Who do you know that consistently makes the worst financial decisions?

Ramit Sethi

I was reading this Reddit thread and someone asked this terrific question:

“Who is the person you know that consistently makes the worst financial decisions? What have they done?”

One of the responses was:

My good friend, lets call him A, makes about 70k per year but is always broke. He is the first to pick up tabs at restaurants, bought a car way out of his price range, had to get rims and sounds for it, but struggles to feed himself everyday and is constantly borrowing money. He has 5 different pay day loans out, and they take about 1k out of each check.

I love this!!

There are only so many blog posts where I can be positive about how to raise your rates, how to answer a tough interview question, and how to talk to your partner about money.

So today, I thought it would be fun to enjoy some good, old-fashioned schadenfreude.

We all have friends who continue making terrible decision after terrible decision. Leave a comment below and share your best story about your friend/family member who keeps doing it. Keep it tasteful but feel free to be detailed. Enjoy.

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  1. Diane

    Oh dear. I have a few train-wreck friends and I so wish I could help them, but as you know Ramit, it’s very hard to “motivate” anyone.

    This friend, we’ll call Carla, is married with 2 little kids. Her husband has a good job (I don’t know what he earns) and she works 20 hours a week at a daycare at a gym. She does that for her own fun money, to the tune of $9ish/hour. Yikes.

    A door to door salesman sold her on a Kirby carpet cleaner, and she had to do a payment plan on it.

    She’s almost 37 years old, and doesn’t have $1k in the bank. And yet, she told me that she and her husband are trying to buy a house. They’re renting right now and going month-to-month and the rent is seriously high for the area for that flexibility. Her house was recently broken into (twice) and so I understand the urgency to want to leave asap.

    Perhaps they actually do earn a decent income, but if they can’t put anything down and have no savings for even the most mundane emergency…hopefully a bank won’t give them a loan.

    I have no idea how to encourage her. I doubt she wants to hear any financial ideas from me. Do I secretly mail her your book? 🙂

    • C

      From experience, I’ve found that all my financial issues had roots in something psychological going on inside of me – so until I cleared that up, I was NOT going to listen to anyone else or even admit I had a problem. Because of this mindset, I was able to bury my head in the sand for *4 years* and completely ignore all my credit card debt, the fact that I had no financial cushion, savings, investments, anything, no strategy, no game plan, and no options.

      I don’t think you can motivate anyone – people have to motivate themselves and want to change. Sometimes, a kick in the pants might help. It was hard, but a kick in the pants from a friend woke me up. The downside is, your friend may get mad (but it sounds like she’s also a financial train wreck, so the other option is to say nothing and watch her continue to spiral out of control). Practice a script beforehand so you know how to say something non-confrontational yet truthful … but be prepared for the possibility that she’ll stay rooted in denial and get upset. Even better, tell her about this amazing financial book you read by this guy Ramit and see what she says. If she says, “Man, my finances are a wreck, I need that book”, that’s an open door. If she doesn’t engage, you know she’s not interested.

      Tl;dr: People have to want to change and sometimes it can be really painful watching people we care about consistently choose to suffer over and over again.

  2. Diane

    I have a different friend, single, early 20s, living in Chicago and earning $49k. She approached me about wanting to get her finances out of control and I gave her some tangible strategies.

    Almost a year later and she hasn’t done anything with it. Still goes out all the time. Still spends on clothes like there’s no tomorrow. Gobs of debt in the form of credit cards and student loans.

    Why do this to yourself? Why live for today and for appearances, and be so freakin broke that you never have breathing room?

  3. B

    My sister is like this. She was 2 months behind on rent. But she lives with an aunt and her rent is only $150 a month. She has a ton of credit card debt that is now consolidated and the company closes each card as it’s paid off-which we all know hurts your credit score. She also goes out all the time and has 3 road trips planned in the next year-even though she owes another family member $800. I even had to cosign her car loan. I really just want to slap her sometimes.

    • B+

      Cosigning an unreliable family member’s loan – also not wise.

  4. Sue

    I have a friend who left $3,000 on the table for no good reason. In response to the economic downtown, law schools were giving stipends to graduates willing to work in public interest. All you had to do was sign up. If you found something else, you could decline later. I know he was hoping for something better, but it just didn’t happen. So he lost not only the money, but the chance to gain experience. He was at home, playing video games and watching anime.

  5. Christian L.

    One of my closest buddies doesn’t make a ton of money, but also has a low cost of living in our cheap town. His problem is how he finances his party habits. He goes to bars too frequently and probably squanders (at least) $40 each week.

    We both hang with a group that loves bicycles. But his problem is that he’s always building a new bike. That’s not cheap. He has yet to start saving for anything, even a short-term goal. And he’s unfamiliar with his credit report.

    We try to snap him into shape, but it’s as if he doesn’t hear his friends’ concerns!

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  6. Martin

    I just berated a buddy over the phone.

    This guy can’t stop falling in love. Now love in itself is not a problem. I usually have a girlfriend. His problem is that he allows this to ruin his life.

    On his previous girlfriend he spent all of his money on steroids to get big for her and lingerie to keep her happy. He also travelled far to see her every single day. All while doing this, he was very needy and annoying.

    Then she left him. He spent all of his money, was broke and sad. I convinced him to grab life by the balls. He started his own business in construction and made huge money.

    Then at the beginning of this year, he met another chick. Fell in love. At the three month point, they moved in together. I VERY reluctantly helped him move, all while suggesting that this is a horrible idea. He didn’t listen. He spent all of his money on furniture, moving costs, and rent. He also worked shorter hours and stopped working.

    Yesterday he called me. After 6 months he’s getting kicked out. She left him. Now he has to spend money on moving out, pay rent until they sub-let the place, and go back to his parents with an empty bank account.

  7. Stephanie

    My parents are awful with money. My dad is a Real Estate Broker and when the market was up he made around $800k in two years. Since my Dad was doing so well, my mom quit her job (with great benefits). Well, 2008 came and he couldn’t sell anything. In the meantime, my parents blew through that money. Buying extravagant cars, four wheelers, and other junk. My dad even bought an $8000 guitar.

