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Old 08-05-2009, 03:33 PM   #61
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I received this email today, it seems to fit this thread:

So what have we learned in two millennia?
"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance. " ---Cicero, 55 BC


A: apparently not a whole lot ....
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:52 PM   #62
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That thought kept echoing in my mind as I read the article.

We were so poor when I was a kid, that this family would have seemed rich to us. They have someplace to live and food to eat every day. There was a year when I had neither, and I was happy as hell about eating the government cheese. Partly because it was pretty good stuff, but mostly because it meant I got to eat that day. And being able to call a smelly basement home would have been a luxury.

When the migrant farm workers' kids at school nickname you "pobrecito" (the little poor one), you know there really isn't much farther for you to fall - you're already sitting on the absolute bottom. The good side is that any change is an improvement.

If they passed out merit badges for being poor white trash, I would have been a freaking Eagle Scout.

I never blamed anybody for how life was back then. That is just the way things are; sometimes life gives you a sh*t sandwich and holds the bread. I don't blame my parents, even though they bear the responsibility because things happened the way they did because of their poor decisions. It never made sense to blame society either and so I never have.

In fact, I don't think I ever blamed anyone.

When I look at the Nichols' family I don't feel superior. I just feel grateful as hell that it's not me. Maybe God made me a little smarter than them, or maybe not. Maybe life just taught me the right lessons at the right time. I can't say one way or the other. But I know that I am better at assessing risks and seizing opportunities than they are.

There was one opportunity that was open to me, the same one that my ancestors had when they came to this country, pick up a weapon and stand between scary dangerous people and the folks willing to pay me to do that. Sounded like a great deal to me back then, and it turned out even better than I hoped. I hope my kids get better opportunities, but I tell them both that the family business will always be there if they need it.

As best as I know, opportunity never forces itself on anyone. Opportunities always exist, are sometimes hard to find, and always involves some degree of risk. Crappy situations, however, do force themselves on us at their whim. To me, the difference between any of us is how we deal with the opportunities and crappy situations that find their way into our lives.

It's easy to feel compassion for the Nichols' as they struggle with their crappy situation. I have no feelings of schadenfreude or superiority toward them, but on the other hand, I really don't have much empathy for them. They have not handled the situation well, and the final act, moving to the number one worst small city for jobs, is admitting defeat.

I would die before going to live in my mother-in-law's stinky basement in not-a-chance-in-hell Michigan.

Leo, thanks so much for your insightful and well-written post about your early life. I am humbled by your rise from such extreme poverty to the admirable place you are now. Thank you beyond words for sharing. Your story is the perfect antidote to so much of what we hear today about not being able to make it..."in these difficult times".

You are, as always, an inspiration to me.
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Old 08-05-2009, 05:57 PM   #63
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I think our views are shaped by our life experiences.

I am the son of immigrant parents. My dad came to this country at the age of 18 to flee the communists with less than $100 in his pocket, a barely passable grasp of the english language, and a strong will to survive. He literally starved at times and worked all sorts of odd jobs from waiter, to shoe salesman, to door to door peddler, to librarian- he took just about anything he could get. He learned to time his meals with female borders where he lived so that he could eat their leftovers. He would buy a matinee ticket for the first showing of a movie and sleep all day in the movie theater until evening to escape the oppressive heat and humidity of the DC summers. And when he was in college, he needed the help of the custodians to leave a door unlocked in the closed dorms so he would have a place to sleep during break, because he literally had no where to go. My dad ended up surviving all of this to not only get a college degree, but a masters and a PhD in applied physics (he actually didn't care for physics but with poor language skills he ended up in a major that was based more on numbers than words).

And my wife's father? He came to this country at the age of 44 with nearly no knowledge of the english language, and had to support a wife and 6 children. They lived for a time in a 1 bedroom apartment in the slums of Newark (illegally of course). He worked 2 full time jobs and hardly slept, and managed to put all his kids through college. Today they are all successful.

I may seem to lack compassion for this family in the story, but that's because I know that they have squandered much...an opportunity that my poor peasant farming relatives in China will never get.

Some will say that life is a matter of luck- I say, you create your own luck.
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Old 08-05-2009, 07:37 PM   #64
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Some will say that life is a matter of luck- I say, you create your own luck.
I could not have said it better.

