Americans Struggle With The Concept Of Spending Less Than They Earn

Perhaps it’s just the stereotypical Midwesterner in us rearing its pragmatic head, but articles such as this one in the New York Times, full of quotes from repentant former debt junkies, always make us shake our heads in disbelief.

“We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.

Now, she and her husband — a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month — are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said.

And then there’s this lady:

We don’t use our credit cards anymore,” said Lisa Merhaut, a professional at a telecommunications company who lives in Leesburg, Va., and whose family last year ran up credit card debt it could not handle.

Today, Ms. Merhaut, 44, manages her money the way her father did. Despite a household income reaching six figures, she uses cash for every purchase. “What we have is what we have,” Ms. Merhaut said. “We have to rely on the money that we’re bringing in.”

Or this one:

Fran Barbaro has an M.B.A. and a résumé of computer industry jobs with salaries reaching $150,000 a year. She used to have a stock portfolio worth about $1 million. She hung original art on the walls of her three-bedroom house in Boston.

But divorce, illness and motherhood drained her savings. Her home is worth less than she owes, and she owes another $200,000 to credit card companies, banks and tax collectors.

Ms. Barbaro, 50, said she knew she was living beyond her means. But her house demanded work. Her two boys needed after-school programs running $25,000 a year. Medical bills multiplied.

“These were simple day-to-day expenses,” she said. “The money was always there.”

Until it wasn’t. Her take-home pay is $5,200 a month, but her debt payments reach $4,400.

Argh! $200,000? We hope it was mostly owed to the banks and tax collectors. Just imagine having to dust $200,000 worth of junk you bought on credit.

Economy Fitful, Americans Start to Pay as They Go [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. hornrimsylvia says:

    My rural midwestern heritage made me believe that I could go hungry, or the next Great Depression was around the corner. I know better now, but that tiny voice is still there. Fear is an excellent savings motivator, but it keeps you from having a ton of useless junk too. …AND keeps me reading

  2. hypnotik_jello says:

    “We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.

    I think that line says it all in a nutshell. People buying shit they don’t need just to keep up appearances with the Joneses

  3. @hornrimsylvia: Most of my family has roots in the rural midwest as well. I always thought it was the weather that was conducive to money saving things like jarring jams and knitting wool sweaters.

    You think eBay is popular now? Wait until the credit crunch really hits and all of the sudden people will be liquidating all of their worthless junk they both on credit.

  4. enm4r says:

    The apt I currently rent apparently was rented by someone who owes huge amounts to many, because I’ve come home to summons and debt collection notices with numbers in the tens of thousands.

    One particularly fun night was when Dog the Bounty Hunter’s twin showed up (I swear they could have been related) with an entire police entourage. They knocked at like 10pm, I checked the peep hole and saw like 10 dudes at the end of my hallway and someone holding a badge close to the peep hole.

    Skipping the ‘hilarious in hindsight’ conversation we had, it was quite the experience, and actually took awhile for me to convince them I was who I said I was, and had no knowledge or relation to the previous tenant.

    Long story short, if it takes you 20k in debt to realize “if we can’t afford it, we don’t buy it” than all I can say is….better late than never?

  5. bohemian says:

    My parents grew up in the depression so they had lots of penny pinching ways that followed them even when they were upper middle class. I think some of that stuck on my.

    But I live in the semi-rural midwest and there are so many people around me that were or still are spending like drunken sailors. I came to terms with it years ago when I realized they were not better off then me they were racking up piles of debt that I wasn’t.

    What really makes me mad is when these people would criticize me or try to drag me into their game of the joneses. I got tired fast of people giving me crap for not having a new car every two years or wasting way too much money on professional manicures and that kind of thing.

    Idiots running themselves into massive debit to try to impress everyone else is not unique to big cities or the coasts. I could drive down my street and point to who I know is probably heavily in debt. I know where they both work and about what they make vs. all the crap they have.

  6. Bladefist says:

    who cares. democrats will bail me out. I’ll be on welfare, food stamps. free healthcare. I am an idiot for trying to make a honest living.

    Screw it, do whatever you want too. The person across from the street from you will pay for it.

    Sorry, romney just got out, im upset.

  7. ekthesy says:

    The Fran Barbaro story was the most egregious. $25,000 per year for after-school studies for the kids? Come on.

  8. fizzyg says:

    I often wonder if the people in the small towns really care about what other people have/are wearing as much as others perceive them to care. I’m in a fairly small town and I can’t say I’ve ever thought beyond “that looks nice on him/her”.

  9. Mary says:

    *sigh* I was talking to my husband about this yesterday when we were on our way to the grocery store. We grew up in a relatively poor area, and now we’ve moved to a very rich part of the country.

    And we’re constantly butting heads with people and ending up in culture shock. They’re in debt up to their eyeballs, living on credit cards, and buying new houses. They just don’t understand when I say things like, “That would be fun to have, but I don’t really need it.”

