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3 Aspects of Your Finances You Can Control

This article was written by in Best Of, People, Personal Finance. 21 comments.

Some things are beyond our control, and having a happy and fulfilling life requires accepting those things we cannot change. It’s possible, however, to control more than we believe we can.

Right before I first started on my journey of getting my life and finances in shape, I left a low-paying job that depleted my money and increased my debt, I lived in a terrible apartment in a bad area, and the relationship with my girlfriend at the time ended. Most of my life seemed beyond my control for years leading up to that point. These bad things continued happening to me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Of course, a series of bad choices — including, in some cases, not making any choice at all — resulted in these bad situations, but I didn’t want to see it that way.

My boss at this company often talked about how every aspect of our lives is a result of a choice that we make. For example, in his opinion, someone who was late coming to the office due to traffic was primarily at fault for not preparing for delays by leaving home well in advance. Someone who oversleeps, even if the alarm does not wake him, makes a conscious decision that lying in bed is more worthwhile than getting out of bed and living life. At some point, something clued me into attribution theory. I was attributing various outcomes in my life to situations beyond my control, and I had a low opinion of my self-efficacy.

After some introspection, I was able to see that both the good and the bad things that happened in my life were results of the decisions I made, and I began approaching my life differently. The choices I made were making a difference in my life, so I started making better choices. It hasn’t all been perfect since then, and I am constantly trying to improve everything about me, but my mind is in a different space than it was ten years ago.

All of the items below are within our control.

1. You can get the job you want. The rate of unemployment is still high, and the official government numbers might even understate the number of people looking for work. Blaming the lack of gainful employment on a government statistic is a good example of an external locus of control, believing it’s not worth looking for a job, putting in the effort, because there is nothing out there. Even if you feel those who work hard a networking and researching employment options will be successful in this environment, and you believe the individual can transcend the state of the economy to find a job, but you believe that nothing you can do will help you compete with others for the same, limited positions, then you’ll be stuck not taking any actions. That may reflect an internal locus of control but with low self-efficacy.

There are jobs out there now, including the jobs you want, and they are available if you do the research and prepare yourself for competing at a high level.

Perhaps you do have a job right now, but you’d like a promotion. When I left my company in December, it was following a departmental merger and there was a hiring freeze. Yet, before I left, I was offered a position that, while it wasn’t perfect for me, shows that even company policies, often used as an excuse for immobility, can be circumvented in some situations.

2. You can pay off your credit card debt. It’s easy to believe that your debt increases because unexpected expenses keep coming. Your income may be enough to pay for your normal expenses, but every month, someone in your family is sick, an appliance breaks, or a family member needs to borrow money because they’re in a worse situation than you are. This can be a terribly frustrating position. You’re struggling, yet everyone is still leaning on you for support. You can get out of this situation, and it comes down to replacing the use of credit with better planning for expenses and the use of an emergency fund.

Getting started is the hardest part, though, and the spot where most people will be overwhelmed and will give up. Chances are that most people in this situation have not cut back their expenses as much as they can. They might have cut back just enough to remain somewhat comfortable, but extraordinary results require extraordinary actions. Occasionally, you need to take it to the extreme for a short time. Getting rid of cable television isn’t the last move, it’s just the start. Try following this six steps to building a better debt snowball.

3. You can reach your life goals. Few things bug me more when I ask someone what she wants to do with her life, and she tells me she wants to retire with $2 million or some other figure. That doesn’t tell me anything other than the only thing important to her is money. That may be true, but most people have something beyond money — or would benefit from thinking about why they want to retire with $2 million. What is the point of working hard, trading your time and effort and money, only to have a bank account with a high enough number? Money is just a tool for something else, and the “something else” that is most meaningful can be your primary goal or mission.

Sometimes it feels like there are people out there who don’t want us to succeed: so-called friends who would rather compete with you than work as a team to build each other up, insecure bosses who need you to handle the work but don’t want to admit they don’t have the skills they should have, This is just noise that can be relatively easily circumvented. I do this by shutting out negative energy, and when someone approaches me with this type of attitude, if I can get away with it, I rarely dignify it with a response.

I suppose, if this blog were like so many others, this article would be followed by some kind of product that you could buy that tells you how to live your life. I have no such product. I’m not selling anything. These thoughts come from my own, real, authentic experiences and I’m not pretending to be some sort of guru. If you want more, though, you can look at my series on taking control of your finances. Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything there, either. Of course, most importantly, I’d like to hear from readers.

Was there a moment, a turning point, when or where you decided you could control more of your life than you originally thought? What was the catalyst? What was the outcome?

Photo: Jude Doyland

Updated April 29, 2011 and originally published January 31, 2011.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 4hendricks

Great reminder – I just told my kids today – God gave us so many minutes, don’t waste them because you can’t get them back.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

My moment was a long time ago, when I set a goal and achieved it. The more the goal seemed impossible, the harder I tried and surprised myself how much I could do. It was as if I was testing myself. I need to keep testing my limits. Over the years I finally realized there are things I can not control! It has taken a long time.

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avatar 3 TakeitEZ

“Getting started is the hardest part, though, and the spot where most people will be overwhelmed and will give up.”

