3 ways we mask financial problems

Want to hear a story about me going to the dermatologist? I didn’t think so. But too bad. I’ll keep the medical part simple, I promise. So after I exercise, I get hives. It’s weird. They are crazy annoying for like 5 minutes, but then go away if I don’t scratch at them. Well, they were annoying enough to go to a dermatologist. This is kinda of a big deal for me. I’m not really a doctor sorta guy.

Scene: The examination room

Actors: Pete the Planner, as himself

Woman that looked remotely like Janet Reno mixed with Bea Arthur, as the dermatologist.

Doc: How can I help you today?
Me: I’ve been getting really annoying hives after I exercise. They itch very badly, and it happens every time that my body elevates in temperature via working out.
Doc: I see. Well, do you have them now?
Me: No. I’m not exercising.
Doc: Okay. (Reaches into drawer, pulls out prescription pad, and starts writing). Here. This is a scrip for an antihistamine. Take this orally every day, and you probably won’t get the hives.
Me: What’s causing the hives?
Doc: It could be a number of things, but this will make them go away.
Me: The solution is to disregard the cause of the histamine issue, and mask it with medicine?
Doc: Well (defensiveness setting in)…we could do a series of blood tests. (Trying to scare me).
Me: Would that actually diagnose the problem?
Doc: It could.
Me: Then let’s do that.
Doc: Okay, make an appointment with the receptionist on your way out.

This infuriated me. The doctor was suggesting that I mask a symptom that could be a sign of something much more serious. Why would I completely ignore my body just to make itchies go away? As mad as I was (and still am), I quickly realized that people try to mask their financial symptoms all the time…and the financial industry caters to this.

Here are some of the primary ways that we treat financial symptoms and not financial causes.

  • Overdraft protection- We stop ourselves from spending more money than we have by getting charged a fee or borrowing money at a high interest rate? Yeah, that makes sense. The problem is a lack of awareness, not a lack of money. Get aware, don’t get access to more money that isn’t yours.
  • Debt consolidation/settlement/bankruptcy- So you’re in debt, what is the problem? The debt? No, the problem is the behavior or lack of preparedness that got you into debt. This is exactly why I hate seeing people pay off a huge amount of debt with an inheritance, bonus check, or some other form of “found money”. The behavior may not have changed if it’s too easy to pay off the debt. That’s why I’m not a fan of methods like debt consolidation, debt settlement, or bankruptcy. The struggle of paying off debt that you have accumulated, happens to come with a beautiful lesson. You learn that you never want to return to debt-land. If it’s too easy to pay off debt, then there is no deterrent.
  • Affording the payment and not the item- You can afford anything…if you spread the payments out far enough. Want a new Lexus for $39/month? Cool, that’s just an 83 car loan. Don’t find success in being able to “handle” the monthly payment of something you want. Celebrate the fact that you can afford the item itself, if you can afford the item itself. I’ve seen countless people with multiple payment plans who are headed for disaster and they didn’t even know it.

6 thoughts on “3 ways we mask financial problems

  1. I guess this wasn’t the point of your post, but did you find out what was causing the rash? My wife gets those and was basically told the same thing.

  2. “It could be a number of things” usually means “science doesn’t have an answer, and I can almost guarantee you that no test will change that”. Just because your doctor can’t give you a satisfying diagnosis doesn’t make her a bad doctor.

    I assume you have posts on here somewhere discussing the alternatives to bankruptcy? Specific details about “the struggle of paying off debt”?

  3. So…again…not the point to your post (I do get what you are saying, I promise), but are you looking into this further? I have the same issue and was told it was an allergic reaction to the impact from exercising. I feel you pain…it is ANNOYING!

  4. Point taken. But I went to the doctor seeking the answer to “why is this happening?”, not “can you make it go away?”

  5. It’s true. Treat the cause, not just the symptoms. As a financial guy, I’m sure you’re aware that over 60% of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to medical bills. We pay $600/month to insure our family of three, max out our retirement contribs, keep a huge emergency fund, and other than a small mortgage, live debt free. But a serious illness like cancer would wipe us out, financially.

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