The morality of personal finance

I was running last Sunday night. I had waited too long to start my run, and it was dark. I've taken to using my iPhone to track my runs, because I'm very motivated by the additive nature of all my runs over time. (I'm over 900 miles!) But I don't like to use the earbuds when running in the city, especially at night, because of the need to stay alert for those pesky fast cars; I want to make sure and come home to my kids. I had pulled the iPhone out of my pocket to see how many miles it had been when I went under a tree and over some roots and tripped over the dark, uneven sidewalk.

I went down, hard, and my iPhone flew out of my hand and facedown on the pavement, shattering the screen, bruising my hip, scraping my elbow and my hands. None of my injuries were bad, but I knew my iPhone would now need a total replacement (the backlight was already out, due to an encounter with a hornet near the edge of a lake this summer, so I have to tilt it toward the streetlights to see the numbers).

It would be $169, the Apple store representative had told me when I went in. I'd bought the iPhone outright, for work, so I could string together a very cheap pay-as-you-go plan based on my always-changing usage. I use it to sell magazine subscriptions and respond to last-minute editing questions and manage schedules when my children have those minor emergencies that children have. It's a need, and I'm going to have to spend the money.

I thought to myself, in light of a string of comments on my last post about money anxiety, how irresponsible and immoral!

If check-bouncing is immoral, so is falling down and breaking your smart phone.

Someone had taken me to task for worrying that I might bounce a check I'd written. I didn't get into the context, but here it is: I had promised to buy a pig from a farmer, sharing it with a bunch of friends. At the time, I didn't know when exactly it would be ready, nor did I know exactly how much the total would be. I had an estimate: $600 to $800, after the deposit I'd paid. And I'd just finished a big extra project, for which I was billing almost $500; plus I was sharing the pork, so I'd collect money from my friends to cover $400 or so. And then, my husband transfers money to my account twice a month for groceries, when he gets his paychecks. I'd have way more than enough money.

The consulting project check didn't come when promised. (In fact, it ended up being over a month late.) The pig needed to be picked up the day my husband usually transfers the money — otherwise she'd run out of freezer space. It ended up being $900, not $800 or $700 or $645. A couple of my friends were going to pay me afterward.

When I wrote the check, I had $900 in my account, but only just, and part of it wouldn't clear until the next day. I had one of my friend's checks depositing, but I wasn't sure how quickly it would clear. I worried that some small monthly automatic payment (like $7.99 for Netflix) might hit in the meantime; if everything went wrong, it would be a nasty bounce.

I went into the pork transaction with my eyes open, knowing that it was theoretically possible things could go wrong, but thinking they wouldn't, and meaning well all around.

Mistakes are not immoral, even if we are being headstrong.

Heck: I'm pretty headstrong. El Nerdo asked me if I might be ADHD (I laughed! I'd never thought of that before, for some reason, but that describes me pretty well). I rush into things that are good ideas without thinking about every last detail. I say “yes” too fast. I run under trees in the dark. I agree to buy some (very, very delicious and very reasonably-priced) pork from a small farmer who is living every ideal I believe in. So I end up making a lot of mistakes.

Accuse me of being irresponsible? Maybe, I do a lot of things that are irresponsible from many people's perspectives, because I think they are worth the risk. But I think “immoral” is going a little too far.

If check-bouncing is immoral, then so are car accidents

A friend got into a car accident earlier today. The sun was in her eyes and she rear-ended someone. She was thoroughly shaken and called herself an “idiot,” several times. It's probably going to make her insurance payments go up, and she'll have some out-of-pocket expenses. She feels as awful as she can be. But, as we all told her, it was a mistake. We don't say that people who make mistakes are bad people. They're just … clumsy, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or unlucky in sunlight.

Most of us are moral creatures. But we're all human. And you know what they say about erring.

A statistic from some of Elizabeth Warren's research about bankruptcy has impressed upon my mind; though bankruptcy is often seen as an easy way out taken by the careless overspenders, it's far more likely to see people with high medical debts and those who have gotten into a trap of using credit cards to pay utilities and food bills. In fact, a large number of people who qualify for bankruptcy don't choose that route, instead scraping and scrabbling to pay their debts. Most of us want to do the moral thing, even when the cards are stacked high against us.

