The Difference Between Budget Problems for the Rich Man vs. the Poor Man

First off, yes, the title could refer to rich person vs. poor person when talking about budget problems. That would, in our hypersensitive, easily offended society of today be more politically correct.

But then, I’ve never been politically correct. Clear back in fourth grade–and believe me, that’s a ways back–I failed the political correctness test, big time. As I’ve written before, a presidential election was coming up and our teacher decided we should all have a political discussion. Each student, in turn, expressed his or her preference for a candidate. When my turn came, I simply shrugged and said, “Truman’s good enough for me.”

A sizeable percentage of the other kids’ heads exploded. Harry Truman was a Democrat who dropped atomic bombs on people and had apparently been in office long enough to tick off a few folks. I thought I was going to be lynched. In present day terms, it was like I’d stood up in a liberal arts university classroom and said, “Trump is good enough for me.”

Oops. Bit of a sidetrack there. We were talking about budget problems, right?

Over the years, I’d become aware of a couple of interesting facts.

1. A whole lot of people (yours truly sometimes included, early on) hold the bedrock belief that anyone who enjoys a higher income than they do is, to sum it up in a word, “rich.”

2. And yet, every individual I ever met had money problems, regardless of income size. (Admittedly, I’ve never met a billionaire…but I have known people who at times banked a million dollars in a single year.)

Eventually, I began to wonder what the difference was between the “rich” man and the “poor” man, budget-wise. It took a while, but it finally sank in. The human of limited means, living paycheck to paycheck as most working people do most of the time, has to deal with NOW. Does he (or she or it) have enough cash on hand to pay the rent now? Enough for food now? Clothing now? The individual working with a higher income, on the other hand, is okay NOW but must always consider THEN, some point in the future, sometimes a year or more down the line.

You may know your allegedly rich uncle has enough in the bank to send you a thousand right now…but will sending that thousand now put his tail in a crack then?

Say what?

It’s like this: You need that thousand bucks right now or your phone is going to be shut off and your car repossessed. End of story, nothing else matters, just survive today and keep the wolves from the door for the immediate moment. Get some breathing room. But uncle moneybags, when asked for this simple, obviously affordable little bit of help, has to take a long, hard look at then. He wants to help, so he sends the money. But from whence came that coin? Why, from his bank account, obviously. Yeah, that’s it. And it’s true.

Unfortunately, he had to pull that thousand from the account he uses to store up cash to pay the IRS on Torture the Taxpayer Day every April 15th. He just robbed Peter to pay Paul, and if you’re the nephew you’re happy because you’re Paul and couldn’t care less about Peter. But will that thousand diminish his tax reserve account to the point that he won’t have quite enough to pay the tax man on April 15th? Peter does not like being robbed and carries a very big, nasty stick.

Let’s illustrate in a hopefully more human way.

In 1996, when I met my current wife, she had been homeless for two years but had finally managed to rent a studio apartment in Tonopah, Nevada, and get a roof back over her head once again. Her companion of the time was Richard, the ultimate NOW man. If he could access a few bucks, the money immediately went for cigarettes and beer. Period. Before two months had passed, he’d managed to misappropriate funds from Pam’s small disability check, gambling them away to nothing so that the rent check Pam had already written bounced like a rubber ball.

When I moved in across the courtyard, it didn’t take Poor Man Richard long to see me as Rich Man. I had a motorcycle and a falling-apart beater of a car, but it was a car. And a telephone in my apartment. I spent five bucks every day at a local restaurant, either the lunch special at the Mizpah Hotel or the chicken fried rice dinner at the Chinese restaurant. I had a small television set and an actual monthly income (which varied wildly) from a multilevel marketing business. I even had a credit card. When Pam eventually hooked up with me and dumped Richard, the reason–in his eyes–was obvious.

“She took off with some rich guy,” he told those who asked.

Never mind that a third of my business income went right off the top to Sadie, the lady who’d helped me build the business in the first place–we really had teamed it. Never mind that another third had to get ploughed back into business expenses if I wanted to keep the thing going, and certainly never mind that I was in the process of negotiating a settlement with soon-to-be-ex-wife-number-six Faye that would cost me thousands of dollars every month for a very long time. Certainly the payment on the motorcycle did not count, nor the terrible miscellaneous debts that were already mountainous and continuing to climb. All of those piddly details involved planning for future consequences. Richard was a man of now, and that was that.

Two years later, Richard died destitute, the autopsy showing his lungs full of green stuff.

Two years after that, I filed for my second bankruptcy, wiping out more than $192,000 in debt so I could go back to work as a trucker without having my wages garnisheed. The business was not yet dead, but it was on life support and would never again take a truly healthy breath. Pam and I were living off grid in a 12′ x 16′ cabin with no running water and a $500 land payment we struggled to meet every month.

It seems to be easy for poor man to automatically consider rich man a bad person, to feel that rich man should not be better off materially than poor man because it isn’t fair. This is endemic in the societies of the world. Christianity teaches this principle in pointing out that it’s easier for a camel to zip on through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to Heaven. Or something like that; it’s been a while since I’ve read that passage. Communist and/or Socialist dogma likewise stigmatizes rich man.

And how easy it is to believe they’re right. After all, some rich people do very bad or even simply thoughtless things that are reported widely in the media. They’re easy targets, but even more importantly, they give us the idea that anyone who dares to “show money” is evil. Only a relative few, percentage-wise, realize that money is exactly like sunlight, rich soil, running water, gunpowder, nuclear energy, or the gift of elocution: It’s not the latent power; it’s what you do with it. It’s not that money is the root of all evil (a misquote) but that the love of money is the root of all evil.

A beautiful example of the man who’s earned a lot of money without ever being tainted by that root is Manny Pacquaio of the Philippines. As a boxer, Manny has earned many millions…and given most of it away to help his countrymen.

Back to the title topic.

The poor now man is not to be confused with the grasshopper of The Ant and the Grasshopper fable fame. I know plenty of dirt poor folks who work their tails off, live lives of deep integrity, and never complain a bit. The now person is simply in the position of facing potential catastrophe on a day in, day out basis. By comparison, the so called rich then man has his immediate now somewhat secured…but must focus on the future–next month, next year, at his retirement date, or perhaps next century if he happens to have a few Methuselah genes in his DNA.

If you’ve been a now man all your life, would you dearly like to try the then life for a change? Most likely, yes. And yet there are people out there who’ve run from the chronic low grade anxiety, the unique sort of stress–not always felt consciously–that attacks the wealthier person. (Hah! “Person,” he said! He’s coming around!) Quite a few of these flight-driven refugees from success can be found in the homeless population. Pam’s homelessness was not of her own volition, but we know of one man who had his own practice as a licensed psychologist for years before shucking it all and heading for the desert, where he lives in a pup tent out in the mesquite and parlays any now coin he can find into a bottle of something alcoholic. Several acquaintances had their own businesses, some of them quite profitable, before stress nailed them and they retreated from then-thinking to now-thinking.

Once I figured this all out, I realized I’d never hear the phrase, “…every now and then….” in quite the same way.