A recent Wall Street Journal article touted New Year’s as one of the optimal “clean slate” times to draft a financial plan. (“Ahem … unless that plan involves something foolhardy like cutting back on a newspaper that costs $4 an issue. Just wing it. YOLO.”)
The Journal cited a survey from Fidelity Investments, showing that 67 percent of Americans are considering a New Year’s resolution that relates to their finances (especially saving for retirement).
Alas, half the people who made such resolutions for 2019 failed to keep them. (They’re currently drowning their sorrows with fellow resolvers who still can’t find the walking track or who wander around muttering, “Why didn’t they tell me there’s more to learning Spanish than using Google Maps to figure out where Pepe’s house is?”)
Several “behavioral economists” contributed life-changing tips to the Journal article. Sure, we could all stand some financial tweaking (furthering our education, seeking a promotion at work, resisting impulse buys), and I’m not here to rain on anybody’s Financial Independence Day parade. But I do understand how daunting it can be to scrimp and save in a meaningful way.
Life comes at you fast — even when it hits all those potholes your hefty property-tax increase couldn’t quite fix.
It’s hard to get your financial house is order when you’re already living in a van down by the river.
I’ve had to devise so many backup plans, I hear “beep-beep-beep” in my sleep.
OK, my house is paid for and I have a decent sum in my 401(k) account. But in a world of tariffs, embargoes, union strikes and crop failures, chaos theory still keeps me looking over my shoulder. Time and again I’ve seen it impact the livelihoods of myself or my friends. (“Just got word that a butterfly flapped its wings in Indonesia. We’re going to have to eliminate all overtime and make employees pay for their own coffee creamer. Oh, metamorphosis, you cruel mistress!”)
Sure, the stock market is currently doing well, but it’s hard to get excited about traditional savings accounts. Remember when math teachers celebrated “The Magic of Compound Interest”? Now the only magic is watching inflation saw your hypothetical retirement condo in half.
Yes, we can ditch gas-guzzlers, turn off lights when we leave the room and buy generic canned goods, but some expenses are resistant to the tools of economizing. (“Aw, c’mon … are you sure this coupon code doesn’t work on alimony and child support?”)
We can draw up an optimistic budget at the beginning of the year, but so much lurks beyond rent, utilities and groceries. As we navigate the 366 days of 2020, there will always be someone with a hand out for a wedding gift, someone with a hand out for a graduation gift, someone with a hand out for charitable donation, someone with a hand out for a tip, someone with a hand out for an out-of-network medical bill. If we really want to fix the economy, we need to stop worrying about hands-free phones and hands-free cars and start developing hands-free humans.
Just ignore me. Self-confidence can bulldoze many of the obstacles to thriftiness. Of course, the plan may get off track. (“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. Hey, I need to hurry and buy a limited-edition train set for my man cave!”)