Dear Margo: You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Take Away Its Credit Cards

Should we boycott our relatives’ extravagant lifestyle?

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Take Away its Credit Cards

Dear Margo: My husband and I are well on our way to financial freedom through following a popular program. We want all of our loved ones to experience this, although we would never offer financial advice unless asked.

A close relative frequently mentions the stress he and his wife have over money. They know about the plan we’re on and talk about how they’d like to do it “one day.” But if they pay off a big purchase or get some extra income, they make another “no interest for two years” type of purchase. Once, they received a large sum of money and made some unnecessary upgrades to their home instead of giving themselves breathing room. Anyway, that is their choice.

My question to you is this: Even though they are in debt up to their eyeballs, they are always entertaining and invite us often. I love spending time with them, but feel guilty telling them how great their new this or that is when I think they’re being completely irresponsible — especially since they want to start a family but admit they don’t know how they will handle the extra expense. Should I boycott their extravagant lifestyle to avoid contributing to their “we are the Joneses” mindset? —Conflicted

Dear Con: Look, this close relative and his wife know they are in over their heads. They know you have found your way to an affordable lifestyle. They know what that way is, and they say perhaps they’ll try it “one day.” These people would need a therapist to get on top of their spending habits. (Or perhaps the repo man.) I would not give up going to their soirees, because the parties will take place anyway, but in order not to feel two-faced, stop remarking on how great their new this or that is.

As for them starting a family, this is not your problem. In fact, none of it is your problem. People wake up when they need to — or are forced to. —Margo, sensibly

The Office Chatterbox and Others’ Distress

Dear Margo: My co-worker talks all the time. There is a running commentary about nonsense. I just want to pull my hair out (except that I am bald). This goes on all day about every little thing in her life. I try to ignore her and still be polite, but that does not prevent me from hearing her tell the same story to everyone else.

She also treats people like children, such as explaining in minute detail how to cook a turkey … including removing the plastic outer wrapper. We are all intelligent people, even if we don’t know how to cook a turkey. And she laughs like a hyena at her own jokes, even when they’re not funny. We are not allowed to listen to iPods in the office, as our work requires interacting. How do I tell her to please shut up without jeopardizing my job? She is buddy-buddy with our supervisor. —Bleeding Ears

Dear Bleed: There is too much wrong here to correct. If you tell her you need to concentrate, you will still hear her nattering on to other people. There really is no way to get people to stop talking if the office environment doesn’t preclude it. Then there’s the matter of her laugh. Good luck changing anyone’s laugh. She simply has no judgment. (I will say, in her defense, about instructing people to remove the wrapper, I once cooked a chicken with the bag of neck, gizzard, liver, etc. intact inside the bird.)

Because you say she and the supervisor are friends, you might, as gently as possible, tell this person that the woman’s chattering habits are interfering with people’s work. I don’t know what kind of “interacting” you are referring to, but perhaps earplugs? The only other thing that might work is this: If other people agree with you, write a letter to the supervisor, signed by everyone. If she is not supportive of your complaint, you are sort of stuck. —Margo, hopefully


Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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46 comments so far.

  1. avatar Sue ZQ says:

    Letter #1:  When I read “well on our way to financial freedom through following a popular program”, my first thought was Amway, or some other MLM.  I hope I’m wrong.   MLM’s chew people up and spit them out.  There’s even one where people offer financial services instead of selling soap.  I know a woman who was taken in by an MLM for a couple of years.  She wasn’t in as long as many people, but she still lost a lot before she woke up to what was happening.   Please be careful.

    • avatar JET says:

      I read it to mean the programs by Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman, which I have heard are effective.  Hopefully it is something reputable.

      • avatar Legal Eagle says:

        That is how I read it as well. I have a close friend who paid off six figures of debt in three years using Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, so I know those programs do work and they are quite popular. I suspect that is what the LW was referring to.

      • avatar Kemo Sabe says:

        Although I’m aware that this comment may be removed for somewhat going off on a tangent, keep in mind that regardless of who it is, most if not all of their wealth comes from SELLING their program rather than following it. I don’t recall the full conclusion that I reached, but having looked into this before, I can tell you that at least part of the secret to becoming debt-free is to start off NOT by paying off your highest-payment debt (as many people think), but your highest dollar-amount monthly finance charge, or highest finance charge as a percentage of the total monthly payment, and work your way down. Anyone who’s willing to sit down and think about it can figure it out without spending $100 or more, which makes me turn absolutely green to see.
        The same is true of MLM; it’s far easier to get rich starting one, with all the legal complexities that entails, than by joining one, as these companies have figured out that for products that can’t stand on their own without an opportunity attached, it’s far more profitable for them to overprice it, attach an opportunity, and offer to pay several levels of commissions that most never achieve, than it is for them to directly sell the product themselves and keep all of the profit (if the product was good enough and/or they knew how to do this themselves, why would they need you?).
        Yes, MLM’s DO chew people up and spit them out, generally people who have no clue about real business and real marketing and simply don’t know any better, because the other fatal flaw of MLM is this: if you’re not selling a product so good that complete strangers will buy it from you, your family and friends won’t either. Talking to people and passing out tapes and glossy brochures is 1950’s-level business, and is NOT systematic, time-leveraged marketing that achieves sustainable long-term results – always remember this!

