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Posted at 08:54 AM ET, 03/09/2011

The pigeon at the table (cont.)

This is the Financial Season (Mud Season, climatologically), and so I'm buried in forms and documents and bank statements and receipts and trying to figure out how I can persuade college financial aid officers that I cannot actually afford the insane tuition of their esteemed institutions. My fundamental financial problem is that I have too much money. I know this complaint is not likely to generate any sympathy -- except among those who are in exactly my predicament. They know the feeling. They understand. They have shared this pain.

Somewhere along the line we (in this category of the Affluent Poor) made the mistake of working hard for 30 years and making sensible financial decisions, and now we have enough money that the colleges will look over our balance sheets and say, "Yeah, we'll take that."

It's a kind of shadow tax. The rack rate at a college is so high, no one can pay it -- except for the schmucks who stupidly saved money for just this purpose.

Other people have ways of hiding or obscuring their situation. Those of us with no actual interest in money -- who find the subject extremely boring, fundamentally -- are thus implicitly taxed further, our payments ratcheted up as a consequence of our inability or refusal to game the system.

Remember rule one in life: If you don't know who the pigeon is at the table, it's you.

Shoulda done more than the new kitchen -- shoulda blown it all the way out the back, into the yard, with a swimming pool, hot tub, stone fountains, gazebo. You can move the money into categories the colleges can't get access to. Rule two: Never save.

My next strategy: Stop working entirely. Quit job. Because of the implicit loss of financial aid due to high income the marginal tax rate on those of us in the Schmuck Stratum is surely well over 50 percent. What we need is some strategic impoverishment.

Think about it: You chuck it all, buy a used VW bus, paint some Day-Glo flowers on it and hit the road, permanently. Just let it all go. Head straight to Humbolt County, go DEEP in the woods.

Except there are those gas prices. Dang!! Never mind.

Here's a more basic problem for everyone: None of us is as well off as we suppose. Read this piece by Tyler Cowen on the "Fiscal Illusion." There's basically no getting around it: The value of what we have socked away is lower than we think because at some point we have to made good on the debts owed. No magic wand will make the problem go away.

I'm sending that piece to the colleges.

By  |  08:54 AM ET, 03/09/2011

 
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