Horrific Financial Advice from the New York Times

Horrific Financial Advice from the New York Times - picture of 100 dollar bills folded and standing on end

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I recently read an op-ed piece in the New York Times, and was appalled by the “financial advice” being given.  This article, called “Can’t Save?  Here’s Why,” is basically a summary of excuses that average people make when explaining why they can’t manage to save.  The author, Helaine Olen, seems intent on perpetuating the victim mentality that is sweeping our nation.  She blames Americans’ lack of savings on all sorts of things – including stagnating wages, health care expenses,  college costs, and predatory lending.

Let’s face it.  There is some truth to what she is saying here.  In many cases, wages haven’t kept up with inflation and increased living costs.  Healthcare costs have gotten completely out of control.  The cost of college is teetering on the edge of ridiculous.

It is true that our economic situation is currently far from ideal.  However, I refuse to be a victim. In reality, I think it’s time for all of us to put aside our excuses and take a closer look at the root of our problems.

Can’t Save?  Here’s Why.

You’re spending all of your extra money.  It’s funny how people in the worst financial situations are often the biggest spenders.  While I am at home making cheap meals for my family, my “spendy” friends are out to eat and getting their nails done.  While we choose not to purchase cable television in order to save money, the Joneses are paying for the premium channels…and then complaining that they are broke. Honestly, I’m tired of hearing sob stories from those who are their own worst enemies.  If you are doing things like buying a latte every day, spending hundreds of dollars on satellite television, or smoking, then you don’t really have the right to complain about your financial state.

You got a degree that you cannot afford.  This has happened to so many otherwise intelligent people.  You went to school and followed your dreams only to end up with $100,000 in student loan debt and a job that pays 30K. Bummer.  Unfortunately, the only way out of this situation is to pay off your student loans.  No amount of whining is going to change that.  It might be time to drastically cut your expenses, get a second job, or both.

You have too many bills.  If you try hard enough, there are oodles of ways to cut back on your expenses.  However, you cannot expect to make financial progress if you keep doing everything the way you have always done it.  If you are in financial distress, obviously something has to change, right?  Start by tracking your spending and taking a close look at where all of your money is going.  You might be amazed at what you find.

…And Now for Some Solid Financial Advice

Do you hate what I’m saying?  If so, you might need to hear it more than almost anyone else.  However, all is not hopeless.  We all have some control over our personal situation.  Instead of throwing in the towel as the New York Times op-ed suggests, try these steps to get your finances in order for the new year.

Cut your expenses and give yourself a big ass raise. Cutting your cable television can save as much as $80 per month.  Cook at home instead of eating out and save even more.  Quit smoking.  Quit impulse shopping.  Cancel your TV package.  Drive an older car.  Find out what the biggest drain on your budget is and stop doing it!

Take your raise and pay off your debts.  Some people suggest that you should pay off loans at higher interest rates first.  Others suggest that you pay off smaller loans first for the psychological benefit.  I don’t really think it matters.  Just pay off your debts, one at a time, in whatever order works for you.

Don’t be a victim.  Recently, it has become trendy to blame the government and the 1% for all of our problems. Sure, there is some crazy stuff going on in the world, but I refuse to adopt the victim mentality.  There is so much that is within our control.  You can try to spend less.  You can try to get a second job.  Just make sure to try When you get out there and try to make your situation better it’s amazing what can happen.

Don’t listen to negative commentary disguised as financial advice.  Despite what anyone else says, cutting small luxuries out of your budget can make a huge difference.  Anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.  There is plenty of positive and inspiring financial advice to be found on the internet and elsewhere.  Find it.

Truly, I do not understand how telling people to give up could be considered sound and responsible financial advice.  As the author states, it is certainly true that there are people who are drowning in medical bills or have some type of unemployment crisis that has left them penniless.  It’s true that wages have not risen in accordance with our monthly bills in some cases.  However, it’s also true that many people are frivolously spending the money that could be used to fund their dreams.  There is a difference.   

Here may be the most important advice of all: Don’t listen to people who say that saving is a hopeless cause.  Don’t join the growing chorus of sad victims who blame everyone and everything for their problems.  Take control of your life and learn to recognize your own shortcomings.  You might find that you are more in control than you think.

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  1. The author is promoting her own new “personal finance” book, Pound Foolish… so I would read this op ed as the advertisement that it is. She’s self promoting, and seems to have a “blame the system” mentality.

    1. I saw her book. It actually looks like a good read even though I probably wouldn’t agree with a lot of it.

  2. Wow! This is an excellent response post! Really “tough love” advice here. I also like how you recognize that yes, there are things that can make it difficult to save (wages not increasing at a fast enough pace, insane health care costs, etc.) but there ARE things that we can each do to better our financial situation.

