Don’t Tell Me Your Money Problems

I work at home and see a lot of neighborhood moms as I go about my daily errands. The other day, I bumped into a woman I have known for several years because our sons have played on the same teams and for a while they attended the same school. After chatting for a few minutes in the grocery store, a concerned look came over her face and she asked me whether I liked our son’s high school.

My son attends a local parochial high school. We very much believe that it is a better school than the local public high school. A significant majority of my sons classmates will go on to attend prestigious four year colleges and universities as compared to a much smaller percentage of local public high school students. That alone is reason enough for us to enroll our son in the parochial high school. We believe we have made a good educational decision.

Of course, attending a private or parochial school comes with a cost. My wife and I have to make sacrifices in order to afford the $10,000+ per year tuition and costs required by my son’s school – costs that are more than double the cost of attending a public university in Florida. Nevertheless we believe it is worth the cost to help ensure that our son gets a good start on his academic and professional life.

The woman with whom I was speaking in the grocery store agrees that the parochial high school is a much better school than the public high school and she would very much like to send her children there. Unfortunately, she lamented, she just did not believe that she and her husband could afford such a commitment. I smiled understandingly, agreed that the costs are significant and offered comfort that the public high school still has some fine students.

Then I excused myself to continue my shopping and walked away in silent disgust.

I do not sit in judgment on any decisions that other parents make on the behalf of their children, and I certainly do not criticize decisions that are based on financial health. If a family cannot afford “better” schools or if the local public schools are good, there are valid reasons for attending public school. What rubs me wrong, however, is when parents agree that certain fundamentally important decisions should be made for their children and then they refuse to make the limited sacrifices that are necessary to execute those decisions.

The woman with whom I was speaking in the grocery store knows that I have been unemployed for several months and that my wife and I are still finding ways to pay for our son’s tuition (and for the tuition of another son at a different parochial school). By comparison, her husband has a good job. She also drives a new $70,000 vehicle, always has her nails perfectly manicured and has a wardrobe that is always being filled with new clothes. She carries designer handbags and generally leads a life of comfort. Her husband drives a similarly expensive car. They would have to cut back only marginally to make another $10,000 per year a manageable expense.

But they do not cut back. They constantly try to “keep up with the Joneses,” in a suburban environment where it seems that every family is trying to one up the next with expensive cars, pavers for driveways and luxury vacations. Even in a down economy, I see a tremendous amount of frivolous spending.

And I suppose that is OK if that is how other people want to spend their money, but please do not bring money problems to me if your idea of a problem is really the inability to put the long term benefit of your children ahead of your immediate need for creature comforts. I walked away in disgust from the woman in the grocery store, not because I feel that I should sit in judgment on how she spends her money, but because she admitted to me that sending her son to our parochial high school was in his best interest, and then she lied to us both because she felt that she could not afford to do so.

Do you know people like that? How do you react when you see parents who think they are loving parents make decisions that are less than loving? How would you strike the balance between long term investments in the future of your children and the short term investment in creature comforts?

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18 Responses to Don’t Tell Me Your Money Problems

  1. valerie says:

    I see things like this all the time and it is very frustrating to me as well. It is so hard to bite your tounge at times because of the hypocracy. Not that I am perfect and know ‘the way’ but to echo you… please don’t come to me and whine!

  2. Courtney says:

    People do the same thing to themselves. I worked at a company that had a fantastic 401(k) match. I was shooting the breeze with a coworker during lunch hour and mentioned the 401(k). He casually said, “Oh, I can’t afford to put money away into that thing.”

    At the same time he made that statement, he was surfing the web for the newest $500 sound system for his ultra-enhanced computer system at home.

    I think it’s simply semantics. It’s the same as when people say they don’t “have time” for something. Of course they have time. They just don’t have UNLIMITED time, and they prioritize that task down until it no longer gets done. Money is not quite the same since different people have different amounts, but as you know, how much you spend doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much you make.

    You prioritize an exclusive education for your children above high-priced cars and luxuries. They clearly prioritize cars and luxuries above a private school education. In this particular case, it has nothing to do with affordability. Either it’s semantics (I can’t afford it …after I buy all the things I prioritize above the education), or she feels guilty about not wanting a private school education more than she wants everything else and therefore throws out another excuse.

  3. Onesexylady says:

    My coworker is the same way she cries the blues that she couldn’t afford to further her education. She constantly makes statements to me about how much of a waste of time and money it is to go to school but yet she’s in debt $100,000 off foolishness for her and her boyfriend lol amazing

  4. princessperky says:

    I also get annoyed when I hear folk saying they want something, but refusing to make the sacrifice.

