Our Dirty Little Secret
Sssshh! Don’t tell anyone, but today there’s a dirty little secret in many of our homes that is robbing us of peace, damaging our witness, and destroying our spiritual vigor. Sure, this might be the introduction to an article about marital infidelity, internet pornography, or one of the other high profile problems. But it’s not. Instead, I’m referring to a plague that we rarely acknowledge (or, even realize) until it has done its damage. I call it Stuffaholism. It’s the unrelenting lust that drives us to buy things we don’t want, with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even know! And, because of Stuffaholism—today many of us are drowning in debt.
Americans spent the first decade of the 2000’s piling up debt. We learned that a teacher could live like a tycoon with the help of enough credit cards, and an occasional home equity loan thrown in for good measure. Now we’re dealing with a financial hangover in the late second decade of the new millennium. If the old adage about misery loving company is true, the following will leave you delirious:
- Today, the average family carrying credit card debt, has nearly $16,000 outstanding.
- As a nation, we owe most of a trillion dollars in credit card debt.
- And the kids are following in their parents’ footsteps. According to CardWeb, the average graduating college student has a credit card balance of about $3,000. That doesn’t include the $15,000-$40,000 (and more) of student loans that also have to be repaid, or the car loan, or the bill consolidation loan.
- Some experts believe that money problems are the leading cause of divorce in America by a rate of 4 to 1 over anything else.
- The average 20-something is in debt by $45,000.
We Never Meant for It to Be This Way
If you are like many Americans today you started your early adult life planning
for success. You probably dreamed of having the financial resources to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with enough money in the bank to care for and house your family. You, no doubt, planned to have enough set aside one day to buy a home, send the kiddos to college, and retire with dignity.
Yet despite all those early plans, if you are like some 50%+ of American families, today you are living paycheck to paycheck. For you, the American Dream long ago became a gothic nightmare. You know all too well what it feels like to sit bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night not knowing how you are going to pay the rent. More than once, you have hesitated to answer the phone for fear of another harassing bill collector. You’ve ordered yet another credit card because the others are already maxed out. You dread talking about money with your spouse because it always ends in a fight. And, even worse, there are times when you haven’t been totally honest with each other about money and spending issues. Even when you’re at church, a little league game, or a school play you find your mind drifting back to the money problems you’re facing. When a good cause comes along your heart breaks because you have nothing to contribute.
So, Where Do We Start?
Like they say, the best place to start is at the beginning. So, let’s begin by admitting the obvious. We live in a world system that often is not consistent with sane thinking. What we miss in all of this is the message of the world around us is simply wrong. “Too muchof a good thing…is a good thing” may be an interesting song title…but it’s a bad philosphy for life. In truth, joy comes with contentment. Yet, far too often, we become convinced that happiness will come with a bigger house, a newer car, a better job, or a faster boat. So, off to the rat races we go—buying things we don’t need and can’t afford. Folks this is dumb behavior!!!!!
If happiness requires acquisition—we’ll never be happy. The world always has something that’s “new and improved.” Car dealers, advertisers, real estate salespeople, telemarketers, credit card companies—all have plans to extract the money in your wallet and transfer it to their corporate piggy banks. These people are smart. Retailers study us. They know that most people turn to the right when they enter a store, and then proceed counterclockwise. According to Kiplinger’s, that’s why storeowners frequently put their highest profit items in that “sweet spot” directly to the right hand side of the front doors. Have you noticed the trend towards larger shopping carts and fewer hand baskets in grocery stores? Experts tell us that bigger carts give us the perception that we aren’t buying as many items, while hand baskets get heavy and cause us to hurry to the checkout line faster.
Grocers know that shoppers will buy higher priced items if they put them on shelves at eye level—and that we’ll pass up equally good, less expensive items if they are out of easy reach on lower shelves. It’s no accident that there is always a clutter of stuff for sale at the cash register—merchants know that we’re most likely to make impulse purchases when checking out.
Brian Wansink, an expert in the field, says people like stores with lots of variety. People perceive a store to have lots of variety when there is some degree of jumble and a lack of predictability. That may explain why you might find picture frames next to socks at a T.J. Maxx.
An old real estate trick is to heat cinnamon buns in the kitchen. It puts potential buyers in a “homey,” buying mood. Some life insurance people are notorious for using emotional stories to scare people into buying their products. And, how many cars have been sold on payment plans that lasted longer than the cars?
Next time you pass the corporate headquarters of an insurance or finance company go up and inspect the building closely. You may find that it’s not mortar your looking at between the bricks—it’s the dried blood of customers trying to make their payments! For far too many people, the drive-up windows at the bank are there so their cars can see who owns them!