    1. Yes, there definitely are! Whining is not one of them.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! Yes, life is harder for some people than it used to be, but that just means that we’re all going to have to get by with less, while working harder at all aspects of our lives. It’s not rocket science!

    1. Yes, exactly. Many people who are trying ARE succeeding.

  4. Great post, Holly! I get annoyed hearing excuses from people and the victim mentality that seems so popular. Everybody does have a choice…the choice to succeed or the choice to be a bum.

    1. And still we will sometimes fail, even if we do everything right. Still, in my opinion, the real failure lies in not even trying in the first place.

  5. One other reason we Americans cannot get out of debt? The amount of money that goes to taxes, especially income taxes. The cost of healthcare is going up. One segment will say the answer for that problem is for the government to give us healthcare as yet another “entitlement” for free. The problem there? There is no free healthcare. It is paid for somehow, and third party payers (government or insurance) always inflates costs over time.

    1. I am actually pro- universal healthcare. Why? Because we all pay for each other anyways. The sickest and the poorest of us will always go to the doctor when we are sick, even if they are unable to pay the bill. So…in my opinion it’s best to just include the cost of our healthcare in our taxes and cut out the 20% that healthcare companies make in profits. Is this the perfect solution? No- but I have learned a lot from my fellow bloggers from Canada. Their system is far superior to ours. It causes less stress, fewer bankrupties, and more freedom.

      1. You are right about that. I have always paid for my own healthcare, but due to a divorce and an ex-spouse who is too mentally incapacitated to pitch in, I had to put my kids on Medicaid (I get insurance through my job, but insuring my kids is almost as much as my small paycheck). I am shocked at what a bonanza Medicaid is! I also now work in a pharmacy, so I see it on that side too. I had no idea the poor get everything for almost free, we don’t even see a bill. I am happy we can get it right now, but I think poor people should have to pay something for their kids, even $20 would help people decide not to seek unnecessary healthcare.

        When I had my kids, I always wondered how poor moms could afford to have a baby in a hospital, well now I know that everything is 100% if you are pregnant, you don’t even have the $3 prescription co-pay others get. So, you are right, we might as well do universal!

        1. Exactly.

          And I get so tired of angry exclamations like “Well, I don’t want to pay for other’s healthcare!” We are anyway so suck it up. Unless we are going to start checking for an insurance card when someone gets wheeled into the emergency room, then the general public is always going to get left holding the bill. You know what I hate? The 20% markup that the insurance companies are making off of all of this….the huge pharmaceutical profits. It’s all a bunch of bullshit and I’m sick of everyone in America loving our “best system in the world.” It isn’t the best system in the world. We are the laughing stock of this planet and our healthcare situation is just one of the many reasons.

          I don’t blame you for your situation and this is exactly the kind of safety net that any civilized society should have.

          I blame the humongous industries that profit off of our disgusting “sick care” system. I blame political institutions that brainwash people into thinking that we have the best healthcare system in the world. I blame all of the “free market healthcare” people who use propaganda and scare tactics to hold the rest of us hostage.

  6. Holly, you go girl! Serious victim mentality stuff is right!

    One thing she’s right about: saving/getting out of debt isn’t realistic, not for those who choose to continue burying their heads in the sand about their money management anyway.

    For those of us who are truly facing the facts and cutting their spending, and succeeding, ROCK ON!

  7. I hear so many sob stories when I go back to France, then people say they don’t know how I live on so little money because they don’t realize all the things they have and I don’t, meaning those things don’t even add value to their lives. Trying to open their eyes is like teaching a dog how to tap dance, they’d rather play victims and complain.

    1. Yeah, you pretty much summed it up. Of course, there are some exceptions.

  8. Isn’t it wild how we always need someone to blame? When did we become a bunch of whiners?

  9. Holly,
    Wow, excellent post. I love how fired up you are. I feel the EXACT same way. We can all change out situation.

    Being accountable comes first. We need to stop blaming others for our situation and realize that we did it/are doing it to ourselves in many cases (I know that sometimes it just happens to us). But in all cases, we have the power to kick butt and fix it.

    I did this is my life. I took charge and cut big. I now live on just half of my income. So when I hear things like, “Young people just can’t make it these days”, I laugh. Yeah right. Stop complaining and cut your over inflated lifestyle and you’ll be fine.

    Again, great post. I’m your newest subscriber. Have a great day.

  10. Have you read Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold On To Their Money? He goes over the factors that make it easier for us to part with our money, and at the end of the book, gives some advice and strategies for thwarting those things.

    That’s what I find useful–knowing what those factors are, and developing ways to counter them (and sometimes using turning them against themselves. I’m lazy, I did not get cable when I moved, and now I am too lazy to bother. Laziness has saved me a lot of money in that sense).

