Raise your hand if you're a financial fatalist? Many more people are fatalists than care to admit; others probably don't know they are one. The one miracle remedy to stop fatalism in its tracks is a simple mindset change.
What is a Fatalist?
Merriam-Webster defines fatalism as:
a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them; also : a belief in or attitude determined by this doctrine fatalism that regards social problems as simply inevitable
No human is perfect so we will make mistakes–even some that will take a lifetime to fix–but our mistakes don't have to dictate our future.
Here are a few statements that a financial fatalist might believe:
- Debt's a Normal Part of Life
- I'll Just Declare Bankruptcy When I Can No Longer Afford My Monthly Bills
- My Parents Were Poor So I Will Be Too
- “Let Us Eat and Drink, For Tomorrow We Die”
- The Government Will Forgive My Debt
- The Neighbors Just Got a New Car So Let's Get One Too (I wonder if they got 0% for 84 months too)
Do any of these statements resonate with you?
There's a little fatalism in all us whether we admit it or not. That doesn't mean we need to let it become our identity.
How We Conquer Financial Fatalism
My wife and I both hate debt, but in different ways. In my 20s, I was definitely more debt-happy than she was. After all, I had $50,000 in student loans and a $27,500 car loan, even after seeing others in the Great Recession wreck their credit because they borrowed way too much money in the years leading up to the 2007-2008 credit crunch.
My wife earned her college degree debt-free and has never borrowed money to buy a car.
On a positive note, neither of us have ever missed a credit card payment and we're on track to pay our mortgage off 10 years early (hopefully sooner). After that, we hope to never borrow money ever again.
Admittedly, changing our mindset to financially thrive with a modest income was easy compared to others that spend a dollar like it's going out of style and need accountability partners.
So let's see how we minimize our inner financial fatalist.
Invest in Yourself
You must mentally tell yourself “I can” before you can physically change your financial habits. My wife and I read a book together every night, including some of my favorite personal finance books. We like learning from others so we don't reinvent the wheel or repeat the same mistakes as them.
I'll be honest, I'm a big Dave Ramsey fan. It's one of the most basic and straightforward plans to get out of debt and we've followed his baby steps (mostly). If you want to let out your debt free scream one day–start following Dave's advice ASAP.
Make a Budget and Watch Our Spending
Every month my wife and I go over how much we spent. That means printing out the credit card bill and writing a reason for every expense, plus looking at our other online bank statements.
Depending on if we have any notable changes in our income (we both earn a variable income) or expenses, we make a new household budget. We're at the point now where we just shift $50 from one category to the other, but we usually have a ballpark idea of how much we spend.
I recommend that you use one of these programs to track your money:
- Personal Capital (Track spending for FREE and basic savings goals)
- Mint (Free budgeting app)
- You Need A Budget (This one costs money but we used it when I took an adult gap year and we took 75% pay cut for a year)
Find out which one works best for you and go for it!
Pay Your Bills On Time
One thing both of our parents always told us to do was pay our bill before the due date and in full.
I like to take things one step further by paying the bill as soon as I get it. Yes, I get a little paranoid sometimes thinking I'm going to miss the due date.
Thankfully, most companies send text message reminders 10 days before a bill is due if you have to wait until payday to pay the bill. Using your bank's autopay is also really convenient.
By keeping a budget and tracking your spending using the apps above, it should be a lot harder to miss a bill payment ever again because you know where every dollar is going.
Don't Borrow Money
Never borrow money to buy a car, home gym system, cell phone, boat, etc. Two expenses that you can justify borrowing money for are to buy a house and a business loan because we need a place to live and sometimes buy equipment or learn skills to boost our income.
I guess you can also throw college into the mix as “good debt,” but the higher education system is in need of major financial reform and the mountain of student loan debt on most new graduates is going to have some serious repercussions. All I have to say is don't knock community colleges and vocational school too soon.
My wife and I try to never pay retail for anything. Craigslist is our best friend. It saved us thousands of dollars while we built our house and we always check there first, then eBay, and finally we shop with Ebates when we must buy new.
Get an Emergency Fund
A 2016 Federal Reserve finds that 46% of Americans couldn't afford a $400 expense without going into debt. Our own government leaders aren't exactly role models on this issue either which (to me) makes this study ironic but by making a plan and paying your bills on time, you will have more money at the end of each month than when you left your finances in the hand of fate.
Make a plan to keep three months of living expenses in a separate bank account to cover those $400 expenses that will eventually come. Or, you can be like me and put 12 months of money in the bank so you can quit your job!
Invest for Passive Income
Like everybody, I like to work smarter instead of harder. I like it even better when my money does the same so I can work less while I'm young and also so I can eventually retire.
For many people, the solution to how to earn passive income is investing in stocks and ETFs. Even if you don't know the difference between a stock and bond, you can still get started.
The easiest way to start investing is with one of the following brokerages:
- Betterment (100% hands-off investing–$1 gets you started)
- M1 Finance (100% free to trade stocks and ETFs–good for casual DIY investors)
- Vanguard (A legendary full-service brokerage if you want a long-standing company)
While you should invest in stocks, real estate, or anything that earns passive income as early as possible in life to earn the most interest, you need to get your debts and emergency fund built up first.
Stop Being a Fatalist
As you can see, it's easier than you think to stop putting your future in the hands of others. Sure, you'll still make financial mistakes but you won't make as many of them. Just like you get pay raises and promotions at work by improving, grab the bull by the horns and start deciding where you can make immediate changes in your life today!
What's your most memorable moment as a financial fatalist?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.