Yet still, we end up in these holes of good intentions and bad timing. We get headed in the right direction financially, and then we have a spate of terrible luck. Because we're embarrassed or ashamed or without bandwidth to find a better solution or even the victim of other people's mistakes, we overdraw accounts and spend past our cushion and reach our credit card limit.

Spending time calling ourselves idiotic or immoral won't fix the problem

Nothing is ever yielded by judging ourselves for our screw ups. And you're surely not going to fix the world by judging me or anyone else for their financial missteps. Presenting ideas for solving these problems — like the establishment of a checking account cushion (I want one, and I'm going after it!) — is one idea. Remembering it the next time you get close to charging headlong into a decision is another (I'll be waiting until I have the money in hand to order the next pig). Forgiving yourself is a third.

I'll tell you that I break personal finance rules all the time. And I get so upset when I find myself doing it! I resolve to do better. And lots of the time, I do.

None of us is perfect; some of us have better discipline, or place more value on financial security, or simply have more income and better luck than others. We'd do well to give each other, and our own fool selves, the benefit of the doubt more often than not. And try, try again, to be a financially better person.

More about...Psychology

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William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

The key to judge morality has to lie in the element of choice. You don’t choose to fall over a tree trunk in the dark or have an accident. You may have been negligent, or careless perhaps, but not immoral. Immoral somehow seems to include an element of knowingly making a choice you know is wrong. To categorize falling and breaking your iPhone as immoral therefore seems to be a reach. People can moralize about writing a check without knowing for sure you have the money to back it, because that action involved a choice, a bad choice, a choice… Read more »

Mrs PoP @Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

I’m with William on this one. I think that accidents are not moral because they lack the the element of choice. That said, your reaction to an accident may be a moral decision if you’re having to make a choice between owning up for your mistake and paying the price or lying about what happened to get a reduced cost repair or insurance coverage that you might not have had, or expect someone else to foot the bill for your accident. The choice between those options would be a moral choice, but the accident was just an event.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
7 years ago

Yes, morality is VERY personal. And we all know it from watching the news and political stuff — a lot of things come down to morals and what peopel think on certain issues.

But mishaps could never be considered immoral. Ever. Car accident? It’s an accident. Dropping a phone? Accident. Not immoral, but accident.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

Mishaps that are caused by negligence can certainly be immoral. Someone who rear-ends the car in front of them (probably) didn’t do it on purpose, but maybe they *did* make the choice to drive faster than was safe under conditions of limited visibility.

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago
Reply to  Johanna

Exactly! The car accident scenario that Sarah wrote about is not analogus to her writing a check when she wasn’t sure if a deposit would get processed before the check was cashed. A better comparison would be if you see a red light ahead but decide not to hit your brakes and instead hope that the light will turn green before you reach the intersection. As it turns out, the light was still red and you ran into a car that was driving the cross-street through its green light. In that case, you knew and willingly took on the risk,… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
7 years ago

An entire article to defend yourself against one comment? Perhaps you’re being a tad sensitive?

Evan
Evan
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Or possibly you feel the original comment was uncomfortably close to true.

adult student
adult student
7 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I don’t think so. I think she’s probably not the only one who beats herself up for accidents. For instance, I’ve damaged THREE computer keyboards with liquid over the past five years, and I’m increasingly angry at myself every time. While I’m now more cautious about having liquids near a computer, the times in the past when I’ve tripped or dropped something were NOT premeditated, so there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again, no matter how much I tell myself it’s a sign of a terrible character flaw. (Instead, I have insurance on my main work computer and have… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago
Reply to  adult student

There’s a big difference between you and the author. Your “carelessness” doesn’t hurt anyone but you, and you’ve taken steps to insure yourself against future accidents. It’s the difference between having good car insurance and none at all. The author carelessly took a risk with someone else’s money, and took no steps to insure herself or the farmer against it. She’s damaged her phone twice, but don’t save up money for repairs. She essentially spends money she doesn’t have, then expects to be forgiven the consequences. You may act “carelessly” but you at least prepare.

