Are You Ignoring the Key Gauges on Your Financial Dashboard?

When driving a car, the car’s dashboard comes in pretty handy. With just a quick glance, you can see how fast you’re traveling, how much fuel is in the gas tank, and how hot the engine is running. Absent a dashboard, driving a car would become a lot more challenging.

Believe it or not, your financial life comes with a dashboard as well. And it contains four critical gauges that you need to monitor. Here they are.

The I’m-Being-Screwed Gauge

You may not be aware of this, but larceny (and worse) resides in the heart of man. I learned this bitter truth in the sixth grade when fat Tommy Mullen stole my bike. He painted it—rather shabbily, I may add—and sold it to a kid a few blocks over. I couldn’t prove it, of course. And because Tommy was older, bigger, and stronger, I had to live with that infamy.

And, sadly, there were many more infamies to come. A fair number of thieves, vandals, mechanics, and salespeople took advantage of my ignorance, naivety, and carelessness to visit ruin upon my wallet. Government, too, was not above such malice. A few years ago, I got a $145 fine in Irving, Texas, for not wearing a seat belt in the car—and I was sitting in the back seat. Really? A hundred and forty-five dollar fine? I guess the Eighth Amendment doesn’t apply to traffic tickets.

And then there’s big business and big labor. Why do they pay so much to hear our politicians speak? Why do they pay so much to help our politicians campaign? Are our politicians the greatest orators the world has ever seen? Are our politicians the most reliable safeguard against abject tyranny? The answer is depressingly obvious. Big business and big labor shower our politicians with money because they want favors. And our politicians are happy to provide them with such favors at my—and your—expense.

Fortunately for you, though, your financial dashboard comes with an exquisitely sensitive I’m-Being-Screwed gauge. If it didn’t, life for you would be very difficult.

The Self-Sabotage Gauge

Did you apply yourself in school? Did you learn a skill or a trade that your fellow man values? Do you live below your means? Are your credit cards maxed out? Do you smoke? Do you routinely drink until you’re blotto? How many hours do you watch TV and play video games? What was the last book you read? What was the last book you read about personal finance? How about retirement savings? Have you bothered to open a Roth IRA or sign up for your 401(k) at work?

And what about your social capital? Do you play well with coworkers? Are you kind to the waitstaff? Do you go out of your way to help family, friends, and neighbors?

Yes, there are a fair amount of external evil-doers in our financial lives (see the preceding section). But the damage they do to our finances is minor compared to the damage we inflict upon ourselves. That’s why your financial dashboard comes with a Self-Sabotage gauge.

The I’m-Screwing-Others Gauge

Do you slack off at work? Do you gossip about your coworkers with other coworkers? Have you ever screwed over a client or a customer in order to meet a sales quota? Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you steal?

You’re no angel. There’s larceny (or worse) in your heart as well. To combat this shortcoming, your financial dashboard comes equipped with an I’m-Screwing-Others gauge.

The Good-Fortune Gauge

In 2010, Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public school system. Now, apparently, nothing very much came of this gift. Newark students are still doing pretty poorly on standardized tests. But that’s not the point. The point is that this country is far from a Hobbsian “war of all against all.” Every day, millions of Americans wake up and do something to help their fellow Americans. Sometimes this help is newsworthy, as in the case of Mr. Zuckerberg’s gift to Newark. But most of the time it’s not. In fact, Americans are so good at helping other Americans, we take for granted things that are truly remarkable. Every day, 24-7, electricity is there to light your home, run your refrigerator, and charge your cell phone. Every day, 24-7, water is there to shower, cook, and remove waste from your home. Every day, 24-7, roads and traffic lights are there to make sure your commute is possible and your malls, gas stations, and grocery stores are chock-full of product.

It’s easy to get discouraged, to see only the dark side of the human condition, and to firmly believe that your hard work and honest living will never be rewarded. You therefore need faith to soldier on. And in order to have faith, you need to be cognizant of your blessings; you need to understand that decency has not been extinguished from this land. That’s why your financial dashboard comes with a Good-Fortune gauge.

