Money Reveals The Man

A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.
~ W. C. Fields

by Pete Ferguson

I have a good friend who shared the quote with me:

Money doesn’t make a man, it reveals him.

At the time I was new in the corporate world, stock was being handed out generously it seemed to everyone but me, we were living in our in-law’s basement, and I wanted to give the saying a go!

Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.
~ Woody Allen

Things turned around over the coming years and I enjoyed a good run for a few years. I made more than thrice what I’d made in years past – but I spent more than quadruple. We got into a house. We bought all new furnishings, a shiny SUV, then upgraded it for another, and a travel trailer to go in tow as well as finishing our yard and basement in style.

I financed our future expecting the Stock Market to continue to deliver good news. All the while keeping our student loans, mortgage – and now second mortgage – while adding consumer debt.

I had a plan, I had the notion that I would eventually pay it all off. But for now I was going to live it up, compete with the “Joneses” who in this case were doctors, a stock broker, and several others way above my pay grade.

I recall one November looking forward to the next stock options release and playing around with eTrade’s calculator projecting where I thought the stock price would be in March. It was going to be Easy Street – I’d be able to pay off the house in the coming year and would pick up the consumer debt in future years.

Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves.

~ Albert Einstein

Of course that was the year the bubble popped, and I found myself sinking in a second mortgage, two financed vehicles, a trailer that now sat on the side of the house rarely moving because we couldn’t afford $4.50 a gallon in diesel to tow it, and I started looking at a payday loan center to make ends meet.

Stupidity has a way of catching up to you and kicking you in the butt.

We managed to survive into the summer, many fights about money persisting in our marriage. It wasn’t a very happy time.

One day I came home later than usual from work and caught Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” radio show. Listening to people call in and scream “I’m debt free” seemed a bit cultist and unrealistic.

I pulled into the driveway and my neighbor came over – the guy we all made fun of for driving two dumpy cars that were always broken down and who was really cheap. As I sat on the bumper of my financed truck next to my other financed car, next to the financed trailer, Tony told me about how he and his wife would have all of their debts, including their house, paid off within seven to ten years following Ramsey’s plan of earning more than you spend and paying down debt.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.
~ Charles Dickens, “David Copperfield”

I’ll save the story of how we turned everything around and slowly dug ourselves out for another blog. Suffice it to say my marriage was hanging by a thread and it took eating a lot of humble pie to make it through, but we did.

During this time I picked up a book: “How Come That Idiot’s Rich and I’m Not?” by Robert Shemin, and I learned the secret about money – you have to continually invest it.

Ice cream cone or used business book? Go for the business book. New LCD projector or cello that will provide scholarships and self esteem to my son – go for the cello.

Money can’t ruin me – it just sits there. But my stupidity financed by the money certainly can as I was apt to prove.

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.

~ Errol Flynn

At first I thought of writing about the one-hit wonders and Wall Street failures in this post, but I realize that over time what I’ve allowed money to represent in my life is much more personal.

As I learn to live in the “now,” every meal purchased, movie attended, date with my wife or family is an investment in them, because I’m giving my time and I’m in the moment. And that time investment can be given with our without money. (For some time our weekly date was to McDonald’s dollar menu to watch the kids play.)

Forget pointing the finger at government, Hollywood, the “Stock Market” or your neighbor – how is money defining you and your life?

I’m not an expert at being rich – yet – but I am an expert at being broke, and being broke sucks.

It means having no plan other than a lottery or inheritance to bail you out, and I never did see either come my way. But bailing myself out in partnership with my wife and family was extremely rewarding in retrospect.

As we get within two years of having our house paid off, it is an exciting prospect. It’s like unplugging from The Matrix. We can live our lives beholden only to ourselves.

What’s in your wallet? What is money saying about your life?

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Many people have tried to take it with them, but all in vain:

“A rich man learned that he would die in a few days.  He called his three friends: a doctor, preacher, and lawyer to his bedside.  He said, “The preacher has told me that you can’t take it with you, but I believe I have worked out a way so that I can.  Doc tells me that I won’t live long, so I have prepared three sealed envelopes, each containing $10,000. When I die, I want each of you to walk by the casket and drop in your envelope with the $10,000.”

A short time later, they attended his funeral and then met together.  The preacher said, “I’ve got a confession to make.  We’ve been needing to repair the organ in the church for a long time, and I took $2,000 out of Bill’s envelope and used it on the organ.”  The doctor said, “This makes it easier for me, because I took $5,000 out and used it for my new clinic and only dropped in $5,000.”  The lawyer said, “Well, my conscience is clear.  I did just what Bill said.  I kept my envelope, picked up both of yours and dropped in a check for the whole amount of $30,000.”  Many people have tried to take it with them, but all in vain. — Robert Cargill

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