When you cannot help yourself

Given the choice, most of us would rather do it ourselves, especially when it comes to solving our problems. The ability to do it yourself almost always saves you money, and pays you back with the kind of self-satisfaction you can’t get from hiring someone else to do it for you.

But sadly we can’t always do it ourselves. In fact, we can’t help ourselves a lot of the time. That’s easy to swallow when it comes to skill-specific things like replacing the carburetor in your car or re-roofing your house. It’s a little harder to accept when it comes to things that seem like they should doable – like getting your finances in order.

For whatever reason, it’s easier for us to accept that certain tasks require help and not others. “No one ever taught me how to fix a refrigerator,” you may think as you punch in the phone number for the refrigerator repairman. “So it’s okay for me to ask for help.”

On the other hand, consider how many times you’ve said to yourself, “I should know how to do this…”

Why do we do this to ourselves? The problem is that often we look at the world around us and make assumptions about what is and isn’t common knowledge. Those assumptions are usually based largely on our closest relationships. If your parents seemed to have no problem managing their money, then it shouldn’t be a problem for you, either.

But the truth is that we only know what we know. Just because we assume we should know something doesn’t mean we actually do. If your mother knew how to knit, but never taught you, you might feel bad about not knowing how to knit. You might even assume that you do know how to knit and waste a lot of yarn and bandages proving that you don’t know what you’re doing.

So it goes with personal finance. Too many of our worst money problems come because we assume we know more than we do. We make poor decisions in crucial moments, not because we’re poor decision-makers, but because we don’t have enough information to make good decisions.

If you want to reduce the chance of small problems becoming big problems, consider these three steps:

Accept what you don’t know. It’s okay to not know something. Admitting that there’s an important gap in what you know is the first step towards filling that gap. Accept that you don’t know something and then go out there and get the information that you need.

Don’t worry about what anyone else knows. Don’t let guilt even enter into the equation. Feeling ashamed about what you don’t know only impedes your ability and willingness to go get that knowledge. It doesn’t matter what anyone else knows or thinks. Your journey is the only one you can control.

Be willing to ask for help when the time is right. It’s okay to not have the solutions, because someone else almost certainly does. When you’re stuck and you don’t know how to move forward, ask for help. You only hurt yourself when you don’t open yourself up to the assistance and guidance that’s waiting to be given.

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.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.