The Stress of the Money Wars

A reader, who I will call Jane, wrote in recently with the following:

I do NOT overspend. I work with a monthly budget, live very carefully and frugally, etc. It’s the debt, and the underearning. I am working on both, but wow is it hard somedays, some weeks, some months, especially when this worry eats up so much energy.

I am so SICK of living with this stress. When I think about retirement, which I do constantly, I feel like a huge failure. I often hope I die before I hit 65 so I won’t have to live in the dumpster behind the grocery store, as I fear.

I know exactly what Jane is talking about. Even though I have my financial house in order, with retirement in place and an emergency fund, I quite often feel a queasy feeling in my gut when I think about a lot of financial issues. What if I unexpectedly lose my job? What if I get hit by a bus tomorrow and am left unable to work?

The truth is that the vast majority of Americans continually walk a financial tightrope, whether they directly realize it or not. For some, the truth is much closer – if you have trouble just keeping your bills paid, for example, a financial disaster could be just moments away. For others, like me, the concern is a bit more distant, but with two children at home and with myself being the chief wage-earner in the home, it’s still a worry. Not too long ago, it was a pretty strong worry, too.

This type of stress is simply a part of modern life for most of us. We don’t have access to resources that could completely insulate us from any disaster – I certainly don’t. Given that, what can we do to help deal with this stress? Here are the principles that I apply.

Know what your purpose in doing this is. For me, my purpose is based around my family. Without them, I would have likely made the leap to being a full time writer by now – in fact, I’d probably be living in a different part of the United States. If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes. If you ever wake up in the morning and can’t authentically answer why you’re going into work each day, it’s time to make a serious change.

Always automatically dump money into an emergency fund. Make it a bill, one that you have to pay, and sock it away in a savings account that isn’t immediately accessible (an online bank, like ING Direct – which I personally use and love – works well for this). The more you can sock away, the better, because the bigger your emergency fund is, the more insulated you are from smaller disasters.

Face the worst case scenario – and plan for it. What happens if you lose your job? What do you do? Thinking about such scenarios isn’t a fun thing, but if you spend time now actually facing that situation, two things happen. First, you realize that it isn’t as bad as it initially seems. You’ll often find that when you actually analyze these bad scenarios, things are bad, but not that bad. Second, you’ll feel the relief of having a plan. Knowing what you would do in that situation can often be a comfort as well.

Evaluate all of the assets you have available to you. Most people think strictly in terms of financial assets, but that’s only the beginning. Look at the public services you can tap, the people who form your life, and the assets that they have that you can use. Also, consider the skills and intangible assets that you have – your resume, for one, is a serious asset because it enables you to get a solid job.

Ensure that your mood is otherwise positive. If you are showing signs of authentic depression, seek real help – don’t let it grow into something you can’t get out of. If it’s merely melancholy, try exercising more, eating a healthier diet, and communicating with others you respect and trust.

Never stop improving yourself. Ever. The moment you stop learning and stop trying to gain new skills is the moment you start to become irrelevant. Spend less time in front of the television and more time reading and trying new things.

Most of all, never give up. No matter how bad things get, don’t throw in the towel. Instead, seek out and ask for help to get your feet back on the floor.

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  1. I’m curious about this line: Without them, I would have likely made the leap to being a full time writer by now – in fact, I’d probably be living in a different part of the United States.

    How does your wife feel about that statement?

  2. JB says:

    I feel this type of stress alot actually, even as I make decent progress towards my financial goals. The stress of ‘not knowing’ is overwhelming at times.

    I like the keep a positive mood tip, I am doing the other things, but this is one arena where it’s so easy to be negative. Thanks for the post

  3. Kim says:

    Writer’s Coin-

    I think what Trent meant was that he values his wife and children deeply and is not a FT writer because it’s not the best financial decision for his family.

  4. Annie says:

    I would guess that his wife is probably pretty happy that he prioritizes his family first in his life. Clearly he’s not saying that he’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else. It’s clear enough from Trent’s blog that his family is the joy of his life. But if he had not met his wife, perhaps he would be a writer in a major metropolitan area.

