Society Makes It OK To Be Broke

society says it's OK to be brokeWe all know that millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and often turn to credit cards to get by until the end of the month. I don’t believe anyone sets out to bury themselves in debt, but there certainly isn’t a stigma attached like back in the old days when you didn’t buy it if you didn’t have the cash. I think our society makes it OK, even revered, to be broke.

I had a patient recently who could be the poster child for paycheck to paycheck. He had no idea what his insurance coverage was other than “it was through his wife.” His wife had never been to our office. He was told he’d need to go ahead and pay for the exam and we could reimburse him after we had the correct insurance information.

Him:“But I don’t have any money and I don’t get paid until Friday.”

Office: “We can reschedule your appointment.

Him: “But I’m playing softball tonight and need a pair of contacts. My last one tore yesterday.

Office: “Do you know what your wife’s insurance plan is?”

Him: “She works at the post office.

Office: “Well, we can check some of the more common plans to see if she’s a member. Do you know the last four digits of her social security number?”

Him:” Uhhhhhhhh. No.”

I Don’t Have Any Money.. Except For Cigarettes

At that point, he left the office to go to the post office to ask his wife what her social security number was. Thank goodness for small towns!  When he came back with the number, our office did a search and found his wife’s insurance and got him authorized for his exam. This took about 20 minutes.

During the exam, he admitted that he’d been wearing old contacts for the past two years, (which is as bad as Brent!). When I asked why, he said that he wasn’t able to buy new lenses because of financial reasons.

I also have to mention that  he smelled so strongly of cigarette smoke that it made my eyes water to be in the same room with him. He had the obligatory pack of Marlboro reds in his shirt pocket. I’ve never smoked but I’d say he is at least is a pack a day guy, probably more.

Another Happy Customer

So, as you probably can already guess, I did not do what I should have done, which was tell him he would have to reschedule his appointment because he came unprepared, and finding his insurance information took his exam time up for the day.

I did not tell him that because of this, that’s 20 minutes I won’t get to see my family today.

I did not tell him that if he can afford his cigarettes, he can afford contact lenses.

I also did not tell him that I would not give him lenses, even though he probably will continue to abuse them. If he gets an ulcer or infection from dirty contacts, I’ll see him and do whatever it takes to make him feel better.

Because we aim to please, I was super nice, stayed late to finish his exam. I even gave him a brand new pair of contacts to play softball. He was very happy and thankful that we were able to help. Another satisfied customer.

Was this the right thing or did I continue to enable him in living paycheck to paycheck? I’m not picking on this patient or even on smokers. This could be a million different people who are broke for a million reasons but still smoke, drink, get tatoos, have personalized ring tones, drive a car with a payment that takes a quarter of their income and just got the new iPhone 6,even though their old one worked just fine. Being broke gives you something to talk about when you’re out with your buddies having dinner or drinks after work!

In reality, if I’d told him no, he would find someone else who would say yes. That’s kind of how the world works, at least in the US. We keep on abusing the system and screwing up our priorities until something awful happens, then maybe, just maybe, we change our ways. I do sometimes wish we could go back in time to when you couldn’t buy things unless you could pay.

 How have our financial priorities gotten so screwed up? Who’s to blame?


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  1. Oh boy – you’ve really opened a can of worms for me. I get so frustrated by people claiming they’re broke or don’t earn enough, when in actuality the truth is they can’t prioritize financially.

    Here in the UK it’s normal for young people (18-30ish) to be out drinking regularly. It’s just the done thing. However I lose track of how many of these people over the years have been out drinking night after night, spending their money. Then, half way through the month they’re broke and are telling me they can’t afford their rent etc. and can they have an advance?

    We PF bloggers are perhaps a little different – finances are high on our agenda. But I would say that a sign of maturity is getting a proper control on your everyday finances.

  2. Whoa. I’m impressed that you didn’t call him out on it. I probably would’ve resorted to snarky commentary. You’re a better woman than I :)! Also, I’m somehow deeply disturbed that he didn’t know his wife’s insurance or SSN. Additionally, every time I read about “dirty contacts,” I’m deeply grateful that I got Lasik surgery last year 🙂

    1. I am deeply disturbed at how many people have no clue who their insurance coverage is through and what it covers.

  3. I ‘love’ the smokers who complain about money. Or any type of people who recklessly spend money on crap and then expect someone else to care for them or be sorry. If you can afford the cigarettes, you should afford lenses or anything that’s more important than this.

  4. after hearing those scary stories of the amoeba eating corneas of contact lens wearers who didn’t take them out, I would be very adamant to any kid of mine to clean them daily! (or get disposables)

    When it comes to smokers, they are really the most hard-headed people about their spending. Here in NYC, where cigarettes can be $12/pack, people still do it. They’re worse than me and dessert!

    1. $12 or more a day to fund a habit that will kill or severely impact your quality of life someday is really the dumbest use of money I can think of.

  5. Great read Kim I see this all the time with patients where I practice. You definitely did the right thing as it’s your job to treat his problem, even though he obviously has bigger ones. And I agree about it being okay, almost “cool”, to be broke as it gives something to bond over. Misery loves company after all. At least he’s getting some exercise in the form of playing softball.

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