“Don’t even consider keeping up with the Joneses. THEY’RE BROKE!”
“The number one cause of divorce in North America is stress due to money problems.” Dave Ramsey, financial advisor
It’s no secret. Across the country and beyond, we’re vulnerable to economic trends. Why? Because, for most of us, we are dependent upon other people’s money. We have become increasingly dependent on Wall Street, banks, and the government. We work hard, and then everyone takes a cut. Then we get to choose how to spend the leftovers. If we decide that the leftovers aren’t enough, we borrow. Pretty soon our choices are made for us; we no longer have enough left over from the leftovers to live. It’s a vicious cycle, and we’ve seen the consequences of this in the last few years. People are losing their homes, jobs, and more. Cop families are no different.
Carl and Tina declared bankruptcy and lost their gorgeous house because they bought whatever they wanted on credit and then couldn’t pay the mortgage.
Quinn and Saul both work just to make ends meet because half of Saul’s salary goes to alimony payments.
Brian and Marcy depended on his overtime to make their house payment. It severely cut back Brian’s opportunities to expand professionally, and he was hardly home with his family.
Carrie and Andy bought an expensive house on the outreaches of what they could afford. Then the police department implemented a pay cut. She ended up having to teach school when she desperately wanted to be home with her little girls.
All of these families are law enforcement. Good careers. Excellent benefits. Decent salaries. But no matter how much money is made, failure to plan is a plan for failure.
The Role of Hypervigilance
There are law enforcement-related issues that affect our money. Hypervigilance and critical incident stress have their effects. Dr. Gilmartin says,
The behavioral and marketing researchers on Madison Avenue have… clearly established that certain individuals, when feeling mildly depressed or unfocused, can find themselves feeling more energetic if they purchase something. This form of “retail therapy” does have distinct gender differences. Women tend to make small ticket purchases… Males do not appear to like to go shopping, but they do enjoy “buying stuff”… big-ticket items like boats, cars, pickup trucks, motor homes, campers, and maybe some power tools.
What happens is that retail therapy can turn into debt. And debt becomes a huge burden that results in extra jobs and overtime. The catch phrase he who has the most toys wins turns into he who has the most toys whines.
This spending pattern affects our marriages. More and more debt is added to our limited resources and can rob us of financial security. We are constantly behind, working harder and harder to catch up. Dr. Gilmartin adds,
This cycle robs the officer of any sense of financial security across the span of the occupational career. Many officers, without having a sense of proactive control of their finances, experience significant distress economically, in spite of enjoying an occupational career that is generally free of lay-offs and downsizing, with excellent retirement and medical benefits.
One of the benefits of police work is the financial security it brings to the family. Most sworn police officers are in it for the long haul; a twenty-to-thirty year career in law enforcement is the goal. There are exceptions, but depending on what your department offers in pay and benefits, chances are good that you’ll belong to the middle class. Also, law enforcement is a reasonably secure profession. There will always be crime; therefore, we will always need police officers.
But if we allow ourselves to get into debt to the point that we are strapped financially, that feeling of security begins to wane. When our officers are working day in and day out but money is constantly coming up short, a sense of frustration can develop. These feelings will heap on top of regular pressures of the job, and can lead to a feeling of desperation. At this point, talking about money will become very difficult.