  5. All I can say is – take control. When I think of the future I’m excited by the all things I’ll get a chance to do and experience eventually (including financial accomplishments). I think this is because I spent many years thinking about where I want to go and why, and as a result I’m going in a direction that feels right and has a good chance of taking me where I want. It involved some risky choices but they’re starting to show results. I credit for my confidence in the future to my choice to take control of everything I can in my life – there’s nothing worse for me than feeling powerless.

    When things go wrong I find an alternative and put up with it until I can get back to where I want; when things go right I immediately look at the next step to take it further. By doing this I’ve had a few small successes in areas that aren’t too common. The feeling helps encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing. If that’s what my future is like it’s worth doing everything I can to reach it.

    Although some people point out the risks and hard works it takes to get exactly what you want, I wouldn’t be able to do those for the right reasons if I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. If you take the time to figure out what you truly value and decide to do anything you can to get it that will probably make you feel better already.

    The only other thing I would say to this is to stick with the real meaning of “hard work” – not staying at the office (or studio) 80 hours a week, but taking a chance or doing things that take a lot of thought to get right. It does increase your chances of minor failures, but it also increases your chances of getting exactly what you want. If you’ve read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books, this is a lot like his trading strategy of allowing small losses day to day in anticipation of the big win that’s more common than people expect.

  6. tubaman-z says:

    While my wife and I are financially sound (but by no stretch of the imagination independently wealthy) I too occasionally feel this stress. It’s more not knowing what the future holds than any specific stress about the current day-to-day. As a person of faith (Christianity specifically), when I feel this way I try to remember to turn to my beliefs and what Christian teachings tell me. This by no means relieves me of the responsibilities that I have for managing my money correctly, but it does help with the uncertainty and emotional stress.

    As an aside and at the risk of pandering to the blog author :-) I heartily recommend his book review at
    http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/02/05/ten-books-that-changed-my-life-3-mere-christianity/

  7. turbogeek says:

    Having lived with the kind of stress that can be even worse, I now delight in the ‘how can I save more’ flavor of stress.

    Several years ago, at the height of my earning career but the bottom of my savings career, I suddenly found myself on the losing side of a political battle. My high 6-figure job was on the line, and we had high 6-figure spending habits with no savings and typical high-earner debt burden. If I had lost my job at that moment I could have quickly been $100k in the hole, or worse.

    Every time I tucked my 3 small kids into bed at night I made myself a promise that I would never put them at risk in this fashion again.

    Now I voluntarily take on the stress of saving *aggressively*. For the last several years my wife and I committed to live on 65% of my take-home pay — the rest builds security. Stressful, yes. As stressful as my previous experience, no.

  8. Toaduni44 says:

    “Spend less time in front of the television and more time reading and trying new things.”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this.

  9. quatrefoil says:

    “If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes. If you ever wake up in the morning and can’t authentically answer why you’re going into work each day, it’s time to make a serious change.”

    Well, that’s me and I’m thinking about the sorts of changes I want to make. But what’s keeping me here in a reasonably paying job in the city is the feeling that I need to get some financial security after a long stint in graduate school (I’m 40). From my point of view, I need to prioritise my financial security because noone else is going to provide it for, but it seems that you’re promoting the opposite view – can you explain your reasoning on this?

  10. Vixen says:

    I share the same sentiments about what may happen if I suddenly get struck with an illness that prevents me from being able to work.

  11. Minimum Wage says:

    I’m going into work every day because it beats the alternative.

  12. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “I’m curious about this line: Without them, I would have likely made the leap to being a full time writer by now – in fact, I’d probably be living in a different part of the United States.

    How does your wife feel about that statement?”

    She thinks it’s pretty normal and healthy. Obviously, I’m going to make different life choices since I have a wife and family. I wouldn’t want to make those alternate choices with them in my life.

  13. sir jorge says:

    i feel cheated by the false promises of college telling me that when i get my degree i’ll get a lot of money in the working world.

