Conversations abound all around me about financial stuff. Part of it is work – being someone’s accounting/payroll/benefits department does mean a lot of financial conversations with a lot of different people – yet it creeps up and into a wide swath of my personal life as well. I do not mind at all, unless someone turns defensive about their situation. At which time I have to request clarification – are you venting/whining about your situation or are you seeking some advice and shared experiences?
With close friends and my own family I can immediately tell the difference. I strive to listen actively and not get preachy about the “shoulds” or sound like a Dave Ramsey acolyte (I have never read any of his books or listened to his broadcasts; all I know of him is what I have read from other followers or dissenters). For me it comes down to choices and what one can or cannot do with a finite amount of resources and a seemingly infinite number of wants and need competing for those resources.
I still follow a fair number of blogs where people openly discuss their income, debts, savings, retirement, and choices that contribute to all of the above. Most PF bloggers are extraordinarily debt-adverse, to the the point that their austerity “shoulds” come screeching out of their keyboards in broken record fashion. From personal experience I completely understand the concept of debt fatigue and the whiplash that happens when finally safe from a crisis point with debt. I also know we are not particularly frugal and have a generous spending budget. My financial “shoulds” are simply to decide what is most important, what are our priorities beyond basic needs, and set some reasonable, sustainable goals to get there. It gets boring saving for retirement, just like it gets boring paying off accumulated debt. But in our case that is our primary need, beyond shelter, food, sustaining employment and all that entails, so we prioritize it. Our retirement savings is automatic and skimmed off the top of our income, not to be touched until it’s actually needed later on in life.
M and I are fortunate that enough income flows into our household to fund our other spending whims. Other than our mortgage we are debt-free, and our 15-year mortgage is on track to be paid off early, sometime in the next 8 to 10 years and well before I cross the finish line with full-time employment. We are fortunate right now, but I know that could change in a blink and our detailed plan for financial security in older and grayer years endangered. I also have a back-up plan in place for that, and a back-up plan to my back-up plan. Face it – I’m a planner.
I know a lot of people who do not have the luxury of a healthy emergency savings that we enjoy. Many live in a cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck and it’s a domino-effect disaster if their pay is late or shorted for any reason. An increase in property taxes is a panic attack, a change of jobs and the need to upgrade wardrobe a cause for sleepless nights. Maybe they have “luxuries” like cable TV and a cell phone plan that could be cut down or out completely, and those things are painful to let go of yet easier than having nothing else to cut and still not quite making ends meet each month.
There are occasions when debt is the only answer. I hate debt with the passionate zeal that comes from the misery of enslavement to it, something built of my own ignorance and selfish desires. Yet I find myself advising another dear friend that perhaps selling her late model debt monster SUV and buying (financing) another smaller used vehicle (with associated smaller loan payment) is in order in these extraordinary circumstances. And yes, I used the term “payment” rather that purchase price. I know it’s going to likely cost more in financing going with a new loan for a longer term, but right now it’s a cash emergency and she has to do something to get out from under the large vehicle payment that is sinking her finances each and every month. Unfortunately going without a car is not an option, and a beater car probably would not work either. For me or someone in a similar situation with a car-handy husband, young adult children and tons of friends with vehicles living nearby who could and would help out with rides in a pinch, plus a mile climate and an 8-mile commute by bicycle, a beater car would probably be fine. She has multiple jobs, an elderly mother who lives with her and requires transportation to appointments, so she needs a reliable vehicle.
None of this may work out, because she may be underwater on her present vehicle or unable to sell or trade it well enough to make another vehicle loan work. I remain hopeful for her, though.
All this has me thinking this morning about how we open ourselves and our lives to the opinions and judgment of others. I try to be encouraging and positive in comments, or at my worst diplomatic and constructive. Yet there are others who feel free to pronounce your life a supreme catastrophy because your values differ from their own. Worse is taking such commentary so personally, as if you must respond to the judgment of others and defend your decisions. I can be a people pleaser and understand how easy it is to get sucked into and begin to internalize the opinions of someone I will likely never meet. It is so easy to let those niggling barbs get under the skin to fester and breed adverse emotions.
I remain conflicted about a couple of recent conversations and situations, yet there is nothing else to do except wait it and see how it turns out. These are smart friends who can evaluate the things that matter and impact their lives, and they know I am here if they need help to sort it out or to analyze their options. But I have niggling concerns about whether or not my suggestions are good, valid, or in their best interests. Because of my own history, though, I always wonder if I am in the ballpark of correct or if I am way off-base with my assumptions. I want the most positive outcome possible, even if it is polar opposite of anything I might suggest.
*sigh* I hate waiting. Even for other people’s situations to resolve, I hate waiting.