Attitude can go a long way toward spending money smarter. And a defeatist attitude will almost certainly mean you end up underachieving with money.
Advertisers reinforce easy-but-insidious ideas to get you to spend your money now. It seems to be working, considering consumers' credit card debt levels--averaging nearly $9,200 per household with credit cards last year, according to CardTrak.com--and pitiful savings rates.
Below are excuses people use every day for doing dumb things with their money and suggestions for an attitude adjustment.
-- "I could die tomorrow, so I'll live for today." This attitude justifies actions of the buy-it-now and pay-for-it-whenever class. It's the primary excuse for not saving money.
The solution is to develop a few financial goals, said Jean Chatzky, author of the new book "Make Money, Not Excuses: Wake Up, Take Charge, and Overcome Your Financial Fears Forever."
"It's very hard to get yourself to not spend money on something today, unless you've thought about what you might want more tomorrow," she said. Only then will you have the willpower to reject spending temptations you face daily.
You have to balance planting flowers, which you enjoy today but are short-lived, and planting trees, which will provide shade years from now and last decades, said Dan Peel, an Itasca, Ill., middle-school teacher and author of "Greenstuff: The Money Book."
"If you live for today, tomorrow's not going to be too bright," Peel said.
-- "I work hard, I deserve it." This is akin to a 4-year-old throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle of the supermarket crying, "Gimme, gimme."
Many Americans are overworked, it's true. And, yes, you have to treat yourself occasionally. After all, enjoying money is one of the few things you can do with it. "If you deny yourself too much, you'll break down and go out and blow a wad on some big thing," Peel said.
But self-gifting, as academics call it, is more prominent today, possibly because marketers are using it as a pitch to sell products, such as day-spa services and right-hand diamond rings to women.
"You have to realize you can't just be treating yourself well today; you have to be treating yourself well when you're 70," Chatzky said, referring to having adequate retirement savings.
-- "I'm not good at math." Chatzky believes anxiety about numbers is real for some people, but managing money doesn't require complicated mathematics.
"We have so many online tools these days to help you, that you really can get a grip on what you've got coming in and going out," she said. "Sometimes, just slowing down and paying attention to where your money is going is enough to get you to change." A slew of financial calculators is available at www.dinkytown.com.
And then you need to accept the concept of "good enough."
"You don't have to understand everything about money," Chatzky said. "You have to learn to spend less than you make--and that's just addition and subtraction--and you have to understand it will help you if you can take the money you don't spend and invest it."
Investing, too, can be "good enough."
"This is one of those areas where you cannot be absolutely, positively right before you make a decision. In money, particularly in investing, that's all but impossible. Good enough is fine. It's so much better than not doing anything."That might mean you invest in simple life-cycle or target-date mutual funds, she said.
-- "I'm too busy to compare prices or manage money." Enjoy your rat-in-the-wheel existence then. How many people who claim they have no time to manage money know which television housewife is most desperate, who's "Lost" on the island and which beau is studying "Grey's Anatomy" this week?
With easy-to-use personal finance software, the Internet to compare prices, and automatic savings and bill paying, it takes less time than ever to manage money. "You've got these tools," Chatzky said. "Set them up so it doesn't take you so much time." And if you're truly working so much you don't have time to manage money, hire somebody, she said.
-- "It's an investment." Most consumer purchases are not investments. Investments are supposed to have a chance at being worth more in the future than they are today.
Most consumer purchases go down in value, a guaranteed loser of an investment. So you don't "invest" in a car, a plasma TV or a new pair of shoes unless somehow they'll make you money. They are expenses. Pacifying your spending guilt by calling them an investment is self-delusion.
-- "I don't earn enough to save money." Saving is not about what you earn, it's about what you keep.
"People have heard of pay-yourself-first, but nobody believes it. It works," said Peel, who has taught economics as part of social studies for 36 years.
Paying yourself refers to setting aside a little money, preferably automatically with a paycheck or bank account withdrawal, before you start paying your bills.
"In the first month, you'll miss it badly, but by the third month, you'll start to forget about it," he said, adding that starting with just 5 percent savings is fine, until you can work your way toward 10 percent and higher. "The bottom line is to put something away, even if it's a tiny bit."
-- "People who think about money are greedy." Outrageous college costs, elderly parents who move in, and sole responsibility for managing retirement savings is a huge money-management burden. You had better be thinking about money--a lot.
"We have a responsibility to pay for our futures the way no previous generation ever has," Chatzky said. "I don't agree it's greedy. I think it's self-caring and responsible. If we weren't thinking about money and trying to accumulate more of it so that we could handle all of these things, we're being irresponsible."
Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., a Tribune Co. newspaper. E-mail him at email@example.com. For additional discussion on spending wisely, see the Spending Smart blog at http://blogs.mcall.com/spendingsmart/.