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Destructive habits

Lucy spent $600 of her $700 spending limit on a credit card to play casino games online. “You’re maxing out a credit card for gambling?” Hammer asked. “You have zero dollars for retirement and you can’t afford [rent].”

While there’s nothing abnormal in seeking a little thrill — about 85% of American adults have gambled at least once, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimated — it can quickly become problematic.

The council defined a gambling addiction as “gambling behavior that is damaging to a person or their family, often disrupting their daily life and career.”

The council believes 5 to 8 million Americans have a mild to moderate problem with gambling behavior, with roughly 2.5 million dealing with a severe addiction to gambling. However, experts have noted that the crisis seems to be expanding since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling unleashed a wave of sports betting legalization across several states.

Unfortunately, Lucy’s addiction to hitting a jackpot isn’t limited to online casinos. She’s also gambling with her career, spending money on frivolous online promotions and social media ad campaigns to promote her music in the hopes of becoming a famous pop star. Meanwhile, her nascent acting career has only generated one project and $3,000 in income thus far.

Making a living as an actor is extremely difficult, as the actors’ union SAG-AFTRA informed Rolling Stone, only 14% of its members make at least $26,470 a year. And just 7% of actors earn more than $80,000 a year.

Making money from music is even more difficult. In 2023, only 50,000 artists made more than $16,500 through royalties by streaming their music on Spotify, according to the platforms’ own report.

To be fair, Lucy earns enough from other sources to meet her needs. However, Hammer uncovered irresponsible spending habits that are preventing her from doing so.

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Being an adult

To make ends meet, Lucy works two jobs teaching English and scoring test papers for $20 to $37 an hour. She also offers ride-sharing services, which adds a little additional income every month. Altogether, her monthly income comes to $3,466, according to Hammer's calculations.

San Antonio’s average rent is $1,564, according to Zumper, which means Lucy should be able to afford rent. But she argues she can’t manage the rent alone and asked her mother to move in and pay a portion of it.

Of adults aged 26 to 41, one in four are living with their parents, according to a survey by Pollfish for PropertyManagement.com. The top reasons cited were to save money (51%) and because they couldn’t afford rent (39%).

However, Lucy also insists on sending her son to a private school because public education “sucks.” That adds another $200 to her monthly expense budget.

Lucy also has credit card debt, car loans and medical debt, to the tune of $132,000 combined. She's also ignoring her student loan payments — and the last time she made a payment was in 2010. Again, Lucy said she can’t afford to pay it back. But, with interest accruing, there’s a “massive risk that this balloons to $250,000 to $500,000 to a million dollars,” Hammer said.

He pointed out that Lucy’s miscellaneous “BS” expenses make up about 20.2% of her spending, or about $900 a month. “You can afford to live on your own — you’re choosing not to, based on your own spending,” he said. “That’s being a child, that’s you prioritizing fun over being an independent adult.”

In the end, Hammer drove home the point that Lucy is far too “scattered” to be able to invest and save for retirement with her current lifestyle. He recommended she “buckle down” and focus on the gigs that bring in the most money now. He also encouraged her to look into jobs in her field of study (psychology) for a steadier income and overall job stability.

He firmly believes that Lucy can change her financial situation by focusing on steady sources of income, reducing debt, cutting back on her gambling habit and implementing a robust budget. As for whether she will do that, Hammer seemed less sure.

— With files from Vishesh Raisinghani


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Vawn Himmelsbach Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist who has been covering tech, business and travel for more than two decades. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC News, ITbusiness, CAA Magazine, Zoomer, BOLD Magazine and Travelweek, among others.


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