There is no Tomorrow.

By Nora Dunn on 9 April 2008 (Updated 11 December 2008) 11 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

There is no tomorrow.

 

Tomorrow is a euphemism for “I can’t think about that right now”.

“Tomorrow, I get paid, and things will be easier.”

“Next week, I won’t have so many meetings at work, and can spend more time with my family.”

“Next month, I’ll have paid off one of my credit cards, and then I will have money to save for retirement.”

“Next year, I’ll get a raise and then I can start saving.”

“In a few years, student loans will be paid off. Then I can think about taking a vacation.”

 

Have you ever caught yourself saying these things?

 

“I can’t start now. It’s not the time. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. Just…later.”

 

Later. Things will always be better later. Later things will improve and you can deal with the giant dust bunnies of life that are quietly accumulating under your carpet.

 

Here’s the rub: tomorrow brings along a whole new set of reasons why you can’t do whatever it is you say you want or need to do.

Sure you get paid tomorrow, but then you have to go to the dentist for a filling unexpectedly.

Sure you don’t have so many business meetings and deadlines next week, but at the last minute your boss calls and says “this time it’s different. We need you in the office”. Whoops. Or you do manage to keep your schedule clear only to discover that next week is the week that your kids are away on a field trip, and your spouse is working extra hard on a project at work and won’t be around at all.

Sure you’ll have paid off one of your loans next month, but you just bought a house and didn’t take into account all the expenses of home ownership before signing on the dotted line. There goes your plan for retirement savings.

And that raise next year? Turns out it barely keeps you up with the increasing cost of living. Pocket change.

Waiting a few years for the loans to be paid off so you can take a vacation? I certainly don’t condone going further into debt for a vacation, but don’t expect that when the loans are paid off you’ll magically have the ability to go away either. Tomorrow never seems to come.

There will always be a reason why you can’t do something you say you’re going to do if you’re putting it off.

 

New Year’s Resolutions are a perfect example. If you have to wait until January 1st to implement a resolution, then it’s my wager that you don’t want it badly enough. Why wait? Why buy another pack of cigarettes on December 29th because you aren’t going to quit until January 1st? If you want to quit, quit. But don’t use tomorrow as an excuse to slack off today. Let’s get real.

 

Financial extremes are everywhere. Some people know that tomorrow never comes, or they can’t wait until tomorrow as it seems an eternity away. So they live each day like it is their last with little to no regard for their financial future.

Other people take the opposite approach; planning for anything and everything that isn’t about enjoying a nice dinner out with family, or taking that vacation, or otherwise living for today.

 

I had a client once who was solely focused on paying off his house. Everything else – absolutely everything – could wait until “tomorrow”. Retirement savings, emergency funds, even leisure time with his wife and child. It could all wait. He justified the overtime because the house would be paid off quicker. Emergency? He’ll have equity in the house if he needs it. Retirement? Equity in the home is a place to start. Once the home is paid off, he said, he’ll be able to focus everything into retirement funds (and other financial goals), and accelerate his savings instead of starting off slowly right now. He had blinders on to the rest of his life; all he saw was the house.

In the meantime, his child was growing up, and his wife was moving on. By the time the house was finally paid off, she left him. They had become estranged after years upon years of an all-work-no-play life. After the divorce settlement, my client still ended up with a mortgage to pay, and he continues to pay it off today. He is now in his early 50’s and hasn’t managed to put a cent away for retirement. “Tomorrow,” he still says.

 

I had another client – a young couple – who had a similar goal to pay off the house without seeing a need for balance. They both made good money, and saw that with a lot of hard work and very little play, they could have their house fully paid off in three years. The light was at the end of the tunnel for them. They refused to save money on the side, continually citing the equity in their house as the ultimate back-up plan for everything.

A year into their three year plan, she lost her job. Although she was highly skilled, the job market in her field had slowed, and she remained unemployed for over six months. They had to reduce their house-payment plan dramatically on just one income, but they eked by and still managed to get a few extra bucks on the mortgage. Then, the unthinkable happened: he lost his job too. He was in the same industry as she was, and their lack of diversification of skills proved to be disastrous.

Eventually of course, they got jobs and pulled out (after drawing on the equity in their home to pay the bills), but are now earning way less. Paying off the mortgage is still priority number one for them, but now it will take them more than eight additional years to pay it off with lower paychecks and lost ground during their time of unemployment. That is eight more years of opportunity lost for all the other investments they said could wait until “tomorrow”.

 

Paying off the house is just one example of how people can put blinders on in life and say that they'll do something "tomorrow". Financial negligence, having kids, getting sick, losing jobs, getting married, buying property, putting kids through university, and family obligations are all ways that your plan - as perfect as it may have seemed - will be railroaded "tomorrow".

This article is for those who are saying that they’ll make those financial changes to their lives (whether it is starting to save for retirement or refocusing financial efforts)…tomorrow. And maybe you balk at the concept of taking financial responsibility for your life; maybe you’re up to your eyeballs in debt and see no choice but to plod on, living paycheck to paycheck in the most financially responsible manner possible. I would argue that even in seemingly hopeless scenarios there is choice, but that is another matter.

