Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Ways the 2011 San Diego Chargers Are Like Debt

These guys are true fans.
I received some positive feedback on my post a few months back about how this year's Colts compare to finances.  As I basically write on this site for love and affection, I thought I'd take another shot at that style of article.  Please feel free to love and affect me in the comments.

Let me start by saying that my favorite football team is the San Diego Chargers, and so it is with fear and trepidation that I liken my team to the pernicious "d" word of the personal finance community.  That "d" word, of course, is debt.

But how, you ask, can a real, actual team be compared to an abstract idea?  Gather around, my children, and I'll tell you a tale.

1)  Both may be fun, for a while - The Chargers started this season with a record of 4-1.  "Four wins and only one loss?", we fans asserted incredulously.  "Can life get better?  I submit that it cannot!"  Following several seasons of 2-3 starts, we finally had a team that gained momentum early, and it was difficult not to be optimistic.  That was a good time to be Chargers fan. 

In a similar way, when a person is getting into debt (especially credit card debt), it's probably a pretty good time.  "What's that?  I can buy the 70" television AND the Playstation 3 right now and only worry about paying it off in the future?  Sign me the crap up!"  Let's be real: it feels amazing to be able to gratify yourself instantly.*  It's only when the bills start to come that our purchases feel a little less like smart choices.

2)  Appearances can be kept up, for a while - Keen and eagle-eyed sports fans noticed that, even though the Chargers were off to their greatest start in years, the Chargers weren't, you know, all that good.  In their first game of the year, we had a hard time putting away the Minnesota Vikings, whose quarterback for that game only passed for 39 yards with one touchdown, one interception, and a QB rating of 47.9 (to compare, a decent game for an NFL QB would be 250 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions).  Still, the Chargers managed to give the impression that they were a good team, because they had more wins than losses.

When we're in debt, there's usually some amount of time where those around us probably don't know it yet.  If we need more money for something, we can just charge it on the credit card, all while only paying the minimum amount (if that!) when our bills come in the mail.  "Can I go out for an expensive sushi dinner tonight?  Why the crap not?"

3)  Unfortunately, hiding from problems makes them worse - After that blazing 4-1 start, the Chargers have lost six games in a row and currently have a record of 4-7.  There are a lot of theories about what's wrong with the Chargers (it's the coach's fault, it's the general manager's fault, etc), but one of my favorite theories is that the quarterback, Philip Rivers, is hiding an injury that is affecting his performance.**  If you watch tapes of him throwing the ball, you can see his face contort in pain, and there is speculation that this apparent, though phantom, injury is why he has thrown so many interceptions this year.  If he would have come out with this information, the team or his trainers could have worked with him to make him better; instead, he may very well be making himself (and the team) worse.

Similarly, try though we might, we can't hide from our debt.  Though we can spend our time thinking about other, more pleasant things (or by simply throwing bills right in the trash), neither of those actions helps to pay off our debt.  If we can realize how bad debt is for us early on, we'll have a much easier time getting out of it.  On the flipside, the longer we let debt accumulate, the longer and harder the journey will be to get out of it.  "How do I owe so much money?  Oh crap."

4)  To get better, we may have to cut off relationships - It is generally accepted at this point that Coach Norv Turner will be fired by season's end (unrealistic playoff run notwithstanding), and there's also a good chance that A.J. Smith (the general manager) will be fired as well, and both are due a fair share of blame for the team's issues.  Norv's playcalling and clock management (i.e., not taking a timeout before the end of the fourth quarter to give the Chargers one last chance to win the game before overtime this last weekend) are suspect,*** and Smith has a knack for trading away good to great players and then replacing them with cheaper players with average skills.  For the Chargers to get better, there is a general consensus among fans and sportswriters that one or both of these men needs to leave the organization as soon as possible.

Debt may also force us to reevaluate the people that we hang out with.  Do we spend extra money because our buddy who is a lush always wants to go out drinking?  I mean, we already have a bad habit of spending too much money if we're in debt; how many more bad habits do we need?  "Do I want to go out to an expensive sushi dinner?  Are you crapping me?"

5)  It's not the end of the world - The thing is with the Chargers that I expected them to do well this season, and so their losing ways are frustrating in a profound way.  Nobody knows this more than my poor puppy dog, whom I startle when I argue a playcall with my television. 

Why so serious?
Nevertheless, though there's a large number of people who would think otherwise, football doesn't really count for a whole lot in this life.  While it can be fun to watch or go to a game, at it's best, football provides a few hours of an entertaining distraction.

While debt is certainly not an entertaining distraction, I would argue that being in debt also doesn't mean that the world is ending.  As long as you are living, you can take action to reduce and eliminate the debt that you have.  If you feel guilty over being in debt, that may be helpful for a time (as it may help you from getting into more debt), but feeling guilty day after day is not a healthy way to live.  With or without debt, you'll still wake up every morning and be capable of being an intelligent, healthy person.  While getting out of debt is of utmost importance, being in debt doesn't make you the worst person ever.  "I've got to quit crapping on myself and get out of debt."

What do you think?  Are the above valid comparisons?  Let me know in the comments.

*That phrase sounds really dirty to me.  I bet that's why everybody else usually writes "instant gratification" instead.  Good to know.
**There is some history of him lying about injuries.  For a playoff game a few years ago, he spent a week before the game denying that he was injured, played the game, and then revealed that he had been playing with a torn ACL.  While this does make him a tough guy, it doesn't seem to help the Chargers win games.
***Norv is also supposed to be an amazing offensive playcaller, so it's, at least, surprising that we've only scored 17, 20, and 13 in our last three games.

Photos taken by me!

This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finace #337 that was hosted by Afford Anything.

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