    It really is depressing to see how widespread this attitude is. Not to mention that most of these people don’t do anything for themselves. There are specialty services for everything. I’m amazed any of them know how to change their furnace filters.

  10. Mary says:

    @fizzyg: “I often wonder if the people in the small towns really care about what other people have/are wearing as much as others perceive them to care. I’m in a fairly small town and I can’t say I’ve ever thought beyond “that looks nice on him/her”.”

    I was confused by that comment as well. I’m from a small town and while some of the kids had their “I have to have the latest fad” tendencies, for the most part nobody really gave a crap where you got your hair done, or what you drove. Of course, in my town the rich people are the ones with new Chevy trucks instead of used ones. Not a rich place.

  11. sixseeds says:

    @meiran: Replace “small towns” with “middle-class suburbs” and it makes a lot more sense. This attitude was pervasive in the NJ suburb where I grew up, tacit but widely felt. For some reason I will never understand folks in a particular income bracket felt like they had to appear richer than they were.

  12. TMurphy says:

    They should make bankruptcy due to careless overspending like this have some sort of criminal charge assigned to it. If someone cannot hold a job, and in turn cannot pay rent or utilities, that is one story. But having steady income and blowing it on useless stuff, then complaining that you can’t be held responsible for the debt should have more consequences than a horrible credit record. While I wouldn’t be against jail time as an extra deterrent, I understand it would be a bit much, but they would essentially be stealing from society, and stealing is a crime.

  13. says:

    @hornrimsylvia: i have the same thing. i call it “spend-a-phobia”. it’s a blessing and a curse.

  14. bustit22 says:


    I don’t know about you guys, but I’m voting for Obama….

    “Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., says the real victims of the subprime mortgage crisis are the borrowers who followed the rules and whose only crime was taking out mortgages that lenders told them they could afford.”

    Screw personal responsibility!!!

  15. DrGirlfriend says:

    Common sense is no longer actually common. We need a new term for it.

  16. kimsama says:

    @sixseeds: Indeed. Leesburg is just a suburb (exurb?) of Washington D.C., one of the more hilariously status-conscious towns.

    I can’t tell you the number of weird comments I get for cruising around in my ancient car and living in a small apartment while tons of barely solvent people and even some illegal immigrants are driving Mercedes and buying (ok, losing) McMansions to keep up with the Joneses. Insane!

    But I did grow up in a rural town where no one was wealthy and where people were not status-conscious so much as the were conscious of other things (not having enough money for heating oil, food, gas, etc). Can’t hurt everyone tighten their belts a little.

  17. @ekthesy: In Boston, maybe also for learning disabilities, I’d put that at average. Plus she mentioned she was on her own after divorce. Either she’ll take a cut in pay to work part time, or hire an afterschool sitter.

    I was a Nanny/Tutor on the east coast for 3 hours after school on week days I charged 13/hour, so about 200/week. That’s about 7000 for the school year. Full time coverage for the summer, for two kids could easily be 10-15K.

  18. missdona says:

    My neighbor does not have health insurance and drives a leased Acura.

  19. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    After experiencing a couple (long) periods of unemployment, I’ve come to understand how quickly money comes and goes. Yeah, daily expenses and costs of living do add up.

    But some people don’t realize that going to Starbucks 4 times a day is NOT a valid daily expense. Buying a new ipod every year is not a valid expense.

  20. superflippy says:

    I live in a small town that boasts an extremely wealthy population for half the year, and has a fairly well-off percentage of the population year-round. I can definitely see people who want to keep up with the Joneses. Usually it’s the upper-middle class, those of us who can afford some of the fancy things the people in mansions have, but really can’t afford to duplicate their lifestyles.

    I don’t subscribe to that mentality myself, and my friends who I’m close enough with to know about their finances are all similarly level-headed. But I bet there are plenty of people shopping in the chi-chi boutiques downtown who shouldn’t be.

  21. AcidReign says:

        Of those examples above, only the government-employed couple makes less than I do. I have NO sympathy! Ifn’ you got edmucated ’nuff t’ make six figures, you oughtta knowed better!

        I was lucky that my parents taught me to use credit cards just like I’d use cash. If you don’t have it, DON’T spend it!

  22. Jimbo64 says:

    Soon there is going to be a lot of used cars, boats, homes, etc going for sale real cheap.

    I went to look at a used car the other day. The guy selling the car also had a two high end cars, three ATVs, huge plasma TV, arcade pinball machines, etc.

    I asked what he did for work. He runs a daycare business out of his home. He also proudly told me how the apraised value of his house keeps going up, so keeps refinancing the equity out of the house to buy stuff.

  23. loueloui says:

    People like this just make me want to gnash my teeth. YAARGH!

    I know a fairly young couple who are $680,000 in debt, much of it in unsecured debt. Yes, SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY THOUSAND DOLLARS! They will never repay this amount even if the never spent another dime, and paid all of their money into it for the rest of their lives. They do live well- for the moment. Must be hard trying to get to sleep though.

