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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?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Ambro

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think you were on point not to call him out on it, and even if you did I’m not sure he would have been particularly receptive anyway especially given the very specific doctor-patient relationship. That said, did he not have a credit card? Not to say living paycheck-to-paycheck is alright — it is definitely a precarious state to be in — but at least it would have made your day a little easier.

    • I’m sure he had a credit card, but he didn’t want to pay money at our office. I’m sure it would be a different story if he were needing his cigarettes.

  2. So many people have their priorities completely out of whack. I blame the individual. How does a grown man not know what kind of insurance he has? People need to grow up.

    • More than half the people I see have no idea what insurance they have. I think people who get plans through work don’t pay attention. If you have to hunt out an individual plan, I think you understand it better.

  3. Kim, I think it’s awesome that you treated him so well. Honestly, knowing many people in similar situations, I doubt that it would’ve made a difference if you’d told him what he needed to hear. Until people are ready, they just won’t hear it anyway. And I totally agree about today’s society: it does indeed make it okay to be broke. We watch a lot of old TV shows at night, and often subjects come up about being broke, and it was a travesty 40 -50 years ago – a shame. Now, it’s “normal”.

  4. Wow, just wow. I agree with Taylor that you were likely right not to call him out. If it were a friend or family member though I wouldn’t be so inclined to think that way. Sadly it just shows his priorities which we can all be guilty of but can be taken to an extreme. As an aside, my younger brother has been doing the same blasted thing with his contacts and I’ve been telling him for years he needed to change. He finally saw an eye doctor last week and was told that if he didn’t stop he’d have an ulcer within a month. Suffice it to say, her words stuck a little more than mine. 🙂

  5. Yes, our priorities are screwed up. BUT I do think it’s shifting. I get so happy when I see people post on Facebook that they paid off their debt.

    I am guilty of using the “I can’t afford that” or “I’m broke” excuse. Saying I can’t afford it is my easy way out of spending money on something that’s not important to me. No one challenges that excuse. To me it’s code for “After I’ve contributed what I want to retirement, my debt repayment schedule and my other priorities, I don’t have money left over for that.” Maybe I should change the conversation. I can’t help people who may not know there’s another way.

    • I’ve made it a goal not to say that I can’t afford something. I might choose not to afford it, but that’s a whole different way of thinking.

  6. Wow that is just crazy. I don’t know why so many people think it’s okay to waste money in other areas but not get something that they need – like contacts.

  7. I sincerely don’t mean to start a political argument here, but I do think that the tendency to absolve people of responsibility for their own finances/behavior/actions has become more prevalent since the country had started leaning more liberal. Too many people are willing to let someone else take care of things for them. It is strange because I see this beginning with my own generation even though our parents would have never behaved in this manner. After a decade or two of hearing “it’s not your fault” we tend to believe it.

    • Aside from health care, I don’t know that I feel like the whole country is leaning liberal, but I live in a very conservative area, so maybe that’s all I see.

  8. Ugh!! I have been in so many situations like this where I wonder if I should speak up or just bite my tongue and I usually bite my tongue because I feel as though I would just be wasting my breath trying to talk sense into someone like that. I have people who tell me all the time that they can’t save a few hundred dollars a month, yet they sit across from me in high end clothes and carry designer purses. People definitely get their priorities mixed up and other people just feed this bad behavior.

    • I almost always bite my tongue. When I get old and can say whatever the heck I want, I’m going to just tell it like it is.

  9. It really does kill me a little bit inside when I see people who don’t have their priorities straight. I’ve had several arguments with my parents about this as they’re smokers. They’re still in debt, though, and they’re wasting so much money on that horrible habit. It’s frustrating to watch. I think you were right not to say anything to the guy, though. If you see him again, maybe give him a word of warning that if he doesn’t take care of his contacts/eyes, that he’ll end up paying more for treatment (unless he’s covered for everything).

    • My Dad is a lifelong smoker, and it is very painful to watch how that road unwinds. You do always pay more, either with money or with your health, if you don’t take care of yourself.

