Act 350

Poverty does not equal stupidity

Many things have shocked and surprised me this year. Just 15 days away from a year of debt defying acts, I am resolute in my conviction that money is not fair, nor it is always very smart. Look around, it’s not a meritocracy, it’s a gong show.

We’ve never had more wealth yet  personal debt is higher than ever.

Despite years of perfecting the so called just in time inventory model that sees kiwis from New Zealand, and grapes from Chile available year round at our local grocery stores, we still manage to send kids to school hungry.

Despite rock bottom interest rates (which the banks loath), we still see record bank profits (and I do mean record). The Royal Bank recent quarterly earning would have paid for all the damage done in the Alberta flood almost twice over.

Income inequality is getting worse. Why? Because the scales have tipped so far in favour of the rich, those of us who aren’t rich are, well, poor. There isn’t much middle ground left.

Consider this, every time you use your bargain basement credit card, you contribute to a system that sees premium credit card holders benefit from privileges you could only dream off; valet parking, room  upgrades, first class seats. You pay for that.

Consider this, every time you pay your medical service premiums in BC (the only province to still have such a system), you help bankroll one of the largest companies in the US (Hewlett Packard) whose Canadian subsidiary collects under the guise of BC Revenue Services.

Consider this, every time you shop at Walmart, you  support the largest private employer and one of the most profitable companies in the world. Yet most of their US employees live below the poverty line and are subsidized by State welfare systems. You help make that happen.

I bet you didn’t even know that. How could you? It’s so far buried in free market, invisible hand capitalist propaganda, you’d need a team of lawyers and accountants to really know which way is up. The only reason I know this is because I’ve spent way too much time staying up past my bed time writing about debt. But I did learn a thing or two along the way.

But my overriding sentiment this pre-Christmas week is that people treat you differently when you don’t have money. Like you’re stupid and you don’t know better. Poverty is a circumstance, not a state of mind. Big difference.

When I couldn’t afford a dental procedure, I was referred to a low income option. I don’t need special treatment. Dentist need to offer affordable care. Like saying I can’t afford a diamond so the government sets up a low income diamond purchasing program to protect the diamond merchants profit margins. Total BS.

When I found a mistake on my credit report, I was told that it my responsibility to have it fixed. Wrong. Not my mistake. Not my responsibility. But my loss of a stellar credit rating.

When I was charged mortgage insurance on a mortgage that no longer existed, I was told the staff was misinformed. Again, not my mistake. Not my responsibility. But my expense.

I might be poor but I’m not  stupid. And neither are you. If you have been treated unfairly, disrespected, dismissed or ignored, please stand up. Make a call, send an e-mail, write a letter, tweet, facebook. Demand that your concerns be addressed. Because when you do, you stand up for the rest of us. And there is safety in numbers. There are more of us than there are of them. And only the really stupid among us would ignore this.

There are some very wealthy people who are smart (and kind) enough to know this. And I bet it keeps them up at night. It’s a travesty. It’s our depression, our stagflation, our OPEC crisis, all rolled into one giant gong show. And we must find our way past it the smartest way we know how.


Act 346

Give food.

Tonight the CP Holiday Train pulled into town to help raise funds for the local food bank. It’s always a big draw. We do love trains. Especially the shiny, brightly lit ones with Santa on board.

I’ll try and leave my corporate cynicism at the door as to the reason CP goes to this expense. On some level, CP must understand that people enjoy exchanging something ordinary (food and money) for something extraordinary (Santa on a train with a band and lights that can be seen from outer space). So on that front, it’s successful.

The real message is about giving. And we probably don’t need such an extravagant display to give. But judging by the crowd, it certainly helps.

I’ll try and set aside my concern that food banks are a very serious symptom of what’s wrong with our society and our economy, but I’ll set that aside too.

Bottom line, there are people who need food who haven’t enough. There are people who know this and volunteer to fill that need. So give what you can.

Ironically, debt is a product of wealth. If I have debt it’s because I have wealth. If I lived in poverty, I wouldn’t have debt. I also wouldn’t have what I needed to feed my family. All things considered, I’m lucky. So if I can give a few dollars or some pasta and beans, I will. We all should.

And maybe, just maybe, Santa will give us the wherewithal to understand and address the root causes of income inequality and poverty so that one day soon, we no longer have a need for food banks at all.


Act 57

Make sure the eggs in your basket come from different chicken farmers

Defying my debt is about admitting to mistakes. And I’ve made my fair share.

One of which, I think, was the supposed convenience of keeping most of my financial “stuff” at a single institution. I do most of my banking at a credit union. It’s convenient. I like the idea of being a member owner.

I have my mortgage, my personal accounts, my business accounts, my old (sniff) RRSPs, my life insurance, my mortgage insurance and even my car insurance in the same place. I could be wrong, but I think that cost me.

What I should have done was get a mortgage broker and an insurance broker. I should have placed my teenie tiny “wealth” portfolio somewhere else too.

It’s more complicated and it takes more time but I think I would have been better served by seeking out specialists in each area rather than relying on the admittedly kind and helpful generalists at the credit union. I know, for example, that my life insurance meeting led to a discussion about my home’s value and the “opportunity” to refinance to buy some RRSPs. I also know that my request for a line of credit led to a conversation about cashing in those RRSPs to “simplify” things. Had I been dealing with specialists, I think I would have got well, I won’t say better, that might be rude, but more specialized advice.

And money is a very specialized business. My specialty it would appear, is spending it. I admit that too. But things are changing one day at a time. Saturday I will meet with the credit union again to see about options available to me. And I’ll have my LVC (Lifetime Value as a Customer) tucked firmly in my wallet (see Act 47).