I have a counterpart in the States, currently residing in the UK. (actually, I’m flattering myself by referring to him as a counterpart. He’s years further into this privileged business of helping people take charge of their money than I am.) Steve Rhode recently posted a thoughtful blog post. He asks the question: are you functionally poor, even though you have plenty of money? Are you debting yourself out of the life you could have, if you paid more attention to your money?
Have you ever noticed that society seems to define people with money troubles as only those that can’t make the monthly payment? What about the functionally poor. Those people that make enough money to pay their bills but pay so little attention to their spending or finances that they are never late, but never ahead either.
A person can be a debtor without making friends with the collection people. It is possible to do so horribly with your finances that you rob yourself of life opportunities and fun and after all isn’t that the major consequence of debt, lost opportunity?
It is interesting that people see no problem with hiring live-in caregivers to raise their children, personal chefs to cook meals, gardeners to manicure the lawn and housekeepers to help keep things tidy. But when it comes to our finances; who keeps those neat and clean for us?
People of wealth have financial professionals that watch over the books for them and keep things headed in the right direction but people in the rest of society feel that professional money management is unnecessary and an expense not worth paying for. I wonder if that belief is why they can’t make their money go further and have to work harder for it?
In the past, the daily money management in the U.S. or the AllPaid approach in the U.K. has worked best for busy professionals and attorneys, doctors and police officers. The lawyers and medical doctors often worked long hours and just wanted their finances managed well. They also understand the value of a professional service. Police officers on the other hand, I guess it is just a stress elimination thing for them. Coming home after a hard shift dealing with bad people, who wants to deal with the bills after that?
So what shall we call this concept of debting without poverty? Anyone got a good name for it? I’m open to suggestions.
The major problem with debt is not that you get collection calls and a bad credit report. Nope, the big problem is that debt robs you of life. When you go into debt or spend recklessly, you have to earn more and all you are doing is sacrificing future labor to make up for your financial management inefficiencies. At the end of the day all that is lost is the opportunities and possibilities that you would have had if you kept a grip on money that need not have been spent.
Now I’m not talking about labeling expenses like cut flowers as a ridiculous expense, in fact, quite the contrary. If you can use money to bring joy into your life then that’s a great use of money. But in my belief, unconscious and self-medicated shopping does not fall into the same category.
When we overspend in an effort to hide or medicate ourselves from the underlying issues, that just becomes like yet another bottle to crawl in to. It’s an escape and a numbing agent and not a bringer of joy and happiness. As one client told me once, “Shopping is my heroin and the credit card is the needle.” Oh so true.
Another example of this concept of debting without poverty is the therapist that was so busy with her practice that when I examined her bills in detail I found out that she was paying double for a home alarm service, paying for satellite television she was not receiving, was on a high rate long distance plan and was spending way too much for her mobile phone because she was using additional minutes.
When I pointed out all of this to her she kept saying that she had not paid attention to these issues or even looked at her bills because she was so busy earning money to make ends meet. The amount of money she wasted was huge, but she was not delinquent on her bills.
So let’s stop thinking about debt as delinquency and instead focus on debt as a sacrifice of future life energy. If you could, wouldn’t you rather work less so you can take longer vacations or have more time to do the things you want? I would.
You can be a debtor without poverty. Are you?