1. Higher Education: In the “new” economy, only one skill is taught in traditional degree fields that actually has relevance to the rest of the world: writing. Does that really justify a $20k per year price tag plus living expenses? Not in my book. Am I a Scrooge when it comes to higher education? I’d just rather see colleges invest in some innovative programs (JMU has a degree program in technical writing, for example) rather than their bottom line.
2. The Dream of Home Ownership: Just ask my family law clients who are now saddled with an albatross neither party really wants and neither can afford on a single income. In the days of twenty percent down, which appears to evaporate overnight, house poor seems an expensive way to be non-responsive to economic changes like having to move for your job, or moving to get a job.
The other day I walked through a Pier-One Imports, and I thought to myself: “This is like A Teenage Decorating Fantasy.” So you know, I am a reformed over-spender and I used to love Pier One. And I know that a huge area of selling is self-image. That if you have the perfect place to live, it looks just so, it’s a nice life.
Not so: When my husband and I lived in a house that had plenty of extra rooms, storage and wall-space, we shopped and shopped: low end or high end it didn’t seem to matter we just couldn’t seem to get the empty feeling out of that house. The truth is we were going through tough times where we weren’t connected, and I think the empty feeling had far more to do with us than with the house.
This concept of selling self-concept has been around for years in the form of lifestyle and decorating magazines. By all means, we want nice things and to live in nice places and have nice lives. But the same as an expensive house doesn’t mean it’s built well and the stucco won’t fall off in a year, or the floor is installed correctly. But it sure can be pretty from a distance.
They begin early. We have a teenager in our home who loves WANELO (Want Need Love). Since when was buying a comforter really driven by any of those things? Okay – need, as in function, and we want it to have a nice appearance. But not need as an emotional reaction to an object for the Buddhist icon on the cover. She announced she wanted a Zen bedroom and I tried to explain what Zen is metaphysically and I’d take her to temple if she wanted to go. Apparently I didn’t get it but we did agree somewhere between “relaxation” and “meditation.” Truth be told, I was a little disturbed by the commercialization of what is hard spiritual work – I mean, I knew it was going on in many stores but I ignored it and now it was in my house asking for our money. And these aren’t well made things with any of the values incorporated. They aren’t meaningful things. They’re just pictures and dyes stamped on a cheap comforter to represent meaningful things so our daughter will “want need love” to spend money in poor ways.
And in my age group it’s a designer handbag. Same problem: I was thrilled when my husband bought me an ostrich bag I “coveted” one Christmas, and it lasted less than one year and now sits on my shelf, a forlorn symbol of poorly made things. On the other hand, my Italian-made work bag is literally a work horse, with heavy hardware and nary a blemish after three years of abuse except for the me-reckless things. But the weirdest part is the emotional reaction: I feel guilty now for having spent my husband’s money on such worthless stuff. The other gifts he has chosen me have all lasted well, it was only the thing I thought I wanted that was trash.
So back to that Pier One trip: The furniture is in fact undersized – for single women, if you didn’t notice. The glasses are so thin they look like they’ll break if you even lip them, let alone toast them around at a vigorous party of friends. But these things are priced to appeal to Middle Class women, who now have their own money to spend on teenage decorating fantasies they haven’t outgrown. I am as guilty as all as I fell for it for many, many years. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d learned to crochet from my grandmother instead.
I have worked for banks, and then I have worked for Banks. Two years ago, my husband was sued by his “big bank” and felt deeply betrayed by years of customer loyalty built on personal relationships with the tellers. I tried to tell him not to take it personally, but his heart was broken. Here’s the run down in the background:
1. All businesses have a rule of decision making called the “business judgment rule” (BJR). The business judgment rule recognizes that there are roughly a bizzillion (legal term there) ways to run a business, and the way I may run my business is not the way you will run yours. The BJR balances the duties of the board between running a business and maximizing profits to the shareholders. It’s basically a good faith rule.
2. Bank directors make decisions such as settlement authority, whether to pursue attorneys fees in collections actions, and pass that down to the minions. The directors make these decisions based on 50 states’ worth of collection actions and the overall health of the bank subject to the BJR. There is almost never (in my experience 2 times total) any discretionary authority beyond that which was already given to the minions. Make no mistake: A collections attorney is a minion in the gears of Banks.
3. When an attorney for a debtor says “would they take what I’m offering or have my client file bankruptcy and get nothing” the Bank has already answered that question. No means no, and the floodgates of offers below authority will not open. You will have more luck trying to part the waters of the Red Sea with that argument.
4. State courts are not bankruptcy courts. As much compassion as state court judges have, their hands are tied to apply the law. However, that said, most creditor attorneys are overworked but have authority to grant a continuance, and the Banks often view Collections at Christmas as a PR problem.
5. Christmas is followed by Tax Refund Time, and settlement offers are usually very very goood during this time.
My advice? The Banks don’t want to look like Scrooge, but they are instiutionally incapable of Christmas. Bump that hearing date by mutual agreement to the New Year.
I love Dicken’s a Christmas Tale. Absolutely love it – just like I love the Nutcracker – such a strange tale that is! But Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens lived in an industrial society, long before consumer culture was born. My desire is simply to see one give of the heart this season, in time, gentleness, and homemade goodies. As the Grinch learned in Whoville:
Grinch: Pooh-pooh to the Whos!
Narrator: …he was grinchily humming.
Grinch: They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming. They’re just waking up, I know just what they’ll do. Their mouths will hang open a minute or two, Then the Whos down in Whoville will all cry, “Boo Hoo!” That’s a noise, (the Grinch said,) that I simply must hear!
Narrator: So he paused, And the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow… But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded glad![Whos singing]
Narrator: Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same! And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:
Grinch: How could it be so? It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!
Narrator: And he puzzled and puzzed, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”