Warren and Tyagi demonstrated that buying common luxury items wasn’t the issue for most Americans. The problem was the fixed costs, the things that are difficult to cut back on. Housing, health care, and education cost the average family 75 percent of their discretionary income in the 2000s. The comparable figure in 1973: 50 percent. Indeed, studies demonstrate that the quickest way to land in bankruptcy court was not by buying the latest Apple computer but through medical expenses, job loss, foreclosure, and divorce.
Giving up a latte or another such small extravagance in this environment wasn’t going to be enough. Yet the personal finance shills continued to tell people their problems were mostly of their own making.
This strikes me as being directly related to those jackholes who are enraged when someone poor has some small or relatively small luxury: they think this is how economics work.
I’m tired of feeling guilty for every tiny indulgence that makes me feel human.
This makes me remember a story a friend of mine told me.
He was in a college course for learning financial stuff, like how to invest wisely and shit like that because he was working for the local library system in their accounting department and had to be able to advise employees on how best to use the new investment options the library was offering.
So, the professor tells the class that they should ALWAYS be saving at least $25 per paycheck into a savings account even when it’s hard because that is the only way to get into the habit of saving and also the quickest way to having emergency cash, but it was better to do at least $50.
Not terrible advice, certainly, but… My friend said there was no way he could do that. The professor scoffed at him about high dollar luxuries like coffee shop drinks or name brand food or clothes or a computer or using the bus instead of a car.
Now, my friend did not own a car; he bike rode everywhere. His wife used the bus. Both he and his wife worked. He did not buy name brand food; he got cheap store brand food in bulk and only bought what he already knew would be used in his meal calendar planned for two months at a time. He brewed his own coffee at home. He kept his electricity usage to a minimum and taught his wife and children to do the same. His kids weren’t indulged with sweets or many toys. They didn’t buy candy or hobby items. They got the free local TV channels which they honestly only used to track weather on a salvaged TV they got from a friend. They only got new clothing when their kids grew out of the old or something of theirs was too worn to patch or repair and always from thrift shops. All their furniture was secondhand and usually picked cheap from garage sales. They made the agonizing decision to purchase a home instead of renting because the net savings over all were justifiable because the house payments were cheaper than renting. They budgeted for a total of ten dollars to be put in the savings account per month, not per paycheck.
My friend and his wife planned their expenditures down to the cent at least two months in advance to make sure they could make it. They constantly researched to find the absolute best value of every item they bought. Thankfully, my friend had the analytical mind for that kind of planning. No purchase ever went unremarked upon or without heavy consideration, no matter how small. They spent wisely and stretched every dollar as far as it could go.
My friend brought in a hand written copy of his budget (because he didn’t have a computer or printer and paper was an expense he built into the budget so he could do the planning) and showed it to the professor the next day in front of the class and asked, “Where do I squeeze out $25 per paycheck?”
The professor hemmed and hawed as he went through the budget. He kept starting to say something on one line or another and then would stop himself and go to the next. Sometimes he would say shit things like “where is your gas column?” “We don’t own a car.” He spent about twenty minutes staring at my friend’s carefully planned and managed budget and could not see a single place where it could be improved.
“I guess you can’t,” the professor said and was apparently so bitter about being wrong that my friend had to keep from laughing at him even though the entire experience had soured him something awful.
People who are not struggling do not understand how money works for poor people and just assume we are horrible at managing it instead of realizing we just don’t have any. Luxury items aren’t killing us; low wages and a shit economy are.