A step forward

DH has a relative with money problems.  We won’t go into detail, but let’s just say this relative tends to learn things the hard way.  We used to offer advice, but then realized that ze is finding hir own way at hir own pace and nothing we say (or books we could send) is going to change that.  So we just listen and make appropriate affirmative or laughing sounds depending on the story.  (Like Sally in When Harry Met Sally when her friend, played wonderfully by Carrie Fisher, is like, “He’s never going to leave her.” Sally: “Yes.”  Friend: “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right…”)

Anyhow, this relative’s partner really wanted something expensive.  A piece of stuff.  In the past, the relative would just buy it with a loan.  In the more recent past, the relative would not buy it.  This time the conversation went something like this.

P:  I want it.
R:  We can’t afford it.
P:  You always find the money somehow.
R:  Yeah, by not paying our bills.
P: How about I find the money?
R: I’m listening.
P: This thing costs, what, $X00 and $Y for upkeep. What if I cut down my cigarette smoking and have a garage sale and use that money for it?
R: That sounds like a great idea. We could do that. What if we run out of $Y?
P: Then we’ll just stop using it. We can even get rid of it.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to explain what a major paradigm shift this is for said relatives.  First off, they’re not fighting about it… and there are a lot of underlying issues that they could be fighting about and have fought about in the past.  (Couples counseling really worked!)  Second, they’re getting the idea that there are trade-offs, that money has to come from somewhere.  Third, they’re putting a priority on bill-paying on time over Stuff.  Fourth, they’re thinking creatively and doing something that’s a win-win situation; cutting down on cigarettes could have other positive benefits.  Fifth, they’re planning their spending, and waiting until they can afford it before buying.

Anyway, they made enough from the garage sale and cutting back that they’re getting the thing, and we are very happy for them.  Now if they could just do the same for an emergency fund!

Do you know any folks who have to learn money things the hard way?  How has that turned out?

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28 Responses to “A step forward”

  1. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

    Wonderful !! I love stories like this. You never know if you had some positive influence over their mindset – I bet you did. Baby steps, baby steps. I have a friend that I’ve tried to “help” this same way that has major immediate gratification issues. At one point they came out with “Suze Orman said…” (and Suze Orman had just said what I’ve been saying for a long time). Who knows with people and what stage they’re at, maybe I was like water dripping on a rock and then someone saying it a different way broke through. Those students have to be willing for that teacher to appear.
    But then they recently sold their house and instead of paying off the credit cards with the equity, bought a motorhome. Oh well. Now I just “make appropriate affirmative or laughing sounds” (love that phrase). I had to learn to do that the hard way. :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This family would fit so well with “Dave said” if only they would be willing to listen to Dave. They’re not religious so they don’t like the religious aspect.

      So we wait.

      • Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

        I think the best book for people who are spendy to ease themselves into budgeting is Carole Keefe’s book “How to get what you want with the money you already have”. It’s based a lot more on saving up for things you really really want. Not so much gazelle-like intensity as tortoise like plodding, but better than nothing. If I still had my copy, I’d send it to you since it’s probably out of print. I’d try and do a review of it based on memory, but I can’t really remember it that well apart from that you have to go cash and save your change for something wonderful. Also decrease your regular or normal bills to save up for those things you really want.
        I’ve never listened to Ramsey and just glanced through one of his books last year, but he sounds pretty hard-core deprivation to me which might not work for some people I guess.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s a complicated situation, but they really are Ramsey’s target demographic. A $1000 emergency fund that they replenished would do them so much good.

        But no book is going to change anything, since they won’t read them. Perhaps one day.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    They are really quitting smoking to get the thing? That is great. I will say I would caution against buying something if that is your basis to pay for it since smoking is so tough to beat. (Assuming they were charging it and said ‘well, we just won’t smoke this month and when the bill comes, we will be all set’.)

    What an evolution for your relatives! I hope they can keep it up and even improve!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No… not quitting smoking. Cutting down. They can’t charge anything because they don’t have credit cards (any more… not since the last bankruptcy). DH’s relative did quit smoking years ago… that we really nagged hir about, but hir partner has tried but hasn’t been able to. They had the money in hand when they went to buy the thing.

  3. First Gen American Says:

    I know people like this who’ve filed bankruptcy and it’s not so much that they’ve learned a lesson but that they don’t have as many tools to get themselves in trouble (ie, no credit cards). Also, I think the consequences of not paying utilities are more immediate (your electricity or phone gets shut off) vs charging up credit cards which takes a much longer time to catch up to you.

    It may be un-American, but I think people who have a history of money issues should not be allowed easy access to borrowing. I think the rules about qualifying for loans and credit cards should be made tighter…like it was back in the 80′s when it was actually difficult to get a credit card. If more people were forced to wait until they had money to buy the things they wanted, we’d all be much better off, well, maybe not the banks, but most of the rest of us.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No disagreement here! Though if cc were harder to get, some stores wouldn’t take them and I’d have to use cash again, which would make me sad.

