Saving the Day

Jim Wasserman

I ENJOY WATCHING superhero shows. It feels good to see the hero swoop in and save the day. Truth is, however, I also get a bit annoyed, as there are always some citizens who seem to ignore imminent danger. They sometimes just stare at it coming, doing nothing to get out of harm’s way.

It’s almost like they just count on the hero saving the day, and that’s a bad strategy. Strangely, many people in real life adopt the same strategy, relying on a particular financial superhero to swoop in and save them. I call this hero Future Self.

I wrote about Future Self in the comment section below a recent article from Phil Kernen. Phil explained a new version of an old scheme, the buy-now-pay-later option. It sounds great—until you miss a payment and draconian interest penalties are levied.

Why do people fall for such a trap? Because they imagine that their Future Self will be a hero. He or she will regularly make all payments and save present self from the burdens taken on today. Notwithstanding any financial obligations that Future Self will have of his or her own, people expect Future Self will also be able to shoulder the debts of present self.

Future Self will have more money or, because of inflation, the money Future Self pays with will be worth less. No doubt folks also count on Future Self to get in shape, eat healthily, redeem all the accumulated airline points, and regularly call his or her mother. Future Self will save the day!

I ended up discussing Future Self with my writing collaborator, Dave. Like me, Dave likes to take an intriguing concept and riff off it. He liked the superhero analogy of Future Self saving the day, but then he took it further.

“Why do ordinary citizens always stand to the side just watching when the hero arrives, but only try to help when the hero gets in trouble? Why don’t they try to help the hero earlier, distract the bad guy, give weapons or tools to the hero, or at least some water?” he asked.

We then applied that question to Future Self. If we’re counting on Future Self to pay our debts and get us out of financial trouble, why don’t we start helping him now? How can we help Future Self? Give him tools, and that means money and means.

Max out our retirement contributions. Keep a cash reserve for the expected unexpected villains that’ll pop up, such as an out-of-network medical bill. We can also mark the calendar with the expiration dates of airline and hotel points. Most helpful to Future Self would be to minimize debt now. Future Self will have his or her own foes to battle, and doesn’t need ours as well.

When we anticipate Future Self having a big physical challenge—like running a marathon—we train, we plan and we monitor Future Self’s fitness to make sure the physical challenge will be met. Why can’t we do the same to help Future Self prepare for the financial challenges that loom on the horizon?

When we do help Future Self, we should feel free to add a note saying, “You’re welcome.” Future Self will like that.

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