  10. Our culture really has gotten their priorities mixed up, and I think everyone sees it day in and day out. Honestly I think a lot of issues people have date all the way back to things that happened when they were growing up and/or when they immediately left home. I think we need to take a harder look at how our culture is formed. My comment is getting too deep and philosophical for a blog post, so I’ll end it there haha.

    • No comment is ever too deep and philosophical! I’m sure most people just do what they’ve seen their whole lives.

  11. I don’t much good would have come from it if you had given him a financial lesson of sorts, as tempted as we may be to do with some people. You performed a service and you went above and beyond to get him what he needed which was clear eyesight – as opposed to cigarettes which is a want. Becoming financially aware ans astute is something that he needs to figure out and take responsibility for.

    • I guess what goes around comes around. Eventually people who chronically abuse anything get their due. It’s a hard way to learn, but it’s effective.

  12. It is really unfortunate that we have gotten to the point where debt is so widely accepted and people have such a sense of entitlement. I think it’s those feelings of entitlement and being unwilling to prioritize and make sacrifices that is causing so many problems today. People buy what they want because they want it but they don’t stop to think if they can afford it.

    • That is certainly true with health care. Everyone assumes that if they have insurance it covers everything and they don’t plan for any copays or overages.

  13. I am responsible for my own life and finances. Time to stop blaming everyone else. That said, we do somehow feel justified by “living a lie” by living above our means financially. It will catch up to you at some point. The responsible thing is to wait until you have saved enough money for a purchase but we want stuff now, now, now. Being content in life with money is much more satisfying than trying to fill the void with stuff that excite us for the moment but fade away shortly later….and leave us with regret and debt.

  14. I come across people like this in my part-time retail job too. I work at a western store, but we also sell a TON of workboots. People wait until they absolutely need boots and they need them now, but then they are shocked to find out how much they cost and often “can’t afford them”, but then I’ll see them out around town eating out, drinking, smoking, etc (it’s a small town). If they can afford those things, but can’t afford to take care of their feet at a dangerous job by getting new work boots when they need them, their priorities are messed up!

    • If I had a dollar for everyone who claimed to be broke but made plans to go out to dinner or drinks with friends while they were still in the office, I could retire a few years earlier.

  15. That is a really good question!! Really good. I mean doctors DO tell overweight patients they need to lose weight, don’t they, so would this be different? I really don’t know the answer. I think you did show the human kindness thing and treat him and not say anything. I probably would have done the same thing, but I think part of me would wonder if I was enabling somewhat in some small way.

    • I was totally enabling. I have no doubt about it, but the alternative would probably lose business for my office. I hate that we have to tell people what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

  16. Wow, thats crazy.
    We have our priorities I guess. For some, health and their well being is not a priority.

  17. I used to get the same type of excuses when rent was due, back in my less stringent tenant qualifications days… Way worse when I was a Section 8 landlord…

  18. I think you showed great customer service, which is what you should have done. Had you not, he would have had another story to tell his buddies over drinks about what an awful way he was treated at your office.

    • Yes, it would have been all over town. It would have made me feel good for about 5 minutes to tell him he was out of luck, but it would have been worse in the long run.

  19. I’d argue that it’s education and the stigma of money that’s to blame for reckless spending. In the UK secondary schools have only JUST introduced financial education classes for 11-16 year olds and because we have such a hang up over money we never discuss it with other people. By ignoring it we can never learn or move forward.

    • I don’t think most schools in the US get any sort of financial education. I think it’s a huge hole in the education system.

  20. You showed great compassion to this man that he will some day realize. Way to go! We all make choices that may have repercussions. I admit to making a few myself;0)

    • I kink of think I treated him exactly as he expected to be treated. I don’t think in his mind he was doing anything wrong or unusual.

  21. 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.

  22. His priorities are very different. I wonder what it would take to make him shift? Did you have to stop yourself from giving some unsolicited advice? I don’t think I could.

  23. I definitely extend the wear on my contacts more than I should to save money:( Usually only by a week though.

  24. 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!

    • $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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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 🙂

  27. 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.

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