I don’t recall learning much about economics during childhood. In fact, it wasn’t until I joined the United States Marine Corps (USMC) that I had a crash course in practical finance.
When assigned to the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment (det) in Lima, Peru, I was designated to aid the Marine Corps Birthday Ball noncommissioned officer (NCO) charged with maintaining the in-home bar and tasked with planning the annual birthday celebration.
He was the “bar NCO” and I was his assistant. Essentially, the det would host various social nights, sell miscellaneous merchandise, and present assorted fundraisers to generate money for the ball. These activities produced thousands of dollars.
I don’t know what was more paradoxical, placing a financially illiterate Marine in a position of trust to assist the bar NCO or assigning a Marine who didn’t partake in the consumption of alcohol to a duty in which he had no idea about booze, though he was required to mix beverages.
At any rate, I learned basic budgetary principles when assisting the bar NCO. Building upon those lessons later in life, I’d like to share some of the economic insight I picked up over the years.
Economics from a jarhead’s perspective
Though there are a number of competing economic theories in existence, I have little knowledge regarding most of them. Therefore, I’m coming from an ignorance-informed perspective herein.
Actually, it’s worse than that. Marines are jocularly referred to as “Crayon eaters,” because of a notion relating to the USMC being the least intelligent of the branches of United States (U.S.) military service.
As such, this jarhead’s perspective—as I have pigmented wax stuck in between my teeth—doesn’t constitute financial advice. Nonetheless, here’s what I learned while on MSG duty when assisting the bar NCO.
Suppose an MSG det has 10 Marines. Each is responsible for contributing to the financial success of an annual ball. The bar NCO is accountable for planning and promotion of events, maintaining the bar, and managing funds.
Let’s say the det opts for a DJ package (music, lights, etc.) that costs $1,000, catering for 100 people ($70 per plate), which runs $7,000, and a venue rental (location, decorations, service personnel, etc.), which is offered for $15,000.
Travel plans and gifts for guest speakers may run $2,500, a formal USMC birthday cake costs $500, various military-specific decorations cost $700, and an open bar is $3,500. A photographer and videographer package is $3,500, the florist charges $2,500, and promotional materials cost $300.
The total cost of the Marine ball in this example is $36,500. The bar NCO begins planning and collecting money for the event as soon as the last ball is over.
If funds aren’t acquired, the aforementioned costs will need to be reduced. This could impact the number of guests in attendance, quality of food and entertainment, and in drastic cases it may determine whether or not a ball even takes place.
MSGs didn’t have unlimited funds. Sometimes, diplomatic personnel had other matters on which their money was spent. Selling polo shirts, t-shirts, challenge coins, and alcohol throughout the year was a hustle.
What this jarhead learned was a simple return on investment (ROI) strategy. The profitability of MSG marketing activities was weighed according to the size of the upfront cost and against the net profits our investments produced.
A polo shirt may cost $20 to make, a t-shirt may run $15 per unit, the price of production for a challenge coin could be $10, and a decent bottle of liquor could be $25. We invested in these items, while considering total profits, and this metric factored into the ROI.
If we sold $40,000 worth of products, we would roll the additional $3,500 into our budget for the next year’s ball. However, if we sold only $26,500 of merchandise and we didn’t have additional funds from the previous year, we had to be creative with how we’d scale down our celebration.
We simply couldn’t rely on hopes and wishes to make up the remaining cost of doing business if we underperformed on a particular year. With the knowledge I learned from assisting the bar NCO, I now turn towards matters relating to the U.S.
Hopes and wishes don’t fund anything
According to one source, “In fiscal year (FY) 2022, the government spent $6.27 trillion, which was more than it collected (revenue), resulting in a deficit.” A deficit is the amount by which spending exceeds revenue over a particular period of time.
Per the aforementioned source, U.S. spending in FY 2022 was up $175 billion over FY 2021. Think of the bar NCO needing $36,500 for a ball, spending $50,000 on merchandise, and making only $20,000 in sales for a year.
If reckless spending like this occurred in an MSG det, the bar and assistant bar NCOs could face legal action. What then is the case when careless disregard occurs within the federal government?
U.S. citizens, to include the wealthy among us, have a finite amount of money. We can’t resolve a deficit or balance a budget with more spending, nor can we rely on hopes and wishes to remedy our problems.
Funding a proxy war in Ukraine, promising student loan forgiveness, bailing out financial institutions, pledging reparations for chattel slavery, funding special interest programs (e.g., diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility), and other ridiculous spending isn’t sustainable.
At this point, you may be wondering how any of this relates to my practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
Using the REBT ABC Model, I pay close attention to self-disturbing beliefs which lead to unpleasant consequences. These unhelpful narratives often manifest in the form of should, must, or ought-type convictions.
For instance, a person may say, “The U.S. should help the people of Ukraine and if we don’t, I can’t stand the thought of doing nothing!” Because of this demanding belief, the individual experiences anger when already limited U.S. funds dry up.
Another person may say, “The government must pay me reparations, because my great-grandparent was enslaved, and it would be awful not to make amends!” Because of this inflexible attitude that doesn’t support tolerance and acceptance, the individual becomes distraught when others do not support this divisive rhetoric.
Although it would be nice if our nation had unlimited funds, we cannot sustain spending at the current rate. Likewise, we can’t fund anything on hopes and wishes, or irrational demands.
Despite not having learned much about economics during my youth, I gained some understanding about finances when serving as an assistant bar NCO.
Since my time in the Corps, I’ve applied my knowledge to a pragmatic assessment of government spending. Using an REBT lens, I’m now able to observe as people—who perhaps have as limited understanding of business as I once did—disturb themselves with unhelp beliefs.
Though I have no control and very little influence over others, I work closely with clients by encouraging them to consider unconditional acceptance and to contemplate whether or not their attitudes about how life ought to be are helpful when facing how life actually is.
Have you found that your emotional account is in a deficit, because the attention you spend on issues outside of your control is well beyond your metaphorical revenue? Who hasn’t been there at one point or another in life?
Are you looking for a proverbial accountant who may help you use a more helpful perspective so that you can make critical financial (mental and emotional) decisions by collecting, tracking, and correcting your psychological finances? I may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
(Marine Corps Birthday Ball, November 2000. I have no idea why I was making the soy boy face.)
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