posted on Jul, 10 2006 @ 07:33 AM
This is a tricky issue, which isn’t always as black and white as we might lovingly imagine it to be. There are a number of factors which contribute
to deepening or lessening one’s financial bondage and these include factors which are within our scope of control and factors over which we have
limited or no control at all. Within most Western societies, it is true that opportunities exist to improve your lot in life. These opportunities
largely revolve around education and initiative, but I have seen too much to count these as the sole factors involved. Other factors can and do play
important roles in shaping our perspectives regarding financial freedom and in determining what opportunities present themselves that we might take
advantage of to improve our financial comfort. Some of these factors are obvious and some less so. I shall examine a few of these factors through the
somewhat limited lens of my own personal experiences and observations.
Access to a decent education is obviously a critical factor when it comes to freeing oneself from the shackles of debt and poverty. A good education,
whilst worthy purely in and of itself, is advantageous in this regard due to the fact that a good education can often land you a good job that pays a
good salary. I have seen this myself, having observed a number of my friends work diligently through school and university to be offered jobs which
pay well initially and very well over time. However, it is important to observe that obtaining a good education and walking into a stable, lasting and
well-paying job is not as easy an exercise as it is often made out to be.
Firstly, it is a sad truth that not every child has access to a decent education, as much as we would like this to be the case. Having taught high
school myself for three years, I feel I can capably state that the amount of funding a school receives, combined with extraneous factors such as
parents financial situations, devoted teachers, home life and issues of demographics can all play a part in shaping the extent to which a child’s
education benefits them in the long run. Too often I have seen extremely gifted students whose genius and dedication go to waste due to factors beyond
their control. I grew up in a tiny farm town in the bush here in Australia and saw too many kids pulled out of school by parents who either placed no
value on education or who simply could not afford to invest as much time, effort and money into their child’s education as they would have liked. I
have seen the lives and potential of brilliant kids crumble because their parent died, or because of more malevolent factors such as child abuse. I
have seen promising students denied the benefits of a thorough education due to apathetic teachers, or due to racism, or sexism, or homophobia, all of
which affect kids far more than we might think.
The point here is that, whilst it’s tempting to proclaim that “all you need to succeed is an education”, this is most definitely not the case in
reality. Whilst a good education can serve to lift people from the shadows of financial ruin and bondage, obtaining one, or effectively utilising one,
is not always as simple as we would hope.
When I talk about attitude, I do not simply mean “get up and go”. Attitude in this sense encompasses a number of issues, including how you
perceive your financial standing personally, which is in turn affected by issues such as what values you were raised with and what observations you
made from your parents own financial situation and their dealings with it. Before I was a teacher, I worked for one of those dodgy “pay-day
advance” money lending institutions (worst. job. ever.) and saw, on a daily basis, a plethora of people who couldn’t afford to make ends meet. One
day, one of our regulars brought in her daughter. She explained to me that it was her daughter’s 18th birthday and that she wanted to sign her
daughter up for the pay-day advance system. As a present. Now, how might that poor girl’s understanding of financial workings differ from someone
whose parents instilled a more responsible sense of financial security? When that girl finds herself in financial difficulty (as inevitably happens to
us all), she is going to come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with those difficulties is to apply for a loan of a few hundred dollars at
crippling interest rates. This kind of thinking only serves to deepen the girl’s woes in the long term, as she finds herself plunged into a spiral
of debt from which recovery is virtually impossible. So, then, is this attitude towards financial matters entirely the fault of the girl? Of her
When I first took that job (as a means of getting off unemployment, ironically enough) I had a very black and white outlook on my customers. They
were, in my own mind, people either too lazy or too stupid to find viable financial solutions. After a while, however, I realised that things were not
as clear cut as I had assumed. A factory laid off dozens of workers, men and women who had worked hard, with families to feed and mortgages to pay.
Many of them found their way to me, as a last resort. The banks, they explained, had turned them down. In their minds, they had no other options. They
had to feed their families, even if that meant placing themselves into a situation which they were fully aware was a vicious cycle of debt. These
days, I am far less judgemental when I see people out of work or people who can perceive no alternative to debt, no way out of their hole. Because
sometimes life intervenes and when that happens a previously stable job and a decent education might simply not be enough.
Wants Versus Needs
Of course, that is not to say that greed and foolishness does not play a part in entrenching people in a cycle of debt. As The Director wisely pointed
out, loans and borrowing are at staggering levels. The same is true in my beloved Australia. More and more people find themselves living off their
credit cards, or struggling to meet repayments for things they really don’t need, but merely want. Take me, for example. I really, really, really,
really (no, really) want a 50” Panasonic plasma HDTV. I really want one. I’ve done my research and know exactly which one I want, how much I
should expect to pay and what accessories I will need to derive the most from it. Now, this little treasure would, in total (including HD set-top box,
HDMI cable, surge protector and extended warranty) cost me a little in excess of $6000 AU. Do I have $6000? Yes, but only just, and that only as a
result of fervent saving and the denial of lesser treasures. Do I want this set up? Yes (I really do). Do I need it, though? No, of course not. Nobody
needs a 50” TV, even if it will render a 1080p signal (sigh). I just want it. But, as much as I would like to, I’m not going to blow my
savings on what is essentially a luxury item. My old 68cm TV works fine, but even if it were to blow up entirely, I am still objective enough to know
that, whilst I could pay for my dream TV, I couldn’t really afford it. A lot of people seem to lack such objectivity and, indeed, I am
myself a victim of wants, with my new Xbox 360 (which would look so nice on that HDTV … sigh) which is entertaining indeed, but not exactly
essential to my survival.
We as consumers in a Western market are assailed on all sides by advertising, which promises us that the procurement of things will make our lives
better, make us more beautiful, more sexy, more energetic. It can be hard to resist. In a way, most of us seem hard-wired to value the immediate
thrill, forsaking long-term security in favour of having what we want right away. We hate to wait for our toys, and with credit cards and
interest-free finance and rental agreements, we don’t have to.