    The money was gone within 3 years and my parents were hurting so bad that my mom cashed in her 401K. Since the recession, my mom couldn’t find a job up to her standards and has just given up looking. My Dad’s current property sales are just enough to pay the necessary bills. I’m also pretty sure they’ve maxed out all their credit cards and screwed up what little credit they had left.

    For some stupid reason, my Dad never paid taxes on all that money he made. So of course, the IRS came looking for it. Well, my parents had to hire lawyers and use their 401k and recent $100k inheritance (from my great-grandmother) to pay off their back taxes.

    My grandparents hold the mortgage to my parents house and have been nice enough to not foreclose on them (my parents haven’t paid the mortgage in over two years). My Dad has pawned all of those expensive things he has bought for half their original value (including the cars).

    My little brother also just started his first year of college, majoring in finance no less. So I’m having to help my brother pay for some of his college expenses since my parents aren’t able to. Putting a kid through college wasn’t something I planned on doing at the age of 27. Both my parents are in their mid-50s with no health insurance, no retirement savings, and mounds of debt.

    Needless to say, I’ve learned from my parents mistakes. Thanks for the vent!

    • anonymous coward

      Maybe you’ve learned from your parent’s mistakes, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve learned from your grandparent’s mistakes. Why on earth do you believe that you “HAVE” to pay for a brother’s college education? You don’t “HAVE” to pay one penny of a brother’s college education. If a bank won’t loan him money, if a college won’t grant him a scholarship, if an employer won’t give him a job…these objective institutions know something you don’t. I have never seen anything good come of a sibling giving money to another sibling. I have seen a lot of harm come of it, including the complete financial destruction of the generous sibling. Nothing else matters if you can’t say “no” to people who ask you for money.

    • Stephanie

      My brother received grants and loans to cover his tuition. I did however, pay for his books and bought him a laptop. He pays for all his other expenses (car insurance, cell phone, going out, etc). I

      I don’t see anything wrong with helping family out in certain situations. Your family has never given you money? My brother is a good kid who also has good work ethic. He’s making good grades and has a part time job. He also responsibly spends what little money he does make.

      I enjoy helping my brother out but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated with my parents lack of financial support.

      (I wasn’t able to reply to your post so I had to reply to my own. Sorry for the confusion)

    • dee

      I’m with anonymous coward…I put myself through college with grants and by working 2-3 jobs. It wasn’t easy and it took me 5 years, but I got the degree and graduated with no debt. Let little bro fend for himself and you start saving for your rainy day.

  8. JB

    I had a friend in college who came from a really wealthy family with parents who threw money at their (11!) kids. Her dad sent her $2k/month during college (which in a cheap college town can go pretty far, especially at a stone-cold sober school where no one is blowing money on drunken parties), yet halfway through the month she would inevitably be begging friends to spot her for food because she’d spent it all on clothes. (I know, fitting every bad spoiled-girl stereotype.)

    She’s married now, and her dad offered to cover the down payment for a house while her husband is in med school. Now that she has a job, she recently quipped, “I have NO life because of my job…making money is NOT worth all this work!!” Ha ha.

    Bonus tidbit: This is a really sad situation but her reaction to it is priceless. She recently had a miscarriage (sad) and was really upset about it (obviously). So, to make things better….her husband bought her a Louis Vuitton purse. She later shared on the Internet that admittedly it made the situation a LOT better.

    I feel like the stories are only going to get better from here on out.

  9. Corey

    I have a friend who paid for all of his costs while in graduate school on student loans. Not just tuition, but rent as well, even though he and his wife were both working. This is in addition to the 60k in loans from undergraduate. Now that he has over 100k in student loans, he and his wife just bought new(er) cars. The first car was a necessity. The second car was a stupid decision as he lives half a mile from work.

    To make matters worse, he is stuck in a job that he absolutely hates because he has to pay back all of these student loans.

    Not the worse story ever, but it continuously motivates me to set up my financial future.

  10. Sweta

    I was at a friend’s house who admitted that he’s having trouble making his car payments so he’s getting a cheaper car. His mom also said that she wanted to get a new car but couldn’t afford it. So he actually said to her, “I’m sure you can afford it, it would only be about $300/mo.” WTF! I get so annoyed when people only focus on the monthly payments and don’t factor in interest/extra costs.

  11. Larry

    Hi Ramit,

    Long time reader, Earn1k & DreamJob user.

    I wish I could make this funny, but the person who has made the worst financial decisions that I know is my father. It really pains me to say that, but it is true.

    It isn’t that he made generally terrible decisions, but that really bad decision in one area (investing) can overwhelm all of the other good decisions that you make.

    To be clear: he was a hard worker and saver all of his life. He was (he is still alive) a Korean immigrant who came to the US in 1960 with $50 or something.

    He was so cheap when i was a kid (well, untl age 8 or so) that I had little memory of visiting any restaurant other than Burger King and cheap buffets. But because of this kind of attitude, he and my mother saved money like gangbusters.

    The problem? He is a gambler when it comes to investing money. Four different times in his life he took the great bulk of our family’s savings and bet it on one stock or one industry and then BOUGHT AND EQUAL AMOUNT ON F-ING MARGIN. Meaning that he wipes himself out completely if the stocks go down to 50%. So he doubled down on already very risky investments.

    –In 1990, he bought Continental stock, just before the first Gulf War (problem? War = high Oil prices = high jet fuel prices = bankrupt continental = big :(.

    –In the mid-1990s, he bought a lot of biotech stocks on margin despite knowing nothing about them. Hundreds of thousands of hard-earned dollars down the drain.

    –In 2000, he bought MSFT and every other tech stock he could think of even though to this day he has my mom do stuff on the computer because he can’t even turn it on.

    –In 2008, despite living off a home equity line of credit, he took further equity out of income property he (with my mother’s pleading) wisely purchased 20 years ago and put it all (on margin) on Bank of America. Just before the announcement that Merrill, which BoA had been forced to purchase, held the worst of the mortgage backed securities. Wiped out again.