    I say we should persuade all of the brokerage houses and retirement planners to give away a physical token of our financial health. Maybe a bracelet or something. The more money in your 401K or Roth, the more ornate and prominent it would be. Maybe we could start a new healthier trend.

  24. Bladefist says:

    @bustit22: lol. If you can’t get online and use a simple calculator to calculate how much house you can afford, maybe you dont deserve to have a home. Unfortunately you just lose your home and I get to pay for your mistakes, until I’m taxed so much I lose my home, and then someone else covers me. :)

  25. mwwilk says:

    Subprime fiasco aside, it confounds me that that so many people buy so much crap they can’t afford. Cars, which the pundits now say could be the source of the next loan crisis, are a perfect example. I lust after a new car, but the antidote to that is thinking about having no car payments. I am so thankful that my wife and I keep our 10 year old Toyota so well maintained (we live in a major city and have had just one car for over six years).

    Seriously — we saturate our spawn with the “buy, buy, buy” message practically at the fetal stage, it’s no wonder. SC is now reporting to be resorting to corporate advertising INSIDE of school buses. What’s next, in utero ads?

    Each day, we march closer and closer to the society pictured in “Idiocracy”.

  26. xQuizx says:

    I grew up in Southern California and I never noticed people with extravagant lifestyles, although I did live in the suburbs, or maybe I didn’t really care. But what I find interesting is how different my sister and I are. We were talking last year about how my life in Chicago is going (I had just moved a year ago) and she asked me if I was going to buy a new car and rent a bigger place. I told her that my car was just fine and I’d drive it till it dies and I don’t need a big place since it’s only me besides I want to save my money. She looked at me and said “But you can afford it” and I told her “Yeah I can, but I don’t see the practicality in it.” I find it interesting that we grew up together and she finds it totally okay to use credit cards to go on vacations while I use mine to maximize rewards by paying them off and arbitrage.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is it doesn’t really matter what’s going around you with people trying to keep up with the Joneses but how you perceive yourself and wether you can see through what the marketers are trying to blind you with. That you’re nobody without the LV bag, driving the leased Benz, living in the McMansion and eyeball deep in debt.

  27. xQuizx says:

    @xQuizx: wether – whether

  28. Jim says:

    My puny student loan (just under $25,000) makes me sweat and lose my appetite. I can’t imagine $200,000 in debt. @loueloui: $680,000 isn’t even a comprehensible number. Just try to picture 680,000 of something. I feel horribly for those people, but can’t imagine how a young couple, or any couple really, would find $680,000 worth of stuff to buy. That’s the Midwesterner in me I guess.

    To everyone who mentioned the weird looks and comments they get, try not having cable! It’s like the 21st century’s leprosy. And I might as well be dead to most people because I’m not concerned about updating my TV either.

    Get this – my wife *gasp* clips coupons! You want to talk about being automatically ostracized?

  29. theblackdog says:

    I can see where it’s a struggle, but it does become easier if you start thinking about how much you actually “need” something vs “want” something. I drive an 11 year old car and currently rent a small apartment because that is all I need on my own. Sure I had some initial expenses from setting up a new place to live, but now that it’s behind me, I can concentrate on paying down my debt.

  30. barty says:

    @ekthesy: “Needed” $25k in after-school programs? Lady, send your kids to the YMCA or the county soccer/baseball/football program. Our biggest problem in this country when it comes to spending is people have this notion that they’ve got to surround themselves with the most expensive items/services they can find to satisfy basic necessities.

    I NEED a car to get to work. I WANT a BMW, but my Mazda or my wife’s paid off Jeep gets us there just as well and for far less money.

    I NEED a house over my head. I want one on 4-5 acres with a 50×50′ detached garage for my workshop and 3000 sq/ft, but my 1600 sq/ft on .75 acres in a good neighborhood gets the job done.

    I could go on and on, but I think everyone gets the picture.

    @missdona: People don’t want to have to break down and drive a $3000 car to pay $100 a month for health insurance. That’s why I have absolutely no pity for most of the people who claim they can’t afford it. They just choose not to buy it because they don’t want to give up a luxury or something else that doesn’t fit into the realm of necessity to be responsible for their own health care. The money to buy it is there, they just don’t want to spend it.

  31. xQuizx says:

    @Jim: Ha no cable! That one is good I currently don’t have cable and have been cable free for almost a year now. When people find that out they give me this concerned look like…”are you dying?” I calmly tell them that when you don’t have it you don’t really need it. It gives me time to get out of the house and explore the world. What I find interesting is people say that they don’t watch much tv at all and don’t know why they are paying for it. But they can’t get themselves to cancel it.

  32. ekthesy says:


    Yeah. She could have sold some of her “original art” she chose to festoon her home with, rather than run up debt for after school programs.

    You know what my after school program was? Running around in my yard and trying to sneak into the newspaper plant next door to yell “STOP THE PRESSES!” (Thanks Dad.)

    And geez–paying $100 a month for health insurance is on the very cheap end of things. Where do I sign up for that??