    But I am very upfront that I have terrible discipline and that I have to keep myself from temptation. 😉

    1. No, I haven’t read that but it sounds good!

      Lol, laziness does save money sometimes, doesn’t it? Sometimes I could stop at the grocery to get some food but am too lazy…so we end up eating leftovers!

  11. Great post. I really like the advice you give about learning your own shortcomings. This is so true, even about other aspects of life that are not financial.

  12. Of course, it could never have anything to do with spending more than you make! *sigh*
    Excellent “rebuttal” of sorts.

  13. Great post (yours, not hers)! People need to stop blaming everything on everyone else.

  14. I get tired of the lack of accountability shown in today’s world. I recently watched a movie where the family was struggling financially and were talking about selling their big house, but they never mentioned selling the two expensive imported cars.

    1. Yeah, that would be a good start! If you really want to save money and get ahead then anything should be on the table- cars, cable, lattes, date nights, whatever.

  15. Wow, so refreshing to hear someone speak truth, even when its required.
    I have seen many who whine about being in debt or unable to pay their bills, but then post on their FB page their never ending trips out to the coffee shops and fast food joints.
    I have been more than frustrated, because when we started out, we lived on $16,000/year with loan payments and rent, and I learned to be very creative with a pack of Top Ramen.
    I never complained that I was poor and couldnt eat at Red Lobster, we just sucked it up and worked harder.
    I think a little bit more shame needs to make a comeback, as shame can modify behavior. Then personal responsibility can take hold.
    Excellent and well put. I will be following your blog!

    1. YES! Or they update their facebook status about how they are broke from their iphone…. That might be my biggest pet peave of the universe! There is nothing wrong with having an iphone per se, if you can afford it!

  16. Holly, this is why I love coming to Club Thrifty. You offer no hold-barred advice that people can either listen to or be pissed at. I think it is ridiculous to let people think they are the victim. As I wrote last week, no matter what happens in life, we still need to be responsible for our finances. I can blame many things on why money is getting tighter, but it doesn’t fix the problem. Quit complaining and start doing!

    1. There is some blame to be made as well….but in the meantime it’s certainly prudent for everyone to get their finances in order. Doing nothing except “joining a cause” whatever that means will leave you in a world of hurt!

  17. I can see where they are going with it, because costs are definitely increasing faster than wages in a lot of ways. However, as you pointed out, they don’t really go into talking about the stuff you can control and how you can ‘fight’ the increases with budgeting and expense cutting.

  18. You’d be surprised what passes for “great” financial advice nowadays. On the Today Show recently, to make more money the expert said to “cash in gift cards” , get a part time job paying minimum wage, and join focus groups.


  19. I love this response! It’s harsh and to the point, but sometimes the truth hurts.

    I was fortunate and graduated college with minimal debt, but I knew going into grad school that I would be responsible for paying every last dime. So what did I do? Well, complaining doesn’t solve anything, so I sucked it up and started living way below my means.

    I still do so today, regardless of how much more I’m making. And it really makes all the difference in the world. It’s hard to build wealth when you have to dig yourself out of a massive hole.

    Lastly, building wealth is seriously addicting and way more satisfying than cable tv, or a fancy new luxury sedan. Small sacrifices now make for a much better future later!

  20. LeRainDrop says:

    Tell it like it is, Holly! I loved this transition point in your article — “Can’t Save? Here’s Why. You’re spending all of your extra money.” I’m going bananas now with certain relatives asking for financial help and then refusing to listen to the realities that you explain so nicely in this piece. When I say things like “you need to spend less than you earn,” they react like that’s totally crazy — it’s as if their current expenses are a given, and if their income doesn’t cover it, someone else should. Blarg!!!

    1. Totally agree!

      I don’t understand asking other people to subsidize your choices. The vast majority of monthly bills are optional if you are creative enough. What do we really need?- Food, shelter, clothing….

  21. I can totally attest to this. When I was working in financial services I came across a lot of people who wanted to start saving for their retirement or buy a life insurance policy but claimed they could afford it. However at the same time they could afford that new smart phone, new video game system, and that 60″ flat screen TV. I believe some people just make to many excuses and can’t manage their money. Just my thoughts.

    1. Yeah, pretty much. And there’s nothing wrong with buying a new video game system or a 60 inch tv. I even have a flat screen tv BUT I can afford it and I never whine and complain that anyone should be subsidizing my lifestyle. I pay in full for all of my choices. It’s very freeing actually.

    1. Oh…..THAT. Unfortunately, my kids are very whiny but they are only 3 and 1! Hopefully they will grow out of it! I love them anyway =)

  22. “Don’t listen to people who say that saving is a hopeless cause.” Preach it Holly! I love a good rant! 🙂 And you are absolutely right on this post: the “victim mentality” will not help one’s finances.

    1. True.

      I don’t really see a problem with fighting for a cause. Our healthcare system is a mess, for instance. I can certainly spend my time trying to change policies that I find unjust…but in the meantime it would be best to work on my own financial situation as well, right?

