When I started paying back my debt at a faster pace than the absolute minimum that my lenders required, I got really excited about it. In my eagerness I started talking to friends about this radical practice, thinking that they would be grateful for the life changing shift in perspective. These conversations, for the most part, didn’t go as smoothly as I expected. I shared links or stories I’d heard, but there weren’t many lightbulb moments where someone decided that they could change their finances too.

I realized that it wasn’t the lack of information that was keeping them committed to mediocrity, it was the excess of information.

When we’re younger, all we ask is ‘why?’ Why is the grass green? Because grass has a pigment called chlorophyll that absorbs sunlight. Why? Because it needs to absorb energy to grow. Why?

Now we say ‘but..’ But how do you save? Live on less than you earn. But how do you live on less than you earn? Reduce your expenses or earn more. But why would you make all of those sacrifices? So you can have the freedom to choose to leave your job. But why would you want to leave your job?!  

We still question everything, but we no longer do it to learn. We question because we’re trying to justify our current existence. We’re searching for the ‘gotcha’ moment: See! I knew it couldn’t be done!

If it can’t be done, if it’s impossible, then the fact that we haven’t done it yet ourselves isn’t a reflection on us. We can abdicate our responsibility for our own lives completely and blame external factors for our lack of progress.

The Paradox Of Personal Finance Case Studies

Logically it might seem that the more information we have about successful people, the easier it would be to replicate their success. In reality, every detail about a given person’s finances or lifestyle is an opportunity to reject their knowledge based on any one of their perceived advantages.

We could review the finances of every successful person on the planet and discount each one of their experiences for some reason or another. Maybe they were able to graduate debt free because of several scholarships. Maybe a small inheritance allowed them to put a down payment on a rental property. Maybe their parents let them live at home while they started their own business.

We can get so caught up in picking out the one factor that gave them an advantage over us, that we don’t see the big picture. Instead of trying to find a role model in something, we look for one in everything. Rather than reviewing advice from a variety of sources and applying the relevant pieces to ourselves, we search for that one person who is exactly like us.. our personal finance unicorn.

By the time we get through the preliminaries of outlining the ideal personal finance doppelgänger case study that would convince us that financial success is possible, it’s like we’ve constructed an overly ambitious dating ad.

Must live in a high cost of living area, not be extremely frugal, have pets, enjoy equipment-intensive sports, make an income below six figures, and save 50% of it.

The problem with this approach is finding someone who fits all of these categories, and then not finding another attribute about them, a deal breaker, that will cause us to scrap the whole thing.

Oh, but this person doesn’t like Will Ferrell. How could I possibly take financial advice from someone who doesn’t like Will Farrell? Nothing they say would ever apply to me in a meaningful way!

Your Personal Finance Unicorn Does Not Exist

If you find yourself pointing out someone’s advantages or choices as a dismissal tactic, try being brutally honest with yourself. Are you really interested in learning something, or are you just trying to give yourself an excuse to continue being mediocre?

You’re not going to find someone out there who is exactly like you. Your personal finance unicorn does not exist. There are horses and narwhals though, and you can piece them together in a metaphorical hybrid patronus. That has to be better than spending your life looking for a unicorn that will never appear, or not searching at all.

6 Replies to “Your Personal Finance Unicorn Does Not Exist”

  1. Interesting thoughts here. I like it.

    The Cubert-meets-Bill Nye the Science Guy-method probably goes something like this: Find someone you don’t think you’ll detest about 15-20 years down the road. 🙂 Generally that means someone with a good sense of humor, tendency to want to improve his or her self, and a lot of patience with others, including yourself. That tendency to want to improve can apply to the financial aspect, where both Mrs. Cubert and I are still constantly working hard to get better all the time.

    1. I wasn’t referring to finding a romantic partner, just finding a role model! The dating ad example was a metaphor for the hoops we make people jump through before we’ll accept their knowledge as applicable to our lives. It’s another way we make excuses instead of changing our behavior! But, good dating advice!

  2. Your post is very spot on! One of my favorite excuses is that it’s much harder to reach FI in the Netherlands/Europe than in the US. There are some bloggers over here working on FI, but I don’t know anyone who actually made it happen yet. I just try to motivate myself by saying to myself that I will get there eventually, even if it’s going to take a little longer.

    1. That’s a great one!!! There are a few FI Canadians so it’s harder for me to use that excuse. Mine are living in an expensive city, starting out with six figures of student loan debt, and not making a six figure salary. I refuse to settle though, and I’m determined to work with what I have!

  3. Absolutely! It’s so much easier to discount any possibility we might have of success through hard work by finding the one piece that makes it impossible to follow another’s footsteps than taking the time to assess our personal situation and find our weaknesses and bring them to light.
    Well said, this could be about just about any aspect of life, not just finances.

  4. No lies detected. I constantly hear why saving more, spending less, and investing just won’t work for some people. After a while it’s easy to see that some people would just rather complain about their money than control it (I personally like to complain while controlling). You can Frankenstein a personal finance system, but you can’t build your own mentor.

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