  33. UpsetPanda says:

    Yeaaaah…these stories are ridiculous. How can people amass so much debt through pure irresponsibility and stupidity? Maybe I overestimate people’s intelligence. I’m going to have a nice apartment, with internet and cable and no debt, because I can say ‘no’ to buying lots of original art.

    This is what gets me the most:

    “These were simple day-to-day expenses,” she said. “The money was always there.”

    $25,000 in after-school classes is NOT a day-to-day expense! an after-school library program might not be free, but it sure the heck won’t equal $25,000 a year!

    I heart coupons. I only clip the ones for products I actually buy, and I keep them with me at all times. If for some reason, I’ve got a craving for something, I buy the smallest version of it possible, knowing that my craving might be gone within a day or two, and I don’t want a ton of leftover food I won’t want to eat.

  34. zippyzop says:

    Hey Judgy McJudge Judges!
    Is it really new news that “Americans buy things they can’t afford?”
    Oh, but I have a “Midwestern sensibility” or “Depression era mentality” that does me right!
    Well fuck that and your preachy ways. While I am totally against much in the way of a subprime bailout, I’d appreciate you not fucking telling me that an ipod is a valid expense or not.
    Look, I make $150k/year and spend quite a bit, sometimes even more than I bring home, but save 10% in my 401k. While I would LOVE it if those making less than me didn’t overspend and then I will fucking have to bail them out, none of you can deny that this is always easy to say when you have more money and can afford shit. I LOOOOOOVE my flat screen. I LOOOOOVE my nice car. I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE my family even more (hence the extra Os) and use our money to spend time together and enjoy those moments.
    All I’m saying is, we seem to talk about 2 main things on Consumerist:
    1) How greedy and manipulative all the corporations are and how they hook us in and it just isn’t fair.
    2) The idiots who live in our country that spend more than they have and fall for the corporations.
    In other words… everyone is dumb but us. Maybe true, but it is a freaking condescending attitude.

  35. humphrmi says:

    Stories like this oddly make me feel good about myself.

  36. MickeyMoo says:


    If I mail you a medical statement – can you sign me up for this $100 a mo medical insurance you speak of?

  37. K-Bo says:

    @MickeyMoo: Depends where you are, and your age. I got it for $100 a month with BCBS at the age of $25, but the county I was in was one of the cheaper in the state, the price varied county to county. It had a very high deductible though, mostly had it in case I got hit by a car or something.

  38. @UpsetPanda: I really wish we had the kind of community infrastructure, and heck, even the culture to have every kid signed up in an affordable library or soccer program. But if the parent is working, how is the kid going to get to soccer? How are they going to get to the library? I know these things can be worked out in some cases, but at the end of the day, sometimes its just easier to hire a sitter.

    @zippyzop: Srsly. I love consumerist because of all the tips and ideas, but sometimes people can be downright condescending of how other people live. Racist, even, in some cases (see the spinning rims comments in the tax rebate posts). It isn’t our place to tell people what kind of culture they should have. If they want to be idiots (and I agree with the Idiocracy comments), then fine. Survival of the fittest, I say!

  39. sixseeds says:

    @kimsama: I absolutely agree with you. The attitude was one of the reasons I moved to Chicago. I remain proud of my family’s little house and modest but reliable cars.

    @zippyzop: What’s wrong with condescending a little if we are right? Yeah, that makes me sound like a jerk, but I reserve the right to be annoyed at those greedy corporations and stupid consumers who are dragging my financially responsible ass down into a recession. I make a lot less than $100k a year but I’ll be paying for their attitude too.

  40. SimonSwegles says:

    @HRHKingFriday: It would be nice if the glut of product in eBay resulted in prices being driven down so that they are reasonable. More often than not, when I look for something on eBay, total cost is higher than just buying it from Amazon.

  41. Mr_Burmie says:

    “We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.”

    The small town is Elk City, Oklahoma. Remind me not to move there.

  42. KristinaBeana says:

    @humphrmi: Then come sit next to me!
    Granted my co-workers and I earn more in the $25-35K range, but we compete more over how little we can spend on things. We work in a store surrounded by higher-end merchandise, but unless we get it gratis (which is relatively often) we rarely spend money on branded goods. Perhaps it is all the sad folks we see on a daily basis looking for their next shot of happiness via a swipe of the plastic.

  43. IamTCM says:

    @kimsama: I agree. I lived in leesburg for a summer driving a not-so-pretty 95 Toyota Corola. I got most of my stares from the Prime Outlets people.

    Now that I’m living in DC, my Corola is generally status quo.

  44. @Bladefist: Good luck with that. You might get health care and a mortgage bailout, but you’re gonna have to work for that welfare.And have kids.

  45. enm4r says:

    @xQuizx: I have had this exact experience. In Chicago specifically, the HD signals are pretty good, and so I can pull a better HD signal than what RCN or Comcast deliver. Between the major networks, WGN/CW and all that extra crap, along with the half dozen PBS stations, you can actually pull about a good dozen or more (depending on your taste) decent channels, all in great quality…for free.