If You’re Only Paying Attention to Your I’m-Being-Screwed Gauge, You’re Screwed

In order to do well financially, you have to closely monitor all four gauges on your financial dashboard and make sure they’re not in the danger zone.

If you don’t monitor your I’m-Being-Screwed gauge, you’ll become easy prey for all the scoundrels out there who want to separate you from your money.

If you don’t monitor your Self-Sabotage gauge, you’ll become overwhelmed by the habits that bring immediate pleasure but ensure future misery.

If you don’t monitor your I’m-Screwing-Others gauge, you’ll become a callous fool who brings either unemployment or incarceration into your life.

And if you don’t monitor your Good-Fortune gauge, you’ll become blind to all the help and opportunity that exists in your town, state, and country.

Now here’s the rub. Many people don’t want you to monitor all four gauges on your financial dashboard. They want you to monitor the I’m-Being-Screwed gauge and ignore the others. Who are these people? Unfortunately, these people are very often family and friends. But the media also gets involved. Harping on who’s screwing you is a great way to get your attention. And the worst culprits by far are politicians. They’ll never tell you that your worst enemy is you. They’ll never tell you that help and opportunity are all around you, and all you have to do is get off your ass and take advantage of it. No, as far as our politicians are concerned, you have no culpability at all for your financial condition. You’re being screwed! By Wall Street. By predatory lenders. By the evil ONE PERCENT. Heck, you’re even being screwed by other politicians. According to the Republicans, the Democrats have invited every able-bodied Mexican to come here and steal every possible employment opportunity. According to the Democrats, the Republicans have cut spending so much, our public schools are crippled.

Okay, groovy freedomists, here’s a question for you. What happens when you intensely monitor your I’m-Being-Screwed gauge but ignore the others?

You become the ultimate victim. You’re hyper-sensitive to all the financial villains in your life, but you lack the discipline, humility, and gratitude to understand that your financial well-being is largely within your control. In other words, you’ve hobbled yourself mentally, and you’re therefore incapable of helping yourself.

And who benefits the most from you becoming the ultimate victim? Politicians, of course. They love angry voters who loathe personal responsibility. Such voters are easily manipulated and will gladly vote to become dependent on the state.

Final Thoughts

Up until fifteen or so years ago, I was pretty good at monitoring three of the gauges on my financial dashboard. The I’m-Being-Screwed gauge, the I’m-Screwing-Others gauge, and the Good-Fortune gauge. For some reason, though, I completely ignored the Self-Sabotage gauge. And the results of this failure are not surprising. Financial mediocrity. But happily, largely due to Mrs. Groovy, I became acutely aware of my Self-Sabotage gauge, and everything changed. The trajectory of my financial condition was no longer stuck in neutral. I drastically reduced the number of financial mistakes I made in my life, and the long, glorious trek toward financial independence was underway.

So what say you? Are you ignoring any gauges on your financial dashboard? Or do you have everything covered and your financial engine is motoring along smoothly?

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33 Comments

  1. GO4OTUSA

    So true! If you are convinced that you’re a “victim” then you’ll be inclined to wallow in self-pity and misery your entire life – afraid to look at the villain that’s staring back at you in the mirror. The answer to financial independence lies there and nowhere else.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent point! It’s a horrible mindset. If you think you’re a victim, then there’s nothing you can do to advance your life. But if you recognized that your main problem is the “villain that’s staring back at you in the mirror,” you would also recognize that you have the power to turn things around. So sad. Thanks for stopping by, GO4OTUSA.

  2. Great post, Mr. Groovy. Here’s to all of us changing “I’m being screwed” to “I’ve been screwed.” Change the situation, fix any errors you can, and move forward. Leave the bitterness behind and keep the lesson.

    Self-sabotage is not just what you missed initially, it’s what we all miss at times. It’s so much easier and more fun to blame everyone else 🙂 Unfortunately, it’s not very effective.

