Sunday, April 27, 2008

We Can't Afford It

I never had to worry very much about money when I was growing up. Not bragging, just stating a fact. We weren’t rich, but we were comfortable. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself newly divorced and having to live on a fraction of my former income. Contrary to popular belief among some groups, this is what generally happens to women who are not celebrities, when they divorce, even when the former husbands earn lots of money. This, and acquiring a reputation for being frigid.

I knew I had to get a job, so that’s what I set out to do. My experience as a legal secretary didn’t help me in this small town, because the lawyers all had to interact with my ex, and they considered it some kind of conflict of interest, I guess, to hire me. This meant I had to find a job of some other kind, and one that would pay less.

I also ran into another stumbling block. Business men here were reluctant to hire the ex-wife of someone who was reasonably prominent. I discovered I had no friends I could call my own. I did know one man, slightly, who was a manager in one of the factories here, who commented a few times in passing that he was thinking of hiring a secretary. I said, “What a coincidence! I’m looking for a secretarial job.” He dragged his feet for a while until I decided to take the bull by the horns. I was becoming desperate for a job, and didn’t want to have to move away, so I did what any red-blooded, liberated American woman would do. I got him drunk, and got him to agree to hire me. The first morning he came to work and saw me sitting there in front of my IBM Selectric, he looked pensively at me, as if he wondered what I was doing there, and if I had done something that he should have remembered to get him to hire me.

For the record, I didn’t have to do anything unladylike to get the job. He was just a pushover when he got sloshed, and I used that to my advantage. After working there for 10 years without any benefits except basic health insurance, I got another secretarial job (in a more conventional fashion) with a much larger company. In my second job, I received better benefits and vacation time, but no appreciable raise in pay. Fifteen years later, in the same job, I was pulling down $350.00 per month more than when I started working there.

By then, I was well acquainted with the phrase, “We can’t afford that.” My children never entirely embraced my level of acceptance of the phrase, but they certainly understood that when I said it, I meant it.

Factoid: Over 50% of households in this country have an income of under $50,000.00 per year. We have built a house of credit cards, and now, it is beginning to collapse under the weight of our debt.

Here’s my question:

Since big corporations won't have the integrity to regulate themselves, why can't we put back into effect all the regulations that the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush cancelled, with the enthusiastic assistance of Congress and the Senate?

If we can’t bear to admit it to ourselves, why can’t realtors be required by law to say, “I’m sorry, but with your income level, you just can’t afford a house this expensive.” Why can’t bankers say, “You can’t afford another SUV, so how about a Ford Focus?” Why can’t General Mills/General Foods, etc., say, “We don’t really need to offer 14 varieties of everything and new and improved products every year to make a decent profit.”

Above all, why can’t my government learn to say, “We can’t afford it.”? “We can’t afford another war.” “We can’t afford to bail out another Corporation/Bank, City.” We can’t afford to deny our citizens Universal Health Care/Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security. “We can’t afford to let Pharmaceutical companies squeeze sick people to the point of having to decide whether to buy pills or groceries” “We can’t afford the bankruptcies/loan defaults/credit card debt.”

There is no shame in the phrase, “I can’t afford it.” The shame is in going ahead and spending, anyway.

I’d better stop, now. I’m beginning to hyperventilate.


Dogwalkmusings said...

I can "afford" to tell you this is one great post!

Kell said...

Well said! You are absolutely right.

Sometimes even if you can afford it, you should still say no. I'm trying hard to do that. After I bought the car, of course :)

Tina said...

Well said.
Hell, that's double my family's yearly income, and I'd still be saying, "We can't afford it."
Hmmm...come to think of it, I only know 2 families around here that even come close to making that much.
How depressing.
It amazes me how much the people who can afford it simply think they can afford to waste it.
I guess it just comes down to want or need. Do they really need it, or simply want it? Big dif.

Richard said...

Betty; what a great post. I come from very humble roots and it seems my life is headed back there.

This current group in power hasn't a clue about our backgrounds and culture. They went to Ivy league schools and summered in the Hamptons.

The phrase "We can't afford that" just doesn't exist in their mindset or vocabulary.


Nancy said...


I agree with Rich. They have no idea how most of the people in this country live.

When Bush 41 was running they took him to a supermarket and he had never seen a scanner.He was amazed! He looked at Wonder bread and was surprised it was sliced! "I thought the servants did that."

And all the time so proud of themselves!

We used to say about the Bushes,
"They were born on third base but they think they hit a triple."

gawilli said...

My daughter and her husband have had their house on the market for a couple of months. They have listed at a reasonable price, comparable to others in the area. It's a bargain for a first time home owner. It's been interesting to see the offers that have come in. Not one buyer has had a down payment. How do I know? Because they offer the full price, and then ask for a percentage back...for their down payment. In other words, I will give you 140,000 for your house. In return, you give me 5,000 for my down payment...and pay my closing costs. I must have been out of the loop too long, because this just knocks my socks off. Talk about getting in over their heads.

As for the government, today I read an article about the humongous defense budget, and then another post about the deplorable conditions at Fort Brag where our soldiers are housed after they return from their tour of duty. Talk about disgusting.

Peggy said...

War ruins economies. I guess I'm grateful that it isn't worse. I could be an Iraqi.

patsy said...

what gets me is we can't afford medicare , road, bridges and all the things we need but we can afford war and blowing people to kingdom come!

Golden To Silver Val said...

This post was absolutely BRILLIANT. I wish I could copy it and put it on the bulletin board at work. Since I work for twp. gov't offices, that would go over like a lead balloon, wouldn't it. The waste of taxpayer money in this country is SINFUL. It makes me sick.

Betty said...

dogwalk and Kell: Thank you.

tina: Somehow, we have come to believe that we "deserve" the best that credit can buy. It's all coming home to roost, now, I'm afraid.

rich: I know you've seen this happen as often as I have. You have a candidate who obviously wants to make changes that will actually help people, you elect him/her, and in no time, he/she is just a corrupt as the rest of them. What to do? What to do?

nancy: I couldn't believe it when George H.W. Bush was bowled over by the scanner in the grocery store. What a dimwit.

gawilli: People are just looking for a way to afford the unaffordable. Sad.

peggy: Good point.

patsy: I agree.

golden to silver val: Well, if you want to find out how fast you can get fired, you might post it. lol

Akelamalu said...

That's a great post. I am in the fortunate position of no longer having to say I can't afford it, but I remember all the time our children were growing up that was certainly the case. :(

savannah said...

fantastic post, sugar! if only the house & senate read your blog! xoxo

Ms Rachy said...

So true, the whole generation of credit consumerism that have been created by exactly what you just described has also led to the creation of a bunch of whingers. I'm 27 and have never owned a credit card, even all the times I travelled overseas I had a Visa debit card. I also have a significant amount of savings, although nothing astronomical. The thing that I had done which is such a novelty to other people my age is living within my means.

More people should try it!

Tink said...

Amen to that! When Hoop and I were house hunting I told our realtor specifically (a dozen times) what our budget was. But she continued to push for us to buy something 50-100K more. It was horrible. I finally let the woman go because she was bound and determined to put us in debt.