Often, when I discover a new personal finance blog and start reading through the blogger’s archives or “About” page, I come across a certain line. A very, very scary line. A line that seems to be a common description of the blogger’s motivation to turn his or her finances around. I’ve seen this line so many times that you’d think I’d be used to it by now. But I’m not used to it. Every time I read it, in whichever iteration the blogger has expressed it, it strikes a new thunderclap of fear into my heart. You probably know the one. It goes something like:
“I’m 30 years old, I have a pile of debt, and nothing to show for it.”
“I’ve been working full time for the past 20 years and have nothing to show for it.”
Or maybe even:
“I don’t know where all the bills came from; I spent a ton of money and have nothing to show for it.”
See what I mean? Terrifying.
Maybe it’s just me, but this line, “I have nothing to show for it,” scares the fucking shit out of me. The idea of working all day, every day, for years and years and having nothing saved – or worse, having nothing saved and a pile of debt – horrifies me. I mean, I’m sure these bloggers don’t literally having “nothing to show for” their debt. I’m sure they have houses or apartments chock full of clothes and appliances and gadgets. But I know exactly what they mean. They have nothing real to show for it, nothing of value. No assets. Nothing they actually own. Nothing to fall back on.
And I know exactly why this “having nothing to show for it” line freaks me out so much: it could have been me. I could very easily have woken up at 40 with nothing to show for over twenty years in the workforce. I could very easily have spent decades living paycheck to paycheck, not saving anything, financially drifting. I’m not a natural saver. I have no inborn impulse towards financial responsibility. Everything I do, money-wise, is done with great effort and intention, even now. It would have been very, very easy for me to end up with “nothing to show for it.”
So when I read that line, I feel incredible empathy for the writer – almost a survivor’s guilt – along with my intense fear. I can really, viscerally imagine the depth of the writer’s regret, the feelings of shame and disgust at the mess she’s made of her financial life. And when I’m tempted to do something financially irresponsible, like $50 on a pair of shoes instead of putting it into savings, I sometimes actually stop and think, no. I want to have something to show for it.
Because “nothing to show for it”? That could have been me.