The Great Acquisition: Part 2
To pick up where I left off: When did acquisition become more important than honor?
America has a funny way of standardizing super-sized ideals. Let’s play a game. I’ll list 10 things, and you tell me which ones are reasonable to expect from life:
1. A car that’s under 3 years old
2. Dinner out at least 3 nights a week
3. Starbucks every morning
4. A college degree
5. A job doing what you love that pays enough money to have a 401K
6. A wedding guest list of over 100 people
7. A cab ride when it’s raining
9. A week-long vacation away from home at least once a year
10. The new best-seller off the New York Times book list
How many things on that list do you deserve, or do you count as a given? As a reasonable expectation? The answer should be: none of them.
The hard truth is that in America, our little preoccupation with Keeping-Up-With-The-Joneses has skewed our worldview, our life-view. The list of gotta-haves and need-to-owns has been blown out of proportion. Maybe it’s a new car, your own house, dinner out or regular visits to Dean & Deluca’s.
The reality is: it’s not about what you want, but what you earn. None of these things are bad things. Until you start digging yourself into insolvency with no plan for getting back in the black again.
And boy is it easy. Sure, my mother sat me down before sending me off to college and outlined exactly how much money I would owe every month after I graduated. “You will not default on these loans. You will not miss a month’s payment. Deferral is not an option. You must promise me this.” And I did promise. That was 12 years ago, and I’m happy to say: my last payment is coming very soon. But even while I was religiously earmarking a percentage of income or savings for American Education Services every month, I was taking shopping sprees and burning up some plastic. Me and Bank of America are UNSTOPPABLE! The irony isn’t lost on me. How can I be astutely debt-conscious on one end, and deliberately brash on the other? (Short answer: I made a promise to my mother about only PART of my personal finances, and I do not break promises to my mother.)
So I know how it goes. I know the grit-your-teeth resolution to get out of debt, and the triumph of coming out on top. I also know that people like me are the minority. That is to say: people who are finance-conscious, who formulate a plan, who stop themselves before spiraling into point-of-no-return indebtedness.
The sad thing is, it won’t get any better until lots and lots (and lots) of people decide to change this mentality of have-but-not-own, use-now-pay-later, unaccountability. It won’t change until our government changes its budgetary m.o. as well.
So I’m not going to hold my breath.
But I will say this: if you’ve borrowed money to get something important (I’m talking an education, not a car…unless that car gets you to your job and back again), and you’ve worked hard to pay it off and come out on top: Good for you. You are the best part of boot-strap pulling America. I admire your hard work, and I think you deserve every success.
Just don’t celebrate newfound fiscal solvency by over-using your credit card….