Imagine a handsome young family complete with kids living in a stylish two-story home in a quiet neighborhood. The parents work quiet middle-class jobs. Dad is a city bus driver. Mom is a secretary. Their house is brimming with consumer goods: a couple of mammoth-sized televisions, a drum set for the kids and high-end furniture. Mom’s closet is bursting with her ample wardrobe. Dad has a motorcycle. Combined they make just under $90,000 a year.
They are being featured on a show running on CNBC, now in its ninth season called Til Debt Do We Part. And like most people on television shows, they have a problem and they need to go on television to fix it. Apparently Mom and Dad have been heavy-handed with their credit cards. They owe $60,000. The matronly host Gail Vaz-Oxlade gently lays down the law: They have to live within their means. Pay down credit cards. Pay into a savings account. Save for their children’s education. The message this self-proclaimed Dollar Diva has for the couple is they are drifting apart and debt is the culprit.
Gail puts up on the screen the family’s budget, what they spend on whatnot a month. Their housing expenses for their posh suburban home are a reasonable sum. Their transportation costs are relatively low. Dad has to sell the motorcycle. Mom has to spend less on clothes. The parents need to spend more time with each other. All problems are then solved.
While watching this program I was amazed at the lack of grit for a reality show. This is no Hoarders airing dirty laundry and years worth of neglect and filth. This is a couple with a standard of living far better than any I’ve ever seen for what they do for a living. It’s like they’re Alice and I’m the one Through the Looking Glass.
Then Gail handed the couple a wad of bills to illustrate they were going to be paying for things in cash from now on. The money? Canadian. These are Canadians. Their budget is manageable for one because they’ve chosen to not buy supplemental insurance and rely on the government to provide all of their health care.
This couple and most of the couples on the show don’t pay for health care out of their family budgets. The average family in America spends around $15,000 a year or around 22% of their income on health care. That amount will apparently pay most of a mortgage on an enviable home in the greater Toronto area.
Most notable, the show doesn’t delve into any sob stories about getting diseases and therefore having debt. There are no staples of the only-in-America saga of losing your health, then your health care and then your house (there’s a fix to this in the Affordable Care Act AKA Obamacare that has yet to go into effect). The debt is all from spending money on things they want. Simply because they want them. Which makes these spendthrift Canadians seem more American than Americans.
It’s the way Americans want to see ourselves; careless, reckless, Wild West, rogue spenders buying everything because we can. Buying is our birthright. It’s freedom. Freedom of a free market – which makes even a 33% APR sound liberating. Of course we’re more along the lines of Wal-Mart sharecroppers, completely at the mercy of colossal businesses with fewer choices and even less power muttering to ourselves that at least we aren’t slaves. It’s the land of the free. Someone told us so.
When did Canadians out Norman Rockwell us? From the perspective of my couch they seem to be living very well with the evils of socialism. Canada consistently outranks us in quality of care and that impacts our quality of life. They have lots of guns and low gun violence. Their banks didn’t cause a housing bust so their economy is comparatively doing fine.
Plus, call me paranoid, but I think they’re looking down on us.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far