The Answer-To-Everything Syndrome


Here’s a weird question for you. Do you happen to know anyone who always has the answers, but never has the solution?

Let me explain.

I have a dear friend who has struggled financially his whole adult life. But no matter what I’ve suggested to improve his situation, he always has an answer for why it wouldn’t work or why it couldn’t be done.

Case in point. A few years after his second child was born, the cost of living on Long Island began to overwhelm his paycheck. His wife wasn’t working, so I suggested that it might be time for her to explore a little part-time work. After all, her working ten to fifteen hours a week would really help the household’s bottom line. Nope. Wasn’t going to happen, my friend informed me. Before he and his wife were married, they agreed that she would be a stay-at-home mom and he would be the breadwinner.

So there you have it. The work option for his wife was off the table. Sure it would have helped if she found gainful employment. But that would have meant admitting a key feature of their prenuptial gameplan was an ill-conceived monstrosity. And we couldn’t have that. Better for the family to suffer than to bruise two adult egos.

Imagine a bizarro salesperson. Every time you agree to buy whatever he or she is hawking, he or she comes up with another reason why you shouldn’t buy it. That’s my friend—only he’s not a bizarro salesperson; he’s a bizarro financial planner. He’s extremely adept at explaining why he can’t change his financially destructive attitudes and habits. Whatever you conjure up to improve his finances, he’ll smack it down.

Me: “Hey, if you need more money, how about delivering pizzas on the side?”

Friend: “C’mon, man, that’s too demeaning.”

Me: “Alright, attack your expenses. Get rid of cable.”

Friend: “How will I watch the Yankees if I do that?”

Me: “Okay, why don’t you start bringing your lunch to work?”

Friend: “I don’t have time at night to make lunch.”

Me: “Wake up an hour earlier and do it then.”

Friend: “I’m not a morning person.”

It’s maddening. He has the answer to everything. And this cursed affliction, which conspires mightily against his financial well-being, is something I like to call ATES—the answer-to-everything syndrome.

Do You Have ATES?

If you got your financial act together, the rest of this post isn’t for you. If you have an income that dwarfs your expenses, a fully-funded emergency fund, and a growing retirement account, get the heck out of here. You’re as far removed from the scourge of ATES as one can be.

On the other hand, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or find yourself swimming in a morass of financial woe, growing deeper and deeper into debt, there’s a good chance you might be suffering from ATES. This isn’t always the case, of course. Some people on the road to financial ruin do manage to recognize their self-sabotaging habits before it’s too late. But a lot of financially troubled people surely don’t. After all, how likely will someone afflicted with ATES be really good at introspection? 

With that in mind, then, here are four tell-tale signs of ATES.

Do you care more about sports than your own finances?

Obsessing over grown men running around in costumes isn’t nearly as important as obsessing over your financial well-being. The Dallas Cowboys (or whoever your favorite team might be) won’t be shedding a tear if you end up eating cat food in old age. So if you have season tickets to the Dallas Cowboys, but lack an emergency fund and haven’t begun saving for retirement, you might have ATES. If you spend more hours watching ESPN than tracking your expenses or reading about personal finance, you better seek the help of a professional. It sounds like you got ATES.

Are you always borrowing money?

If you routinely have to hit up friends, family, or a payday lender to make ends meet, you need to call the ATES Hotline.

Is there always financial drama in your life?

Late fees, repossessed cars, pink slips, eviction notices, IRS liens—if your financial life is perfect fodder for a Univision novela, you’re not the master of your financial domain. And, oh yeah, you probably have a severe case of ATES.

Is your net worth going down or going nowhere?

Net worth doesn’t lie. It may throw you a curve ball now and then, but it’s brutally honest when it comes to measuring your financial health over the long haul.

If the trajectory of your net worth is trending down or going nowhere, and it’s been doing so for several years, if not decades, it’s safe to say you have some problems—and ATES.

Final Thoughts

Prior to marrying Mrs. Groovy, I had a fairly good case of ATES. In my mind, I was doing the best I could with the cards I was dealt. If anybody suggested a more fruitful path or strategy, I shot him down. But Mrs. Groovy quickly disabused me of my financial delusions. She (with the help of Dave Ramsey) made me realize that I was behaving like a bizarro financial planner. She also made me realize that if I ever wanted to get ahead financially, I needed to drop my colossal ego. And that’s what I did. I stopped having all the answers and started working on the solution.

Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. Do you suffer from ATES? Do you have a friend or family member who suffers from ATES? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Have a groovy weekend. Peace.

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    • Mr. Groovy

      I definitely had ATES into my 30s. Luckily I woke up in time. I have friends and family who are still struggling with it. And thank you for finding this post entertaining. I had a lot of fun writing it.

  1. I know so many people that have this problem. Everyone always pretends to be an expert, but they rarely ever know more than you. Real intelligence comes from understanding that you’re not always right and don’t always know how to solve a problem.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Right on, MMD! Couldn’t have said it better myself. The first step to take in solving a problem is to realize that you know jack-sh*t. Once you realize that, the problem’s practically solved. Sound information has never been more abundant or more cheaply obtained. But too many Americans would rather cling to the notion that they’re “experts.” As Jaime, the previous commenter, asked rhetorically, “What is the point of pride if it makes you broke?” Man is a very strange beast, indeed. Thanks for stopping by, MMD. I really appreciate your insights.

  2. Jaime Lila

    I hate it when people say a job is “demeaning” well no one says you have to do it forever. How is it demeaning to bring in legit money for your household to further financial goals?

    Anyway, you’d be surprised how far a $10/hour job even part-time for like 3-6 months can knock off debt. BTW, there are tons of work from home jobs that women are doing now.