    So recently, my parents have filed for bankruptcy. They are moving out of their house this week or next,. They did everything else right, more or less (85% right, which was enough), scrimping and saving and making money off of their businesses until they got too old to work.

    Thank God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster that they became US citizens many years ago. They receive Social Security (thank you FDR), and with my help and my sister’s will still live better than most people in the world — just not better than the people that the know.

    But it is a bitter pill for them to swallow — and hard for me right now. I have two young kids and a wife who works part time. I earn a decent salary (I am a lawyer), but I what I really wanted to be was a good, Tiger-mothered Korean son who gave money to his parents just because he could — not because they might be destitute without my help.

    Sorry to be a buzzkill — not only do I post downer posts on already depressing topics, but I find pretty girls to fart on at parties, too.

    • Hungry Hippo

      A sad story, but you cracked me up at the end. Good perspective on the fact that they will still live better than most people in the world.

  12. some guy

    I know a person who goes on trips around the world in the name of her boyfriend’s work. As far as I know she’s making about $50/mo on a “job” consisting of doing all the busywork for her boyfriend’s failing self-employed job. Oh right, I almost forgot to mention: his job has NEVER MADE MONEY. Literally never. It loses money every month. They won’t give up the job because they’re “following their passion” and in fact have already dried up their retirement accounts with a good (or perhaps terrible) 30 or more years left in them. Meanwhile, her room mate is left taking care of the house and paying the bills. If 100% of her room mate’s income went toward bills and only bills (not even food, etc) then there would still not be enough to cover it all. The room mate keeps threatening to leave but never follows through.

    The worst part: this is all completely avoidable by just having a day job. Let them do their failing business, who cares, as long as they still have enough income from something that actually makes money. But no. They think that’s a horrible idea.

  13. Alicia

    My mother and brother are probably the worst people I know when it comes to managing their money. My mother is retired from the post office and takes home a decent amount every month (she actually takes home as much as I do working full time). My step-dad passed away about 4 years ago and left her 50K from his life insurance. Instead of paying off her second mortgage (which they had just taken out to remodel their house), she bought a big screen TV, all new furniture and built a work shop in her back yard. Now, shes in serious danger of losing her house because she cant afford both mortgages. She also lived with me for 10 months so my brother and his friends could “rent” the house and help her out. His friends never moved it, he lost his job, and she let him live in her house with her paying his bills for 6 months. Shes now moved back in and between the two of them they can still barely make ends meet (oh, and my brother works as a cook in a restaurant because he has so many visible tattoos that he cant find another job). She refuses to listen to any advise, even though my oldest brother and I are both finance majors.

  14. H

    My best friend makes twice as much as I do (grad students: social vs. hard sciences) so I know it is perfectly possible to have a decent life on our paychecks. BUT she never has any money and has, in the past, asked to borrow money. When she complains about it I have suggested finding out where her money goes by using something like Mint so she can prioritize. Prioritizing might be good because she does have the very best kitchenware (2 of everything) yet eats out for 2-3 meals a day. But even though it is all set up for her, she never checks it because she “knows where her money goes.” Sometimes she just doesn’t pay her bills (not because she can’t). Similarly if there is a problem, for example a company charged too much, she won’t call them to fix it. She has no clue what is happening financially; she will NOT make a phone call or log on to her accounts. And she isn’t lazy, she has a good work ethic in school, lab, etc. Just she would rather not know about her finances.

  15. Brent Hale

    Friends making bad financial decisions! Pffttt… hah! How can I bring my friends up when I have made my own King’s share of poor decisions involving my money?

    I used to work a minimum wage job that was based solely on tips. Some nights I’d make over $100+. Instead of saving that cash, I went out to the bars with my buddies and blew it all. To me it was just cash, and I knew I’d just get more the next night…

    Unfortunately, that kind of lifestyle breeds a certain attitude. And that certain attitude will eventually get you fired. Ipso Facto, I lost my job and had no money to support myself while I got my act together.

    But then again, some people–myself included–learn best when the stupid things they do force them into shitty situations. Some people will never see the faults of their poor spending habits clearly enough to know they need to be fixed…

    Therefore I’m thankful for my stupidity and the wisdom it has brought me!

    And I’m thankful for you Ramit for allowing me to express that!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a lunch buffet at the local strip club that is too good of a deal to pass up…

  16. Choosing anonymity ...

    I have a friend I’ll call Jim. Jim owes over $100k in loans for his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He graduated 4 years ago with an MA in teaching and has yet to find a job in his preferred field, so he’s still working a low-paying IT job he hates. He recently sent out a message to a group of us on Facebook reiterating all this and saying, you know, given that he owes six figures in student loans, is 45 years old, has NO retirement savings to speak of … now is a really good time to buy a house, because he doesn’t want to throw away any more money on rent. (Note: He says he doesn’t have the extra time or money to start investing.) At the end of his message, he asked us, his friends, for our thoughts.

    I immediately linked to Ramit’s post on why buying property is usually a terrible idea and why. I also included a link to Ramit’s book and told Jim that the smartest investment he could make in himself right now is to read this book because it will change his financial health forever. Jim ignored what I wrote and only responded to all the sycophants cheering him on about buying a house. I don’t think any of these people have even started investing or cleaned up their own debt. Jim recently messaged us again recently talking about his house hunt. I’m not sure whether to scream at him or beat him over the head with something. Maybe both. I know how this is going to end because everything else Jim has ever done has fallen apart or left him broke. I think he’s already declared bankruptcy once.

  17. Pauline

    A friend who is otherwise extremely frugal (not flushing the toilet and melting candles to make new candles frugal) pawned her engagement ring to put the money on a 3% savings account “if times get hard”, which they never did because she is so frugal. The ring is long lost.

    • Brie B.

      That’s just sad. Not that I’m even remotely qualified to diagnose anything, even if I did know this woman, but I feel like that’s verging on OCD or some other anxiety disorder.

