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When I was in high school, I worked for my aunt and uncle, who owned a collectibles shop.  At the time, figurines such as Precious Moments and Hummel were very popular, and their store became one of the more popular area destination for collectible enthusiasts.

Since most of the stuff was breakable and there was stock in the back room of many items, we would get the item from the back and unwrap it for the customer to look at while they were ringing up.  Occasionally, a customer would find something that they didn't like about what they were buying.  Often paint was incorrect or maybe they would discover a small chip.  They would point out the defect and they'd ask for a different one.  Assuming we had more, we were happy to oblige.

Over the years of working there, I noticed an interesting behavior that, I would estimate 90% of customers were guilty of.  When we unwrapped the replacement piece, they would look only at the spot where they had previously discovered the defect.  If the first one had a chip on the back, they'd take the new one, look at the back, and finding no chip, give it back with the OK.

This puzzled me because, with that course of action, they neglected to look at the new piece in its entirety.  If there happened to be a chip in another location on the new piece, chances are they would have missed it, simply because their mind had zeroed in on the spot where the defect was in the original piece.

Many of us can get similarly focused on a problem with our finances.  If something goes wrong with our finances, it's absolutely correct to focus on that and fix the problem, but don't make the mistake of assuming everything else is OK.  Even if it was before.

The lesson here is to focus on your finances as a whole.  Sure, you want to focus on the problem spots, but if you look only at the problem spots from the past, you might miss warning signs of potential problems in other spots.

Here are some areas where this could potentially apply:

  • Just because your 401(k) had a great return last year, don't assume you shouldn't look at the allocations.
  • Just because your credit card payments deducted every month without fail for two years, don't assume they came out on the date they have every month.  Make sure to check.
  • Just because your cable company has never made a billing error before, don't just toss the bill in the trash.  Make sure everything looks correct.

I'm sure there are others and I'd love to hear your input.

Bottom line: Don't get tunnel vision when it comes to your finances.  There are potential cracks or chips all over the place, so make sure to give a good look to all areas.