3 Tales of the Financially Insane

One of the drawbacks of being a therapist (or former therapist) is that many of my friends seem to think I’m their personal therapist. And the fact that I’m now a personal finance blogger just means that I get the money drama AND all the other drama. This weekend was no exception. I’m tired, cranky, and behind on the things I really need to accomplish. Here are three of the reasons why. (Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the ignorant.)

Tale One: The Woman Who Couldn’t Be Alone…. With Her Wallet

Once upon a time there was a woman named Nancy. As far as lives go, Nancy’s was pretty good - she had a beautiful home, an adoring husband, and a college education that led to a challenging career. One night, Nancy came home from work to an empty house. Her husband had met his soulmate and would be filing for divorce. Nancy became depressed, drinking every night and crying herself to sleep.

No one was surprised when Nancy was fired from her job. She moved back home with her parents, and while she was able to find employment quickly, she began contemplating bankruptcy less than a year after her divorce was final.

“Where is all your money going? Shouldn’t you have plenty of savings?” her friends asked.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Nancy responded. “I just can’t seem to get ahead.”

But Nancy had a secret. Two secrets, to be exact. The first was her fear of dying with no husband and no children. In an attempt to remedy this, Nancy went on date after date. She didn’t give herself time to heal from her divorce, resulting in a Freudian dance in which she inadvertently chose narcissistic, selfish men just like her ex.

The second secret was the doozy. Because Nancy wanted so badly for one of her new romances to end in happily ever after, she developed a habit of spending money on the men she dated. She wasn’t content to buy dinner or spring for dessert - those were amateur tactics. Instead, Nancy sought out men in dire financial situations so she could “save” them. She paid off their personal loans. She financed vehicles. On two occasions, Nancy even caught up her beau’s child support. All this for men she barely knew, who would later cheat on her and dump her.

When Nancy presented for her free therapy session, she was distraught. “I’m nearly $60,000 in debt - none of which is actually mine - and I’m STILL single!” she cried. “What will it take to find a man to care about me?” For some reason, she didn’t like the idea of actually healing her wounds (and her bank balance) before looking for Mr. Right. If only she cared as much about buying her therapist’s affections….

Tale Two: The Man Who Cured His Work Allergy with Handouts

Once upon a time there was a man named Roger. His charming personality (and creative resume-writing skills) landed him dozens of great jobs, but Roger quit every one of them after only a few months. You see, Roger had a problem - he believed he had a calling far greater than any dumb career. He was going to be a world renowned songwriter; he just needed the right person to witness his amazing talents.

In the meantime, Roger relied on the generosity of others to pay his bills. He offered to write songs for his friends’ weddings and birthday parties at “discounted” rates. He told his story to anyone who would listen, painting himself as the victim of a music industry that refused to give him a chance. When all else failed, he point blank asked people for money. Part of Roger’s interpersonal style involved a complete lack of respect for social and ethical norms.

One day, Roger convinced an acquaintance to front him the money for some interview clothing. “It’s time I made up for all the years I’ve wasted,” he said. Except Roger had no intention of using the money for a suit. Instead, he purchased a set of turntables - if he couldn’t achieve his dream of becoming a songwriter just yet, he’d settle for being a DJ.

Roger sucked as a DJ. In fact, he sucked so bad that his own mother wouldn’t listen to his mixes. But because Roger was an expert when it came to making excuses and inducing guilt in others, he continued to find DJ gigs - usually ones in which he over-promised and under-delivered. He never apologized, preferring to accept his role as “still better than the stuff on AM radio.”

Despite his repeated failures, both financial and social, Roger came to therapy with ZERO insight. He boasted, “I’m so awesome, it’s just a matter of time before I make it big. Who needs a job when I can get what I need from other people? You have to walk all over the mountain if you want to get to the top.” I declined his offer to DJ my son’s graduation party at a discount, possibly severing our therapeutic relationship forever.

Tale Three: The Woman With Amnesia. Or Akathesia. I Forget Which One.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Tabitha. No matter how hard she tried, Tabitha couldn’t get rid of her addiction to material objects. She loved collecting various things; for awhile it was every episode of Friends on DVD. Then she moved on to designer scarves. Then jewelry from QVC. After every shopping spree, buyer’s remorse would set in - but not until the credit card statement arrived.

Every month, Tabitha appeared to go through the stages of grief. But just as every mourner experiences a loss differently, Tabitha’s grieving process didn’t follow the “typical” pattern. She began each cycle (right after an overdraft fee or large credit card payment) in the bargaining stage. Once her bank account recovered, she went through a long period of acceptance mixed with denial (“That happened last month, but I’m just buying ONE scarf this time!”), then experienced a rapid journey through anger and depression when she realized she’d overspent yet again.

Tabitha’s spending rollercoaster continued for years. Her children quickly learned to time the dips and barrel rolls. By the time they were teenagers, they knew exactly when the bills would arrive and made sure to stay with friends for a few days during and after. They also learned that their mother was completely unreliable - when they needed something, they turned to neighbors or teachers for help.

One day Tabitha cried so hard during free therapy, she nearly threw up. “I’ve ruined my relationship with my kids! I’ve ruined my credit! I’ve spent all my money!” She vowed to stop shopping once and for all, because no piece of plastic was worth all this. Then, like a caffeinated ADHD Gollum in a room full of jewelry, she proceeded to take a weekend shopping trip to reward herself for her breakthrough.

Your Turn!

Heard or witnessed any tales of financial insanity lately? You may not be able to confront the stupidity in real life, but you can rant here!


3 Tales of the Financially Insane28 Comments

  1. Wow, just wow. Luckily most of my friends are financially stable or don't tell me about it. I heard some interesting things doing auto collections though. My personal favorite is the couple who convinced their parents to tell me they were hit by a train to try to get extra time to pay their 4 past due car notes. Found out when I talked to the other set of parents. They didn't get to keep the car after that.

