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.