Katie
Katie
7 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Although the author may be being a tad sensitive, I think that she is addressing an important issue on many personal finance blogs: judgement and self-righteousness. It’s such an easy thing to do, especially if we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid a similar mistake (I know it’s, unfortunately, almost a knee-jerk response for me). Apologies for highlighting this comment, but here you say: “She’s damaged her phone twice, but doesn’t save up money for repairs. She essentially spends money she doesn’t have, then expects to be forgiven the consequences.” I don’t think that’s a fair judgment. A judgment which, if… Read more »

Joseph
Joseph
7 years ago

This post makes me question all the advice I have received from this blog. Come on, how about some personal responsibility. Risking and losing your iphone…. Moral. Risking someone else’s money (even if it’s the banks) immoral

Edith
Edith
7 years ago
Reply to  Joseph

I have to agree with you Joseph. The author originally wrote a blog in which she happened to mention she was worried that a check she wrote might bounce. She was taken to task by several readers who suggested some simple ways for her to never have that anxiety again; leave a cushion in her checking account or make sure her husband’s transfer has gone through before she writes checks. Time passes. We assume she has learned a lesson from that situation. Au contraire, mon frere. It seems that she was waiting to let us know that writing a questionable… Read more »

Ashley
Ashley
7 years ago
Reply to  Edith

I agree with Joseph and Edith. The name of this blog is ‘Get Rich Slowly’. I don’t want to read about so many other peoples mistakes and morality without useful information/ tips/ advice. If I wanted an article like this, I would happily subscribe to this person’s personal blog.

Marian
Marian
7 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

I agree. I hope GRS has a serious review about the appropriateness of this article.

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

I’m not buying the analogy between breaking your phone and writing a check you aren’t sure will clear. This just seems to be a long rambling justification for doing something that some GRS readers have given you grief about.

Are you sure you’re a grown woman and a mother of three? You sound like one of my brighter high school students trying to convince me that I shouldn’t penalize them for not doing their homework.

Tom
Tom
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

Ouch. Here’s a quote from the original article: “I imagined what it would be like if that big check I wrote to a farmer bounced (it didn’t). They would be so upset! And it would cost them. And it would cost me. And I’d be obliged to pay their fees, too, and then I would be out a hundred bucks or something more than I planned and maybe I would have to pay my babysitter late and… I had myself worked up, over what was unlikely to happen.” Sounds like a thought experiment of a grown woman to me. I… Read more »

Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle
Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle
7 years ago

The pig farmer is a small business man. I hope he didn’t pay his feed bill or buy piglets from a breeder and pay with a cheque thinking he would have money in his account because he trusted that your cheque would clear. If his cheques then bounced he would be professionaly embarrased in his business circle, he would incur additional banking expenses and he may be asked to change the way he pays at the businesses he bounced cheques at. I do not think it was immoral. More careless and rude. Did you expect to walk out of the… Read more »

KT
KT
7 years ago

I really don’t understand the purpose of this rambling article

john
john
7 years ago
Reply to  KT

she has adhd as she said it describes her pretty well

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
7 years ago
Reply to  john

But she also has an editor, right? It’s the editor’s job to make sure articles are ready for publication.

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago
Reply to  Ramblin' Ma'am

The editorial decisions here have been somewhat underwhelming of late. It certainly feels its less like a blog designed for talking about tips to get rich slowly and more a collection of personal stories and conundrums.

