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Instant Gratification is a Dangerous Myth

Updated on November 6, 2008

Spiral I by Robert A. Sloan

Life is richer and more colorful than it looks when you break it into black and white with cliches that trick you into bad decisions.
Life is richer and more colorful than it looks when you break it into black and white with cliches that trick you into bad decisions.

Instant Gratification and other insulting myths

"American consumers just want instant gratification."

That's a statement repeated so many times in so many editorials, sermons, media that people take it for granted as fact and feel vaguely ashamed of themselves every time they get a cup of coffee at Starbucks, eat out because they worked late and are too tired to eat dinner or at the end of a pay period, wind up doing anything besides paying the bills. I don't think it's accurate.

I think it's a mislabel for a common bad attitude -- and insulting to working people everywhere, who have deferred gratification a long time and put up with hard work, often with added humiliation, emotional abuse and unreasonable levels of stress who have spent an entire pay period looking forward to what they can finally do on payday. That's not "instant gratification."

It's a natural human desire to gain a real reward after putting in a lot of effort and deferring gratification. So why does it get so many people into trouble?

The sentence that comes right after "American consumers want instant gratification" usually leads into "that's why they run themselves into debt for luxuries they can't afford." The problem is real. Debt is spiraling. People do buy a lot of things they don't want and don't need at inflated prices and often on the worst terms.

Using a credit card without paying the entire bill immediately is borrowing money on terms that approach Mafia loan sharks. You can wind up paying for the same purchase four or five times over by the time the bill gets retired or you go bankrupt, which is why the companies haven't complained so much about the bankruptcies. Interest will kill you.

The simplest discipline is to just live thriftier -- don't spend more than you have, spend the actual cash you have left after necessities and save up for anything that costs more than you can do on a paycheck. Like those two big necessities, a House and a Car.

Foreclosures reached an unbelievable level because people are falling off the treadmill left and right when any unexpected medical or other emergency breaks their month-to-month barely-balanced budgets. Savings, if they had any, got eaten up in debt or emergencies. It's cheaper to buy down the debt and treat credit cards like debit cards than to save money, beyond having a sensible emergency fund that'd cover everything basic if something happened.

But I have known way too many people who don't go craving Instant Gratification and still wind up in trouble -- because it's not instant gratification. Expectations get raised by a pay period of hard work in stressful, often abusive conditions and whatever deprivation the person's managed to put themselves through in order to make it to the next pay period.

They arrive at that paycheck in a tired, stressed, emotionally vulnerable state where they've run themselves into the ground and what they are looking for at that point is a tangible reward for all that hard work. Easy credit and advertising wave false promises at them and their judgment is skewed by stress and fatigue. It's easy to forget that you do have to pay the card on your next check.

So that isn't "Instant Gratification." But saying so is a way to misdirect people from the real problem -- which is that all that overwork does create real emotional needs for a reward, one that is truly satisfying in a way that's social and emotional. It has nothing to do with what you paid for it and everything to do with how you feel about it.

I'm an ex-spendaholic. In the 1980s when I earned more than I ever have again in my life and worked 90 hour weeks, I went bankrupt on exactly that cycle. I didn't even have that many credit cards, just a Sears card and some payments on some furniture that turned out to be shoddier than the thrift store furniture I replaced it with. I grew to loathe that $750 couch the faster it broke down and was still paying on it long after it degraded to unusable trash.

I changed my expectations when I became a self employed street artist and knew I was living on the cheap. I didn't borrow anything. I found an inexpensive apartment and worked the hours I wanted to pay for necessities and then as much as I wanted in order to get the things I wanted -- and those things started mounting up as I started to see how well I could live on less if I looked for bargains and understood my emotional needs.

I shifted my balance and hit a plateau between work and spending where I only bought what I could afford, and since I leaned toward physical things that would still be good a month or year later bought as cheap as I could get them, I wound up living pretty high on the hog. I wasn't struggling to pay the cable bill.

