In bygone days, the term “hot mess” referred to a soldier’s meal. My father-in-law would have coveted a hot mess as he crawled across Europe in the winter of 1944. On one cold night, he was hiding from a Panzer tank patrol in the bottom of an outhouse latrine, but that was a different hot mess.
Today, we frequently use the term more loosely to describe an attractive disaster: “My brother is trading penny stocks — he’s just a hot mess.”
From the broad perspective of personal financial planning, being a hot mess creates several challenges. I recall my first meeting with a new client, a busy physician. His idea of data gathering was a data dump. He showed up at my office with grocery bags of bank and brokerage statements, tax returns, estate documents and insurance policies — total disorganization — a real hot mess. But in his opinion, he felt he was doing a pretty good job of document management because everything went into the bags and he knew where they were. It took us weeks to wrap our arms around his financial situation.
On the other hand, if you think everyone around you is a financial hot mess because they are not as disciplined, organized, decisive, and on-point as you are, well guess what? YOU are probably a pending hot mess. When the stuff hits the fan (and it will), you may explode under the mental stress of losing control.
Some people use self-awareness of their hot messiness as a cop-out. It’s like they expect a hall pass because they are financially disorganized, over-emotional, reactive, or inattentive. People around them, family and co-workers, hear a litany of excuses to rationalize their hot mess. These are the folks with chronically late unpaid bills and soaring credit card debt. They may be hiding financial information from their spouses and making risky investment bets.
How can you clean up your messes or at least manage them? Have a basic system of organizing your account statements and tax support documents. Set electronic alerts on your bank accounts or credit cards so you always know your balances. Consolidate and simplify multiple investment accounts — old 401(k) and IRA accounts, as well as bank and brokerage flotsam.
Set up automatic deposits into your company retirement plan and bank emergency fund. Give yourself a quarterly fiscal checkup: Review your spending plan. Monitor your asset allocation and rebalance within parameters. Maintain a cash reserve for the unexpected. It really is not as hard or as unpleasant as you imagine!
In my humble opinion, life can be messy regardless of what we do. People are messy. Relationships are messy. Money is messy. Here’s a consolation: There’s always someone whose life is messier than yours. Your mess is not special. So, we all are a mess. It brings us together. It is a unifier in the weirdest sort of way.
Are your finances a hot mess? We would be happy to help you get to where you want to be financially. Contact us!