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Bankruptcy works quite well with debt as well.  And believe me, start putting enough money into a checking account and keeping some of it in the checking account, or god forbid opening a savings account, and the bank will be sending you the credit card. No questions asked. Banks do not like to see your money just sitting there when they can be making money off it.   

        And then everyone else will be sending them as well.  After the second bankruptcy I said no. That works best of all.  If you can’t pay cash, you don’t need it.  The two exceptions are college and a house.  Everything else, well, keeping up with the Joneses will probably land you in bankruptcy court along with the Joneses. 

        As for these “get rich” and “keep the wealth” and “manage your debt” programs you are correct.   But this is America. Home of PT Barnum. And every sucker on the planet.

        Credit is a “program” as well. The banks get rich.  You don’t. 

      • avatar Kemo Sabe says:

        You are right about debt, credit, and bankruptcy – well said! – however, I have two cents to add about that. Firstly, since bankruptcy stays on your report for ten years, and all other negative references including charge-offs remain for only seven, why pay to “make it official” by declaring insolvency again? Which is exactly why I didn’t, having gotten smarter the second time around. Secondly, not wishing to be targeted by subpoena through this post (if such a thing is possible), I’ll only hint at this: do a search under “debt invalidation” and “debt re-aging” to find out what they are, how they work, and how they can be used to your advantage. Shhh…. 😉

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        We declared bankruptcy about ten years ago, at a time when it only stayed on your credit report for seven years. For us, it was a lesson in humility. We had no problem cutting up offers for credit cards, which began appearing with surprising frequency about a year after the proceedings were completed. We had retained one card for emergencies (of the car repair and medical sort). We lived very lean for a long time, and live modestly now.
        The surreal thing was the appearance of judgments against us by credit card companies which had been included in the bankruptcy and completely cleared. Technically, they can put these on your credit report…and it costs an enormous amount of money to fight them. Which of course, we didn’t have. These finally disappeared as well. Seven years is an adequate time for reflection and penitence, and to understand that you can live very well on a lot less, with a lot less. Ten years is even better.
        Of course, you have to be what I would gently refer to as a “rational person” capable of critical thinking…especially about yourself. Otherwise, you’re going to end up in the same financial toilet bowl again. All of the programs written, and seminars, and therapists available can’t help if the alleged Good Life is that tempting and you are incapable of exercising self-control. People fall for MLM’s because they want to get rich quickly. People mastermind MLM’s because they know there are gullible, eager, avaricious, materially-consumed people just waiting to take the fall. Amway is particularly pernicious, because it blends religion with its hard-sell.
        Ten years past our bankruptcy, and we still have only one active credit card. We finally made some of the major home-improvement projects our house needed (we were without a second shower for seven years…not something that could be repaired by a a handy husband, or his very handy wife, yours truly. And our toilets were as old as our house, almost 40 years, and replacing them completely was definitely a plumber’s job), judiciously. Our roof is sound, and our credit good enough to refinance our house at a much lower rate. Everything but the house is paid for, including our rather dented, but very serviceable cars. All it took was an honest look at our lifestyle, and frequent checks (with occasional “Uh-oh’s”) to keep us in line. We don’t care about the Jones’, quite frankly, or yuppy toys, or status cars. The good life is what you create.

      • avatar Lila says:

        “The surreal thing was the appearance of judgments against us by credit card companies which had been included in the bankruptcy and completely cleared.”
        Gaaahhhh!  One of my peeves!  Another one: the way that creditors, having written off a debt and taken that as a business loss, will then sell the debt to another company – predators in my opinion – for pennies on the dollar.  These vultures then try to collect on debts which, often, were previously cleared, or which are beyond the statute of limitations, or sometimes even have already been paid… but record-keeping among these predator companies is poor and they sell and re-sell the debts among themselves, losing detailed records in the process.  If they do not know where the debtor is, they start cold-calling everyone of that name and often end up harassing completely innocent people with the same or vaguely similar names.  They will try to get relatives, spouses, or friends of the debtor to “help.”  I believe in paying one’s just debts, but these vulture companies go way too far in their abuses and threats.
        If such a company calls, DO NOT under any circumstances pay anything.  Once a debt is beyond the statute of limitations, you are NOT responsible for it, but paying even one cent will start the time limitation all over again.
        The way to make them go away is:  “I REFUSE TO PAY.”  Then by law, they MUST stop calling or contacting you, and their only recourse is to sue for the debt.  They will have to be able to produce original documentation showing what the debt is for, the original amount, who it was with, and your signature.  In the vast majority of cases, they won’t have any of this.
        We are lucky enough never to have been in debt, but I had occasion to find all this stuff out when I started getting harassed for someone else’s debts.  There are over 500 people in the country who share my name.  Telling these bozos that I’m not the right Lila doesn’t cut it; then they want your SSN “to prove it.”  Screw that!  I also found that one can send cease-and-desist letters but I did not want them to get my address as well as my phone.  Screw that, too.  In the end, the cheapest and simplest relief was to simply change my phone number, but even having to do that much pissed me off royally.   These companies, their abusive activities, and trying to make money off of debts that have already been written off, should be illegal.

