Are You a Money Victim?

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In life, pain is inevitable, the suffering is optional...  Photo by tapperboy.I’ve heard it all before.

You can’t earn more because of your boss. You can’t earn more because of your career path. You can’t earn more because of the economy. You can’t earn more because you don’t have enough time. You can’t earn more because you’re ugly and only the beautiful people get ahead.

You can’t save more because of inflation. You can’t save more because the things you need are expensive. You can’t save money because the government will just take it all. You can’t save money because you never learned how and it’s too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Poor you. You’re just the victim of a society that’s out to get you.

Here in reality, though, things are a little different.

Every single day, we wake up and get out of bed with an opportunity to do something to change the rules of our life. We can stand up for what we deserve at work. We can take on projects that make us shine. We can turn off the television and do something productive. We can start doing more things for ourselves and stop paying for convenience. We can find more work. We can ask for more pay. We can get creative with the money we do have.

It’s scary to take that leap. It’s hard. But whenever you decide it’s too scary or it’s too hard, you’re the one making the decision. All of those external factors that make it hard aren’t keeping you in place. You’re keeping you in place.

Four years ago, I was thoroughly unhappy with my life. I was going nowhere as a writer. I was sinking into debt. I had a child coming, but I had no idea how to be a parent or how to take care of that child. I worked at a job that had started to become something I didn’t want to do. I was really overweight. I had a marriage that wasn’t particularly happy, mostly because I wasn’t happy.

It was easy to blame things. “I need this thing in order to be happy.” “I can’t make a career change because this one is safe and reliable.” “I’d like to go exercise, but it’s too cold outside and I don’t like the gym.” “I can’t succeed as a writer because I’m not in New York hobnobbing with publishers.”

The truth? The only person to blame there was myself. The blame didn’t fall anywhere else. It wasn’t the weather’s fault that I wasn’t getting in shape. It wasn’t my location’s fault that I wasn’t pushing myself as a writer. It wasn’t clever advertising’s fault that I felt I needed so much stuff. It wasn’t my job’s fault that I was scared to make a leap.

It was my fault.

I let these things that didn’t really matter guide my choices, time and time again. I blamed them for my problems – it couldn’t have been me, after all.

I chose to be a victim of circumstance. And it almost buried me.

You have two choices in life. You can either be a victim, tossed about by whatever provides a convenient excuse. Or you can say, “You know what? This is my situation, but I can fight it. I can stand up and change it.”

Which way will you go?

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69 thoughts on “Are You a Money Victim?

  1. This is so true, changing anything does start with you. In the past couple of years, I’ve lost more than 30 pounds, had a second child, started working on a transition plan at work, bought a house, paid off thousands of dollars in debt and started planning for my future more aggressively than ever before. But it all starts off with me making the choice to have an effect on something in my life.

    It’s easy to get down with the economy, wars raging, terrorism, traffic, you name it — but you really do have to ask yourself “what can I have an effect on TODAY that will make my life better?” Get a few victories under your belt and then you start looking further and further down the line.

  2. It comes down to ease, convenience and instant gratification. Our culture is enchanted with these “values”. They’re reinforced by the vicarious “reality” we see on TV, where everyone’s rich, talented and beautiful, but no one works at it. In real life we see successful people and assume either they’re born into it, or they hit on a streak of luck. What we never see is the struggle and effort that produced the success.

    If you want to go forward you have to find a way to shut out all of that disinformation and go forward at your own pace. In a real way, you have to live in a bit of a vaccuum.

  3. Thanks for this one, Trent. You really could change the title to ask “Are you a victim?” because the same principle exists in all aspects of our lives. It’s truly inspirational to me, though, to see just how far you have come & how significantly you’ve changed your life in such a short period of time. Congratulations and thank you for openly sharing your story.

  4. Love this post. The one I’ve heard the most is “I’d love to do/learn/try/visit X, but I don’t have the time.”

    Sure you have the time. You watch TV for several hours every night, right? Use that time. You can make time for anything you really care about. If you’d rather watch TV, that makes your true priorities evident.

  5. Trent you are so right. When it comes to success in our lives we are often our own worst enemy. We’re either too lazy to make the changes necessary or don’t think we have the power to make the changes in our lives.

    The amazing thing is that we live in one of the greatest countries on the planet. There are fewer places on earth where hard work and commitment can actually lead to financial rewards.

    Consider that much of the world either lives on a dollar a day or less, lives under a repressive regime, or lives in areas where political violence hampers any chance for financial advancement.

    Once you realize how blessed we are to live in the USA then it sinks in that our success or lack thereof really is our own doing.

  6. so true. it’s one thing to admit that you didn’t plan something well and be a bit frustrated when you get crunched for time/money/etc. it’s another to think that the world was conspiring against you and you had no responsibility. so many people don’t understand that they’re letting a misguided belief (or two or three…) cause mayhem in their lives. get up and fix stuff!

  7. I think this is the one pinnacle thing in most peoples lives they do not grasp, and it is the most important thing as well.

    Most everything in your life is your own fault.

    And most people are exacly where they deserve to be in life.

    This was the main theme I got out of Dave Ramsey. The “it is your fault” mindset.