  18. Nancy

    I have a friend who is an absolute disaster. She’s in her 50s, has earned millions of dollars in her lifetime (my guess), yet has nothing to show for it but a closet of designer black widow dresses from Prada and Dolce & Gabbana and more shoes than she has space for in her tiny yet lavish NYC studio.

    She’s been laid off from every job she’s had in the last decade. While she’s gotten severances each time you would think that she would have the forethought to actually try to save some of it so that she can use it until she finds another job. But no (insert italics here), what she does is she throws these lavish dinner parties (and whatever food doesn’t get eaten gets thrown in the garbage) and goes on shopping sprees because, unfortunately, she has nothing better to do. Whenever I’ve ever tried to explain that maybe she should try to spread her money out over time and not spend it in two seconds flat, she ho-hums and it falls on deaf ears, so I’ve decided to just shut my mouth and not say another word.

    I happen to be 28 years old and live in NJ. I make it a point to go on great vacations every year (think Australia, New Zealand, Africa) and whenever I’ve tried to express how excited I am over an upcoming trip, she’ll go off on me about how that’s a lot and where do I possibly have the money to take all these trips, and what business do I have going on these vacations at my age. I’ve really wanted to tell her that I do not have a closet full of designer clothes I can’t afford nor do I throw food away, but I’ve kept my mouth shut because it’s not the classy thing to do (and she’s not ready to hear it).

    When I realized how toxic her influence was to my psyche, I started keeping my distance.

    • C

      Hi Nancy,

      Humans seem to have a habit of judging other people’s priorities without looking at ourselves, such as your friend freaking over your international travel without stopping to ask herself why she’s broke and where her money is really going. Your friend’s behavior sounds really negative so I’m glad you’ve decided to keep your distance, as sad as it can be to lose a friend.


  19. Mike

    I was actually that person until just a few years ago when I married and became a father.

    I spent my entire 20’s blowing a decent income 40-50k+ on crap I didn’t need and avoiding credit card and student loan payments. I bought expensive cars that had monthly payments that ranged from 500 to over $1100 a month. Since my car took over half my monthly income I would defer my student loan payments and let the interest stack on those instead of just paying it off. I straight simply ignored my maxed out credit cards and my credit rating went to crap. I always cashed in my 401k funds whenever I transferred jobs and never once thought of having emergency savings. I really wasn’t concerned since I usually had enough cash on hand to take care of myself. Then when I turned 31 I married a lady with two little kids.

    My whole life changed. First my insurance for a family was sticker shock — every two weeks!! Then immediately after that my student loans defaulted and 25% of my paycheck was garnished. Add to that the rent payment for a bigger place and now being financially responsible for four people. The pressure slapped me in the face!!

    Thank God now I have a better job making 20k more (thanks to Ramit). I’m finally paying off student loans. It’s a nightmare I wish I had taken care of years ago when I was single. I’m working on a family budget so we can have savings and start a stable life for my kids. So like someone said earlier – sometimes life just has to slap you in the face to stop the stupid decisions.

  20. RP

    Sadly, it’s my parents.

    My father was a pastor who left church after church over the years after conflict with parishioners. He also did not pay into social security since it is not required for ministers. No pension. No savings. Only a small IRA, most of which was cashed out for a down payment on a house that is too big and a yard that they can’t take care of. Quit the last church 7 yrs ago-too much stress. Now in their 60’s and not great health and of course can’t find a job. My wife got them a nice, easy, part time, sit down job where they could work at the same place and carpool to save money. They proceeded to call off all the time and be difficult eventually losing that job. Unemployment ran out, so now they live on donations from friends that they run a study group for once a week. They received about 10k when my grandmother passed away, but that is gone now as well. Believe it or not, they spent a significant portion on a seriously large stockpile of toilet paper and papertowels because they are convinced the end of the world/economic collapse/ rapture is near and THIS is what they deemed most necessary to stock up on.

    I just try to stay away from the crazyness for now and get myself into a good financial position so when the time comes (and I’m sure it will), I can help them to the extent that they don’t starve and aren’t homeless. My conscience won’t allow that, but I sure do resent that they put me in this position. They are irrational people.

  21. Oops--might be me!

    I had a heart attack at 34. Before that, I was religious about saving 1/3 of all take-home pay towards retirement, emergency funds, etc. I also donated at least 10% annually to worthy causes. After the heart attack, I figured I wouldn’t live long, so maybe I should loosen up and live a bit. 22 years and 2 more heart attacks later, I realized that maybe I should return to my boring old financial habits. It’s taken a while, but I’m almost there now. Hard to beat that for being foolish!

  22. H

    When it’s my parents, I can’t really call it schadenfreude. But I appreciate being given a forum to vent my resentment.

    Both my sister and I are in our 30s and financially stable despite the example set for us. Dad is a dreamer, scatterbrained, and doesn’t follow through on things; Mom has worked for the same company for 35+ years but likes to hide her head in the sand and defers to Dad to make decisions. Neither of them can take constructive feedback without getting defensive. They’re perennially broke and frequently need bailing out, formerly by grandma, now by my sister. Somehow a cash influx always seems to evaporate instantly, whether for unavoidable expenses (car repairs) or completely avoidable (smartphones, books, a storage room for all the junk they won’t get rid of). They even took out a credit card in my name when I was in college, telling me that it would help my credit. Then they maxed it out, fell behind on the payments, and never told me about it until the bill was in collections. Oh, there are more grievances, but I’ll stop here.

    So I wish I could simply marvel at their poor decisions and then get back to my life, but the consequences affect me. And of course, eventually, my sister and I will be supporting Mom and Dad.

    My sister has given up trying to instill any kind of behavior change – they don’t really listen to her or anyone else. She’s resigned herself to supporting them. I know this sounds like we’re being enablers, but despite our resentment we feel a responsibility to them. How can we turn our backs on the people who supported us for 18 years?

    I haven’t resigned myself and still feel compelled to try to get through to them. I’ve been frugal and conscientious and worked my butt off my whole life, and I resent having to pay for someone else’s poor decisions.