      • avatar Kemo Sabe says:

        What Lila and Briana are talking about here is referred to as “zombie debt” because it never dies – a presumably illegal practice that’s a huge problem in this country by now, and many parties buying this unpaid debt for pennies on the dollar are attorneys, thereby living up to their reputation as bottom-feeders.
        Unlike Lila’s situation, if you ARE the correct party to contact, the secret to dealing is to tell them NOTHING, not even “I refuse to pay”, as every single contact you have with them resets the statute of limitations, which is what I was alluding to previously. Get Caller ID, screen your calls, and don’t even answer calls from unrecognized numbers.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        In the first bankruptcy which was caused by a bank violating a trust agreement the bank had the gall to object to the bankruptcy. The bank had actually for the VISA card. The trustee roared when I pointed that out to him.  The bank of course itself was in bankruptcy. Or the holding company was. Quite a few lost quite a bit when the bank went under. The holding company, comprised of just two families, of course walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. Plus god knows how many personal loans “their” bank wrote off.  One of them died this year.  I thought to myself when I read about it, it’s suddenly very warm. Hell just have just added another log to the fire.  

        In both bankruptcies I included all the cards. In the first bankruptcy AmEX then sent me another card when the one I had expired. I thought they must think I’m really stupid. Same account number, new card. I called and ordered something over the phone. Card was declined. End of that.  In the second bankruptcy Macy’s offered to “reaffirm” as I believe it’s called.  I loved Macy’s so I thought, well, okay. Just this one. I went to Macy’s and was told my card had been revoked.  End of that.  They of course were stupid.  Had I charged something, they could have sued me for the debt since I had “reaffirmed” the debt by using the card. 

        Of course bankryptcy laws have changed and there is really no such thing as Chapter 7 at this point. Unless you want to lose your home and everything else.  For some, however, losing the home in a bankruptcy is better than a foreclosure.  The court supervises the sale instead of the greedy bank that will “short sale” it and then turn in a 1099 for the loss as income to you. That you will have to pay taxes on.  On a “short sale” that often is to a friend of someone at the bank.  Although we aren’t supposed to know these things. 

        Life in America. Ain’t it grand? 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Why is it when you edit what you see is not what you get?

        “The bank had actually signed for the VISA card.” Which the bank apparently hadn’t noticed when they sent their attorney to object.

      • avatar Anathema Teatime says:

        Well, sure, folks make money selling their programs, but sometimes it does help to read up on something and have concrete steps to follow, even if it’s something you could figure out for yourself. I mean, you can buy Dave Ramsey’s book ref’d above used for 5 bucks on Amazon. Is that really such a dreadful investment if it can help? I compare it to dieting–everyone knows that the way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more, but if paying a few bucks a week to sit in a Weight Watchers meeting give a person the support they need, isn’t it worth it?

      • avatar Legal Eagle says:

        Agreed. The friends I referenced above who followed Dave Ramsey are in the best financial shape of their lives. I see nothing wrong with Ramsey making some money off his plan. Prior to becoming a financial counselor of sorts, he was a Realtor who went through a bankruptcy himself, came out of it, and started to learn how to do better. He now shares that with others and makes some $$ off it. I see nothing wrong with that.
        He also allows his materials to be given away for free to the needy at his seminars. I know this because my friend who did his program volunteered at one of his seminars and all volunteers were explicitly told that if someone could not afford the materials, but was in need, to give them away. And, as Anathema wrote above, you can pick up his materials for super cheap off Amazon so it’s not as if people are paying tons and tons to “get in” on some scheme. If it works to help free a person from financial chains, more power to them!

      • avatar Kemo Sabe says:

        I’m not against anyone making money selling something that helps, and giving away free materials is admirable. What I’m against is excessive profiteering, especially that taking advantage of those in a vulnerable situation; there’s a world of difference between $5 and $100. I’m not denying that having something to read and concrete steps to follow are helpful, but I AM saying that it doesn’t even require a book of 50-100 pages, but probably a page or two at the most – what would easily fit in a blog post or free report. That’s how simple this is to figure out, once one knows the right direction to be thinking in.
        It’s one solution that exactly the same for everybody, unlike dieting where “eat less and exercise more” obviously DOESN’T work for everybody (science now thinks that obesity may be caused by a virus, etc.), and unlike Weight Watchers, this one solution is NOT something that requires shelling out money every week for support. It’s very simple, you figure it out once, it’s there in black and white in front of you, and you either want it and do it, or you don’t. The problem is that all the simplicity and support in the world are worthless for those without even a shred of discipline to apply it in practice.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  Your relatives have chosen to live on the financial edge and while this is not wise, especially in this economy, Margo is right.  It is not your problem and not your business unless they ask to borrow money.  In which case, you will, of course, have the good sense to say no.  Not attending their parties will not change their spending habits.  Go, enjoy their hospitality, and resign yourself to the fact that people make their own monetary decisions and that their way is not the same as yours.