So so true! I have given up too many times in the past before I could even start. I am just thankful that I can say now that I have already started and it is getting easier by the moment.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Don’t give up, either! Ever! It took my husband and I off on a rough start, but we finally stuck with it and have lowered our debt immensly! to make it easier, make it a game. Lot more enjoyable to see ‘how much you can save’ instead of begrudgingly ‘giving money away to pay down high interest debt’. Best of luck (aka – hard work).

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avatar 5 TakeitEZ

Thanks Christine for the great encouragement. I know I will continue to go forward! Congrats on you and your hubbies success! I hope even more comes your way.

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avatar 6 Luke Landes

I love the idea of making it a game.

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avatar 7 Donna Freedman

I’ve had several. I’ll mention two:
–When I left my (very bad) marriage in 2004. Until then I thought I was stuck. Leaving terrified me. When I left I was stuck in a different way: Inside my own head, plagued by anxiety and depression. I needed intensive therapy to get to the next turning point…
–Going back to school. I’d had a single year of college three decades earlier. The bus I took to the therapist’s office took me past a community college. Finally I managed to walk through the door and ask how a person might go about getting an education. Huge change, huge results. I now have the degree I couldn’t get as a younger woman (all done with grants and scholarships — no debt!) but what’s more important is that I have a new way of looking at the world.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

It wasn’t so much discovering that I could control more of my life, rather learning that I had to control more of my life. I entered the Air Force at 17 and left 20 years later with a wealth of experience, a college degree, a wife and two kids. After having a job where you were unlikely to be fired (takes a Federal offense most of the time), living in on-base housing and never ever having to pay a medical bill – it was one of those uh-oh moments when you realize – it’s up to me now. So far so good!

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avatar 9 Anonymous

You’re right! It’s just a matter of convincing ourselves we can do it (whatever that “it” might be). I have also experienced many turning points in which I had to decide for a way to react… and a couple of years ago I felt I had the clarity to start making the decisions that would take me to that place I wanted. Thanks to that decisions I wound up witting about personal finance, as you do. And well, now my finances are in order and on the right track as well!!!

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avatar 10 skylog

i can very much appreciate your comment with regards to starting being the hardest part. i find this applies for just about anything and everything in life. personally, i do not know what the exact event was, or why it happened, but i just decided to get out of debt, invest and save. once i started, after putting it off for far too long, there was no turning back.

i know money and friends do not mix, but i have tried to get many in my circle to simply “start.” be it, saving, budgeting, investing….just start. it has had mixed results, but there are several in my circle that have indeed started, and to see the changes in them is truly a great thing!

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avatar 11 lynn

SKYLOG: Your comment about getting started is the hard part has just helped me make a change. Thank you.

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avatar 12 20andengaged

I’m still trying to find that aha moment but I’m hoping I find it soon

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avatar 13 gotr31

I have been focusing on money for so long that I forgot that it is not a destination. I recently read a book that has changed how I perceive money and has forced me to look deeper inside myself and rediscover what I am truly passionate about. I have realized that life is a journey and I need to enjoy the ride or I will totally miss the point.

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avatar 14 tbork84

Great post. Its good to have a reminder every now and then that some things are a means and some things are the ends we are hoping to achieve. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that.

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avatar 15 faithfueledbennetts

Wow, this is encouraging. I love that you are going AGAINST the doom & gloom the media portrays. Well, 1 year ago my husband & mine’s life turned upside down, what SEEMED to be out of our control, but really was a result of chain of choices we made. We were forced out of a country where we lived, owned a business & home all to start back in the USA with nothing except 2 suitcases & $2000.00 It has given us the opportunity to start over again in a way we would have never even thought. My husband is going back to school now and we have started a family. Things are really tough and tight financially but we know it will not always be like this once my husband gets the job he desires with his new degree. We will continue to make choices and accept the consequences good or bad. We have learned through faith & looking back, to take 1 day at a time.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

These are excellent points. I like how you threw in the external locus of control – people who believe they can’t control their own lives and that when things go wrong, it’s not their fault it’s someone’s or something’s elses. I have realized over the past few years that having a goal isn’t enough – you need strategies to meet that goal.

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avatar 17 shellye

Great reminder that we really ARE in charge of our own destiny…

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avatar 18 Donna Freedman

The tough part is when turning points happen and you cannot act, either because you’re too scared/emotionally paralyzed or because of another crisis in your life (e.g., sick spouse and you cannot move six states over for that dream job).
You ask yourself later, “Should I have done that? Why didn’t I do that?” Sometimes what looks like our only chance is gone. But that’s not true, either: That PARTICULAR chance is gone. You have no idea what lies ahead.

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avatar 19 dawgette

It is never to late to change one’s destiny. Life is God’s gift to us and what we do with our life is our gift to God.

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avatar 20 lynn

Although life can hand out some curveballs that we have no control over, we can control how we react to them. I try to get through any emotion, step back, look at the big picture. and make decisions.

Sometimes this is difficult to say the least. But, moving forward is the key.

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avatar 21 Laure

For me, it was the death of a sibling. I realized THOSE are the things you cannot control in life; everything else is fair game. Enjoy every moment of life and take responsibility for living the best life possible. After my turning point, I went to grad school, became a more outgoing person, a more charitable person, and one who laughs much more often than cries in the face of life’s challenges. I also stopped buying every random thing I wanted, realizing it’s the experiences in life that make it rich. This last point has helped both my finances and clutter-control!

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