It's Not the Money
"Are you a MexiCAN or a MexiCAN'T??"--Sands,
"Once Upon a Time in Mexico"
It's one of my favorite movie lines of
all, really...although the Robert Rodriguez action sequel to
"Desperado" was an overall disappointment, that line, uttered by the
Johnny Depp character, always makes me laugh. Really--in the
face of a great challenge, who are you? What do you really
want out of a situation, the easy way or the hard way?
I have referenced the line a lot lately
as we weather a difficult time in this country, at least, relatively
speaking. You have probably been hearing about the terrible
economy, mass layoffs every week and disastrous 401(k) plans.
You probably have also noticed--at least, if you DON'T live in
downtown Washington, DC--that home prices have been dropping in many
markets, that every major retailer is offering huge sales (if they
are still in business), and that you should be liquidating the
supply of gold in your home stash for big money online.
(Fact: by any conservative
estimate, 85-90% of eligible-to-work Americans are working and fully
employed. That number rises 2-5% for those with a college
education working in "white collar" positions, depending on regional
Flipping things around, though, has been
a point of emphasis here at Casa de Booch (Bell/Cooch); it has also
led me to the brink of frustration when people complain about money. No, not
those who have recently been laid off/fired...no, not even the ones
who work at GM or Ford and are waiting for THAT phone call.
I'm talking about smart, educated, employed people who, even at the
age of thirty-XXXX, are still trying to blow by me by playing the
JUSTIN, SERIOUSLY, RIGHT NOW, THINGS ARE
REALLY TIGHT...I JUST DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO--
Stop. Stop it right there.
When it comes to money, it's important to highlight a couple of things.
The first thing that stands out? Everyone, EVERYONE, does what
is most important to them. That's key, right? Everyone
has priorities, and generally within reason, everyone always is able
to do what's most important to them. So, if you really want to
buy dinner, or take a trip, or justify that new LCD television, you
will find a way. When I was making $35,000 a year way back
when, I somehow magically found a way to go to Prague for a week;
when I didn't have a job and ultimately didn't have consistent
full-time work for over a year in San Francisco, somehow, I made it
work. I'm not special, but whenever I thought I couldn't
afford something, I didn't make any excuses...I just said no.
Politely, of course, like "Hey man, thanks for the offer...I can't
make it." A reason why isn't important.
Second, assume that everyone you know is
smarter than you, and will think through both why they are asking
you if you would like to join for an activity, and how it's possible
that money could be a problem for you in committing to the activity.
This is vital. Using this as your
mode of thinking, your first thought should be "Wow, why is XXXX
asking me to go to Iceland? They must think I can afford it,
and they must like me enough to want to ask me to attend a trip of
this magnitude. But, I fucking hate XXXX...how can I get out
of this? Maybe I'll cite money." Bad idea...because of
the second half of this equation.
A smart person will probably have run
the numbers. On everything, or at least enough to make an
educated guess. Like, they may be able to make a guess at what
your combined household income looks like. Or, that you drive
a car that says BMW, Lexus, Infiniti or Mercedes-Benz on the back,
and not Kia, Honda, Ford or Hyundai on the back. Or,
that you live in a high-end condo. Or flipping it around, that
you just bought a house, and are cash-strapped due to a hefty down
payment. Or, that you have kids, and they just got dropped
into daycare. Or, that you just came back from a three-week
trip to France. Or, that you take classes at night at the
local community college.
Knowing all of the above, I asked a
friend the other day to dinner (total spend: about $50), and the response that came back from
her was literally
"Wow, that sounds pretty cool...that
sounds kind of expensive for the budget right now. Let me know
the next time you guys grab food nearby!"
Now, it's possible that Betty's budget
is tight right now. Then, I thought about it more critically.
Betty is married (no kids); between the two of them, a conservative
estimate puts their income at $150,000/year. After taxes,
maybe that gives them $90,000 a year in take-home pay. Per
month, that gives them about $7,500. This couple hosts nice
dinner parties, regularly ask me to go out with them to nice
dinners, social events, comedy shows, clubs. They appear to
have a handsome disposable income, and they rent in Virginia,
generally a bit cheaper than downtown DC prices.
So, is it really the money?
Maybe...but, I think it was Betty's gut
reaction to the question that made her claim it was money. Is
it the cycle of fear around money in America these days that forced
that answer? Maybe just the nicest way to say no thank you?
Did she think I would feel sorry for her claiming that money was the
problem? Could also be the best way for Betty to slowly begin
phasing me out of her life, too, I guess. But, all of it made
me question why so many people I know or read stories about always
cop to the money problem, especially when they ARE FULLY EMPLOYED
AND HAVE NO PROBLEMS WITH MONEY.
It's got to be bigger than that, right?
Why don't people ever just say what's on their mind? Are they
afraid to kill people with kindness, or in some cases, honesty?
Isn't "directly" the only way to answer a question? When did
we as a people get so soft we couldn't say no because of the real
"Justin, I don't want to go with you
because I really hate Irish bars."
"Justin, I can't make it to the club
tonight because I've got a bead on this ridiculously hot Japanese
woman coming to a party later."
"Justin, I'm not interested in getting a
beach house with you for one simple reason...Don't pass this along,
but I freakin' hate Sally and I know she's planning on going with
"Justin, full disclosure--my couch is
more comfortable. Have a good time without me."
All good! Just be honest in the
moment and no one will have an issue with you! Why is it that
almost no one gets that???
I've decided that starting in April, I'm
just going to call out everyone who tries to blow by me because of
money. The second I hear/read the "yeah, listen, the thing
about the cost is...", I'm going to stop you, call you out and then
ask you to try again with a more honest approach. Hey, maybe
it really is money, but my guess is that it's something else.
People and their commitment to their
word have really been interesting in the TXT age we live in...I've
been amazed at how people say no now, not that they say no, because
we all make choices that force an answer. It's also been fun
for hard-working people I know to make excuses for things they could
do with their eyes closed, as if we could really believe that these
overachievers suddenly can't, say, cold-call 25 people a day or chip
in their share at dinner at Chili's and then drive their
$800-a-month Range Rover home, or even walking six minutes down the
street to the store instead of driving there because they're too
It's like a friend of mine told me way
back in college about time...I used to always cop to saying things
like "Yeah, I just didn't have the time to support your cause", blah
blah blah. Now, after getting called out by this friend a few
times, I try to remember to go with "I have the time to support your
cause, but I just chose not to..." instead. Sure, it's a
quiet, simple, minimal change to the language, but it's accurate
now, and not a bald-faced lie. Face up, people!
Random Bellviews, courtesy of Bell &
Longer Community Trust:
Not one, but two arm sleeves on
college hoops players:
Watching DeJuan Blair grab rebounds: $9.50 Show
Listening to Verne and The Raft work
their magic...but, not getting them for the Final Four: Matinee
The Sweet 16 games in this year's
What's his name as the new UVA men's
hoops coach: Hard Vice