    LW#2:  Whether or not this woman is cozy with your supervisor, she is interfering with your work.  I don’t think it would hurt to ask your supervisor if your workspace could be moved away from hers so you can concentrate better.  Of course, there is always a certain amount of chit chat and banter in the workplace but the situation you describe does seem to cross the line.  If you have not already done so, discreetly talk to your co-workers to see if they are also bothered by this woman.  By discretely, I mean, don’t go in all a blazin sayin this woman is a pain in the butt but simply say..*I’m having a hard time concentrating with all the chatter from X…is it just me? 

    Margo, I laughed at your chicken story.  The first time I cooked a turkey, I carefully removed the innards from the breast cavity.  What I did not realize, until I carved it, was that there were innards in a bag in the neck cavity as well.  No harm done…turkey still tasted great.  My mother (who was a good cook and started teaching us to cook when we were 7)  had never made a turkey, relying on my grandmother to do so every holiday.  When I made my first one, my grandmother wasn’t on this  earth to tell me about those innards in all those places!  My mother, rest her soul, never did make a turkey in her life.   But boy could she make turkey gravy! 

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Margo! It’s so nice to see someone has survived Great Blizzard I! Great Blizzard II is on its way.  Just left Texas and headed your way. Great Blizzard III will be hitting us New Years Eve. And then heading your way as well.  And please, no Al Gore jokes!  

    • avatar kermie says:

      Snooks–The blizzard was awful!  People trapped in a subway car for six hours, impassable roads, and some parts of the city still have stranded buses.  Mass transportation shut down for many areas, so people just had to walk.   And today the MTA fare goes UP!   The mayor has a lot of explaining to do.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        My family is from Ohio. My thermostat for some reason is from somewhere along the equator. I don’t do snow and ice. Nice to look at. Not nice to even think about.  

        I can do without your mayor. I can do without my mayor. Maybe we should do away with mayors. It would probably save cities billions of dollars. 

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        And now it appears the “slow response” was the result of union leaders wanting to “protest” the city budget and funding cuts?  Hopefully those union leaders will be indicted for endangering the public. Or murder if anyone died because emergency vehicles couldn’t get through.  New York, New York. It is indeed a hell of a town. 

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Baby, I was born and raised in Chicago, and possess an equatorial internal thermostat as well. Below 65 degrees is cold, and always has been. I’m with you on snow and ice, having had to dig out my parents’ 125′ driveway the year we moved to the “country” because my father caused our tiny tractor to throw a rod trying to plow out the massive, wet, four-foot snow drifts. Ugh. Now, 95+ degrees and a lovely pool to walk and swim about in is just about paradise, even if it rains a bit. I don’t even give a fig for wrinkles…they’re signs of evolving.
        Mayors? I learned about the mayoral sort in Chicago, and my opinion has never really improved…especially of late here in Houston.

  4. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Beats me. Nice of you to be concerned for their financial problems…but it’s theirs.

    L #2: You have my deepest sympathy. Perhaps just look at her like King Carlos of Spain did Hugo Chavez and say flatly, “Why don’t you just shut up?” But yeah, you can’t do that. Actually you might be overestimating her buddy-buddy status with the boss; maybe the boss is only being polite to her too? Or has befriended her because she feels sorry for her? If it’s a genuine friendship between the two, then Ms. Chatterbox seems to be taking full advantage; yap yap yap and her friend won’t care. As it’s getting to you this badly, maybe have a word with the supervisor. She (?) is supposed to keep office complaints *confidential.* Otherwise it seems you’re going to have to tolerate this. :-\ Been there/NO fun.

  5. avatar kermie says:

    Margo–I worked in a similar environment to the LW’s–about 50 cubicles and a few people who felt their words were such gold they could disrupt everyone else’s work ambiance.
    One, especially, was there by nepotism (I abhor nepotism) and did whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, with no regard for anyone else.  Because she was related to the managing partner, no one dared say anything about her for fear of losing their jobs.
    You suggested earplugs, but the LW said iPods were not allowed because their work requires interacting–so that would preclude earplugs.  Believe me, when I worked in that kind of environment, I shoved the earbuds of my iPod halfway into my ear canal to shut out loud people–that particular kind of annoying laughter still seeps in–it is insidious.
    Since the loud person is pals with the supervisor, the LW is stuck.  I had a supervisor who played favorites–it was blatant.  Large offices nowadays should be about the work, quality and drive, but all too often it is about playing office politics and who you know.  Unfortunately, the LW feels if he speaks openly, makes waves, the supervisor won’t back him up, and that is probably, sadly, the reality.
    The best suggestion is to get as far away from this person as possible.  Ask for assignments in other areas, on different floors, use conference rooms if possible, and do not engage in conversation with this loudmouth.  She does not need encouragement.

