I hear this question perhaps more than any other. “Why is it that, no matter what we do, there is never any money left at the end of the month?”

I typically answer this question in one of two ways. First, “what is so magical about month-end that you think there a pile of cash on the counter left for you?” And second, “who in this world truly wants you to succeed with your money?”

No money left

Let’s go deeper on both of these responses.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s we had a society without plastic. Cash was king. It was pretty straight-forward to know whether you were getting ahead in any particular month. If there was cash left over, you were a saver. If there was no money left over, you weren’t. Consumer lending was virtually non-existent outside of mortgages – and most people were able to pay off their mortgage off within 10 years or so. A month was a meaningful time period to determine if you were living within your means – especially when the mortgage was payable once a month.

Flip ahead to today. How many access points do you have to your money? You have cash, cheques, debit cards and multiple banking and investment accounts where you can move money electronically at a click of a mouse. And what about money that’s not yours? Credit cards, lines of credit, mortgages, home equity lines, family loans, term loans… the list goes on. What is the relevance of a ‘month’ when you owe $23,000 and you’re paid on opposite weeks than your mortgage payment? If you think you’re getting ahead because your chequing account has $3,000 in it, in all likelihood your Visa bill owing in 4 days is $3,500.

Money has become extremely complicated. The timing of direct deposits and direct debits from your chequing account has that balance moving around like never before. The use of credit cards makes things even more complicated because of the varying amounts owing each month, and the ease of access to credit. Without a system in place to ensure you’re getting ahead, you may feel like you’re treading water for years.

Let’s move to the second response: “Who really cares about your money success?”

In a capitalist society we have a free-market system where businesses live and die based on supply and demand. If a business is unable to sell product at a reasonable profit margin they go out of business. Every business wants your money. And the best paid people in this country are those who do a very good job of getting it – think retail, auto, housing and financial services. The objective of a marketing professional is to influence consumer behaviour to do something that is sought by the company (respond positively, fill out an application, make a purchase, say ‘yes’ to a sale or promotion). There is nothing under-handed or wrong about that premise, but there is a presumption that the ‘buyer must beware’ of their actions and take responsibility for their decisions.

Unfortunately, most people do not know how scientific and brilliant marketers are today. How many times have you found yourself in the parking lot of a Costco asking yourself “How did I end up with two grocery carts full of stuff? I just needed a couple of items today.” That is great marketing at work.

When I go into schools to teach about the subject of marketing, I often ask the question, “What is better? One pair of shoes for $20 or two pairs of shoes for $30?” Think about your answer in terms of needs and wants (and how many feet you have).

Companies want a piece of your wallet – any piece. They do not care about your financial status, and have no vested interest in you succeeding financially. You need to take ownership of your wallet and do all you can to win this battle. Your future self depends on it.