Friday, February 10, 2006

A laughing matter?

Have you noticed that Americans' savings and spending habits have become inspiration for late-night comedians? The other night I was watching Jay Leno and he commented that saving money and quitting smoking are the two things Americans find hardest to do. He then joked that if they just gave up on the idea of quitting smoking, they wouldn’t have to save for retirement.

Then, on Saturday Night Live, there was a skit about debt. A couple sat at their kitchen table talking about how they were in terrible debt and didn’t know what to do. They’d tried a debt consolidation company, but that didn’t work. Their credit card debt continued to pile up. What were they to do? In walks the solution, a man giving away a free publication called, Don’t Buy What You Can’t Afford. This one page pamphlet will tell you everything you need to know about staying out of debt, he says. But the couple did not understand this groundbreaking concept. Could they buy something they want now, and then hope they would somehow get the money to pay for it later? No. After much confusion and more of the same types of questions, the man could still not get through to them. “Call and order this free publication today,” he tells the audience. “FREE?” the husband says, “Great! We can put it on our credit card!”

The scary thing about this skit, is that there is a lot of truth to it. I have friends who still don’t get that a credit card is a way to borrow money. They think of their credit limit as money they already have. If their credit limit is $5,000, then they think they have $5,000 in the bank to spend. That’s why understanding credit is so important. To some of us it seems like an easy concept to grasp, but to a lot of people it can be confusing. I'm not sure if making jokes about these people is going to help their situation, but maybe all this publicity will help them realize that they're not alone. And sometimes having a laugh at yourself really can be good medicine.

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