By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital
February 15, 2004
While standing in line at a small, owner-operated convenience store this
week, I saw a woman purchase two handfuls of bubble gum and four liters of
bottled water with her food stamp debit card.
I was shocked enough when I saw my federal tax dollars used to purchase
bubble gum and water. Imagine my reaction when the woman then gave the
clerk a handful of coins in exchange for two cigarettes! Although I
suspect he violated a law or two, I give the storeowner some entrepreneurial
credit for filling a market void. Who would have thought folks wanted to
buy cigarettes one or two at a time?
Several days earlier, I met with a friend of mine who was panicked about his
personal financial condition. He couldn't sleep at night, worried he was
about to place his wife and kids in the poor house or under a bridge. He
earns $100,000 a year, owes $50,000 on his $300,000 house and has no other
significant debt. He owns a vacation home, several automobiles and wears
really nice clothes. He does not buy cigarettes one or two at a
time. He is in a short-term cash flow pinch, but he is not going to end up
with one of those fancy-looking food stamp debit cards.
The interesting thing is that both my friend and the woman from the
convenience have the same problem, but it's not the problem they think they
have. They each think their problems could be solved if they had more
money. But their problem is not the lack of money. Their problem is
the way they think about money. Whether or not folks who receive
government assistance ought to buy bottled water and bubble gum is a not my
issue. But it is clear that the woman from the convenience store has
unhealthy attitudes about money. There is something dysfunctional in a
person's decision-making process who allocates obviously scarce resources in that
But there is something just as dysfunctional when someone is so worried about
his financial condition that he can't healthily enjoy a situation many people
A humorist once joked that money can't buy happiness: people with ten million
dollars are no happier than those with nine million dollars. Hidden
somewhere within the emotional underpinning of that comment is a truth: money is
seldom a problem, particularly for healthy people in a nation as rich as
ours. But our learned thoughts and emotional processes about money are
often problematic. If you gave $100,000 to the woman at the convenience
store, it wouldn't solve a single one of her problems. She would still be
the same person. Her problem isn't her circumstances; her problem is her
thinking. This may the result of her upbringing, parents, husband or DNA;
I have no idea. But her circumstances are the result of the way she
thinks. And unless she changes the way she thinks about the relationship
between herself and money, she will always struggle.
And so will my friend.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).