Harry
Harry
7 years ago

Sometimes I prefer not knowing how other people rationalize their decisions and this is one of those times…

BC
BC
7 years ago

Ditto other comments. “Nothing is ever yielded by judging ourselves for our screw ups.” I disagree. Something IS gained through the process. But I would encourage you by offering that you don’t have to define it in harmful terms. You hate being thought of as “immoral.” When you evaluate your mistakes; when you seek to learn how they happened and how to prevent their future recurrence, use other language. But I would further argue that this kind of pain can be useful, too. I live with the fact that I am a sinner (saved by grace). I make terrible choices… Read more »

adriano
adriano
7 years ago

finally a new and interesting topic 🙂 You didn’t intend to bounce the check, and i think you were reasonable to think that you wouldn’t. There is risk in the world after all. You were not immoral. What was the agreement between you and the farmer? The deposit must have been there for a reason. Would you forfeit it if you chose not to buy? Since there was no delivery date set, i think it is important whether or not you knew in advance that the seller was unable to store the product once it was ready for delivery. The… Read more »

William
William
7 years ago

I’m really not a fan of this article, and its a representation of the poor quality control that’s come to GRS. Previous posts have pointed out that for something to be moral or immoral, it must be a decision. You must be the locus of control. Kant, Socrates and Bentham would all agree with that. More subtly – morality generaly regards how your actions treat other people. (Sure, Socrates would say that you will treat people well by being a good dude, so it is a side effect — and Kant would say you treat people well as a moral… Read more »

adult student
adult student
7 years ago
Reply to  William

The check thing wasn’t entirely one-sided – the farmer said, “come get and pay for the pig earlier than you expected to have to be ready”! Yes, it’s a small business, but a large business could get a pretty bad reputation for, say, auto-deducting a payment a week early. I agree that she could’ve asked the friends for money up front (and you know? they might’ve said no), or said, “look, since this is early I’m waiting on some deposits, so please wait to cash the check if possible.” But it’s a weird situation that isn’t entirely her fault either.

Dave
Dave
7 years ago
Reply to  adult student

So, in this case simply saying “i wasnt prepared to pay you until XX. Can I write you a check in a week?” would suffice nicely.

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  adult student

I fail to see how its a problem if a business delivers a product early. Early delivery shouldn’t justify bounced checks…

William
William
7 years ago
Reply to  adult student

The more I think about it, the more I think moral problems happen when we don’t treat other people as, well, people. As much as I hate to quote Kant, he does hold that in our actions we should treat others as ends in themselves, and not as mere means. In the pig example, Sarah treated the farmer as a mere means to an end — getting a pig to impress her friends. And so much of those violations seem to happen through a lack of honesty. If Sarah had been honest with the farmer, or her friends, or herself,… Read more »

Jacq
Jacq
7 years ago

Yes, get a cash cushion. It seems incredibly stressful to have to juggle all those balls and what-if scenarios.

You’re buying the pork from a farmer who is “living every ideal you believe in” (why this matters in this context, I don’t know). We’re reading an article written by someone who doesn’t have quite the same ideals that some of us have: patience, security…

The nice thing about embodying ideals is that you don’t really need “rules” to guide your behavior anymore, it comes naturally. But start with rules, and maybe the ideals will come in time.

Cgirl
Cgirl
7 years ago

I really liked the last section of the article. Possibly because lately I’ve been working on releasing negative emotions in my “personal work.” Not because the other person (say the driver who cut me off) inherently deserves forgiveness, but because holding on to that negative energy (that [email protected]##[email protected]#) is bad for ME (increases stress hormones) And with how I read this post, it wasn’t about the morality of bouncing checks–the author is pretty sure it’s wrong. The article seems to be about admitting a mistake and moving on. After all, there seems an equal chance that the check would NOT… Read more »

Katie
Katie
7 years ago

People think of writing a bad check as immoral not only because of the element of choice but because it affects someone else (unlike breaking your iPhone). Banks charge their customers fees when a check they deposit bounces, to say nothing of the fact that that farmer might have been depending on it to pay his bills that day. People we write checks to generally operate on smaller margins than other people we deal with. Conversely, when you – say – overdraft your checking account with your debit card, the bank doesn’t have any trouble covering you and charge you… Read more »

Keith and Kinsey's Real Estate Update
Keith and Kinsey's Real Estate Update
7 years ago

Seriously, this is a post on Get rich slowly? The way to get rich involves planing, wise decisions, and patience. Non of these things are involved when bouncing a check. Like others have said it is a decision, an accident is not a decision.