  23. I agree with you! If saving is a priority, it really doesn’t matter how much you earn. You may not save that much, but you can save. It is just a matter of choices.

    1. Totally agree! Some choices are just too painful for people to make.

  24. Fantastic post! I agree whole-heartedly…I cringe when things like that article come out. If people are always looking for a scapegoat, they’ll always be drowning in their financial mess!

  25. May I just add to cut “credit card” use (Dave Ramsey style). When you use your credit card you don’t see how much you’re spending.

  26. I despise it when people go to the effort of writing articles and coming up with excuses about why people CAN’T save….. channel that energy and time into making the changes that you mentioned and we have all changed! Self-Promoting that book is a dirty tactic!

    1. I think that book sounds interesting. I read a lot of reviews on it on Amazon.com and it actually sounds like there is some good background on the personal finance indstry in general. I wouldn’t mind reading it. Maybe I will just skip over all the whining parts. WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

  27. Love this post! That advice from the NYT is amazing and really is an indicator of where we are as a country. It’s basically saying the odds are stacked against you so why even try. It is almost socialist propaganda.

    Way to find it and point it out as total garbage!

    1. “almost” socialist propoganda? it is totally socialist propaganda which the nyt has been for decades

  28. Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    I know exactly what you mean. I’ve got a co-worker who complains that she can’t get by. However, she and her husband smoke a pack a day EACH! and they drink like sailors. If they smoked and drank just half as much as they do they could save a few hundred bucks each month. But she tries to play victim all of the time.

    1. A pack a day EACH? Aren’t they like $5 a pack now? $10 a day is a huge amount of money to almost anyone. Imagine if they saved that money!

  29. Great post, I totally agree with you. People are so good at making excuses the world is near ”pathological excuse making epidemic”. My sister has no money to pay off her credit card yet….she has a new purse and $6.00/bag organic salad kits…

    1. $6 organic salad kits? Holy crap.

      I do admit that I spend more for organic fruit and vegetables sometimes but I can afford it, damnit!

  30. Olen’s advice makes me cringe. There are people out there who legitimately can’t save because they’re spending all of their money on things like food and health care. But the average middle class individual can and should be saving more.

    I don’t disagree with the evidence presented by Olen, but I do disagree with her conclusions. There’s a lot of room in the average family’s budget to save money and see essentially zero change in standard of living. All it takes is focusing on what’s actually important to you and not thinking that you have a moral imperative to buy everything that you want, as soon as you want it, simply because, you know, you want it.

    1. I love this comment. So true. From my own experience, most people waste a lot of their money. If you can afford to waste a lot, then it’s fine….but if you’re struggling financially then you need to cut back. Those are the facts.

  31. Get rid of my premium cable package, drive an economy car and stop buying things I can’t afford? What! Nah it’s easier to blame other people for my financial situation. Poor form NYT and well said Holly.

  32. I can’t really add much that hasn’t been said above, but we certainly choose what we can afford in most cases. I see people all the time who “can’t afford” to buy new contacts so they get an ulcer from overwear, but they have a season ski pass and new North Face Jacket.

  33. Jason Clayton | frugalhabits says:

    I agree that trying to change your situation is key. Too often we blam other situations for our hardship when what,s really needed is a change in our own life. How many of us would increase our income if we just tried? We think and complain about it, but don’t take action!

  34. Well said! The victim mentality that seems to have infected the entire US is one of my biggest pet peeves!!! There are very few situations that you truly cannot get yourself out of (especially financially) and so many people are just not willing to do the work or make the sacrifices!

    1. Yeah I agree. I do feel for people who have an extreme amount of medical debt. Despite what anyone says, our healthcare system sucks. It’s too expensive and it ruins people financially all the time.

  35. It’s sad that we have a “debt” mentality in this country – just look at our government – the greatest country in the world is about to hit the debt ceiling. Unfortunately this is part of our culture, but agree with you that taking the victim approach is not the solution.

    1. Yep! I try not to even think about the national debt. It feels so incredibly out of my control so I just try to focus on my personal situation.

      1. Agreed – we are each our own “economy” so to speak – we just have to do a better job than congress does 🙂

        1. Well, geez. It would be hard NOT to do a better job than Congress does =)

          1. Seriously! If congress was a consumer, they would be out on the street and homeless! Maybe a good idea for washington!

  36. I like that tip about cutting back on expenses and giving yourself a raise. 🙂 Saving money feels great. I hope more and people get addicted to personal finance.

  37. Good points. I get tired of hearing whining about why people can’t save. Any time, any place – someone is getting rich. May as well be me!

    PS – The last time I wrote an opinion about an article, the author contacted me and was not happy about the way I portrayed her piece! Good luck!

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