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‘I want you to feel bad about what you’ve done’

Larry Winget doesn't mince words. Take, for instance, people who don't pay their bills on time. "They lack integrity. Period."
Personal Finance Tough Love
Larry Winget pretty much sums up his philosophy in large type on the cover of his latest book.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Larry Winget doesn't mince words. Take, for instance, people who don't pay their bills on time. "They lack integrity. Period."

With a brash, direct style, the author and motivational speaker says our own behavior is the source of our financial, career and personal problems.

Getting your finances in order is also straightforward, according to Winget, who believes that a hefty dose of personal responsibility goes a long way toward solving problems.

Winget aims his message at people who've already made a few mistakes. "I'm not good with the young crowd," he admits. "I need a guy who's screwed his life up and gone 'Holy crap! I need to fix something now.'"

In his latest book, "People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It," (Gotham Books) Winget provides a few good laughs amid some constructive advice. He moves from "The Ten Ways People Sabotage Their Success" (and are thus idiots) to a chapter of advice on career, money and even fashion — which might seem surprising from a man who favors brightly colored, embroidered Western shirts.

While he acknowledges he may not appeal to the sensitive or easily offended, he hopes to offer encouragement that problems can be solved, if people take action.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Winget shared some of his philosophy:

Q: You say it is easy to succeed, to take care of your finances and to reach other goals. How can you say that?

A: I really don't emphasize easy as much as simple, and I do think there is a difference. Everything in life comes down to simple things. If you want to lose weight, all you have to do is eat less and exercise more. If you want to have money, earn more and spend less. That's all it takes. I do sum up the book by saying what's easy to do is just as easy not to do. It's easy not to take action. I think people are attracted to hard solutions for one reason: If they don't make it, they have an excuse for failure. When you hit them over the head with the simple approach, you don't leave them a way out.

Q: Why do you think the "tough love" approach is effective?

A: I think that we are tired of sort of the hold-hands approach. People are scared, they're desperate. You can't stand around and hold hands and sing kumbaya and think the world is going to be a better place. They're just not seeing that be effective in their life. Sooner or later they kind of remember what their grandparents probably told them: Life's tough.

And I'm big on remorse. I want you to feel bad about what you've done. I want you to know there are consequences for bad behavior, and you need to experience the consequences, otherwise you're just going to repeat the bad behavior.

Q: You maintain that people's financial lives are a reflection of their choices, but don't you think that people make unconscious choices?

A: They don't make that connection. When you reflect back to people ... that the reason they have a crappy credit score is because they never bothered to pay their bill on time, and that the reason they didn't pay their bill on time is because they lack integrity, they're amazed.

Q: But what about people who don't understand what they were signing, like those involved in the mortgage crisis?

A: I'm sorry, it was written down. I've looked at the contracts that people have said, "They duped me." They just screwed themselves on this thing. I don't have a whole lot of patience with the predatory lender thing. Yeah it applies in some cases, but I think that the percentage of people who actually experienced predatory lenders is small compared to the people who just bought more than they could afford. They tried to live the dream with no plan on how they were going to adjust their lifestyle so they could make the payments when they did go up.

One of the reasons we're in trouble in a lot of different areas is because consequences are not real and enforced. We made it too easy to get credit and we made it too easy to not pay that credit back.

Q: The holiday season showed us people are not spending like they used to. Do you think that they have gotten the message?

A: I really do think people are panicked. But good will come out of all this bad. For the first time people understand they have to get in control of their finances, that they just can't credit card their way through life. Another good thing is we're actually going to loan people money based on their ability to repay that money, which we didn't in the past.

Q: What do you tell people who are in over their heads?

A: One of the things typically people do is they start too late, and that they don't open up lines of communication with their creditors. You've got to get on the phone and start talking to people. I believe creditors right now are more willing to work with people than they believe. But you can't duck people's calls, hide from them, and throw the letters in the trash.