Sunday, November 23

Why aren't we a target audience?

I'm in a mood.

I sat down at the computer this afternoon and caught up on some PF blog reading. Unfortunately for those on my blog list I was a little easily rankled today and left a few slightly snarly comments.

The one that really got me going was the review of the book You're Broke Because You Want to Be.

I get that the vast majority of Americans reading PF blogs are the ones who got there through overconsumption, etc. But, man, I just get tired of never being in the target audience.

This guy's book has a catchy title and attitude sells. I get that. But what about those of us who did (almost) everything right?

I'm not claiming to be perfect. I chose Tim, knowing he was impulsive by nature. That manifested itself in a lot of small purchases that added up fast. And I even chose to let myself get carried away in that spirit from time to time, so that I could justify a few shirts or whatever from Macy's.

For the record, I consider a shopping "spree" to be, well, anything over $20. But the instances I'm referring to were around $100-150 each. Still irresponsible. But the inner-grouch in me points out that lots of people spend that much each month on coffee drinks.

At any rate, we're not well-off. Anyone who has read any of my posts about our life know that. We're living on $3,098 a month, and Tim's insurance (which is lower than his COBRA) is $336 each month. Our rent is $700. Then there are doctor's visit co-pays $15 each, at least two a month. And the $500 deductible the new insurance has. And medications (my energy pills are $107 per month when bought in 3-month bundles).

Still, we're doing our level best to chip away at the debt, even as more expenses pop up right and left.

And since I spend so much energy on not going stark, raving mad from the sheer, endless onslaught of life's steady progression, well... It is easy to get sick of these books' bland blandishments. Catchy phrases sell books, but there are no pithy summations for people like Tim and I. (At least, none that I can think of at present.)

Perhaps the worst part about these books is that you start to feel so universally left out. You're told to cut your coffee drinks. Never had a taste for the stuff. Downgrade to basic cable. I was already there. Shop supermarket sales. Doesn't everyone do this anyway?

You start to feel so alone, because these books ignore that some people aren't in debt from the choices they make. Unless the uber-conservatives want to go a step further and start calling disability a lifestyle choice.

Yet I know there are lots of people in this country on disability. Or low-wage earners who have to fight to stay out of debt. But all we ever seem to hear are the sob stories from reformed spendaholics.

What about those of us who never got to have that fun in the first place? What about those of us who are just struggling to survive life, rather than survive our own personal-finance blindness? How do we keep going? How do we find corners to cut?

Why isn't anyone speaking to us?

Well, the answer is simple: We never so much as clear our throats, much less ask a question.

Until we start getting ticked off -- okay, so I'm already there but I was always a fast learner -- and start making ourselves a target audience, of course the sector will be overrun by spoiled spenders.

So far as I've found yet, I'm the only disability/PF blog combo. And I only started because I was pissed off that no one else had!

Why aren't we talking to these brilliant PF gurus? Why aren't we saying, "No, we're not lazy! We're not spending stupidly! Now what else have you got for us?"

I don't even think they've much considered our situations when they write their books. Because, really, why would they?

Suze Orman said that she rewrote her rules for Young, Fabulous and Broke only after a friend's daughter told her point-blank that her advice didn't apply to the current generation. That the rules were different. Orman thought long and hard and then started writing for this new population.

We're never going to get answers until we ask a question. And my voice shouting into the void of the blogosphere probably isn't enough to do it. Even with nepotism and intrigue, I'm still a newbie blogger who has a ways to go before she can be called "popular."

So what are we to do, folks? Or, rather, since I'm doing my part: What are you going to do?

Because if I have to read one more debt book putting the blame on my indulgent lifestyle, I may actually have to start screaming.

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Blogger The J said...

I can readily think of 2 reasons that we aren't the target market: there are no pithy answers to make entertaining reading, and what answers there are are hard to take and rarely solve the problem. It's tough to write a 10-step plan with caveats written at the end of every chapter "but if you have a crash, you're screwed". Most publishers want the dazzling package "if you follow our simple plan, you'll be a millionaire!!" rather than "well, these might help if you're lucky, but even if you do make the cutting sacrifices you are probably still shit out of luck because the system is cruel that way".

