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What My Recent Tooth Extraction Taught Me About Money

Written by Neal Frankle - 3 Comments

What My Recent Tooth Extraction Taught Me About Money

If you’ve never had a tooth extracted before, shut your eyes and imagine it.

After pulling and pushing on one of your pearly whites, an otherwise very kind person sticks pliers inside your face. She shifts her body weight and with all the strength she has, she pulls, tugs, yanks and cranks on your tooth until your body releases it.

Of course, the pain has been dulled by novocaine but you know full well what’s going on. And your brain tells you exactly how much pain should be feeling.

The sounds of the drill.

The hammer blows to your tooth.

That brisk cracking sound when the tooth finally comes out.

All these sounds (plus the perspiration dripping from your dentist’s brow from exertion) scare the daylights out of you and, even though you are heavily medicated, you suffer.

These are experiences you were never meant to deal with but you will if you don’t take care of your teeth. Trust me, I know.

After going through 4 root canals and a pile of money, my tooth decided to retaliate. It mustered all the pain it could and socked it to me one more time. That’s when my doc put a contract out on the tooth and reached for the pliers.

I bring this up because it relates perfectly well with finances even though the connection might not be totally obvious.

You see, as I was sitting in that chair being cut on like a Christmas ham, I had time to consider how I got into the situation in the first place. While I do take pride in my brushing and flossing skills, I was a dental dummy when I was younger. I chewed on ice and cracked my tooth many many years ago and that’s what set up this entire torturous trial.

And that past mistake, even though I made it many years ago, came back to haunt me in spades. I wasn’t innocent because I did it to myself. But I didn’t deserve that kind of pain. I deserved a better pain-free life. I owed it to myself to take action and fix the problem.

Do you see the connection with finances?

Even though you may not be facing the financial equivalent of having your body being torn tooth from face, you might be under other pressures.

You might be unemployed and under real financial stress.

Maybe you’re looking for way to get out of debt because you’re in over your head.

Maybe you’re facing retirement without having saved enough.

Whatever your struggle is, there are lessons to be learned from my experience at the dentist:

1. Don’t look for scapegoats

When I was sitting in that chair, I ran though the litany of dentists who had a chance to help me but obviously didn’t do a good job. That was a waste of time. What I needed to think about was my own mistakes.

Let’s turn the tables for a minute. Let’s say your in debt and have credit problems. Do you blame someone else for your bad credit score? Are you pointing the finger at someone or are you taking responsibility?

2. Don’t beat yourself up

While you do need to take responsibility for your situation, it’s a waste of time to berate yourself for the challenges you face. You messed up just like I did, and neither one of us can undo that. It’s a waste of time and energy to dwell on the past.

And while you’re at it, don’t let anyone else try to stick it in your face. You made mistakes. You’re human just like everyone else. If your spouse doesn’t get it, that’s his or her problem. Own up to the problem but focus on financial solutions rather than blame.

3. Weigh the alternatives

In my case, there were no alternatives. I had to get that tooth removed. Hopefully, you’ll have more choices than I did. If you’re in debt, how can you spend less money? Is there a way to earn more even if it means getting a second job? Can you refinance your debt using lower cost alternatives? Make a list of all the actions you can take to make a bad situation better.

4. Prioritize and implement

When you’re faced with a long list of action steps, it’s easy to get stuck and procrastinate. Don’t think about getting out of the problem you’re faced with. Think about taking things one step at a time – just follow the steps you outlined above.

Set a timeframe to complete each of these steps and get to work. If, for example, you need to refinance your mortgage, it may seem like a huge task. But break it down into manageable steps and take action. Focus on one step and one step only. Once it’s completed, think about the next step.

5. Accountability

If you have lousy teeth, you automatically have accountability. The pain will crescendo, and you’ll end up in the chair just like me. There is no escape. Ultimately, the physical pain became my accountability partner and he held me responsible.

Who is your accountability partner? Who are you going share your list with? When? My strong recommendation is to meet (either in person or on the phone) with your accountability partner every month. This is invaluable and I’ll never stop harping on this. I just had my review with my accountability partner and we determined that I need more term life insurance.

You’d think that I’d know how much I need since I’m in the business but I realized I needed more only because I have a person I’m accountable to. We set up a timeframe for me to complete this transaction, and I got it done. Without my partner, I would have procrastinated.

In summary, if you’re having financial trouble, don’t just accept it as if there’s nothing you can do. You can take action and improve the situation. Accept responsibility and then move on and take action. Focus on one action step at a time and get it done with the help of an accountability partner.

Now go out there and get to work. Oh, and while you’re at it… Make sure to floss and brush.

Published on December 9th, 2010 - 3 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is a Certified Financial Planner in Los Angeles whose goal is to help people improve their finances and find balance in life. He covers these topics at his personal blog Wealth Pilgrim.

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3 Responses to “What My Recent Tooth Extraction Taught Me About Money”

  1. 1
    Steve Says:

    Please learn to use paragraphs. Yes, I am going to keep posting this nitpick.

  2. 2
    Dangerous Dan Says:

    And never, ever whine.

  3. 3
    BG Says:

    “After going through 4 root canals and a pile of money, my tooth decided to retaliate.”

    I likely would’ve had it pulled after being told I needed a second root canal. Dentists love it when people spend $6,000 trying to save a tooth that has no chance.

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