I used to have a list of excuses for not being able to save money. Now I know that most of them were bullshit. But it took me some time to realize this. From what I’ve read, I’m not so different from most Americans. Something deeper is going on and we need to talk about it. There are reasons why we can’t save. They aren’t very comfortable to confront and we’re not supposed to talk about them. But check it out, we have to talk about them because it’s getting worse every year.
- The average credit card debt in America is around $8,000.
- Over half of us don’t even have $1,000 bucks in the bank.
- Just under half of us can’t even meet our monthly living expenses.
To be fair, there are a lot of Americans in extreme poverty and roughly 20% of Americans are on welfare. But what’s going on with the rest of us?
Ever asked your best friend these questions?
Why can’t we save and why aren’t we talking about it? When you think about it, money dictates damn near everything in our culture, but we can’t talk about it. Don’t believe me? Try this the next time you’re hanging out with a friend over coffee or a beer, ask, “Just curious, how much money have you saved so far? Do you have a retirement plan? What’s your salary anyway?” Nope. Wouldn’t fly, right? People aren’t supposed to ask questions like that. Money makes us uneasy. We all feel like we are going to be judged. We’ve internalized money as a measure of our worth and we won’t admit it.
We can talk about our sex life, but not about our salaries.
It’s a cultural taboo. Somehow we have inherited this idea that we are only as good as the money we make. To discuss our salaries would also bring up issues of status and shame. Money is equated with power. Social power. Political power. Sexual power. We all want it. Or, at the very least, we don’t wanna feel like a loser if we don’t have it. So what happens if we are in debt, can’t seem to save money, and can’t talk about it? It becomes a secret, one we may be even partially keeping from ourselves.
What happens when we don’t talk about money.
The lack of transparency in our conversations about money is creating a lack of transparency within ourselves. We put on a front, yet worry deep inside. We stress out when we are paying the bills one minute, but don’t blink when we drop dollars on a new shiny thing. The irony is that the shame that we feel because of a lack of money stems from the same place as the shame we feel from feeling poor or powerless. Anyone who has had a bad day and then felt better after buying something knows what I’m talking about. This shame fuels the cycle and keeps us lying to ourselves. We have to shatter the illusion, so let’s talk about money. Let’s start with debt.
We’ve normalized debt…
Face it. America is a debtors’ country. The government carries debt of around $18 trillion, and if we all went to the bank right now and tried to withdraw our money, we couldn’t because the banks lend money they don’t have. (fractional reserve banking) It’s crazy. We have normalized debt. We need a credit card to get a credit score. We need a credit score to get a student loan. We need a car loan to buy a car to go to work. And we need to take out a mortgage to “buy” a house. And there we are, all set up to work forever to pay all of this off. This is all quite normal in our country. It is a systemic problem and it’s getting worse.
Are we all living beyond our means because we think we have to?
Our lifestyle is embedded in our culture and reinforced daily through advertising, media, television and everybody else. We upgrade our overpriced cell phone contract to get the new iPhone. This is normal. It’s normal to have a TV and pay an outrageous amount for television services. It’s normal to make room in our stretched budget for a crazy car payment. And it’s normal to have monthly subscriptions to Amazon Prime, and Netflix and all kinds of crap. And this is what we have to change. This can’t be normal anymore.
…in order to keep up with the Joneses.
The keeping up with the Joneses mentality has been ridiculed and scoffed at for over a century in America, but we are all subject to it in very subliminal ways. You may find out that the Joneses don’t live on your street but in your head. Listen, you are not your salary. You are not your bank account balance. You are not your credit score. You are not the clothes you wear nor the car you drive. There is absolutely no shame in changing your lifestyle. There is life beyond the latest iPhone. And you may be surprised to find, as I was, that it opens you up to an entirely new way of looking at things.
Money and life are complex.
Our relationship with money is extremely personal. Each and every person absolutely knows where their weakness with money lies. Every day in the media you can find a gazillion new articles yammering on about having a budget, having emergency savings, and saving for retirement. We all know we should do it. But we can’t. We can’t save and continue to spend our wages on the lifestyles we have set up for ourselves. These articles make the idea of changing your lifestyle sound easy. Bullshit, it isn’t at all. Talking about money causes tensions in relationships and families. If your partner can’t live without a big screen TV and his/her favorite shows, you know not to go there. It causes problems. If all your kid’s friends have the latest toy, it’s hard to say no, but what kind of a future are we handing our kids?
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Our debt is climbing higher than our wages. We are leveraging our future for the things we think we need. But these things are not going to help us down the road. Let’s be real, these things will merely be replaced with other things adding to the problem. To break this cycle, we have to start a dialogue about money. And we have to start with ourselves. We can’t be afraid to explore our own attachments to the things that keep us in debt and ask ourselves what our lives would look like without them. This is going to bring up fear, boredom, and anxiety. But that’s ok because that is exactly what we need to explore. We need to ask ourselves “why?”
The reason we can’t save is that we keep setting ourselves up for failure. Our relationship with money is deeply ingrained in our psyche, and although we may have the best intentions by setting up extreme budgeting goals, we will fail over and over because we are not looking at the real problem. The real problem exists underneath the money. There is no quick fix for changing our relationship with money. The bridge from where you are now to where you want to go is a process, not a resolution. You have to support yourself with compassion and start small.
Start the conversation – with yourself.
Explore your own attachment to your habits. Try to cut one thing out of your life that you having been paying for. Put that money somewhere else and don’t touch it no matter what. Face the discomfort and walk through the feelings this brings up for you. If you do this, I promise you that you will begin to change in a small way. And you will feel better. You will have more self-confidence. After a while, you will get used to not having that one small thing. Move on to the next thing.
It is important to approach your personal relationship with money with compassion for yourself. You must remember that you are not the problem and you are not alone. Our culture is sick and suffering from a mass delusion that has been embedded throughout our history. If you are stressing out about your debts, there is only one thing that you can do. Look at your lifestyle. Dare to be different. Be brave. Be a pioneer. If we break the silence with ourselves, perhaps we can start to break the silence with each other. We are in trouble, and we need to talk about it. Start with yourself. Start now.
The stories are real. Names have been changed.
Photo credit: Anthony Garand
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