  6. avatar shazza says:

    LW2:  I’ve been in a similar situation.  I know not everyone can do this – I turned my workspace around so that I faced a wall. That helped a bit.  Then I added one of those white noise systems and kept the volume low.  (No radios were allowed).  It didn’t stop the chatter but it helped me concentrate.

  7. avatar D C says:

    LW#1 — I know I’m in the minority of responders but I think LW#1 is a bit too righteous for my blood.  Not everyone wants to live like you.  I grew up in a home where we really had nothing and we FELT poor. Lots of people grow up poor, and you hear many say “but there was so much love we never felt poor.”  Well that’s great.  I know what it’s like to be poor and FEEL poor.  I’m talking a couple of bags of take-home taco’s from Jack in the Box was a BIG deal at my house and it happened maybe once a quarter.  Consequently, I try to live my life differently.  Granted, we have a lot more than my parents did for lots of reasons.  We both work — my father refused to let my mother work even when he was out of work.  It was a pride issue for him.  Anyway… We pay our bills, we have 3 paid for vehicles and just bought another used one for my son as he turned 18… we pay the insurance … we handle just about everything and from time to time the money runs out before the month.  Sometimes we spend too much on dining out, or Christmas presents.  On the other side of the spectrum, I have a nephew (almost 40) who is a financial planner.  He lives in a 4000 sq. ft home that is barely decorated (furniture, but nothing on the walls) and has a wife who works at a secretary job and two small children.  They save almost everything.  They are planning for a very comfortable retirement.  And that’s great — except when they host a family gathering and serve Stouffers Lasagna.  I think if you have money, but you keep it locked away for the future and never enjoy it, what good does it do?  What if you DIE before you ever get to enjoy any of it??  I am sure if LW#1 looked at my family, they would feel we are the people they are writing about.  But I would bet a few dollars (cuz I only have a few) that we are having more FUN than they are (which is not to say we are happier — I’m sure they are quite happy). 

    • avatar Paul Smith says:

      DC, your nephew is a model of sensible self-restraint.  I am guessing you belong to the hopeless Boomers, who never planned for vanished youth and are now looking at a Dickensian old age.  According to a Wells Fargo survey, the average savings of retiring Boomers hangs around 30K.  No doubt much fun was had in the younger free-wheeling days when one was not supposed to live beyond thirty.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        People stopped saving when the savings didn’t earn much interest. Everyone moved to the casino on Wall Street.  And lost it all.  So who’s fault is that? Theirs or the crooks who ripped them off while telling them it was a “safe investment” while pocketing the commissions they earned whether it was safe or not? 
        A former friend of mine took this “your own fault” attitude with me. Believing her trustees were honest and only concerned with her having an income for the rest of her life. I just didn’t have the right trustees apparently.  But she did. But suddenly there was no income. And no assets.  And no trust.  And the trustees? Well, according to them she wanted them to invest in this and that. And of course had her sign off on all of the this and that. And of course even if she had wanted to sue, well, she had no money. No tickee, no laundry. No money, no lawsuit. Welcome to the new America. 

        Why do perfect people always blame the victim?

      • avatar Carol Palinkas says:

        So very well said.

      • avatar John Lee says:

        I couldn’t agree more with you Paul.  Right on.  It baffles me that there are STILL people who look down upon sensible financial people for not living on the financial edge like them

        I mean, DC, really?  Sometimes running out of money before the end of the month?  You can’t save one single month worth of income?  Just ONE?!?  If you don’t know how that could be enough, then you need to learn a bit about how payments and savings can work.

      • avatar D C says:

        I’m sure you feel quite warm with all that self righteous wrapped ’round you.  I failed to mention our home will be paid for in 6 years… and my daughter will graduate college (a very expensive private college, thank you very much) this summer… Get off your high horse before you fall off and break your neck causing you a great deal of financial strain with all the time you’ll be spending in rehab, likely wiping your grand fortune out.  Did I also fail to mention that the year we supported my mother through her cancer treatment and death, that despite working only half time all year, we still paid for her medications???  Bite me John Lee

      • avatar Sianne S says:

        Self restraint, yes.  Sensible….maybe not so much.  There’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap.  Having a party and serving canned food?  Cheap.  Not furnishing your house?  Cheap.

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Perfect people who lead perfect lives would never do anything imperfect like drop dead before they got to enjoy all the money they saved.  I got ripped off twice for about half of what I ever had.  First by a bank. Then by a brokerage. But you know what? The other half I thoroughly enjoyed and looking back am glad I did.  Money is to enjoy.  Wisely.  But enjoyed.