    Thanks as always for the excellent reminders.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I love this. “Leave the bitterness behind and keep the lesson.” There are financial villains in our lives. But as soon as you adopt the key tenets of personal finance, these villains are so easily thwarted. Take credit card interest, for instance. What’s average today? Eighteen percent? That’s certainly outrageous. But if you pay your credit card off in full every month, it doesn’t matter. The evil credit card company is rendered a toothless villain. Thanks for stopping by, Julie. As always, great contribution.

  3. Yea I have an acquaintance that gets jealous of others but he took 10 years to get through college, and then was underemployed for 5 years after graduation.

    He finally managed to get a new job a couple of months ago that has a professional and competitive salary. I’m hoping he has finally seen the light! =)

    • Mr. Groovy

      The great thing about personal finance is that things can change fairly quick if you get one big thing right. Your friend got the career and salary right, which is something many people never do. Now if he starts to attack debt and save for retirement, he’ll be golden. Thanks for stopping by, Lila. And keep us posted on your friend.

    • Mr. Groovy

      You’re too kind, Chris. I’m blushing. My wisdom has derived from thirty-plus years of economic futility. Up until my mid-30s, I was very perturbed by the “system.” But then, fortunately, it dawned on me that if you’re blaming the system, there’s really no one to blame but yourself. And once a began the process of de-buttheadification, my financial life turned around in fairly short order. Thanks for stopping by, Chris. You made my day.

  4. I saw the title of this post in my inbox and thought you were going to wire frame a financial-type dashboard for us; this is not what I was expecting to read – it’s great!

    The Self-Sabotage gauge hits hard because I don’t monitor it like I should. I’m all for a little down time, but I probably waste way too much time doing nothing. Thanks to this post, now I’ll be much more aware of my self-sabotaging and can start to make improvements. Thanks!

    • Mr. Groovy

      I think the self-sabotage gauge is the key gauge for the vast majority of us. And if you monitor it properly, and make sure your financial mistakes never come near the danger zone, your odds of a financially successful life are very, very good. Always a pleasure hearing from you, Ty. Cheers.

  5. These are not exactly the gauges I had in mind when I read the title…
    Really interesting view. The first two are more or less in the green, give or take a few things I know I do bad. It is work in progress. Not that I monitor these actively, I just try to be aware of the interest of others vs my interests. And fire blogs are a good source to learn a few tricks as well.
    Nr3, screw others, is one that is recently high on my attention list. Good to read it hear as well.

    • Mr. Groovy

      For the first half of my government career, I was pretty bad at number three. I didn’t steal from the taxpayers directly, but I did embrace the slothful culture of my coworkers. On the typical day I worked two to three hours. For the last ten years of my government career, however, I was definitely more considerate of the taxpayers. On most days, I gave the taxpayers seven hours of work. On some days, I even gave them eight. I hated being the stereotypical bureaucrat. I’m glad I ended my government career on a more honorable note. So I agree wholeheartedly with you, Ambertree. Yes, you want to have a handle on all four gauges. But if you slip on gauges 1, 2, and 4, you’re basically hurting yourself. If you slip on gauge 3, you’re hurting others. And that’s not cool. Thanks for sharing, Ambertree. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one with feet of clay.

  6. Like a few others, I was surprised by the gauges you had in store for us, but they are true nonetheless. As with most things, it’s about balance, and paying attention to any one gauge by itself will not lead to success. I’m especially glad to see you include the Good Fortune gauge as that’s one that most of us (myself included) tend to forget about.

  7. A lot of people think that life has given them a bad hand and want others to help them but most of the time it is their decisions or lack there of that led to the bad hand.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. That’s one of my biggest gripes about education. Our schools seem to be much better at cultivating envy than gratitude. I watched a BBC documentary the other day about European garbage being shipped to landfills in Africa. And at the landfills in Africa, there were scores of barefoot kids (8-10 years old) rummaging through the garbage for scrap metal. No school for these kids. Their families needed whatever money they could wrangle from the dumps. Now, I’m not saying some of our kids don’t have it rough. But do any of our kids have it Africa tough? The opportunity our poorest kids is staggering compared to their counterparts in most of the world. Sigh. If only our kids knew. Thanks for stopping by, Doug. You packed a lot of wisdom in one sentence.

