26 February 2007

Money Misery

So she turns to Me and says "If I save my money, it doesn't do anything for me."

My brain hummed. A sad tune, in fact.

She went on blithely. "It's better to spend it on something (my daughter) wants or something I want than to just have it sit there and do nothing."

Those of you who agree, please raise your hands. Uh-huh. You can put them down now so you can wring them the rest of your life in poverty. Nancy--the non-saver--is deeply in debt. Loaded down with debt while she was employed, product of credit card abuse, "instant" loans and an "I wanna!" lifestyle, Nancy hated her job so much she eventually had a physical breakdown...and lost her job. Nancy's crushing debt led to losing her house to foreclosure, forcing her to move in with her mom.

By Our local standards, Nancy was upper middle-class: Salary in the mid-40 thousand range, with full health, vacation and retirement benefits and she once owned her home. She mortgaged it--twice--for expansions because she and her daughter "needed the space." Birthday parties ran to several thousand dollars...each. Nancy was proud of her streak of going to Disney World every year for 7 years, though she was paying off trip #4 just as she started trip #7. Now unemployed and with her health compromised, Nancy was talking to me about her future and what she could do to get out of debt and on the road to "being comfortable."

I'll save you excessive details. You know what she thinks of savings. Cut up her credit cards? No. They are her "income." [That was her word: income. Do you get the sense I'm wasting My time here?] Credit counseling? "That's for people who don't know how to make money," Nancy says. When I point out she's in the same boat as "the losers," she gets miffed. "I lost my job! I didn't make myself poor!"

Obviously, Nancy has some major reality gaps. And maybe it's none of My business how she spends her money or on what, except that she came to Me for advice. What irritates Me here is that Nancy is not atypical in her attitude about money and its role in her life: She is, in fact, a majority of Us, if not the majority of Us.

* We can't tolerate saving money because "It just sits there" instead of being in Our hands buying Us the latest crap served up by Almighty Commerce.

* We treat credit as income, using it to expand Our lifestyles as if no bill will ever come due. A bigger credit limit is a raise! An instant loan is a bonus! A second mortgage is just like selling the house only you get to keep it!

* Admit We have a problem? Uh-uh! We don't have a problem...that spending more can't cover up. We are insecure and miserable, so We buybuybuy, especially what others are buying. We are ignorant--idiotic, even--about what money is and what it can and cannot do. But do We try to learn about it? Hell, no. Our "knowledge" about money is most often limited to dreaming lottery numbers or seeing number combinations in license plates and receipts.

* The rich? We hate them, because they are successful, because they have what We don't, because they've achieved what We can't begin to imagine doing. We hate them because We aren't like them. But We secretly admire those who've "rigged" the system to their benefit, those gansos who slide on oily ethics and achieve ill-gotten gains. Think I'm wrong? What else explains Our tolerance of the corrupt and their corruption if not for the fact that We--in the deepest corner of Our souls--want to become like them?

Add all this up and you have a society of wannabes wallowing in debt, miserable through and through and incapable of seeing their way to a better way of Life. They'd rather spend for now than save for later, dig a hole in the present rather than build a future and prefer to spend hours dissecting the latest ganso misadventure than learning from a successful person what he or she did that all of Us can do.

I'm pretty sure I won't see Nancy again, but I'm pretty sure that ten years from now, she'll still be living with her mother, in debt and carrying her enormous weight of self-inflicted misery around like an anchor.

And so will most of Us.

How bitter a future do We need to see before We decide to change?

The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually her whole argument begs the question: Why do you think saving is "money sitting there doing nothing?" It is not, in fact, sitting there at all. It is capital invested by others and a premium paid to you for that privilege.

Buying stuff isn't an investment, of course, unless you can monetize your personal happiness at a rate higher than prime *haha*, like when I'm happy, I'm 7.5% more productive. So you do your little calculation and realize that big screen TV gives you so much joy that you are 7.5% more productive in your other endeavors. Then that TV is an investment.

Wouldn't that be a hoot.

Sadly, most purchases are just overhead and do not contribute in any pecuniary way to a person's financial well-being, quite the contrary.

Some people just won't get it, I know, Gil.

I still can't figure out why microeconomics is not taught in high school.