    It’s a lie.

  14. Katie says:

    Replying to: ““If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes. If you ever wake up in the morning and can’t authentically answer why you’re going into work each day, it’s time to make a serious change.”

    Well, that’s me and I’m thinking about the sorts of changes I want to make. But what’s keeping me here in a reasonably paying job in the city is the feeling that I need to get some financial security after a long stint in graduate school (I’m 40). From my point of view, I need to prioritise my financial security because noone else is going to provide it for, but it seems that you’re promoting the opposite view – can you explain your reasoning on this?”

    I have to stop myself from getting ‘too far ahead’ on at least a weekly basis. I’m a fairly recent college graduate (within the last few years) who has been self-sufficient (aside from one instance) since she was 16. I have a good job in a field I enjoy, at a company I’m happy to go to, in a city I don’t mind living in. I’m making good progress with expanding my skill set and growing my career, and am generally happy with the day-to-day of my life.

    Is it where I want to live forever? No. Is it the company I want to be in forever? Only if I can keep growing my career. I could apply (and probably get, due to my experience) a job in a larger city (with much higher costs of living) and pick up and move within the next few months.

    BUT – I’m staying at least for the next year.

    WHY?! So I can have the money in savings to apply (and GET!) a Highly Skilled Migrant Programme visa for England before I’m 28 (I’ve got quite a few years to go), so I can not worry about things like unexpected emergencies cropping up and going into debt, so I can pay off my credit card, so I can fund a 401(k) up to match % and hopefully start funding an IRA on top of it, and so I can hopefully pay down my car so that I can sell it and make back a few grand in a year or two.

    Am I in my 100% ideal place now, chasing my dreams and “living the life”? NO. Am I doing things today to allow myself to do that tomorrow, relatively worry-free and in a much better manner than I would if I did those things today? YES.

    To me, that is the key. I’m still progressing, but concentrating more on financial security and health than “go get them TODAY” at this moment in time. The me in the future will thank me for that, whatever the outcome.

    For the record, I agree with Trent. If you can’t stand work or don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, create an opportunity to do something new – whether it be a new job, a series of weekend trips, or a few months backpacking around a continent you’ve never been to. I’m not sure if this is exactly what he means, but that’s my take, at least!

  15. bla says:

    Honestly.

    Quit complaining, and DO something about it!

  16. Financially and in life, everyone’s motto should always be – “Plan For the Worst and Hope For the Best”. Having a sufficient emergency fund is key!
    -Raymond

  17. I understand how people feel when they say “just do something about it and stop complaining!”

    But seriously, would you say that to your best friend or partner if he/she came to you with these intense feelings of depression and anxiety? No. It’s much harder than that to get through to people.

    Sir Jorge, you would probably enjoy this article on how a library card is more valuable than a college degree:
    http://www.thewriterscoin.com/2008/01/07/why-a-library-card-is-more-valuable-than-a-college-degree-the-pros/

  18. Scot says:

    The psychological change away from money takes time time time. The measuring of self against financial position, etc. etc. Read Walden Pond. Getting it in your head that everything is ok NOW, nothing needs to change. The need to just stop. The need to realize that the beauty of the earth is enough. The need to do more than economize.

    Get your food at the farmers markets. Take time, socialize. Know where your goods and services are coming from. Produce. Instead of buying it, make it, grow it, fix it. Bake your bread.

    If your debts are that overwhelming, go see a lawyer. Bankruptcy IS an option. Try negotiate a lower principal amount with lenders with the tacit threat that you may have to file, even if you aren’t they will oftentimes lower the amounts owed just in the hope of getting something.

  19. tarits says:

    “If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes. If you ever wake up in the morning and can’t authentically answer why you’re going into work each day, it’s time to make a serious change.”

    struck home, this one did.

    ahh, all the pretty green lights for me to go! and get out this rut in. just 2 more months…

  20. tarits says:

    “If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes. If you ever wake up in the morning and can’t authentically answer why you’re going into work each day, it’s time to make a serious change.”

    struck home, this one did.

    ahh, all the pretty green lights for me to go! and get out of this rut I’m in. just 2 more months…

  21. Amanda says:

    My husband and I both lost our jobs yesterday–so we know about that stress! This article hits the nail on the head–very interesting read. Thank you!