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Old 08-05-2009, 08:23 PM   #65
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And what about the wife who was offered a job but didn't take it because the unemployment payment amount was higher? I cannot remember how much more she would get from unemployment vs. the part time job, but what would you have done? Would you have taken the job hoping the job will last longer than the unemployment check? I think I would have taken the job...but to be honest, I can't say for sure. It's not like I've ever been in that situation; I might become like the husband who just get pessimistic and spend the precious money on beer to try to make me feel better.

I've been poor. I've been in a situation (like 5 years) where there wasn't much money (me or my then husband getting sick would have easily done us in. We had only one beat-up car between us that kept on breaking down. We needed to get a bed and we were turned down for a loan. Had no savings and some credit card debt (maybe $2000? can't remember) from the car repairs.), but I was young and full of hope then. I never felt depressed about it. If I stayed in that kind of economic level for years and years with no end, I might be feeling downright defeated.
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Old 08-06-2009, 10:06 AM   #66
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My housecleaner inspires me...
She got married very young, and had 2 kids. She did the SAHM mom thing until kids were in grade school, then took up housecleaning part time to bring in extras.
Her marriage didn't w*rk out, so they separated and she has the 2 kids. She has been living on her housecleaning and exactly $200 of child support per month. She finally got the courage to petition for the proper child support and that eased her situation. I had a bit of influence in that department.

She never took much of an interest in schoolw*rk in HS. On her own initiative, she applied for and was accepted in a very intense LPN course of study sponsored by our county program for education and return to w*rk assistance. She retained 3 cleaning jobs (I'm one). She just finished her first 2 courses with high B grades. One of them was Anatomy & Physiology.
I am very proud of her and am actively mentoring her as she travels on her self-chosen path to a new life. Her friends and I are donating any extra household thing we can find to her until she gets on her feet.
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Old 08-06-2009, 11:31 AM   #67
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I read the whole article and I don't feel sorry for the adults....I feel sorry for the kids. I cannot understand how people cannot/will not save for their future! It absolutely amazes me.....even when I was drinking and partying and what not....I was saving money in my 401K and my retirement funds!
Maybe they need to spend that time in the dark basement to hit their bottom!
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Old 08-06-2009, 11:39 AM   #68
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After thinking about this, I think the author deliberately chose these subjects for the article knowing that dropping all these details of their past irresponsibility would generate the response seen here (the bums deserve it because they caused much of their own misery).

A fairer article might highlight several families with more varied circumstances including some that had just plain crappy luck, some that had prepared with savings and were riding it out OK, etc..
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Old 08-06-2009, 11:53 AM   #69
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One thing you are assuming is that this guy has the intelligence or the burning desire to better his life. Not everyone is cut out for further education and you know some people are quite happy spending their lives being a checkout chick or the guy collecting your garbage and we should all be grateful to these people. This guy thought he was doing well doing the courses that gave him the certificate.

Until you have lived his life, you don't know what it is like. I say this having come from a similar background, my parents probably lived a life one step up from the subject of this article. You say he should save for his 401k, how many people in his circle of awareness would have been funding a 401k? He probably never dreamed of such a thing, that was for the rich folk. If you read the details, living in a mobile home, having a layby at Kmart, drinking with the boys, how far removed from the world we know are these people?

As for criticising them for smoking and drinking, well my parents did that even though they had nothing and times were always tough for them. You know what, I don't sit here thinking how dare they do that when they could have been saving for their retirement. If that little thing gave them 5 minutes of enjoyment a day so what? My father died at 58 so he never would have gotten to enjoy his retirement even if he saved for it.

Nowhere were they asking for a handout. Yes they are on unemployment, but just like the rest of us they have paid into the system, so have an entitlement to claim. As for comments about him having mental illness, we don't know that. If I was living their life I would probably be depressed as well. However, handing out happy pills is not always the solution. What do you think is the likelihood of this couple ever reading the Money or Health and Lifestyle sections of the newspapers and knowing if they made changes to what they are doing things may get better?

As to the criticism for them moving back to an area of high unemployment, I would challenge any of you to throw your resume out there today and see how easy it is to get a job if you don't use your contacts at former places of employment. You might be surprised at how tight things have gotten over the past 18 months.

