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Who’s Responsible?

Richard Quinn

CAN WE REALLY EXPECT Americans to be financially literate and act prudently with their money—when they can’t even return a shopping cart to where it belongs, or stop dropping litter wherever they stand?

I was in the grocery store recently and came out to find a shopping cart pushed into the side of my car. I was parked eight feet from the cart corral. Meanwhile, on my last trip to an ATM, the ground was littered with receipts. It looked like a blizzard, which isn’t what you expect in Florida. I couldn’t resist picking them up and looking at them. “Transaction denied” and “insufficient funds,” they read. I guess folks were annoyed at those messages and unaware they had no money in the bank. Surprise?

Then there’s the pseudo-planner. Think of the driver who, upon seeing the sign saying “left lane closed ahead merge right,” waits until the last possible point, thereby causing an even greater traffic jam. Folks show the same skill at anticipating their financial needs. “I’m 59 and I’ve saved $100,000. Can I retire at 60?”

Speaking of drivers, think about the guy who cuts you off while passing on the right. Do you think he plans ahead for retirement and other expenses? How about the drivers who switch from lane to lane in traffic? Do they do the same with their investments?

The fashion aisle at a pet supermarket in Deerfield, Florida

We need to take a holistic approach to our finances, viewing the various parts as interconnected. For instance, if a family lives paycheck to paycheck, should they be shopping in the fashion aisle of the pet store? Or, for that matter, acquiring a new pet, no matter how cute?

Are irresponsible actions at the grocery store or on the road indicative of poor financial decisions? Can folks be fully responsible in one area of their life, but not others? It seems not. An irresponsible person is generally always irresponsible, including when it comes to money.

I read a blog about a couple in their 30s who were spending thousand of dollars more each year than their $40,000 income. But at the same time, they were contributing $300 a month to their church. Generous perhaps, but are they acting responsibly? I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but I vote “no.” We all have a financial starting point and an end point spanning 80 years or so. A holistic approach to financial decision-making considers all those years, all the time.

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