  22. Peachy says:

    You can only prepare yourself for what may happen and hope it doesn’t. I was fired from my job, and luckily I had just received my tax refund. I put that in an ING account, and lived off that for a couple months until I got a new job. I had to battle for unemployment in the meantime. If I really had to, I would have cashed some mutual funds that I had, but luckily I didn’t. My bf at the time was so confused/upset that I didn’t have to rely on him to eat/live, and I was still doing fun things within reason. I’m glad I didn’t have to ask anyone for anything (except a new job). The day I got my first paycheck was the day my unemployment finally went through (I won), and I felt like a millionaire.
    Keep on keepin’ on, and you’ll get where you’ll feel a little more secure. Never give up.

  23. quatrefoil – it all depends on how you look at it. In the context of worrying about retirement, trying to maintain your financial security over the next month or two might hold you back. Maybe not if you’re in the career you want and advancing steadily, but if you need a change to get what you really want you’ll probably be taking a step back for a bit. If the change gives you what you really want it’s not a sacrifice, just temporary discomfort. You can’t always have financial security now and later; one can come at the expense of the other.

    You already let go of some financial security during college by paying for an education that allowed you to have a higher income later; you might need to make a similar choice again. Yes, it can take a while to pay off – but in 10 years you’ll be 10 years older no matter what. You can be in the same place, or you can be in a much better position at the price of doing things that might be a bit unpleasant for now.

    Again, if you know where you want to go and you’re on the way, congratulations. If something feels wrong about what you’re doing you probably know that you’ll have to face something you don’t like sooner or later. The sooner it is the more time you have to enjoy yourself.

  24. Michael says:

    Sacrifice now will pay off in a BIG way in the future. I got out of college with tons of debt no savings (like most people). After about 3 years of screwing around, I decided that I didn’t want to be a loser anymore. So I worked 3 jobs (1 full-time and 2 part-time) for the next 2 years, paid off all my dept, saved a little nest egg, and bought a house.

    Those 2 years sucked (and I couldn’t have done it had I been married or had kids) but today I couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out. like bla said: Quit complaining, and DO something about it!

  25. Frugal Dad says:

    Funny the things we endure for our children, even if it means delaying a dream. I have no doubt Trent could be a successful writer in a larger market of the country, but with mouths to feed guys like us do what’s necessary to put food on the table and a roof over the table. That’s one of the great things about web technologies – we can live out our dreams here while using the “real world” to generate life-sustaining income.

  26. Lois says:

    Talk about a financial tightrope!!! Just when you think you are doing a bit better financially, and trying your best to be frugal, something happens. Yesterday, I went to the dentist, and even with dental insurance, my dental bill is estimated to be about $4,200, and that’s only two teeth (I need crowns, and a few fillings redone). My teenage son also went, (and with insurance) his estimate is $1,700. I don’t know how we will manage this, but it is very frustrating. How does one build up an emergency account in a situation like this? It isn’t any wonder so many people need dental care in this country!

  27. Mrs. Micah says:

    Lol, without my husband I wouldn’t be in debt. But I love him so much that I wouldn’t trade it, even for the financial stability.

  28. sp says:

    I really see Jane’s point. It takes so much longer to pay off debt when one does not have a large income, even when one is careful about spending.

    Charts, which can serve to motivate, can also be discouraging a bit when the debts do not go down fast enough and the savings do not increase fast enough.

    Jane can take comfort in the fact that she is heading in the right direction, even if the progress isn’t as fast as she’d like. Just think how much worse it would be to head in the wrong direction….

  29. bla says:

    Sacrifice now will pay off in a BIG way in the future. I got out of college with tons of debt no savings (like most people). After about 3 years of screwing around, I decided that I didn’t want to be a loser anymore. So I worked 3 jobs (1 full-time and 2 part-time) for the next 2 years, paid off all my dept, saved a little nest egg, and bought a house.

