You can't avoid hearing about them these days--people making stupid financial choices. I heard a while back from a woman with huge debts wanting arguments for convincing her husband to cash in his retirement savings so she could buy yet more consumer crap. Some of these people are stupid--or at least ignorant about financial matters. But I think many of these cases are something else. Some of these people are not stupid. They are, rather, hopeless.
After all, hope for a better future is the driving force behind most good financial decisions. Saving and investing are always forward-looking actions. Even something as simple as buying the large box of laundry detergent when the unit cost is less only helps you in the future, when you don't have to go to the store and buy yet another box of the stuff.
It's easy to look at people who, in the face of all the good information nevertheless make stupid choices--and figure that they must be stupid people.
But making smart decisions about the future only makes sense if you have one.
Now, there will be people out there who figure that it doesn't matter--that stupid is as stupid does and don't see why should we care why others make stupid decisions. I see at least two reasons why we should care.
First, you need to understand the difference if you want to help. No amount of education or good advice will help someone who's hopeless. What the hopeless person needs is to see a clear path to a better future.
Second, though, it's worth understanding the difference between stupidity and hopelessness simply as a matter of seeing the world as it really is; of knowing what's true.
There are plenty of people out there who can't even imagine a life where their finances aren't out of control. It's easy to sneer at people who make obviously self-destructive financial choices, but I think it's wrong-headed. What they need is not scorn, nor advice, nor even a handout. What they need is hope. I wish I knew how to give it to them.
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