July 10, 2001

It's Raining on my Laundry!

The title has nothing to do with the rest of the entry.. just a random observation.

I was thinking the other day:

If everyone lived within their means, and no one had huge outstanding credit card balances at what should be illegal rates of interest which have nothing to do with the reality of other rates of interest nowadays... (especially the ones given for savings) and which grow like crabgrass or like those sea monkey toys that you put into water and they swell so large you can't get them back out of the bottle...
If everyone lived like that (within their means) the economy would crumble within days.

(I'm not an economist: this is just my opinion, for what it's worth.)

I've always lived reasonably frugally.
I don't want a medal for doing so; it came naturally.
Hubby's the same way. Money is the one thing we seldom argue about.
We don't pinch every penny. He plays golf a few times a week; I have three computers in the house and indulge myself in books and CD's.
Diamonds would be nice but that's only a passing thought.
A big house?
Uh, no.
Again, it's nice but I don't have the clothes to go with the lifestyle and neighbourhood that accompanies a big house.
Furthermore, I don't want the clothes, furniture, etc. - even if I won the lottery tomorrow. (Which might be difficult since I rarely buy tickets.)
There's probably something wrong with me but that's how I am.
I refuse to fight it.

As I understand it, financial health is in part measured by consumer spending.
The more we spend, the better.
Not just on the necessities of life.
We need that big screen TV. We need the luxury car. Not only need it - we deserve it!
Equality means being entitled to the best.
If we haven't earned it before we spend it, no matter. Charge it, into the future, even unto the next generation.

This is scary for any number of reasons.

It's not only the descent towards bankruptcy that disturbs me; even if that's avoided, there's the issue of tradeoffs. Holding the most lucrative job possible, for example, at the expense of family life. Why is it necessary to have luxury everything? Is it an ego trip? Is it a guilt thing - one must provide the best for one's family? I wonder if people in these situations stop to think about why.

Realizing that the financial health of the society I live in is based upon a premise that I disagree with, makes me uncomfortable.
Must it be so? Maybe, I don't know enough about these things to say.

Part of the scariness is the need for people to be motivated to go out and buy. The motivation occurs in obvious ways (advertising) and in more insidious ways too (product placement in TV shows and movies; sponsorship of athletes; the use of our favourite music in ads to create associations; and those are just off the top of my head).
It exploits the basic human tendency to want.

I won't say all wanting is bad.
If nobody wanted anything we'd still be living in caves.
(Which, for me, might not be so bad. As long as the cave had internet access.)

Like anything, the key is moderation.

My son Rob, for instance, is the Material Boy.
No sooner does he acquire the newest toy that he wants (be it video game system, guitar accessory, cell phone, or the article of clothing he can't live without even though he already has three of them in his closet), than he goes on to the next want.
He barely takes time to enjoy the new acquisition.
Not that he's a spendthrift: he prefers to spend my money rather than his (duh!) but either way he researches the best price-quality combination very thoroughly.

I mentioned to him the other day that I thought he was too materialistic.
He took mild offense.
It wasn't meant as a criticism, but as a warning that he was going down a futile path.
Try telling that to a North American 17 year old.
I said I thought he spent too much time and energy on thinking about what he wants.
He asked me, what then should he think about?
What you have, I replied solemnly.
To which he responded, "If I concentrate on what I have, what happens if I lose it?"

I really didn't know what to say to that.
Loss is a part of life; but 17 is probably too young to be able to be at peace with that idea.
He wasn't only talking about his possessions, of course, but about his family and way of life.

All I know is, a succession of wants won't bring happiness, or even security if that's what he's after.
(Where did I go wrong!)

Again, moderation: complacency isn't good either. I guess I err too much in that direction. I have trouble formulating goals.

But having goals and having conspicuous consumptivitis aren't necessarily the same thing.
Particularly when the message of spend first and ask questions later is unremittingly drummed into our minds.

Although pieces of the above were floating around in my mind, they came together as a result of reading this entry by Alvin (aka Mr. WLA). I guess you could say they sprang from the same well.

I realize I left this somewhat open-ended. I'm hoping some discussion will ensue in the forum!
If not I'll be forced to babble about this again some time.

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