Re the KMart layby, that might seem a strange choice to you and me, however it might have been something special they had promised a child and perhaps gave them a link to believing everything was going to be ok. To me it sounded like all they wanted was to have the life back that they had, not anything better.

The message I take from this story is there are a lot of people out there hurting, many of them due to choices they have made, however I am so grateful that I am not one of them.
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Old 08-06-2009, 12:40 PM   #70
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I actually do have 2 very close friends who are in a similar situation. Husband and wife, a little younger and like adopted family to me.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer a few months ago - early detection and doing great after surgery as of this AM. His plant closed while he was out on disability. The timing w*rked in his favor, if any sort of silver lining exists in this mess.
She just lost her job, and is beating the pavement for a new one while running her husband back and forth to medical visits.
They may lose their house if she can't find w*rk soon, and have to move in with her father. He welcomes the idea if it comes to that. Her dad is helping them with house and car payments when he needs to. The disability income is just about adequate for now. I will be helping soon, in non-financial ways when husband returns home and hopefully she has to go to work.
I have not heard them complain or lose faith once, except for worries about the husband's long term health.
This is the can-do attitude that distinguishes "winners" doing their best in the face of dual job losses and some pretty scary medical issues.
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Old 08-06-2009, 06:57 PM   #71
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One thing you are assuming is that this guy has the intelligence or the burning desire to better his life...

Until you have lived his life, you don't know what it is like...

As for criticising them for smoking and drinking ... If I was living their life I would probably be depressed as well. However, handing out happy pills is not always the solution. What do you think is the likelihood of this couple ever reading the Money or Health and Lifestyle sections of the newspapers and knowing if they made changes to what they are doing things may get better?

The message I take from this story is there are a lot of people out there hurting, many of them due to choices they have made, however I am so grateful that I am not one of them.
It remains true that people of all different income levels have run into financial troubles due to their poor planning or rather lack of it. Kozlowski of Tyco and Ebbers of Enron overspent their income and had to cook the book or stole money from their corporations.

The man in this case had made $53K/year in good times, if I remember correctly. That, plus whatever his wife made, put them at or above the average level of US worker wages. It does not appear that they managed to save any of it. It might be true that whatever they saved would not last long, but the lack of financial knowledge also means they may be also lacking in other survival skills, in order to know how to pull themselves out of the mess. This deficiency was evidenced by his actions and spending pattern after the job loss.

In pointing out their shortcomings we did not do this to deride them, but rather to reinforce what we already practice: LBYM and to be the ant, not the grasshopper. I would never be one to enjoy seeing people in such dire straits. But does anyone know how they can be helped?

Talk about fiscal restraints, why have I been recently looking at ads for class A motorhomes? I thought I would start with a travel trailer... My kids' tuitions are becoming due soon too...
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Old 08-06-2009, 07:05 PM   #72
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But does anyone know how they can be helped?...
OK, I'll start...
1. AA
2. Education
3.
4.
5.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
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Old 08-06-2009, 07:16 PM   #73
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Not so easy. I don't know these people personally, but one must first desire to be helped.

One of my uncles was a gamboholic. He would lose so much money in poker games or at the casino, and got money from loan sharks or sold his cars to get money in order to "win it back". Note the plural sense of "cars" as he did it more than once. He is divorced (I did not blame his wife), and is now living with one of his kids who took him in.

But then, I am not telling a story that no one here has not known about a relative or cousin.
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Old 08-06-2009, 08:08 PM   #74
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Picking up the ball from Westernskies...
1. AA
2. Education
3. Budget written down, eliminate all bills but barest necesities (food, shelter, utilities, medical, transportation, school supplies for kids, clothing, shoes)
4. Sell or return all extraneous belongings, especially anything with ongoing amounts due or recurring costs. Cancel the layaway item and get refund.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:00 PM   #75
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Have a few drinks does not make one an alcoholic, however I would agree if he was drinking this much for years it is a habit that needs to be broken. However, based on the alcohol he is now consuming the question is why? I would assume it is to hide the pain in he feels for the failure he believes he is. Going to the pub for a few beers can be more about getting together with friends than the actual consumption of alcohol.

