The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

Archive for the ‘personal development’ Category

Have some respect!

Posted by Max Finkle on July 23, 2008

I griped some time ago about an outstanding medical bill that wasn’t covered by my insurance in a previous post. They were trying to whack me $275 for some labs that my doctor’s office had sent to the wrong laboratory company. My insurer mandates that all labs go to one specific company for processing, and my doctor’s office decided they liked this other company better. So, here I was stuck shouldering the cost. The bill sat on my desk for three months, until I could stand it no more, and simply had to call to arrange some sort of compromise, or at the very least, a payment plan.

Now, it is a medical related bill, and if I so desired, I could simply ignore it, and it would go to collection, I would get pestered for a little while and then it would go away. But, money works in mysterious ways, and I’ve begun to believe that if you treat your money with care & respect, it will treat you likewise. To ignore this bill would have been an abuse of my money, and the negativity would carry through to other parts of my finances. I’m not entirely sure why it works this way, but it seems to.

Two hundred & seventy five dollars seemed a trifle too much to me, and when the nice lady picked up on the other end, I let her know it. The conversation went similarly to this:

Her: “Hello, my name is Sydney (not her real name) how can I help you?”

Me: Hi, I’m Jeremy, I am calling regarding a bill I received.

Her: OK, may I have your account number?

Me: Certainly. It’s OU812 (Not the real account number).

Her: Thank you. I see you have an outstanding balance of $275.

Me: Yes, that what I’m calling to discuss. That seems a little high.

Her: Well, I understand how you feel, but that is what we normally charge for those services.

Me: Now, I know that you give discounts to insurers, so that those very same labs would cost significantly less for them. I’m just wondering how I might qualify for that very same sort of discount. I would like to pay the bill, but it really is more than I can hack right now.

Her: I’m sorry, but we are unable to do that. We have contracts with insurers that give them those discounts, unfortunately, there is no such arrangement for the services on this bill.

Me: I understand that, since you are unable to help me, could you put me in touch with someone who maybe could?

Her: Well, I can try to get my supervisor.

Me: Tell you what, if you simply knock 50% off the bill, I will send you a check for that entire amount today.

Her: Here, let me put you through to my supervisor.

Me: OK.

Supervisor: Hello, my name is Rachel (not her real name), can I help you?

Me: I’m having an issue with this bill. It seems my insurance won’t cover it, because they contract with a different lab, and now I’m stuck with it.

Rachel: I see, so basically your doctor’s office sent the specimens to be processed at the wrong lab. That happens a lot. Actually, is this the first time this has happened to you?

Me: Yeah.

Rachel: If I remember correctly, your insurer does provide a clause for issues like this, and will offer a one time payment to cover it. You’ll just have to work with your doctor’s office to be sure any future labs are sent to the appropriate processor. I will call the contact person at your insurance that deals with these issues, and see if we can get them to cover our services to you this one time.

Me: Really? Thank you so much! Thank you very much for your time and have a good day.

Rachel: Thank you, and goodbye.

I spent three months steaming over this bill. I’ve mulled it over, trying to figure out what transpired in my life recently to make this issue work out in my favor. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m developing a new respect for money. I’m changing the way I think about it and feel about it, and how I handle it. Furthermore, two significant things happened this week:

1. I donated a sizable sum to a charity organization for the first time in my life, despite my own financial difficulties. I’ve come to believe in the power of giving, and the positive effects it has on your life. It feels good to know that I did something small, but extraordinary (to me, anyway) with my money. Normally I fret about bills unpaid, and get depressed because of it, and use that to justify not sharing my good fortune.
2. I faced the music regarding a bill I owed, even though the mistake wasn’t mine that produced it. Instead of taking the easy way out, and ignoring it, knowing that the long term consequences were nil, I decided to respect my money and do the right thing. I was prepared to pay it.

In turn, the consequence was that the solution to this issue with the lab company ended up saving me, not just a portion of the bill, but the entire balance due. To top it off, I’m coming away from this knowing that it was settled properly, and not just swept under the carpet. Something just seems right about the whole thing to me. Any thoughts anyone?

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Drop the Attitude, dude!

Posted by Max Finkle on July 15, 2008

Attitude. What’s your attitude about money? Theory goes that if you think like the rich do, you can achieve wealth, too. For me, I’ve got some long held opinions of the rich that aren’t very flattering. Reconciling those attitudes is taking work, because I only now, in my late thirties, am trying to confront those beliefs, and reconcile with them, so that I can move forward in my quest for financial freedom.

For starters, I grew up in a small farming community in Western Massachusetts, where most folks were living comfortably, or at least getting by. Although the factories had long since closed, there was work to be had, and many folks ran their own businesses either in construction or doing some other form of manual labor if they didn’t farm.