  8. Completely agree. I can be a bit of a harsh older brother, but I have a younger brother who chooses never to be accountable for anything. He is always a victim of some unbelievable circumstance. He feels that life is much easier on everyone but him. He’s actually a really smart and talented guy, which makes it even more frustrating for me. I want to see him succeed, but because he’s always the victim, he’ll need to change somewhat to do so. No one has more control of a life than the person living it.

  9. Great post Trent. I am currently trying to get my self out of debt and you give me inspiration everyday. Thank you

  10. I totally agree. Personal responsibility is something that is lost on so many people. I work with high school students, some of whom are never on time/don’t have their homework, and they always have a reason. Sometimes those reasons are valid, but it largely comes down to being responsible for your own things and actions. Thanks for the great article!

  11. Great post! All successful people realize that they for the most part control their own destiny. You have to envision the end result you want and then do what’s necessary to achieve that result. Pretty much Stephen Covey teachings.

    -Gen Y Investor

  12. This is an awesome post. I get so tired of people saying they can’t do “x” because of “y”. When I hear someone complaining about a situation, I always tell them that only you can make a change in your life. If you don’t like something, change it!!

  13. I completely agree with you here. So many people, including myself, like to blame something or someone instead of ourselves, for not ‘getting ahead’. It’s truly a sick cycle, that fortunately, I have been able to break, but many can’t.

    I’m glad I have been able to see that I control my destiny, not others. It comes down to taking responsibility for one’s actions.

  14. Not sure how I feel about this one. I’ve spent the last 15 years vigorously trying to change my circumstances for better: Living as frugal as can possibly be (which including ditching the TV entirely over 5 years ago), devouring any financial advice I can find, switching jobs multiple times trying to improve my situation, moving all over the country trying to improve my situation, taking on side jobs/freelancing/moonlighting, and while I can happily say that I have *no debt*, my overall situation just hasn’t gotten better (I’m still making far under $20,000/yr). The next step is going back to college to try to get another BA in a more useful major (accounting this time, instead of art).

    But it’s still frustrating, and I can see why some people feel like giving up or blaming circumstances. Yeah, it’s easy to say “you have to accept that it’s YOUR fault”, but when people do accept that and try to improve their situation, but STILL end up failing, it can be hard advice to swallow. :/

  15. Excellent post and excellent comments! This hits the nail on the head. Yes, there are crappy things that happen in life that can derail you, but you play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you want, and lusting after the later never improved anything. Life’s what you make of it. Thanks for the great post!

  16. I think many people would rather blame their circumstances or external forces rather than implicitly accept that they have ownership and responsibility for their own lives.

    And Tyler (comment #4) is right on: “I don’t have time” is just a proxy excuse for choosing not to prioritize something. Everybody knows there isn’t time in life for everything, that’s why it’s so critical that you actively choose the important things.

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

  17. “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” – Chuck Swindoll

  18. I really like the tone of this article, kind of snappy. It wouldn’t work all the time, but it’s a nice change of pace.

    I think that the victim mentality is a major factor in our current economic and moral meltdown. Because everyone is a victim, and nobody is responsible for their circumstances, we have lost out on a tremendous amount of human capacity.

    I hate reading stories about how we need more government programs to fight the war on poverty, when statistically, the more we spend, the worse things get. The more we spend, the more we destroy the natural dynamics that promote healthy family structures and self-sufficiency.

    There are very, very few true victims. Most of us are living in circumstances almost entirely of our own making.

    At #11, it sounds tough based on what you’re saying. However, if you haven’t read the Tightwad Gazette, you really should. It might drastically alter how you view money.

  19. Hey. I both love and hate this post. On the one hand, I’ve personally lived through the transformative power of learning to apply my will and effect change in my life. It’s heady stuff, and demonstrates that one really does have a great deal of power to create the life one wants to live. Nothing in my external circumstance has changed, but I’ve tripled my income and halved my debt in a few months time, plus started a career I’ve always wanted. WOOOO!

    On the other hand, the scrappy American ideal of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, and succeeding on one’s merits regardless of circumstance, has led to a lot of victim-blaming in the country, and a refusal to recognize the very real impact of cultural forces on people’s lives.

    Not every smart scrappy kid who works hard to get ahead will succeed. Some of them will be victims of violent crime, or life-altering discrimination, or family troubles that force them to shift their priorities. These things have a lot to do with skin color, gender, physical ability, economic class, education and whims of fate.

    When we repeat the myth that every can get the life they want if they just try hard enough, we make it subtly more OK to blame the poor, the sick and the oppressed for being born into a bad situation.

  20. Amen. This is the principle I run by — that first and foremost I am responsible. It is scary how many people (even some of the people I love) have just missed that entirely.

  21. Thank you for this. It’s so true. When it comes down to it, I need to stop wasting money on Starbucks and useless meaningless garbage, especially gifts for people that don’t care (gifts for ppl that do care is another story). I’m so glad I found your blog tonight. I need to make that change in my life. I will continue reading! Thanks!

  22. So much of what is here (on your blog) rings true to me, but nothing more than this post! I LOVE this post!

    I know circumstances can sabatoge even the most careful plans, but what to do with the pieces that are left, and how to react to the mayhem is what makes a person successful. I think the secret to being happy is to seeing the OPPORTUNITY in even the worst things instead of seeing the LIMITATIONS. Being responsible (especially for your own outlook and attitude) is essential!