What I bought with that lifestyle change was the luxury of sleeping in on Monday mornings and taking off if I felt like it and the day was going slow. So I became very frugal in order to keep this privilege of not having a yelling boss or working to someone else's schedule, and until my health failed I lived well on an income that was under $5,000 a year. I now live well on a low fixed income with disability and still have a perk to look forward to every month.

Years ago, a sermon by a Unitarian minister on the radio made me think about this. It was in the holiday season and most of the preachers were thundering against another myth: "Christmas is Too Commercial." Instead he talked about why people go shopping and what they're really buying when they do.

At work you get told what to do all the time. In the family you have to weigh what you want against everyone else's needs and there's endless discussion or fiery arguments about every single purchase. But when you go shopping it is the one point in life when you are in charge. You're making decisions without anyone else second guessing them. You get to just do what you want, and sales people are going to treat you with more respect than the people at work (or often the people at home) do.

Shopping is a way to reduce stress by having a break from constant petty harassment and having all your decisions second-guessed.

I listened and realized he was right. That the emotional reward of getting to go shopping was being able to decide for myself exactly what to do with my money, while being treated respectfully by sales people.

I looked at my 1980s habits and realized that putting my paycheck in my pocket and heading for trendy stores and malls was asking for a ripoff. I could have the same fun stopping by the French Market with a five or a ten, or going to a used bookstore and coming out with a big stack of favorites.

In the bankruptcy, a financial counselor put an entertainment budget into my budget. That surprised me because like most people I believed if you were tightening the budget you had to treat it like All or Nothing dieting. Financial counselors know better. People try that and binge and bust like dieters, with the shaming "You just want instant gratification" ringing in their ears to put a damper on the pleasure they got from the purchase just like dieters are shamed and guilt tripped if they have one piece of chocolate.

People I've known who really changed their habits, lost weight and kept it off are very fond of enjoying one good truffle instead of a half pound bag of M&Ms. If what I'm buying when I shop is being treated well, seeking out places where everything is cheap and the service is good gets me more of what I really want -- a pleasurable shopping trip with an added little luxury or two for my life -- than going to a mall and paying extra at ruinous interest for what I liked best out of what they had, which was never what I really wanted anyway.

That worked. Ever since I made that lifestyle shift, I reached an even balance. I didn't spend more money than I had because cutting up the credit cards taught me not to borrow money. But while I defined my shopping trips as "impulse shopping," my daughter has corrected me on that.

It's not impulse shopping when I spend all month planning what I'm going to do with my spending money, even if my ultimate decision is to budget $25 to $30 for books at Amazon and decide which books in the moment. I put a lot of forethought into my purchases before even deciding where to go -- do I want books or art supplies? But to me it feels like impulse shopping because I didn't decide exactly what to get before I place the order.

I started shopping online when I realized how much cheaper it was, that it had no lines but because it's essentially mail-order, it has much lower overhead. Usually the savings get passed on in terms of big proportions between Retail List Price and the online company's price. I pay for it in a wait of between two days and two weeks depending on who's shipping and how -- and that becomes more anticipation, like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.

The problem with Apparent Instant Gratification is that after working long and hard and doing without any luxury, then being stressed and tired, it's too easy to lose all judgment. The first ad for anything you wanted for a long time is going to grab your attention and the credit card companies do their best to get you to ignore the fine print. They make their money by all the people who don't pay it off within 30 days and borrow money in short term loans at ruinous interest.

They might go out of business if everyone started just treating them as debit cards and ignored their line of credit, just spending what they actually have at the end of a pay period.

So knowing what it is you want at the end of a pay period -- what your personal wish list is, what individual things are high or low in priority on it and what your resources really are -- it's possible to break the cycle of Instant Gratification by recognizing that yes, you do need an emotional reward.

It's old hackneyed advice, but set aside a reasonable sum of money for "Reward." If you work hard and put up with difficult conditions, you do deserve some reward.