    Those 2 years sucked (and I couldn’t have done it had I been married or had kids) but today I couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out. like bla said: Quit complaining, and DO something about it!

    ———

    Thank you Michael,
    What you said was right on the money…

    DECIDE: Decide you dont want to be a loser.
    ACT: Get off your ass, you should be so busy you dont have time to be on the internet writing anyone… get 3-4 jobs, work night shifts at Mcdonalds to get a degree, anything to get out of poverty.

    REALISE: Realise that if you think that $5000 is a lot of money to you, you are dirt poor. I used to make 12,000 a year till I started working 18 hour days.. now I make 15,000 a month (and growing fast) and only work 10-12 hours a day (most likely more then you do now I would bet my house on it)

    Basically, if you find yourself complaining about anything, look at what you are complaining about and get off your ass and fix it no matter what it takes… or SETTLE for writing to financial bloggers about how you are too lazy to fix your simple problem.

  30. bla says:

    Also, to Trent, the writer of this blog.

    Get off your video games and get a second job. You really sound immature when you talk about saving money by playing ‘wii’ games.. honestly if you want to be taken seriously, get a second job and write about your experience in working two jobs… get out of debt as fast as you can so the rest of your readers that are your age and worked 2 or 3 jobs to get out of debt will not laugh at you and your not buying a TV to play with your Wii blog posts.

  31. bla says:

    I would guess that his wife is probably pretty happy that he prioritizes his family first in his life. Clearly he’s not saying that he’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else. It’s clear enough from Trent’s blog that his family is the joy of his life. But if he had not met his wife, perhaps he would be a writer in a major metropolitan area.

    ————

    Yes that is totally true, I dont think for a second Trent meant that he would rather be somewhere else.

  32. Dariaclone says:

    I don’t buy the “If you’re single, you should be following your dreams and doing whatever it takes” line. When I was single I felt less financially secure than I do now. I didn’t have access to a spouse’s health insurance. I had no fall-back income (other than my own savings). My expenses were higher than they are now. Being single is no magic wand to pursuing perfect career.

  33. Macinac says:

    In 1964 I earned about $5200 (about $33000 in 2006 dollars) because I was lucky enough to get a secure entry-level technical job with a large corporation. There were many days I hated being there but I had a wife and kids so I felt that bringing home the bacon came first. Using $33,000 for reference, you can see that I was not wealthy, but it was possible to manage by spending sensibly.

  34. mark says:

    Wouldn’t having adequate life insurance, personal accident and disability insurance help in having peace of mind. Surprised no one is stressing on that.

  35. Deb T. says:

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m still young, but I have yet to worry about retirement. I mean, I have my 401(k) set up, but I’m so worried about paying off the debt looming over my head that I can’t even think that far ahead right now.

    On the other hand, I do worry about what-if scenarios such as the ones you described. One thing my parents did when they bought their house was to make sure that they could afford the monthly payments should one of them lose their job. In your post, you mention coming up with a plan for your worst-case scenario, except you talk about in the context of already being in a bad situation. Maybe a good thing to add is to evaluate worries and plan around them before making huge decisions that might leave you vulnerable to worst-case scenarios.

  36. Fadzlan says:

    To Bla,

    Recreation IS a need, unless its perfectly okay to look miserable, and then cloud your judgment.

    I’m not really sure about the wii, but I guess Trent meant that is cheaper option than spending money outside every time you go out with the kids.

    And taking three jobs (with no family life) is much easier decision singles can make compared to married with three kids. Those kids need attention. Unless you can plan it to be temporary (like three years), then maybe, yeah.

    Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice. And when you do have a choice, you need to make a decision whether to have a balanced life(or not). I think Trent has made his choice.

  37. rob says:

    Having come from the Philippines and having experienced life in the US the past five years, I often wondered why life in the United States felt more stressful despite the fact the people were much wealthier and financially prosperous when compared to my home country. There are probably multiple reasons why this is so, but I came across this theory which seems to make the most sense.

