Monday, December 31, 2007

Discrimination: Cut it out

Imagine you find yourself one day sitting down at a bank, dressed quite professionally with a beautiful leather portfolio in hand. You have a detailed business plan prepared to offer the loan officer. You've spent months on your small business model and quite frankly, you believe you can just swing it. This plan will make you rich.

All you need is some starting capital. A little cash to grease the wheels of business so you can start getting to work.

The loan officer sits down in front of you, takes a quick look at your loan application and cracks a smirk. They look up with a bemused expression that screams "You're kidding me, right?"

But why? Your credit is superb. You're an intelligent person, fully capable of making adult decisions.

The loan officer chuckles a little bit.

"You're kidding me, right? You're way too old to learn this stuff."

You're livid. You can't believe what you're hearing. How can something be so bigoted, close minded and small? And isn't it against the law to behave in such a fashion?

You're right, loan discrimination is quite illegal.

That is, when it's directed at you from someone else. You're on your own when you impose it on yourself. You'd be surprised at the kind of limitations people put on themselves simply to get out of having to do something that's just a little uncomfortable.

They think they're too old to relearn their own finances. Or maybe they're not smart enough. Or they're the wrong gender. Or that the spouse will take care of the issue.

These people just nod and go along with everything an authority figure says. But truth be told, if you're capable of living on your own, you are capable of handling everything from a monthly budget to a small business loan.

Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures. We can learn and relearn a multitude of things right up until the thinker stops churning, and there's nothing stopping you from doing just that. It doesn't matter if you're just entering the world of personal finance, or you're 78 and your spouse (who handled every detail for the past 50 years) has just passed away. It doesn't matter if you're a high school drop out, if you work minimum wage or if you're a man or a woman.

You wouldn't stand for discrimination against you, yet a surprising amount of people impose it on themselves on a daily basis. They chuckle and dismiss critically important tasks simply under the proverbs "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" or "I'm no mathematician, numbers make me uncomfortable."

It's not so terrible for these people if they have someone with their best interests in mind, a spouse or relative who handles all the dough. But it's the equivalent of someone spoon feeding them.

They are not adults. They are fully grown humans. I should know, I was one not too long ago.

It also leads to a dangerous situation when this personal finance manager isn't around. The self discriminated individual develops a "Yes" syndrome. They've trained themselves to believe that they're incapable of handling money out of a day to day basis. And they've ignored everything the spouse or relative has been doing because of the simple fact that they haven't needed to. So they don't know anything.

And when someone who does know the ins and outs confronts them, rather than asking embarrassingly obvious questions, they simply nod, sign and say "yes" over and over again. This is incredibly dangerous because (a) contracts signed by someone too ignorant to read and understand them fully are still valid and (b) the authority figure going on and on about the highly technical subject of finances has their own best interests in mind, not the signers.

More people need to adopt the modus operandi of refusing to be embarrassed. When someone explains something highly complex and technical and asks "Do you understand?" it is imperative that the truth be told.

They're paid to explain these things. And if the subject is still not understood after their explanation, they did not do their job well. Ask again. And again if necessary. Require a full understanding and explanation, always. It's even more crucial if you're putting pen to paper and signing a contract. It sounds extremely obvious, but it's so easy to gloss over it and sign just to get the lender to shut up and stop your embarrassment.

But in the end of things it is your responsibility and yours alone to educate yourself. And if discrimination doesn't fly with you, stop imposing it on yourself.


Anonymous said...

my mom does this all the time. she says she's too old and my father'll take care of it. the stress she should have taken of of his shoulders is staggering.

Anonymous said...

Excellent essay...
You're 100% correct. I think many people get way too content in their comfort zone, and are willing to delegate personal responsibilities to others. But, like you stated so well, it truly is never to late to take charge of oneself.

My mom passed away at 57 and my dad was clueless. He literally had to walk through the house and open drawers and such to know where things were. He had no idea about their financial affairs, because my mom had been solely paying the bills. It was nuts! But, eventually he figured it out and learned how to handle it. We still help him with issues...but, he is not afraid to go to the bank and ask a question if he needs to. I'm pretty proud of him. He's 69 and he has learned many new skills!

Dennis said...

I agree with Dawn. While it's good to be laid back and go with the flow sometimes personal finances is not something that should be given a blind eye!

Kyle said...

Truth be told, I've been lying about understanding things that have gone right over my head for years, ever since grade school. It's incredibly hard to say "I don't understand" to somebody when they finish explaining something complex to you (or sometimes simple things that you still can't get a grasp on).

It makes you feel small and stupid. But then honestly when it comes to finance, would you rather feel small and stupid for not understanding something being told to you, or would you rather feel incredibly stupid when your attempts to cover for your embarrassment costs you something far more than just your pride?

Ed said...

Anonymous, Dawn, Dennis and Kyle: Thanks for all your comments!

I think this is a problem my mother found herself in when my father died. That part of my life is still a little hazy, but I think she struggled to get things organized when my father finally passed away.

So I know exactly what you're talking about, Dawn. I'm glad your father become a better person and grew in the aftermath of your mother's death!

Bugtheteacher said...

This is great thanks for the motivation to learn it no matter what we think may limit us.


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