the oatmeal money

Today is National World Standards Day. I was going to talk about the metric system but I’m mentally occupied by the government shutdown, debt limits, etc…

The reason I’m so mesmerized by all of this is because Hubs and I have spent the last 6-12 months taking a hard look at our finances and spending habits and making some significant changes to our long-term plans as a result. We made some substantial changes to our short-term plans, too. For example, rather than jumping right into a Ph.D. program, which was the plan a year ago, I finished up my Master’s degree and got a job. Hubs decided not to go for a transfer that would have put us in a bigger (more expensive) city. We’ve knocked our travel down to almost zero. We cut out a few unnecessary monthly bills and have made a concerted (painful) effort to cook our own meals. (Please believe me when I say that NOT going out to eat has been one of the hardest bits of this whole deal.)

You know the drill; these are all the things financial people (like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman) say to do when you’re trying to get rid of debt and become fiscally robust.

All that is to say that money and making hard choices and using long-term health to get us through short-term heebie-jeebies about cooking our own meals… all that has very much been on our minds.

This is why I find the present (national) debate over the debt limit slash spending slash whatever else is rolled in the mix so fascinating. Up front, it seems so simple to me. I think it’s one of the most stupid standoffs in my lifetime. Talk about insanely frustrating to hear a bunch of (well-paid) guys and gals spouting off about how we simply MUST incur more debt… we MUST… otherwise we’ll be RUINED. It all seems very dramatic and reminds me of how I start to behave when I’ve gone without an amazing steak dinner or genuine leather purse for a while. I get very tantrum-y because I’m not getting what I WANT. Dealing with this usually involves carbo-loading (pasta is cheap), a long nap, and a review of our finances to remind me of why we are doing what we’re doing. It’s a simple process but I’ll be damned if it’s ever easy. “Don’t spend as much money” is a simple concept, but freaking hard as crap when you get down to it.

After multiple conversations about this topic with very wise people, it starts to be a bit less RIDICULOUS to me that the simple solution to reducing national debt (cut spending, raise taxes) isn’t happening. As non-easy as it is for ME to buckle down and just say no to a delicious steak dinner, it’s five million times more complex for the peeps up on Capitol Hill, whose jobs depend on keeping a lot of people happy about money. NO one wants to raise taxes – to do so is political suicide all around. And then one side can’t cut spending, either – to do so would be political suicide for them. And since Congress is evenly split, the whole issue of what we do about debt is pretty much dead in the water. The only option, politically, is to increase debt without qualification. But that’s a short term option that will gut us long-term (also politically dangerous although easier to ignore because… well… it’s far away in the future). No one wins, here. As it stands, with everyone posturing, one side yelling “long term gain!” and the other side yelling “short term gain!” the best case scenario is that dealing with ever-increasing (insanely huge) debt gets put off for another six months.

Even though I’m really not a fan of this shutdown and the tantrums going on all over Washington D.C., I’m kind of wishing a few brave souls will just balls up, take the bullet, and die on this hill. I want a resolution. I’m tired of the whole country panicking every 6-12 months about whether the government will still be working. Debt is unhealthy. Sometimes it’s useful; sometimes it’s necessary. But it’s rarely a GOOD choice, and it’s NEVER a thing that should be ignored or shunted aside. And $16,754,659,148,507 just … inconceivable. It’s shameful. It’s so far beyond “mismanaged funds” I don’t even have a word for it.

Know what this country needs? Standards.

The Oatmeal webcomic


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