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The Psychology of “Can” vs. “Can’t”

It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. 

Around this time, usually due to New Year’s resolutions and after-Christmas sticker-shock, we get a number of calls from people who want to be more efficient and tackle some outstanding debt. We applaud everyone who has taken this step forward, as many of you have. When it comes to getting your finances on track, one of the most important things you can do is admitting where you’ve gone wrong, and finding a way to take control so you can focus on the more important things in life. 

Now, as we’ve talked about in the past, debt isn’t always a bad thing. Student loans, mortgages/lines of credit or even small car loans are all debts that can be factored into your overall financial life and serve a purpose. However, we have also talked about the fact that, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Let’s explore a little further. 

So many people get into trouble trying to do things they’ve been told they can’t do. Going all the way back to the teenage years, when all you want to do is assert your independence and infinite wisdom, all that’s heard is you can’t have this, you can’t do that, and you aren’t allowed to go there or with those people. Then, when we finally get older and can have that and go there, well, then the doctor comes along and says you can’t eat this or drink that. There’s always someone telling us what we can’t do. And humans seem to often choose the destructive path because it’s easier, or looks like more fun, and then we do those things we supposedly can’t, or shouldn’t, only to regret it later. 

Just as we find a way to have that burger and beer the doctor said was bad for us, if a credit company extends a credit limit of five digits, we get excited about simply hearing someone say, “go ahead, you can!” And so, we do. Maybe deep down we know we could be doing other things with our savings or finances (or health!), but those shiny latest cars, or brand-new gadgets and products, keep us entranced, and thinking that we need something. Can somehow becomes need when that opportunity entices us. 

Perhaps it goes back to those teenage boundaries that we all tested. Even when someone knowingly can’t afford something, a loan or credit limit allows that person to test the boundary and do that very thing. The rush of doing something forbidden draws us in – it’s human nature.  Even if you’ve never fallen for the trap, have you ever gotten that piece of mail outlining the lower payment on that enticing new car? Did it pull you in, if only for a fleeting moment? 

I’m no psychiatrist, but my guess is that it’s because we secretly resent being told we can’t do something. Parents see this all too often with their kids, as all that solid, adult advice seems to defiantly go in one ear and out the other. Again, we as humans don’t like being told we can’t, so we look for a way to do it anyway.  

Back to today, though. Now that Christmas is behind you and you’re looking back at your holiday spending, maybe you’re seeing that you let your emotions take over and you spent a little too much. Maybe you’re scared to check that credit card statement that’s arriving about now. For 2018, maybe you secretly know you need help in certain areas, but are afraid you might be told you have to change your habits, that you can’t keep doing what you’re doing – there’s that word again, right? 

Or, maybe your spending is in control, but you have another goal that you’re worried might not be attainable, and so you avoid seeking help because you’re scared of being told it’s impossible – that you can’t do it. The key here is to face that fear. We all have them, and it’s natural to be a little scared of a lofty goal. That means you’re pushing yourself, and that’s good. 

I urge you to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. This is where our team comes in. Even if your goal isn’t going to materialize this year, we can help you create a plan to figure out when it can come to fruition. This is much better than being in that situation where you always can’t, because of one bad habit or another, and you secretly tell yourself everything is fine and just look the other way. With a financial plan tailored to your unique situation and goals, we can help you go from “can’t” to “can,” without busting your budget. All you have to do is ask. 

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