Appeared in Business in Vancouver – Sept 10, 2013
Having spent a lifetime as a human fungus living off the avails of news, I’m annoyed by most alleged news these days because it sails under false pretences: It’s rarely new.
Consider the increasingly staccato “news” warning that most people are in deep doo-doo debt. That few among the demographic bulge of baby boomers are prudent ants. That most are spendthrift grasshoppers approaching the end of a lazy, sunny summer of making music and happy hopping and now confront the cold, bitter truths of wintery old age. That governments may default on their pension promises. That parents can’t look to their children to help support them, though they don’t have to look far: They’re living in their basements with two degrees, unmarketable, and two jobs, menial.
These alarums and excursions in the media are increasingly soprano. But how often can the papers and other media shriek high-C about the debt crisis in Greece and other suspects, not to forget nations much closer to home, without losing audience?
There’s no shortage of sincere advice to the purse-worn in personal finance columns, and also of schemes to get obscenely rich aimed at the desperate hoping to turn their little into a lot. (The Vancouver Sun’s retired scam-buster David Baines is painfully missed.) The advice may be good, but, as Oscar Wilde wittily said, the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.
It’s also preaching to the choir of the converted and too late for the financially hell-bound. Investment instruments like RRSPs and TFSAs are out there. But a Bank of Nova Scotia survey this year showed that 64% of those polled said they couldn’t afford to contribute to an RRSP by the March 1 deadline.
Many of the missing were probably over-invested in trivialities, like groceries and rent or mortgage payments.
Not to be overlooked is the tolerated thief of credit card debt, with interest rates 15-odd times higher than the interest the saver, obviously on the endangered citizen list, earns on most term deposits these days. Personally, I prefer stick-up men, who at least need a certain amount of courage, so I use plastic as rarely as possible and pay off the monthly balance just short of instantly.
But that’s me. I had the advantage of early lean times, a harsh teacher.
In my mid-twenties, marriage asunder, I was determined to save $1 a paycheque, and did. A start. Saving is a habit, just like spending, or invading the Middle East.
For those capable of contentment, however, it has its reward. A Charles Dickens character in David Copperfield famously advised: “Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 and six, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery.” (If you don’t remember British pounds, shillings, pence, you may be too young to be here.)
On the other hand, living within one’s means is not just stodgy but subversive of our way of life.
A mass movement of thrifty savers would undermine capitalism more than 50 years of Marxism did. Our prosperity is stoked by waste and the unnecessaries of life, the affluent lifestyle not just of the few rich but of the many unaffluent foolish spenders.
And the day of reckoning for the maxed-out? No worry. The Financial Post helpfully detailed a foolproof strategy available for them: die.
Their relatives are under no legal obligation to pay off the deceased’s debts. Some do, out of old-fashioned principle, pride or family reputation. But dodging creditors by conveniently expiring will appeal to the white-haired, live-for-the-day hedonist.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013