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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

When I was a kid, I can't tell you how many times I heard my dad utter that phrase. Is that how you feel? Are you always late getting things done, and short when the rent or car payment is due? Just thinking about that, I can feel my neck and shoulders tensing up and my heart rate increasing. It's not a fun way to live, is it?

In contrast to that picture, I think of my cousin. (He was old enough that I felt like I should call him uncle, so I never called him much of anything.) He was a dairy farmer and he certainly had more than enough work to do. But people would comment about how he never seemed to rush, but he always got his work done and often helped others. Amazing! How did he do that? And didn't you get a good feeling just reading that?

Wouldn't it be nice if we could feel that relaxed and confident when it comes to our finances? I'm no expert on human nature, but it seems to me that there are some parallels between how we manage our time and how we manage our money.

It seems like good time management to make use of every second, to treat each minute like it's too valuable to waste. But look at where that thinking gets you:

I can still make my appointment if I leave in a few minutes. I'll just reply to these last two emails...

Next thing you know, you're racing out the door, knowing that you will be late unless EVERYTHING works in your favor. Then you start hitting red lights or the bus pulls away before you get there. You start looking at your watch every few seconds.

Was that really good time management? What did it do to your emotional state? (If that level of stress felt normal, maybe you're not conscious of how much pressure you're constantly putting on yourself.)

I would contend that managing your money is very much the same. If you commit every penny of your income before your paycheck has even arrived, you're certain to face financial stress.

I was going to pay all the bills from this Friday's paycheck, but my auto insurance went up this month. And my little girl was counting on new shoes for the first day of school. Maybe the landlord will let me slide a few days.

Leaving a cushion of 10 minutes to make that important meeting, or having an extra $50 in your bank account to cover a surprise makes things so much more comfortable: less stress, no angry boss because you were late, no late fees or overdrawn bank account.

If you could borrow time from tomorrow and use it today, would you do it? What would that make tomorrow feel like? Can you see how crazy you'd become when you used 25 or 26 hours today, and only had 22 or 23 hours tomorrow?

It's no different when you borrow money, whether you're using a credit card or buying something using a 6-months-with-no-interest offer. You're not going to be earning any more next month than you did this month, and you've already spent a big part of it! How can that be sustainable? How much more will you have to borrow next month? Eventually, the interest will drain you dry.

Try something different this week. Instead of operating on my dad's mantra, try out this new one: A Day Early and a Dollar Gained. Leave five minutes earlier when you have an appointment. Allow 15 minutes for the phone call you think will only take 10. Skip the $15 menu item and go for the $10 one, even though you've got $20 in your wallet or bank account. (Almost forgot about tax and tip, didn't you?) Transfer a little money from your checking account to savings each month, and try to forget it's there.

Visualize how it will feel. I'm smiling just thinking about it! It's worth a try. Come up with your own mantra and repeat it to yourself when you're tempted to fall back into your old ways.

Tomorrow can be a better day.

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