Wasn't the first Tightwad Gazette self published?

Then again, I was never a target market, even when I was well. In the lull population between the Boomers and the Repeats. Never had much disposable income, and little urge to use it on "consumerism". Educated enough by upbringing and formal education to see behind most hype, and know better than to fall for "the easy way to...". Couple that with a rare personality profile according to Myers-Briggs, and a non-traditional field of study, I have trouble finding common ground with people at a social gathering, let alone in bookstores and blogs. So I guess it didn't strike me as strongly as it did you.

However when I was trying to figure out how to make it work, I was just as frustrated at the lack of resources that way!

November 24, 2008 at 4:48 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Well put, The J.

I certainly agree with the fact that there are no easy answers, which troubles a lot of publishers. But there are certainly a lot of books about dealing (emotionally) with disabilities, which have no easy answers either. So clearly a tiny fraction of folks are willing to publish. They probably just go in with the idea that there won't be a profit made. (Then again, they said the same thing to Madeleine L'Engle, so who knows what to expect anymore?)

November 24, 2008 at 4:59 AM

Blogger Shtinkykat said...

Abby: I agree that those books weren't meant for you. They were meant for people like me - living high on the hog on credit. And I suspect that the authors are secretly hoping people like me will buy their book on credit too! :-)
I'm sorry there aren't any books that suit your needs. But where there's a vacuum there's an opportunity. You highlighted Suze's example. Have you considered writing a book yourself? You have the expertise since you are living the life. Your tips on coping with disabilities will be just as useful as any frugal tips anyone can provide.

November 24, 2008 at 5:56 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I fear my attention span is too short for writing a book. But, on the other hand, I started this blog a few months ago expecting that my attention would wander after a month's time (that's usually how it works).

So maybe, once Tim and I have dug ourselves further out, I'll devote some time and energy to proposing a book.

Until then, i think I'll just concentrate on keeping my head above water.

November 24, 2008 at 6:02 AM

Blogger Meg said...

My mom got me a book by Suze Ormon on 20-something finances, and it made me say bad words. Oh, really? I could be less broke if I cut my weekly salon trips down to every other week? Switched to basic cable? Stopped buying endless pairs of shoes?

Grr. We have tight finances because of an event that was beyond our control, not because I was throwing cash away on weekly manicures.

The thing is, it's easy to make a paycheck that covers rent and 100 impulse items start covering rent, bills and savings. It's hard to take a check that just pays the rent and make it start covering everything else.

I'm actually pretty comfortable with our finances. We have a car and a nice place to live. When my freelance work is going well, we have magazines and a meal out. When it's not, well, we aren't hungry.

What a long comment... I guess my anger at Suze's "wisdom" hasn't faded yet...

November 24, 2008 at 7:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, you're not completely alone - I share your frustrations. I live off of $2,400/month (net, after paying for family medical, dental, and life insurances, taxes, etc.) I have a $600 rent, I have $560/month daycare expenses, I have a nice student loan ("good debt") and a nice $3,000 credit card (my "bad debt")... and untold medical expenses for myself and my children that keep putting me under. It is incredibly frustrating to read about how my "vampire electricity" is causing me to go broke. And sometimes I feel like the tips and tricks I offer are incredibly useless to many people - but I want to write for those people who are "just barely getting by"... or are not getting by. I know that I'm one paycheck away from disaster. I'm nervous that my emergency fund is laughable. I'm afraid that the recession may put me further back with job loss - no avoiding the stupid latte is going to eradicate that problem.