  23. Don't Box Me In

    Myself. I don’t make the worst decisions but I spend like I’ve got the money. I think like I’ve got the money but my downfall is that I don’t have the money. I don’t get in debt but I just never get around to saving. For a WHOLE month I’ve been not spending on stuff I don’t need and I’ve managed to actually save. I’ve not brought the cappuccinos. I’ve not downloaded the books I WANT! I don’t need them. I’ve cut out everything. But to achieve this I’ve had to look at myself. I suffer anxiety quite badly and notice that by being self aware I don’t spend. I’ve taken note of what happens when I feel the urge to blow money on a book or gadget. I still get the urge but I don’t act on it unless I can afford it and put £10 a week away in savings.

  24. Sal Jumat

    I guess it boils down to decisions based on emotions and self control.

  25. Family Guy

    My friend is a lawyer MBA and drives a BMW 6 series, goes to Las Vegas every month to see expensive shows and concerts, and treats everyone when they go out. He gets asked to go out with lots of “friends” since they know he will always pay, even when there are 4 or five “friend of friends” there. We’re talking Ruth’s Chris kind of food. He just got over $100000 in just one case, but there is no money left. Car repair was $15000. Zero! retirement savings at age 50. He always says he makes more money on the next case, but it is really irritating watching other people not lift a finger when the bill comes, knowing that he will pick it up. Another round on the house!

  26. RJ

    Let me tell you a story that inspired me to shape up my financial situation which let me to find your website Ramit.

    I have a friend in her mid twenties, let’s call her A, who grew up in a cultural background where her parents considered any money earned by a family member as “family money”. I was shocked when I first met her in college that though she had four credit cards and bank accounts, she had not the slightest clue how much was in it much less what her bank account number was as her mom dealt all the financial dealings for her three children.

    Jump ahead a few years later with the economic downturn, her father (70 yrs old) was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to quit his job, her mother who has chronic kidney problems never worked a day in her life. They were evicted from their apartment and had their cars reclaimed. Her father tried to save his failing construction business by maxing out each of his three children’s credit cards and ended up calling bankruptcy, essentially ruining ALL their credit in their stead. Now, my friend has 100k in debt that she was never aware of. Her sister was kicked out of school a quarter before graduation at an Ivy League grad school with 300k in student loans (mind you the family looked to her as their savior and this effectively ended their hopes). Her brother had re-financed his own home to help his dad and ended up losing it to bankruptcy (his wife left him with his children).

    Understandably, my friend hates her parents now; but isn’t part of this her fault? For not tracking her finances under her own name? She now works in $9/hr cafe job despite having a degree in business law because she “doesn’t want to give up her free time” and complains bitterly about working 20 hours a week. She thinks the world is out to get her and that she was just born unlucky. I showed her your site, gave her tips on finance and she complains that I “plan way too ahead in the future” and that she’d rather live for “now”.

    Watching her go through this made me take a look at my own finances seriously. I’m paying down my student debts and opened an IRA. I’m scared for her that she’ll keep going downhill to a financial ruin but she won’t listen. I don’t know what to do and it is affecting our relationship.

    • Aimee

      I love the reference to “living for now” – my ex uses that as an excuse for having zero retirement savings. More than an excuse, he wears it as a badge of honor. That attitude is part of the reason he’s my ex.

  27. DK

    I immediately thought of my former friend we’ll name J. J is an emotional trainwreck, and her spending shows it – $1,000 shoes because she’s upset a guy didn’t call her when he said he would, another $2,000 for designer clothing when her rebound hookup buddy says he’s met someone so no, he can’t meet her tonight, $80 for dinner, another $60 on drinks, and then the same week, she needs to get a new car because she totaled it while en route to the first guy’s restaurant. Except she crashed it into the side of a building as opposed to the front door of the business where she intended (she was drunk).

    This would be fine (kind of) if she made enough money to justify these purchases, including the new car she now needs. Except she wasn’t making much money, and had to rely on $500 a month from her parents to help with her rent. I don’t know her exact salary, but she was working for a publishing company/magazine, so it couldn’t have been far beyond $60K. And that’s in the NYC area, which is pretty expensive to begin with.

    She never asked me to borrow money, and I don’t think I would have even if she asked. To the best of my knowledge, she’s still single so… any takers?

  28. Who do you know that consistently makes the worst financial … | How To Reduce Debt Quickly

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  29. Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey

    I would say “I used to be one of them.” I would max out my credit card, pay the monthly minimum every pay day, take loans and pay of the credit card, and max out the credit card again. It was a vicious cycle until we couldn’t handle the payments anymore! Then, it was time for us to look for side businesses and other avenues for more income.

  30. Mai G

    My oldest sister who is in her mid 40s is a financial train wreck. Add to the mix of perennially borrowing and not paying back money to her family, relatives , and friends.

    My family moved from a 3rd world country to eventually reside in the USA. Me being the only one to be born here you would expect the baby to be the spoiled one who jumps from job to job and spends her money on clothes and purses. Oh no it is her who spends her money on materialistic things she can’t afford yet does not provide enough for her own kids. During the real estate boom she made nearly 1 mil in 3 years. She has nothing to show for it since she spent all that money on stuff. When the recession hit she started a bad habit of borrowing money from her friends and family . I don’t know the exact number but because of her borrowing and not paying people back many of our relatives stopped talking to us. People were starting to harass my own mother to pay for her daughter’s loans. Family members were begging they needed the thousands of dollars she borrowed because they either lost their homes or jobs. My oldest sister always turned a blind eye. Eventually none of us didn’t want anything to do with her. Except when she got a divorce it started to really go down hill. Lets just say this story is long so I’ll just jump to her current situation.