I broke my habit of not saving in a weird and creative way recently. I could not manage to save up for anything, because I missed being able to decide what to do with my spending money when I have some. I felt deprived if I had to set aside some of it and not get everything I wanted.

So I decided arbitrarily that every time I put $50 or more into savings I would buy myself a Terry Pratchett book. He's a prolific author and one of my favorites -- and I won't buy one of his books if I haven't done savings that month. This is working. The second month, I automatically put savings in before going to place a Blick order for art supplies and didn't feel like the Blick order was shrimpy.

The trick to an effective reward system like that is to find something inexpensive but deeply personal that you enjoy that much. Then stick to the rule.

Instant Gratification and Impulse Shopping are the result of tired, stressed, distracted people who have worked hard without reward getting overpriced rewards waved in their face by dedicated professional advertisers. Think of how many ads talk about Rewarding Yourself -- with very expensive things like new cars or high priced clothing, entertainment, that sort of thing. The advertisers know what's really going on behind it and they are all competing for your attention at a time when your judgment is lowest -- for good sensible reasons.

So decide the Reward at the top of the cycle. "I get to go to a good movie," or "I get a new CD" or "I get a Terry Pratchett book." Set the price range for the reward. You're you. I don't know what really thrills you. It might be getting a used Matchbox car on eBay, new music, something to wear, going dancing, sports equipment -- it's your own thing.

But if you make the general decision first, then go ahead and decide the specifics in that tired needing-reward state, your personal rewards for sticking to the savings plan won't have that shame and guilt attached to them. You can actually enjoy the reward for savings without any aftershock stress of "oh why did I do that?" and "what is this going to do to my bills?"

If you are already in deep debt, I'd suggest trying to knock down the credit card bills steadily. That'd take a long time but it can reach a point where you're looking at having more left every month because a bill is gone -- just gone, doesn't need paying any more. Knocking them out one at a time is a good way to make it easier to knock out the rest, because the lower bills would let you put more into paying off the next one.

But always leave yourself a planned reward -- just plan ahead what the amount is and then enjoy it in the way you most want it. The only real solution to this economic problem is an individual one -- to go against the tide and not buy into knee-jerk consumerism. It's amazing how good it feels to make progress and not beat yourself up too, that kicks another stress right out the window.


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    • Williamkosko profile image

      William Joseph Kosko 

      4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I agree with a lot of the things you are saying. However, I think you got the idea of instant gratification mixed up. I'm not sure how old you are, but I'm 21 and with my generation the instant gratification belief is very real. Lol kids really do buy into it and they really do have a problem with patience. It's I want everything now...It's sad and I wish it weren't real, but it is. And it is only real because of what America has become...We are the only ones that can change it...but we make far too many excuses as to why we don't. It kind of pisses me off. A reward is suppose to be something given in recognition to an achievement or doesn't mean it should always be something you DON'T need.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      kartika, that's something I'm so glad you understand. It can be liberating to take responsibility for treating yourself and budget it, accept that as one of the things that makes life richer and keeps you going rather than endlessly beat yourself up over something that's a real emotional need. You do a lot, you deserve it. You're not destroying your budget with it either.

      If you do decide it's too expensive, just look at whether something else gives the same satisfaction without costing as much, like maybe getting specialty good coffee as grounds and fixing it for yourself. That can save money but only if it brings you the same pleasure -- it's important to understand everything you get out of that daily latte to see whether it's cost effective or not.

      A lot of people get penny wise and pound foolish, deny themselves for no reason on all the little things and then feel guilty, but then blow it off on something huge that does destroy the budget.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 

      9 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I love this - you've captured my own take on life! I'm bookmarking it to read later and look forward to reading more of your articles and checking out your novel! I feel guilty getting lattes every day even though I work full time and am starting my own dot com. So, I really related to what you say here about beating ourselves up for those little treats we give ourselves, and finding the balance. Overspending that leads to credit card debt is part of the American nightmare and thank god, I cut up my cards years ago - I'm a fan of simplicity! Kartika

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thanks. That's a cool thing to do, putting stickers on your windows to save the birds. Another thing that may help is putting a life size owl figurine in the window -- if they see that they're not likely to fly right at it to find out if it's real. I know some places I've lived have gotten a lot of birds flying into windows hurting themselves, others don't. I guess it does partly depend on the glass and partly on where the window's placed.