I enjoy reading your blog because you feel much more "real" to me than, say, The Simple Dollar (no offense to Trent, but I'm a long way from becoming a blogger millionare). The most we can do is focus our energy on helping our families and staying strong. I think things are going to be much rougher for all of us - but I feel that those of us who "really" feel the squeezes of life (with the caveat that it's relative) are probably going to be best suited to handle it. I don't know about you, but I identify with far too many of the points on Being Poor

November 24, 2008 at 8:42 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Meg: Okay, well clearly I need to read before I speak. I was basing my comments on a show I watched, which she did for her book "Young, Fabulous, Broke." Probably still not germane to all 20-somethings. Well, *clearly* not germane to all 20-somethings.

Still, I suppose I just meant that at least she tried to change her advice to base it on young people graduating with huge student debt. Whether that's smart is a whole other issues. Along with whether it actually matches the bulk of our generation.

November 24, 2008 at 10:59 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

I don't really fit anywhere either, which is why I also started blogging.

While I have had some consumption issues, most of my challenges have been things like being a single parent with 3 kids for years, being in a car accident, having the tiny condo I finally bought need to be rebuilt twice from the studs out (fire *and* flood within a decade) and the expenses inherent in living a fully Orthodox Jewish life with kids.

Add to that the fact that my 2nd hubby & I are within 15 years of retirement with a 5 year old and very little in retirement savings.

Believe me, nobody is addressing issues like how to save more than about $100/month towards retirement while planning for a daughter who will be graduating high school about the time we're due to retire!

They talk about how you can downsize your house now that the kids are all gone. We've finally gone from years of being seriously underhoused to having just enough space.

I find I read a lot and I take little snippets from here and there but I get frustrated with a lot of the repetitious advice that doesn't apply to me.

I'm also creating a very npn-traditional retirement plan for us because there's no way we could do it the regular way.

I think there might be a bigger market than publishers imagine there is for a book providing financial advice for people who have different types of challenges. Perhaps it could be some kind of collaborative effort so all kinds of different issues could be addressed by people who've dealt with them.

I bet you could write or contribute to 4 or 5 chapters more easily than a whole book.

November 24, 2008 at 11:15 AM

Blogger Abby said...


Awww... Your compliments made all smiley!

Dopiness from compliments aside, I completely agree that those of us on the poorer side of things can find some other blogs a little less relevant. I was actually just commenting to my mom the other day that it was surprising how many of the really "big" bloggers now focus so much on investments at least as much as debt issues. Which makes sense for where they're at, I suppose, but it's frustrating.

Then again, it's just as frustrating to hear helpful debt hints that so completely don't apply to my situation. So I suppose they're damned if they do, damned if they don't from my perspective.

See, Grey, I wouldn't worry about being relevant. I think by the time you get down to the bare bones, it's more about whether people are willing to go to the lengths we do. (Granted, I'm not as huge an example of this as some, since fatigue restricts so much.)

Luckily, since I do have fatigue issues, Tim and I aren't forced into the most dire of frugal situations. In pinches, we have credit to fall back on -- such as co-pays for emergency rooms and other fun surprises.

I suppose I ought to count my blessings.

November 24, 2008 at 11:27 AM

Blogger Abby said...


Every so often I actually catch myself thinking about you in regards to costs that just can't be cut.

I mean, Tim and I could find an apartment *slightly* cheaper than $700 a month down in the south end, but probably not much less than $600. And we'd lose the available car that we have by living close to my mom.

On a completely different scale, I occasionally realize, is the costs of orthodoxy. Despite having a name like "Abigail" (and, for most of my life, "Freedman") I'm actually not Jewish. When my mom married the man I call my father, he adopted me and they changed my name. I was 2 at the time.

So I really didn't learn much about kosher food until I dated the son of an orthodox family. I was actually pondering it, the other day, thinking, "How much can you comparison shop and still stay kosher?"

Then I got into the thought patterns about having two sets of all plates & utensils.

In fact, about the only frugal aspect of your orthodoxy as far as I could see was that it would be close to impossible to find mainstream places to eat out, which could cut down on expenses. Although I suppose your sabbath from Friday to Saturday evening does cut down on some entertainment expenses, but there's always Sunday to make up for lost time.

I think a compilation book would be fascinating, though, you're right. I know that everyone talks about secularity in America, but I would be surprised if there wasn't a specialty niche for frugality in modern Judaism. I guess the trick would be finding the publisher.

