Crowds from the Seaside Farmerís 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 Moneyís 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 Ö like the plague.
Wong admitted Ramseyís 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 itís 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. Itís 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 familyís 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 canít 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 shouldnít hector people for making that choice. It worked peachy keen for gurus like Dave Ramsey and Donald Trump.
Things I Donít 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 donít need an Attorney Generalís opinion either. Bike path maintenance would create jobs for locals. Tourists (and locals, at least the ones with sense) already use the bike path.
Buz Livingston, CFP has a Blue Mountain Beach based fee-only, hourly financial planning and investment management firm. For more information, visit www.livingstonfinancial.net or come by our office at 2050 Scenic 30A, M1-Unit 230, Redfish Village.