    Thank you for the keen reminder of that.

  23. Most people are not even aware of the myriad powers allied against them, and their hard earned cash. There are literally millions of people working to seperate people from their money. Sometimes it is a conditioned response to the thousands of television commercials they have seen. Please don’t simplify it to a bootstrap operation.

    I am not trying to excuse victimhood, but you must acknowledge the gravity of the situation. PhDs and entire marketing departments are working overtime right now, devising new ways to seperate people from their money. If the challenge is daunting, it is not without reason.

  24. At #14 (Mighty),
    Thanks for the tip on the Tightwad Gazette. :)
    I’ll see if our library/used bookstore has it. It seems to have gotten favorable reviews on Amazon.

  25. I don’t like the word “blame”. It isn’t a word that would bring empowerment to people and it might even additionally dis-empower those who are already depressed or feeling worthless one way or another. I much more prefer the use of word “responsible”. One is responsibly for one’s life, he is not to be blamed for it. Now that sounds nice and empowering :)

  26. Fabulous post, exposing modern American “victimology”, which is, “I can’t do “X” because I’m a victim of “Y”. Life’s almost ALL choices! Get up and make morning coffee or buy a $5. something at Starbucks every AM ($35./per week not going into the bank!)? Drive a gas guzzler to work, or drive a gas sipping compact or take the bus? Stay in school, graduate high school, learn to be a plumber or an electrician, go to college in some salable field, or drop out of high school, get pregnant, do drugs, over consume alcohol, get in trouble with the law? Smoke cigarettes or not smoke, which one is the more healthy and thrifty decision? Shop for beautiful clothing at upscale yard sales and have the stuff tailored, or go to the mall and hemorage money? Cook healthy meals at home or eat out or take out most nights? Obey traffic laws, drive in the slow lane on the interstate, or speed, and get expensive tickets and insurance surcharges? EVERY DECISION EFFECTS YOUR BOTTOM LINE FINANCIALLY. Comment #11, BD, You’ve got a degree in art and then moan because you only earn $20,000. per year? You picked a BA in art, and after one year of surveying what “art” pays, you could have gone back for an MA in finance, accounting, education! Surely it didn’t take 15 years to learn that the financial ceiling in “art” is $20,000. If I set up at a flea market or group yard sale, and no one buys what’s on my tables while there is vigorous buying from the sellers around me, IT DOESN’T TAKE 15 YEARS TO REALIZE THAT MY MERCHANDISE IS WRONG AND THAT I SHOULD BRING DIFFERENT STUFF NEXT TIME IN ORDER TO MAKE MONEY! It takes 15 minutes to learn my decison picking my merchandise was wrong, and I should stock my table with what sells. Every day there are dozens of opportunities for good vs bad financial decisions, some small, some large. CONSCIOUSLY EXAMINE EACH DECISION OPPORTUNITY AND MAKE THE CORRECT FINANCIAL CHOICE.

  27. Sometimes I hate that acquiring anything material is soooo easy. Back when I smoked, I wanted to quit, but geez, everytime I got a morning coffee or gas, there they were, all stacked nice and neatly and crying out my name.

    It’s that conscious decision part that’s the toughest.

    For me, I couldn’t start changing things until our first child was born. Then I decided that everything was about the child’s well-being, NOT mine anymore.

    It’s tough to get out of the ‘me’ rut…but when you do, it’s so easy to never go back.

  28. Thanks Trent.

    I really needed to hear this today.

    As much as I’m good at motivating myself its also great to have outside reinforcement from time to time.

    Am metaphorically cleaning my life lens & re-focussing right NOW!

    Liz

  29. Everyone should take a job working in a jail for a couple of years. That’s where the products of poor life choices end up – whether made by the inmates or their parents/upbringing. Good “teachable moment” where one comes away with the idea that the way to succeed is not do what they did. Sad, really.

  30. http://www.storyofstuff.com/

    I just watched this short video and I think that it touches on just what these comments are talking about and the biger picture of environmental impact of our culture being a consuming culture. No only are we money victims but we are allowing the external infulences of advertisements and media to influence our purchases and ultimately our environment.

    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

  31. I grew up in a working poor household with neglectful / abusive parents and a severely handicapped sibling. It would have been all too easy for me to get knocked up like many of my classmates did, collect public assistance and making nothing of myself. Instead, I worked hard at jobs, babysitting and school and got a BA at Northwestern, where I met my best friend whom I married 4 years later. I went to graduate school, we had a daughter, and will be married for 7 years. We still have plenty of challenges in our lives, but even though I had serious childhood issues I was able to work my way around them to succeed.

  32. I have always considered myself accountable for my actions and typically proactive about making things better in my life. Unfortunately, I became complacent, (and didn’t realize it). An MS diagnosis in 2006 kicked my butt into gear and now, three years later, I am living healthier and wealthier.

  33. Excellent post. I choose to not be a victim and I am slowly working on making my own path and being in control of my money. That’s the easy part.

    What’s frustating is when you make an attitude change like that, initially you are still surrounded by old friends … many of whom are insistent on continuing to play victim and think YOU are crazy.