As for the education, you are assuming that each and every person on this earth has it in them to gain a qualification. Not everyone has the aptitude for study, whether it be via a college degree or a trade qualification. Not everyone wants to be a manager or rise up the ladder, some just want to go to work, do manual labour get there paycheck and go home. The wife obviously squandered her opportunity, however who of us did not do stupid things in our youth? In my case I was lucky that there were not any consequences from my immature actions.

Obviously they do need help with learning to manage their money. This is a skill that many people do not have because let's face it, we learn by example and if you come from a family where no-one has been financially responsible why would you expect the next generation to be any different?

For me, the best way to help people like these would be via a mentoring program. The son needs to be mixing with people who have greater ambitions and desires than his parents likely have. He may decide to go the route of the parents, but the exposure would at least possibly put the idea in his head that there are options out there in the big world. The parents need to be taught how to budget. Someone needs to sit down with them and show them how much they spend on alcohol and cigarettes and let them make the decision as to where they think they funds are best spent. Someone needs to sit down with them and discuss their career options, help with resumes, talk to them about training opportunities.

The truth is we can all come up with ideas on what these people need to do to fix their lives however will any of the members of this board actually take time out of our lives to participate in helping those who need help? Most people who find their way to this board are going to be fine regardless of whether or not anyone posts an answer to their query on portfolio allocation. Talk is cheap, it's easy to preach on the internet, we can blather on all we want, but with the skills we all must have if we have been able to achieve our FIRE goals, why aren't we out there helping where it is needed?
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:04 PM   #76
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... why aren't we out there helping where it is needed?

Who says we aren't?
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:11 PM   #77
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It's a general question, I don't know if you are or aren't, however I do know that I am not and it's making me question why I am not. If I feel sorry for people like these, and I know some things that could be done to help them, why aren't I getting involved?
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:11 PM   #78
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Talk is cheap, it's easy to preach on the internet, we can blather on all we want, but with the skills we all must have if we have been able to achieve our FIRE goals, why aren't we out there helping where it is needed?
Because I am selfish and want all my time to myself?

Seriously, it is tough to help people. The gamboholic uncle I described is my mother's younger brother. She scolded him all the time to no avail, and eventually learned not to lend him money. I will not elaborate on another uncle who died a drug addict.

I cannot talk for anyone else but myself here. I have two children, and I spend much time nurturing them to make sure they will turn out OK. So far so good, but it is by no means certain. It was frustrated at times when they were growing up. If I had this much trouble with my own children that I raised, how do I have the knowledge and patience to help strangers? It is beyond me!
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:17 PM   #79
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It's a general question, I don't know if you are or aren't, however I do know that I am not and it's making me question why I am not. If I feel sorry for people like these, and I know some things that could be done to help them, why aren't I getting involved?
It's a complicated issue if you try to go out and do it on your own. But like a forum member said, he gives to charities that are able to screen and help people.

Examine your local charities/help centers...find out exactly what they do. I volunteered at a marvelous help center for five years. You can make a difference by supporting an agency with your time or money.
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Old 08-06-2009, 09:57 PM   #80
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Seriously, it is tough to help people.
Yep. I feel guilty that I don't do much more than pay taxes and make $ contributions to some charities (it ain't much but it puts Joe Biden to shame). DW does much more volunteer work, and I do whatever I can to support her in that. But we both agree that I don't have the temperament for much of it. I just couldn't be dishing out a meal for someone - I would have to ask "what is keeping you from taking care of yourself? What do you need to get control of your life?". But the volunteers are there to dish out meals. It's important, but it would be frustrating for me.

I recall thinking about hiring some homeless people to do stuff around the house - but with a family you need to think about their safety. Many of the homeless are in that position because they have issues, and some (probably a very small) % may be a danger to your family. I just would not take that chance.

Soon after I retired, I did take the time to get with some family members to work out some serious problems. One was causing grief for the rest of the family, and the other was an enabler. Finally, the enabler started talking about counseling, so I jumped in to support that and said I would attend and try to mediate with both parties. Long story short - many, many hours invested, many sleepless nights, long phone calls, long meetings, frustration... and nothing changed. Not a doggone thing. I should have been weeding the gardens.

I believe in an ounce of prevention. You just can't "fix" many of these things after the fact. I guess that is why I get so frustrated at the govt programs that try to throw money at problems. Sorry, it ain't gonna work. Get to the root causes. But that isn't popular, it isn't "feel good" I guess.

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