4 Reasons Why You Don't Have Financial Common Sense (and How to Get It)


If you're always in the hole, you may look anywhere for financial help. You may listen to financial experts on TV, read their books, or pay to attend their seminars on money management and debt elimination. (See also: 10 Sites and Apps That Help Manage Your Finances)

The truth is, improving one's financial outlook can be as simple as having financial common sense. It doesn't take an expert to know that spending more than you earn can trigger financial problems. And you don't need to read a book to know how excessive credit card use can result in debt, issues with creditors, and sleepless nights.

Financial common sense is so simple, yet so hard to follow. Why?

1. We Believe That Things Will Make Us Happy

Retail therapy may be your pattern for coping with your emotions. If you feel stressed, depressed, or anxious, going to the mall and picking up a few items for yourself may be the thing that lifts your spirits. (See also: Free Ways to Relieve Stress)

But while shopping may put a smile on your face and help you forget the day's troubles, rarely does it provide lasting happiness.

"The positive emotions associated with acquisitions are short-lived," says a study from the Journal of Consumer Research. Further, although positive emotions are common after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before actually acquiring a product, explains author Marsha L. Richins.

Of course, if shopping has become your biggest mood booster, you could probably care less about the psychology. At this point, you want to feel better, and if you feel that a pair of new shoes will make you happy, nothing else matters — even if you go into debt or spend bill money to acquire them.

However, the blues or a bad day doesn't justify irresponsible spending. There are plenty of other ways to distract yourself, such as journaling, exercising, or listening to music. But if you're feeling particularly low and believe that retail therapy is the only cure, set a "bummer budget."

Give yourself a strict spending limit — maybe $20 or $30. There is no rule that says you have to spend a lot to feel better. The experience of a cheap purchase can provide the same lift as an expensive one.

2. Old Habits Are Hard to Break

If your early adult years involved a lot of spending, no budget, and habitually late payments, looking back, you probably know where you went wrong. But if this has been the routine for years, re-adjusting your thinking and adopting better money habits is much easier to say than do. (See also: How to Break Bad Habits)

Sure, you know the importance of establishing a budget, as this helps track where your money goes. And you know that paying your bills late can result in late fees and maybe a damaged credit score. However, it's one thing to know the mistakes you've made; it's an entirely different thing to rewire your brain and make better choices in the future.

First, identify why you've been unable to change these bad habits. For example, if you pay bills late because you procrastinate opening your mail or because you don't write down your due dates, take steps to fix these issues. Open mail as soon as it arrives, and keep bills in plain view. Set payment alerts on your phone or schedule recurring payments. Likewise, if you don't know how to budget or manage your money, hire a financial planner or get help from a relative or friend who's good with finances. (See also: 12 Habits of Responsible Credit Card Users)

3. We Didn't Learn Good Money Skills

The fact that you have a hard time following simple financial common sense may not be entirely your fault. Although you may have developed some bad habits of your own as an adult, much of what you know about money probably came from your parents. If your folks aren't the best money managers, you may have inadvertently adopted some of their bad habits. (See also: Stupid Things My Parents Taught Me About Money)

According to the 5th Annual Parents, Kids, and Money Survey conducted by mutual company T. Rowe Price, nearly 97% of kids surveyed said that they learned money habits from their parents.

If your parents didn't save, used credit cards excessively, paid their bills late, and didn't budget, you're likely to imitate this behavior. And if you observed these habits for the first 18 or 19 years of your life, following financial common sense may require erasing everything you've learned about money and acknowledging that your parents' way isn't the right way.

4. We're Trying to Impress Others

With credit cards and home equity, just about anyone can live the good life. You know, designer clothes, nice shoes, lavish vacations — basically a life that says, "I have it all."

The problem, however, is that some of those people flaunting the good life are up to their noses in debt. We live in a materialistic world where success is determined by bank accounts and where many feel the need to have the best and biggest of everything. And while some people see this as nothing more than false security and fake happiness, others fall for the hype and spend their lives trying to keep up with others. (See also: Is Peer Pressure Keeping You Poor?)

This thinking and attitude makes it difficult to follow financial common sense, because while your bank account says you can't afford a particular item, your brain says you need the item to fit in and maintain a certain status. For many habitual overspenders, no amount of financial education will correct the behavior — usually the correction only comes after a serious financial crisis.

What are your thoughts on why it's so hard for us to observe financial common sense sometimes? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

Number 5, or perhaps the "meta-reason" - we lose financial sensibility by considering it to be a separate area of our lives to work on then all our other goals and ambitions. For example, shopping for groceries has the components of health, social awareness, and financial responsibility - it's easy to buy cheap unhealthy food, expensive healthy food, or cheap healthy food that contains within it profit for those who practice cruelty towards animals. Perhaps that's a side rant. :)

Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it.