      What I have in the windows is a live cat who loves bird watching. He probably saves dozens of birds from neck-breaking window dives just by being right there an obvious bird-interested real predator.

      It's a good topic for a Hub.

    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      What a great line: Problems that take a while to show up are already disasters by the time they're discovered.

      Also, I keep meaning to tell you that 'the short bus' is poetically perfect, too.

      I've just been outside putting stickers all over my windows because my lovely wild birds are killing themselves by flying into them. Up to a billion birds are killed each year in North America by these blasted things. If I'd realized, I never would have chosen such reflective glass. This may be the subject of my next hub.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      It's partly because I know I'm a good writer that I want to stay away from that genre. My self image is not "beloved children's author." I don't do sweet or cute and don't romanticize children at all.

      Real children would probably enjoy my books written for adults because I don't sugar them up or pretend to support things I can't stomach or tone down the social satire. I've noticed they tend to enjoy satire and loathe preachiness, but the way parents look at what to buy, it wouldn't really help.

      A lot of people have suggested writing contemporary novels without imaginative elements, or local-history novels, or biography -- the number of people who wanted me to write their biography once they find out I can write well is staggering. But I am not a journalist. If I had any tendencies to that, I would've been rich long ago.

      What I write is myth. What I write are myths that aren't part of a given culture, adapted to a specific place or set of traditions. They're myths set in a cultural storyland where everything I have ever found in philosophy, in folktales, in cultures far from the one that I grew up abused by and didn't fit in where I found interesting bits that were relevant and useful. They are the mosaic of a modern mind's view of myth-space.

      I've had an aversion to writing realism for all my life. I know it's subject to criticism for inaccuracy and also carries legal penalties if I'm honest about my subjects. I write to get my mind off my pain.

      Writing about horses and farrier work when I can't do it at all and never had the physical or financial resources, never really will to do what she's doing, would be the kind of bitter pain that writing about sports would be. What her work will do is let me bring horses and farriers into my medieval fantasy and other fantasy settings where horses are a part of life -- and a more important part than they are at present, though that may change again as some of the less industrial agricultural practices are gentler on the land and more sustainable.

      If you farm and get a horse instead of a tractor, it leaves you good fertilizer, breeds and makes more horses, is a friend, and the processes of equine farming are long-tested and shaken down through thousands of years of practice. That kind of bug-testing has not happened to big conglomerate mechanized farming and the bugs that turn up are whoppers. Problems that take a while to show up are already disasters by the time they're discovered.

      I know that I could self-publish a self illustrated children's book. I'm just not sure I want to release it at large or get known for it -- or just do what a zillion amateurs do and put it together and get Lulu printing it up for my grandkids at a reasonable cost.

    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      A first read and critique I can do - and you will hear back.

      Didn't want to pigeon-hole you about children's books - my imagination was stirred by your daughter-farrier. I've always loved farriers/blacksmiths, for reasons (other than a love of horses and Longfellow) that I can't precisely pin down.

      Yes, I do know that one is almost never allowed to illustrate his/her own book. In these days of digital self-publishing, though - where self-publishing doesn't mean paying some vanity press for the privilege - I think individuals with brains and talent are taking back their power and finding ways to wriggle through to the top. A bit like American Idol for the self-directed!

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      No, I don't do children's books. Least of all the sort that are about real people. That's not my beat. I do fantasy and SF for adults, and if I did one for kids it would go into all sorts of things the types of people who romanticize children would hate in it and think I was corrupting the youth.