  34. BD (11), Sierra (15), LC (15)–You’re all raising good points! And if I can summarize, keeping your nose clean, working hard, saving your money and working to do all the right things won’t guarantee success, certainly not in all cases, and not steadily throughout your life. Different people face greater challenges than others. I totally agree.

    But I think the point is that by doing the right things, by moving in a positive direction, we stack the deck in our favor. You can start out broke, plan to be a millionaire in 10 years, and “only” be worth $100,000 at that point, but even though you don’t reach your stated goal, you still made significant progress, you’re still better off than a large swath of the population.

    It’s not scientific, but it usually does lead to an improved outcome. That’s the most we can hope for, and it’s better than the alternative.

  35. I think many of us are victims, but most of us also have choices.

    Another way to look at things is to remember the advantages you have. Most of us have some such as good health, motivating kids, decent intelligence, knowledge of the local language, reliable transportation, ability to show up to work on time, or good vision and hearing. Focusing on your strengths rather than limitations may also help you get ideas.

    I also want to say that I have a degree in a useless field, but I’ve worked my way up in clerical stuff/administration to a job that requires a degree (in anything) and pays way more than $20,000 (double that, actually). Of course accounting pays way more than that, so it may make sense for BD to get another degree.

  36. Sierra, I just wanted to say I found your comments really refreshing. I, too, felt some ambivalence about this post. I really like the sentiment of this article, but it does ignore the fact that, despite our country’s ideals, not everyone is treated equally.

  37. I hope this post doesn’t get deleted as too negative because I spent a lot of time on it and feel strongly about the topic. I think everyone gets frustrated by people who never seem to live up to their potential, but let’s try to remember that we can never know anyone’s whole story. How can we assume someone doesn’t try hard enough when we don’t know what they face or how they see the world? My outlook on this used to be a lot narrower, but then I had to rely on some handouts to survive. Believe me, nobody wants to be poor or indebted or living off charity, but sometimes it’s the only way to get by.

    What if judging others is just another form of victimhood? By complaining about all the irresponsible schmucks out there, do the hyper-positive, self-righteous people of the world think they build themselves up or help move it forward? Is wallowing in indignation preferable to acknowledging human frailty?

    “Poor me, I have to put up with all these losers, and my taxes go toward keeping them alive.” Yeah, well, go see “District 9″ or rent “Slumdog Millionaire” and be thankful if fate hasn’t pushed you to the bottom of the pile…so far.

    Sure, we’ve “heard it all before,” but how well have we listened? Let’s review some of the excuses for those not earning more.

    BECAUSE OF MY BOSS
    One of my bosses was a sociopath, and her supervisor was too corrupt to care. Eventually I left the job for a better one, but it took awhile to realize it was a hopeless situation and to glue my self-esteem back together for a job search. People still with that company are absolutely miserable, but they’ve been dogged into believing they’re worthless and could never get a “better” job. If you’ve ever felt trapped in a dysfunctional workplace, you know how hard it is to extract yourself. If you haven’t, you don’t have a clue how bad it can get.

    BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMY
    Unemployment seems to be easing up a bit now, but ARE YOU KIDDING ME? When hundreds of people are applying for one job at a dollar store, it might not be possible to pick up extra hours or even hold on to the job you’ve got.

    DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME
    True, each of us gets 24 hours in a day, but some of us can get by on 3-6 hours sleep while others need 7-10. Some of us have no kids or sick relatives while others need to be caregivers around the clock. Some of us absorb information quickly while others have dyslexia or ADD. It’s not just the grains of sand in the hourglass, it’s how much it gets shaken up.

    ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE GET AHEAD
    Scientific studies confirm that attractive people do earn more money over a lifetime. That’s not to say “ugly” people can’t advance, but they’re bound to have a harder time. Discrimination against people who are older, disabled, overweight, etc. is rampant. It’s not an “excuse” but an inexcusable reality that imperfections reduce earning potential. (Boob jobs may not be prerequisite for all professions, but it seems the deck is unfairly stacked against those who are not.)

    All things being equal, everyone should be able to succeed. But when exactly will all things be equal? Certainly not during a decade when a hurricane’s havoc was upstaged by racism or when the wealthy elite shamelessly wasted government bailouts. As healthcare reform gets stymied by big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, it’s obvious the Haves continue to oppress the Have Nots. In a so-called Christian nation, I’m amazed by the lack of charity, compassion or goodwill displayed by the upper classes toward the lower. If the recession hasn’t taught the lesson of, “There but for the grace of God go I,” I guess nothing will.

  38. Lenore, I find that I have to apply this kind of thinking to myself to make sure i’m working towards my own happiness…but I can’t apply it to others. You never know where other people started out.

    I have a friend who is, literally, the most successful person I know – she started out way less advantaged to me and she’s achieved *way* more.

    But that achievement puts her in the company of people who started out way ahead, who look down on her state university degree because they all went Ivy League, who can’t understand why she doesn’t want to go to grad school (because mommy & daddy paid their tuition and living expenses and she just finished paying off her bachelor’s degree loans), who think she should “just relax” and spend more and work less because they have a soft cushiony safety net under them and she has none.

    They can’t appreciate how far she’s come, at all, because they started out there.

    I don’t want to be one of those blindly privileged people, at my own scale – but I do want to be as successful as I can be, so I appreciate this kind of talk and apply it in my own life. Just not to others.


