5 excuses cops make about their financial mistakes
When this source of struggle in your personal life is no longer an issue, you can be more effective on the job
Many years ago, I was making a good living working as a cop in the San Francisco Bay Area. To outsiders looking in, we seemed to have it all. We were homeowners. We drove nice cars. We had shiny toys. The sad truth hit me in the face one day when I received an email from PG&E (our local utilities company) advising me that my bill was $300.
The reality was although I made what anyone in their right mind would consider to be “good money,” I couldn’t afford to pay that bill. It took that stark realization – and my wife telling me she was worried about our finances – to take a look in the mirror and ask myself what I was going to do about it. I had made excuses for years about why it wasn’t really necessary to take money more seriously.
Listen, I know when it comes to talking about money, people are often hesitant, perhaps even fearful. It isn’t a topic lightly broached. That doesn’t change how important it is.
In my business as a financial coach, I hear reasons – or excuses, if you prefer – about why it took so long to finally take control of one’s money. As a police officer, I hear similar reasons, but with a distinct officer-specific bend to them. I’ve even made many of them myself.
Below are five common excuses I have heard and thoughts on how to address them.
1. I’ll just work more overtime
This reason is an easy one to both make and accept because it’s true. Most departments in my neck of the woods are short-staffed and the opportunity to work more is abundant. The issue with this excuse has three parts to it.
First, it’s not a sustainable way to live a quality life. Second, it’s impossible to out-earn one’s lack of discipline. Eventually, it’s going to catch up to you. Third, if/when overtime dries up, you run the distinct risk of relying on it too heavily. Working overtime is a great means to an end, but there has to be an end.
2. I don’t trust anyone
Welcome to the club. It’s an occupational hazard with those of us in law enforcement. At the risk of self-aggrandizement, that’s what is unique about my financial coaching business. I have walked in the boots of a cop for 17+ years, both in financial stress and in financial freedom. It is often a simpler thing to trust someone who understands the unique nature of law enforcement simply by virtue of a common career path. As far as trust goes, you should never be required to disclose any personal information (i.e. account numbers, social security numbers, etc.) when working with a financial coach. Note: There is a difference between a financial coach and a Certified Financial Planner.
3. I’m embarrassed
I get it. Like I said above, a person’s money is a very private affair and none of us want to admit we may need some guidance. Cops are inherently built to be Type A. We are always in control. To admit we may need someone to come along side us and walk us through a touchy and personal issue is not an easy thing to do.
I can tell you from experience that taking down the wall and allowing someone to dive into this topic with us was the smartest thing we’ve ever done. Removing the taboo from our finances has opened doors we never thought possible.
4. I can do it myself
Then why aren’t you? Think of elite NFL quarterbacks. They play at a level most of us will never understand or achieve. Do you know what each of them have in common? Coaches. Trainers. Mentors. No one reaches that level solely on their own merit. They surround themselves with people that help them down the path toward goals they want to achieve.
The same is true in law enforcement. We don’t pop out of the academy knowing all there is to know about police work. We move on to FTOs. We are supervised by sergeants. We walk alongside beat partners. We don’t do life alone. Personal finance is no different.
5. I deserve [insert thing you don’t actually deserve here]
I’m definitely guilty of this. When I was working a ton of overtime to make ends meet, I often “rewarded” myself with a new, shiny toy. The problem is this is endemic to what Dr. Kevin Gilmartin refers to in his book, "Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement."
When we go through what Gilmartin calls the "hypervigilance rollercoaster," we often crave the rush we feel when we’re at work. The problem is we often self-medicate when we’re off duty through retail therapy and we justify it as something we “deserve” because we’ve been working so much.
Often times, the money spent isn’t planned for and necessitates us working more overtime to pay for the thing we just bought to make ourselves feel better. It’s a nasty downward spiral from which the only escape is to live below our means and on a budget.
The truth of the matter is when we, as police officers, take control of our own finances and live with a plan (read: budget), the positive impacts it garners in every facet of our lives becomes clear.
Imagine the improvement in your spousal/partner relationship when money is not the topic of every argument. When the worry and stress are removed from your financial life, you are able to focus more on your kids. When the source of struggle in your personal life is no longer an issue, you can be more effective on the job. Your focus will remain on the issues in front of you instead of worrying about financial issues at home.
Stop making excuses. Tackle your finances now. I can tell you from experience that you will be glad you did.
NEXT: 3 reasons financial fitness is just as important as physical fitness
This article, originally published May 31, 2016, has been updated.