      I also know that if people sell children's books, publishers never get them doing the illos. They hire well known professional illustrators for that and the author gets no control of it. I'm not that into doing the picture book for kids unless I do one for my own grandkids and make it up for them individually.

      I'd be grateful for a first read and critique. It's not common for people to actually have the time to read and critique an entire novel, most of the time I send them out and never hear back about it. Occasionally I find out they enjoyed it but there's not much in the way of useful suggestions.

    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I think your daughter becoming a farrier is too cool. She should be featured in a magazine article, at least. Or maybe a children's book. You could write and illustrate it.

      If you ever need someone else to look at your novel from an editor's perspective, I'd be happy to, Robert, in gratitude for your support.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      That is so great! Aw thank you! Yes, I have noticed. It's a pretty cool thing to realize, thank you!

      Keep Hubbing about your successes. You always succeed. Sometimes you succeed in doing failed trials but they give good information. You are prioritizing the right way, true to your heart. Things you can do online that don't need you to relocate are good ideas at the moment, I can understand not wanting to leave someone you love.

      Or let go of a good resource if you own the house -- especially if the house is paid up, you are so in the catbird seat for independence. Housing is a huge issue for most people and apartments do not give you the same space or physical privacy that houses do. If you have had this house for 25 years, odds are for the amount of its mortgage payment you wouldn't get hardly anything in an apartment.

      If you have extra rooms, finding a good boarder is a way to defray housing expenses. It helps to know the person and know their habits, and to go looking before it's economic necessity so you don't take in a drama queen, dysfunctional person, deadbeat or slob out of desperation. People on fixed incomes are often looking for a rented room that's quiet and clean, they're a good choice for housemates if their personalities are a good fit with yours because pensions and Social Security are stable and they won't get caught between jobs like young people who are just finding themselves and not all that responsible yet.

      Copywriting brings in the big bucks. It starts small as you bid on jobs but as your portfolio builds and your skills build, it can turn into a high income all in itself. It took my daughter about a year to get it to the point where she was doing well and bringing in several thousand a month.

      She decided at the point of success that she'd rather follow her dream to become a farrier. She was able to make that choice because she'd saved up enough doing the copywriting to fund farrier school, get it half off for designing the school's website and writing their copy, and still have enough savings that the family living without her income for several months isn't really going to hurt it -- we could go for a year or two without anyone bringing in anything at this point.

      So copywriting is very very lucrative. If you enjoy it that can be a great career in itself. If not, it's such a rich field that you can build the reserves and savings to explore other options that don't pay off as fast. I'm still working on editing my novel and building my oil pastels site. When that's done I'll do one on colored pencils or on my fiction, start a string of them.

      There are as many ways to do it as people building independence. I wish you well!


    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      And my 'mind' differences did the same to me - kept me from fitting in. I finally realized, as you did, that I was doing myself great harm - it just took me 37 years of my life to figure it out. (I say 37 'cause I'm giving myself a break for the first 20 years!)

      Thank you for all the excellent tips/advice. I know I will do better when I get to a bigger, more arts-centered city but can't go emotionally because my adored mother is elderly and dying and can't go financially except by walking away from my house of 25 years with nothing to show for it. Nevertheless, there are many things you have made me realize I *can* do, here and now, and that feels frightening and utterly exhilarating simultaneously.

      I've already signed up for your daughter's newsletter - that is a splendid site - and will let you know how things go as I pursue the other suggestions you've brought to my attention. (By the by, have you noticed that women pour their hearts out to you on your hubs? I'm just joining the crowd!)

      A hug for your kindness, your thoughtfulness, your spirit-lifting art, and your mentoring, Robert. All are greatly appreciated.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Congratulations on a good decision, MindField. You can find a lot of ways to get income streams that are legal, honest and don't involve stomach-churning stress and humiliation. You do not deserve that disrespect or harassment, period.