    Now she lives with one of my sisters FOR FREE. My other sister does this because of my niece and nephew. It was sad watching the kids suffer so she took them in. This is a big mistake on my other sister because there is plenty of drama involved. I always told her you need to tell her to move out because she is using you and I worry about her mental health and physical health constantly ( she has diabetes). I know why she did it because her and her husband make plenty of money since they are IT directors in the healthcare industry. My oldest sister has threaten repeatedly to never speak to her again and take the kids away because SHE is tired of the bad mouthing of her being constantly called lazy and a user. It is really a sad story.

    My relationship with her feels like strangers. I never tell her about personal life. When she asks she does not really listen because a month later she asks the same question with the same fake ” I’m so happy for you” tone. I swear I’ve been telling her for a year every month my wedding is next yr. the only time she took to asking more than the date of my wedding was when she realized my fiancé comes from a well to do family. Then the questions started to become borderline intrusive like ” How many houses does his dad have. How much does your fiance make”. I tend to snap at her and I’ve been told by my other sisters that she calls me a spoiled brat behind my back because I won’t let her borrow money.

  31. Sunil @ Successful CPA Career

    lol my wife. always seems to be very penny wise but sterling pound fooooolish. big ticket vs small ticket….hmmm. big wins or petty over pennies…..on my god!

  32. Mark

    My sister has no savings or retirement account, and plans to depend 100% on her husband’s pension upon retirement, which they unfortunately found out has been underfunded for years (a lawsuit and federal penalties are pending). Yet she still spends every dime she makes. She typically buys a used car every two years, she and her kids are always very well dressed, and she redecorates the common areas of her home every 4-5 years because she gets “bored.” Her husband works construction and typically collects unemployment in the winter, and so she takes out a signature loan each year for Christmas presents and then pays it off as aggressively as she can once he resumes working.

    They owned a house and bought a new one six years ago before even listing the original one. They haven’t been able to sell it. They still own both homes, and luckily she’s been able to rent the original house but only at about 50% occupancy over the years. She only put 3% down on the first house with an FHA loan, and financed her second house 100%. They had put a new deck and roof on the first house, and so she couldn’t get offers to even break even.

    And the kicker of all: when she moved she didn’t think that her old furniture matched the new house. She put it on the curb and cashed out her 401K to furnish her new living room and dining room, and then quit contributing to the 401K so she could make the new mortgage payment. Couple that with the unfortunate news of her husband’s pension fund, and it’s not looking good at all. I don’t know what she was thinking.

  33. Daniel

    Of the ten people I worked with in my first job out of college, that story you posted says about six of them.

    My first job out of college was in New York City. Lots of college grads were living with their parents in surrounding supports. They had bought classy cars where they had payments on insurance was near half their salary. I on the other hand was living in the kind of place you’d expect a college grad who lives in New York City to be living (but did a pretty job at automating my finances I must say).

    Some time had passed and I spent about $700 on a pretty sweet road bike. Each and everyone of them who couldn’t afford the payments on their cars (it wasn’t uncommon for creditors to be calling for a few of them) were telling me how dumb I was for spending $700. WTF?!?!

  34. someone

    my SIL won the lottery. 1 million, which in Canada is not subject to taxes. Except for whatever they set aside for their three children’s futures (no idea how much), it was gone within a year and they actually have more debt than before.

  35. Charlene

    Both my parents have terrible financial management skills. They’ve both seen great fortunes come and go in their lives and are now semi-retired but still live paycheck to paycheck. Very worrying.

  36. Carolyn

    Anyone think they consistently make the worst financial decisions? Stop chastising everyone else….

  37. AT

    Reading all of these stories has made me feel immensely better, I must say. I’ve spent my young adulthood (I’m 26 now) watching the downward financial spiral of my own parents. To this day, I’m not really sure how they let it happen. It truly boggles my mind.

    My dad had a salary of 100k for many many years, received a large inheritance (roughly 98k). Additionally, he worked in the academic field and qualified for tuition exchange which would pay for at least 50% of college tuition for me and my 2 sisters. My mom has also held a decent job for many years, making 30k-40k. Sitting pretty, right??

    After some really bad investments, 3 brand new cars, moving into a large house (and then buying *another* house before they could sell their old one, which never sold) buying a pool, home remodeling, and many, many other bad purchases… they filed for bankruptcy. My dad retired last year and they had to foreclose on their home and move into an apartment. I don’t know how things would have been if the economy hadn’t gone south when it did, but I’m skeptical that things would’ve been much better.

    Now my biggest fear is that my younger sisters won’t learn from their mistakes. We were never given ANY financial advice growing up. My mom gave us all multiple credit cards after we moved out, rather than suggesting we get part-time jobs at school to pay for any additional expenses.

    I felt really let down and betrayed by my parents when I realized I couldn’t depend on them for financial advice. Ramit’s blog, and other blogs like it, have opened so many doors for me. I’m really grateful.

  38. M

    My friend got divorced about 5 years ago. She stayed in the house and he moved out. She put the house on the market for a while, but it didn’t sell. Then her ex-husband was going to take it, and a friend was going to live upstairs and pay him rent. That didn’t happen either. A short while later, she decided to let the house go into foreclosure.

    I don’t know her finances intimately, but to me, it looked like a passive-aggressive move against her ex-husband. A bit after that, they both declared bankruptcy. I can’t speak to that necessity either…

    All the while, she’s had an inconsistent money mentality, which is honestly way more frustrating than foreclosure and bankruptcy. Probably because I know for sure that it is messed up. She fusses over $1.50 here like it’s going to save her life, and then she spends $25 frivolously there. Similarly, she insists on organic hygiene products while eating fries and hamburgers. It’s put me on alert for my own inconsistencies, at least.

    And money is an excuse. She talks a lot about how she “can’t” because of money when really she just doesn’t want to. Buck up and say No!

    She penny-pinches so bad that I ask for separate bills whenever we eat out so I can tip what I want. If we pool our money, she subtracts my ample tip from her total and chips in the difference. Former-server me throws some more money on top of it so we’re not jerks, and she leaves with extra pocket change.

    I confronted her when the bankruptcy was going down, asking, are you sure you want to do this? That didn’t go over well. She didn’t have much defense, but she didn’t seem to care. She was basically throwing her hands up in the air, and from the outside it looked like a post-divorce rebellion.

