One of the saddest stories I’ve ever seen about indebtedness has been making the rounds on social media lately. It’s about a U.S. couple who make a combined US$160,000 per year, yet owe so much to so many that they can’t really keep track.
This couple’s apparent willingness to ignore debt and keep spending – nicer house, private school for one child, big food bills – is quite something. They are an embodiment of our how our consumer culture makes us feel entitled to a certain lifestyle, even if we can’t actually afford it. What interests me most about their story is how it highlights the shame people feel about their finances, and how others react to that shame.
Money shame was described in a recent report by a firm called Seymour Consulting as combining “a feeling of being out of control financially with embarrassment about admitting this to oneself and others.” Money shame is a symptom of the alarming levels of household financial stress documented by Seymour Consulting in its 2018 Financial Health Index.
HuffPost wrote a story about the indebted couple, and the judge-y comments poured in on social media. The sense you get from reading these comments is that if this couple doesn’t feel ashamed, they bloody well should.
Our own insecurities about money make us prone to lashing out at others for their financial mistakes. Now, we’re seeing financial companies use this rush to judgment about money for their own ends.
The story of the indebted couple appears in a magazine published by the robo-adviser Wealthsimple, which will manage your investments for you at low cost. The other day, I got a PR pitch from RBC Insurance that basically shames people for spending money on coffee that they could use to buy life insurance.
You want to know the real shame about money? It’s that our ability to discuss it like adults is about where talking about sex was, oh, about 30 years ago. Shaming and judging is so 1980s.
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Rob’s personal finance reading list…
Six adult tasks you may have let slide
Only one entry on this list is personal finance-related, but it’s a biggie.
How to max out on credit card points while holiday shopping
Six tips, including some insider stuff, for converting all that spending you’ll do over the holidays into the maximum haul of reward points and miles.
Does your home insurance cover these risks?
An insurance company reminds people to check their coverage to see if they’re covered against flood and sewer backup. These are by far the biggest risks to your home – be sure you’ve covered.
Cars for big families with modest budgets
SUVs and minivans that seat seven people and cost less than $30,000. My take: You can properly afford these vehicles when you’re able to finance them over no more than five years.
Today’s financial tool/app
Here’s a goal planner that will help you with either paying down debt or setting savings targets.
Q: Can you recommend a good site for RESP withdrawal strategy?
A: Here’s a really good rundown on rules and strategies for withdrawing money from registered education savings plans. A goal for RESP withdrawals should be that the beneficiary student pays no income tax on combined income from the plan and earnings from a job.
Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can’t answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.
In case you missed these Globe and Mail personal finance-related stories
- Young couples living together to save on housing costs should think about more than rent
- This couple started saving too late for retirement and now face some tough choices
- A nasty surprise awaits some variable-rate mortgage holders on renewal (for Globe Unlimited subscribers)
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