JimBob got a raise at work. Not much, just $100 per month, but it’s a huge deal because JimBob and his family have been living paycheck to paycheck and have no money for anything extraneous. What does Jim-Bob do?

(guest article by MSB contributor, ‘Lauren’)

 
As JimBob is a normal member of our society he dithers back and forth between paying off some of his credit card debt or buying that new bike he’s been wanting. He already pays for a gym membership, but he’s been wanting the bike, and staying in shape is important.

At the bike store he sees a display that triggers his well exercised WANT reflex and he walks out with a new bike and $1000 in new debt. But he justifies it by saying that with $100 more per month he can have it paid off in less than a year. And anyway, he can use his credit card “rewards” to get something sweet for his wife.

He gets home to find that his wife has enrolled their child in a new sport, based on the expected new income. Now they’re $50 more in the hole than when they started. They end the day wondering how they’re going to make ends meet, since everything they have is an absolute necessity.

There’s no possibility of canceling the new sport and depriving the child (unthinkable cruelty!) or taking the bike back. There’s a processing fee for returns and they just can’t afford it. Nor any thought of canceling the gym membership, or forgoing his wife’s monthly spa trip, or their annual trip to Woop-di-do Land.

Somehow they’ll make it work.

JimBob and his wife Julie consider themselves victims, and in reality they are. They’re victims of a society that glorifies credit and debt while failing to teach financial responsibility. A society that rewards spending and vilifies saving.

Over and over I’ve heard various politicians, bank executives, and even private citizens say that we can buy our way out of the hole we’ve dug as a society. The answer is always more money. We’re at the end of our rope, financially, but everything we spend it on is absolutely necessary! Need MORE, say those spending the money. Raise the debt ceiling! We must have more money to solve the problems!

Just like JimBob and Julie, more money is not the answer. On a personal level or political, the answer is self-control, short-term deprivation of “wants” for a long term gain.

But just like any other addiction, in order to take that step JimBob and Julie must first acknowledge that there is a problem.

After a long and earnest discussion, JimBob and Julie took the bike back and swallowed the restocking fee. They agreed to cancel the gym membership and stop the spa trips. They canceled three of the child’s “activities” and agreed to spend that day together as a family.

Recognizing their own spending habits, instead of leaving the “saved” money in the bank they pulled it out and put it in an envelope in the house, one labeled “credit card debt.” Half of JimBob’s salary increase also went in that envelope and the money was used to pay off one credit card at a time. All change and small bills were put in a jar.

Within a year they had paid off enough of their credit card debt that they felt comfortable in taking the annual trip to Woop-di-do Land—but they paid for it with the change they’d saved during the year rather than using credit.

JimBob and Julie have fallen into a new lifestyle, one where they think about what they’re spending and how, where money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. They now have the option to save or spend, not because of how much they make but because they control what they have.

 
A week after returning from Woop-di-do Land, JimBob ran across a site called the Modern Survival Blog. The rest is history.