    It is one thing if you do not see the expensive education option as worth it, but entirely different if you feel it is important yet will not find a way.

    The only reason I can stay home, is because my husband and I put that as as priority after food and shelter. nothing else comes before that.

  5. Ann says:

    I’m frequently amazed by what some people consider to be necessities and/or what they consider to be high priorities.

    When I was growing up, I remember my dad choosing where we would live based on the quality of the schools, even though it meant that he had a horrific daily commute. I’d also ride along on a Saturday and watch him visit 4 different banks — they held my college education fun, my brother’s, my parent’s retirement fund and their regular banking. My dad was an engineer and, although he was tops in his field, he didn’t make HUGE bucks, but I learned by watching that you make the most with what you have and plan for a successful future.

    A lot of people have wondered how I could leave corporate and do what I do. Well, I spent my last 10 years in corporate living simply. It didn’t give me a huge cushion, but it was enough, so long as I didn’t fall for any of the keeping up with the Joneses.

    I used to explain to my lower level staff that they couldn’t afford to NOT participate in the 401(k) — where else were they guaranteed a 100% or 50% return on their investment, when the company was doing matches like that! Also, it was just about the only place that you could invest such small amounts of money. Even if they started out at 1% and increased it a bit each time they got a raise, it was better for them than doing nothing.

    Your neighbors have skewed priorities… they also might be some of the people who, in addition to spending up to their limits, have spent beyond and are now strangled by credit card debt. And for what? Do their neighbors really care whether they drive a $30k car or a $70k car? Plus, what are they teaching their children? It’s very sad.

    I noticed an interesting thing, living out here in the country. I live in a very nice neighborhood, but people aren’t ostentatious. I get a kick out of seeing an obviously retired person drive a high-end car out of the garage of what, back in my prior neighborhood, would have been a very modest home. People tend to do their own yardwork until they are physically unable to do it, including gardening and canning and freezing and freely share with others any excess. When I had an accident last fall, these people jumped right in and helped me out with the things I couldn’t do for a while, though they only knew me from talking to me when I was out in my own yard working. Without being kofeeklatchers, they keep an eye on each other and help out.

    I like seeing that those values still exist. And I’m glad that I at least learned some of them from my father’s example. That’s a richer inheritance than any money you can leave your kids with.

  6. justme says:

    the childrens 6 grade class was going to a weekend camp some parents worked hard and raised a lot of money and got the price each parent had to pay down to 15 dollars each
    i was at work and a father of my sons friend came in to my work bought 2 packs of twinkies 2 packs of cigarettes and a coke came to about 12.50 ,i asked if his boy was looking forward to the trip he said no they just could not come up with the 15 dollars!

    I wanted to smack him upside the head , but I did not just said thats too bad and took his money at least he is keeping me in a job

  7. Cheryl B. says:

    We continued to drive our old van to afford tuition at my YD’s parochial school. 3 years after she graduated we are still using the 14 year old van as the “dog car”. I finally bought a used Camry from a customer of DH’s. Fortunately it was about half of what you are quoting. However, my nephew’s parochial grammar school is twice your high schoo. Cost vary from region to region obviously.

  8. disneysteve says:

    This has happened so many times. People say the “can’t afford” something when it is quite obvious why they can’t afford it. I see it every day at work: patients who say they can’t afford their copay or their medication but somehow they can afford to smoke a pack a day or drink a few 6-packs every week or buy lottery tickets or run out and buy World Series hats and t-shirts after the Phillies won recently. Some people are just clueless and/or in denial.

  9. typome says:

    Maybe next time you hear her complaining about the costs of the private school, you could say, “Yeah, we had to cut back on such and such. Have you considered doing the same, maybe sell one of your cars?”

    It’s easy for us who are very mindful of our money to cast people like your neighbor as having poor priorities. But don’t walk away in disgust until you really understand her mindset. Believe it or not, there are people out there who spend mindlessly and genuinely think that that is normal. Most of us have had our “a-ha” moments where we turned our financial lives around, and maybe your neighbor hasn’t reached that point yet.

    Obviously there really are people who have their priorities all screwed up, like the comment about the dad who couldn’t come up with $15 (what the heck?) but let’s reserve the disgust until we fully realize their stories. It didn’t sound like you are close to this woman so you may not know what level she is at with her financial awareness.

  10. baselle says:

    I’m with you. Clearly bad fiscal decisions made with an air of hypocracy frustrate me also. But what really frustrates me along that track is that person’s expectation, somehow, that there is a club of good savers and that we have secret techniques for managing our money. You just know that your neighbor thinks you are a bank robber or you have jigged the system somehow because you make the school payments.