My family was relatively poor, primarily because my stepfather had some very serious substance abuse issues. Pretty much most of what he earned went towards his habits. That’s not to say that we didn’t have periods of prosperity in our house, but they were interspersed with longer periods of having no money.

My stepfather was a construction contractor and built homes for wealthy people all the time. He would come home with sordid tales of excess, with spoiled rich wives making them redo projects because things weren’t perfect, or eccentric doctors who insisted on gold plated faucets in their bathrooms. At the end of the week when my mom needed to buy groceries, and there was no money, it was their fault because they withheld their check for services rendered, or when he subcontracted, the wealthy contractor he was working for was giving him the run-around all the time.

Because we had no money we looked for reasons to hate those who did. The banker family in town? A bunch of snobs. The children always had the best clothes, and as far as we were concerned, walked around with their noses in the air. The family with the dad who was a stock broker? Well, they were just strange, since they weren’t born and raised in town, and were outsiders, so they couldn’t be trusted. The U.S. ambassador that had a summer home in the country? We snarled in disgust at the tennis court that marred the roadside scenery, and mocked the in-ground pool as unnecessary in country living. If those people wanted to be in the sticks with us, they should’ve acted like us as well, seemed to be the general sense of things. In other words, they should’ve acted poor, since it seemed most of us in town were just getting by.

As I got older, I continued to associate money with excess. I was far from popular, and it seemed that all the popular kids in school were well off, and all seemed to sneer at those of us who weren’t. It was also around this time that I began to be exposed to alternative media that seemed to always point to corporate excess, and the idea that the rich keep getting richer, and the poor, poorer. Those corporate execs were giving themselves all kinds of enriching bonuses while the planet was being polluted by their companies’ waste, and people like us were barely able to stay on top of our bills.

I remember watching the news during the Enron debacle, and Mrs. Ken Lay was on t.v. She was crying because the public just didn’t understand the emotional distress she was experiencing when they lost their multi-million dollar summer “cottage” in Aspen, CO. Of course it’s difficult to appreciate that when you can’t even relate, or even come close to grasping the idea that someone owned a summer home that was larger than any house you’ve ever lived in in your life as a primary residence, never mind a summer cottage.

I remember tending bar and one of my customers was a millionaire, because, as she put it, she divorced well. She had totaled her Porsche driving drunk and griped for weeks about how outrageous it was that her riches couldn’t help her duck the charges. “What’s the use of having all this money if I can’t buy my way out of this,” she lamented out loud one day.

Another time working at the bar, we looked to see a Mercedes SUV parked on the curb out front. We all marveled at the beauty of the vehicle, and wondered who it was that was lucky enough to drive it. It wasn’t long before he came in, drunk as a skunk, crying in his beer to us about his financial woes. He was worth several hundred million dollars, with lucrative government contracts raking in more and more millions. People gathered around him in awe. He bought rounds for everyone, and tipped the bartender more than the rest of the bar put together that night. At one point he pulled out a gigantic roll of $100 bills and placed it on the bar. “There’s $10,000 right there. All this money, and it doesn’t make me happy.” He cried about how his wife was spending an average of $25,000 a month, and refused to curb her spending. Everyone pitied him, and tried to comfort him.

Me, I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay my rent, since I was working two part-time jobs for nearly minimum wage. And this guy had the audacity to come here and cry to us? We were all working class Joes in that bar, aside from the occasional rich person who came in because they heard it was a cool place to hang out. They weren’t one of us, I felt, and had no business being there.

Since I never really rubbed elbows socially with the wealthy, I presumed that they had disdain for me because I wasn’t as well off as they were. Consequently, I felt they deserved my disdain, and I refused to allow myself to believe that any rich person could actually be “cool.” To me, you were only cool if you were broke. I surrounded myself with other people who were broke, and we lamented our mutual fates as we squandered our earnings on cigarettes, lottery and excessive drinking, and whatever other opportunities for instant gratification came our way.

Now, as I work to reform my financial life, I’m developing a new appreciation for money. I pay attention to stories of the generous, those people who have more, and share with the less fortunate. A friend of mine who used to own a limo service tells me tales of the rich and famous that he chauffeured around, and relates stories of generosity, and people who were just genuinely good to him, because it was their nature. I observe those with money around me, and I am more able to separate behavior and attitude from money. I try to respect my money, and obtain as much value for each dollar that I possess, so that I may have more for my future. My goal is to squander none.

Most importantly, I realize it’s okay to have money, that it’s not going to make me a bad person. It’s okay to want more, but for the right reasons. I used to want more it so I could buy stuff, now I want it so I can build a more secure future. I don’t judge others by what they have compared to what I have, I judge them for who they are. I’m developing an understanding of money, far deeper than I’ve ever known before. I’m finding that it’s not the outside influences, but the inside influences that have gotten me where I am today. As I weed through them, I’m finding the ones that make me most happy and focusing on those, and I’m finding that good things are coming my way. And it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

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Failing to succeed

Posted by Max Finkle on May 15, 2008

Failure. (Shudder…) It’s the mighty obstacle one needs to overcome to succeed. For instance, my desire to start this blog. I’m afraid I’ll fail at it. I’m afraid of the idea of failure. I’ve put off writing posts, and made excuses for why I can’t succeed, simply because of the mere possibility that this whole thing could fail. Then I wasted my efforts, right?

