BUZ LIVINGSTON: Marketplace money

Published: Friday, April 25, 2014 at 06:36 PM.

Crowds from the Seaside Farmer’s Market and National Record Store Day along with amphitheater renovations limit parking in Seaside. As I negotiated the narrow streets I cringed not because of the crowds but Marketplace Money’s host is just a little too effervescent.  This week she featured Kristin Wong, a personal finance blogger at Lifehacker, who wrote about paying down student loan debt on a tight budget. Wong touted Dave Ramsey but then pivoted to a place financial self-help gurus avoid … like the plague.

Wong admitted Ramsey’s advice to pay small debts first costs more than focusing on high interest debt. As I snared the last parking place something surprising came over the radio.  Wong showed empathy, an emotion rarely seen in Ramsey World. Wong admitted paying down her debt was difficult. To Ramsey debt is failure and bankruptcy unthinkable. Except in 1990 Ramsey and his wife, you guessed it, declared bankruptcy. 

Now that Ramsey has built a multi-million dollar media empire he looks down on people. The unemployed are often malingerers while ignoring the reality joblessness causes debt problems. Sometimes it’s bad luck like opening a business at the wrong time or unexpected health expenses. Delaying bankruptcy leads to worse problems. Too often people spend down a retirement plan hoping to avoid bankruptcy. Never risk creditor protected assets. It’s amazing someone would have the chutzpah to rail against bankruptcy after filing bankruptcy themselves.

Everyone makes mistakes with money. An old farmer, J.B. Williams, warned me that lessons you buy are the ones you remember. You learn and you move on. The problem for Americans is growing income inequality.  Housing, health care and education cost roughly 75 percent of an average family’s discretionary income. In 1973, the average cost was 50 percent.   In the last decade health insurance costs skyrocketed even with higher deductibles and co-payments.

From 2001 to 2010, the median income for families aged 35-44 fell from $63,000 to $53,900. Older folks fare poorly, too.   Median income for families aged 45 to 54 dropped from $66,800 to $61,000. In the 70s people could save 8-10 percent of their income because it cost less to live. Barely half of Americans can afford to save any money at all. Sometimes life throws you fastballs you just can’t reach. Job loss, divorce, medical expenses are often no fault of your own. Turning to the courts for relief is no moral failure. Personal finance shills shouldn’t hector people for making that choice. It worked peachy keen for gurus like Dave Ramsey and Donald Trump.

Things I Don’t Understand

Our Tourist Development Council appears poised to spend $30,000 promoting North Walton tourist destinations. The Florida Trail, The E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center and Morrison Springs (assuming the pesky pollution stays clear) should be tourist destinations. But the TDC ignores the bicycle path while Walton County taxpayers cover repairs and maintenance. We don’t need an Attorney General’s opinion either. Bike path maintenance would create jobs for locals. Tourists (and locals, at least the ones with sense) already use the bike path.

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