  39. David

    When I was in college one of my roommates (and a best friend to this day) was horrid when it came to money. Midnight runs to Taco Bell were the norm, and so was borrowing money, food, clothes, and whatever else he couldn’t afford.

    The instance that sums up his indiscretion best is when we came back from Thanksgiving break and he literally tells our other roommate not to tell me that he bought a brand new PS3 (still around $600 at the time) because he knew that I would call him out on being an idiot. Best part was it was his girlfriends birthday the next week and we had to sit there and try our hardest not to crack up as he told her he didn’t get anything for her because he was so broke.

  40. K

    My ex husband got conned by one of his coworkers into financing his new in-ground pool. Seriously. He talked my husband into taking out a 10k personal loan and giving it to him for a pool (because he had a bankruptcy and no credit, and had a bunch of kids and it was hot outside. lol) Of course he promised to pay my husband back – but of course it never happened. I didn’t find out about the debt until after the pool was in.
    There are other bigger reasons that we are divorced, of course. But boy, that one was really indicative of deeper issues.

  41. Gretchen

    Alright I’ve got one. This woman, I’ll call her Taffy because she was daffy. She earned at decent rate, but she was always broke. She would shop in thrift stores and sale racks and discount stores and come out with armloads of awful junk that she would give away to everyone she knew. Then the last week of every month she would panic and try to borrow from those same people to try to pay her rent. Several times she borrowed from me to keep her cel phone turned on! Being a consultant on call, without a cel phone she couldn’t work at all.

    Her father made her a gift of cash so she could buy a car. She bought a 25 year old BMW sedan with bald tires and a cracked windshield. She was constantly stressed about keeping that thing on the road. It cost her more in repairs than she spent to buy it, and of course she had no budget for that. Another round of friendly borrowing under high pressure.

    When her anxiety got to a certain level, she would look around and think, something’s got to change. Her answer to that would be to pack up her things and move to yet another shithole apartment. She moved every 2 years during the 8 or 9 years that we were friends. Each time there was drama around the storage unit, the first and last plus deposit, her unmet obligations to the former landlord, and on and on. Each time she would love her new place and hate the old one.

    She would look at things I was doing and say, I wish I could afford that. We both knew she was earning about the same as I was. Once in awhile I tried to say something, but she would just get so angry that it wasn’t worth it.

  42. Many stories

    Well, 2 people:
    1) an older ex-friend who’s 70 and who has consistently made the worst financial choices. He is now broke and lives with his 96-year old mother as her caretaker – even asked her for a stipend! After declaring bankruptcy and having all possessions seized about 20 yrs ago, he set up a small business, got investors and set up shop (clothing). He is so bad with cash that he rented a massive, luxury apt w/sauna, purchased imported Evian water which he used to make spaghetti, water for tea/coffee, and blew not only any profits, but also all the investment on fancy face creams & clothes for his ex-wife. Well, the wheel of fortune took another turn and he’s broke again w/ no savings, no retirement fund (as he was always an entrepreneur!).
    Story 2: a friend – Cindy – who recently married to a guy who thinks he’s an artist & doesn’t want to work. She works 3 days a week, purchases a top of the line Mac computer, iPhone, iPad and whatever other i comes out. Has no investments, no retirement plan and wants to have a child. The husband has always had an occassional odd job, but thinks his free-time is king for his intellectual activities. Needless to say, he’s always whining about how he’s not recognized & no one buys his stuff. When they 1st married a year ago, he stuck with a full time job for 1 month, then quit – then got on her case to get back on the work wagon so he can dedicate himself to his “art”.
    I tried to tell her that she can invest her money, create a retirement fund, etc – even showed her the IWTYTBR website, but you can only help those who want help…

    Note: I thank my lucky stars to have found this site – it has literally turned my life around – financial and otherwise. I just negotiated a great salary (a 66% increase over my random job existence previously) for a job that’s not my Dream Job yet, but allows me to earn, save and keep looking for my DJ! Also have applied E1k for an extra $1k/month that I automatically invest. Basically the material here has changed my attitude & game plan. Hats off Ramit!

  43. A

    My parents. Ever since I was a little girl they have gone out 3 or 4 nights a week, gone to the casino, bingo, played “quick draw”, you name it. They also smoke a pack of cigarettes each per day and drink pretty regularly.

    The funny thing is that my dad made decent money when he owned his own landscaping business but have no savings to show for it. He finally opened a 401k a couple years ago. He’s 61.

    My mom was a nurse, but in her mind we are poor. She’s loves going garage sale shopping for crap we don’t need. She always bought me ugly clothes on sale or from a thrift store when I was a kid, and I never felt cool or pretty. Luckily my older brother felt bad for me and took me shopping a couple times. When I was 15 I got a part time job and started to buy my own stuff. I’ve been working ever since.

    I am grateful that my parents have taught me to take care of myself without realizing it. I went to a nearby college on scholarship and loans, and paid for the rest with money I earned working in a restaurant. Now I have a full time job at a bank. My financial goal is to buy a multi-family home in 12 months and rent out the other unit. I hope to give my future children a life where they don’t have to worry about money.

  44. DJ

    A male friend in his 50s had a great job in the 80’s, traveled the world, filled up his 401k. Then got interested in day trading; lost his butt. Then decided he needed to work for start-ups; they went belly up, or just didn’t pan out. The 401k savings dwindled from investing in start-ups. The wife of 15 years, who charged whatever she wanted from Neimans left him – with $20k of credit card bad debt. Wife number 2 didn’t work out, but he kept the 4 dogs.

    Another great biz investment opportunity rolled around about 3 years ago. He was so pumped, he went out and got a title loan on his used Jag – $12k. No savings, no investments left at this point. He met another woman and fell in love. He and the dogs moved in with her. He paid for all the moving, and the day after the move was finished, the repo man showed up for the Jag – he was a couple months behind on the payment. Needless to say, this was new information for the woman.

