My Biggest Personal Finance Flaw
Last month (actually just a couple of weeks ago) marked seven years since I started writing about personal finance. Over that time, a lot has changed for me personally, professionally, and — most relevant to this writing — financially. Namely, the more time I’ve spent covering money topics and apps, the greater understanding I’ve gained of financial topics while also discovering helpful tools. Thus, it’s easy to say that I’m largely better with money now than I was when I started back in 2016.
Then again, this doesn’t mean that I’m perfect — far from it, in fact. Moreover, there are some trappings inherent to what I do, such as giving myself a green light to buy stuff since I can turn it into a review as long as it’s even slightly related to travel.
On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my biggest personal financial flaw is — and I think it boils down to this.
Spending More Time Looking at How to Spend Money Than How to Make It
It’s true and it’s awful. On the one hand, I’m kind of proud that I’ve managed to build a lifestyle where I’m comfortable and secure while staying clear of “hustle culture.” Yet, I’ll fully admit that I often take this too far. This isn’t to say that I don’t work — because I definitely feel like I do since I work two jobs every day — but that there’s absolutely room for improvement.
A prime example of this involves YouTube. I don’t even want to estimate the ratio of time I spend consuming content on the platform compared to that spent creating for my channel. Granted, in lots of these cases, I’m watching product reviews in order to be a more well-informed consumer and avoid making impulsive splurges. Still, I could be getting paid to offer my opinion on products and services rather than devoting far too much time to watching others do just that.
Elsewhere, for as much as I try to cut down my expenses in some ways, there’s always something that manages to catch my attention and sticks in my head for days if not weeks. Hell, there’s almost a cycle to it:
- 1) Find product
- 2) Tell myself there’s no way I need it
- 3) Look up reviews that tell me that, in fact, I do need it/highlight how my life would be better if I had it
- 4) Repeat step three for another couple of days
- 5) Share all this gained info with my wife
- 6) Buy the damn thing
- 7) Start at step one
Case in point: recently, I was delighted to receive a nice electric kettle for free. However, I realized that it actually wasn’t the gooseneck kind I had expected. So, I found that I could buy a “replacement” gooseneck kettle and did so.
But that’s not where the story ends. While on the site, I saw a nice looking grinder. And, although we have a grinder, I wondered whether this $300+ one would be better. Sure enough, YouTube tells me that it will make a big difference in my enjoyment of my coffee. Does this mean that I’ve actually been wasting money on good coffee by grinding it with my cheap machine?! Well, that won’t be a problem anymore because this $340 grinder is on its way, baby (to be fair, I did get a deal on a package that includes a vacuum-sealed canister and a bag of coffee for less than the grinder on its own).
I’m not going to pretend that I’m not excited to get my new grinder and make pour-over coffee with (hopefully) less mess — but I’m honestly embarrassed not only by how susceptible I am to fancy branding but also by how much time I wasted “researching” (read: convincing myself I needed) this grinder when I have plenty of actual work that could be done.
The bottom line is this: lest you think that, as a personal finance writer, I feel as though I’m better than those who read my reviews and thoughts, that’s absolutely not the case. After all, just because I may know more about money after writing about it for seven years doesn’t mean that I always end up following my own advice. Does that make me a hypocrite? That’s a bit strong IMHO — I prefer the term “human.”
So where do I go from here? Well, for one, I hope that unburdening my soul publically like this may spur a bit of a “come to Jesus” moment for me. Second, seeing as my latest frustration is directly tied to coffee, I’m brainstorming ways that I can use the act of drinking coffee as part of a habit stack (something I learned from the uber-popular book Atomic Habits). A fairly obvious one is that I can’t have my delicious coffee until I complete X tasks each day — and, of course, cannot go out to get coffee for at least a few months while I make this grinder pay for itself.
Lastly, to break the aforementioned cycle, I’m instituting an upgrades ban through the end of the year. I can still buy replacements for legitimately broken items and will continue to spend on essentials — but any lifestyle creep items will either go on the Christmas wish list or just have to wait. (By the way, the irony of my writing this on the day of Apple’s annual iPhone announcement is not lost on me.)
Even if you think you know better, mastering your money can be hard. Working for yourself and staying motivated: also hard. Escaping financially unscathed when your job involves both social media and reviewing products — well, that’s just damn near impossible! While I’m not letting myself off the hook that easily, I do need to accept these realities and make the necessary adjustments. So, will this be the last time I find myself struggling with these issues? I guess we’ll have to check back in another seven years to find out.