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March 2015 Newsletter: Lessons from a friend about expectations, interest and enthusiasm
March 31, 2015
Hello to all my frugal friends and observers of life:

I'm departing again from my pattern this month to bring you insights from a recent visit I had with a friend of mine. Let's call him Tony. A few days spent with this individual reminds me of many truisms that I hold dear. I thought we all might be well advised to review some of these. As usual, I like to work from real life lessons instead of simply making things up, so I’m not trying to put a mean or vindictive spotlight on anyone, I’m just trying to stay grounded in reality. All in the hopes of helping me and others review their lifestyles that depend on being wise when it comes to money.

I'll keep the overview rather brief so I can get right into the observations, insights and lessons learned.

OVERVIEW

Tony is aiming low and he's hitting the mark with great consistency. To say he has a drinking problem is putting it mildly. He lives with his daughter and her family, and hangs out in the garage. His primary activities are watching television, smoking and drinking beer. That is, when he's not sleeping or attending local garage sales where he buys items of limited usefulness that pile up in his man cave. Oh, and generally lazing about is another of his pastimes.

Unfortunately, he has a decided lack of interest in hygiene, grooming, tidiness and cleanliness. Quite frankly, he looks homeless. He lives on a meager monthly Social Security income, and doesn't have much of anything he can claim as his own...even his truck is being financed by others. Despite living with his daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons, Tony's interactions with family are minimal at best, and he certainly sets no shining example for his grandsons to follow.

Even as I type this, I'm wondering, "Why do I bother to spend time with this guy?" I imagine you're wondering much the same. Well, I think there are insights and lessons to be learned from everyone and just about every situation, and this proves to be no exception. He was a friend to me in another place and time, so I don't mind working a bit harder to be his friend. I think he deserves at least that.

So, let's get to the observations and insights.

OBSERVATIONS

He’s not meeting family expectations. Whether it's helping out around the house, keeping his man cave reasonably clean, participating in family activities, or bathing regularly -- all reasonable expectations of anyone you might have living in your home -- there is nothing but disappointment and frustration to be found. It's not that "the bar" has been set too low; it's that the bar hasn’t been set at all. A lack of expectations has been accepted as the norm, and he’s responded accordingly.

Prepaying for half a tank of gas. If there is one thing that defines Tony's current financial mess, it's his need to pay for gas by going into the convenience store with cash in hand…to fill up his tank only to the halfway mark. He used to have a credit card, but he doesn't have one anymore, and he'll likely never be able to get one again. In the 21st century, life without a credit card is inconvenient, and it’s a situation he’s created for himself. And, he calculates how much money he has in his wallet and how much gas he can put in his tank, balanced with his other spending interests.

He’s completely dependent on others. When you think about it, whether it's monthly income, housing, utilities, transportation, or anything else, Tony is entirely dependent upon others. If he were working a job, helping out around the house, or otherwise pulling his weight, there would be interdependency, but there isn't, and that's a very poor position to be in.

He’s a tar baby. I can't help but think of Tony as a tar baby that will be nearly impossible to get free from. How does one kick out grandpa when he's been allowed to loaf about for years with no responsibilities and no consequences for being a ne’er do well?

Beer brings out self-serving talk. As we spent time together, the beer would loosen Tony up to the point where he’d tell me about saving up some money and getting a place of his own. He would also talk about jobs that he might land in town...as a manager at some warehouse or production facility. He would also justify his lack of participation in household chores because he pays rent of some sort. I can only imagine he's telling me all of this to gain a sympathetic ear. It’s apparent to me that he sees himself up against everyone else in the family, and it’s a position he’s made for himself.

INSIGHTS

So, what might we learn from these observations? Here’s my take on it, in the same order as presented above.

People will only take advantage of you to the extent that you allow them to. The family is concerned that Tony doesn’t meet their expectations, but they haven’t established any. They are truly enablers in this situation. They can’t feel taken advantage of because they set the stage and never put down any ground rules. They are reaping what they’ve sown. Rarely do things happen to people by pure chance, generally, we get what we deserve.

By the time you retire, you ought to have some level of financial comfort. When you’re about 65 years old, you ought to be at a point in life where debt is behind you, and leisure is before you. You ought to have a reasonable command of your personal finances. If you’re unable to be issued a credit card, and you consistently have to buy gas in gallons instead of a tank full at a time, that’s a clear sign you’ve been less than successful as a personal finance manager.

Having money gives you options, and being dependent upon others limits your options. Whether it’s a credit card or a wad of cash, if you have some financial means, you’ll have more options as to what you can do and enjoy. More importantly, if you get into a jam, having money can help you get out of trouble, whether it’s temporary housing, vehicle repair, or some other unforeseen need. Having financial means generally puts you in charge. Being dependent upon others generally puts them in charge. It’s wise to understand the difference between dependency and interdependency, and set yourself up for the latter…unless, of course, you can set yourself up to be financially independent. I can’t say a life of leisure is always in the future for those who handle their personal finances well, but for Tony, the rut he’s in is based on poor handling of his personal finances, and willingly becoming a dependent of others instead of champion for himself.

Steer clear of tar babies. I can’t think of a bigger drain on finances, emotions, energy, and time than a “human tar baby.” The key is to avoid them to start with. Like the expression suggests, once you’re involved in their sticky situations, it’s very difficult to extricate yourself. The best approach is to avoid them like the plague. I think if Tony’s family could see into the future, they’d have done things differently, as they’re certain now that they’re stuck with Tony until he dies.

You can talk yourself into just about anything. Tony has to feel good about himself, even though he’s placed himself in this tenuous position. I just let people like Tony talk. I don’t buy into their rationalizations. I don’t take their side of the story as factual, especially when I consider who they are as the source of such information. When I see one person seemingly outnumbered by others in opposition to their lifestyle, I first ask myself, “Why is it they’re outnumbered?” Usually, it’s for good reason.

THE UPSIDE

One of the few bright spots I can see in this tale of woe comes from making a comparison of my life (or perhaps your life) to what Tony has created for himself. I’m willing to bet that many of us are in much better shape than my friend Tony. He’s painted himself into a corner and now he’s standing there with the paintbrush in his hand trying to figure out who might be to blame for his situation. For Tony, it’s the one who watches him shave in the mirror each morning, and perhaps that’s why he doesn’t shave…he just can’t face that “deep, dark, truthful mirror.”


Next Month

Next month I'll try to get back to a couple of articles as has been the pattern for quite a while now, and then the month after I’ll discuss some ideas and interests offered by another reader. Please feel free to pose questions or suggest issues for discussion. I’d like to use your interests to create relevant material for upcoming newsletters. As I've said before, I like to stay grounded in reality.

Next month, let’s look at an expression I heard a friend of mine use, “The problem with having money in your pocket is it just goes!" And, as we look at being better prepared from a financial and economic perspective, we’ll take a look at multiple revenue streams.

Wishing you well,

Clair

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