Hey, Hecklers: Common Sense May Not Equate with Comment Cents

Editor’s Note – I’d like to welcome guest contributor Jennifer Wallis to the Red Dirt Chronicles this morning.  Personal finance is an important area of our lives, and having someone like Jennifer around will be a great asset for both the readers AND contributors to the RDC.  Jennifer, I used “asset” as a word…can you tell I just read your post? –

Red Dirt Kelly

Most days, the audiences I teach in our financial education classes are open-minded and eager to learn. But, every once in while, I come face to face with that person sitting in the back of the room, arms folded, head tilted, apparently being held against their will who asks smugly, “Isn’t it just common sense to spend less than you make?”

This question conjures up feelings from long ago Trivial Pursuit games with one of my best friends, Marcy. While I love her like a sister, she has a white hot competitive streak. The girl hates to lose. I discovered her love for winning the hard way. Back in college, we were playing Trivial Pursuit and it was her turn to ask the question. She would look at the card, read the answer to herself and scoff, ‘Oh my gosh! This is SO easy!”  The question would invariably be something that I could never answer even if all of my brain synapses were firing perfectly.  “Who became the President of Kazakhstan in 1991?” she would ask as she rolled her baby blues at me. Of course, I would have no idea. She would then exclaim, “Wow! I can’t believe you don’t know that! It’s obviously Nursultan Nazarbayev.” Yes, of course, Nazarbayev. I can’t believe I didn’t get that one…

It’s something that we laugh about now. But, after her competitive trivia streak was revealed, we decided that for the sake of our friendship, Trivial Pursuit may not be the best idea. While I won’t kick the smug person out of their back seat in my financial education class, I do have a message for him/her.

First of all, saying that spending less than you make “is just common sense” implies that anyone living in debt has none. If you happen to be one of the Americans that owe a chunk of the $950 billion dollars in credit card debt or if you are one of the 17,787 Oklahomans that filed bankruptcy last year, you know that common sense has little to do with it. Those living with the dirty little secret of debt are probably already beating themselves up about it and they don’t need anyone kicking them while they are down.

The answer to any question is obvious when it’s written on a little card in your hand. Money management may be easy when you know how to do it. So, for those great money managers out there that have never struggled with debt, paid a bill late, or overdrawn their checking account, I say, “Way to go!” A truly an amazing accomplishment.

But, for the rest of us with whom money management does not come easy, let me say this: Your view of the financially challenged as unintelligent or lacking in common sense really doesn’t help. If someone takes time out of their life to attend a money management class, learn to budget and develop a plan to become debt-free, they should be commended. The easy thing to do is to go into ostrich mode, bury our heads, and ignore the mounting pressure of debt. But, if someone admits that they need more information and tries to make a life change, they need support – not contempt.

Everyone’s financial life consists of stages. Needs in college (pizza, beer, books…check) are quite different from those when you get married (buy a house, have a baby, have another, plan for retirement and put your own kids through college). It isn’t easy to navigate those changes without some additional support and education. When life throws in other factors like illness, divorce, job loss, the death of a family member, or an unpredictable economy, it can be downright impossible to make your income stretch in order to cover it all without some help. Yes, let us not forget that some do wind up in debt by their own poor choices and failure to plan. But, it’s never too late to change the road you’re on.

So, if you’re financially secure, let me challenge you. Instead of telling the debtors in your life that they have no common sense and that money management is (eye-roll) easy, try to remember that you probably don’t know all of the financial challenges they are facing. Try to help, offer support, encouragement, and accountability to anyone trying to make their life better.

If you are struggling financially, please know that your money management skills are indeed something that you can always improve. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be too ashamed to seek it.

Common sense doesn’t always translate to managing dollars and cents.



14 thoughts on “Hey, Hecklers: Common Sense May Not Equate with Comment Cents”

  1. Hi Jen. Thank you for pointing out that even financially responsible people can fall on hard times. Getting sick in America can cost you your home and so much more. My credit was flawless until I got sick. It’s a struggle to stay positive when battling the system.

  2. Excellent piece. It takes courage to admit it when we don’t have all the answers we need. Every step moves us closer to or further from our goals – that’s true in every aspect of life – and it takes great strength to change a pattern of choices that isn’t working.

  3. Great Message!! So many people think only people with poor spending habits are poor. While that may play a part in it, No one wakes up and says “Today I want to get sick and lose my job…Yeah that sounds like fun”. Keep it coming, Jenn!!

  4. Hey Jen – this is a GREAT message. Circumstances most people are dealing with are NOT easy. I think if people understood that it isn’t just “poor people” who need money education that more people would get the help they need.

    Keep shouting out the message Jen!

  5. I think that a lot of people just don’t have a good financial education. I am working two jobs right now to pay off my debt. Is it tough? Yes. Do I miss having more of a social life? Of course! Will I miss my debt when its paid off? NO! 🙂 Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. That being said, I have attended financial classes with that guy in the back. He usually doesn’t see the point because he is not in financial trouble at the moment and the “common sense” thing is easy to see when he is looking down from his perch. When you are swimming in it, its a different beast entirely. A picture of a storm at sea is pretty when you look at it. However, your perspective changes when that storm is looming over you while you are treading water in the sea…. I guess that I would have quietly asked the guy to keep his opinions to himself.

    1. You are exactly right, David! Maybe you could travel around with me and be my financial education bouncer…

  6. You go, girl! There are enough things to feel bad about in this world. We don’t need more shame heaped on us for our mistakes and misjudgments. We need encouragement to make a change for the better. Your blog said that very eloquently. Thank you!

  7. Getting into debt can be so easy; with or without common sense. Back in the day, I felt honored to be offered a credit card application. Sears, Pier One, and JC Penney’s (and many others) made a lot of money off of my pride and interest payments.

    I felt so grown-up: all I had to do was sign a form and I was the owner of a brand new set of appliances, furniture, dishes, etc. I even remember when Eckerd’s accepted JCP cards around the holidays. That’s how I bought wrapping paper. Uggh. I was so “grown up” and swimming in debt.

    When my life suddenly changed, I decided to ask for help. My local non-profit consumer credit agency helped me come up with a plan and get my ostrich head out of the hole. I agree, shaming someone or saying “just spend less than you earn” is condescending and unnecessary. I’m thankful I was able to get non-judgemental help and free myself from going further and further into the hole of debt. Now I feel like a true grown up. Getting out of debt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and one of my proudest accomplishments

  8. Jennifer Wallis has great comments about the need to be in control of our finances and to be willing to start learning more about financial management and saving money for the unexpected. Keep these articles coming!

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