Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why, yes, I am silently judging you.

Having a roommate has meant getting a firsthand look at the finances of someone who was initially a near-stranger. We've been pretty open about financial matters; however, I do know more details about her than she does about me. I guess that maybe commiserating about looming student loan payments and credit card debt seem like normal 20-something behavior, while talking about investments and savings goals sounds a little too close to bragging.

Don't get me wrong, I like my roommate. She's bright, funny, and working really hard to be a good teacher. Sometimes, though, I just want to shake her. She talks about her student loan debt a lot and is considering staying in teaching a few more years so she can pay off a larger chunk before returning to school for her Ph.D., but she keeps living in a way that runs counter to actually accomplishing her debt repayment goals.

When we moved to the Delta, she'd taken a loan from her mother to get through the summer when she couldn't work and for moving expenses, had credit card debt (She's never said how much.), and her tens of thousands in student loans. She talked about living on one paycheck per month and putting the other toward her debts. She did pay her mother off fairly quickly, and then she planned to have her credit card debt paid before her graduate school loans came out of deferment in February.

Then lifestyle inflation took root. She started buying tasty and quick but very expensive convenience foods almost every night. She treated herself to fancy coffees at McDonalds. She hit Wendy's at the end of rough days at school, going four times last week. She burned a lot of gas escaping to the nearest largish town on the weekend and a bit of money buying miscellaneous stuff at the Target there. She started dating a very nice guy, and they eat out at least once per weekend and then often get takeout one other night. All perfectly normal middle class behavior that she could probably afford without any problem if she didn't have debt.

But she does have debt. Those credit cards that were all going to be paid off by last month are now going to get paid off by this summer. The student loans got switched to the extended repayment plan, costing way more in interest over the life of the loan. She talks about throwing extra at them once she finds a part time job this summer, but that part time job will likely involve commuting to Memphis where her boyfriend and further temptations lie.

Just before spring break, she was fretting about whether they'd give us the paycheck that fell due in the middle of spring break before or after the break. If they held it until after, she wasn't sure she'd be able to get it deposited in time to pay her bills, apparently a very serious worry for her. I resisted the temptation to chide her, "If getting paid a week late would send you into financial crisis, you cannot afford Chinese take out. You cannot afford new kitchen towels. You cannot afford more toys for your dog. You need to hunker down, live on beans and rice for a few months, and stop living on the precipice."

Really, it's none of my business. If she wants to spend the rest of her life enslaved to the financiers, that's her choice (and apparently a popular option these days). She isn't asking for my help, and unsolicited advice is almost always unwelcome. I'd never tell her I'm thinking all this, but I can't quite avoid thinking it.


Frugal Scholar said...

E.C.--This has been the story of my life! People come to financial wison when they are ready--or never. I've been asked advice and when I give it (skip a restaurant meal this week, simple stuff), they say "It's only $10." You are right to keep your situation to yourself because it will cause a lot of resentment.

Also, I think the student debt of the current generation is going to have effects beyond belief. This is a huge bubble-situation (cost of higher ed plus huge loans) that I haven't seen analyzed anywhere.

As you know, I love your blog.

Frugal Scholar said...

wisdom--erghh. And forgive any other typos. My keys are sticking.

Fabulously Broke said...

Oh that is so true

"you need to hunker down, eat beans and rice and DO 'ER RIGHT!"

Gawd. So irritating.

I'd feel the same way I think, so don't feel bad thinking it. I would. And I do about many people.

J. Money said...

omg that title is awesome! haha...i love it. maybe you should leave this playing on your computer in rotation so that she'll "accidently" see it ;)

SNL - Don't Buy Stuff

E.C. said...

I kinda value having a roommate who doesn't dislike me so I think it's best I don't follow your advice.

The only reason she even knows I have a Roth is that she saw me looking at my laptop and frowning and wanted to know what was wrong.

Chance said...

That is the best title ever for a blog post, I love it, I'll quote it.

I commend you for your totally correct "it is none of my business" approach, sometimes roomate financial drama has a way of spilling over and affecting you (if she can't pay her share of the electric). Then it is your business.

Sometimes, you can give good advice by telling a story about yourself and she will learn by osmosis. Work in a couple of "how I learned to be frugal" stories into ordinary conversation might be a good defensive strategy.

Dr. Faith said...

I'm pretty sure that roommates in the past, and boyfriends for that matter, have thought that of me.

Everyone comes to the realization that they can't keep up with their lifesytle at some point. You're lucky that you realized it so early, I lived just like your roommate until a month after I turned 28. Even then, I'm still struggling to find some sort of symblance of that life while still cutting costs -- and realizing each month that I got myself into a huge hole and now I'm paying for it.

It is hard, but all you can do is offer advice ONLY when asked. Otherwise, it will only build resentment from her. Which, if things continue as they are, may or may not happen in the time you're living together.

I had 5 or 6 complete financial breakdowns before I realized that SOMETHING needed to change. And it wasn't until after I finished grad. school.

Good luck to you, and to her. =D