The Almighty Dollar

Restoring some fiscal sanity in our -- negative savings rate -- lives


Following in the footsteps

My brother has bought more cars than I have deodorant in the last 5 years. I kid you not. Granted I don't sweat much, so one stick lasts me quite a while.

The longest period he has held onto a car was 2 years, the shortest being 6 months. Minus a pick-up truck, he's owned them all: sports car, sedan, SUV, and minivan. When automakers introduce new gadgets in cars, he upgrades in order to get them. Leather seats, seat warmers, CD players, and of course, built-in DVD players. Naturally, he was horrified to learn that I still use his old tape adapter to hook up his old portable CD player to get me through long road trips.

Now you're probably thinking, "Hey some people spend a lot of time in their cars and have a right to buy one that's not only comfortable but looks cool, too." That's true, some people really like their cars.

But in addition to cars, my brother routinely upgrades his clothes, shoes, cell phones, computers, furniture, and his apartments. Since graduating from college, he has found a reason to move every year. Same state, different suburb. And with each apartment comes an additional room, making it necessary to buy more stuff to fill more space.

After years of competing with the Jones', my brother finally surrendered. Aggressive collection agencies phoned daily, threatening legal action until he repaid tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Ignoring them didn't help -- they began calling my parents instead. He fell behind on rent, utilities and car payments. (Before I thought he didn't understand upside-down loans, but he said he did and didn't care.) And just like my parents, he kept his hell a secret and assured everyone that things were under control.

I observed from afar and had my suspicions. I started inserting my financial advice into our conversations and forwarding personal finance articles by email. My efforts later proved worthwhile. He thanked me for teaching him about snowballing debt and credit counseling.

Today he has no credit card debt and just bought his first home. He says he has learned from the past and feels free. I admire him for sticking to a plan and paying off his debts. I want to believe that he is a changed man. But when I hear about another appliance or flat-panel TV he's bought for the new house, not to mention the 2 new cars he got the day after closing, I have my doubts.