“The day I get a credit card with a negative real interest rate is the day we can compare government debt to household debt.” —Unknown
All those who got a Christmas bonus, raise your hand. All those who hit the holiday sales with your Christmas cash, raise your new iPhone, iPad or Kindle Fire. OK then…all those who stuck that extra money into savings, raise your hand.
Wow, visibility on the ground just shot way up. Nary a hand in sight. Maybe a couple. I’m sure there are a few people disciplined enough to have saved your bonus or Grandma’s $10 bill. You’re smart but not necessarily popular.
But most of us aren’t like you. We like stuff. And we’d like that stuff NOW, thank you very much! Even—especially—at the holidays when overspending can be disguised as being generous, it brings about the same result.
Everybody’s broke. Or is it that simple? Broke implies having no money. Broke people can take heart—you can always make more money. Work a few extra hours or pick up a side job and you can catch up to your bills again. Be thankful that you’re not caught up in the real crisis.
Debt. That’s a whole other story. Being broke can be fixed. But being indebted is trickier. According to the government, we should all spend more and get this economy going again. I’d rather get my heart going again. It’s time to get selfish for awhile. Isn’t there some kind of sense in getting our little insignificant checkbooks under control first? Give our own selves a little padding?
If your assumed holiday bonus has been turned into new boots, a gadget or a leather purse from Anthropolgie (that’s a random plug, that store is amazing), then well, what’s done is done. But for plenty of people, chance No. 2 is around the corner: Income tax refunds. Money power can still be used for good. Our own good.
“You’ve got to spend money to make money” is an adage, printed as far back as 1888 in the Newark Ohio Daily Advocate. Actually, it’s true—sometimes. Unfortunately, most of the time the wording should be “spend money to spend money” because credit redefines spending. In 1980, the national savings rate was 10 percent of disposable income. Today, we’re into negative numbers.
Our collective motto has become a penny earned is a penny spent.
When I started in the workforce, I didn’t give a thought to savings or retirement. I worked for my rent and my weekends, not always in that order. I knew I had years to plan all that other stuff. No worries—it was all good.
I must have blacked out and been magically transported to the future—or the present. One day you find yourself in a world of deductibles, IRAs, kids’ college funds and retirement plans.
Reality has a way of knocking you to the ground every so often. On the positive side, there’s budget and credit advice all over the place. One of the best I’ve heard is freezing your credit card in a block of ice to avoid impulse purchases.
Not a bad idea. The image of crouching over a block of ice with a blow dryer might be shameful enough to reconsider a new pair of shoes. If calm, consistent warnings haven’t worked, try humiliation. At the very least, put that new iPad to work with a financial app.