The other day I left a meeting that had lasted for hours and decided to stop for a late lunch before making the hour drive home. I chose one of those burger joints where they cook your food to order. As I waited for my lunch in the packed eatery, a family of four sat in the booth next to me and gave me a glimpse into the misery many American households may be dealing with as they try to keep it together financially.
"Why do we have to split a meal," whined the son, who looked about 11.
"Because we do," snapped back the Dad through tightly clenched teeth.
The son continued to whine and complain, and I gathered from the vigorous and loud discussion that this family couldn't afford four individual meals and had chosen to buy a couple of combo meals and split them. The obviously stressed-out dad repeatedly went over the receipt to make sure they had ordered the right items while the wife, unfortunately, made snarky comments. The teen daughter simply slumped into the booth and said nothing during the entire discussion.
It was actually quite uncomfortable to sit next to them as they went on like this for about 15 minutes. I tried not to listen but couldn't help overhearing, like half the other tables around me. The father looked so stressed about not being able to afford more while his kid kept at him. But the saddest thing to me was when he made a trip back to the register to make sure he wasn't overcharged and the wife made derogatory comments about him to the kids while he was gone.
It's a sad fact that many marriages split up over money matters. The current recession will test the bonds of many families, and some of them won't survive unscathed. I don't pretend to know anything about that family or why they couldn't afford individual meals. But I do know one thing: Their financial situation has put a strain on their relationships with one another and unless they pull together during this tough economy, things may only get worse.