  39. At comment #20:

    Why did it “take 15 years?”:
    When I went through college for my degree in ‘art’ (actually, Graphic Design), designers were making around $50,000 a year. I graduated in 1995. Got out into the workforce earning $10 an hour. Tried to work my way up the payscale. I thought I had to just ‘pay my dues’. I was young, naive and unsure how everything worked. So between 1995 and 2005, I worked my way slowly up the ladder, switching jobs every time I was refused a pay raise due to ‘the company cannot afford it’ (which was usually true…none of those companies are around now). I figured by hard work, learning more, adding to my skill base and gaining experience, my salary would go up to an acceptable level.

    As I was working my way up the ladder, designer wages were slowly dropping due to saturation of designers in the market and the convenience of the newer and better sophisticated user-friendly programs. But yes, it took about 10 years from the time I graduated before designer wages really took a major dive, since the ‘financial ceiling’ wasn’t always $20,000..that’s only happened recently. Other things happened to me in 2005 that were tragedies and unavoidable (and sapped a LOT of my money), and I couldn’t just switch careers at that point, I could only keep pressing on. It hasn’t been til recently that I’ve been free to take a real hard look at what’s happened, and to try to change careers at this stage in life.

    Not everyone has the gift of being able to perfectly predict the future and what wages will be like in 10-15 years for a certain career. The point is, I’m trying to change paths, and trying to make things better in my life.

  40. Lenore
    What a brilliant post. You addressed key issues that the others failed to either grasp or understand or agree with. Thank you for taking a stand that many might not agree with.

    You raise a really important issue when you write:
    What if judging others is just another form of victimhood? By complaining about all the irresponsible schmucks out there, do the hyper-positive, self-righteous people of the world think they build themselves up or help move it forward? Is wallowing in indignation preferable to acknowledging human frailty?

    Personally, I am so sick of the judgmental people in this country. Particularly those who have NEVER walked in the shoes of the many people in this country who work hard and frankly, just don’t get a break (working two or three jobs and none offer healthcare, plus, none will allow you to work sufficient hours to qualify, for example). (No, Trent, not talking about you.)You’d think with the reversal of fortune that has occurred for so many that this would change. NOT. The “class” divide (or whatever you want to call it) exists and is even worse. The formerly well off are now so resentful of the other people competing for jobs it’s a joke. The young hotshots who expect anyone over 40 to just go away and stop working so they can get their jobs, etc.

    Plenty of people are NOT VICTIMS but struggle mightily to keep above water. They continue to learn and do more on their jobs–but still get let go. They do side jobs and jeopardize their health and family life in the process. They get up and keep going when they are treated like dirt every day in ever so many ways, subtle and not so subtle. They do not focus on the “lack” in their circumstances, they just keep working to improve it, regardless of how corporations, society and their fellow citizens treat and judge them. Not only that, they are the first in any neighborhood to offer help, without being asked.

    Finally, we need to address the issue of the rich and VICTIMHOOD.

    With some notable exceptions (the elderly, those who clearly were not equipped to make a decision), a lot of those folks who lost money to Madoff? They seriously should have known better. I mean really. Do you need a Wharton School of Finance degree to understand that you never entrust all your money to one fund, person, whatever? Common sense tells you that if you’re continuing to “earn” above market rates, something is WRONG. GREED is the heart of so many and while I don’t wish that anyone would be swindled, sometimes you just have to accept the fact that greedy people are taken advantage of by other greedy people.

    But listen to some of them wail and whine about having to sell second and third homes. About having to go back to work in their 50s (poor you. The rest of us would be happy to have jobs in our 50s. Welcome to the real world.) The cries of “we’re losing everything”? Not really. You’re losing a lot of gravy, in some cases. All of the “victims” (a word they use constantly, as if THEY had no part in this) are NOT created the same.

    OF course, the government (who is as much to blame as some of these so-called victims, due to the SEC’s failure to investigate something that was clearly amiss), is of course now giving these people credit for the taxes they paid on the non-existent funds. So, once again, the rich getting help while the poor and middle-class suffer.

    These are the people with Victim attitudes that drive me crazy.

    If you’re going to talk about the victim attitude, let’s start addressing it in the HAVES. Not just the have nots.

    This post annoyed the heck out of me. Because I know too many people who never get a break, never complain and get up each day and work their asses off. They should blame others, but they don’t.

    I also know plenty of well-off people who complain constantly about others “living” off them and complain about taxes, etc. When, in fact, most pay so little taxes, it’s a joke. Most don’t even really do anything constructive (a lot are living off money earned off the backs of others and not even their own inventions or creations or companies).

    Life is not fair and people are being treated like second-class citizens if that.

    If some maybe feel hopeless. hell, who can blame them.

    There are NOT enough resources around to help those who need it.

    Frankly, I’d prefer my tax dollars go to helping others learn new skills, get healthcare, get jobs, get temporary help when they need it (they can volunteer to “make up” for grants) and get housing.

    I don’t want my tax dollars supporting the rich who don’t pay taxes; funding wars; and the fat-cat bankers who even with our tax dollars are still rewarding themselves for bankrupting companies and still not creating jobs, hiring people or helping those with mortgage problems.