Whenever I start thinking of failure, it brings to mind one of my dad’s favorite stories about a friend who owns a local store. Mel, we’ll call him, opened a successful store in a leased space many moons ago. Opportunity knocked, a chunk of land became available in just the right spot, so he pounced. After buying the land, he applied to a local bank for a loan to start construction. So certain was he that he’d get approved, he hired contractors to get started and they broke ground. After a couple of days they had the rough framing work completed, and at 5pm on the promised day the nice loan officer called to inform Mel that the bank would not be able to finance him.

Mel promptly hung up the phone, went into the bathroom and vomited. He had tens of thousands of dollars in construction under way, with no way to pay for it. I’m not sure what I would have done from there, but he decided to ply other financial institutions for a loan the next day. He successfully secured financing that very day. Construction continued and his store went on to become one of the most successful businesses in town and has made him quite wealthy in the meantime. A bump in the road was not going to be enough to make him quit his dream of being a successful entrepreneur.

Mel got his start selling a trailer load of Persian rugs off the back of a truck, started a couple of other businesses and got involved in real estate. Most of those ventures never paid off, and he shuttered them. But he never gave up. He never let his fear of failure stop him from succeeding.

I remember being in school a few years ago and having panic attacks about failure. “What if this doesn’t work? What if I don’t get the grades to stay in the program? What if I finish the program and can’t pass the licensing exam? How am I going to get a decent job? How am I going to get ahead?” At times I was virtually paralyzed by fear, unable to make the next move to continue my studies.

Finally, my mom stopped me and said, “So what if you fail? You’ll try something else and keep trying until you find something you succeed at. Most people don’t succeed the first time they try something. If you fail, at least you tried.”

As it turned out, I succeeded. When the workload at school got more difficult, I doubled my efforts to complete the work, and studied that much harder to understand the material. I still battled the fear of failure, and it was a furious battle, but I perceviered.

Try to keep in mind that success is right around the corner. We don’t know which one, but we gotta keep peeking around each one that we encounter until we find it! That sentiment applies to everything we face in life, from finishing school, to starting a business, to the more mundane such as learning to cook or type, or start a blog, and even to achieving financial independence.

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Overcoming discouragement

Posted by Max Finkle on May 9, 2008

Arguably the most difficult thing to overcome in this saga of mine is the constant roadblocks I encounter. I get yet another surprise payment due, such as professional insurance that I pay once a year, or my quarterly term life insurance, or the maintenance due on one of the vehicles that I had forgotten to budget for. It’s at those times that my heart rate quickens, I start feeling that sense of impending doom, and I just want to throw in my towel.

“Why not just embrace this Consumer Culture and spend?” I say to myself (not really that eloquently, I confess!). “I’m tired of being the only guy on the block with a 20 year old television, no 56 inch flat panel to watch the Sunday games on. I’m tired of making due without a laptop, and the incredible convenience it would provide. I’m sick of driving an older model car with dents and scratches.” And the list goes on, and I sink into a quagmire of self pity.

Then I get up for work the next day, and wonder why I have to do that, too. I’m tired of dragging my tired tail out of bed, just so I can go to work to earn money for someone else. I whine to myself that it’s not fair that I can’t spend the day with my children, or attend a gathering with friends, or whatever else I’d rather do than go to work. And the list goes on, and I sink into a quagmire of self pity.

Then I sit back and think about which path is going to help me achieve those things that I would rather be doing. Embracing the Consumer Culture gives me short term gratification, because I get to have the luxuries that I want now. There’s a great caveat in that though, because then I still have to pay for them, and I still have to get up early to go to work and make money for someone else, so I can pay for the luxuries I covet.

On the other hand, living without those luxuries, living with a touch of frugality, drives me closer to my long term goals of being financially secure. I can work towards my goals of eventually working less and enjoying my children, family and friends more. That’s when I’m reminded of why I live without many luxuries that I’d like to have.

I’ve established a goal in my mind, and that is to be able to maximize the time I spend with my family. I have only one chance in this lifetime to do that. While I mourn the loss of countless hours spent working, I revel in the idea that in the next few years, my financial situation will hopefully enable me to pursue those things that I truly value in life.

Many financial advisers suggest you make a list of items important to you. I can’t help it, but every time my family seems to float to the top of that list. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and that knowledge allows me to overcome constant discouragements, and continue to the pursuit of my dream of financial security.

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