Spend or save —The student's dilemma
1 Do you feel as confused and manipulated as I do with this question, "Should I spend
or should I save?" I think that the messages we get from our environment seem
to defy common sense and contradict each other. The government tells us to spend
or we'll never get out of the recession. At the same time, they tell us that unless we
save more, our country is in grave danger. Banks offer higher interest rates so we increase savings. Then the same banks send us credit card offers so we can spend more.
2 Here's another familiar example: If we don't pay our credit card bill on time, we get demanding, nasty emails from the credit card company saying something like: "Your failure to pay is unacceptable. Pay immediately or you'll be in trouble!" Then, as soon
as we pay, we get a follow-up email in a charming tone telling us how valuable a customer we are and encouraging us to resume spending.Which depiction is correct:
a failing consumer in trouble or a valued customer? The gap between these two messages is enormous.
3 The paradox is that every day we get two sets of messages at odds with each
other. One is the "permissive" perspective, "Buy, spend, get it now. You need
this!" The other we could call an "upright" message, which urges us, "Work hard and save. Suspend your desires. Avoid luxuries. Control your appetite for more than you
truly need." This message comes to us from many sources: from school, from parents, even from political figures referring to "traditional values". Hard work, family loyalty,
and the capacity to postpone desires are core American values that have made our country great.
4 But the opposite message, advertising's permissive message, is
inescapable. Though sometimes disguised, the messages are everywhere we look:
on TV, in movies on printed media and road signs, in stores, and on busses, trains
and subways. Advertisementsinvade our daily lives. We are constantly surrounded by
the message to spend, spend, spend. Someone recently said, "The only time you can escape advertising is when you're in your bed asleep!"
5 It's been calculated that by the age of 18, the average American will have seen
600,000 ads; by the age of 40, the total is almost one million. Each advertisement is doing its utmost to influence our diverse buying decisions, from the
breakfast cereal we eat to whichcruise line we will use for our vacation. There is
no shortage of ideas and things to buy! Now, of course, we don't remember exactly
what the products were, but the essential message is cemented into our consciousness, "It's good to satisfy your desires. You should have what you want.
You deserve the best. So, you should buy it —now!" A famous advertisement said it perfectly, "I love me. I'm a good friend to myself. I do what makes me feel good.
I derive pleasure from nice things and feel nourished by them. I used to put things off.
Not anymore. Today I'll buy new ski equipment, look at new compact cars, and buy
that camera I've always wanted. I live my dreams today, not tomorrow."
6 What happens as we take in these contradictory but explicit messages? What are the psychological and social consequences of this campaign to control our spending habits? On one hand, we want more things because we want to satisfy our material appetite. Most of us derive pleasure from treating ourselves. On the other hand, a little voice inside us echoes those upright messages: "Watch out, takestock of your life, don't let your attention get scattered. Postpone your desires. Don't fall into debt.
Wait! Retain control over your own life. It will make you stronger."
7 Anyway, many of the skills you need as a successful student can be applied to your finances. Consider your financial well-being as a key ingredient of your university education as money worries are extremely stressful and distracting. They can make you feel terrible and hinder your ability to focus on your prime objective: successfully completing your education.
8 How can you be a smart and educated consumer? Many schools, community organizations, and even some banks offer financial literacy
classes. Consider consulting with your school's financial aid office or seek input from your parents or other respected adults in setting up a budget. An additional option is finding a partner to help you stay on track and find pleasure in the administration of your own financial affairs. Most importantly, if you find yourself getting into financial trouble, don't let your ego get in your way; urgently get help with tackling your problem before it spins out of control and lands you in legal troubles.
9 All this will help you become an educated consumer and saver. As you learn to balance spending and saving, you will become the captain of your own ship, steering your life in a successful and productive direction through the choppy waters.