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There was a point in my life that I could name every NFL player, their number, and their spot on their respective team depth chart. I’m not exaggerating. This was the time in my life in which I watched every NFL game – every week. Allow me to repeat, I watched every NFL game – every week. We had no children. I hadn’t started writing this blog or any of my books, and Mrs Planner was tolerant of that sort of behavior. The National Football League was a priority for me. I spent money on it (season tickets and NFL Sunday Ticket), time on it, and massive amounts of brain space on it.
Things have changed.
I haven’t spent a dime on the NFL in three years. I have new priorities. I only have so much money. I only have so much time. And I only have so much brain space. The same is true for you too. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many people don’t realize this. One of the most discrete, yet ominous mistakes that people make on a regular basis: the failure to deprioritize appropriately.
For example, I often come across couples that claim that their #1 priority is education for their children. In fact, they generally speak the words “eduction for our children is our #1 priority.” The problem starts in that their previous priority was a car, the perfect house, or an expensive craft beer habit. When you are committed to a previous car lifestyle, tied to an expensive mortgage, and are unwilling to put your fermented beverage fetish behind you, then your new spoken priority isn’t a priority at all. This doesn’t make you silly, stupid, or dishonorable. It makes you human. If you’ve spent ten years making one thing your priority, it’s incredibly difficult to make a change.
There are many steps you can take to prevent this from happening, but unfortunately there isn’t a ton you can do if this has already happened to you. Let’s say that you have committed a great deal of your two income household income to your perfect home mortgage payment. And now let’s say you decide you want to be a stay-at-home dad and raise your children in this perfect home. The problem is obvious. It will be damn near impossible to stay at home with your children when your income is so vital in being able to afford your home. The solution isn’t to ignore the problem and hope that it goes away. The solution is so overwhelming that most people aren’t willing to do it. The solution is to sell your home, and raise your children in a lesser home. The solution isn’t to “make it work.” I know this is a hypothetical example, but unfortunately making it work rarely really works.
Here’s a VERY simple exercise. Speak your #1 financial priority aloud right now. It’s okay. Your coworker can already see that you’re at PeteThePlanner.com, so they already know you’re crazy. What words slipped through your lips when you asked your brain to produce your #1 financial priority? Excellent. Next question. Do you act like it? Do you treat your #1 priority as your #1 priority? Or are you still treating your five-years-ago-number-one-priority as your #1 priority?
What’s even crazier than all of this is when you realize that, in practice, your #1 priority isn’t something that you intended. Did you trade in an upside down (negative equity) car? This would mean that you financed your new car for more than it was worth because you had to finance in what you still owed on your old car. The result of all this rigmarole is that your transportation budget requires a disproportionate amount of your household income. Therefore you may be treating your car as your #1 financial priority.
And what’s even crazier than all of that is when you justify a borrowing decision by claiming it’s your #1 financial priority, yet then do everything in your power to ignore the debt that comes with this priority. You guessed it. I’m talking about student loans again. Damn you, Pete the Planner, and your student loan thoughts! I’ll start taking the “education is our society’s first priority” talk seriously when we actually make education, and paying for it, our first priority. I digress.
Where. Do. You. Stand? Is your #1 spoken priority your #1 priority in practice?
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.