    The only pain is dealing without sporting events, which is why after a year I had to pay the minimal amount for espn and the others.

  46. Mary says:

    @mwwilk: “Cars, which the pundits now say could be the source of the next loan crisis, are a perfect example.”

    Yeah, I’m buying a car this weekend I’ve found so little actual help out there. People keep going on about resale value, and when I replace it in a few years. I kept explaining to them that this car is the one I intend to drive until it falls apart, like I have my last two.

    I did decide to spend a little more on one that is pretty sporty, but instead of a LOT more on a luxury car, I just got a higher class of average sedan.

  47. Think of it as Evolution in Action.

    PS- What’s wrong with her kids that they need $25,000 in afterschool programs? Who told her to have kids? Who told her to have the bad genes that would require $25K in afterschool. What does that get you, anyway? Caviar after school snacks? $12,500 per kid, per year. Figure 6 years of afterschool, it’s $150K if you just mattress that money. This isn’t condescending. It’s really about evolution in action.

  48. @PotKettleBlack: Like people who don’t wear seatbelt or motorcycle helmets. Credit is like a car or motorcycle, essentially.

  49. Xerloq says:

    @K-Bo: Ah, to be $25 again. I’ll just have to get used to being 30%; though I can’t wait for when I’m *69 and can finally figure out who called!

    This is just friendly teasing…

  50. Xerloq says:

    @Jim: I wouldn’t own a TV if I hadn’t won one in a contest. I almost declined because I didn’t want to pay taxes on the $1200.

  51. K-Bo says:

    @Xerloq: lol, I really do type waay too fast. Amazing I can actually write code a computer can read some days.

  52. xQuizx says:

    @enm4r: I did cave in and buy an antennae. I figured since it’s all going digital to try it out. I can’t believe how clear some of the channels were. And on the plus side I can easily pick up Fox to watch the Superbowl.

  53. matto says:

    Our economy is built on the backs of unwitting dupes like this, and I encourage them to continue spending beyond their means and promoting a thriving retail economy and credit industry. Any moron who sees nothing wrong with spending more than he makes deserves what he gets.

  54. forever_knight says:

    @bustit22: all of the candidates are for something similar. even ron paul.

    the difference being, how MUCH should we help these people that made bad decisions.

    why do we have to keep people “in their homes”? do i need to remind you that they can no longer or could never afford their homes. that’s the freaking problem. renting is not a big deal. people that make bad decisions should get to deal with the consequences.

  55. K-Bo says:

    @matto: but do we deserve to bail them out? Cause that’s what will end up happening if they keep on spending beyond their means.

  56. UpsetPanda says:

    @HRHKingFriday: After school programs can cost anymore from free to really, very expensive. Fran Barbaro seems to have chosen to give her kids an expensive after school program and how she’s paying for it again. Even if she couldn’t get off work to take her kids to different places, I doubt hiring a part-time babysitter with a good driving record costs $25,000. That is to say, and the article doesn’t say, her kids don’t have any mental or emotional problems that require special care.

  57. Empire says:

    The best thing that ever happened to me was getting two $1,000-credit-limit cards my first year in college. Sure, I maxed them out, went overlimit, have paid probably $6,000 in interest and still owe about $6,000 (took me a while to get my act together), but I will never be $280,000 in debt on anything that doesn’t qualify as an investment. OK, maybe a house, which is not really an investment given that even in good times home appreciation rarely outstrips inflation once you deduct property taxes, maintenance and debt service, but it really is pretty hard to buy a house before you retire without taking on at least some debt.

  58. @UpsetPanda: In Boston, the going rate for an after school sitter (college aged) is between 10 and 15 bucks per hour. I already worked the math for you, from my own experience. Keep in mind that for 12 weeks of the summer, they’ll need 8 or 9 hours of care, depending how long Mom’s commute is.

    Child care is not something you want to find the “best bargain” for- I’m not saying go out and enroll them in some private prep, but if you had kids you’d think twice at dropping them off at any old day care.

    I’m just saying that’s the one expense I can really forgive her for. Plasma TVs, dog sitters, vacations, that you can do with out.

  59. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @DrGirlfriend: Seriously! People should just go back to calling it “sense”.

  60. K-Bo says:

    @HRHKingFriday: True that you don’t want to skimp, but there are people in my office paying less than $25,000 per year on day care, and we are talking 8 hour a day every day, 5 star (in nc, you have to have and approved educational program to get 5 stars, not just a hey we don’t kill your kids type thing). I doubt she could have halved that and still got decent care, but surely she could have saved some, or like someone else said, sell the original art to pay for it. If your kids aren’t worth more to you than your art, you probably never should have had your kids.

  61. Johnny_Blackwell says:

    When the debt collectors show up and all those nice things are taken away. My old TV and stereo will still be working fine.