    Most Asian and Latin American countries are built on relationship-based societies. They are dominated by strong family connections and friendship ties. This usually contributes to better health and lower levels of stress (there is a dark side to this: higher levels of corruption, but that’s another topic). Why does this reduce stress? Maybe because it is part of our evolutionary instinct to feel comfort and security in groups. When you are surrounded by family and friends, you worry less about money, as you know that in a pinch there are people you can rely on. Among friends, an individual’s burden is shared, and an informal support group is fostered.

    Contrast this with the individual interest and value-based society prevalent in western culture, wherein those who provide the most value reaps the biggest rewards. This is the most efficient system for economic growth but has the side effect of adding greater stress and worry to its citizens. Without the social safety nets of family and friends, and having to fend for yourself every time, the net result is higher levels of unhappiness and stress. I never really knew what stress and depression felt like until I came to the US.

  38. Minimum Wage says:

    bla said:

    ACT: Get off your ass, you should be so busy you dont have time to be on the internet writing anyone… get 3-4 jobs, work night shifts at Mcdonalds to get a degree, anything to get out of poverty.

    I have all-morning medical appointments three days a week, every week. I don’t have a car, so I am limited to jobs and shifts within walking distance or accessible by transit. With two jobs, I’d have to get to job 1, get from job 1 to job 2, and get from job 2 home again. Oh, and I’d have to somehow work the jobs around my medical appointments. Three or four jobs? Surely you jest.

    p.s. I already have a degree, another one wouldn’t do me any good at my age.

  39. Sarah says:

    Following up on what Rob said…how about: working towards a just society where people don’t have to fear poverty? Most of us are just one serious medical crisis away from bankruptcy. Is that the way our society should be structured? Why should we have such a fragile social safety net, relying so ferociously on individual preparations against the future, when our lives are so often the playthings of forces beyond our control? All the personal responsibility in the world wasn’t going to stop the current recession from happening, nor is it going to prevent anyone from eventually getting old and sicker.

  40. Joe says:

    Hi, Trent! One thing that impressed me is your sentence “Never stop improving yourself”. That’s exactly what success is about.

  41. bla says:

    I have all-morning medical appointments three days a week, every week. I don’t have a car, so I am limited to jobs and shifts within walking distance or accessible by transit. With two jobs, I’d have to get to job 1, get from job 1 to job 2, and get from job 2 home again. Oh, and I’d have to somehow work the jobs around my medical appointments. Three or four jobs? Surely you jest.

    p.s. I already have a degree, another one wouldn’t do me any good at my age.

    ———–

    Again, its your mental outlook that is keeping you down… ‘dont need to get another degree at my age’ and ‘shift work within busing distance’ ‘my medical stuff is stopping me from working’

    You could take your laptop with you to your all day medical trips, which I am assuming are kidney related, and when you are sitting there you could study free at MIT.

    Or start a blog, or writing on the bus, or many many things that people in your case do.

    But I can see from your defensive nature, you are used to using your 3 half day medical bookings as an excuse to not use the other 5 and a half full days and 1.5 half full days to move yourself forward mentally and financially.

    I also agree with the fact that we do need life and disability insurance… I will be working on disability insurance ASAP

  42. Jenyfer says:

    ok, as another single woman looking at a future without the benefits (or drawbacks, lol) of a significant other–I am living Jane’s life as well. Same fears, and at times the same desperate thoughts.
    All you can do is your best. Have a little faith in yourself, and Jane–please talk to a professional about possible depression. It could make a huge difference.
    There are times you just have to understand there is a greater plan. It’s tough, but you can do it!

  43. cs says:

    Not to suggest Jane is guilty, but how many people in this situation have a big-screen TV and pay for cable TV service, for example?

  44. Jenyfer says:

    p.s. bla and minimum wage seem to be a match made in heaven

  45. Sarah – all you have to do is go north :) One thing I didn’t really remember when I said I don’t worry about the future is that I don’t have to think of major medical expenses. There’s a few smaller ones I have to consider, but I can’t imagine having to worry about things costing tens of thousands of dollars.