Tracey H
Tracey H
7 years ago

Shame exists for a reason and shouldn’t be avoided at all costs. You need to learn to balance shame (which is there to teach you to act differently in the future) with self-forgiveness. From your writing, I think you’re trying to avoid the former and not learn from it. Justifying shameful behaviour isn’t mature. Admitting to your mistake, feeling the shame and moving on is.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

I don’t think everyone who reads and writes here shares the exact same values, though we more or less share some goals. The whole “do what works for you” is grounded on that premise. However, I personally think giving the farmer a check you’re not 100% sure will clear is unfair because while you might be doing it with your eyes open, the farmer isn’t. Not saying that you’re trying to scam the guy, or that if your check bounces you won’t compensate him for the annoyance and expense. I’m sure you would. But he didn’t agree to share the… Read more »

KSR
KSR
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I beg to differ, Nerdo. I do think you are wise and I do think you are patient. Your management in the writing of your comment proves this. I wouldn’t have been as subtle or careful. Like I said, I have a husband with ADHD (Strattera is working well for him) and it is one of those things that I have appreciated your openness and honesty about. Now, if Sara would just look into it further, the benefits are there for her taking.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  KSR

I was given a Strattera prescription and refused it, as I am prejudiced against amphetamines. That may be unwise, but I’m willing to own my stupidities. What I did instead was get some ADHD coaching with a therapist though, plus my own research, and it works. By the way– the iPhone is GREAT GREAT GREAT for my ADHD — it beeps and reminds me all day of what I have to do, where I have to be, things I need to bring to meetings, etc. This is not an ad, I own no Apple stock, but it’s the best PDA… Read more »

KSR
KSR
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Ha! This isn’t a Strattera ad, I promise. It’s a non-stimulant. That’s why he decided to go in that direction. It’s a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. He also uses many strategies as I’m sure are akin to what you do. Regardless, I really appreciate your approach and am amazed with your self-directed will power! The side effects of these meds can be rather scary and many stop for those reasons alone. Anyway…enough on that. Have a good one.

Greg
Greg
7 years ago

Yea…I’m not sure where you’re going with this post. Sounds like you’re trying to justify fixing your iphone. Go fix it, try to be more careful. Then look up the definition of morality on your new iphone.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago

This article is nonsense. Next time pay for your pig in advance with a cashier’s check if you’re not sure you’ll have money when you need it. Bouncing a check to pay for a pig is the equivalent of taking money and promising a pig in exchange, but then not delivering a pig. Breaking your phone is not the same. Getting in a car accident is not the same *unless you don’t pay for the damage you caused*. I don’t think bouncing a check would have made you an awful person. I do think the reasoning in this article is… Read more »

Amy
Amy
7 years ago

I agree with previous posters in that the element of choice is the factor determining whether an action was immoral or simply an accident. I’m confused about why the choice to write the $900 without confidence of funds to back it was necessary. It seems like the whole situation could be avoided with additional planning. First, why not approach the friends who agreed to partner in the pig purchase. Explaining to them that the payment was due and because of the late payment of the contract work, the full amount was not available is one alternative. Another option might be… Read more »

BC
BC
7 years ago

In addition to the other comments, you really don’t need the iPhone if you can’t afford it. Sure it makes some things convenient, and you make a compelling case for enjoying a convenient life. But scheduling, selling, taking notes… people have successfully completed these tasks accurately and efficiently long before the advent of the iPhone.

Bad rationalization is bad rationalization, and failure to learn will lead to more trouble.

kareninthecity
kareninthecity
7 years ago

Kiting checks is against the law – just saying.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago
Reply to  kareninthecity

I had no idea what check kiting was so I looked it up and I believe that’s not what Sarah is doing– kiting involves purposefully circulating bad checks through multiple accounts in order to make it appear one has a higher balance. This article here makes the distinction: http://www.bankersonline.com/articles/sfpv01n02/sfpv01n02a9.html The article written by an FBI agent. It starts with this: Normally, the individual who writes a check for a purchase or bill payment on one day and hurries to the bank the next day to deposit funds has no intent to defraud a financial institution or business. However, not everyone… Read more »

kat
kat
7 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I think the criticism is that this article is a TERRIBLE personal finance advice and not really a good way of responding to a comment, and furthermore attracting negative attention from GRS audience, the majority of which didn’t really notice the previous comment about the checks like myself and NOW I do know about it and it has made no difference to my life and personal finance.
Hopefully we see less of these articles and more useful ones.

