Here’s a weird question for you. Do you happen to know anyone who always has the answers, but never has the solution?
Let me explain.
I have a dear friend who has struggled financially his whole adult life. But no matter what I’ve suggested to improve his situation, he always has an answer for why it wouldn’t work or why it couldn’t be done.
Case in point. A few years after his second child was born, the cost of living on Long Island began to overwhelm his paycheck. His wife wasn’t working, so I suggested that it might be time for her to explore a little part-time work. After all, her working ten to fifteen hours a week would really help the household’s bottom line. Nope. Wasn’t going to happen, my friend informed me. Before he and his wife were married, they agreed that she would be a stay-at-home mom and he would be the breadwinner.
So there you have it. The work option for his wife was off the table. Sure it would have helped if she found gainful employment. But that would have meant admitting a key feature of their prenuptial gameplan was an ill-conceived monstrosity. And we couldn’t have that. Better for the family to suffer than to bruise two adult egos.
Imagine a bizarro salesperson. Every time you agree to buy whatever he or she is hawking, he or she comes up with another reason why you shouldn’t buy it. That’s my friend—only he’s not a bizarro salesperson; he’s a bizarro financial planner. He’s extremely adept at explaining why he can’t change his financially destructive attitudes and habits. Whatever you conjure up to improve his finances, he’ll smack it down.
Me: “Hey, if you need more money, how about delivering pizzas on the side?”
Friend: “C’mon, man, that’s too demeaning.”
Me: “Alright, attack your expenses. Get rid of cable.”
Friend: “How will I watch the Yankees if I do that?”
Me: “Okay, why don’t you start bringing your lunch to work?”
Friend: “I don’t have time at night to make lunch.”
Me: “Wake up an hour earlier and do it then.”
Friend: “I’m not a morning person.”
It’s maddening. He has the answer to everything. And this cursed affliction, which conspires mightily against his financial well-being, is something I like to call ATES—the answer-to-everything syndrome.
Do You Have ATES?
If you got your financial act together, the rest of this post isn’t for you. If you have an income that dwarfs your expenses, a fully-funded emergency fund, and a growing retirement account, get the heck out of here. You’re as far removed from the scourge of ATES as one can be.
On the other hand, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or find yourself swimming in a morass of financial woe, growing deeper and deeper into debt, there’s a good chance you might be suffering from ATES. This isn’t always the case, of course. Some people on the road to financial ruin do manage to recognize their self-sabotaging habits before it’s too late. But a lot of financially troubled people surely don’t. After all, how likely will someone afflicted with ATES be really good at introspection?
With that in mind, then, here are four tell-tale signs of ATES.
Do you care more about sports than your own finances?
Obsessing over grown men running around in costumes isn’t nearly as important as obsessing over your financial well-being. The Dallas Cowboys (or whoever your favorite team might be) won’t be shedding a tear if you end up eating cat food in old age. So if you have season tickets to the Dallas Cowboys, but lack an emergency fund and haven’t begun saving for retirement, you might have ATES. If you spend more hours watching ESPN than tracking your expenses or reading about personal finance, you better seek the help of a professional. It sounds like you got ATES.
Are you always borrowing money?
If you routinely have to hit up friends, family, or a payday lender to make ends meet, you need to call the ATES Hotline.
Is there always financial drama in your life?
Late fees, repossessed cars, pink slips, eviction notices, IRS liens—if your financial life is perfect fodder for a Univision novela, you’re not the master of your financial domain. And, oh yeah, you probably have a severe case of ATES.
Is your net worth going down or going nowhere?
Net worth doesn’t lie. It may throw you a curve ball now and then, but it’s brutally honest when it comes to measuring your financial health over the long haul.
If the trajectory of your net worth is trending down or going nowhere, and it’s been doing so for several years, if not decades, it’s safe to say you have some problems—and ATES.
Prior to marrying Mrs. Groovy, I had a fairly good case of ATES. In my mind, I was doing the best I could with the cards I was dealt. If anybody suggested a more fruitful path or strategy, I shot him down. But Mrs. Groovy quickly disabused me of my financial delusions. She (with the help of Dave Ramsey) made me realize that I was behaving like a bizarro financial planner. She also made me realize that if I ever wanted to get ahead financially, I needed to drop my colossal ego. And that’s what I did. I stopped having all the answers and started working on the solution.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. Do you suffer from ATES? Do you have a friend or family member who suffers from ATES? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Have a groovy weekend. Peace.