“People first, then money, then things.” – Suze Orman
Have you ever seen something or overheard a conversation so ridiculous and unbelievable that you just had to stop and listen, while pretending to be preoccupied with your own business? Well, my chance came last Wednesday night, on Thanksgiving eve. At about 6:30 PM, a man walked into my bank’s vestibule, passed the ATM machines and went directly to the bank’s inner doors. After he pulled on the locked doors, he let out a few loud sighs before calling someone on his cell phone.
“Yo, they’re like really pissin’ me the fu*& off right now cus they’re closed,” he yelled into his phone.
Clearly, you don’t visit the bank much, do you? Or else you wouldn’t be standing here at almost 7:00 on the night before a holiday, surprised that it’s closed, I thought to myself.
“Yea, the lady at the table is just lookin’ at me standin’ here,” he added.
The nerve of her not to open the doors just for you, even if the sign says they close at 6:00 PM. Read the sign and quit talkin’ so damn loud. Mr. Loud Mouth was “pissin’ me the fu*& off” because he had interrupted my attempt to remember my account number.
Mr. Loud Mouth then called the bank’s “800” number for assistance, presumably so that someone would make the evil customer service lady open the door for him. But, tonight was not his lucky night because he had not mastered the fine art of using his Blackberry. So, he called on his lifeline again.
“I’m mad heated right now. I’m tryna call the bank, but the number is spelled out in letters and my Blackberry doesn’t change the letters to numbers.”
Mr. Loud Mouth then called out each letter of the bank’s name to his lifeline on the other end, who told him the corresponding number. I was almost tempted to tell him to hold the “Alt” button on his phone while pressing each letter of the bank’s name, or that he could call the bank instantly by simply picking up the phones by the ATM machines, but I stopped myself from my bad habit of butting into random strangers’ business. Besides, when a woman told him he could just deposit his check into the ATM machine, he just looked at the woman like she was from Mars and he was constipated. After another five minutes on the phone, he finally managed to call the bank back and get someone on the line.
“Hi. I’m really frustrated right now because I showed up at the bank at 5:45 and the bank was already closed, even though the sign says they close at 6 o’clock. The lady inside won’t let me in. She’s just looking at me.”
Well, at least we know he’s very comfortable with talking about how he’s feeling pissed, “heated” and frustrated. And did he just lie and say he walked in at 5:45 instead of 6:30? Does he think they’re gonna magically open up the doors for him? Mind ya business J, mind ya business. By this time, I had stopped my own banking transaction and had given Mr. Loud Mouth my full attention, of course while pretending to fumble with the ATM machine.
“I need to deposit my paycheck. I don’t have any money, and I need to cash my check by Black Friday. What can you do for me?”
“Uh huh. The check is for $700. Is there any way it can be cleared by Black Friday? I need it for Black Friday.” Needless to say, he did not cash or deposit his check that night.
Mr. Loud Mouth’s conversation was troubling for so many reasons. First, not only was it clear that this man didn’t understand the basics of banking, but he clearly had never heard of check cashing places either. Secondly, although he said he didn’t have any money and only had his $700 paycheck, he did not say that he needed money to buy food to put on his table for Thanksgiving or money to pay rent that will be due at the first of the month. Instead, he was only concerned about his funds spontaneously and magically being available in time for “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving and the most popular shopping day of the year. This man of meager means was practically begging to give his $700 paycheck away to retailers, all of whom have more money in the bank than he does. Call me presumptuous, but I’m pretty sure Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy are on much sturdier financial ground than Mr. Loud Mouth. I stood there and thought, How sad and pathetic. But, I recognized Mr. Loud Mouth because he is a reflection of many of us. He’s the rule, rather than the exception. So many of us live paycheck to paycheck, are broke by the time payday rolls around, have more money stored in a piggy bank than in a savings account, and spend too much money on “wants” rather than necessities. Some of us may make more than $700 every two weeks, or we may make less. Some of us may be unemployed or underemployed. But, too many of us still live above our means.
Retailers advertised many “bargains” and “good deals” this Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But, think of the credit card statements that will be waiting for you after the holidays are over. In this unstable and unpredictable economy, we would all do well to take stock of our financial health and futures instead of focusing on how we can spend our money in ways that do not add value to our lives and hinder us from reaching important goals. Living in the black is far less stressful than living in the red, trying to figure out how you’ll make ends meet or “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
This holiday season, I am reminded of my own financial goals, such as paying off debt, renovating my house, increasing my emergency fund, and saving to return to Paris. And then there’s always unpredictable expenses that get in the way of my goals, like the burnt out circuit breaker and busted hot water tank I recently replaced. But, I am also obsessed with books, lipstick, and taking cabs – small purchases that add up over time. I have realized that you can have it all, but not necessarily right now or at the same time. You have to set financial goals, map out a plan for reaching them, and sacrifice some things in order to obtain others. Alas, Paris will have to wait awhile. I will buy gifts this holiday season and live my best life, but I won’t go broke or into debt doing it.