 

Assuming that you have some leeway in life and in finances, if even a little, consider this: if you wait until tomorrow to start saving money for retirement, you will cost yourself untold amounts of money in the form of compound growth. Just take a look at the rule of 72 to see how much time in the saddle will make a difference in doubling your investments many times over.

If you wait until tomorrow to start accumulating money for an emergency fund, you will be unprepared for any emergencies that arise between now and then. This could catapult you into terrible debt, rendering you hopeless to consider all that you thought was possible “tomorrow”.

And if you wait until tomorrow to go on vacation, you may burn out long before you ever get a chance to board that plane.

 

If you can, find a way to achieve balance. If you say you will start something tomorrow, ask yourself why you have to wait. Can you take just a few dollars now and direct them towards whatever you’re waiting for? Don’t tell me that a few dollars won’t make a difference; we all know that the “latte factor” says otherwise.

Even if you have to put a few dollars towards the emergency fund, a few more towards retirement, and your last few for a vacation or down payment, all those dollars will add up over time. You have to trust in the process.

 

Life Happens while we’re busy making plans. If you wait until tomorrow, you’ll have a whole new set of life circumstances to deal with that will throw you off-course yet again. Don’t be that person who wakes up one day wondering where life went and finds their self in a pickle, or worse – with regrets.

The tomorrow you’re waiting for never comes. So let’s try to find a way to make it work…today.

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Guest's picture

Great post. This is what I used to teach my clients as a Professional Organizer, especially with their things - that "I might need it someday" on its own is not a sufficient reason to keep something.

I feel so strongly about removing someday from my vocabulary that I moved to Europe (France and now Spain) because I always said that "someday" I would live in Europe and write.

I've never been happier or felt more fulfilled in my life.

Cheers,
Alex

Guest's picture

This was very timely; I just finished reading a book called 'Middle Class Millionaire'. The authors described unique differences between 'regular' (i.e. non-millionaire) middle-classers and those who have a net worth (including home equity) between $1 and $10 million. Most of it was very positive and and thought-provoking. However, there were some variables that worried me.

For example, middle-class millionaires work on average 70 hours a week! Compared to 41 hours per week for non-millionairs! This begs the question: when do these people see their families? When do they help make dinner with their kids, read to their kids, visit their parents and siblings, hang out with non-business friends?

I do want financial independence someday, and I AM working toward that every day in small ways, by saving and investing. But I also want a LIFE. I want to say that I knew my family and they knew me. That's more important than paying off my mortgage or being a 'middle-class millionaire'.

Thanks for a great post!

Guest's picture

I have fallen into the "tomorrow" trap so many times, always with similar consequences. I have swayed from one end of the spending spectrum to the other, but always telling myself either I'll pay that off later, or I'll start my retirement savings when ..., or I'll have "extra" money someday.

This is a well crafted post that cuts to the heart of the matter!

Guest's picture

I loved this article Nora. Sometimes people don't know which goals to tackle first or just choose to ignore it completely.

Guest's picture

I stopped saying "someday" and "tomorrow" a while ago. If you want to do something, try and say "today". Or take steps towards doing it, today. I'm well-educated, I have great job experience, I live in a country with great social programs (Canada) so there are many safety nets to help out in times of adversity. I'm also healthy (for now) so even if I lost my job tomorrow, I could lift boxes to make money.

But we all die. And we don't know when. I have four young children and a lovely wife. I'd rather spend time with them, or spend money on them now, than spend all of my time "planning for tomorrow". Tomorrow might not come for some of us.

It is a balance of course. That's why I liked your post today. Thanks for your words - Brett

Mark P. Cussen's picture

Great article, Nora! I'm always inspired by your fearless attitude and willingness to take responsibility for your own destiny.

Mark P. Cussen, CFP, CMFC

Guest's picture
Miranda

A great reminder that we need to start NOW to change how we do things. You can always find a reason to put things off til tomorrow, and since tomorrow never actually arrives, you can put them off indefinitely. Great post on why we need to just do it today!

Guest's picture
sylrayj

Tomorrow is a euphemism for “I can’t think about that right now”.

Nora, I love that quote, and I hope you don't mind if I post it in my journal. It's not just relevant to finances... Right now, I can't think about trying to renew my passport and clean the house and learn the local education laws and become an expert in learning disabilities and figure out how to use up everything I've stored in the freezer and sort out all these papers waiting for me and keep my toddler from destructing the house too much and improve my health and probably another dozen things I can't remember right now. :P My current plan is to assemble the big list of things I can't think about yet, work out how I'll find time to be able to think about them, and give each their proper consideration in turn. Hopefully, I won't have to wait until my sweetling is in Kindergarten to find the chance!

Nora Dunn's picture

Thanks for the comments, all!

And certainly sylrayj, feel free to quote me - I'm flattered. Hopefully you will provide a link back too...(smiles)! 

Kate Luther's picture

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was teach myself to live in the "now" instead of waiting for tomorrow. Great post! :)

Guest's picture
ari

wah.. NO comment