      Here are a few things you could try. Fine art modeling pays extremely well. It will pay better for those willing to pose nude (either gender) because artists like to do nudes. Even without nude modeling though, it pays very well because artists draw better working from life -- and working artists earn a lot for their paintings. It is creative, many times models have a lot of input on poses and staging and costuming.

      Best of all, common custom in all art schools and situations is that sexual harassment of models is completely forbidden. Artists and instructors are respectful, you get breaks after 20 minutes of posing, and wind up socializing in an art community. Many models are also artists or become artists getting mentored by the artists they work for. It's a low stress profession as opposed to fashion modeling which gets high paced and neurotic.

      Schools employ models and so do individual artists. The way to break in is to call around local colleges and community colleges to see if they need models, then also check out galleries and leave business cards so the artists they represent can get in touch with you. There are no expectations of body perfection, in fact most artists prefer people who have character and unique features and body shapes because it's easier to get a good painting with someone non standard.

      Other legal cool things you can do -- check out and see if you can come up with a good topic for a website. It's $299 a year and takes a while to grow into a good income. I started mine in December and am now getting enormous traffic, more than I've ever had on anything online. Any topic you are passionate about enough to write consistently and well on for enough pages and use the business plan will turn into something profitable. I didn't think mine would pay out to pay for itself in its first year, but early results are beginning to hint that may happen.

      A significant number of people do make a good full time living running SBI! websites, it's one of the writing avenues that can be very lucrative. Hubpages can be depending on prolificity and topic choices. Hubmobs are great for that. Study the Hubbers who get the most traffic to see what topics they tend to get most, see if there are patterns. is good for substantial trickle -- it pays out on a mystery algorithm but if they like your material you may be offered a contract to write ten of them a week and get an additional $10 an article on top of what accrues as writer payout. I didn't go for the contract because I wanted to retain rights to my articles and be able to reprint them myself, but that can be good for up to $400 a month steady if you get used to writing how-to on their template. Plus doing that many articles would probably get you doubling that on the regular writer compensation program.

      The key to this kind of independence is to think of anything that pays as an income stream. Be willing to do things that people need and want, find the things you enjoy most that people will pay for, and balance every income stream on whether it's cost effective - whether it pays well enough for the time and aggravation and work that goes into it. Obviously these bad jobs didn't.

      Some conditions are so rotten you wouldn't do it for a million bucks a week.

      The other half of living independent is becoming frugal. Read "The Tightwad Gazette" and maybe buy all three volumes. If you can reduce your living expenses then you don't need to get in as much money and can pace your life more toward enjoying your life. Or save up for things you want that seem out of reach.

      Look most of all at your dream. Look at the things you answered when you were ten and someone asked 'what do you wanna be when you grow up?' Chances are some of them are still exciting. Or better still, make a list like that again -- of all the cool things that you wish you could make a living doing.

      Then take the wish list and start analyzing it, look at each entry for how cost effective it is in passion, enjoyment and commitment needed to become a success. Some things like "astronaut" or "concert pianist" demand certain physicality and a driving need to do it that has to overcome any other priority in life. Others, like "sing torch songs" or "draw portraits" can be done with much less training and a lot of practice.

      Working at home saves a fortune in wardrobe and transportation expenses, it does mean putting utilities and Internet access on a priority with housing but it can be an open door to a new life.

      Thanks for the compliment. Yes, I'm a special person and I'm also entitled to ride the special short bus if I ever get down to city hall to sign up for it. My body differences prevented me from ever fitting in well enough to just go along with how everyone does things but I did myself great harm trying for years and years.

    • MindField profile image


      9 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I stumbled across this hub, Robert, and I am bowled over by your analysis of the situation. It does seem to me, too, that we are constantly being penalized for trying to grab a modicum of freedom in a world that, for most of us, is prison-like in many respects.

      I'll write a hub one of these days about the last five jobs I've had - jobs where I was treated with such disrespect that it was hard to fathom. I didn't last long in any one of them because, emotionally, I simply couldn't stand the strain.