Craig
Craig
7 years ago

I haven’t had a chance to mull through all the comments yet, but am currious about the morality of letting your house go into forclosure. A planned forclosure due to being “underwater”. In my case I bought more than I could afford at the peak of the market and now find myself still owing more than 50k than what the house is worth. The house is a money pit and will take years before what I owe matches up to what I can sell it for. I can probably forget about getting what I paid for it. My orriginal plan… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig

This is called “strategic default” and has been written about online to great lengths. Most of the GRS audience will think you are a bad person if you try it. Many other people have already done it and it essentially costs you nothing but your credit score. Whether you want to do it or not is up to you, you would be far from the first one to do it.

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig

Here’s my take: Accepting the agreed-upon consequences of breaking a contract is not immoral. It’s playing by the rules, not lying or cheating in any way. But if you’re doing something deceitful to get out of the agreed-upon consequences – hiding assets to prevent the bank from coming after you for the balance of a recourse loan, for example – that would be immoral. And the question of whether strategic default is moral or immoral is completely separate from the question of whether it’s a good idea. To figure out whether it’s a good idea in your case, you should… Read more »

Ely
Ely
7 years ago

I actually think car ‘accidents’ are immoral. One little mistake with your checkbook costs you and your victim fees and inconvenience. One little mistake jogging costs you a few bruises and an iphone. One little mistake in your 2 ton steel brick could cost someone their life. Sun in your eyes? SLOW DOWN.

Actually, I chuckle and shake my head at the people who scream about the ‘immorality’ of bounced checks and bankruptcy. Yeah, if someone does it on purpose they’re a jerk. Otherwise crap happens. Deal with it. (And get some bigger problems! jeez!)

Greg
Greg
7 years ago
Reply to  Ely

You’re implying all car accidents are avoidable…which is simply not true. You must be the only one who stops at the closest walgreens when you forget your sunglasses, or motel 6 when you’re too sleepy to drive.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  Greg

Well, Greg, I carry spare sunglasses in my cars. If I find that those are missing, I go home and get them or buy another pair. I don’t drive when I am tired. I slow down when it is called for. I pull over to make phone calls. Every single time I get in my car I stop and remind myself that I have my life, my passenger’s lives and the life and health of every single person I share the road with in my hands. To do otherwise is indeed immoral. And I really hope to never share the… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Wait until a deer jumps out in front of you.

Amber
Amber
7 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

I think that far too often, people mistake carelessness for accidents. While there are actual accidents, my experience has been that most “accidents” are actually preventable if people would just take a little care and responsibility beforehand. If I’m falling asleep at the wheel and I cause a car wreck, that was not an accident. I knew I was tired. I chose to keep driving anyway. I took the risk.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
7 years ago
Reply to  SLCCOM

Everything in life comes with some inherent degree of risk. That doesn’t mean that when things go wrong, it wasn’t an accident. Sure, it is more responsible to minimize risk, but even a slightly elevated risk may still be reasonably deemed acceptable. You don’t stay home from work every time it rains, do you? Even though that makes the roads slipperier? And you still drive at all, right? Wouldn’t it be safer to give it up entirely? There is no hard-and-fast cutoff for when you’ve crossed the line from reasonable to unacceptable risk, and, “everything *I* do is reasonable, everyone… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

Is this really a post on a blog called “Get Rich Slowly”? Because I guarantee you that the way to get rich slowly is not to be living so close to the overdraft that you’re buying things you’re not 100% sure you can pay for. The morality of personal finance is exceptionally simple: live within your means, and be certain that you are not taking what isn’t yours. If you weren’t 110% sure you wrote a good check, then you took something that wasn’t yours. Not having enough in your account isn’t a mistake, it’s poor planning. If you’re having… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
7 years ago

Your appeal to be compassionate and forgiving of financial mistakes in others does resonate with me–I can’t count how many times I heard my mom tell someone not to cash a check until the next day. However, comparing a potential check bounce to a running or car accident is a logical fallacy and obscures the issues here.