  2. I have a friend who is probably closest to number 3 - she lives in never-never-Financialand. Luckily she does not have any credit cards, but she is constantly having her phone shut off, she is late with her rent often and has to pay her roomies back, she misses car payments and student loan payments. She makes enough money where this shouldn't be an issue, but she spends like crazy - never quite realizing that if you don't pay your phone bill, they shut it off.
    I can't judge her too harshly, since I was in that place PLUS credit card debt not too long ago :)

  3. I know someone who is extremely close to number three.  I also know a few people who like to tell me they are broke enough to not pay their bills (usually after asking me how my saving/budgeting is going) and then telling me about this awesome new thing they just bought.  Usually the awesome thing is a concert ticket, a phone, a new cd, etc.  Or the friend who hasn't paid their rent in 3 months because she *needed* a new phone and then needed something else and something else and was then complaining about being evicted because her landlord didn't understand her *needs*. (thankfully that was a while ago and I haven't heard of someone doing that lately)

    •  @bogofdebt I know far too many people like that, and it's definitely frustrating. Especially since I used to be one of them - I KNOW what kind of BS they're feeding themselves to continue living that way!

      •  @Andrea Whitmer
         Yup-I actually told one person that they couldn't tell me an excuse that I hadn't told myself in the past.  They then told me it wasn't an "excuse" it was a REASON. I just sort of shook my head and let them know I'd be there to offer help when they needed it but not in the monetary way. 

  4. I've been almost as bad as #3 in the past.  Fortunately, I've been able to break the cycle, but it definitely took a toll on my relationships.

  5. I acually knew a woman who would take guys out, buy them clothes and take them on vaction. The only difference was that she was an older woman who like young guys. :) And she had money to spend.
    Money management is all about deliberate choices. However, some choices do not come easy, especially when we feel desperate and lonely.

  6. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear the beginning part of these type of things, I generally tune out the remainder of it.  That's the joy of being a non-therapist and a guy.  I'm generally known to have the emotions of a robot.  Sometimes it pays off!

      •  @Andrea Whitmer I'm just saying that it takes skills to be able to listen intently to problems, especially those that I would put in the "partly self-caused" category.  You have those skills.  I don't.

  7. I remember a guy who bought a new car that cost at least 1.5 times his annual income. He said he NEEDED the car in order to feel like "he arrived". Huh? It was mind boggling when you do the math. He actually seems to be very responsible now though.
    I actually had a one week bout of near-financial craziness when I really considered buying a BMW in my early 20s. Keep in mind that I had absolutely no business buying one then, and wouldn't spent that kind of money now either.  It would have been utter stupidity, but a talk with my father set me straight in a hurry. Thankfully, I've never followed that other guy's pattern.

  8. I know a "Roger."  He used his poor, sweet mother who should be retired.  She's bought him several cars because he keeps wrecking them.  Silly Roger doesn't know that you're not supposed to drink and drive, get arrested, make your mom bail you out because jail isn't fun, and then do it all over again.  I hate Roger.  :/

  9. Not sure if I've witnessed insanity per se, but maybe regarding people spending half their income on a car eg they make $50,000 but buy a $25,000 car on credit? Seems kinda bad.
    I believe people are rational.  Nobody buys a new Macbook Air without paying off debts and providing for their basic needs first.  Hence, the economy is great!

  10. The first two stories we just funny — crazy people doing crazy stuff. They won't get help, but they're only hurting themselves.

    But the third story — those poor kids! To subject your kids to any kind of trauma (like the financial uncertainty and potential of having to move from their home etc) is just horrible. That makes me so sad.

    • Agreed! Thinking about my son is what finally prompted me to clean up my financial mess. I didn't ever want him to grow up feeling the way those kids have told me they feel toward their mother.

  11. I have lived with two girls who followed the same pattern in story three. In fact, there was a time that I shopped more than I could afford because I stupidly would add my bank balance to my available credit and think "$500 +$3500 = $4000 for shopping." Of course, I didn't realize that I did that at the time. It wasn't until my parents bailed me out one last time and cut me off (and stuck to it- seriously, I asked for a $50 loan to get me through a week so that I could pay my car insurance and eat and they said no. I literally relied on the change in my purse for food, because you CANNOT let your car insurance lapse!) and I was able to not over spend, but stay balanced around $100 for two years that I figured out this whole fiscal responsibility thing. And it took living with these two girls to hammer it in my head.

    One of the girls borrowed $200 from the other in the form of a check so that she could take a trip to Colombia (mind you, that decision in it self wasn't exactly a smart one). Well, the check bounced and girl taking the trip asked for cash and went out of the country with a negative account balance and a wad of US currency.

    • Reminds me a lot of my own situation - I was out of control for YEARS and relied on my parents to save me when I messed up. They didn't cut me off, but I did overhear my dad telling someone that he gave me enough money every year to start itemizing his tax deductions. It was like being stabbed - I think that was the first time I realized that all the $100 checks and $50 checks added up to thousands of dollars.

      • I have been reading about your situation, I think it's amazing that you have gotten everything really under control!

        I was lucky that my parents were able to bail me out (it happened twice, around $12,000 each time - $24k total, which I paid back $8500), a lot of people aren't so lucky! Then because I had been able to live balanced (not in debt, but not really saving) for 2 years, my mom was willing to loan me $7000 to pay a tax bill from the "dark ages" - which I have almost completely paid off!

        It was a strange wake up call when the roommate money drama hit me. I had thought I was doing so well, but then I realized I was like a D student - passing, but no one should be proud of a D. Since then I have done credit score rehab and boosted my score(s) between 80-130 points (each score is different) and would give myself a solid C+.

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