I hear and see a lot of people’s financial problems. Once I started writing for this blog, suddenly it seemed like money talk was everywhere. Some people yell their financial problems into their cell phones so loudly that everyone around can hear. Sometimes people at work talk too loudly in the break room or in someone else’s cubicle. For some reason, certain acquaintances view me as their financial confessor and tell me all their problems. And some people post their problems on the Internet for all to see. I feel for those who have genuine hardships and, when asked, I try to give the best advice I can. But when I hear and see financial “duh” moments, it’s really difficult to bite my tongue and say nothing.
What’s a financial “duh” moment, you ask? It’s an idea or statement or way of living that is so financially careless or unsound that the listener just shakes their head and wonders, “What in the world is this person thinking?” I’ll admit that what constitutes a “duh” moment is subjective. My idea of financial stupidity might be perfectly reasonable to another person. But some things are so over the top that I believe most people with a basic knowledge of money and math would consider them “duh” territory.
Just this week I overheard several winners in the “duh” contest. (Names, places, genders, etc. have been changed to protect the guilty.) The first was a woman in line at a department store talking to another woman about her finances. From the way they interacted, I assumed they knew each other.
First Woman: “This is the year we’re going to pay off all our debt.”
Second Woman: “That’s a good goal.”
First Woman: “Yeah, we owe thousands.” Rolls Eyes “But you know how it is, you have to pay to play.”
Second Woman (Looking uncomfortable and wanting to change the subject): “So, how was your Christmas?”
First Woman: “Oh, it was great! Hubby and I made a deal: Since we’re going to pay off all our debt this year, we could have one last hog wild Christmas. We decided if we tacked on some extra debt it wouldn’t really matter since it’s getting paid off anyway. We didn’t put any limits on our spending, so we bought everyone a ton of presents.”
Second Woman: “That’s nice.” (She’s hoping to end this conversation now, but no such luck.)
First Woman: “It was. He bought me a car! Can you believe it? A car for Christmas. We had so much fun watching everyone unwrap their presents. I bought tons of stuff for the kids. Games, a Wii, clothes. That’s why I’m here now. Some of the clothes didn’t fit so I’m exchanging them.”
Second Woman: “Uh-huh.”
First Woman: “Yeah. Of course now we have to pay it all off, but it was fun. We’re really going to cut back this year and get our acts together.
Second woman shakes her head, gives me a half smile and shrugs her shoulders as if to say, “What are you gonna do?”
I know what you’re thinking, but I am not making this up. This woman really did say that since they were going to pay off all their debt that it wouldn’t matter if they went nuts at Christmas and added to the pile. I can see where the warped logic comes in. If you’re paying it all off, what’s a little more, right? But the problem is (and what I wanted to shout at this person in the store) that adding to the pile of debt is counterproductive. I don’t know how much they had to pay off before, but I’m certain that, with a new car and going hog wild on presents for everyone, the total is now many thousands more and will require much more time and discipline to get rid of. And I’d bet that the old debt and the new debt will still be around next Christmas (plus some more) because this woman was not committed to the plan. In the same moment that she says they’re really cutting back this year, she’s off to check out the sweaters. I have a feeling that this “duh” moment will last until there is no more credit left and the alternatives become bankruptcy and foreclosure. Please, if this was you in that store, think about the fact that, 1) You’re digging yourself a giant hole and, 2) People like your friend aren’t really comfortable listening to you brag about your debt as if it’s a child you’re proud of.
Another winner in the “duh” sweepstakes was the man talking on his cell phone while using public transportation. He was speaking so loudly that I and the others traveling with him had no choice but to overhear his end of a rather personal conversation. He was speaking to someone-probably a friend or business associate-and bragging about how much he would deduct on this coming year’s tax return. He was also bragging about how he wasn’t really entitled to most of the deductions but, “The IRS has never caught me before, so I’m sure they won’t this year. I haven’t paid taxes in years, not since I found out how to work the system.” My fellow passengers and I exchanged smirks and glances, probably secretly hoping that one of us worked for the IRS and could bust him. If this was you, I’d be very careful what I admitted to in a public place. You never know who is listening and when you might end up in jail. Of course, the best course of action would be to get legal, but I suspect that’s not going to happen.
Another person posted on an Internet forum about how they had no money, were facing foreclosure and likely bankruptcy, could barely afford food and heat, but yet they were going on a planned vacation in spite of it all. The trip would use up the remainder of their savings. The total cost for the trip was projected to be around $5,000. The reasoning was that since times were going to get so hard in the near future, they might as well have one last fun fling before it all came crashing down. They wanted to give the kids something good to remember and have a family vacation before the kids got too old. Um, hello? Duh moment here. If you have $5,000 in savings, why not use that to keep the house a bit longer or eat? What’s the point of giving the kids good memories if they’re going to be homeless soon? I think most kids would choose a house or food over memories. If this was you, please use the money for necessities. The vacation can be taken later when you’re on solid financial footing.
The final “duh” award this week goes to the woman who was standing in line at a fast food restaurant talking loudly into her cell phone. She was trying to conduct some bit of financial business and had to give her name and Social Security Number to the person on the other end. She did, enunciating every word and digit very clearly and loudly over her phone so everyone in the restaurant could hear. If there were any would-be identity thieves in that restaurant, how long do you think it took them to rack up a mountain of debt in her name? If this was you, I hope you got lucky this time and there were no criminals around. In the future, be careful what you say and where you say it.
Remember, if you’re having a financial “duh” moment in public, chances are there’s someone listening. You might be making other people uncomfortable. You might be seen as crazy, your information might be used against you, or you might end up in jail. So choose what you say carefully and think about what you’re admitting to. You don’t want it to come back and bite you later. Don’t make me give you the next “duh moment” award.
Image courtesy of jaxxon