Living Within Our Means

Heavy debate around the world these days on the ever increasing problem of young people emerging from university with staggering student-loan debt. Whether single, newly married or in the more popular “relationships” of modern times, they appear to be finding it difficult to reach the plateau of financial happiness defined so clearly and accurately by Charles Dickens more than a century ago.

Using the dollar instead of his pounds, shillings and pence, and with other slight modernizations, I submit:”Income $200 dollars, expenditures $199.50 – happiness; income $200 dollars, expenditures $200.50 – misery.”’, Readers can use any currency in any country and in any volume but the basic truth remains the same: if your expenditures are lower than your income you will be growing modestly better off as the years roll by. If, every month of every year you spend more than you earn you will remain in the perpetual misery of debt and constantly lamenting the burden you have placed on your own back.

It isn’t easy growing up. Moving from childhood through youth to young adulthood never has been easy. Breaking free from parental discipline was, and always should be, a joyful step up the ladder of life. For most of us it was also a startling awakening to the fact that fridges did not automatically restock their shelves; that cookie jars did not stay perpetually full; that dinner every evening was not produced by the wave of a magic wand – and that electricity and water were costly necessities.

Learning the lessons of “independence” has always been tough. If it is tougher today than it was when I struggled to stay afloat it is, I believe, because the major hazard, today’s “me first” philosophy, has been created by banks, credit card companies, bottom feeding loan companies and the ever growing retail sales chorus of “buy now pay later”. By fostering and making easy the instant gratification demands of the young the “profit at any cost” people have trapped and threaten to hold debt-captives a young generation, many of them still too young to vote.

Earlier this month I received an e-mail from readers Katie and Bob Etheridge recalling their marriage in Toronto in 1968 “with not much more than $75 between us….we lived in a high-rise apartment with the only furniture a dining table and chairs, an old over-stuffed armchair given to us, a double bed and a black and white TV set….” I have a feeling many thousands of other couples marrying between 1948 and 1968 could tell similar stories.

And I’m sure young couples joining hands in the 1980’s when interest rates on mortgages ran as high s 14 percent could match the Etheridge story. They moved to Victoria in 1973 and two years later bought their first house. The house, built in 1905, “had no insulation and gaps around the windows. It was still on a septic tank and we were given a year to hook up to (a new) sewer line. We couldn’t afford a back hoe so my husband dug (the line from house to main) and got it done within the deadline.

“Looking back that first home was a nightmare….we spent the next seven years renovating….it took all that time because there was so much to be done (and little money).” Eventually a crumbling attic became a master bedroom, the plumbing was modern and the windows stopped rattling in the wind. ”And we were happy, knowing this was our home and we owed no-one a  penny…We had sacrificed wants for needs…we appreciated every little thing we had, even if it was a new pack of tea-towels after being married for ten years – having made them from old sheets up to then.”

Their story should not be dismissed as old folk’s exaggerating imagined hard times. Many of us could recite similar, truthful, histories of the days when we cut the cloth of life to fit within our means.

Somewhere along the way our emerging generation has failed to grasp, or we who were once in charge have failed to teach, that life’s ladder may sometimes be hard to climb, but it is never insurmountable.

And the sooner our younger generation realizes how easily it has been seduced into debt plagued slavery, the sooner it will break the money lenders chains and live financially indebted to only the taxman who, unfortunately, will never let us free.

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