Other People’s Finances Make Me Anxious

It’s none of my business, it’s really none of my business… But whenever I get wind of other people’s financial problems, I get anxious. Say someone without retirement savings goes on an all-inclusive Cuban vacation: I’ll hear about it, my chest tightens, my heart speeds up, and I need to literally bite my lip until I am safely home with Z.

Z: “Honey, you can’t worry about stuff like that.”

Me: “I know, I know.”

This past couple of weeks, around Black Friday/Cyber Monday, there’s been some strong personal finance writing from people who’ve taken up minimalist challenges. Like Michelle McGagh in the Guardian, who challenged herself and only bought groceries for a year. She was partially inspired by Kath Kelly, who lived off £1/ day, for a year.

I love reading this stuff. We are about to undertake our own challenge – we’re gearing up for a big project – which means we’re been trimming our budget dutifully, in preparation. To me, these challenges are inspiring.

So last week, when I read this article about a woman’s credit card debt, I almost broke into a cold sweat, wanting to send her links to different minimalist writers.

The woman and her husband carry about $16,000 in credit card debt. It seems they got into it in a bad way when they got married, and haven’t managed to dig themselves out since their wedding.

Um.

The woman says she doesn’t want her friends to know she’s struggling because she doesn’t want them to feel uncomfortable. She thinks her friends are all better off than her.

She says she found it easier to save when she was single, and she thinks she and her husband have different attitudes about money. In her words, he has not “stared down the reality of getting super uncomfortable to save”.

Cue my panic attack.

  1. There is nothing wrong with having a small, cheap wedding. Weddings are supposed to be celebrations of your love, and for people to help set you up for your new life. They aren’t supposed to be an opportunity for you to take on credit card debt. Absolutely do not go into debt for your wedding!
  2. If you can’t tell your friends that your struggling, who can you tell?! True friends should be helpful! Especially if they are better off than you; they shouldn’t look down on that. If they do, they’re bad friends.
  3. Sounds like the husband needs a wake up call.

I did a quick calculation: carrying $16,000 on a credit card will rack up about $3200 in interest costs in a year. That is a lot of cash. $265 a month that you could use to save, or take yourself out to dinner, or whatever.

Bah!

I wanted to shake the woman, and the woman’s husband. I wanted to tell her to slow down, to stop thinking about her rich friends and what they might think, to think instead about how good it would feel to not have this $16,000 noose charging interest every month. I want to give her advice on how to get a lower interest rate to start digging herself out of this mess, and to tell her that cutting back on spending is like anything – at first it’s hard, then it gets easier, and eventually you get to a point where you can’t even remember what it felt like to spend more, it’s so unimaginable.

But I can’t. I don’t know this person.

I have to mind my own business.