      Saving it all for a day that may never come is not wise.  It may sound wise. But it’s not. Live a little. Just in case you don’t live as long as you think you will.

    • avatar John Lee says:

      DC – Great, use growing up poor as the excuse to not be financially sensible.  Talk about learning the wrong lesson from that experience.  It’s like a kid growing up with alcoholic parents and instead of learning to not drink, you learn to drink it up since you didn’t get to as a kid. 

      I grew up about as poor as you can get (parents worked two minimum wage jobs, we sub-leased a room in our two room apartment to a family of three, I had to give pencils to friends at birthday parties).

      Now, I make above average income, live in a 3 bedroom condo with my family, just refinance to a 15 year loan to pay it off quicker despite meaning $300 less a month in disposable income.  I do drive an old car, but I take about 3 vacations a year, go out on weekends, spend about on average $50 to $100 a present for friends and family.  But I always have 3 months salaries saved up as well as a 401k retirement that will exceed $1 million when I retire.  And I make well below $100,000 a year.

      With politics, I am about as liberal as they come, I’m practically a socialist.  I believe in higher taxes if we can all get better healthcare, education.  But when I hear stories like yours and many others who spend every penny they have because they could die tomorrow, I’m so tempted to say, cut all social security, medicare, unemployment, welfare programs so you can learn to deal with your own problems that you create for yourself.

    • avatar moonrevenge says:

      DC, unless your nephew is bragging openly about the state of his finances, I’m sure there is a lot that you don’t know. From where I’m sitting, it sounds like the two of you may have different priorities, which is fine. You seem to be a little more on the side of “live in the moment” and he has his eye on the future. Again, these are the choices that the two of you are making, which you are free to do.
      I’m uncomfortable with your seeming judgment of his choices, though. Most people I know who would say such things about family do so from a place of jealousy. Hey, if you’re having more fun with the way you live, more power to you. Who’s to say that he’s not having fun knowing that he has a large reserve in the bank in case disaster ever strikes?

      • avatar D C says:

        Jealous is the last thing I am.  And he spent the first five years of his after-college days getting DWI’s and getting fired from jobs because he couldn’t get out of bed the next morning after playing and drinking.  I’m really proud that he turned his life around, and in fact was just at his home today helping baby-sit his kids because he and his wife are working this week — busiest time of the year for the financial planning set.  I just think it’s silly  buy a McMansion and be afraid to put holes in the walls to hang pictures because it might make it harder to sell when the market rebounds.  And when I host a family gathering my personal choice is to have a joyful feast — theirs is not. 

        You and others seem to get lost in the comments and forget that the Letter Writer was thinking it right to “punish” those who don’t choose to live as frugal a life as the one they have chosen.  I was disagreeing with that choice because MY personal feeling is to live like Scrooge’s nephew, rather than Scrooge. 

    • avatar Cindy Tran says:

      I grew up poor as well.  I was never given an allowance and my parents wouldn’t allow me to get a job while I was still living with them.  No vacations.  No trips to Disneyland.  I’ve never really been out of the state of California.  I’m still able to be financially responsible.  It’s a choice.  Worked my way through college and paid off my 20 year debt in 2 years.  I make a lot more than my parents did.  I don’t exactly save everything, but I always make sure there’s something left over to sock away for the future.  If I die before that future, I know there will be something left over for my family.  It makes me happy to know there’s money in the bank if disaster strikes.  I still live a simple life.  I still don’t go on vacations or Disneyland or anything because I’ve decided it’s not for me, but I have a lot of fun at home just being with my friends and family.  What I’m saying is perhaps your nephew learned to have fun without spending money, so you’re not necessarily having more fun.  You’re just spending more money.  Relatively, of course.

  8. avatar Linda Myers says:

    #1 Though the “plan” itself is not mentioned, I get the feeling the writer has chosen to be a crusader of sorts for the plan, which could effectively encourage friends and family to examine where they are at. Their long term goals and stashing rather than spending now is a choice they have made. Being she is still be invited regardless of her trying to change the opinion of the others, shows she is still being accepted regardless of appointing herself the judge. She might do the same for the rest, when they are ready to listen or change they will, hopefully that  will come before they hit bottom.
    #2 I would get earplugs rather than being wrapped up in the politics of your office in trying to create her silence button. I worked for years in a high stress IT job and at times you might actually see a Frisbee fly down the aisle, you need some of those break loose moments also. Daily with a bad comic, would not be entertaining.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Re: #2: The last job I had, we were in a set of six cubicles positioned three to a row, with the rows being back to back, with just enough room to move our chairs back to get out of them. Very close, very, very close. We were in the corner of a large office space, like distant, disreputable cousins…because we were the accounting department. Yes, all six of us. The people responsible for getting the company, and our drivers, paid.
      We had two constant talkers. One sat next to me, one behind me. Both were loud. The woman to my left had a very nasal, what we might refer to as “country” mode of speaking, which was very grating (I actually never placed her accent, because I’ve never heard one quite so awful anywhere here in Texas, which is where she was raised), and she discussed her family problems in great detail, on the phone, all day, every day. The woman behind me had a big laugh, and talked incessantly with her friends about deeply, ah, personal matters and their mutual club experiences, and dodged bill collectors.
      I had a small tape player that I kept at a low volume. I played very quiet music designed to occupy my mind while I did mindless work. When the woman next became simply too raucous, I dangled a neon pink rubber spider into her cubicle on a string, tied to a pencil. It became her cue to lower the volume (momentarily, at least). The other woman was pretty hopeless. I put several comments in our supervisor’s office regarding loud telephone conversations. The result was a memo to everyone regarding personal phone calls being limited, and phone use being monitored. Since the rest of us were usually on the phone on personal time perhaps 5 minutes per day, this was met with a certain degree of resignation. The talkers didn’t stop talking.
      There rarely is anything you can do about people with diarrhea of the mouth, sadly. They won’t take the hint, because they’re usually the sort who believe that having the ability to speak means that they never need to shut up. And supervisors generally detest this sort of complaint, and perceive it as whiny (even though it isn’t) and overly-sensitive, and a clear sign of someone who “can’t get along” and who “isn’t a team player”. You might try sticky notes with Zen koan stuck to her computer monitor screen, anonymously, of course. That worked for my other loud cubicle neighbor at times. Standing up and screaming might not be a good thing, or snatching her bald, but sometimes looking at a person blankly and stating, “You said that already…three or four times”, also works wonders. Good luck.

  9. avatar Sianne S says:

    Please, please, please keep in mind that some of these so called debt-consolidation ‘plans’ don’t work.  You pay them money up front and they promise to “work with” your creditors to lower your monthly payments into one bill.  Which means, when it works, is that they buy your debts from your creditors and then you pay the debt consolidation firm.  It’s nice in theory, but some creditors don’t work with the companies, so you now have a double whammy of giving your money to the debt consolidation firm, who wants you to start making payments, and from the original debtor, who has not in fact sold your debt.  Getting money back from these places is almost impossible, and they will string you along for months while your creditors pile up.  Do your research before signing on with ANY of them.   It’s not work risking your credit score over.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      I worked in Bill Collecting (briefly. Even I’m not vicious enough for that). Most Debt Consolidation Plans end up landing people in a world of hurt, legitimate or otherwise. The bad ones are as Sianne S described. The good ones actually require you to pay a precise dollar amount each month, on time, and provide very little flexibility. They are generally interest free (they are not trying to make money at all), but they are not only providing a service to the debtor, but also to those who are owed money and want to be paid. If you default through lateness, you may not be able to restructure, and may be asked to pay the entire amount.
      For so many people who find themselves in debt, a certain righteousness overcomes them. They begin to believe that they were duped, forced to spend the money, or somehow responsible. The credit card companies, mortgage companies, banks and mail-order houses, and finance people are clever, and they want your hard earned dollars, no doubt. People can be fooled, or dazzled, too, especially the desperate and the under-educated. But having worked in the collections business, I will also say that a lot of people are selfish, avaricious, and inclined to believe that they deserve certain things, whether they can afford them or not.
      It was always entertaining to get a list of unpaid for items, and be perusing them when speaking to some debtor who claimed to be on a “fixed income” for the last decade (see Welfare) but had purchased a $500 leather coat, a $1500 TV, and two pairs of $300 shoes (the person in question was not a minority, by the way, in case someone should accuse me of racism) who is screaming obscenities at you, then pauses to add, “Well, you wouldn’t understand, because you have a job“. And you say, in your best puzzled sort of voice, “Yes, that’s right. And I buy all my clothes at thrift shops and discount stores, and I don’t have bill collectors calling me at home because I won’t pay for my stuff”. Which was all true…and living where I do, I had no access to public transportation, and drove a tiny Geo Metro an hour to work, then an hour or two back home, and often had only a couple of dollars in the bank at the end of each month.
      It was a terrible job, but quite an education. And the only time in my life I was ever told to “Kiss a fat man’s ass” by the outraged father of an adult woman who was deeply in debt, and had no job, and was hiding behind daddy dearest. What a life.

      • avatar Sianne S says:

        Exactly.  It scares me that so many people see these “Get out of debt fast” ads and just start throwing money at them.  The ones that will really work with you are the nonprofits, and they hardly have ads on the television, promoting themselves.  (Heck, down here there’s an advertisement for a bankruptcy service)  And kudos for surviving that job.  I wouldn’t have lasted two days.

