Are your finances your fault?

Many of us tend to blame every disaster on ourselves. Except for the few who thing everything is the other guy’s fault. Even in this pandemic, I hear a lot of people blaming themselves for losing their job, or making bad investment choices, or not seeing it coming.

If you’re making a financial plan, it’s very important to be realistic about what you can control and what you can’t.  For example, you can certainly take advantage of all the job training offered you, put together a crackerjack resume, keep up your networking contacts, and try to do the best job possible, all things you can control. Yes, you’re allowed to feel a tiny bit guilty for these things, because you can control them, but you aren’t perfect.

You can’t control getting an unreasonable or sadistic boss (yes, some people are unreasonable or sick), have a change in supervisors and the new one wants their own team. You may have attained an age or pay level where the company concludes it makes sense to get rid of you and get someone cheaper. Your employer may be taken over, lose business, the university may not be able to re-open, or you’re in an industry that suffers in a pandemic. None of these events have anything to do with you, personally, and there’s little or nothing you can do about them.

Let’s look at it another way. Things you can generally control:

  1. How much you spend.
  2. Where you choose to live.
  3. How much you save.
  4. Whether you contribute to savings.
  5. Whether you have an emergency fund.
  6. Whether you continue to develop your job skills.
  7. Whether you maintain your home well enough to prevent little problems from becoming big ones.
  8. Whether you’ve established realistic goals and made a financial plan to address them.
  9. What investments you choose.
  10. Whether you have enough insurance to prevent catastrophe.
  11. Whether you have an estate plan that preserves wealth and takes care of your loved ones.

Things you can’t control alone:

  1. Whether unemployment benefits are adequate.
  2. Accidents and illnesses (except for doing what you can to lead a healthy lifestyle)
  3. Whether Social Security will be there for you.
  4. Whether your employer operates fairly.
  5. What “the market” will do in the future.
  6. Whether you will have the perfect kid.
  7. What college will cost.
  8. What taxes will be.
  9. What your home will be worth.
  10. Whether you can depend on adequate care if you are disabled or elderly.

I’m sure either of these two categories could be expanded for many more points, but I want to make the point that the first group is things you can make individual, hopefully good, choices about—or your own individual mistakes. The second group is societal, and can only be addressed by groups of people banded together: parent/teacher associations, unions, consumer-group pressure and regulations, and political action.

You Star Trek fans will understand what I’m after. In Star Trek, individuals can still make poor choices, or rise to their highest capabilities, or be kind or cruel. But that society has organized itself economically so that no one goes hungry, everyone has access to education and housing and leisure time (and there still seems to be plenty of scope for personal expression). Perhaps most startling is the issue of disability. Technology has developed system-wide responses to most handicaps, whether blindness, injury, personality volatility, or mobility issues. Thus, although people may have handicaps, they are not disabled from fully functioning in society.

So, when difficulties arise, try to distinguish whether it’s an individual decision (or error) you’ve made—because those are often in your power to control and correct. Or is this an issue with the society you live in, and is the only solution group action or policy change?

About the author

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Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA

Danielle L. Schultz, the principal financial planner of Haven Financial Solutions, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a NAPFA-registered Financial Advisor, and a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. She studied financial planning at Northwestern University’s Certified Financial Planner™ certification program. She also holds a Series 65 license (Registered Investment Advisor Representative) and a CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist).

She writes a regular column for Better Investing magazine and is currently working on a revision of their mutual funds handbook. In addition to academic training and professional experience, Ms. Schultz has personally managed Social Security, Medicare, retirement and long-term care issues; college funding concerns; and cash flow and transition planning in self-employment and divorce situations. Her social work background gives her an innovative perspective on financial planning issues; for her, financial planning is not only about money, but also a key component in a satisfying and well-lived life.

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