  41. I think some readers are taking this post out of context. I don’t think Trent is suggesting that inner-city kids or the structurally disadvantaged just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But he’s not writing for those groups. Given the subject of this blog and its target audience – people who want to be in control of their own financial future – his post is spot-on. The key to long-term career and financial success is empowerment and self-determination, and these are the opposite of being a victim. In the short term, you may find yourself in a job you hate or with a terrible boss. But over time, you have the ability to create your own opportunities. That will be much harder – if not impossible – if your mindset is that things are out of your control. If you think that you can’t change your life, then the perception becomes the reality.

    The only thing in life you can always control is your attitude.

  42. Well, I liked the post; it has motivated me to look into that degree I should have gotten years ago. But what was even more educational is all the posts and comments. What a great dialogue! I would like to thank everyone who contributed. Obviously there is a lot here and a lot that we feel passionate about, and I for one will be mulling things over in the days ahead. Kudos, Trent, for initiating a very thought- provoking conversation.

  43. This article was a little too virtuous, a little too righteous for my tastes. A nice inspirational/motivational piece, but also highly judgemental.

    I suppose we could all do a little something each day to improve our lot in life, even something as simple as saying a prayer. Problem is, we always pray for ourselves…rarely others. Therein lies the rub.

    We live in a society where money is king, and the poor are enslaved. Wars, health care costs, hunger, homelessness, substance abuse, global warming, over population, swine flu… and yet greed and wasteful consumption rule.

    I just want to live in an igloo with my dog.

  44. Although I am Canadian I read your site whenever I can. I am turning 24 and I am at that point where I am deciding where I want, and how I want to live. One of those is frugally. I grew up a little poor but I never feel like I went without, or I am going without. I mostly read your website because you really get the point across, caring and conserving isn’t about missing out on life. Its about living it and respecting it. I am now living with my boyfriend who is brilliant and wonderful, but comes from a well off family. Its a fun job to teach him everything! I am lucky that he is willing to learn. Please keep posting, you are appealing to lots of people out here. Your honesty is refreshing!

    Also I know this is a little late, but you were looking for cheap eats. I eat this all the time, being a vegetarian and knowing that lentils are the definition of cheap! You should try it out. http://homecooking.about.com/od/appetizerrecipes/r/blapp34.htm This is just one online, but its just a simple base.
    Thanks again. Canada loves you!

  45. I absolutely agree. Not exactly the mindset ppl in Washington are promoting, but we are all individuals with free choice. We have to bear the results of our choices, be that good or bad.

    If I don’t succeed at becoming wealthy, it is no one’s fault but my own. I can’t control everything (freak accidents, fires, how others follow through) but I can control enough that at the end of the day (and beginning) it’s up to me to choose to make my life better.

    -DC

  46. one word to describe this article–ouch. but you speak the truth. too many people act helpless when it comes to their money. You gotta take responsibility for your life and your actions.

  47. You forget to factor in health issues. Some of us need 10-12 hours of sleep due to the autoimmune disease we have, and our energy is severely limited. Our money is severely stretched by $20,000+ per year of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Our medical insurance and care systems are simply not designed to ensure that people with chronic illnesses get the optimal care we need to function at our best, so that we CAN be productive, contributing members of society.

    The attitude that so many people have that with proper diet and exercise we’ll be perfectly healthy, therefore it is our own darned faults we are sick is also NOT helpful. That magical thinking is going to blow up in your faces someday, too. And then you are going to end up hating yourself because you are now a lazy parasite just like all the other ill people.

    And all the positive attitude in the world won’t change that reality, either of the hatred we suffer or the reality of our limited energy.

  48. @Lenore, #29: I can’t figure out what to think about the idea that judging others is just another form of victimhood, who say “Poor me, I have to put up with all these losers, and my taxes go toward keeping them alive.”

    On the one hand, I am grateful for everything I have, and for being blessed with not only a great deal of smarts and talent, but excellent self discipline. I don’t like to complain about money because I know that I am so much better off than people in poor countries who are living off of food scrounged from garbage dumps. People in countries who work their whole life to own a piece of land and then have it taken from them to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. Ahem.

    On the other hand, by the time I buy a bag of flour, it has been taxed over 200 times (taxes on the seeds, the water, the soil, the fertilizers, the land, the labor, etc.). Those taxes go to fund poor to mediocre public schools, war, welfare programs that have actually made the poverty problem worse, endless road construction paid for at over-market prices and done poorly, etc.

    Is it not a form of victimization to have almost half of my paycheck go to fund things I do not value, and many of which actually harm me? Is it not a form of victimization to have my spending power so tremendously reduced by a government that wants to “print money” to pay for billion dollar spending plans? If I do not pay taxes I will lose everything, but if I do pay taxes I work twice as many hours as I have to, and realize far less financial growth than I would if the government would stick to the basics, and let the people stick to surviving.

    I think that we need to remember that human beings are incredibly tenacious and clever. We have survived for many thousands of years without a government to let us know who’s a victim and which victims get handouts.

  49. @Sharon – I have several chronic health conditions and I understand what you are saying.

    Not too many years ago, I realized that, much like Trent mentions in his post, I am not a “victim” of those any more than I am a “victim” financially.

