I’ve been reading a lot of personal finance blogs and books lately, and I’ve noticed something. Many of those materials have a startling tendency to assume a certain favorable starting position. Most of them assume that you’re healthy, that you have at least a high school education, that you’re mentally stable, that you have relatively reliable transportation and shelter.
The fact is, for many people in this world, that’s just not the case. You might be one of them.
Maybe you grew up in an uneducated family stuck in a perpetual state of financial crisis. Maybe you dropped out of school at 15, whether by choice or by necessity. You might have fallen in with the wrong crowd and picked up a nasty drug habit or trusted the wrong partner and found yourself divorced at 22 and raising kids alone. Maybe you have chronic physical or mental health issues, or you might be overcoming a traumatic past — rape, abuse, or war. You might not conform to the “employable” norm — maybe you’re transgender or openly gay in a place that’s hostile to those differences, maybe you have a heavy accent that makes people think you’re a foreigner. Whatever your case, you might have one, two, even three or four or five major factors working against your efforts to achieve financial success.
If none of those are true for you, be thankful for it: you’re playing life on easy mode. If one or more of those obstacles do apply to you, I’m proud of you. If you’re reading this, it means you’re still looking for a way out and that you haven’t given up. Those kinds of odds would discourage even the most steadfast optimist. It’s easy to feel like you have no hope of improving your situation. It’s easy to feel that what you’ve got is as good as you’re capable of getting, or even that it’s as good as you deserve.
I want you to hang on to one very important thought:
Nothing is ever hopeless.
Nothing is ever hopeless. There is a way out.
You are capable of doing better for yourself and your family. You can reach a point where you don’t have to worry about money so much. You can have all the things other people have, like a nice car and a good house and quality clothes. You can be successful instead of just surviving.
It will not be easy. It will take hard work and sacrifice, and I know that’s a very hard thing to hear, because you might already be working yourself to the bone and sacrificing so much just to get by.
Poverty is like quicksand or swamp muck. You can work yourself ragged trying to get out, but unless you change how you work, how you move through it, all that hard work can just get you stuck even deeper. It’s a kind of financial inertia: getting your money moving in an upward direction takes a lot of energy. There are no get-rich-quick schemes or secrets of rich people to help you out. Just hard, effective work. The good news is that once it’s moving, once you’re making progress, it becomes easier to keep it going in a positive direction.
Effective, Relevant Works Is What Gets You Out
Effective is the key word there. You have to take actions and make decisions that address the issues that are affecting your finances right now. When life is so stacked up against you, many of the typical gems of personal finance advice may not apply to you. How is “open a 529 college savings account to prepare for your child’s education” supposed to help you when you aren’t even sure where you’re going to find the money to buy your 8-year-old a new pair of shoes? “Make sure you meet your employer’s 401k match cap!” is totally irrelevant to you if every job you’ve ever worked is a part-time minimum-wage gig that never even offered a retirement plan.
You’ll get to a place where those things are relevant to you, eventually, so it’s still a good idea to learn about them. But in the meantime, the actual day-to-day personal finance problems you’re dealing with are going to very different.
They might be problems like:
- What do you do when you’re already working two jobs and it’s still not enough?
- How do you further your education and improve your skills when you have absolutely no money for college?
- How (and why) do you save $1,000 when money in a savings account feels like money that ought to be used for something you need right now?
- Where do you find support and guidance when all your friends and family are in situations just as dire as your own?
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore some of those topics and try to offer some practical ways to approach them in your own life. Right now, though, I just want you to think about that one very important thought: NOTHING is ever hopeless. Hold onto it. Write it down and put it on your wall if it helps. Spell it out with alphabet magnets on your fridge.
Without hope, everything else becomes that much harder. Hopelessness is an extra weight shackled around your neck, but hope gives you strength to carry your burdens when everything falls apart. Hope drives you towards success and progress. Hope is the foundation stone you build your house of financial security upon, so keep it alive. Nothing is ever hopeless.
Have you ever felt like you had no hope of improving your financial situation? What helped you through it?
Photo by pol sifter