The “Personal” in Personal Finance

Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing a ton of reading – much more than I used to ever do. Reading is a great way for me to pass the time on my morning or afternoon commute on the train, and it also keeps me energized. I enjoy a wide array of books from science-nerd titles like Carl Sagan’s Contact or NDGT’s Death by Black Hole, to more self-improvement-esque books like Gretchen Burin’s The Happiness Project and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to financial classics like Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Monigue Tilford, or Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.

One of the things I’ve realized as I hammer through the non-fiction books (some for the second, third, or fourth time) is that I don’t necessarily agree with everything I read. I find this more and more on blogs I read online as well. In addition to reading stuff that I just flat out disagree with (like Dave’s adamant denouncing of any kind of debt), there’s a lot that I read that I just can’t relate to and would never be able to practically apply in my personal life.

Personal finance in particular is something of a taboo subject for many individuals, and it’s easy to dismiss things you read about as unrealistic and impossible.

“There’s no way I can save $1000 for an emergency fund, much less 3 months of expenses.”

“Yeah, it’d be easy to quit my job if I had four rental properties paying my bills and then some. But get real!”

“Of course she can retire early, she timed the market perfectly! It’s impossible to do that now.”

I’ll be honest: whenever I read about a personal finance blogger’s ability to retire early, I get a bit jealous, and that little voice in the back of my head whispers “Of course they can retire early, they’re making $15k a month from blogging. But that’s impossible for you to do!” And then I mentally find that mini-me, punch him square in the mouth, and transform the negative feelings of jealousy, anger, and denial into positive feelings of inspiration, motivation, and determination. Over time, the negative feelings crop up less and less, and the positive feelings come much more easily and quickly.

Even though I don’t agree with everything and even though I may have some initial negative reactions to something, I keep reading anyway. Part of what I’ve learned – and how I make those positive vibes more prevalent – is that you need to cherry-pick things you like, and disregard things you don’t. If you find value in the things you’ve cherry-picked, and you can apply some of those concepts to your own life, it’s a valuable read; regardless of the fact that you may have ignored some of what that person has to say or had the initial jealous thought about their situation.

Transform the Bad to Good

Channeling that determination can be done in a ton of different ways depending on the circumstance. Having a tough time saving up an emergency fund of 3 months? Start with $1000. Having a tough time with that? Try just $200. Success doesn’t happen overnight – it takes a lot of hard work and determination. But the key is to chip away at things slowly and consistently. Over time, you’ll gain momentum on whatever it is you’re doing.

The first $100 of an emergency fund may be difficult, but the next $100 almost always gets easier, as you find more ways to minimize your expenses and maximize your income. Starting a blog on the side takes determination to actually get started, but once you start writing the ideas keep flowing. As you continue to write, as you continue to save, or pay down debt, or whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish, after you’ve got that initial momentum going, keeping it going tends to be easier.

It’s essentially the concept behind Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” – pay off your smallest debt first, then use that momentum of paying off debt to more aggressively pay off consecutively higher amounts of debt. As you pay off your debts (in particular credit card debt), each next one becomes a little bit easier to deal with, even if they’re bigger. And getting ahead feels good so you’re likely to continue to try to get ahead even more quickly.

Not for you? That’s okay.

All too often people are quick to dismiss advice that they can’t relate to, or stories they find unbelievable, as useless, false, or worse. But finding the nuggets of good within a story or the advice someone’s providing and figuring out how to apply that to your own life is an awesome thing to be able to do. It lets you take control of your own situation instead of letting your situation control you. Take what you read with a grain of salt. Not everything will apply to your situation, and sometimes you might not agree with something. But you can still glean some value out of it somehow if you look for it. That’s what puts the “personal” in Personal Finance.

One of my favorite quotes that embodies this attitude in general actually comes from Family Guy of all places. In the episode (Season 4 Episode 10, titled “Model Misbehavior”), Stewie  creates some pyramid-scheme company and tries to get Brian on board. At some point, in an effort to sell Brian on it, Stewie remarks: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.

Keep that in mind next time you read something that just seems like it’s plain out of reach. The only thing holding you back is yourself. If you want it, go get it.


What tricks do you use to keep motivated? How do you react when you read things that just don’t apply to you?

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  1. I totally know those feels. All the time I read success stories and feel the green monster of jealousy saying “you shouldve been an engineer and got a 6 figure job right out of college instead of frittering away your 20s in grad school and low paying entry level jobs”. But then i think over all I’ve learned and the experiences I’ve had, and remember that life is about the journey. I think it was Henry Ford who said the “whether you think you can or can’t you’re right “? Great life motto, regardless.

    1. Totally agree – of course there are external factors that influence how easy or difficult some people have it (aka privilege) but if someone’s mindset is that of “I can’t” there’s no chance of success.

      I think a lot of times people read success stories and get put off because their scenarios aren’t the same, and like – that’s not the point of the stories…

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