    He has a full time position with decent pay. But, instead of hunkering down and socking it away, he is throwing every penny he can at his biz endeavor. No profits yet, but as soon as he is selling enough product, he will quit his day job. He can’t travel because there is no cash reserve, and 4 dogs are expensive. I understand wanting to make it big. But, this guys does not have a good track record when it comes to money. Oh – he also owes the IRS about $30k for the 401k withdrawals. Ouch!!!

  45. SD

    I’m the person who consistently makes the worst financial decisions. I’m an Ivy League graduate who had $200k in student loan debt and $20k in credit card debt upon graduating from law school in 2004. But that was no problem, because I was able to get a high-paying job at a white-shoe law firm in New York City.

    I was making $150k per year — with a $20k increase each year — at 25 years old. I paid off the cards, but made only the minimum payments on my loans every month. With all that disposable income, I lived in a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan with a doorman and washer/dryer (virtually unheard of in NYC). I went out to dinner four nights a week and ordered take-out or delivery the other three nights. Had extravagant lunches almost daily. Turned on my oven and cooked maybe once a month. I went to the best salons, wore designer clothes, and was on a first-name basis with the shopgirls at various boutiques around the city. Traveled to Paris, Macchu Picchu and other amazing destinations. Life was GOOD.

    But then — I wanted a change. I wanted to be in the courtroom, rather than drafting memos for the law firm partners. I wanted to have the excitement of doing trials. So I left my cushy job at a salary of $250k to be a prosecutor making $90k. All of a sudden, what seemed easy was hard. Although I cut back on shopping and eating out, it just wasn’t enough. I hadn’t paid down my student loans, so I was still saddled with $150k in debt. I ran through my savings in less than a year. Then I withdrew all the money from my old 401K. I ran up $20k in credit card debt in six months after that.

    Now I’m stuck and confused. Today I have a condo that I can’t afford, lots of expensive clothes, and no idea how to grocery shop or cook for myself. My credit card was cut off because I couldn’t make the payments, and I keep getting forbearances on my student loans, ensuring that I’ll be paying them off until the end of time.

    The “obvious” answer to my problem would be to go back to a law firm, but I can’t imagine leaving a job that I love and a lifestyle that gives me all of my weekends free (when not in trial) and allows me to come home at 7 pm every day. So I’m stuck. Absent changing jobs, I have no idea how to get myself out of the mess I’ve made, despite having an entire library of financial books — including Ramit’s.

    I take responsibility for where I am – I deserve what I’m going through right now based on the choices that I made. But I genuinely want to change. I want to have savings and a retirement fund. I want to not hold my breath when I swipe my debit card. I just don’t know where to start or what to do. Hard to believe I could be a top lawyer and have no idea how to handle my own finances, but it’s true.

  46. Anon

    My parents made several millions of dollars from the sale of my dads business. This happened in about 2001, by 2006 all the money was gone. My dad had blown the money on everything from vacation houses, to exotic sports cars, and bought material items in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead of saving a dime or even investing in their future my parents have 0$. They have about a million dollars of debt and this debt has lead to my parents getting divorced. I have learned a lot from this childish behavior and save between 30 – 50% of my take home pay for emergencies and my retirement so I don’t have to be 65 and work until the day I die.

  47. André

    I invested in a Variable Universal Life insurance policy when I was 16…I kept paying $100/month into it for about 8 1/2 years and when I had finally started paying attention to how much money I was losing, I cashed out and got around $1,600…Wow…what a waste…

  48. Jay

    Train-wreck friends and family have taught me some lessons that stick:
    1) Nobody can help you, until you help yourself. (but try we will)
    2) Never Lend, never Borrow.
    3) Never Gamble; only Invest.

    Applying the moral of their lessons is the hard bit…

  49. Joel

    I’ve got my own gambling story… FOREX.

    In 2008 I took out a $25K loan at 3%, and did a few smart things with it. Paid off $3000 in credit cards, $9k in student loans and $3k on a car note (All of these loans were higher % rates).

    I had $10k left over, which I put into a FOREX account. I then proceeded to do extremely well, turning it into $25k in THREE WEEKS! I kept telling myself that I should stop and pay that loan off now, but I kept thinking, “I could turn it into $100k really quickly!”

    Instead, I turned it into $0. I just recently finished paying off that loan.

  50. Cat

    Unfortunately, I have another story to share after a chance encounter last week. It’s pretty sad.

    When I was a kid, my family had a friend who acted as my surrogate aunt. Real nice lady who was heavily involved in our lives and who, for all intents and purposes, was part and parcel of our family. Karen began her own business ten years ago and it hasn’t made any money. In fact, as of 5 years ago, she’d already spent tens of thousands of dollars “setting up” her business. (Tens of thousands, *at least*. I don’t know exact figures, but it’s a lot.) I don’t even know why you’d needs tens of thousands of dollars to start a business. I think she paid for websites (multiple ones, I don’t know why), marketing, ect. The worst part is, I don’t think she ever researched her business plans before instituting them, because clearly people aren’t paying. Her business plan, which she’s clung to for a decade, is a black hole, but she doesn’t see it.

    To make matters worse: she burned almost every bridge 5 years ago because when she got anxious at all the bills, her behavior went off the deep end. She tried scalping a friend’s clients, which alienated both the friend as well as the clients. In addition to the original bad business idea, she tried selling this awful tasting juice and guilted my mom into buying some. Then she vanished from everyone’s lives, taking her drama with her. She occasionally pops back into my life, but it’s ALWAYS an attempt to sell me something, never to say hello or ask how my life’s been the last 5 years since she opted out of it.

    It’s so deeply frustrating because this person used to be part of my family and now she’s chasing the dollar without giving a damn about the relationships she’s destroyed. The ironic thing is, she’s spent years chasing money and instead she’s completely broke and deep in debt. It’s a sharp example to me of what I don’t want to be, and why I’m using Ramit’s material to shape my own business using research and of course forming good relationships with people. What’s the point of money if you destroy your relationships? I don’t get it.

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