There are no shortcuts.
That’s something my parents used to say when I was a kid. Teachers would say it sometimes too, usually as an admonishment when someone didn’t do their homework. As if one missed assignment could cheat you of a successful future. I can still remember the disapproving finger wags.
The older I get though, the better I understand this expression. There are always costs associated with success. No matter what, someone has to put in the leg work. Whether it’s you, or your parents, or your grandparents, etc, life doesn’t happen by resting on your laurels. Nothing is free, just sometimes freely given, and eventually those good graces run out.
However, our brains default to doing the least amount of work possible. The more energy saved, the better. Which is why we often mislabel certain unpalatable long term goals as “impossible” or “too hard” to achieve. It’s as though we are biologically wired to avoid spending the mental or physical energy required to follow through, no matter how much we might want to achieve the outcome.
We want to get in shape, but we want to do it without going to the gym or changing our diet.
We want to be in a relationship, but we don’t want to suffer through the countless mismatches and bad dates.
We want to buy a house, but we don’t want to put off living in the present to appease the distant future.
And yet that’s exactly what we have to do. Unless someone else is willing to pay the costs for us, we’re not going to have all the things we want unless we’re willing to put in the work for them. Once the generosity of others has run out, and we become fully independent adults, we have to consistently and repeatedly remind ourselves that there are no shortcuts, that we can be successful only if we are willing to show up and pay the costs.
If you want to get fit, you have to change your diet or exercise routine. If you want to be in a relationship, you have to date first. And if you want to buy a house then you have to find ways to decrease your spending and increase your income so that you can save.
It might be unpalatable to pay the costs. We might prefer that someone else, like our parents, continue to pay them for us the same way we still expect home cooked meals each time we visit. But there comes a point when the prepaid successes run out. Everything after that is our responsibility.
I think in personal finance, like weight loss, it’s natural to want a quick fix. Debt can be this huge weight on your shoulders that’s painful to carry around all the time. Who wouldn’t want it to just disappear overnight? But the truth is, no matter how many articles you read with clickbait titles like, “How I paid off $30,000 of debt in 10 months,” you’re going to get the same story of struggle, sacrifice, and hard work. When you get serious about your goals, you get serious about achieving them too and there’s never an article about a magic pill or guaranteed way to win the lottery. It’s always going to be about putting in the effort.
When you’re a kid it’s easy to overlook this. I certainly always thought my friends with full rides to college were lucky. But as I’ve become an adult myself, I see how hard it is to put aside that money and I understand the dedication it took for their parents to gift them with a debt free start to life, to lay that foundation.
There really aren’t any shortcuts. Someone always has to pay the price.
So if it isn’t you, and someone else has paid, remember to say thanks. They worked hard so you wouldn’t have to.