Amanda
Amanda
7 years ago

Can’t you just link a credit card to your checking account so that overages get billed to the card? This has got to be cheaper than bouncing a check. My first option would be the cash cushion in the account, but I realize that does not work for everyone. We all have our faults or weaknesses, it’s about knowing yourself, what works for you and having faults you can live with. (My weakness is being late for everything, I need a time cushion, but it never happens)

Amber
Amber
7 years ago

I just started subscribing to this blog and now I’m perplexed. How is an entire article justifying check kiting and carelessness anything but the OPPOSITE of financial responsibility? I want to give this blog a chance, but if this is what it’s about, that’s help I don’t need.

El
El
7 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Have a good look through the archives, back when J.D. owned the blog. That’s where the most interesting stuff is. There are still some good writers on here, but the focus is not what it was. Maybe it will turn around and find itself again. Or maybe not.

Dave
Dave
7 years ago

Writing a check for an amount not yet in your account and hoping that money is there when it cashes is generally called ‘floating’ a check. While the morality of it can be up to you (some think that robbery is not immoral), the law is clear; check floating is illegal. And an occasional accidental check bouncing is not the same as intentionally writing a check that may or may not go through. For a blog that embraces personal responsibility, this piece is very disappointing. The responsible thing to do when you don’t have the funds is to work something… Read more »

Nihongo Dame Desu
Nihongo Dame Desu
7 years ago

Talk about rationalizing bad choices. Until you take responsibility for your actions, rather than chocking something completely preventable to to an “accident”, you will likely never find yourself in a truly comfortable financial situation. I’m disappointed the GRS even published an article that is so contrary to good fiscal discipline. If the author wants to continue to delude herself about how she’s just a victim of “accidents”, that’s her issue. But for the blog to offer this under the guise of fiscal advice? Wrong turn. I hope that the owners reconsider using Sarah for future pieces as she clearly isn’t… Read more »

jim
jim
7 years ago

I see no valid analogy between writing bad checks and falling down and breaking your own phone. THe difference here is that you intentionally and knowingly wrote checks with insufficient funds. Sure, you didn’t mean to run out of money and you hoped they’d all clear. But you were fully aware that you couldn’t cover all your checks at the time they were written and you intentionally and purposefully wrote them taking the risk that they wouldn’t all clear. You didn’t knowingly or intentionally fall down and break your phone, your friend didn’t intentionally get blinded by the sun. Taking… Read more »

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

Oh, I get it! The joke’s on us – this is one of those ‘what not to do’ articles!

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

Yeah, I agree with the majority here. “Morality” can be a very vague term. But I think comparing writing a possibly bad check and tripping over a tree is not valid. If your check had bounced, you could have financially impacted the farmer (unless he made better decisions in his finances and had some cushion on his account to cover situations like this.) Just asking him when you gave him the check if he could hold onto it for a day or two would have made such a difference in my opinion.

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

Sarah, I appreciate your sentiments and it’s unfortunate that the criticism directed at you has affected how you see yourself. I think that’s where the problem lies. You’re letting the mean-spirited, negative, and sometimes vicious comments that some people make on this blog to affect your view of yourself. It’s important to support your own opinion of what you do and what goes on in your life. It doesn’t mean you never change and grow and see the mistakes you may have made. But it does mean you don’t attack and blame yourself for what you feel is right. This… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
7 years ago

The level of self-righteousness in many of these responses is breathtaking.

T
T
7 years ago

So, did the check actually bounce?

