I recently read an op-ed piece in the New York Times, and was appalled by the “financial advice” being given.  This article, called “Can’t Save?  Here’s Why,” is basically a summary of excuses that average people make when explaining why they can’t manage to save.  The author, Helaine Olen, seems intent on perpetuating the victim mentality that is sweeping our nation.  She blames Americans’ lack of savings on all sorts of things – including stagnating wages, health care expenses,  college costs, and predatory lending.

Let’s face it.  There is some truth to what she is saying here.  In many cases, wages haven’t kept up with inflation and increased living costs.  Healthcare costs have gotten completely out of control.  The cost of college is teetering on the edge of ridiculous.

It is true that our economic situation is currently far from ideal.  However, I refuse to be a victim. In reality, I think it’s time for all of us to put aside our excuses and take a closer look at the root of our problems.

Can’t Save?  Here’s Why.

You’re spending all of your extra money.  It’s funny how people in the worst financial situations are often the biggest spenders.  While I am at home making cheap meals for my family, my “spendy” friends are out to eat and getting their nails done.  While we choose not to purchase cable television in order to save money, the Joneses are paying for the premium channels…and then complaining that they are broke. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing sob stories from those who are their own worst enemies.  If you are doing things like buying a latte every day, spending hundreds of dollars on satellite television, or smoking, then you don’t really have the right to complain about your financial state.

You got a degree that you cannot afford.  This has happened to so many otherwise intelligent people.  You went to school and followed your dreams only to end up with $100,000 in student loan debt and a job that pays 30K. Bummer.  Unfortunately, the only way out of this situation is to pay off your student loans.  No amount of whining is going to change that.  It might be time to drastically cut your expenses, get a second job, or both.

You have too many bills.  If you try hard enough, there are oodles of ways to cut back on your expenses.  However, you cannot expect to make financial progress if you keep doing everything the way you have always done it.  If you are in financial distress, obviously something has to change, right?  Start by tracking your spending and taking a close look at where all of your money is going.  You might be amazed at what you find.

…And Now for Some Solid Financial Advice

Do you hate what I’m saying?  If so, you might need to hear it more than almost anyone else.  However, all is not hopeless.  We all have some control over our personal situation.  Instead of throwing in the towel as the New York Times op-ed suggests, try these steps to get your finances in order for the new year.

Cut your expenses and give yourself a big ass raise. Cutting your cable television can save as much as $80 per month.  Cook at home instead of eating out and save even more.  Quit smoking.  Quit impulse shopping.  Cancel your TV package.  Drive an older car.  Find out what the biggest drain on your budget is and stop doing it!

Take your raise and pay off your debts.  Some people suggest that you should pay off loans at higher interest rates first.  Others suggest that you pay off smaller loans first for the psychological benefit.  I don’t really think it matters.  Just pay off your debts, one at a time, in whatever order works for you.

Don’t be a victim.  Recently, it has become trendy to blame the government and the 1% for all of our problems. Sure, there is some crazy stuff going on in the world, but I refuse to adopt the victim mentality.  There is so much that is within our control.  You can try to spend less.  You can try to get a second job.  Just make sure to try When you get out there and try to make your situation better it’s amazing what can happen.

Don’t listen to negative commentary disguised as financial advice.  Despite what anyone else says, cutting small luxuries out of your budget can make a huge difference.  Anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.  There is plenty of positive and inspiring financial advice to be found on the internet and elsewhere.  Find it.

Truly, I do not understand how telling people to give up could be considered sound and responsible financial advice.  As the author states, it is certainly true that there are people who are drowning in medical bills or have some type of unemployment crisis that has left them penniless.  It’s true that wages have not risen in accordance with our monthly bills in some cases.  However, it’s also true that many people are frivolously spending the money that could be used to fund their dreams.  There is a difference.   

Here may be the most important advice of all: Don’t listen to people who say that saving is a hopeless cause.  Don’t join the growing chorus of sad victims who blame everyone and everything for their problems.  Take control of your life and learn to recognize your own shortcomings.  You might find that you are more in control than you think.