Viewing in my household breaks down into four categories: sports, entertainment, news and guilty pleasures. The entertainment category is the thinnest. We watch TV series and movies on DVD or streaming. The hours spent watching sports can be light or heavy depending on the year and the time of the year. News can expand to fill hours of time if there is a major event or ongoing crisis.
And then there are the guilty pleasures. The shows that rivet my attention for reasons I don\’t always wish to explore. The shows that make me feel good about my life by showing me the way other people live. I always feel vaguely uncomfortable as I watch (I am, after all using these people instrumentally) and yet I find myself continuing to do so.
One of those shows has very much been on my mind in recent days is Til Debt Do Us Part a Canadian show which features Gail Vaz-Oxlade, a financial planner, who responds to the pleas of couples who are drowning in debt by putting them on a strict budget and subjecting them through a series of challenges that are designed to help them to understand better how they got so badly in debt, how to get out of debt and how to stay out of debt. The (usually) couples can earn up to five thousand dollars in cash from Gail if over a four week period they stay on the budget she gives them and successfully complete the challenges while having what Gail refers to as \”the right attitude.\” Over the many years of the show I have seen participants receive as little as a thousand dollars for their efforts.
I was thinking a lot of Gail as I watched American political figures argue about how to deal with the debt. What, I wondered, would she say to them if they were on her show.
First, she would tell them to stop with the attitude and quit making excuses. It may be emotionally enjoyable to assign blame but placing blame doesn\’t help to solve the problem.
Second, she would tell them to stop playing games and start communicating honestly.
Third, and most important, she would assign them one of her \”budget booster\” challenges. In many an episode she sits down and tells the people who are in debt that she simply cannot make their budget balance. Their challenge will be figuring out how to bring in more money on a sustainable basis. The people to whom she directs this challenge often protest that it is impossible. A surprisingly large percentage of them do find a way to increase their income. She will not let people use funds that should be set aside for long-term savings and ongoing maintenance to pay for current expenses.
I find this relevant right now because of the continued reiteration in Washington of statements to the effect \”the national budget should be run the way the household budget is run.\” At least one household budget specialist would, if looking at the national budget/debt demand that the adults in the household get off their duffs and bring in more money.
If they want to have an argument down the line about whether the fixed costs could be lowered by selling the house and downsizing they are welcome to do so–but only after raising enough money to pay the debts they currently owe without taking any funds out of the children\’s milk money.
For some of the couples Gail counsels making more money means working a second job, working overtime or even delivering papers. The politicians in Washington have it much easier since they don\’t have to go out and pound the pavement to chase down possible jobs.
They just have to raise taxes.