      Now I'm living off a credit card, a scary situation, but realizing that to go back into the kind of petty, unchallenging positions I had been taking would be insane.

      After more than 30 years of putting creativity on the back burner, it's now or never. And never just isn't an option. Like you and Pgrundy, I too may be have to go the bankruptcy route but even that would be preferable to having everything that makes me "me" abused and stifled forever.

      I'll be heading to your daughter's site soon, too. Thanks for all the good and positive and kind advice. You're a special person, that's very obvious.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Wow, pgrundy! You're halfway there. I think you'll really enjoy, she updates it often and just put out a newsletter article that I found useful for organizing my time. Her article on pay scales is very interesting and I think you'll like it. If you've been doing it for a while already, you may not need another "job" to get on an even keel. Especially since you own your house and car. Good luck, I think you'll be getting ahead faster than you expected.

      dineane, thank you! I've been hearing that "instant gratification" chant all my life. I'm beginning to think people say that in order to suggest it. There are a number of things like that, very negative statements like "short attention span" that can be directly related not to personality but to situational pressures.

      Way too many major credit card expenses relate to needed things that were emergencies, a refrigerator that works or something, but weren't planned and saved up for when the person's living month to month. That big stuff never gets paid off because regular monthly expenses go on. I have trouble believing every middle class or working person in this country is a spendthrift couch potato on a bad-diet impulse buying-budget crash cycle of boom and bust. It only took one round of that to break me of the habit and that was without kids.

      But if you have kids, schools actually specify what brand of school supplies to get for them. You must get Crayola or Rose Art colored pencils, must get Crayola crayons, must get this brand of binders and so on. I read over those lists and I was shocked, because while I loved getting school supplies as a kid, the specified brands completely left out any elbow room for bargain hunting or hand me down supplies. Let alone encouraging an artistic kid with hand me down Prismacolors instead of children's art supplies.

    • dineane profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      I love this perspective! And I agree 100%. I'm still living the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle my parents taught me, and I do resent the implication that it's my fault because I am giving in to instant gratification...can't remember last time I really even enjoyed delayed gratification!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Robert, these are great tips. Thank you. I've got the name of an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy an I think I will make an appointment and go over my options. It's true--before that marriage I barely used credit, and I own a house and my car so I don't think I'd miss credit for a good long while, if ever. We're learning to live off the grid as much as we can. It's actually quite rewarding and not as hard as I'd assumed it would be.

      I have been doing some copywriting half-time, since last November. But I'm interested in your daughter's site and her expertise--I can use all the experience and good advice I can find. I also write for other people's blogs. I'm just now starting to get some decent money from online writing. In the beginning I pumped out very drab web copy at $5 for 500 words, but it's improving lately. Even at the low initial rate, I quickly beat my hourly wage at the bank.

      I agree with your analogy about the economy and the human circulatory system. Just to torture the metaphor even further, I'd say that we're on the verge of a stroke or a coronary bypass here pretty soon, but in the long run, if the economy survives and we change our ways, it will be a blessing in disguise.

      Thanks again for all your support, and all the best to you!

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you so much for sharing your story.

      Bankruptcy is not as bad as it sounds, and it sounds like a possible solution for your current situation. You probably have paid it all more than once already. I'm serious, the way interest compounds on credit card debt is so high that it would be worth adding that up and seeing whether you did. You've done the best you can with a bad situation.

      Talk to a good financial counselor about a solution. This is one of those times to consult a real expert. You may qualify for a bankruptcy that would end the problem completely -- and even if it did drop your credit rating, if you are planning on going back to your old way of life spending only what you earn, credit rating will not be as important.

      It will matter in things like how much down payment you need to buy a house, but it can be built up again. That itself may be easier than trying to climb uphill for the rest of your life buying down a debt that someone else loaded on you in the first place.

      Since you are between jobs, check out -- there are tips for becoming a copywriter there on every aspect from the actual writing to how to find clients and market your services. You're a good writer. It's something that takes only what you have between jobs: online access, lights on and someplace to live while doing it.