      • avatar Lila says:

        Well, you are right about the “I deserve it” mentality.
        A friend of mine had a young soldier in her company who asked her to sign off on an Army Community Services loan or grant to pay for food and other necessaries for his family.  As the commander, she was required to go over the soldier’s budget before asking ACS to hand over money (and ACS would also require financial-management classes… the military really gets into your business…).  Anyway, it turned out that among other bad financial decisions, the troop had just bought a brand-new, thousand-dollar living room suite.  The commander advised him to return it, and he did.  A few days later, the soldier’s wife burst into the commander’s office demanding to know why she couldn’t have new living room furniture, because she deserved to have nice things.  The commander stood firm and said no, that you deserve to have things that you earn and can pay for, and that buying things for yourself – with money you don’t have – while leaving your kids with no food, and then asking someone else to pay for that – is the wrong answer.
        The soldier’s wife saw she was not getting anywhere with the commander, but, I have my doubts about whether she was shamed or learned anything from that conversation.  The commander never told the soldier about that confrontation, but he found out – probably heard his wife’s version – and was very, very embarrassed.

      • avatar Renee Garafola says:

        I can agree with you to an extent. As someone who has made financial mistakes and has been relentlessly hounded by bill collectors I can say not everyone has the “I deserve it” mentality. I have nothing, literally. The only reason I have a phone is because it’s required for my job (of course they won’t pay for it, just demand we have one). I go to school full time and work full time and I still live paycheck to paycheck. I get my clothes from thrift shops, my car is 15 years old and barely running, I buy the cheapest food I possibly can.
        Sometimes there truly are extenuating circumstances (like an unforeseen medical problem that cost me thousands of dollars, or a car accident that put me in the hospital for two days). Being berated and harassed by bill collectors doesn’t help anyone. If they truly wanted to help they’d try to help people find workable solutions, not just insult them. I was told by a bill collector I shouldn’t have gone to the doctors to find out whether the lump in my breast was cancerous because I couldn’t afford it. I suppose I should have just waited to see if I died or not. Sometimes life does just drastically change, a little understanding goes a long way.

  10. avatar Maggie W says:

    It sounds like LW #1 is perhaps biting her tongue to keep from telling her relatives all about her special program. Once some people have discovered a pot of gold at the end of their rainbow, it’s hard to resist giving others directions how to get there as well and in great detail. If she enjoys being with these people, she should focus on that enjoyment and nothing more.
    From the get-go, my young husband and I knew we wanted to build our own business. Both my dad and my father in law gave us great advice ( both were farmers) that served us well then and now. We knew that we did not have the money to make this an immediate reality, so we developed a three phase plan. We also knew it would take several years. Along the way, babies arrived but we never lost sight of the plan. It just took longer. We have recently taken on Phase # 3, the most expansive and most expensive. There was a time that kind of investment would have frightened me greatly. But what I have learned along the way is that instant gratification brings few long term rewards. Life will bust your financial chops unless you have a sound plan . A very sound plan. The kind that wakes you at 2:00 in the morning with new ideas.
    LW#2.. Truly. I mean this. I would just tell her that she is monopolizing the conversation in a loud manner, and that if she cannot stifle that impulse, then take it out to the parking lot. I would also request a cubicle far down the hallway.


  11. avatar reeledge says:

    any thoughts on dealing with a similar co-worker, whose husband had a swatiska tattoo and collects nazi memorablia?  I asked why he didn’t collect Allied memorablia and she walked away.  Do I have to be nice to her?  Its a small office, only 11 and she is the only other woman.  I have overheard her telling others about the Nazi memorabilia.  I have a feeling they are in shock and don’t know what to say to her.

    • avatar D C says:

      I would make sure that co-worker couldn’t get hold of my home address.  You might find a cross burning in your yard.

  12. avatar AngelaM. says:

    LW#1: This is a clear case of MYOB.  It’s hard, I know.  One of my best friends ended up making some TERRIBLE financial decisions, despite her being a generally level-headed, intelligent woman with an associates degree in business management.  I tried to warn her, but it was her decision.  She ended up declaring bankruptcy and I have to bite my tongue every time she talks about trying to pay off OTHER PEOPLE’s debts!  She took over all of her (now ex-) husband’s debts and gives every extra dollar she has to her parents so they could afford the boat, four-wheeler, etc.  I love her dearly and she’s (clearly) one of the most giving people I’ve ever known, but it makes me nuts to see her struggle so much.  But she doesn’t want my advice and ignores it even if I give it.  It’s her life.  You’ll just have to let your relatives live the way they see fit and face the consequences of their own actions.
    My husband is currently unemployed after the economy tanked and the college he taught at folded, but we’re still doing okay.  When I bought my house, I only considered my income since we weren’t even yet engaged at that point.  We can pay all the regular bills (mortgage, utilities, etc) on my salary alone and yet we still have over a years worth of expenses in the bank.  My dad and his mother were both asking us constantly if we were doing okay until we finally told them how much money we had in the bank.  They haven’t worried about us since!  I’d love for my friend to have that kind of security, but she has to make her own decisions, and for her helping her dad is more important than having a safety net financially.