Consumer Comeback Blog

Life lessons from the 99%

This article contains no political message. I do not care if you are right-leaning, left-leaning, or a centrist; nor do I care if you support the messages of OWS or oppose them. This is a lesson in taking personal responsibility for your own finances. This is a reminder that you (and you alone) are in control your own financial fate.

This is NOT to say that Wall Street should not be held responsible for the mess it’s clearly created. That’s what OWS is all about. It’s just not what this article is about…

“We are the 99%”

Amidst the OWS protests (and perhaps the birth of the very idea) came the slogan “We are the 99%”. The basic idea is that the lower 99% (of wage earners) are politically under-represented, and as a result, the top 1% are not sharing the financial impacts of the recession they’ve (Wall Street) caused. You can read more about OWS and their political message, demands, etc. here.

From this slogan began an internet meme (please excuse the term) of posting a picture of a handwritten message explaining the dire financial situation each individual is in followed by: “I am the 99%”. Most of these images contain a laundry list of complaints about financial debt, unemployment, lack of health coverage, loss of a house, bankruptcy, and some even resorting in prostitution to make ends meet. Most of these images are a painful reminder that the current recession has had a very real impact on individuals who weren’t prepared for it. However, most of the complaints/problems in these images are due to personal financial decisions that have little or nothing to do with the current economic or political climate. Decisions that are NOT part of the true OWS message and that led to (perhaps) avoidable personal financial problems down the road.

In response to these images, there has been a few posts by individuals who had not made any of poor decisions.  People who have taken the opportunity to remind people that it is still possible to succeed, even in times of economic woes.

While both versions of these posts miss the point of the actual message from the OWS movement, there is a valid argument from the latter in contrast to a great majority of the original images: take personal responsibility for your own situation because nobody else will.  Here’s how:

Borrow responsibly

Probably the worst complaint from the “I am the 99%” posts is ones about debt. Buying things with borrowed money means you will have to pay it back. Medical bills aside, nobody is ever forced into debt. So before you buy a house, car, or borrow for college understand exactly what you’re getting into. And perhaps more importantly: know that if you somehow lose income, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still responsible for your debt. Live within your means and follow these simple rules:

  • Keep overall debt from exceeding 40% of your total income.
  • Know the difference between good debt and bad debt.
  • Keep a savings balance for insurance. (recession proof yourself)
  • Borrow for needs, not for wants


There are a lot of people out there without health insurance. Some can’t afford it, others choose not to. If you fall in the first category, it’s likely that you qualify for some kind of assistance and should seriously look into it. For the rest, it’s an expense that you can’t afford NOT to have.

Too many fail to make health coverage a priority in their lives and choose, instead, to have a larger apartment or house, a new car, smart-phone, and/or a number of other expenses that can be reduced or cut completely. If you find yourself in this situation it’s time to re-prioritize your life. If you’re without health coverage you are literally one major medical issue away from bankruptcy and losing all the rest of your stuff anyways. Be smart.

Be Employable

Unemployment is the one plight of those affected by the recession that I truly feel for. It’s the single most difficult time in (most of) our lives to find a job. And those who are hiring can take advantage of those who are desperate for work by under-paying and over-working their employees. New graduates have it even harder. With little to no experience, they’re finding it near to impossible to find a job when they’re competing with those with many years experience for the same jobs.

That said: it’s not a time where complaining about it online or going to a protest is going to be of much help. If you’re not sending out 20 resumes and filling out job applications all day-every day until you have work, you aren’t trying hard enough. If you are doing this, then by all means: join the protests. But if you’ve been out of work for 4-6 months despite very real attempts to find a job, perhaps it’s time for a career change.  Just know, you have options:

  • Go back to school
  • Take an entry level job to gain experience and/or start a new career
  • Move to where the work is (not always possible)
  • Start your own business/work from home

Side note: A message to the young people worried about job prospects after college, here’s some advice:  Those who fear the debt they’d incur getting a degree may condemn themselves to a life of struggling with money problems.  Just make sure you take your education seriously and take every advantage to gain real work experience in the process (even if you have to intern without pay for some time).

Work Hard

In difficult times the worst thing you can do is sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You need to hunker down and put in some extra time until things get better. Can you pick up extra hours at work? Your boss(es) will notice and appreciate your desire to go the extra mile…try this first. How about getting a second job? You don’t need to work 80 hours a week, but how about picking up a newspaper route? Would you be willing to wash dishes at a local restaurant a few nights a week? What about starting your own business on the side? It doesn’t matter what you do…just as long as you find a way to make ends meet. Sure, it’s not easy…I never said it would be.

Sacrifice: the end of excuses

I want to make this clear: I don’t blame anyone for their position. If that’s how this post sounds, I apologize. Surely not everyone who is hurting has made poor financial/life choices. Some people are simply victims of the recession; Dug themselves into a small hole and suddenly the bottom fell out. And for those hurting during these tough times: you have my sympathy. But to my point: sympathy isn’t going to get you back on track. Only you can do that. Don’t expect handouts because you won’t get any. Roll up your sleeves, make the necessary sacrifices, simplify your life and finances, and do your due diligence and you’ll get going again. Perhaps next time, you’ll be more prepared.