A car breaks down on the side of the highway. The couple can’t remember the last time they had an oil change.
A man lies nervously in pre-op awaiting a heart-lung transplant. He recalls his first cigarette and wishes he’d never started smoking.
A couple wrangles in divorce court, arguing bitterly over custody and property. Thirty years ago, they had stars in their eyes. Today it’s daggers.
Each of these situations exemplifies a truth in life—whenever possible, it’s better to prevent a mess than to have to clean one up.
Or we could say, preparing beats repairing.
The car owner above knows about oil changes. But it was too easy to reason, “It doesn’t have to be done today.” It can always wait…until it’s too late.
The lifelong smoker doesn’t think smoking is “smart.” But when he was young, he decided it was “cool.” Soon he was addicted, and quitting proved hard. So, he decided to quit “next year.” About thirty times.
The couple with the shattered marriage didn’t have “divorce” as their thirty-year marriage goal. But both got busy with work. Except for their kids, they had nothing in common and so they slowly drifted apart. When the last child moved out, years of tension and unmet expectations erupted.
What’s the most significant difference between preparers and repairers? It’s how they view time.
Preparers see time as life’s most precious nonrenewable resource. They determine to make the most of it.
Repairers seldom think about time. It feels abundant and endless to them…until something big shakes their world. Then, a sense of panic and dread sets in. Often those deep fears tempt repairers into seeking shortcuts in life.
I see this in the financial realm all the time. When someone comes to see me, I can tell quickly if I’m talking to a person who is financially prepared, or someone with a financial situation in need of repair.
In their twenties, the difference between a preparer and a repairer is usually small. Neither has had enough time to make much financial progress or do much damage. So, at that age, I don’t look for results. I look for habits.
Do they save regularly and systematically? Do they take insurance protection seriously? Do they use debt wisely, not wantonly? These are the telltale habits of the person that is preparing. They’re going to be fine.
Unfortunately, too many young people don’t prepare for anything beyond this weekend. They follow their peers and take their financial cues from all the “money experts” they see on their Instagram feed. In place of saving, they speculate on crypto or penny stocks. Instead of using debt wisely, they pile up credit card debt.
At the other end of the age spectrum, the balance sheet tells the story. Once I see the pay statement and 401(k) balance of a 60-year-old, I have a pretty good idea if I’m sitting across from a preparer or a repairer.
It’s fun helping prepared people. All I do is make a good situation better. “You don’t have enough money to be stupid,” I often say, “but you’ve got enough money.”
Conversely, I do some of my most important work sitting across from unprepared folks. A lifetime of poor fiscal habits has brought them to the end of a working life. Now they’re looking at a significant lifestyle reduction, due to their lack of preparation for the inevitable.
I say “most important work” because these people often feel desperate. They have difficult trade-offs to consider. My job is to quantify the implications of each trade-off, then help them maximize the resources they have to last as long as possible.
How about you? Are you a preparer or a repairer? If you think you might be a repairer, would you like to change?
If so, I’ve written a book for you. It’s called How to Put Your Money Worries in the Rear View Mirror – The Financial Freedom Roadmap. It’s free if you’d like a copy. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send it to you right away.
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