    I might not be able to do much, but I believe I can and should do what I can. I’ll never run a marathon – does that mean I shouldn’t walk when I can or, on a really bad day, just get out of bed and stand up? I have an aunt who isn’t that old who is completely bedridden. Her health problems aren’t the direct reason – she just wouldn’t do anything if it was the least bit uncomfortable, so eventually, her muscles atrophied because she refused to get out of bed when she was feeling achy. Now, she’d give anything just to stand up and can’t.

    I feel very bad for her, but like I feel about some of the money situations, I understand – and she understands – that she helped bring herself to this place. And I’ve decided I’m NOT going to do that.

    That said, you’re right, a positive attitude will not make you well. But it will make you willing to do what you can, I think.

  50. This post might well be helpful and inspiring to some, but it’s just downright callous to others who are suffering from events beyond their control.

    It’s also a very American-culture type post. These beliefs are ingrained in our society. IMO, they aren’t very helpful or realistic beliefs.

  51. And I do. But nobody with any sense is going to hire me for a full time job with benefits. Also, think twice before judging people who are in pain. What would be “the least bit uncomfortable” for you can be excruciating for your aunt. People who were operated on a children without anesthesia, which was the practice until very recently, have been found to have had their pain sensors hyper-activated and they suffer tremendously from things that for the rest of us are nothing particularly bothersome.

    The judgmental attitude of so many, apparently including you, is an additional burden. Your aunt may find that if she is offered physical therapy and decent pain control will find that she can eventually become mobile again. I just wonder if anyone is going to be bothered to pay for that for her.

  52. People get stuck in their ‘comfort zones’ and it is very difficult to branch out and try something new–even when a financial disaster is looming. My neighbor used an inheritance to get completely out of debt except for the home. Within a week, the spouse was laid off and just never could get up the drive to find something other than some cushy freelance work, while waiting for a suitable ‘position’. Fast forward 2 years: the debt load is down more than it was in the beginning and what should have been a financial blessing turned out to be a very small band aid to a very big problem. We simply must own up to our responsibilities by taking the initiative and being big girls and boys about our finances. The problem tends to lie with the face in the mirror and not everything/everybody else we keep blaming.

  53. Bravo. Thank you for this excellent post. I am not a “money victim” but I am a “fat victim” with too many years of excuses for remaining morbidly obese. I’m turning my life around day by day and reading this blog and others is so helpful to me to remind me that other people struggle with similar issues.

  54. A few questions for those who found this post so wonderful. I’d like to hear solutions and see how you offer help, rather than judgment

    * What if the mere act of just getting out of bed each day was your greatest success? Cause for many people that’s about all they can do. Literally.

    * what if you worked your whole life, always worked two or more jobs, and found yourself kicked to the curb as many autoworkers and others who saw mismanaged companies sent to bankruptcy…you tried to get retrained but there was no help and you don’t have the money to learn a new skill in your 50s and 60s.

    * What if you’d be happy to take a minimum-wage job but no one will hire you because they don’t believe you’d stick around? (DUH. Like the turnover with teenagers isn’t huge!)

    * How do you find work if you can’t even get interviews? (How many of you have provided realistic leads, contacts, etc.? Rather than just useless comments.)

    Wake up people. The world is tough, and getting tougher as the “haves” realize they may not have it anymore and are so fearful of this they’ll do anything to make sure nobody else gets “theirs.”

    People are not victims, but often one’s circumstances are such that you cannot get out of them. Some holes are deep and actually get deeper.

    If any of you actually worked with people who have tough lives and see how hard they work to make them better when the odds are, quite frankly, against them, you might stop putting people down and learn some compassion.

    More importantly, instead of judging, you could offer help that allows someone to be responsible.

    Treat people like crap long enough and they believe it. That’s what has happened to a lot of folks.

    Success is a relative term. Getting up each day and doing the best you can is all you can do, regardless of the results.

    And success also often comes on the back of others. A lot of people take credit for success that rightly belongs to the hard work of others. Some of those are the very people who don’t realize their own dreams. They are too busy making YOURS come true! At their literal expense. (I know people who have worked to make franchises successful for owners. Greedy owners who don’t even pay for any form of healthcare for their workers…lest it interfere with their excessive profit.)

  55. @LC (#17):

    Yes, goals of marketing/advertising are to separate people and their money. But the gravity of the situation is only as grave as each of us makes it out to be.

    Kevin (#2) points out, it is necessary to find ways to filter out the marketing. Turning off the idiot box is a great first step.

    I find that living by intention is a great way to filter out marketing clutter:

    1. Stay active, physically &/or mentally: Think about it, when are you more apt to get spammed by marketing? TV and other passive activities, when you don’t have to think. More room in the brain for what shouldn’t be there.

    2. Planning & Goal Setting: Sometimes you can’t get away from marketing & advertising. Billboards, LCD’s in elevators, your best friend ranting on and on about his/her latest gizmo. Goals and solid plans to back them squash any subliminal message those Ph’D's can whip up.

  56. Again, I think this was a very well-intentioned article. I’m sure it will motivate and inspire some, while leaving others feeling bruised.

    The article really doesn’t address those who DO work hard, do the right thing, follow all the rules, and yet just can’t make it.

