Since we do need them, though, it’s good to study best practices for raising them. A schoolteacher friend once shared with me a quote from Dennis Mitchell, an expert on child behavior and stuff. Mr. Mitchell said:
“Someone will discipline your child.”
A short statement that, at first glance, doesn’t seem all that sensational.
But take a moment and weigh what it truly means. It may be pithy, but it packs a punch.
You don’t have to discipline your child. But someone will.
There are today (and have always been) lots of free-range kids who don’t seem to have any rules, boundaries, or repercussions for bad behavior. Their parents are giving up on one of their most critical roles, and the rest of the world gets to bear the cost of their totally undisciplined child.
But the quote reminds us that everything’s going to be OK. There is an unlimited supply of people who will step up and help. Someone will discipline your child. Will it be:
- you, the parent
- other relatives
- friends (not likely, but let’s hope)
- the kid him / herself (hey, it could happen)
- drill instructor
- police officer
- prison warden
- parole officer
(This is of course just a partial list – use your creativity to add even more helpers!)
Someone somewhere along the line is going to bring discipline into your child’s life. That’s not to say all outcomes are equal: I’d wager discipline becomes a much bigger and more unpleasant affair when it’s provided by a prison warden later in life. But one way or another, it’s going to happen.
I love this quote, and I use it as a reminder whenever I’m deep in the frustration that can come with parenting. Sure, disciplining your child is no fun, but it’s far better from you than someone else and far better done today than tomorrow.
You know where I’m about to pivot, don’t you? Oh yeah. I’m going to apply Mr. Mitchell’s phrase to finance.
Who Can Give Me Financial Discipline?
While personal finance can get complex, financial discipline can be summarized in a single sentence. Live below your means and invest the difference wisely.
Nevertheless, some folks do run into trouble with their finances (it’s true – google it). They forget the basics of math, live beyond their means, don’t plan for a rainy day, and make terrible investments (including not investing at all).
Some undisciplined people get into a modest amount of trouble, while others create trainwrecks of chaotic financial destruction.
But everyone can relax. It doesn’t matter how big your mess is. Help is on the way. Someone will discipline your finances. Will it be:
- financial advisor
- bankruptcy judge
- divorce court judge
- your children (ouch)
- executor of your estate
Just like with kids, there is an unending supply of parties who’ll help bring discipline to your finances. And just like with kids, the spectrum ranges from voluntary (and mildly unpleasant) to involuntary (and horrible).
One way or another, spending will be brought in line, debits will equal credits, and all of your debts will be discharged. Your finances will get in order, somehow.
And just like with kids and discipline, these aren’t all equal outcomes. Having an executor order your finances is the equivalent of your kid learning discipline from a prison warden. It’ll finally end the madness, but what a trail of tears it’ll have been to that point.
What’s the Present Value of Future Problems?
I think parents who are skipping on disciplining their kids aren’t blissfully ignorant of the problem (OK, some are, and you guys suck). It’s just that they’ve tried, and it’s hard. Disciplining your child makes for some unpleasant, tear-filled tantrums, and when things are bad, there is ALWAYS an urge to let things slide (just this once…) and recover a little sanity.
When those exceptions become the rule and discipline is abandoned altogether, a parent is saying the present value of tomorrow’s problem is zero. That’s the only way the math can work, because no matter how bad today is, tomorrow will be exponentially worse. If you’re OK with someone else disciplining your child and bearing tomorrow’s cost, then maybe that’s rational. But it’s also sad.
In the same way, people lacking financial discipline don’t cruise around thinking they’re Warren Buffett. They know there’s a problem, but they’re willing to kick the can down the road. Thankfully a wake-up call from a frightening debt load or angry creditors is often enough to bring discipline before too much damage is done, but sometimes the mess is so great it lasts a lifetime.
Folks who outsource their financial discipline always come back with some amazing discoveries. Yes, too much debt is bad. Indeed, you should spend less than you make. Verily, math can be your friend or foe. This stuff may be hard, but it’s certainly not complicated.
Someone will discipline your finances. You can do it yourself and control the process, or you can let someone else do it and hang on for a wild, unpleasant ride. My hearty recommendation is for the former.
Picture courtesy of M. Skeeze