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The www.FedPrimeRate.com Personal Finance Blog and Magazine

Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Mom Can Be Such A Comedian...

A few days ago I was having a conversation with my mother, and, as usual, she asked how I'm doing financially. I told my mother what I tell everyone who asks: I have no complaints. Of course, I understand why my mom asks all the time. She's known me my whole life, and for a relatively large percentage of my time on this planet, I've had plenty to complain about, including massive credit card debt, a student loan-related judgment against me, and various creditors calling me incessantly trying to collect. I'm not rich, but I am pleased with my financial circumstances, especially when I consider my irresponsible past. I've learned a lot over the years, and one key thing I've noticed is that you can live quite well and be happy while earning a lot less than the Donald Trumps of the world, but only if you have no debt, or your debt is at a very manageable level. In other words: you'll be surprised how little money you can live on when you're not servicing mountains of debt. Yep.

So this conversation with my mother took an interesting turn this time around, as she asked me if I was aware of my brother's problems with credit card debt. I told her that I wasn't, and she proceeded to enlighten me about my older (by 3 years) brother's credit card debt, which is currently at a whopping $45,000, and rising. When she told me, I did not believe her. I thought she was pulling my leg. You see, when I was growing up, my brother always seemed to have his act together when it came to matters of money. He always had savings, when I had none. He always had a job during the summer breaks, whereas my summer work history was...well...spotty. I asked her why he had so much credit card debt, and she told me that he just wasn't doing well. I still didn't believe her.

The reason for my incredulity was simple: my brother and his family are all healthy (so no big medical bills), he has a steady job working with computers and -- OK, this is the big one -- he doesn't pay rent and he doesn't have a mortgage. Yes, being the oldest boy has it's privileges, and one key benefit that he, his wife and his daughter have been enjoying for about a decade now is living in my mother's house for free (and no: my mom doesn't live with them.) Don't get the wrong idea here: I am not, and never have been, bitter about my brother's free accommodations. I think it's great. The way I see it, if you can take advantage of a good thing, then do it. Besides, I really wouldn't want to live in the same house where I grew up (my sister feels the same way.)

The only housing-related bills my brother (I'll refer to him as Phil from now on) has to pay for are the utilities and property taxes. I know that old, stone and stucco house can be expensive to heat, but I'm still not feeling any sympathy. I also know that when things aren't going well between a man and a women (his marriage isn't the happiest), money tends to drain away, for all kinds of reasons. Still, $45,000?

So, my mother eventually laid this Godzilla of a question on me. She asked, "Why don't you and your sister put some money together and help your brother out?"

I didn't answer my mom. I sat silent for about 10 seconds, and she understood what that meant: sorry, but no. She quickly changed the conversation at that point.

Once again, I am sorry, but I'm almost ready for my midlife crisis, and I've only just started building a serious savings account. Why should I help Phil? I took some serious risks, used up all my 401K savings and worked hard to get where I am today. Phil should work hard too, get a second job if he has to. I had the same problems with credit cards not too long ago, and I did the right thing and paid them off. It took a while, and it was quite painful at times, but I did it, because it had to be done. Bottom line: I know that Phil has the inner fortitude to get disciplined and get serious about fixing his finances, so I'm not going to be a crutch for him. If we were talking about a medical emergency, I would happily open my wallet. But credit card debt? I don't think so.

It's just like the current situation with all the bad mortgage debt dragging down the American and global economies. Helping those speculators and investors out would create a moral hazard. People should be willing to bear the pain and take their lumps. Besides, if we get a recession, it will help to purge the ill-considered speculating, bad debts and bad investments that have created bubbles in markets all across the globe. Market players will eventually rise from the ashes stronger, wiser and more mature.

And so will my brother Phil, just as soon as he tames all that ugly debt.

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