I'm sure you can get right on that, after you feed and clothe your family, work 40 hours a week, keep your house clean and pay down debt.

November 24, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Blogger Shevy said...

"I'm sure you can get right on that, after you feed and clothe your family, work 40 hours a week, keep your house clean and pay down debt."

Loud explosive snicker!!

Uh, right. I'll let you know about your chapters.

Actually, the Orthodox "Tax" is one of the big reasons I was motivated to blog.

A minimum of *4* sets of dishes and pots and pans, utensils, cutlery, dishpans and drainers (milk and meat for Passover, milk and meat for the rest of the year) plus kosher meat, wine, cheese and other dairy products, as well as bakery products.

At least there is cheap kosher meat etc. right in Albertsons and QFC in Seattle, but here in Vancouver all that comes from 3 or 4 places and costs much more.

For example, the cheapest kosher wine (real wine, not from concord grapes) is $16.99 so we often use kosher grape juice at about $5 instead. Meat starts around $5.49 per pound for chicken thighs. I saw a lovely lamb shoulder roast last Friday. Only $21.99 per pound! Want ground beef instead? I think it's $6.99 per pound. A whole turkey is $100 give or take a buck. (In Seattle I once bought a nice little beef roast for US$12! I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.)

The majority of kosher foods are name brands (though not all) so you can't just buy generic or whatever is on sale this week.

There are only a handful of places to eat out in cities like Vancouver or Seattle (lets not talk about places where they're plentiful like LA, NYC or Toronto) but they tend to be pretty expensive so most Orthodox families don't eat out too often (particularly not if you have 6 or 7 kids!).

Yes, it's pricy and it's not negotiable.

November 24, 2008 at 8:02 PM

Blogger Revanche said...

Hm, I guess I never really thought about it this way. I do struggle with arthritis/lupus and quite a few family health challenges that don't apply to a lot of mainstream authors and bloggers, but I'm not frustrated by the debt-focused books because I don't read them. They don't apply to me. I didn't get into consumer debt, I'm working my fingers to the bone to pay off my family's debt that was accumulated while trying to feed and clothe our family. Mm, yes, not really the target audience indeed.

While I manage ok with my disease, it's something I know can and might alter drastically at any given point, and my mom's illness places a great deal of the same limitations that you experience on our entire family.

Um, what was my point? Oh yes, it was that I read wealth-accumulation and disaster preparedness/prevention books instead for a more positive and income-oriented perspective because Lord knows I have enough negative stuff going on without needing someone errantly scolding me for vices I don't have. :)

November 25, 2008 at 11:38 AM

Blogger Stupid Sheep said...

It's only *them* that would splurge on endless books to try to get themselves out. They keep being written because people are waiting for an easier answer than to take away their luxury necessities.

We don't have cable (or even broadcast tv - no attenna). We don't eat out (no dates). I work and DH think it's a waste of time to spend hours cutting coupons to save a few bucks. When he doesn't get working, he's searching for a better job with steady hours. I have acid reflux...hopefully won't have to stay on such a strict diet for long, because tomatos are a staple of so many cheap meals.

Just be glad you aren't in California. We are living on $2,000 income and pay $1,025 for rent. We each have insurance still through our parents, but only through the end of the year. Thankfully gas has gone down, because we were paying around $200/mo on gas. We still have wedding vedors to pay (i had it as small and simple as possible with his big family and culture that doesn't LET you have a simple wedding) and DH got in an accident right after we got back from our honeymoon. He was okay, but not his car, which is a hybrid with rare parts.

We're blessed though, to have saved while we were young and to have cars (well, he's borrowing his from his parents, but they might sell at a reasonable price. i won mine upon graduation).

I think you are doing an awesome job at being frugal. Keep up with your tips for people who need them and ignore those books. So many books that come out nowadays are silly, no matter the topic. It's for a small portion of society, but they are the loudmouths with all the money.

December 10, 2008 at 4:56 PM


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