  62. itonix says:

    We should have a club for no cable/sat bill consumerists :) I refuse to pay for mindless comercial filled packages. My LCD TV is hooked up to a admitedly high end PC and servs up all the good stuff for free from internet via TVU, Joost and network sites. Life is good and now I only wish that HBO and Showtime would create a pay service online…

  63. ahwannabe says:

    @loueloui: oooh, I like that idea. Save money = get shiny object.

  64. JDobbs says:

    @HRHKingFriday: What about simply having the kids in the first place is that a “forgivable expense?” Seems like just another thing that lots of people get without being able to afford. Unfortunately it’s one of the only “investments” that society and the government thinks everyone should underwrite.

  65. SaraAB87 says:

    In my town as long as you have clean clothes on your back that do not look like they are from a salvation army that only stocks 10 year old clothes, you look good. I live in a city where 60% or more of the people are on welfare. People here value electronic possessions more than anything else, including more than having a clean home and a clean carpet etc. As long as your house has that big screen HDTV, Playstation 3 or Xbox360, you own an expensive smartphone to flaunt around and a beefy computer or laptop in it you are all good, no matter what the rest of the house looks like, it can be falling apart. I have seen enough houses here to know.

    I don’t think I would ever want to live the lifestyle of keeping up with the Joneses because it just leads to remorse and in most cases a lot of debt. That person who has all those gadgets is likely secretly miserable inside because they are wallowing in a sea of debt.

  66. UpsetPanda says:

    If she was married and had kids, she probably was expecting a dual income, which I understand. Though, what part of divorce means one person gets to shoulder all of the care? If she got sole custody, there would still be child support, correct? Like K-Bo said, there are plenty of people getting child care for less than $25K. Why is this lady any different that she can’t manage, with her original paintings and her knowledge that she was living beyond her means?

  67. silver-spork says:

    Now I’m almost glad I grew up poor. Not dirt poor, but we never had the lastest fad, never went on a vacation that didn’t involve staying with family, and sometimes went hungry. It was good practice for scraping by in undergraduate and graduate school.

    I do have a good job now, but my husband is still in a postdoc while looking for a “real” job. I still can’t stomach buying things full price and we don’t replace anything (stove, car) unless we absolutely have to. We save 15-20% of our income for retirement, have a three-month emergency fund, and anything that we can plan for (home renovation, vacation, car down payment) is saved for and paid in cash.

    Most people earning more than minimum wage could probably live below their means, but it does require a huge change in mindset and a lot of dedication.

  68. smitty1123 says:

    Boo fucking hoo. I’m not going to feel sorry for or forgive stupidity.

  69. Mario's Pants says:

    When we moved from the U.S. to Canadia, we decided to run as lean as possible: minimal credit card debt and best used car we could find, move downtown so that I could commute to work by walking, etc. etc. (if you’re an over-spender, get your credit limit reduced so that you fill it up quickly and are forced to use cash while waiting for your payment to catch up to the records… it’s also good to pay off the entire amount, often). Having to pay for cash for purchases ensures that you give a second-thought to items you may not actually need.

    Anybody who’s insecure enough to believe that their neighbors actually care what they drive and what they’re wearing either have horrible neighbors or need to seek counseling.

  70. Mario's Pants says:

    @ekthesy: “The Fran Barbaro story was the most egregious. $25,000 per year for after-school studies for the kids? Come on.”

    Work it out: $25k for 2 kids (let’s be charitable and include summer days) works out to less than $50 a day for each kid. Even if she’s euphemistically referring to day care, that’s still considered reasonable.

  71. Buran says:

    @enm4r: I would have been on the phone with 911 reporting someone trying to break into my house. I’m not going to trust some guy who has a badge that for all I know is a fake bought at a dime store. I don’t owe anything beyond a car loan that is way under the average. They’re not getting in until I have proof that they’re real police, and if they damage anything I’ll be filing a grievance to get repairs paid for. If the police can’t be assed to confirm they’re breaking down the right door, they deserve all the bad press they get.

    Paranoid? No, just good sense.

  72. the_wiggle says:

    @hypnotik_jello: like it or not, we are living in an appearance-ist world.

    @ekthesy: ever taken a serious look at day care costs, sports costs, band costs, Scouts costs? $25K per year for 2 boys isn’t that bad.

    @sixseeds: sometimes people fall into that bit of financial suicide by moving to an area of “good” schools coupled with un-affordable financial & social expenses. main reason i refuse to move to Anthem, Scottsdale, Chandler or PV. good schools mean nothing when bills cannot be paid.

    @zippyzop: yes it is. not going away anytime soon either which is pathetic.

  73. CumaeanSibyl says:

    All y’all Midwesterners on here must be the only ones in the region with any sense, because I live in Michigan and I see people buying shit they can’t afford all the damn time.

    Sadly, being born in the flyover states doesn’t actually make us any smarter. I agree with zippyzop — let’s cut it with the working-class hero crap, okay? It’s a nice place to live but it doesn’t confer any virtues.

  74. KJones says:

    Why is it when the issue is sex and violence, people blame the movies and music for making people that way, and yet when it comes to debt and loans, people blame the borrowers?