    Aside from that, any attempts to make a “just society where people don’t have to fear poverty” are the source of many more problems. To take an example from your post of the possibility of a recession. No one can have absolute control over that, and when it does inevitably happen the news will make it sound like everything is falling part, creating lots of fear over nothing. People just like running from one side of the boat to the other; they get over-excited and then they get too conservative.

    Without “recessions” there wouldn’t be periods of expansion (since they can’t last forever and have to slow down eventually). But it’s never really as bad as people make it seems. They can always point out that the great depression started with stock markets going down, but there may have been a couple of other factors back then.

    I’ve accepted that my life will always be subject to forces beyond my control, and my job is simply to deal with things in a positive way and do all I can to secure my needs sooner rather than later. When you look at it that way there’s even some fun in the daily challenges.

  46. MJ says:

    As a child my parents wisely predicted “We’re not middle class. We’re upper poor.” The highest level of education they achieved was high school. I have two masters degrees and my husband has a bachelor’s degree. I believe, even with frugal choices, we will not have the security my parents did.

    The gap between rich and poor has never been so large. The middle class is being squeezed out.

    I agree w/Lois that dental and medical expenses can be staggering even w/employer-sponsored insurance. In the Western New York area there is usually at least one fundraiser a week to help contribute to someone’s medical expenses from a serious illness.

    Even having all the other insurances (home, life, disability, etc.) doesn’t guarantee you’ll be safe if disaster strikes, just ask those affected by Hurrican Katrina.

    Obviously there have always been challenges in life. I just try and take it one day at a time w/a sensible financial plan.

  47. mrsmonkey says:

    everyone should be politically active, particularly NOW. our country is slowly sinking down the tubes. not since the great depression have some many hard working Americans suffered such deprivation and worry.

    GET ACTIVE peoples!

  48. Sarah says:

    Silicon Prairie: if you think this is such a just world we live in that any attempts to make it juster will cause more problems than it is worth, you must be living a very comfortable life indeed. I’m lucky; I have a good (not great) job in the modern economy, and while my net worth is currently negative due to student loan debt I earn a salary that (outside a handful of cities) would put me beyond the middle class. But all I have to do is look around on my lunchtime walk to see some of my fellow-citizens in need who we are doing a terrible job of taking care of–and I know that the difference between them and me is much smaller than most people want to believe. People like Jane would suffer less anxiety about the future if we stopped pretending that individuals can reliably take on the global economy and win.

    Don’t get me wrong. I believe in emergency funds and debt reduction. I try to live well within my means. I know people can make better and worse choices in life. But I don’t think anyone–especially someone making choices without a full understanding of their options, or someone starting out so far behind in life that they’d have to execute everything perfectly to get ahead–deserves to be cast into the outer darkness for making mistakes. The problem of how to provide against catastrophe is not a problem that can be solved individually, only systematically. It’s the reason we have government in the first place!

  49. I’ll admit that it would be possible to make the world a little more just – all you need is an absolutely fair and reasonable person who has perfect information about everyone’s desires, needs, and abilities. Personally I would nominate myself but it sounds like too much work.

    I think this is a perfect example of something that should be solved individually, not systematically. Virtually all government programs are liable to both make things difficult for the people they’re trying to help and allow people who don’t need help to cheat the system. As Trent, some of the commenters here, and other blogs linking to this post mention, other countries do much better on an individual level through individual connections with the people around you. The government shouldn’t replace friends or family.

    Although I really like capitalism, I’ve taken this lesson to heart. I never think I’m trying to take on the global economy and the world is against me because all I can do is interact with one person at a time. They have their own goals and rules to follow so they can’t always do exactly what I want. Anyone who tries to take on the global economy has it all wrong. What you really need is work with the people you’re in touch with, not against them.

