You Must Try with Your Finances. What’s the Alternative?

One person at my Financial Peace University table this fall has what Dave would term a relatively small “shovel” (income) in comparison with his outstanding debt. He was also a little older than the average table age, though still quite young in objective terms. This person asked a couple questions a long the lines of “Do you think any amount of debt can be paid off?” and “Is it ever too late to start saving for retirement?”


no alternative to trying


To both of these questions, I gave an answer of “What alternative do you have?” (I won’t take credit for this as original to me because I’m pretty sure Dave Ramsey said something very similar during the lesson.) His debt is student loan debt so it is not bankruptable. Social security might provide for this person in retirement (though since it is so many decades off, it’s hard to say), but that won’t be comfortable if it is even sufficient. So by not doing anything to change his situation, this person is essentially resigning himself to a low-security, low-spending, no-wealth life.


The only alternative he has is to dig in and try to change his situation. Dave Ramsey’s plan isn’t the only option, but it is a good one when the individual has a certain personality. In any case, he needs to get passionate about changing his habits and making sacrifices, at minimum until the debt is paid off, but even better if some of the changes stick for life.


The week after we had these exchanges, the person told me that my question/challenge had really stuck with him and that he was committed to making change like he never before had been in his life. He loves his current career so making a lot more money isn’t a very viable option, so the debt payoff money will have to largely come from reducing expenses. That’s great because it’s more in my wheelhouse (Dave Ramsey would likely advocate more for increasing income) and I think I can guide and support this person in his journey. This is exactly how I want to be spending my time this fall!


And what if he for some reason fails to complete Dave’s plan exactly? Will he be worse off than when he started to try? Very likely he will have a higher net worth for having tried.


I think the “What’s the alternative?” question is a great one when you are facing a big challenge that you have perceived you ‘should’ do. Sometimes you may decide that you are okay with the alternative or you can put off the change, but it may motivate you to make the change by really visualizing what the eventual outcome of your actions is. I think a lot of times people overestimate their future willingness or ability to make a change in comparison with their current status.


Have you ever felt despair about your finances or some other area of your life and if so how did you turn it around? Are you currently putting off a change that you know you need to make?


photo by Brett Sayer


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14 Responses to "You Must Try with Your Finances. What’s the Alternative?"

  1. I think you gave him great advice and I’m glad it stuck! There’s no better time to make a change for the better.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted..Wait, Why Don’t You Have a Will?

    1. Emily says:

      I agree. “Now or never” really is appropriate. And for him it looks like it is now!

  2. Myles Money says:

    Where I come from this is called “stop whining and pull your finger out”: actually owning a problem and making an effort to change is difficult but it’s worth it, and the reset to a can-do attitude pays off in other areas of your life too.
    Myles Money recently posted..Bubble Trouble

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, I’ve never heard that one before. What struck me about this person’s initial questions was that he did not sound whiny, but like he had actually come to believe that financial success was impossible in his situation. He’s done a 180 since then, which is amazing to see! I bet it will bleed into other areas.

  3. Ben Luthi says:

    I like this. When I was unemployed after graduation, there were so many times when I just wanted to give up and resign myself to the fact that I was stuck. But when I decided to make it my challenge instead of my circumstance, I was able to create something else that solved my income and self-esteem problems.
    Ben Luthi recently posted..Losing My Sense of Taste

    1. Emily says:

      We all need to hear stories like yours! Then there will be not just motivation but an example path. Great job fending off that defeatist attitude!

  4. Liquid says:

    Lucky he has someone like you to give him a good reality check. Sometimes that’s all we need to get motivated 🙂

    “The key is taking responsibility and initiative, deciding what your life is about and prioritizing your life around the most important things.”
    ~Stephen Covey

    1. Emily says:

      Me and Dave Ramsey. 🙂 Great quote!

  5. Brooke says:

    This is a great perspective. I think it empowering to know that you need to dig in, to know what your situation is in order to be able to do something about it. It sure it can be overwhelming as well. It would be great if you can let us know how he is doing in a while!
    Brooke recently posted..Brooke’s Debt Update #1 & Estimated Debt Payoff Date

    1. Emily says:

      The thing is that the question I posed in this conversation is totally tangential to the reality of the situation. No matter what the reality, the only way out is to try. There’s not even an option to stay put, really. And then once you know you have to try, it really doesn’t matter how daunting it seems.

      It’s been a few weeks since this conversation and I can assure you he is on a path to success! It’s a transformation that I’ve been lucky enough to observe in real time.

  6. I think you gave him great advice. I’m an advocate of the “what are you waiting for” approach to much of life, and paying down debt is certainly a prime example. Like you said–there’s no better time to start taking control of your finances than right now! It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the long run; hopefully the mindset has sunk in.
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted..The Ultimate Bike Commuter’s Guide to Winter Cycling

    1. Emily says:

      It’s looking good so far! I think that’s the great thing about FPU, actually – even after you finish the class, you have all of DR’s other products and radio show for support, plus you can repeat the class as many times as you like.

      I have to ask myself “What are you waiting for?” in other areas of life more so than finances, but it’s just as useful.

  7. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and plow your way through. When I was paying off my student debt I often felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but once I saw the progress I was more motivated to keep paying. I think it’s possible for anyone and everyone to change and to get themselves out of a bad financial situation. It just takes dedication and hard work and perseverance.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Why the Self-Investment of Higher Education is Worth It

    1. Emily says:

      I think seeing that first bit of traction can help so much! I hope FPU is that for all the attendees.

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