      It does take a while for the utilities/internet/cable to get shut off, especially when the person hot-decks those bills. (This month, we’ll pay off the last three months of A and not pay any of B so that A doesn’t get shut off…)

      • Debbie M Says:

        Ha! Getting the utilities shut off did not teach my dad anything. His problem is optimism. He works for himself and is always just about to get a check or just about to start another job. He spends money he doesn’t have, but it’s all money that he “should” have in time. “A bird in the hand…” is a terrible lesson to have to learn. After he got an inheritance, he had a nice emergency fund that I thought would make a big difference for the cash-flow problems, but it didn’t last.

        Getting the utilities shut off did teach my mom a few things, though. She went back to work and made herself in charge of all the food, utilities, everything except the house/rent. So, we still had to move occasionally, but the utilities were always on!

    • becca Says:

      You definitely have a point about credit, although I wonder if simply a more strict and tiered credit-limit system would help more than simply making them difficult to get. There’s a huge advantage to having enough money to repair the car that gets you to work when you are trying to claw out of poverty.
      And purely as a philosophical issue, avoiding tools to get yourself into trouble counts as learning a lesson in my book.
      As a matter of fact, what little I know about the executive function literature suggests that the vast majority of what people do is avoiding getting into trouble. Sing so you don’t eat your marshmallow!

  4. Adam Says:

    I think that the smartest decision anyone can choose to make in this economy is reduce, and of possible, eliminate debt. The U.S. is $14.4 trillion in debt, and an astonishing percentage of people are over-burdened with individual debt. In fairness, most of us need to borrow money for expensive items such as homes, cars, etc.. However, the accumulation of debt should be controlled as much as possible.

  5. hush Says:

    My MIL has money problems, but unfortunately, I can’t say she has actually learned from them, probably because she refuses to acknowledge them. She deals in serious denial, and has no healthy family relationships anymore because of her actions. By “money problems” I mean, for starters, she took out credit cards in her children’s names without telling them, so that when they eventually tried to apply for college financial aid and found out they had bad credit, they learned the truth. Her explanation was she wanted to buy them really nice Xmas presents.

    Anyway, we used to get collection calls for her twice a week, until we started giving the collection agencies her work number. Coincidentally, she is also a smoker just like financially-troubled people in the comments above. Hmmm….

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, there definitely is that mindset that the children can’t be deprived at holidays, that their measure of success is having all the middle-class trappings even if they’re not on a middle-class income. It’s all very difficult.

      They’re good people though and would never commit fraud.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    My sister is responsible but had to learn a few things the hard way. She started by working nearly full-time in college while she lived at home and our parents paid for everything. So she got used to having a LOT of disposable income. Later, she married a guy in the military who, while he was by himself in a foreign country, couldn’t believe she was blowing so much money on rent, spending $200/month + utilities (back when a low-cost 1-bedroom apartment was $400 and a low-cost 2-bedroom apartment was $600). He was used to getting free housing in the military and just didn’t know!

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Sigh… excerpt from an email today: “Got [the thing], it’s great. Turns out we’re short on our bills this month…”

    • Debbie M Says:

      Oh, bummer. Still, they’re not as short as they would have been without having made the changes they made!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        it is true! If only they could think, “let’s have a yard-sale to build up an emergency fund” and then keep that fund funded. Maybe one day… maybe after the kids are all grown…

  8. squirrelers Says:

    I was happy to read this, but that was tempered when I read the last comment you made about the email noting “we’re short on our bills this month”.

    It’s hard for some people who’ve made mistakes to see their mistakes, and for many of us to change our habits – be it money, health, etc. Small steps are better than no steps, I guess….

  9. Sandy H Says:

    My husband and I are definitely in this boat. He has come a long way in our 8 years. But then again, so have I.
    He wants something, and he will ask repeatedly until I am so mad and frustrated at saying no, that I just say yes to make him shut up. I always manage to find the money somewhere- but really? We’re in this monster debt hole that I am trying to climb us out of, and FINALLY when we have a goal of building a house from scratch he has realized the error of his ways.
    I’m not saying he still doesn’t beg and whine for things (just look at my unbudgeted category) but it is not nearly as bad as it used to be!

  10. Andrea Says:

    I think it was smart of you to not say what the “thing” was. A lot of people would then focus on whatever the “thing” was and miss the point of your post.

  11. Carnival of Personal Finance #314: Rock Your Life Edition Says:

    [...] from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents A Step Forward, and says, “Grumpy Rumblings discusses a relative’s step forward in budgeting. Will it [...]

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    update: apparently they only need to fit it into the budget when it’s a luxury his wife wants. When he wants it, it’s a need. *sigh*


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