  11. Jules says:

    On a street corner I saw a man today. He looked fresh and well-groomed, but with his cardboard sign, I figured he was homeless. Looking closer at the sign, I noticed it said “Please spare change for Xmas gifts”.

    My heart goes out to all who are in need, especially families with children, but a different sadness and frustration arose from this scene: 1) despite being sure what his situation is (is he completely homeless, without food? or does he just need assistance to purchase holiday presents?), I felt there was a priority shift that wasn’t right. If he was completely homeless, shelter or food should be the top priority. If he was only without money for gifts, then the concept of Christmas is skewed as well. Whatever one’s religious background is, I believe that the most important this is to spend this holiday as well as others with your loved ones. Especially in today’s economy, it seems gifts should not be the prime essence of the holiday. My family has decided to forgo gifts this holiday season to save money and focus just on spending quality time with each other. I know not everyone desires to do that or and others can’t based on the value that is placed on gift giving in their family (gift giving is a good, sweet thing, just not good if finances are limited). I just wish for people to realize that the holidays are not only about gift giving.

  12. This subject amuses me frequently. I do not make a lot of money, but I always make sure I have the things I need, put away savings, and even buy things that I want, but don’t “need”.

    People always ask me how I do it. And say things like ‘they can’t afford new shoes’, but yet they go out every week, and blow all their money on alcohol.

    If you don’t have money for shoes then you certainly do not have the money to do that!

    Some people can’t manage money. It doesn’t matter if they make $20k or $100k a year they will always have the same amount, because they are irresponsible.

  13. Ann says:

    I was reading the comments and thought I’d add another note.

    It’s interesting that, with the recent credit crunch, a number of people are talking about how basic finances need to be added to the curriculum at schools. I asgree — too many kids are not being shown by their parents how to handle money responsibly. They have no idea what the real cost of using a credit card is, if they don’t pay it off completely each month or what it means to save.

    I wonder what the end result of our current economic crisis will be on our children’s spending habits.

  14. Persephone says:

    I too, like Valerie, have to bite my tongue quite a bit when talking to people about their finances. One recent conversation comes to mind. An educated woman I know told me that she had left her well-paying job to figure our something meaningful to do with her life. She said she intended to finance her quest with money from her elderly parents. When I inquired about her parents’ financial situation, she readily admitted, in between sips of a $4.00 latte, that they weren’t wealthy. . . I nearly bit my tongue off.

  15. Ann says:

    Persephone, people like your friend just make me flat out angry! At one point in my career I was a personal financial planner. I saw WAY too many cases where older people couldn’t afford to not work because their kids were bleeding them. Grrrrrr.

    I may have left corporate and gone back to my first love (art) but I planned ahead and certainly did not expect one penny of help from my mother. Kids are supposed to take care of their aging parents, not the other way around!

  16. Orchid says:

    Maybe she was trying to come up with a polite excuse for not sending her child to the “good” school. “We can’t afford it” may sound better in her head than”I don’t think the school is that good.” You never know what she was actually thinking or how her family came to their personal decision regarding what’s best for their family and unique situation. Public schools are expected to have a smaller percentage of students going into a four year college due to the higher number a students and the various backgrounds of the students. I guess there may be some students that would not be able to get into a four year college unless they went to a private school. In that case, I think it’s definitely worth any investment. If your child is advanced, it may be less expensive to have him take courses during his junior and senior year at a local college. That’s what I did and they transferred to my University after I graduated from high school.

  17. Rebecca says:

    Some folks see private school as a flaunting of wealth. Perhaps by saying she couldn’t afford it, she didn’t want to flaunt her wealth in that manner. While I have found children who attend private schools to be better behaved and more engaging than ones who have attended public school, I really feel that many of the folks that I have hired that came from private schools truly lack realistic views of things. They make excellent employees but I’ve yet to find one that I could put in a lead role. Many private schools focus on being followers and not becoming leaders.

  18. Carter says:

    I appreciate your comment. Just reading has made me take a better look at the way I spend money. I think you were right on point. That said, I wasn’t aware of this until I read your post. So here you have insight into something. You have the opportunity to help and encourage this woman. You took the time to write this down and share it on the Internet. It has helped me, maybe others too, thank you. What if you kindly explained to the woman that in order to afford sending your child to a better school your family had to cut back on some luxuries. Then instead of this woman believing she couldn’t afford it she might start to see that it could be possible if she took a better look at how she was spending her money now. I believe it’s always better to give people the benefit of the doubt.

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