Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

The Psychology of Money

I recently attended a workshop on personal finance facilitated by a man who had transitioned into the profession of Personal Finance Coach from being a psychologist. He feels that one of the reasons that he can help his clients is that he understands the psychology of money.

However, he warned, there are those who understand this field far better than the personal finance coach. Top of their field are the credit card companies, followed by the retail industry. They are the experts at persuading you that you have the desire and the ability to purchase something. You need it and you can afford it.


When my parents visited last year from the olde countrye, I gave them our ‘spare’ cell phone. “Why do we need this?” they asked. I suggested that they could call me whenever they had a question. “But we see you every evening after you finish work.” True. But they wouldn’t have to wait for me in the hotel lobby, not sure how long it would take me to negotiate the commute from San Francisco to the East Bay. I could call them when I was near. “We can wait in the lobby. It’s comfortable. We paid to use it.”

Hard to beat the logic. And yet we have decided that cell phones are a necessity. We need to be able to be contacted 24/7 except when we turn it off. But then who does that? Not only this, but we seem to need an awful lot of things that come with the cell phone – internet, email, e-reader, navigator, music, camera, espresso machine. Spoiler! That comes with the iPhone 8, which incidentally will be so fast that you can talk to someone by just thinking of them.

So now we are not just paying $10-$20 for a carry-around phone. We are paying $60-$70 per phone as a national average. Families are easily paying $200. When did we decide that we had to have all this? When did it become a necessity?

What would you think of someone who interviewed for a job in your company and when you said you would call their cell, they told you they didn’t have one? Maybe they tell you that they don’t see the need. I bet you would think twice about hiring them.

Now I am not against cell phones. If my better half is stuck in traffic or delayed for whatever reason, I worry and call her cell. I probably would talk more to my parents if they lived in the US because of my cell phone (regardless of whether they had one too).

Back to the credit card companies: how are they able to persuade us to rack up debt so easily? Sure you don’t feel the pain when sliding that plastic like handing over bank notes. There is a connection between credit card companies and retail. One thrives on the slickness of the other.

The only ones who suffer are the consumers. By the way; the average credit card debt per family is in the region of $15,000. With the absurd rates of interest, it is a hole that is so difficult to climb out of, never mind building  nest egg for the future.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

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