The Financial Train Wreck & Housing

Hopefully you saw my first post introducing “the Financial Train Wreck” (or FTW for short), which is a term of endearment for my wife’s sister and quite an apt description when you think about her financial situation.

While FTW’s fniancial position is certainly nothing to envy, it does provide us with some examples of what not to do with your finances and I’m hoping that readers can get something out of this as a result.

Today’s lesson from FTW is about dumb financial decisions made to accommodate earlier dumb decisions, the lesson being if the first dumb decision was reviewed, then the second dumb decision would not be necessary.


A couple of boyfriends ago, FTW made the decision to move into a house with her equally stupid boyfriend at the time. This was stupid for plenty of reasons, but we really don’t have time for all of them today, so we’ll just focus on a few that tie in with my point for today.

One day when speaking with FTW and listening to her complain about her life generally, she brought up the house that they were renting. This house had a number of characteristics that particularly annoyed FTW, including:

1. The cost of renting the house, which was about $250/week.

2. The age and condition of the house, which was built in the 1950s and hadn’t been renovated since then.

3. The hopeless air conditioning, which really doesn’t help in our climate where we can get quite hot summers that typically have at least one stretch of 40 degree (celsius) days in a row, not to mention plenty in the mid to high 30s. This air conditioning, which was probably installed some time in the 1960s, cost about $40b/hr to run, and did a terrible job of keeping the house cool.

4. The extensive lawns that needed to be mowed and gardens that needed to be maintained, which was particularly annoying for them since they didn’t own a lawnmower (the lawn was probably 2 feet  high) or any gardening tools. They therefore had to pay someone to mow the lawns after they had grown so high, which then cost them even more.

5. The way that the house was generally embarrassing for them, so they would never have anyone over to visit (this was why I had never visited the house).

Not FTW's actual back yard, but you get the idea.

Not FTW’s actual back yard, but you get the idea.

Upon hearing all of the above complaints, I immediately questioned why they rented the house in the first place – surely there were better places available for similar money in our city?

FTW’s response to this question that this house was all that they could afford that had sufficient yard space to accommodate their three cats and where the landlord was prepared to allow the tenant to have pets.


Here we have two people that are in debt up to their eyeballs with credit cards and personal loans, and they decide that having three cats is a good idea?! And not only is it a good idea, but that is then a perfectly good reason to pay more money for a worse house, and then bring on a heap of other problems that you don’t want (like mowing lawn) and can’t afford (like paying someone to mow said lawns).

My solution

Now prepare yourself for my earth-shattering solution as I don’t want you to fall off your chair, but my response to FTW was…

Have you thought about getting rid of the cats?

What seemed like such an obvious solution to me (you probably already know my thoughts on pets) seemed unbearable to FTW. But I pushed on anyway, pointing out the other parts of my grand plan for fixing a very small component of her screwed up life…

1. If you got rid of the cats, you could move into a smaller place, like a more modern unit/townhouse. Such a property would be much nicer to live in, with much nicer decor and efficient and effective heating and cooling.

2. In a smaller place without a yard, which you admit that you don’t use, you then wouldn’t need to pay a gardener, and also wouldn’t need to buy a lawnmower. Plus you wouldn’t even need to think about the whole yard mess.

3. There are lots more units/townhouses around for less money, and you would have a better chance of obtaining these properties to rent because the landlords wouldn’t need to agree to the condition of allowing pets.

4. You wouldn’t need to cover the cost of the pets, including vet bills, food and kitty litter, and you wouldn’t need to clean up after them.

5. Your house wouldn’t smell like cats, cat food, and cat excrement like it does now since you don’t clean the place properly. Having since visited the house, I am sure that no one would have ever wanted to visit you there (even if you had invited them to), and I can see why you would be embarrassed to have anyone in your house.

As expected, with FTW’s attitudes to taking instruction and extremely limited financial intelligence, she couldn’t see the logic of my plans and her life continued down the track towards financial oblivion.

She eventually moved out of the house, moving back in with my wife’s mother when she broke up with that boyfriend, so the situation sort of took care of itself, but she has since moved out with two other friends. I have no idea what their house is like though or what happened to the cats.

The lesson

I’d be amazed if anyone missed it in this whole ridiculous example, but the point I was trying to make is that if you are in a tough spot, often you need to challenge one fundamental assumption, then change it, and you will then open up a whole world of possible solutions to your problem.

If you can’t challenge that one fundamental assumption then you are doomed to continue down the same path.

So what fundamental assumption have you challenged recently that has had a profound effect on your available choices and financial situation?


7 thoughts on “The Financial Train Wreck & Housing

  1. Thanks for the laugh this Friday morning! Last year I moved to Manhattan and it changed a lot of things in my life, a lot for the better. I sold my car and eliminated that expense including gas, maintenance, and insurance. I now can walk to work so basically pay nothing for commuting. Only issue is I’m going back home (where I grew up) this weekend and I have to take two trains and then get picked up at the train station instead of driving which would be easier. But I don’t mind as I can read or listen to music or podcasts on the travels. And to my surprise it is usually easy to get someone to pick me up at the train station as I am a joy to be around 😉

    But I totally agree with you. In reality those cats were costing FTW more than just money. They caused her to live in a house she hated, spend money she didn’t have, smell up the joint something awful, and because of that no friends to come over and shoot the “crap” with.

    • I’m glad you liked the post – I certainly get plenty of amusement from discussions with FTW!

      I think your move to Manhattan is a great example of this same point – a change of where you live changes what might have otherwise been a fundamental assumption that you need a car. When we lived in London it was the first time in our lives that we had never had a car, but after about two days we realised that a car would have made no sense at all in that city.

  2. Hey yo. Don’t nobody like gettin lectured to, no matter how messed up they finances is nahmean. A lot of times yo general thoughts about a person be coming through in the way you speak to em. And if this post any indication you talkin to this woman like she a child nahmsayin.

    Ease up b. You ain’t doin nothin but makin yo self feel high an mighty by lecturin people like this. Lead by example nahmean. Sometime people follow, sometime they don’t but that’s they choice nahmsayin. Errybody on they own journey in this life.

    • I’m sorry if it didn’t come across that way, but this was supposed to be a humorous take on the whole situation. Of course I don’t speak to my sister-in-law in the way that the post was written – it’s an anonymous blog, not an actual conversation with her.

      I don’t feel “high and mighty” with this type of story – I actually feel sad for her. What I didn’t write in this article was that our whole family has tried to help her many times and she is beyond help. No one feels good about the situation.

  3. I have a friend who I’ve known since school and who has (for the past 15 or so years) been struggling financially.

    I have never mentioned to her that perhaps she would be much better off if she didn’t have to pay for dog and cat food (she has 2 dogs and one cat) and the associated vets bills – I’ve always known her to have pets but thought she would come to her senses when she had kids (four) to feed as well as the pets! I guess for her, the pets have more priority than her finances.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend would see it as giving something up, and that’s why she would never get rid of the pets (or just go back to one low-cost pet). The attitude of collecting more things (whether they be pets, children or stuff geberally) seems to be a common cause of financial stress, but the cure (having less stuff) often seems worse than the disease for some of the people.

      I’m guessing that your friend isn’t someone that you’re going to introduce to my blog then?!

      • Haha, no. None of my friends know that I write my own blog (hence ‘Quietly Saving’!) and the few times I’ve mentioned early retirement, they think I’m counting on a lottery win (I’m not!)

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