Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Money, Fewer Problems?

Why does every problem (mine and yours) seem really complicated only because there is no extra money to throw at it? Recently I heard someone say that throwing money at problems does not solve them. But I can readily think of at least half a dozen people whose lives would not seem to be messy failures if they just had more money.

For instance, the young man who lives with his grandmother, and is decried by older family members for not having a life, etc. All he needs is enough income to rent an apartment (or share one), and instantly, his status in the family will improve. He will no longer be viewed as a problem. Aunts and grandmothers will no longer call his mother and harangue her about him. And outside the family, his new independence will make him more attractive to others. Girls will date him. Boys will date him. Whatever. He might actually start to have a life.

Or what about the elderly single lady (and most elderly people are women, and most of them are single, because you men are fragile beings who die young) who never had much income, and now must live with other family members to pool meager resources? If she had more money coming in, she could have the dignity of her own home, or better respect in the shared home because she could stay there out of family togetherness, not dire need. And she could afford to go off on a vacation away from her family members, thus reducing the stress of litter-mates returning to a shared nest after a lifetime of making their own choices: Brillo versus S.O.S. Miracle Whip versus Hellmans’. Oreos versus Hydrox. You get the picture. There’s even the way the paper towels and toilet paper rolls are hung to bicker over. A bit more money, and they’d be able to laugh at their different tastes and habits.

It works similarly in other relationships, though perhaps not as tidily. The spouse who seems to constantly be buying new clothes would not be criticized at home if there was an obvious cause and effect of wearing new clothes to work and staying employed or getting promoted. My friend who keeps buying the latest little technology gadgets is forgiven if the tweets he generates land him a media deal. The person who contributes to a 401(k) even though she is in serious credit card debt would be told she has foresight—if only she wasn’t in debt. These are indirect benefits, sometimes long-term benefits, and when money is tight, personal choices and stylistic differences cause relationship friction. If there’s plenty of money, only control freaks still care.

And yet...we all know that most people claim they’d be well set if they just had a little more income. But studies show that when someone gets a raise in income, the tendency is to increase spending on all fronts. The person now earns more but owes more, too, whether in additional debt or in new obligations. So, according to the behavioral scientists, I’m dead wrong about money solving any problems. After all, the kid living in his grandmother’s basement needs to put down the video game controller and leave the house and find a job. Giving him the money to launch a future does not automatically give him the courage to live his life.

But I still am teased by the idea that with just a little more money, so many thorny relationship issues would be smoothed out.


EilisFlynn said...

From what I've seen, unfortunately, more money = more ways to waste it. (I worked on Wall Street, and saw an awful lot of ways that huge salaries and bonuses went down the drain!).

Anonymous said...

If more money doesn't help, you could also try more high explosives. Very useful in handling foreclosed properties.