  75. RocktheDebit says:

    This isn’t just stupidity. It’s an addiction.

    My advice:
    – The Gambles: Balance transfer to a lower-interest credit card or get a relatively low-interest (with a fixed interest rate) personal loan. Take all the money you were putting towards credit card payments and pay off one loan, even if the minimum payment’s a lot lower. Save one credit card, put it in a chunk of ice at the back of the freezer, and cut the rest up. Do not get any other credit cards. Yes, that includes “no payments, no interest until 2011!” furniture financing.

    – Ms. Merhaut: Pretty similar advice–you’re already paying it off, but you want to transfer to a lower interest rate so you can pay it off faster.

    – Ms. Barbero: Pretty much the above, but if you can’t get a good interest rate you may want to consider a Chapter 13 repayment plan at 100% plus prime rate of interest for unsecured creditors. (Yes, I am a bankruptcy paralegal, why do you ask?) It’ll also force you to either a) justify your childcare expenses or b) realize that Jimmy and Timmy do not need one-on-one Portuguese lessons.

    – The couple with $680 K in debt: I’ve read that in nineteenth-century Oregon people could legally be declared “spendthrifts” and be considered incompetent for the purposes of financial contracts. In lieu of that particular legal remedy, I suggest a Chapter 13 plan and information on a local psychiatrist who specializes in shopping addiction.

  76. Canoehead says:

    I think living in NY (and probably other high-cost urban areas) really distorts spending habbits. Most of the folks I know work long hours and make good money but despair of ever buying a place given the cost, so they (and me to a degree) end up spending a lot of money on food, entertainment, booze, clothes (mostly the girls) and electronic gadgets (mostly the guys) – the attitude is that once you’ve paid the rent, taxes and maxed the 401k, it’s all play money since there’s no point saving for a house you’ll never be able to afford. I try not to fall into that trap (and am partially successful) but it is a really easy trap to fall into. You don’t have much free time, so you justify spending a lot when you do.

  77. JDobbs says:

    @KJones: Probably because only idiots actually think that movies and music have anything to do with sex and violence in our society. I suspect most of the people who blame the borrowers also blame the consumers of “dangerous” media when they claim did it because they saw it on TV. It’s called taking responsibly for one’s actions. It ain’t complicated. YOu did it now deal with it don’t expect me to bail you out because i’m not an idiot and i won’t expect you to bail me out if i do something stupid.

  78. modenastradale says:

    I must say, I’ve never encountered such a high concentration self-congratulatory, judgmental blowhards anywhere but on the Consumerist.

    Having solid finances should be rewarding in and of itself. Bravo to those who are quietly reaping the benefits of sound money management. But for the rest of you, what are you so lacking in that you must compensate by boasting and demeaning others?

  79. KJones says:


    I already knew the answer. I was making a rhetorical analogy.

  80. bkpatt says:

    @zippyzop: Too funny… did you forget that all Consumerist readers are completely perfect, while the rest of the world are the morons?

    If so, here is your reminder. :)

  81. joellevand says:

    This reminds me of that rather funny SNL commerical for a book called “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford”

    Husband: I think I got it. I buy something I want, and then hope that I can pay for it right?

    Salesman: No. You make sure you have money, then you buy it.

    Husband: Oh, THEN you buy it. But shouldn’t you buy it before you have the money?

    Salesman: No-o-o-o.

    Wife: Why not?

    Salesman: It’s in the book. It’s only one page long. The advice is priceless and the book is free.

    Wife: Well, I like the sound of that.

    Husband: Yeah, we can put it on our credit card.

  82. banmojo says:

    intelligent people for the most part remain as debt free as they can, and when taking loans or using credit they figure whether it’s worth it and whether the schedule is doable. Dumb/stupid/ignorant sheople don’t think much past the current moment they’re in, therefore make stupid decisions and live to face the consequences of their actions. Unless we vote more democrats into office, as they seem to think that no one should be made to live with the consequences of their stupid choices.

  83. facework says:

    Why do people feel the need to make patently imbecilic statements like “democrats…blah blah…no more personal responsibility…blah blah..::drool::?

    What do intelligent people do again, Banjomo? What is remotely intelligent about starting a neverending war based on false pretenses; driving the economy into a tailspin; letting supergreed and supercapitalism run unchecked until the corruption combusts on iteself; soaking up massive record profits on oil price collusion schemes; racking up the deepest, most insurmountable debt our country has ever had? That kind of supreme incompetence takes a special level of abject idiocy and insane selfishness. Who, Banjomo, is going to live with the consequences of those actions?

  84. hanoverfiste says:

    $25,00 in after school programs:
    Well the Y doesn’t have valet parking and Kindercare didn’t have a coffee bar when I wait to pick up my children.

    It wouldn’t take much to trim that budget and get the credit down and gone in 2 years by stop buying Starbucks, have the kids sit out for a year on activities, don’t go out to eat. Sell the SUV buy a 5 year old Lexus for Cash. And pay pay pay down that debt.

