Financial Advice for When You're Your Own Worst Enemy

Young woman looking at herself in the mirror

Financial wounds typically come in one of two flavors: unexpected and self-inflicted. In other words, the problem is either completely outside of your control or entirely within it.

While we might like to believe that most of our financial problems descend upon us like an invisible swarm of locust, that’s usually not the case. More often than not, we create our own bad luck by developing negative habits, ignoring early warning signs, and failing to take active steps to protect ourselves. In many ways, when it comes to personal finance, we have a tendency to be our own worst enemy.

If you feel like the biggest blocker to financial success is you, try implementing a few of these helpful strategies for getting out of your own way.

Automate everything

If you’re forgetful or struggle to follow through on savings or debt repayment goals, automation can be a life-saver. Automate your monthly payments so you’ll never go overdue and incur late fees. Designate a portion of each paycheck for savings and have it automatically deducted.

If you create a lot of your own problems by struggling to follow through on your best intentions, taking yourself out of the equation can make a big difference.

There are no little problems

One of the most harmful things you can do is to ignore a problem. When problems are small, it’s pretty easy to talk yourself into avoiding them. But then little problems have a way of becoming big problems, and for many of us, it’s only once things become truly dire that we rouse ourselves to action.

If that’s you, here’s your new mantra: There’s no such thing as a little problem. Start training yourself to see the road ahead. If you can’t pay your credit card bill this month, you might be able to talk yourself into not worrying, as it’s only one month. But where does that lead? What will change next month and why did it happen at all? Little problems, when left unexamined, very quickly become disasters.

So, no. It’s not a little problem. It’s the first sign of a potentially much bigger problem. If you treat it as such, you can save yourself a lot of future headaches.

Embrace discomfort

Part of avoiding our problems is avoiding the distress and discomfort they create. If managing money makes us uncomfortable, we will avoid doing so. We will avoid seeking help. We will avoid contrary opinions. We create bubbles for ourselves where we can hide out, avoiding conflict.

But that conflict is good and helpful and makes us better in very important ways. If you are your own worst enemy, it’s safe to assume that this is in part due to an avoidance of conflict and discomfort. So teach yourself to embrace that discomfort. Baby steps are a fine way to start. Talk to others about money and personal finance. Seek new knowledge and ask for help when appropriate. If it feels uncomfortable, keep pushing forward. Eventually your bubble will widen and you’ll lose that desire to retreat and hide.

Pay attention to your coping mechanisms

How do you react when things don’t go your way? Do you shop to relieve stress? Do you eat to distract yourself from depression or anxiety? We all tend to develop mechanisms to help us deal with negative feelings and situations. Those mechanisms, unfortunately, can sometimes be personally or financially damaging and cause significantly more problems than they resolve.

So it’s important that you be aware of how you try to make things better for yourself. And if those coping mechanisms are negative, you should attempt to replace them with something more beneficial. For example, if you can train yourself to turn to exercise instead of shopping when you find yourself feeling stressed out, you can turn a potentially negative situation into something very positive.

Use all of the resources at your disposal

Finally, if you struggle with managing your finances, remember that you’re not alone, and there are tons of tools available to help you bridge those gaps. The marketplace is loaded with great apps, programs, and organizations that can help you make timely payments, build a functional budget, monitor accounts, manage goals, and much, much more.

If you can’t or won’t do something for yourself, don’t be afraid to go look for someone or something that can help you in that specific way. We should all strive to make ourselves better, but that starts with recognizing and accepting our shortcomings.

Article updated November 2020

Tagged in Psychology and money, Self care, Reducing expenses

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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