Friday, January 5, 2007

Reader Reactions to My "Get This Man Out of Debt" Post

I received a ton of feedback on my previous post about a New Yorker article that profiled a man with a low paying job and a big chunk of debt, and it was humbling.

This is what I love about the Internet. It is an amazing forum for sharing ideas. A large group thinking about a problem has the potential to come up with so many more ideas than a single person like me ever could by myself. To everyone who responded: thank you.

I couldn't address each comment individually so I figured I would use this post to speak to some of them.

I really liked some of the additional ideas you had that could save that guy money. Someone said he should have a pay-as-you-go cellphone plan instead of a $60 a month plan. This would be a great idea. I got along without a cellphone at all while I was in grad school, so I know it can be done. Someone else suggested he bring cold cut sandwiches to work every day, another great idea. Another said he should get a $76 monthly unlimited metrocard instead of using the pay per ride cards. This would give him significant savings each month.

Others pointed out how expensive it is to live in NYC. I don't disagree with that at all, and it is one of the reasons I might not be here forever. It was something the article also made very clear.

Some people decided to personally attack me. I was very surprised to read about how I am a "rich snob" this morning as I was at work eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I brought with me. That's right. I bring my lunch with me to work. I am saving to buy a house to put my children in when I have them one day, so I can go without expensive lunches for the time being. I have been bringing my own lunches in everywhere I have worked and gone to school since the first grade.

Some people suggested I was the lucky recipient of a free ticket, being raised in the suburbs by rich parents and never facing the oppression of ghetto life. They said I could not know what it was like to be raised by immigrant parents.

The last point struck me the most. My parents are both immigrants, and they aren't wealthy immigrants. They were both farmers who came over here in their 20s with high school level education or below. Both got civil service jobs to raise their five kids. Money was tight and if anything, that taught me better financial habits than if I had been raised among free-spending rich folks.

The line of thinking that disturbed the most can be summed up in this comment I received:

"most of his other problems and mistakes seem to be, or have been, out of his control. I'll give two exampels. Firstly yes he got his girlfriend pregnant, but how do you know that he didn't take utmost precautions but the contraception failed? Hardly his fault if that happened, unless you're suggesting he abstain from sex and relationships just because he is poor?"

This really puzzles me. As far as I know, there is only one way for a guy to get a girl pregnant, and that way is always his fault. I could push this argument even further, but it would become wildly off topic.

I didn't talk about my plan to turn around his finances as a way of taking a cheap shot at this guy. I admire the fact that despite all of the poor choices he made and the situation he is in, he hasn't gone off the deep end. I admire the fact that he gets up early every day to make that long trip in to work. I used to ride the subways at that hour to get to a job that started at 6 am. My trip took an hour and a half so I had to leave my house at 4:30. You can encounter some dangerous situations at 4:30 am in different parts of NYC.

But I have to say, I'm not as sympathetic to him as the person who wrote that article seemed to be. The system is not entirely to blame for his situation. The system didn't drop out of high school. The system did not have sex with his girlfriend for him, and the system did not give him that debt. Those were things he chose to do.

What I do hope is that someone in or near his situation reads this and recognizes that they are headed down the wrong path too. In the best of all worlds, that person would read my (admittedly imperfect) plan, the comments from the readers, and use that information to change course.

I don't mean to imply that society should abandon this guy and that it is his sole responsibility to get himself out of poverty. It makes me sick to see the amount of money some people walk around with while others wallow. I have mentioned before how the gap between the rich and poor is getting to be extreme. It is definitely important to make donations to the poor, but it is even better if you can help someone further along the path to self-sufficiency.

Thanks again to everyone who read the post and gave some feedback. I will sign off with my final thought: it is not easy to become rich, but it is very easy to become poor.

Watch your wallet!


The chartist formerly known as Ugly said...

Hi - thanks for the posts and discussion.
You say "it isn't easy to become rich." But for some people it is very easy - they are born that way. And the more rich you are, the easier it is to become more rich. A person with $20 million in the bank with 5% interest makes $1 million a year just off of interest. The further you get from center (whether rich or poor), the more quickly you can move in the same direction.

MoneyMan said...

You're right, and thanks for the comment. What I should have said is "unless you are born rich" it is difficult to become rich, ie, it is more difficult to go from middle class to rich than it is to go from middle class to poor.

and to anyone else who wants even more followup on the whole wealth gap thing, here's a link to an opinion piece I found in The New Yorker (of all places!):