Rice and Beans

When we are poor, we should not indulge the “I want” impulse.

When you are rich, you might well have grown beyond the “I want” impulse.

Such is the nature of being human, at least in my experience. The instinct (if indeed it is an instinct and not a manufactured thing) for wanting what we do not currently have is strong. Not in all cultures, to be sure. But in our decidedly material society, stuff has cachet.

My colleague Luis is poor. His car was repossessed back in the summer. (A car, by the way, bought on the never-never, a POS Chrysler that lost all value once it hit the street.) His phone bill went unpaid, and so he borrowed friends’ and work phones. And I had to drive him to work, in a three month grind that took a toll on my life. I consider that my charitable act for the year.

And yet, here is this man without a dime in the bank eating fast food. Well, we can say, it’s not that big a deal. Fast food is cheap and fun. It’s a small indulgence.

No. When we are this far in the hole at age 44, indulgence is no longer part of our life. This man will never climb out of his hole at this rate, not because he is incapable, but because he chooses not to.

His McDonalds and Little Caesar’s and Burger King meals all add up. For the cost of all these meals, every week, month after month, my friend could be making delicious home-cooked meals at a fraction of the price. The money saved could go towards building the ladder he will need to get out of the financial and life-hole he created. His work can be made whole with rice and beans and spices.

But it won’t happen. He “wants” a Whopper and onion rings, so he has it. Indulging a whim for salt and fat will kill his future. And it will kill him, too. Did I mention that he is pre-diabetic?

To Insure or Not?

Dentist

Ah, the dentist. My guy is a good one, or is as much as I can tell. He recently added his son to his practice, moving to a larger office with more chairs to accommodate what I imagine he thinks will be more business.

Sidebar: Do we call a dentist’s surgery an office? Or is it a dental surgery?

You can see the thinking here. Senior is a well-loved man with a loyal clientele. I count myself as one of them. When he retires, Junior will smoothly take over without the stress of finding his own people. In the meantime they get to have some time together, and we customers can accept the new man. It’s a smart move.

My respect began when, back in 2010, I had a cracked molar that suddenly gave me grief. Even as a first-time patient, Senior tried to save the dopey thing. Eventually it came out, but not before valiant effort. Importantly, he only charged me for the extraction, and not for all the rest. In short, he did the right thing by me.

One shouldn’t forget such kindness.

Cash is the question here, and whether paying out of pocket is smarter than ponying up for insurance. Insurance is the way we mortals pass on risk to others. In this case, we hand the problem of (oftentimes large and lumpy) dental bills to the insurance company in exchange for smaller, less lumpen “premiums”. I think of them as small pre-paid risk mitigators.

Let’s set out the choice. We can either accept all the risk for every dental bill with which we will be faced, including cosmetic work. Or we can insure against such bills. The choice comes down to one question: can you afford the worst possible case?

Defining disaster is entirely personal. With my current budget horizon, even a smallish dental disaster would be a blow. Obviously, insurance is the way to go. The problem is that our human bias toward optimism – the best-case scenario – creates reluctance to pre-spend in the face of a 100% chance of a future requirement. I. Will. Need. Dental. Work. In. The. Future. So the choice to insure should be an obvious one.

The only question is how much it will cost. And whether I can overcome that urge to ignore the risk. Ahem.

Now, Some Good News

You will note that I rarely mention anything other than generalities about the company I represent – my company, as I call it. There are two reasons: Firstly, I am contractually unable to write about them. All their marketing reps are likewise restricted. Secondly, it encourages more critical thinking about the products, preventing the kind of over-the-top hyperbole so many over-eager salesfolks indulge in.

It’s all about the facts, and just the facts, ma’am.

In some quite ground-breaking news, it turns out that my company can now draw on sober evidence of the efficacy of their supplements. This, in the shadow of the GNC/Walmart/Target vitamin mess, begins to highlight the difference between the supermarket branded stuff and ours; we’re looking pretty good.

I can say this because of a short- and medium- term study of our nutritional supplements conducted in Germany . The key to this is that while improvements to processes such as reduction in free radicals, more efficient heart operation and reduced post-meal glycemic spikes were the intended outcomes, there is now evidence for these outcomes. And, unexpectedly, some of these qualitative internal improvements were measurable within sixty minutes. This is quite the big news.

We have been hovering around the knowledge of how to improve our cholesterol and triglyceride measurements, blood pressure and tendency towards inflammation for a long time. With this study, we are stepping further into the light.

Now to go talk to some folks. That’s the fun (and challenging) part.

Dollar Mismatch

As I sit at my desk, I am reviewing my dentist’s invoice. Dr K, my guy, is a dentist out of central casting. He is competent, calm, genuine, reasonable, soothing and doesn’t talk down. He is the kindly uncle that everyone needs, the reliable guy you want to have around when stuff turns bad.

And so, after an absence of 18 months, I went to see him with some niggling annoyances last week. I figured my diligent brushing and flossing would isolate me from any big problems, but as is the way with these things, I was wrong.

There is a long-term project for an implant to replace a molar. This molar caused me a LOT of problems four years ago when it cracked – the result, I was told, of night-grinding. Dr K tried to save it but failed, and so we need to fill the hole. Other than that, there was a filling to replace, and some overzealous brushing had pushed my gums back to the point of exposing too much tooth. On two adjacent teeth. Which both required “bonding” which is a kind of surface filling.

Anyway. My point is not to make my mouth the center of attention. The deal here is the cost, a total of $792, which included a cleaning I had today. That is around a week’s wages for a lot of people.

Now, I don’t have dental insurance, so I am quite happy paying from my own pocket money for regular body maintenance like this. What sparks my questioning is how people can afford this kind of¬†cost. I am okay because I budget for it, and I have only to pay for myself. But how would a family of three or four or five keep up their dental work when it is so expensive?

When nearly half of all American families cannot produce $400 in cash for an emergency without borrowing or selling something, how can they do what amounts to routine body-keeping?

So many of us need better incomes, smarter savings plans, and stop hoping for someone else to pay for stuff.