Americans: The Overcomers

It strikes as both frightening and eerily fascinating how many individuals live one paycheck away from financial oblivion. I see it nearly every day. Resilient but shaken are most clients that walk through the tinted glass doors at the personal injury law firm where I work.

Many are blue-collar, state-dependent individuals that manage to stay afloat financially – but just barely. A substantial number have no formal education beyond high school. Some are secretaries, medical assistants, and waitresses. Others are unemployed, or illegal. Still a few are drug dealers, drug abusers or homeless. Regardless of one’s background, these are our clients, and we treat them just as we would the upper and middle class folk; we have those clients too (though few and far between).

For being one accident away from fiscal ruin, these clients do survive. For example, Sally (a pseudonym) was rear ended when an F-250 barreling down at thirty miles an hour failed to stop. The impact totaled her 1997 Oldsmobile Alero. Sally did not have insurance on her car; it lapsed because she needed to pay rent – not that it mattered anyway since originally she only possessed state-minimal liability coverage. It’s frightening really. Sally has no other vehicle and the defendant insurance company in this case will take three weeks to accept responsibility for the accident. Her boss will fire Sally if she does not arrive at work on time. Besides her injuries, transportation is her main issue.

Sally represents the majority of our clients. Clients like her live paycheck to paycheck with little to no rainy-day savings. One auto accident potentially cripples them. Here, Sally manages to bum rides, take the bus, bike and think of other temporary ways to plan for the next day. I cannot commend her lack of financial planning, but I am fascinated with how clients like Sally manage to survive. Without fail, the hardships they endure because of an accident are overcome. I’m not sure how they do it, but they do.

As of late, I can’t help but think this is the American way, for better or worse. With the depressed economy, underwater mortgages, unemployment near ten percent and more debt in dollars than stars in the sky, I often wonder what the future holds for this country. Somewhere along the way, Americans have failed to grasp the basic principles of sound financial planning. “Saving for a rainy day” takes a back seat to “buy now, pay later.” When that rainy day arrives, Americans struggle not to drown.

I don’t mean to criticize or demean those that are barely making ends meet. Just the opposite, even those hanging by a thread manage to press onward; this is commendable. Nonetheless, proper planning is always an acceptable trump card to play. While we can overcome accidents and terrorist attacks man-made disasters, we also need to be prudent in planning for the unanticipated. Baby steps like saving a portion of one’s paycheck in a bank can offset many of the financial disasters that inevitably occur. Though it is important to help clients like Sally, it is equally important to teach those like Sally the methods to adequate prepare for life’s interruptions.

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