Sunday, January 17, 2010

Debtors Who Are Clueless--And Scary

I just saw a television show called "Til Debt Do Us Part." Two episodes, back-to-back. What amazed me, really floored me, was how casually two different young women approached their debt. They claimed they did not know why they had no money. And on salaries of $45k a year, not including their men's incomes, they felt entitled to spend on anything and everything they saw or wanted. One of them was even living rent-free, but still managed to get deeply into debt. Even after family paid off her debts, she racked them up again.

This is crazy behavior. But the frightening thing was that both of these women behaved in pretty much the same manner: as if a credit card was their license to spend. And they were unapologetic about it. There was very clear self-will at work. Both women also browbeat their husbands, keeping them from exercising any decision power over how the household money was spent. The host took the men to task for using domestic peace as the excuse for enabling their women to overspend. But in my opinion, the women were the ones who needed a sharp dose of reality.

How can people be so clueless about their own money that they do not notice they spend thousands more per month than they bring in? What part of the brain shuts off to allow this craziness? And how can we turn it back on and save these people and others from an endless cycle of debt and rescue, debt and rescue?

I’m asking because I don’t have the answer. People with chronic debt problems must wall off their fears, their shame and guilt, from their daily lives and thoughts. How else can a person with $100,000 in debt dare to charge another unnecessary $20? You’d need a powerful firewall, but more and more, it seems as if people in our society have just that. Perhaps they feel no shame at all. Perhaps they believe that they will always be rescued by others, or by new legislation, or by bankruptcy, or by windfalls. Perhaps their future plan is to win the lottery. I don’t know.

What is obvious to me is that too many people are brazenly selfish even while behaving in a self-destructive manner. What the host pointed out was that if these people continued to spend as they did, within a few years they would owe hundreds of thousands of dollars. More than a house costs, and yet they would not have a house. They are ruining their future while indulging their todays. Big time. They’re all living like the grasshopper in the fable. But winter does eventually come, and where is the preparedness we need to survive tough times?

Don’t we all have moments when we are these silly people? When we know we’re behaving foolishly with money and credit, but we do it anyway? Yes, and that’s what is scariest of all. You don’t have to be perpetually in denial as these two women were to be in scary, intractable debt. All you need to do is have flashes of ignoring your reality. A few minutes here and there, and you can throw away another few hundred or thousand dollars without even noticing.

It’s got to stop. We’re the richest country in the world, with more individuals having significant money beyond a bare subsistence living than in any civilization that ever existed. And we’re throwing our wealth away on trifles.

4 comments: said...

You didn't seem to notice your own metaphor. The story of the grasshopper exists because there have always been people like this. They are stock characters. They show up in Plautus. Everyone always looks at them and asks how do they live with themselves. Sadly they often end very badly.

Hopeful Lily said...

Alas, I am all too aware that people like this have always existed. That doesn't stop me from wanting them to have a better life. said...

Their life is their problem, it's the extent that they can damage my life that bothers me. I'm not just being mean, I have to save my own butt. This is one of the fundamental issue with what was wrong with the banks and what caused the melt down. Banks lent and lent money to these people via credit cards and now I have to pay huge interest rates because they defaulted. Instead of firing the people who made these loans, they give them bonuses and raise my rates again. Makes one lose faith in the whole system

DenisCollis03 said...
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