As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics -personal finance, of course! – with some of my fellow readers when I was in Ohio a few weeks ago. All of the readers are college instructors/professors or high school AP teachers. Since, in general, AP teachers tend to be the more intellectual in the teaching profession, and college instructors/professors are obviously highly intelligent, I was expecting a lot of great conversation. And I got it…for the most part. When it came to talking geography (the subject I was reading for) or school policy issues, I was totally blown out of the water by the discourse. But when it came to talking personal finance, the company I was keeping left a little to be desired.
Something that I’ve found is that among teachers, the topic of money comes up frequently. Usually, we’re talking about ways to supplement our income, which is exactly how money kept coming up in conversations with the small circle of friends that I made at the reading. One such friend stands out because he mentioned right up front that he was attending the reading because he’s broke and the stipend was the major draw for him. And he’s the topic of today’s post. To protect his identity, I’ll refer to him here as Robert.
Robert is a married PhD candidate at a mid-sized, state university in Ohio. I’m not exactly sure how old he is, but I’d guess around 30. Robert was one of the readers at my table, and really hit it off with another friend of mine, so I spent quite a bit of time with Robert while I was at the reading. When it comes to his knowledge of geography, I was really impressed. When it comes to his knowledge of personal finance, I was dumbfounded by his lack of even basic knowledge, especially given how bright he is otherwise.
Over the course of the week, Robert mentioned several times that he’s really struggling to find a permanent job as a professor in this economy, which is not helped by the current hiring trends for professors in the social sciences, which is totally understandable. He also mentioned that he and his wife can’t afford health insurance, which is also understandable given that they both have pre-existing conditions and low incomes – but, he mentioned, their incomes aren’t low enough to qualify for Medicaid. So he does have certain factors working against him. However my sympathy for him began to wane over the course of the week when he mentioned that:
1. He has nothing in savings from any of the adjunct classes he’s been teaching for the past four years. Nothing? Nothing at all?
2. He has no idea what a retirement account is, and even if he did, he can’t spare a dime to save.
3. He and his wife run a dog rescue. Noble, certainly, but dog rescues aren’t cheap, and if you can’t possibly save, should you be devoting your extra resources to the dog rescue right now?
4. For emergencies, he has a credit card. Only right now, it’s completely maxed out. (Inwardly, I cringed at the hit his credit score is taking as a result of this.)
5. Here’s the real kicker: neither he nor his wife cook, and neither are willing to learn. So they eat out. Every meal. Every day. Seriously?
I was especially floored by #5 – come on, you insist that you have no money to save, but can somehow afford to eat out at every meal? It’s just common sense that eating out is costly and that having something in savings is critical. Especially at the age of 30. Especially when you’re smart enough to be defending your dissertation in a month.
So I guess that’s the ultimate question: why are some smart people so willfully ignorant about money? I sort of wanted to jump into public service mode and help him write a budget, research affordable health insurance, and figure out a way to get him to set up a savings and retirement account. But Robert is essentially a stranger to me, and I didn’t want to be invasive or make it appear that I was judging him – although I guess, intentionally or not, I sort of was. I just nodded my head politely as he was speaking and silently said a prayer that someday he would run across an episode of Suze Orman and get inspired to turn his financial life around.
What do you think? Why are so many otherwise intelligent people so stupid about money? Do you know any Roberts in your own life? How do you deal with their dumb money comments?