    Instead on her income she still probably can refi the house use home equity to dump some of the credit card debt and keep going for another 3 years, only to do bankruptcy….

    People: Listen to Dave Ramsey, his approach works.

  85. synergy says:

    That first story… they’re still not doing something right. My husband and I earned somewhat less than that per month and owed well more than that in debt and still went out to movies and to eat, occasionally. We also bought a used car while paying down the debt. So, yeah. They’re still somehow not managing their money right or something.

  86. barty says:


    Understand I’m talking to people who are in reasonably good health. There seems to be a misconception that if you can’t buy health insurance through an employer that it is hopelessly unaffordable. At least that’s what the media and the socialists who want to dump government health care on us keep preaching. Keep in mind that these policies have about a ~$2500 deductible on them and usually have no prescription benefits at that price, though they’ll kick in a discount card (good for 25-30% discount). They’re not for the people who feel compelled to visit their doctor every time they get the runs from eating bad food or have anything aside from a mild headache.

    Honestly, I wish my employer would give us a high deductible + HSA option here. Last place I worked at that had such an option I paid about $20 a month for myself and they kicked in $1500 a year for a flexible health spending account.

    @facework: Because in all honesty, Democrats have been the ones that have rushed to bail people out of situations where they should just take their lumps and grin. Not to say Republicans haven’t had their moments, but most of the hand out programs of the past 60-70 years came primarily at the hands of a Democrat, and they’re the ones always trying to scare the bejeesus out of everyone come election season that some evil Republican is going to come take away your welfare/social secuirity/food stamps, etc., etc..

    At least that’s how the politicians play their games i my neck of the woods. Going to some of these “town hall” debates for folks in the Georgia legislature can be down right entertaining.

  87. taka2k7 says:

    We’re all a product of our environment. Anyone who thinks that the media doesn’t impact people’s behavior is an idiot. Still, the parents should be the circuit breaker/reality check at a young age; hopefully this carrys over to adulthood.

    People don’t take responsibility for their actions (blame the Democrats) and corporations aren’t held accountable for theirs (blame the Republicans).

    Kick all the bums out of office, get money out of politics, and then we can finally get to work on long term solutions to the problems that people have created.

  88. cerbie says:

    @jds64ny: give that man some dice!

    @zippyzop: I’m sure most of us made more than a few mistakes, and there are thousands of people out there that think the blue E is the Internet, managing their finances just fine, for every registered commenter here. But, everyone is going to help pay for those people that accrue such great debt: you at 150k, and me at 30k. It may take a few years to catch up to us all, but it will be part of increased taxes, increased interest rates, increased service costs, even lower dollar, and so on. Culturally, we may be insulated, but economically, we are not. Thus, those of us trying to do well with our money see that those who aren’t are going to cause us to get bitten–we’re going to have work more at it in the future because they haven’t.

  89. kwsdurango says:

    All bitching aside, how do we profit from everyone’s bad debt? Outside of short selling banks and credit card co’s, trading currency against the dollar and buying up everyone else’s cheap foreclosed stuff?

    We are all going to get stuck financing a mortgage bailout for people who over-bought anyways, there has to be a way to hedge. Think people, think!

  90. Rusted says:

    @kimsama: My old stomping grounds. Fox Chapel across Market. I sold and bugged out for NC a few years ago. It got so bad that one couldn’t make a left turn during daylight hours. That and the gang problem that everyone but the cops knew about.

    @barty: I’m paying off a medical bill. I kinda wish I was in Canada right now. I liked Hillary’s idea when I heard it in 94′. I still like it.

  91. gibbersome says:


    Agreed, but I suppose a lot of people need an ego boost for saving.

    I don’t have cable, a car or any other monthly expense other than rent. The only thing I spend money on regularly is books and I only purchase a few used ones a month.

    I’ve learned to live on the bare minimum, but I’m not going to look down upon anyone else who is mountains of debt. If you can afford the niceties in life, great! Enjoy them!

  92. misslisa says:

    @the_wiggle: I live in Phoenix but the other readers here do not – nobody else knows or gives a shit what you mean by “Anthem” or “PV”. And if you think Anthem or Chandler have great school systems, you’re an idjut.

  93. kusto says:

    I think we are getting real close to the credit problem in America. Allow me to digress…(I hate that phase too).
    I grew up in the midwest, raised to know that if you didn’t have cash you didn’t get it. Thrift..dang can even spell that word anymore…
    so I live in the bay area now. Watching the real estate crumble. Sitting on a decent approved fixed 30 year. You know what?
    I think gramps was right. Screw the banks…they screwed us for 150 years. I don’t think there are any good solid lenders anymore.
    I think I’ll keep watching and renting month to month.
    Anyway, I can’t wait to be 100% debt free. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and trust me I’ll never spend a dime outside of my worth.
    I can’t wait to force the banks and their minions work for my gain in a few short years.
    Stop buying crap America!