KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

People Who Think They Know Everything

On a spinoff of an editors’ e-mail list, I wrote that the current mess of an economy has resulted in Ed's having to work for Walmart to bring in only a tiny income and that that and my income together weren't enough to allow us to continue to meet all of our financial obligations. A couple of listmates, one of whom is newly retired at 65 and the other of whom, at 70-something, has been retired for some time, preachily wrote that if only "people" were smarter with their money, if only "people" were frugal, this poor economy wouldn't have them in a fix.

Ed's own father, who is 73 and has never made a smart financial decision in his life, is blaming Ed's and my financial predicament on us. This is the same man who has been living in a beautiful apartment, built by Ed, within our house for a rent well below market value for years. So when those listmates from my father-in-law's age group started spouting the same garbage, I didn't take it too kindly. Yeah, there are people whose money goes through their pockets the way poop goes through a goose, but don't include me and my family in that group. Here is my response, with minor edits:
I'm tired of hearing from people who assume that everyone who has been hit hard by this poor economy is a profligate spender.

Before the bottom fell out of the economy, Ed and I were putting aside money into a savings account and into IRAs. We rarely made purchases, except for major repairs to our two paid-off vehicles, clothes for our children (dammit it all, they just keep growing), and food. We went out to dinner on our wedding anniversary and on Valentine’s Day—but not always even then. We did sometimes buy takeout. The shame!

We never went into debt for Christmas presents and birthdays; we always saved up for the few presents we did buy. We don't have the latest in electronics or cell phones, though Ed and I each have a cell phone. He needs his for when he's out installing cabinets. But I should give mine up. If one day the car that I'm driving breaks down, I could just sit there and hope that someone stops to help instead of violently relieving me of the car.

Oh—we usually went on a decadent one-week camping trip each summer. Even though one entire trip cost a lot less than hotel fees and cruise ship fares [which one of the posters who annoyed me pays on his vacations], we should've spent less.

Ed and I bought a home in 1994 from his parents, who could no longer afford the $1,200/month mortgage that included property taxes and home owner's insurance. Now those payments are $1,500/month, and that's for a dinky 1,400 square feet that we share with his parents: 4 adults and 2 children live here. Long Island (New York State) ain't cheap. Before the economic downturn, our home was valued at $364,000 and property taxes were more than $8,000/year. Who knows how low the value has sunk to now, but the property taxes and insurance premiums sure ain't gonna decrease. We shouldn't have gotten that home equity loan a couple of years ago to make major repairs to the house; the frugal thing to do would have been to let this 40-plus-year-old crappily built house rot.

We do have a cat, and the in-laws have a dog and a cat. I suppose we'd better kill them off or give them away to keep our expenses down. The children won't mind.

Unlike most other middle-class Americans, who have health insurance that is paid for by their employers or by the company or government jobs from which they retired, we pay in full the $866 monthly premiums for own health insurance; we have no employers to pay it for us. I suppose we should be frugal and drop that. Ed and both of our sons have AD/HD, for which they take expensive medication, only partly covered by insurance. I'm sure that they all decided to be born with AD/HD just to make us spend more money. They don't really need a therapist either, to coach them how to be less miserable when they try to make their square-peg selves fit into society's round-hole pegboard enough so that they can hold down jobs or not be perpetually bullied in school. They should just suck it up.

Ed probably asked his boss of 14 years to lay him off in October 2007. And then he bought equipment to outfit his own cabinetmaking shop, but I suppose that to be frugal, he should have opted to take 14 times as long as other cabinetmakers to produce the same amount of work by using ancient hand tools or broken-down 25-year-old tools instead of much more expensive newer electric tools. He probably bought all of that equipment, using funds from the business loan he took out, deliberately because his magic crystal ball told him that the economy was about to go belly up and he wanted to give us some hefty bills. He probably also put down hundreds of dollars apiece for several towns' home-improvement contractor licenses just so that he could give us more debt. And I know he obtained workers' comp, liability, and disability insurance policies for his company not to be law-abiding but just so he could throw away more money.

Oh, wait—I know! Ed could switch to a very-low-overhead profession like copyediting, and then we could save a bundle of money! But ... he can't spell his way out of a paper bag. Damn.

We're so sorry for having thrown our money about so irresponsibly. What were we thinking?


Anonymous said...

I hear you, friend. I do. I've stopped reading much of that list you talk about. I got tired of the preachiness. I too am having hard times and I don't spend a ton either. My largest - and only - credit card balance is just over two thousand dollars - and that was accrued during a period of unemployment a year ago - unemployment that I didn't ask for and wasn't expecting. And I didn't plan on my computer crapping out on me, and I suppose I could have done without a new one, but dang, I make my living with my computer... what's a single girl to do?

Wally World sure doesn't pay much, I'm sure, and I'm so sorry your hubby had to resort to working there. Right now, I'm looking at getting a second job, even though I'm working full time right now, just to get the bills paid off so I have zero debt.

People need to not judge until they've been in another's shoes - however that saying goes. Someday something will happen and they'll have to eat those words - maybe literally. Right?

Hope you are well and had a wonderful holiday season anyway, and Happy New Year to you and yours.


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Aw, Claire—the economy got to you too? Damn!

Yes, judge not lest ye be judged. Didn't someone somewhere say that once?

We did have a merry Christmas anyway, and we will have a happy New Year's. May 2009 bring us all more stability and peace of mind.

Dick Margulis said...

People lifted by a passing wave generally ascribe their elevation to their own virtue and equally ascribe the condition of those swamped by the same wave to presumed sinfulness. Perhaps your post will get someone to think before judging the next time, but somehow I doubt it.

Keep on doing what you have to do, and let's all hope we get out of this depression sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Well written, Katharine, and a very appropriate response.

This reminds me of when I was a university student, living in a hostel in 1990. We went to visit Grandma that year, and I heard her telling my Mum she should try giving me less money to live on. I exploded - first time I got angry and my grandmother.

After paying my board, which included breakfast & dinner, I had $25/wk to cover everything else including public transport, lunch (home made cheese & tomato sandwiches and a piece of fruit), toiletries, stationery, etc. She didn't even know my budget, just assumed my mother, who had taken up a cleaning job to help me go to uni, was spoling me. Argh!

KCB said...

Yep. It's better to be lucky than good, and I'm always amazed by how many people mistake their good fortune for personal virtue.

I think this economy is actually kicking hardest the people who did save and invest. DH and I have invested for the long term, not for quick gains, and we've taken a hell of a beating over the past year, as have lots of other folks who were careful with their money.

Stuff happens, and blame doesn't help anyone recover. But the imp in me wonders what would happen if, the next time your FIL goes on about money decisions, you agreed--and announced that it was high time you started getting market-value rent on the space you've graciously created for him. ;)

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Oh, we've had that conversation, KCB—many times. He and my mother-in-law should be paying twice the rent that they are for such a nice three-room apartment ... which would cover our mortgage. But he always pleads poverty—fixed income, you know. He's always thought that the world owes him a living. And his brain appears to be missing the human chip, a lack that's somewhat common in elderly men with AD/HD who've never had any training in how to fake the social skills (such as compassion and love) that are incomprehensible to them. At this late date, he won't experience any eureka moments and he won't change for the better.

We'd never have entered into such an arrangement with Ed's parents in the first place if there were any other way that we could have afforded housing prices here on our own.

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