The Real Reasons You're Bad with Money

Getting to the root of spending problems.

Have you ever noticed how everyone around you always seems to say the right things about money? They want to save up. They want to invest. They want to build an emergency fund. They want to be debt-free and give and tithe and drive used cars and cook at home and cut up all their credit cards and pay cash for everything. Yet the average American now owes somewhere around $10,000 just on credit cards. Something isn't adding up.

People's actions ultimately prove their attitudes, and their attitude toward money dictates how people relate to it, how they spend it, how it makes them feel and even whether or not it will be the issue that eventually splits their marriage up.

If you told me you loved to run, work out, lift weights, play basketball and exercise, but you were 60 pounds overweight, always sick, didn’t own a pair of running shoes and hadn’t been to a gym or a fitness club in a year, I would be tempted to think you were lying. If you tell yourself you’re disciplined with your money and are going to save up and spend less and stop eating out and cut back on luxuries while your credit card statements keep piling up—it's time for a reality check. So let’s get really honest.

Attitudes and Actions

Here’s a short list of questions to help you discover your true attitude toward money:

  1. On your credit cards, do you currently owe more than you make in a month?
  2. Do you buy things to make yourself feel better? Do you get a good, settled feeling after you make a purchase?
  3. Do you envy the lifestyle your friends have or the things they own? Do you fantasize about owning those same things and having that same lifestyle?
  4. Do you eat out more than four times a week?
  5. How much food do you have in your house?
  6. In regard to entertainment, do you spend more than $250 per month on your cable bill, going to the movies, video games, downloads on iTunes or the latest technological toy? What about your cell phone bill? Ouch.
  7. Do you immediately get defensive anytime someone begins to ask for your money—your church, a charity or a nonprofit organization? (This is a sure sign that you actually want to hold on to your money and that you have difficulty sharing your money with others, even those in dire need.)
  8. Are you cheap when you leave a tip at a restaurant, thinking the server doesn’t really deserve the money and you could use it better somewhere else?
  9. What percentage of your salary or income do you give away? This could be in the form of a tithe, donations, helping out a local charity and so on. (Donating old clothes you don’t wear to Goodwill or the Salvation Army doesn’t count.)
  10. Do you ever have an internal struggle before you make a big purchase (try to talk yourself out of it, think of all the other things the money could be used for), or do you spend freely with little regret until hours or days later?
  11. Do you fear what life would be like without the safety you think money brings you? Do you find yourself devoting more time to worrying about money than being concerned about people who have no job, no food, no health insurance or no one to love them and care for them?
  12. Do you even know how much your monthly bills are, right off the top of your head? (These include health insurance, auto insurance, rent, tuition, credit-card payments, student loans, phone bill, water and power.) If you don’t know this amount automatically, you are in trouble, because it shows you are not paying attention to where your money goes each month.
  13. Could you, in 30 seconds or less, summarize your basic budget? This includes how much you make, how much you save, how much you give and how much you pay out in bills and payments each month. If you can’t, then you don’t have a budget at all, even if you claim you do.
  14. How long does it take you to pay a regular, basic bill? Do you let bills stack up on your desk? Do you open them when they arrive or put them off until after they are past due? How much do you pay a year in late fees due to fear, laziness or forgetfulness?
  15. And finally … Right now, how much money do you have saved up? Add up what you have in your checking account, your savings account(s), IRAs, life-insurance policies, stocks, bonds, cash in coffee cans buried in the yard and loose change on your desk. Now, compare that number to what you currently owe, including all credit cards, student loans, car loans and any other outstanding debt. Which number is greater? By how much?
Where Do I Go from Here?

This list may have caused you some discomfort or even a fair amount of fear. Good—if that is what it takes to motivate you to action.

If you are in good shape, that’s great! Keep reading.

If you read those questions and felt like jumping off the roof of the bank (the one you owe your right arm and your firstborn child to), please don’t. There’s hope for you. It’s not too late to change. Not even close.

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So here are some basic ideas, rules and mottos that have been tested over time by very wise (and usually older) people. They work, if you begin applying them now (sometimes step-by-step) and continue applying them for the rest of your life:

  1. Spend less than you make.
  2. Give or tithe 10 percent. Save 10 percent. Live off 80 percent.
  3. Make a budget now. Then live by it.
  4. Write down your financial goals. Frame them. Hang them in your house.
  5. Destroy your credit cards.
  6. Try to buy used cars. Don’t lease a car and don’t make car payments, ever.
  7. Pay off debt deliberately and immediately, starting with the smallest debt and working your way toward the biggest.
  8. Pay cash as often as possible.
  9. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Period.
  10. Stop eating out so often. Host more. Invite people over for game nights. Say "no" more.
  11. If you don't have one, get a job. Any job will do. Just start somewhere.
  12. Sell all your junk. Craigslist, eBay, yard sales—sell, sell, sell!
  13. Be ridiculously generous. Help people in need, and watch God bless you for your kindness.
  14. Never, ever loan a friend money, skip work or buy a time-share.
  15. Cancel your cable.
  16. Get rid of all the unnecessary features on your phone (and don’t talk about being broke as you tweet from your iPhone).
  17. Make coffee at home and stop paying five bucks for a cup of bad coffee at a trendy coffee shop.
  18. Enjoy free things. The library. Walks in the park. A sunset. Water from the tap in your house, if possible.
  19. Ask older couples to tell you about their biggest financial mistakes early in marriage. Write down what they tell you. Read it often. Then avoid doing it.
  20. Read the Bible. It speaks of money more than 300 times. Obey the directives of Scripture, and dedicate your finances to God as a means to live and support the advance of the Gospel.

Adapted from: 12 Questions to Ask Before You Marry. Copyright © 2011 by Clayton and Charie King. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

How do the above questions and tips apply to your current financial situation? Do you have other advice for getting out of debt, budgeting and spending money wisely?

Top Comments



Stephanie commented…

Good tips... now if I could just find someone to light an actual fire under my rear, I'll be set.



Faithlifemoney commented…

Great word, I really like the practical application steps.


Jonelrick commented…

The article is talking about having 150 million gigs of data or unlimited calling to Zimbabwe after 6pm or unlimited video calling to your Aunt Nancy.... You don't need those things and are usually paying out the nose for them.

Pitney Jules


Pitney Jules commented…

So glad I made the switch to minimalism last fall. Now I handle my money responsibly without even thinking about it.



Stephanie commented…

Good tips... now if I could just find someone to light an actual fire under my rear, I'll be set.

Amy Clinton


Amy Clinton commented…

Clayton and Charie,
Thanks for this article. I am a Loan Officer and appreciate your input in helping our generation deal with money in a healthy and prudent way. However, point #5, "Destroy your credit cards" is *not* a good idea! I can't emphasize enough how important it is to build a healthy credit history. If you'd ever like to own a home or start a business, building a healthy credit history (which usually starts with revolving credit card debt) is absolutely essential. I am not advocating carrying a balance--revolving credit card debt is highly imprudent since interest rates are exorbitant and as you mention, should never be spending more than you make.

To avoid debt and build a healthy credit history, USE credit but pay the balance off IN FULL each month. If you're so undisciplined that you can't carry your card in your wallet without running up your balance, leave it at home and take it out once a month to buy a pack of gum. Then pay off said pack of gum the next day. Look, you're building a healthy credit history! Disciplining yourself to use credit in a healthy, responsible way is enormously important to learning to be a wise steward of financial resources.

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