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Columns : In My Sights

The Hole

Financial debt can creep up on you, and it’s difficult to get out of once you’re in it.

May 04, 2011  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship.

Recently, our old television upstairs started to lose its image so I went on a clearance hunt and found a modern replacement for the ancient old warhorse that had served for more than a decade. The modern replacement weighed in at a mere 12 pounds but had the same screen size as its antiquated predecessor, and as I staggered down the stairs with the massive box that was our old boob tube I thought how everything electronic is getting lighter but we are getting heavier.

I chuckled to myself and then remembered the first microwave I ever owned, a massive Amana I bought back in 1975 when my friend JW and I were roommates and bachelor crimefighters. It was fortunate that I had a powerful roommate, because that first-generation microwave was industrial size in both mass and cost. But I was making more money than I ever had before in my young life and I didn't have many expenses. I was renting a room from JW and had my old used car from college and a girlfriend that worked, so I could handle the monthly payment on the modern cooking machine that changed our lives.

I could cook a hotdog in just a few seconds and blow it up nicely with just a few more. JW could cook a dozen hotdogs in just a few seconds and then sit on the couch with his stack of dogs (no buns) and mustard on the side, which he considered a vegetable serving. The microwave made life so much easier and fit our crazy lifestyle; and thinking back, the simple monthly payment was not even a blip on my mental radar of threats to come.

Well, all good things must come to an end, and within a year and a half I had a new house, a spouse, a new car, and a monthly debt load that turned my once carefree existence into a paycheck-to-paycheck odyssey. In fact, I was reminded just how much my life changed in those few months when I was getting ready for an antelope hunt last fall. I found a box of ammo I had reloaded back in 1976 for a planned afternoon of shooting with JW and some friends out at the range that never happened because of all the changes that life brings.

Some of the changes are wonderful, like kids (debatable sometimes, I admit), and are a natural part of losing the Peter Pan in all of us. But some, like massive personal debt, are destructive. Over the years I have had so many "if only" moments; most of them have been about debt and its related stresses. When I was developing officer safety programs at the academy, I was stunned to find the number one cause of divorce among law enforcement officers was not dispatchers, but financial stress. Wow.

My wife, the Sarge, and I were talking about this while preparing our class "Married to a Crimefighter," and we had to admit, we probably would have gotten divorced from our priors anyway, but financial stress only added to the interpersonal issues. Having to take that off-duty job and spend your time there when you might otherwise be home doesn't help. And the more stress and absence in your life the more it seems like that handsome young rookie or cute K-9 handler might just understand you a little better than the one waiting at home.

Here is the bottom line so to speak when it comes to financial issues for high-sensation, risk-taking crimefighters like me and you:

  1. Retail therapy is not healthy and doesn't solve anything, but from time to time it's OK to indulge.
  2. Long-term investments have to be viewed in terms of your total life budget, which means time and money; both have to be spent wisely.

If you are reading this and think, "Great, now he tells me!" it is never too late to start paying off your debts and budgeting your money and your time. Believe me, I know. I once sat in my living room, cooking hot dogs in my microwave, in debt up to my ears and going through a divorce, wondering, How will I do this? I did; and you can and will. Just put your mind to it and get going.

For the rest of you, the easiest hole to get out of is the one you never get into. Oh, if I had to do it all over again...actually, I would still buy the Amana.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

MikeAT @ 5/12/2011 7:08 PM

Kind of an aside, back in my Army days (late 80s/early 90s) I got this study over family stress with Army families and one of the biggest causes of arguments was the question "What do you want for dinner?"

I can see get a sergeant or officer who has been making decisions all day and the last thing we wants to do is make a decison at home....just put some animal in front of me and let me vege!

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