I used to love charging things on my credit card in college. Like what most financial planners warn us all against, I thought that charging things was just like having “free” money. I cannot even remember all of the things that I bought with my credit card now when I think about on it. But, I do remember the final number, and it scared me to death…$30,000. I had a mountain of debt, a new wife and baby on the way, and just graduated from college.
So, I did what a lot of people in that situation do. I hid the problem. I hid the fact that I was in financial trouble, and I concealed it from the one person who I cared most about in the world. I will also never forget the day a year later that my wife finally cornered me about not having enough money in our checking account for groceries that week. That was the day that I had to tell her about all of the credit card debt that I had been hiding from her. That was my financial wake-up call or at least my last one that I finally heard ringing. I can remember the shame of it, not only having that much debt right out of school but also keeping it from her as well.
Stu Weber wrote in his book, “Tender Warrior“, about having missed two major wake-up calls regarding the direction his life had been taking. At some point in your life you either hear your wake-up call or it runs you over like a freight train and something horrible happens like your spouse leaving you or debt piling up so high that you have to file bankruptcy. While Weber was talking about family responsibilities in his book instead of strictly financial ones, they both go hand in hand. How many financial wake-up calls have we slept right through in our lives? Are there signs in your life that your finances are in trouble or out of control? Are you starting to have trouble paying your credit card bills every month? Do you pay one credit card’s monthly payment with a cash advance from another one? Are debt collectors calling you all hours of the day? You may be missing your financial wake-up calls and not realizing it.
Not all wake-up calls have to be necessarily bad. Maybe there is a silver lining to your recent job loss for example. Are you out of a job you hated anyway? Eight hours a day is a lot of time during the day to spend toiling away at a job you hate to get up and go to everyday. Is this the wake-up call that you needed? Maybe now you can start the small business that you always dreamed of owning. Wake-up calls do not have to all be bad ones. Many may be very helpful especially if you realize what it is the first time it hits you. Wake-up calls are like the deer that you accidentally hit with your car. It is not the first deer that hits you, it is the second and third ones coming afterwards that you didn’t even see coming that are the ones who do all the damage and total your car.
So, how do you recognize a financial wake-up call?
- Be receptive (Is there a little voice in the back of your mind?)
- Follow your gut
- Make the hard right over easy wrong
- Talk with your spouse, loved one, and/or friends
- Keep learning and growing
Wake-up calls can be a wonderful thing. They can help you get back on track, help you find the moral high ground when you have lost your way, or just help you move on to the things that you love. We just need to be on the look out for them.