So it was an average day and I had just received O Magazine in the mail. Imagine, if you will–me, camped out on the couch with some tea, taking a little rest break, preparing myself to read a balanced mixture of fluff and insights, nothing too terribly thought provoking.
But then I happened upon Suze Orman’s monthly column, and I found myself shaking my head. She devoted the column to giving financial advice to the Cartwright family, a duo with two kids who were losing their home and wanted to know what to do next. The Cartwrights, like so many other families, had found themselves in a financial crisis after making a series of poor financial decisions, which they took responsibility for (racking up $37,000 in credit card debt) as well as being the victims of some predatory loan practices.
Suze went on covering her bases, and I was nodding along, about ready to jump ship and read an article on upcoming fall fashion trends, when I read these words from Suze:
“I challenged the Cartwrights to scour their spending for ways to come up with the $350 they need for student loan payments. I noticed that they spend a combined $250 a month on their landline, cell phones, and cable. I want them to get rid of their landline and reduce the cell and cable plans so that the bill doesn’t exceed $100. We also agreed that…their $130 monthly restaurant budget needed to be reduced.”
Okay, wait a second. Hold the phone.
I’m not a financial advisor, but here’s what I can say for sure: financial health responds to integrity. If you are massively out of integrity around money, you’re going to see more financial problems, either now or down the road.
Integrity is: when your words and actions match, and they are in alignment with your values, commitments, beliefs, and life vision.
If you are currently reading this and you are in debt and you say you want out of debt, start making sure that your words and actions match.
Of course, dealing with this kind of financial debt is a difficult situation for anyone, and I’m not suggesting that one is forever punished and denied all earthly pleasures.
However. Asking this family to “reduce” cell phone, landline, and cable bills to $100 is a band-aid solution that is still not in integrity. Cell phones that provide someone with the ability to be available to anyone, anywhere, are a luxury–not a necessity–as is cable television.
Asking them to ditch the cell phones and cable entirely and use one landline is in integrity if someone really wants to have their words and actions match–and get out of the kind of debt this family is in. Even when we consider that there would likely be an early termination fee for the cell phones and cable, it would still be less expensive on the whole to pay the termination fees and go without for a few years until the debt is cleaned up. Early termination fees are only a waste of money when someone is going through a temporary lull in finances, something they can dig back out of after a few months. With $37,000 in credit card bills, their credit score in shreds, and their house in foreclosure, this is not a “temporary lull.” It’s going to be a hard road that will probably take years, and over the course of those years, thousands can be saved. It’s difficult to look that in the face, but that’s reality.
Speaking of integrity, it’s out of integrity to avoid facing reality.
I also wonder what on earth this family is doing with a monthly “restaurant budget” when they have $37,000 in credit card bills. Surely it occurred to someone when the credit cards were at $10k, $20k, or $30k that it might be time to take away the “restaurant budget”? Furthermore, I wonder what Suze Orman is smoking when she tells them to “reduce” it rather than having them eradicate it entirely.
Again: Financial health responds to integrity. If you really want to see yourself get out of debt, take an honest inventory of your financial reality and how long it’s going to take to get out of debt under scenario A, in which you keep things like the cell phones and cable television and eating out, versus scenario B, in which you take those things out.
Then you get to choose: How long do I want to be in debt? Be conscious that how long you’re in debt is a choice predicated on other choices.
Speaking of integrity, it’s out of integrity to make oneself into a victim in this process, a sad sack who has been unfairly dealt a hand in life, now relegated to a joyless existence.
Getting out of debt need not be drudgery (unless that’s what you are choosing for it to be). Not having a cell phone can mean creating more still space. Not eating out can mean finding creative meal options at home, packing a picnic lunch, hosting a potluck in which each person brings a dish. Not having cable television means time to write or draw (paper and pencils are cheap or easily procured for free), visit the library, attend free talks or lectures or art openings, spend more time meditating, spend time with kids, meet a friend and have a cup of tea, start an at-home exercise program.
No one is perfect–that’s the other thing about integrity. Everyone is out of integrity somewhere in their lives. I encourage gentleness–and I also encourage seeing things for what they are. Sometimes that kind of honest vision can feel like diving into frigid, cold water, but avoiding taking that look at reality doesn’t make the water any easier. When I define courage and talk about feeling the fear, I’m candid about the fact that no one, not even I, get out of that part. Avoiding the fear does not make the fear go away.
So go forth, brave soul. Give your life an honest look. Beyond the fear is a space where you get something no amount of money can buy you–the ability to go to a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and know that you’re living a life of integrity. It’s priceless.