Last week, I issued a call for a collective consciousness shift in the way we, as Americans, think about money and our consumer behavior.
To modify a line from the film "Cool Hand Luke," what we’re dealing with here is a failure to "consume-icate" — we Americans consume too much stuff (and food, too, for that matter).
What we need now is a deeper solution than a few coupon codes and a spending plan (aka budget).
For lasting healing in our wounded national — and personal — economies, it’s going to take a shift or, rather, a series of shifts in not just what we do with our money, but how we think about it. The first in this series of consciousness changes? To grow up.
Americans, by and large, have a very immature approach to money matters. Don’t believe me? Mention "budget," "bookeeping" or, even better, "retirement plan" in a crowd of average Americans, and watch how many people sigh, grimace, drift off or roll up in a fetal position.
How many 30-somethings — scratch that — 40-somethings do you know who have nearly zero in retirement savings? The fact that 40 is the new 25 doesn’t eliminate the fact that 60 will be sneaking right on up.
Every year of delayed retirement investing makes it less statistically possible for you to retire without downgrading your lifestyle. Yet even Americans who aren’t saving at all believe they’ll be living the same in retirement as they do while they’re working.
Many young-ish people think retirement planning is an excruciating bore, or something they’ll wait to start until the kids go to school, or until they get a better job.
Procrastination at tending to basic financial self-care, whether it’s balancing the checkbook (virtually or otherwise), eliminating debt or starting retirement savings, is one of the purest examples of finger-in-ear sticking, "la-la-la" singing, intentional financial ignorance and immaturity.
But probably the most telling sign of America’s epidemic financial immaturity is the pervasive outrage and blame you hear in how we talk about the foreclosure wave and housing crisis. Blame is the ultimate symptom of immaturity.
If you lose your home and, when discussing why, every sentence starts with "The bank …" or "The mortgage broker …" or "The real estate agent …" — and none of the sentences starts with "I …" or "Me …" or "We …" — you might need to check your money maturity level.
Did the banks play a role in this? Absolutely. But so did a widespread, childish ignorance and intentional abdication of responsibility on the part of many consumers — and I don’t exclude myself.
We collectively willed ourselves to believe that real estate would (pretty much) always go up; and that’s neither mature nor realistic, but that willing suspension of disbelief did support what we wanted (big houses!) and when we wanted it (now!).
Is personal finance the most scintillating topic ever? Maybe not. It’s certainly difficult for the hour of weekly bookkeeping and single workday’s worth of annual financial planning that would make the average American household hum along well, moneywise, to compete for mindshare with what Kim Kardashian wore last night, or Mel Gibson’s latest baby mama drama.
But the time has come, folks: Get over it. Turn off the TV, get offline — or click over to your checking account, personal finance software, or other online money management place — and devote some time to what my friend Bari Tessler calls "conscious bookkeeping."
If it feels really excruciating, even physically painful to sit down and do this, decide right now to invest the time and the effort to transforming your relationship with money.
That can mean reading up to learn what you need to know to be a responsible steward of the financial resources you do have. It might mean signing up for a few financial therapy sessions — there’s no shame in that. Or, you might need to hire a financial planner, estate planner or money coach (get referrals).
Financial maturity involves contentment with and gratitude for the lovely life you have, rather than coveting the logo-laden luxury goods you see someone else sporting (unless you can truly afford them). Financial maturity also means delayed gratification on obtaining the things you do decide to buy, until you can — new concept alert — afford to pay for them, cash!
Fundamentally, though, financial maturity takes creating a vision for truly and deeply taking care of your household and personal finances, with integrity and order, by imposing self-discipline and creating sound habits around that.
In the final analysis, growing your money up may actually equal growing your money, period. I have experienced this firsthand, so I can vouch. And if that’s not enough of a motivator, get this: self-branded "Ultimate Cheapskate" Jeff Yeager recently conducted an informal study which found that:
- 90 percent of frugal Americans think and stress about money less than other Americans,
- they divorce at less than half the rate of average Americans, and
- they adopt shelter animals 100 times as much as average.
Somewhere in there, you should find a motivation to grow up financially.