This Is Why You Can't Get Your Finances Under Control

April 2nd, 2013 by
PK

You remember your logic classes, don't you?

Logical fallacies are common forms of poor reasoning - literally, misconceptions based on errors of reasoning.  Even if you didn't take a logic class, you should quickly realize the errors in certain types of arguments.

This particular post is a reaction to a particular form of ad hominem attack.  'Ad hominems' are fallacies which attack the person making an argument, rather than details of the argument.  Poisoning the Well is a preemptive attack on the character of someone about to make an argument.  It's literally an attack before the arguments even begin.

It's Not The Message, it's the Messenger!

For the ultimate example of poisoning the well, check out this Gawker hit piece on Graham Hill's widely panned piece on living below your means in the New York Times.

Mr. Hill is a member of the last generation of Internet Millionaires, minted during the tech bubble in the late-Clinton era (you know, like this guy).  Often in their late 30s to mid-40s, this crowd, through an arguable combination of good timing and luck, extracted some of the massive wealth which drove the NASDAQ to levels around twice what they are even today.

Mr. Hill's major sin?  Having the gall to post about living below his means... when his means are above the average!  Author Hamilton Nolan wasted no time poisoning this particular well - even if the passive aggressive article title can be blamed on an editor, Mr. Nolan opens his article in no uncertain terms:

There is something about achieving great financial success that seduces people into believing that they are life coaches. This problem seems particularly endemic to the tech millionaire set.

Right.  Just because the guy had his finances under control.

Granted, just because you were targeted by a logical fallacy doesn't mean you are correct.  There are plenty of issues with Mr. Hill's ideas of what counts as necessities - certainly, the average debtor doesn't need to amass an extensive DVD collection or travel around Europe for years with a foreign girlfriend or boyfriend before seeing the light.  Those quibbles aside, the article is spot on - and math is truth.  Spending less than your $10,000,000 budget will leave you with a surplus, sure - but so will spending less than your$10,000 (or whatever amount you're bringing to the table).

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

99.9999% of the time, you can't credit their perfect genetics... (Wikipedia)

It's almost impossibly hard for people to make it through the screens we put up.  You see, your biases make you dismiss people out of hand for their current success.  However, if they aren't yet in the 'promised land' of fitting the description?  You're probably biased against listening to them since they aren't yet experts!

Think about it - if the messenger has achieved something of value that other people want, you dismiss it because of their traits.  If the messenger hasn't achieved something of value yet (even if they are obviously on the right path), you dismiss them for lacking the traits.  If your mind is that closed, please explain to me the traits of a person who you would listen to - someone who had 'it' and lost 'it'?  Recognize that there is a distinction between 'will become' and 'will never be on this path'.  Your not-yet-experts will be experts in 10 years - and you'll be dismissing them for their past success!

If your messenger went from 30% body-fat to 16% body-fat, even though they aren't at 10% yet (I'm assuming a male here) they probably are doing something right.  If your messenger has an increasing net worth at any age, they've probably got some wisdom to impart (we listen to Journalists, and isn't the definition of Journalist, "someone who reports with authority on matters where he or she isn't an expert"?)  Wouldn't a junior Pre-Med undergraduate be able to give you good advice about becoming a doctor?

To start your journey to a very achievable goal, shut up, drop the impossible standards, and listen to people who have done it... AND to people who are doing it.

Excuses Preventing You From Getting Your Finances Under Control

The excuses you make of this form tend to be applied to similar situations - and undoubtedly make it hard to get your finances under control.

Human beings display a ton of time inconsistency, which means we tend to over-discount future results and are biased to rewards in the present.  Stated another way, we overvalue the short term at the expense of the 'not-so-short' term.  By dismissing someone making an argument about improving your life over the long term, you avoid tough short term choices.  Let's give a few examples:

• Argument: A millionaire gives you advice about how to structure your finances to become a millionaire.
• Excuse: Well, she's a millionaire so there's no way that applies to me.
• Pain Saved: Not reducing short term spending.
• Result: Next year you're in the same leaky financial boat - with a year less to do anything about it.
• Argument: A celebrity explains a workout routine.
• Excuse: Well, of course he has great abs!  He's paid to have good abs.  Or: of course she has great calves!  That's why she gets those roles!
• Pain Saved: The physical pain of working out.
• Result: A bigger spare tire and ill-defined calves... and a stronger remote control finger.
• Argument: A doctor explains how to become a doctor.
• Excuse: I can't do it, it's too hard!  He must have been born with the ability to be a doctor.
• Pain Saved: Tons of work, seemingly endless hours in the clinic, and (gasp!) college classes on Friday.
• Result: \$100,000 in college debt, an Underwater Basket-weaving degree, no job, and free rent in your parents' basement.

Newsflash: only 16% of millionaires were born into wealth.  The number of children born with perfect musculature is probably a few in 7 billion (with at least 2 documented).  And the number of people who are born doctors?  Literally zero - none, nada, zilch, and every other form of absolutely nothing.  So your ridiculous excuses about why you can't achieve the same results are unfair to 84%, 99.999%, and 100% (respectively) of people.

Truth is, you really can have what you want and get your finances under control, it's just a matter of prioritization!

Don't continue to make the same mistakes - the most rewarding journeys start with a single step.  You might as well start walking.