a teacher. You would be really surprised how far keeping to this childhood mantra can get you when you’re in a tight financial situation.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
We all screw up. Sometimes, big time when it comes to money. We max out credit cards, deplete our savings accounts, take on more debt than we can handle. The important thing is to not dwell on the mistake, but to recognize it, learn from it, and move on.
Honesty is the Best Policy
When you’re trying to straighten out your finances, being honest with yourself and others is key. Take a good, hard look at your spending and admit that it’s out of control. When friends invite you on an expensive weekend getaway, saying, “honestly, I can’t afford it,” will make them aware of your situation and keep you moving towards your goals. Don’t try to fool people into thinking you have more money than you do by keeping up with fashion trends and buying an expensive car. Being truthful with yourself and those around you will save a lot of financial heartache in the long run.
Life Isn’t Fair
It’s not fair that your college roommate had a rich great aunt who left her a trust to pay for college, while you had to take out student loans. It’s not fair that your aunt and uncle paid for your younger cousin’s down payment, while you’re working your ass off to save. It’s not fair that your friend’s divorced parents fight for her affection by buying her designer clothes and expensive home furnishings, while you buy your clothes at Target and have hand-me-down furniture. But guess what? Life isn’t fair. Everyone’s situation is different, and nothing comes free. Your college roommate probably won’t appreciate an education paid for by someone else as much as you; your cousin won’t have any clue how to save and sacrifice the way you will; your friend with the divorced parents probably suffered her whole childhood because of the tension in her home, while your childhood was safe and happy. Be happy with what you have, work towards what you want, and don’t judge yourself against others. Because life will never be fair, and whining about it is a waste of time.