You: why is my balance so low
Bank account: make coffee at home
Bank account: eat the food that’s already in the fridge
Bank account: you don’t need a cab, it’s only three blocks
You: I guess we’ll never know
Bank account: seriously?
The backlash was swift, especially from politicians.
Me: Why is my balance so low?— Michael T. Coe (@michael9000) April 29, 2019
Bank: Here’s another $12 monthly fee because you don’t have direct deposit
Me: My job doesn’t offer direct deposit
Bank: Oh well, now here’s a snarky tweet to help you save money...
Me: Time to close my Chase bank account#MondayMotivation pic.twitter.com/RQCbuKXRud
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) followed up with a mocking tweet pointing out that the bank itself had needed a federal bailout.
.@Chase: why aren’t customers saving money?— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) April 29, 2019
Taxpayers: we lost our jobs/homes/savings but gave you a $25b bailout
Workers: employers don’t pay living wages
Economists: rising costs + stagnant wages = 0 savings
Chase: guess we’ll never know
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) was equally sarcastic about JPMorgan Chase’s attempt to encourage frugality. Porter suggested the financial institution increase wages for its workers rather than chastise them.
“Families aren’t spending frivolously; they’re trying to pay rent.” Porter tweeted.
Here’s where the Pauli exclusion principle doesn’t apply to personal finance because two money matters can occupy the same state.
Warren and Porter are right. Life in America is not fair. Chief executives can earn obscene amounts of money while many of their workers barely earn a living wage.
Yet it’s also true that there are families spending frivolously while also being crushed by the high cost of housing.
Many people could afford to save more to help pay for their children to attend college, or at least to minimize the number of student loans they take out. At the same time, the price of a college education is too high for many families. The irony, of course, is that an undergraduate degree is often the gateway to better-paying jobs.
Workers aren’t saving enough for retirement. And the increasing cost of health care can erase a lot of what people have saved for retirement.
Economic inequity is a troubling trend, with the top 1 percent of earners getting richer while middle- and lower-income families are falling further behind. Still there are some financial decisions that lower-earning households can make to better manage their money.
JPMorgan Chase was not wrong to encourage less frivolous spending and more saving. If there’s food at home, why are you eating out so much? This isn’t a criticism of people struggling to put food on the table. It’s advice directed to people who have more than enough and should have an emergency fund but don’t.
But it’s hard to dispense financial advice that doesn’t sound condescending when you’re a big financial institution that makes a great deal of money from overdraft fees, which are paid most by people in financial distress.
In various consumer campaigns, financial institutions will urge their customers to use credit wisely. But paying with plastic makes it easy for people to overspend. And the interest rates can be staggering.
JPMorgan Chase was chastened and rightfully so.
“Our #MondayMotivation is to get better at #MondayMotivation tweets. Thanks for the feedback Twitter world,” the bank tweeted in response to the criticism.
We shouldn’t dismiss the truth in what the bank said. The advice wasn’t worthless. Sound financial principles of living within your means have helped many low- and middle-income families survive and thrive.
I’ve been where JPMorgan Chase was this week. I was criticized for advising people they need to stop telling themselves they “deserve” a vacation away from home when they are deep in credit-card debt or haven’t saved anything for retirement when they have the resources to do so.
My advice was slammed for being judgmental, too. Except, I said what I said because on a regular basis I’m a witness to frivolous spending by people who are struggling as a result of bad financial decisions they’ve made. They went on an expensive vacation to a Caribbean island while carrying credit-card debt for stuff they can’t even remember purchasing. Or they’re driving luxury vehicles when a lower-priced car would have sufficed. But if a $400 emergency came up, they’d have to borrow the money from a family member or from their retirement plan, if they have one. My message was for them because sometimes you have to come hard at hardheaded people.
So, these two things can exist at the same time: The income disparity in America is real and troubling. And many families could still do a better job of managing their finances.
Color of Money Question of the Week
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Last week I asked: Tell me about your best staycation.
Richard Petersen of Santa Clara, Calif., wrote, “One word: Camping. As I was growing up, my family never had much money. But with four boys, a staycation would have been a living hell for our parents. So we went camping. We knew other families with kids our age, so we frequently went together. For us kids, it didn’t have to be Yellowstone or Yosemite. Brown County, Indiana, was just as good for us. Even when money is not a concern, camping is a vacation that gives you the luxury of time together, without TV, video games and cellphones. So yes, skip the expensive Disney routine. Head for the woods.”
Linda Marler of Colfax, Wash., wrote, “We were a young couple with a young business and an 8-year-old. My husband was recovering from back surgery, requiring extra hired help at the business, and could only travel an hour by car, doctor’s orders. We went to our nearest mid-size city, visited parks, rode the locally famous carousel, stayed overnight in a hotel with a pool, and just relaxed. It was wonderful, and cost very little.”
Charlotte Dinwiddie of New York wrote, “My husband was retired and I was still working (although I can control my days and hours of work). After doing some research I declared to my skeptical husband that we were having a staycation that summer. I had discovered that we could purchase a Senior Citizens Art Pass for museums in Connecticut. We spent $50 each for a one-year pass, and every week we’d pick another museum to visit. In addition to visiting a museum we always had a lovely lunch out. In spite of the fact that we’ve both lived in Connecticut, there were many museums we’d never seen or even heard of. It was one of our most memorable vacations.”
“My favorite staycations are over the summer,” wrote Nicole of Mokena, Ill. “There are so many free or low-cost family-friendly activities to do! I keep on top of my local park district, library, and community center’s events and fill our time with that. In one staycation week, we went camping at a nearby forest preserve (we also went hiking, canoeing, and made campfire food). We then spend the rest of the week going to movies in the park and local park districts and free events at a few local libraries.”
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