  8. I need to work on my good fortune gauge, I don’t like admitting that but its the truth – we are in a position to start helping but haven’t done enough yet.

    Great post, as always

    -AE

  9. Like a Formula 1 car, my life is flying along at breakneck speed. The tricky chicanes of financial planning are being negotiated by deft flicks of the steering wheel. Brakes are only applied when the desire to hit the gas on the equities straight gets too tempting. One always needs to be cautious on that straight. The boy racer in Mr. PIE must be quelled.

    The pit stop of the weekend allows Mr. PIE’s mind to be replenished- well his body is certainly fueled with liquid of the single malt variety.

    As his old car ages, he is reminded to tune it up now and again. In that vein, he will take the family on a fine long hike, motoring their way to the top of a majestic northern mountain this weekend. Many pit stops will be required of the real water variety methinks.

    Upon reaching the summit, we will cast an eye over the great land, rejoice in getting the old banger to the top in one piece.

    But no time to waste, getting to the top is only half the journey. Cars are safe when parked but that is not what cars are for. Throw it into gear, hit the gas, rooftop down and pedal to the metal as we zip at full speed back down that mountain.

    Ah, the joys of motoring towards financial freedom……

    ( I really must stop opening those bottles of single malt……)

    • Mr. Groovy

      Don’t stop with the single malts! Mrs. G is still laughing at your very creative take on “motoring towards financial freedom….” And if one or two single malts produced this, it would be a crime against humanity to be a teetotaler. This could be the first nominee for our commenter hall of fame! Thank you, Mr. PIE. You made our day.

      • Happy to oblige Mr and Mrs Groovy.

        I shall take this encouragement as official notice to continue my quest to sample the A to Z of single malts.

        But not to drive afterwards. Mr. PIE does strictly adhere to the rules of the road. Safety first.

  10. I was very similar to you Mr. Groovy, not paying attention to the self-sabotage gauge until recently. Now I’ve created one hell of an uphill battle for myself.

    You hit the nail on the head with this post, especially in regards to the victim mentality that pervades this country. Politicians tap into this emotion often because it works so well for them. As I’ve gotten older, I have no time for those people who take no personal accountability in any area of their lives, the people who always play the victim card.

    Two things have helped me with these gauges…I don’t consume mass media and I started doing the miracle morning. I’m less bitter and more grateful.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Awesome, Brian! I love your strategy. I too have stopped consuming big media. After all, what’s the point? Whether it’s the New York Times or Fox News, the official villains have been established long ago. And any story that doesn’t fit the narrative is ignored or downplayed.

      I’ve been doing the miracle morning since January 1. It’s a amazing. On most days I get up at 4:30. And by the time 8:30 comes around, I’ve accomplished all my priorities. I just wish I came across Hal Elrod’s book when it came out four years ago.

      I like the cut of your jib, sir. We definitely need less victimhood and more gratitude.

  11. I was talking with family today how people seem to enjoy negativity more than positivity. Bad news sells. Politicians want people to think of increasing crime when the rates are (?) decreasing.

    In terms of gauges, we know what we need to do, we have the mentality but we don’t have the earnings to do a lot with it. We’re working on that now 🙂

    Tristan

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Tristan. As long as the gauges are under control, the wealth will come. It’s just a matter of time. And, yes, there is something in the our DNA that pulls us toward negativity. Is it because life is so precarious? Or is it because it gives us fodder for our increasing desire to make excuses? Meh. We humans are a strange animal.

  12. The Self-Sabotage Gauge and social capital concept is a good one to point out. Finances aren’t just about money. Your wealth should also include the people you love and what you do for them. No one should want to be Scrooge!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed! The nicer I became, the more people wanted to go out of their way to help me. There was this really cool dude many years ago who summed it up best: “Give, and it shall be given unto you.” Thanks for stopping by, MMD. Great contribution.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I was definitely my own worst enemy. And when I decided to get out of my own way, the evil one percent couldn’t stop me.

      I’m with you Eric. “Self-sabotage is the biggest thing affecting most people.”

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