Honestly, we could name 500 obstacles to financial independence. Such is the world we live in.
But for the sake of simplicity and brevity, let’s hold it to five, and avoid those on the road to being new Old Money.
In no particular order of importance, they are as follows:
- Trouble with the law. As Sonny Curtis once lamented in his classic rock ‘n’ roll song, “I fought the law and the law won…” Nothing can knock an asteroid-sized hole in your savings like an arrest for driving while intoxicated or the always-very-clever-and-in-fashion possession of a controlled substance. You may be acquitted, but you’ll still have to pay legal fees. If you’re found guilty of a crime, it may cost you your job. Probation officers make poor job references. So err on the side of boring: don’t be foolish.
- Unplanned pregnancy. When I turned 16, my father offered some sage wisdom: don’t even date a girl you wouldn’t consider marrying, because things happen. At the time, I didn’t quite grasp the full substance of the statement, but I followed the advice anyway. Now, in hindsight, it served me well. Today, contraceptives and abstinence are obvious and preferable to being an unwed mother or a father making child support payments.
- Divorce. This predictably follows having a child before you’re emotionally or financially prepared. Once again, say hello to my little friend, legal fees. The preventative measure for this overturned wagon in the middle of the road is a long courtship. I suggest three years of exclusive dating. Plenty of interaction with the extended family, because you will be marrying them, too. You’ll have a chance to see how your potential partner for life handles disappointment: in three years, something will probably not go their way, and their response will be revealing. How you step up to support them during a difficult time will also be revealing. The same goes for a big success. How will it changes things between you? You’ll also get to transition into the “partnership” aspect of life together, which is different from the “violins, roses, and sunsets” period when you first start dating.
- Substance abuse. I should re-name this category abuse of any kind, but alcohol and drugs are the two main culprits here. A fairly legendary bon vivant friend of mine goes stone cold sober for two weeks every three months. His reasoning: he parties hard, but he wants to make sure he never gets addicted to anything. So for 14 days, four times a year, he cuts it all out. If he ever had a problem with being sober, he told me in a dead serious tone, he’d cut it out 24/7/365. So if you find yourself “needing” a drink at the end of a long day, think about it and go without it.
- Peer pressure. This may seem like a mild vice, but it’s still deadly in this keep-up-with-the-Jones’s society we live in. Just because your posse spends money like drunken sailors on shore leave doesn’t mean you have to. So don’t. Make a budget and stick to it, regardless of what your coworkers, relatives, or friends spend or buy. If they’re really your friends, they’ll know how you roll and respect your choices. If they don’t, find some other friends.
That’s my five. Feel free to add yours to the conversation.