      If you find that you can manage your time well enough and budget enough hours for working including the hours spent marketing and getting clients, you may not need to work for anyone else again. Copywriting is in high demand. It pays well -- startup takes a lot of work and long hours but you'll get some money in with even the first clients.

      My daughter founded that site. She had a corporate job as a pharmacy technician and left because she wanted to work at home and see her kids before they grow up. She started her business and pulled the family through during startup with some long hours, within a year she was earning more than she did at the corporate job and no longer has any transportation or business clothing expenses. She still has the nice stuff she wore to the corporate job of course, and you probably do too.

      I hope you're right and there is a silent revolution among employees, that abusive companies fail and lose their competent people and businesses with humane living conditions thrive. I've been waiting for that all my life. I think that if the government took the opposite tack with economic stimulus and bailed out all the smallest companies while letting the giants fall, it would create an economic boom because while only one in ten small businesses succeed -- the tenth is usually someone who failed nine times and learned the ropes and the bailouts are much smaller per company.

      Such a bailout could be worked out to play the numbers over millions of businesses and show real growth in building the tax base and creating jobs. Not 10,000 jobs at once from a company changing its polities, but 10,000 little companies that can afford another employee each.

      If you look at the economy like a circulatory system, the flow going up the pyramid and not down is like it's got clogged arteries. Opening the circulation down to the base may stimulate it a lot more than anything else.

      Good luck with everything. I hope these tips help, you liked my writing so I was bound to toss more advice. lol

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I agree. In my overly long comment I just went into an explanation of how I lived simply and on a cash only basis for years, much like you describe your own finances as a sidewalk artist. I worked for hourly wages as little as possible so I could do what I cared about the rest of the time. Then, about 15 years ago I married a guy who started his own business halfway through the marriage and started piling up huge debts, some of which I was stupid enough to put on my personal charge cards in an effort to 'help'. I finally left when I discovered his business owed a five figure back tax bill and he responded by abusively demanding I pay that with personal credit or else. So I left, terrified, but I did leave.

      I found I was protected from the tax debt but everything I'd charged on my personal credit cards I was stuck with. I got a $10,000 settlement, $9000 of which went to attorney's fees. Seven years later I'm STILL paying on the charge card debts, and this May I ended up going to the hospital in an ambulance from my corporate job. I realized I was only keeping that horrible job because of all this old debt. So I quit in Mid-October and I feel 1000% better already. I am absolutely convinced it was the job itself that landed me in the hospital--keep the job for the health insurance and the money, then get sick because of the stress of the job. Crazy.

      I still have the debt though, and have considered bankruptcy. I haven't decided. Part of me feels like I was making progress paying it down and I should keep that up, another part of me feels like I've already paid it over and over and it's not my debt anyway. Plus, now I have medical debt from the two days in the hospital (even after insurance) that I can't pay. It's so discouraging.

      It was just very affirming to read a personal story about it that reflected some of my same reactions to all of this debt and stress. I agree with you that work should not be as ugly and exploitive as it currently is at most corporate jobs. It wouldn't upset me at all to see many of these jobs disappear and, after a difficult adjustment period, be replaced by something more humane and respectful. It's such a waste of human talent to use people up and throw them away like that.

      Thanks again.

    • robertsloan2 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Thank you! Sadly, your long comment did get lost, but I appreciate it nonetheless. I'm so glad this article was helpful. "people just want instant gratification" is an insulting way of ignoring the fact that most people are expected to work their tails off while being picked on and bullied all the time and do this without any complaint and expecting no reward for it.

      That's no way for a human being to live. But the myth is great for anyone who takes advantage of overworked, stressed, tired people. The only way out is to recognize you do need a reward and plan to give yourself rewards that are affordable.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I posted a long comment, and I think my laptop came unplugged and I lost it. If you got it, just delete this one! Thank you for this hub, it's great. I was very helpful to me personally. Your candor is much appreciated.


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