    To some extent capitalism might have been oversold, making people think they can get everything they want without having meaningful interactions with real people and they have to deal with “faceless corporations”. There’s always a face in front of you – it’s your choice to see it or look past it. I see similar things with my involvement in the technology world; some people get so into it that they dream up complicated software to fix a problem when all you have to do is ask people to do something different.

    I’m not against helping people at all; I like making loans on Kiva. A lot of problems aren’t merely caused by injustice though. I wouldn’t want to talk about “solving” any big problems without taking the time to point out what each person can to do to improve the situation even if they shouldn’t have to. That’s another reason to like Kiva – I’m giving a little push to people who are already trying to change things. If they become successful they can then help people in their community who have had bad luck – they know a lot more about the specific situation than me.

  50. Minimum Wage says:

    You could take your laptop with you to your all day medical trips, which I am assuming are kidney related, and when you are sitting there you could study free at MIT.

    Or start a blog, or writing on the bus, or many many things that people in your case do.

    But I can see from your defensive nature, you are used to using your 3 half day medical bookings as an excuse to not use the other 5 and a half full days and 1.5 half full days to move yourself forward mentally and financially.

    I really like the laptop idea, now all I need is a laptop!

    There are a bunch of classes I’d love to take but without money, it’s not gonna happen.

  51. Rob Madrid says:

    It can be done

    Investing with nickels and dimes

    http://kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2007/09/mystory.html

    MW when can we expect to see your blog, it costs nothing but time.

  52. Paul says:

    Sir jorge and writers coin,
    I couldn’t agree with you anymore about the college degree thing. I regard going as a serious financial mistake, costing me thousands. I work in a fairly well paying job and have a degree. But guess what? I work with several others who have no degree and make the same wage. Makes you think.

  53. Latarsha says:

    Over time, walking the financial tightrope WILL wear you down.

    Taking action now, and positioning yourself for a stronger financial future has to become your top priority.

    This post, and it’s support comments give you a strategic way to bring your financial strain to the forefront.

    Time out for ignoring our financial futures, time to look our realities in the face and ask ourself what it is that we can do…starting now…to give ourselves greater financial control and bring us peace of mind.

    Thanks.

  54. Sarah says:

    Well, SP, all I can say is that I sincerely hope that you never realize through personal experience how the global economy can chew you up and spit you out in a second no matter how wonderfuly, individualistically responsible and skilled you are–or the real value of the government services you scorn. (I also hope that you took no government support of any kind through school–including subsidized loans or health insurance–and that you do not currently take mortgage deductions or the other subsidies offered by homeowners, since you think government programs are worthless. And only drive on toll roads.)

  55. Shevy says:

    @bla

    I dare say that most of us who read Trent’s blog take him seriously no matter what our age or how many jobs we hold down.

    For one thing, as any regular or thorough reader of this blog should know, Trent *has* two jobs. Job #1 is a full time job in the real world. Job #2 is writing (not merely because writing well is difficult but because he earned significant money from this blog over the past year).

    When Trent writes he is both earning money and developing his craft, so that he’ll be able to make even more money writing.

    Plus he has family responsibilities that he shares with his wife. He’s a busy, motivated, sleep deprived man (have you read where he talks about how he finds time to write?) and you seem to begrudge him any kind of relaxation or down time.

    Perhaps you find the games he plays to be a waste of time. Luckily we’re all individuals and can each choose the type or types of recreation that truly rejuvenate us. You don’t need to play video games and he doesn’t need to take a 3rd or 4th job to somehow “prove” his committment to getting out of debt.

  56. Jake says:

    I just wanted to let you know that you have inspired me.

    Yesterday I got set up with my first life insurance policy, and today I set up an online savings account at ING with automatic savings withdrawals from my checking account.

    Thanks for all of the inspiration!

  57. turbogeek says:

    @bla,

    Does being harsh seem like the best way to influence people to you? Or, are simply too lacking in self-awareness to realize that you are being boorish?

    By the way “…5 and a half full days and 1.5 half full days to move yourself forward mentally and financially.” (5.5)*1 + (1.5)*(0.5) = 6.25 days. I think you meant to say something slightly different.

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