Friday, January 16, 2009

1-800-Debt-Free! (In which I read between the lines again)

I've been so obsessed with Carolyn lately (not to mention posting sparsely) that it seems like it's been a very long time since I've posted anything Amy-related, and that's too bad. So here's one--not a total crazy for a change (but they're so much fun!). Just one of those where I'm getting an odd feeling from the writer, and was surprised Amy didn't note it in her response. What do you think--am I too cynical, or does this woman's "opportunity" sound like a scam?

Dear Amy: My husband is a walking financial disaster. He doesn't listen to me. He thinks he knows it all. We have lost our home to foreclosure and are really struggling.
We have been married for 13 years and have three children. He has always been a stubborn person. He is not teachable and does not take anyone's advice. He has maintained his stance with handling our finances, and he stinks at it.
What do I do? I am a Christian, so divorce is not an option. Even the kids agree that something has to change.
We have an opportunity to become debt- free, but he is determined to drag us through unnecessary stress and strain! Pride is in his way.
What should I do?

— Hanging On in Alaska

Amy expresses sympathy and pushes the woman towards helpful resources: her clergy person, a recommended book, etc. It's tricky, because the woman is writing in for help for her family, but really needs to get through to her husband--a double whammy.

But doesn't it seem that, unless a wealthy family member is offering them a check (which actually is seeming more likely, now that I read this again and note the "pride is in his way" line), legitimate "opportunities" to get out of debt don't typically just materialize. Getting out of debt requires budgeting, planning, and lifestyle changes over the long term. Almost never is it simply a matter of opening the door to Opportunity's knock.

Although the writer insists that her husband manages the finances for the family and their downfall is largely his doing (which may be completely true), I wish Amy had urged her to really, really carefully evaluate the details of any get-rich-quick or refinancing scheme before signing on.

I wish them the best in these hard times! For their children's sake.

Speaking of which. I think I'd be a lot more sympathetic to this woman if not for this: Um, kids under the age of 13 are in no position to be evaluating the family's finances and weighing in on whether mom or dad f***ed it up. The parents should be protecting their kids from this struggle as much as it is reasonable to do so. This doesn't mean they should go on spending where they can't afford it in an attempt to hide their situation. It does mean that to the extent possible their family must remain a place where love and security rule the roost and where the childrens' basic needs are met. So that in the very sad and upsetting event of losing their house, the kids have not the slightest worry that they're also going to lose their family.

Whether it's the dad's fault or not, the mom is wrong wrong WRONG for getting the kids to "agree" with her that anything they're going through is the direct result of their father's pigheadedness and failure. How did that go, do you think?

Mom: If your father hadn't messed up, we wouldn't have had to move out of our house. Doesn't he do a bad job managing our family's money?

Child: I miss our backyard!

It's very, very sad that they lost their home. That's something that has happened wrongfully to too many people in the past few years. But it's also something that can be gotten over (sorry for the awkward grammar) and made right in time. Teaching your kids to blame and shame their dad is not so fixable.

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