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Summary: I want you to fill in the blank for me: There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s? Let’s talk about Credit Cards.

Breaking out of Plastic Prison

Hope for the Financially Challenged - Part 2

I want you to fill in the blank for me: There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MasterCard. The ads have worked well on you, haven’t they?

MasterCard’s so called ‘priceless’ ads have been some of the most successful ads in advertising history. The format is very simple—there are various things listed with their monetary cost, but the last is something so intangible that you can never put a price tag on it. The value of this item is summarized in this word—priceless.

It’s a pretty slick campaign, and it has made millions for the advertising company that came up with it, and even more for the credit card company. One of the ad executives that is in charge of the ‘Priceless’ campaign had this to say:

What really hit a home run with consumers is that a company that is fundamentally all about money and paying for things would actually declare that there are things that really count that can’t be bought with

money.

There is a kind of reverse-deception going on in the priceless campaign. And the ad people are so certain that the deception works that they don’t even have to be subtle about it.

Jim Ferrell is a syndicated columnists and a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. He wrote this:

The priceless ads are obviously designed to respond to the American public’s worry that everything is being commoditized and that we’re becoming too materialistic. So the ads emphasize things money can’t buy—the intangibles that make the good life really good. Now advertisers have done this for years. They take our most precious and dearly held values and sell them back to us. They show us by association that their products value these things that we value. In most of these ads, the ‘priceless moment’ is a direct result of a series of spending decisions. For example, you can’t experience the priceless value of your first dog without buying it first. You can’t show your daughter the joys of Disney World without buying the air fare, hotel, and park tickets. Often, it seems the priceless moment has a considerable price.

The real message of these ads, despite what the word says, is that “There are some things money can’t buy, but it sure takes you money to get there.” Now, do you think that you’re too smart to buy into that? Think you are too financially astute? Think that you’re too educated to go for those kind of things?

I came across this past week a study out of Harvard University. Harvard’s School of Economics noted that education has an inverse affect on shopping savvy. What they were saying was that “the higher your education, the less caution you will exercise in regards to discretionary income.” In other words, if you tend to be an intelligent person, you are more susceptible to buying things with status symbols attached to them, or brand names that you will pay more money for, or things that you think will enhance your prestige. This is what Harvard has found.

This is why today that there are many people making 6 figure incomes who are deeply, totally, in over their heads in debt. It is happening all around the country.

I want you to know—the things we are talking about today are not a referendum on how smart you are, or how educated you are, or how discerning you are about seeing through these things. Many of the things that drive our financial behavior have nothing to do with how smart we are. Really it is about other things. When you look at financial problems, just from the perspective of dollars and cents, of budgeting and accounting, then many people will go un-helped because these issues go far beyond how much you make.

Our financial behavior is really a symptom of other issues.

1. Not Just A Financial Problem

• It may be an esteem problem

Sometimes our debt issues and our financial problems come from esteem problem. Professor Tihira K. Hira at Iowa State University argued that the traditional ways of helping people with spiraling debt (like negotiating with creditors, working on debt repayment schedule) often do not help many people with real debt problems.

Hira said this:

We need to sit down and understand why these people have consistent financial problems. If we focus

exclusively on the financial end of it, the same person will be in trouble in 5-6 years.

Hira’s job is to train financial planners. She said for years she worked on the traditional method of teaching people to budget and to deal with debt in a timely fashion. But she has changed her approach after spending years of studying the personal lives of people in financial crisis. What she has discovered is that clearly 25% of the people who are serious financial debt also have serious self-esteem issues. One in four people who have debt issues have something else contributing to those issues—the way they feel about themselves.

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