Paul Sullivan, the New York Times Wealth Matters columnist and author of “The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy,” has a theory about why people fall into the trap of spending beyond their means.
He calls it the “Bordeaux Dilemma.”
In “The Thin Green Line,” Sullivan writes that some of his best memories are of drinking wine from the Bordeaux region of France, “particularly Chateau Margaux, which can entice me to spend $US300 or more on a bottle. Bordeaux is as seductive to me as debt is to other people: I certainly can’t have just a little bit.”
He writes, “But at times I’ve wished I had never drunk Chateau Margaux or any of the region’s other great wines. Once you have, your tasted buds are changed forever.”
He uses the experience of drinking — and getting used to — expensive wine to relate to people who extend themselves beyond their means to afford the luxuries they’re used to, even if they can’t afford it. In fact, he draws a parallel between this attitude and the get-as-much-house-as-you-can attitude during the housing boom preceding the 2008 collapse.
As far as Sullivan knows, he writes, there are three “cures” for an appetite beyond your budget: “poverty, incredible wealth, or self-restraint mixed with occasional indulgence. This last is a great balancing act, and the key to being on the right side of the thin green line.”
Sullivan goes on to explain that the only realistic solution for managing debt — or, if you extend the metaphor, a taste for expensive wine — “is to create a plan with moderation, not abstention. People can’t live in voluntary deprivation. Any debt solution is about arithmetic and the battle against compounding interest.”
While there are exceptions, like people who set aside half their income to pay off their mortgage or devote all of their energy to eliminating their debt in just a few years, Sullivan finds that the most effective management method is to divide your available resources between your costs and savings goals, and then devote only what’s left over to your debt payments, creating a “sliding scale” to contribute more as you earn more.
“Then spend no more than what you have left, even if you have to wait until the next month to buy something,” he writes. “No excuses.”
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