  57. You are correct, though there are broader social factors that play a role in our experiences, like it or not. Racism and sexism still exist; on average women earn $0.76 for every $1 men make, and Latino/as, blacks, and American Indians earn less than whites make (I can’t remember the exact figures). These are institutional constraints on getting ahead and doing our best. We can, of course, try to work our way around, but issues such as these (and heterosexism…its still legal to discriminate due to sexual orientation and gender identity in many states) do create roadblocks that we may or may not even realize.

  58. And I’ll point out that the limits of this attitude are all the more evident in the current economic climate. When there are only so many jobs out there, even the best may not get what s/he deserves, despite how hard s/he works.

    Also, while more men are losing their jobs than women (because they’re paid more and higher ranked, due to institutionalized sexism, and laying them off saves companies more money) women and blacks are more likely to have underwater mortgages. There was an article in the NYT recently about how mortgage companies specifically targeted blacks (and I think women). That is not just about poor individual decision-making.

    I suggest you read some sociology.

  59. This point I don’t think can be stressed enough.

    It was one of the major reasons why I was able to get out of debt–I stopped playing the vicitm, I stopped blaming everyone else and I did something about it.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  60. I’m back again to see how this conversation has progressed. Lordy, TSD can be addictive. Thanks for the kind comments, Rosa and Damester. Trent, we may not always see eye to eye, but I have to applaud you for tackling big issues and inspiring healthy debate.

    If I may indulge in a tangent, I saw “Julie & Julia” today, and it was quite inspiring. Julie is a would-be writer who counteracts her ADD tendencies by making herself stick to a daily assignment of cooking and blogging about it. How could I not be reminded of you, Trent, with your love of food and dedication to this forum? Self-discipline is tough sometimes, but you and she are living proof that it can pay off. Afterall you both got book deals, and all I’ve gotten is jealous.

    If I look in the mirror, I must admit I’m not going to feel fulfilled until I publish my writing somewhere besides here and those silly comment boxes at the end of online articles. I’m not entirely sure what I want to say, but I have a consuming need to express myself for catharsis and the sheer joy of playing with words.

    So I’m dabbling with a few short stories and poems and wondering if I ought to set up a blog too. My problem is always dropping projects and never picking them up again. I either have ADD or it’s part of the manic phase of my bipolar disorder. Sometimes I have too many ideas to keep up with, and other times I’m too depressed to act on anything. Whatever the deal is, it’s my problem and nobody else’s. I can either try to overcome it or wallow in self-pity the rest of my life.

    So I do believe in self-determination and not giving up. I also know the journey to success is harder for some than others. As I sit here on my fat @$$ collecting disability checks, I may be the scourge of many of your readers’ imaginations. If I’d had kids (or my tubes became untied), I might be one of those villified welfare mothers who supposedly suck up the resources of our great capitalist nation. I’ve certainly harangued myself for being a failure and felt ashamed to accept government assistance.
    Yet I don’t blame anyone else for accessing help when they need it.

    America has such a bewildering blend of sympathy, apathy and outrage when it comes to the poor. It’s exhausting to contemplate and frustrating to navigate. There’s a class war going on, but we try to pretend we don’t have castes, no matter how hard it may be to change one’s station. Instead of a Cold War, we have a Gold War which is just as furtive and far-reaching.

    Well, I warned you I was going off on a tangent. Looks like there was more than one, so sorry to spout off. It’s 3 a.m. and I need to let this and myself rest. Power to the People, y’all, and PEACE!

  61. Lenore (29)–You’ve hit on some good points, but I can most definately relate to the time issue with kids. My kids are teens, but the reality of life is that kids take time and emotional energy to deal with.

    Kids WILL change your schedule and command a large share of your time. They have schedules outside the house, homework and school issues that need to be dealt with, and even though you give them chores to do, the amount of work around the house is multiplied considerably because they do everything in hyperspeed–eat, change clothes, make messes, you name it, you’re always dealing with SOMETHING, which often makes it difficult to concentrate on what you’re planning to do. Just trying to keep up with their energy levels and mood swings can be draining.

    So it’s important to realize that different people, in different circumstances and facing unique problems won’t have absolute control over time and efforts. But I think the important thing to take away is that even when we’re “in the weeds” so to speak, we still need to have a plan/goal ahead of us that we move toward if only gradually.

    Circumstances are real and they DO slow us down, but we can’t camp in them either, not if we plan on having any kind of engaging future.

  62. Well, you can certainly tell the “victims” from the non-victims by the responses. Some of those who rant about the hardships in America and how hard it is, seem to be missing the point. Even a very poor person who works hard all their lives and lives with tragedy may not see their situation as being a victim. Somehow the rants got off on the poor versus the rich. There are rich folks who see themselves as victims. I know someone who lost a couple of million in the recent market meltdown. He still has millions. But he sees this as the fault of the market and not his own fault for being greedy and being in very risky, volatile investments. He seems himself as an innocent victim of the government policies, the market, Wall Street, etc. Being a victim really doesn’t have to do with your situation, it has to do with your viewpoint on the world. Bad things happen to good people. But it is the perception and the reaction that define who is a victim and who is not.

  63. I have to say this is the best article I have read thus far. I find myself making excuses for the things I want to do. Although, I think I am getting better at actually doing things and not making excuses. I really have to push myself and I get more reward out of getting things done.

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