SweetCoffee
SweetCoffee
7 years ago

I’m sure we all have different comfort levels when it comes to financal risk, but for me, the idea of kiting a check, at its core, is one of the biggest, aka worst, risks I can think of… there’s the risk, no matter how small, that I might not have enough money to cover a promise to pay someone, AND there’s the risk that I’ll be considered untrustworthy (not immoral) by those I admire.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

??!? I’m not really sure what the point of this article is? It feels more like the author should have simply commented back on her POV after the initial comment because this doesn’t have anything to do with personal finance and morality. I think we all agree that humans do err and make mistakes. As to the original comment about being immoral, while the word choice may be off, the commentor was merely attempting to distinguish between accidents and intentional decisions where another person also bears the risk. In the decision to write a check to the pig farmer, knowing… Read more »

mrs bkwrm
mrs bkwrm
7 years ago

Morality is a tricky subject. I might consider bouncing a check borderline depending on one’s intent and the harm caused to someone who did not agree to take the risk. If something like that happens, I think it can be a good learning experience for future planning. Money could be pooled from friends and the farmer could be paid in advance, for instance. But stuff does happen and most of us have been there at one time or another, if not with money, then with other resources. I don’t consider bankruptcy immoral unless someone intentionally borrows a lot of money… Read more »

El
El
7 years ago
Reply to  mrs bkwrm

Come again?

SweetCoffee
SweetCoffee
7 years ago

The responses on this site seem to get a little rowdy, “self-righteous and unforgiving”, I think, when many in the very astute audience sense something is amiss with the author’s self awareness or the way they present their sense of personal responsibility. The only other time I’ve seen these “crazy” outbursts from the audience is with the writer, Honey Smith. While it’s not pleasant to read negative comments, I think these ganging-up-on comments happen as a red-flag that something doesn’t sound right in the article. In the end, I’m sure we all want the best for Sarah, even if our… Read more »

Josetann
Josetann
7 years ago

Another great headline, another wasted opportunity. If we’re talking morality and personal finance, let’s talk about walking out on a house that’s underwater, even though you can still afford it. Moral or not? If you think it’s immoral, and choose to do the moral thing, then how much are your morals costing you? In the same lines, could talk about bankruptcy. Many well-off people have no problems filing bankruptcy on one of their businesses (which is always structured to lower the personal liability to virtually nil); so how much is the average joe’s morality costing him when he’s drowning in… Read more »

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

Making a mistake is simply making a mistake. I bounced a check once when I was younger and wasn’t smart or rich enough to keep a nice cash buffer in my account. I was late for a bill last year because the bill got lost in the mail. These were accidents. As soon as I realized what happened, I got on the phone and corrected the problem. But there’s a lot of people out there who bounce checks intentionally. It’s not a one time occurrence. It’s a “lets see if I Can stick it to the man” mindset. This is… Read more »

Ted Jenkin
Ted Jenkin
7 years ago

Isn’t it ironic that we just ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. We need more people to be responsible for their actions.

SweetCoffee
SweetCoffee
7 years ago
Reply to  Ted Jenkin

I never thought of that before Ted. Nice distinction between intention and action.

Cat
Cat
7 years ago

I feel like I identify with you a lot… I love running, but I love it more when I have an extensive spreadsheet showing my mileage and my workouts.

People ask me if I am ADHD because I get super enthusiastic about new ideas.

I also break personal finance rules all the time, but I strive to have some sort of goal and guidance and route to take to make things better.

🙂

Hurricanes, Panties & Dollars
Hurricanes, Panties & Dollars
7 years ago

I have never met a person who has never made a mistake in their life.

We all make mistakes and screw up, it’s natural. But sometimes we’re even better off than before making the mistake if we learn something substantial in the process.

Alice

Schnauz
Schnauz
7 years ago

Clearly, the tripping and breaking your phone is not a moral issue. It was an accident and we all have them. I can see how someone might make the argument that the potentially bounced check could be a moral issue. But, it sounds like there were a lot of variables in the situation which makes it more of an accident in my opinion. No set amount of money needed, no specific time frame …. but, I also assume you gave little or no reason to the farmer to think you couldn’t pay on commmand. Eh, I think you’re fine here… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
7 years ago

Well, I could replace the screen on your phone for $95 and you would save $75, making the phone drop a little less immoral! 🙂

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