    What is the point of pride if it makes you broke?

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. I believe it was the economist Walter Williams who said, “there are no such things as menial jobs, only menial attitudes.” Too many Americans have menial attitudes when it comes to work. Like you pointed out, no job is forever, and even “menial” ten-dollar-an-hour jobs can do wonders for a person’s finances. Ego is the root of much unnecessary anguish. If only my friend had your wisdom, Jaime. He’d be in a much better place.

  3. Great post! I did not have to read till the end, like you informed me 😉
    To me, when I first moved in to my apartment, I dropped the ego and got real to live below my means again… It brought me where we are now

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey Amber Tree. Ego is such a devilish foe. We seem to be programmed to resist the idea of our fallibility. Unless we get a handle on our ego we’ll never overcome ATES. I’m so glad you kept reading (I hope you were amused). Thanks for stopping by. I love your insights.

  4. I think there is also a career/job version of ATES. I see it in my temp field. The same people complaining about their crappy job situation year after year. I ask what they are doing to change it (applying for new jobs, developing a new skill, starting their own business) and they always tell me that those things are too hard. Not as hard as being stuck in our crappy temp work for the rest of your life.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey ZJ, your last sentence sums it up perfectly. It’s so much easier to complain than to actually fix the destructive habits and attitudes in your financial life. And the sad part is one simple and easy fix (i.e., read one financial blog post a day) can start the whole ball rolling. Sigh. But some people just can’t get out of their own way.

  5. I decided to stick around for the entertainment even though our house is ATES free

    The ones that really drive me nuts are people that have ATES and stick around to push negativity on everyone around them

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent point about the negativity. My ATES afflicted friends and family, oddly enough, keep the negativity focused on themselves rather than others. I can’t imagine if it were otherwise. I would avoid them totally in that case. Good luck in dealing with the ATES/negative people in your life. That’s a tough combination to deal with. If you’ve learned any tips on how to deal with those people please pass them on. Thanks, AE. Always love hearing from you.

  6. I think I know a couple of people who have ATES. But even among those of us who don’t have full-blown ATES, we may have ATES symptoms about a specific category of income or expenses in our lives. I think everyone at some point or another has come up with an excuse why they couldn’t improve their finances just a little more and we need to be on guard against that. It’s one thing to make a conscious choice to prioritize an item in our budgets, but another to just keep wasting money just because we have an excuse.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t suffer from ATES just a little bit. It’s just one more thing everyone should think about as they’re honing their financial muscles. You make a very valid point, Gary. You gotta know the difference between a priority and an excuse. Well said, my friend.

    • Mr. Groovy

      It’s so hard, Julie. You’re normal and rational. You eventually come around. I’ve been waiting decades and the severity of ATES is still strong. At this point I’m exasperated, but I’ll try to heed your advice. I’ll take a deep breath and I won’t give up on them.

  7. Lol. I’m thinking of someone with a bad case of ATES.

    The key to thriving is being able to adapt. Adjust course if and when circumstances change.

    My wife is a SAHM, but has, and would again, take on a job if our situation required it.

    I have little empathy for anyone not willing to sacrifice a bit to help themselves before asking for help.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Exactly! When circumstances change you gotta change with them. I’m glad to see you and your wife are sensible. Sounds like you got a good one there Ty. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  8. I like it. Fun read.

    Funny that people like this have major challenges with:

    They fail to look for new opportunities to change the course.

    They like to hunker down, close their ears to all and any input, especially from worried friends.

    No clue as to when to hang on and when to cut loose. Cue Kenny Rogers- “You gotta know when to hold, know when to fold…..”

    The energy, drive to effect change of direction in their life is buried in stagnation, fear of change and stubbornness.

      • We could add CalculATE too! People blame being “bad at math” when there are certainly calculators and programs that could better help them understand their financial situation too 🙂 We work to avoid the ATES as much as possible, but my brother has a serious case of it! I hope ideas like this are “marinating” in his head as Julie suggests below!

        • Mr. Groovy

          Sorry to hear about your brother, Vicki. Hopefully he’s young enough to outgrow his ATES. I had ATES up until my 30s and I was able to overcome it. So there is hope. And I love the CalculATE contribution. Too many people use math as an excuse when the basic fundamentals of personal finance require a sixth grade understanding of math. How difficult is “spend less than you earn”.

      • Mr. Groovy

        Hey Martin. We can turn this into an E-book called Financial ATES for Dummies. Everyone could contribute a chapter and maybe we’ll set the financial blogosphere on fire. What do you think, my friend?

    • Mr. Groovy

      Funny stuff, Mr. Pie. You put my boring “ATE” to shame! I love it. You drove it home with that last one. MotivATE really nails it. I’ve become so frustrated with some friends and family members with their obstinence I just ignore their complaints and do my best to change the subject. Thanks for an awesome contribution.

  9. I love this post!

    I would say that at least half of my friends have ATES and it’s the exact reason why they look at me like a crazy person when I mention that I’m aiming for early retirement.

    As they say, how you spend your time and your money reveals your true priorities. These people have clearly placed other things as higher priorities than their finances. Talk about self sabotage!

    If someone figures out a productive way to respond to their answers for everything, I’d love to hear it. So far my only response has been to bluntly tell them they’re screwed (said in a joking way, of course) 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Arrrgh! It’s so frustrating. You would think they would reach out to people who were doing well and ask them their secrets. But they don’t. They’d just rather complain and deflect. I think you’ve reluctantly stumbled upon the best approach. You got to cease giving advice and resort to gallows humor. Like your style, Kate. Thanks for stopping by.