Smartie’s Guide to Finances
When the financial and housing markets hit the skids recently, I said to a friend, “This sure came as a huge surprise, huh? I mean it’s not like we’ve been overspending or going into debt in this country. It’s not like we would spend money we don’t have buying things we don’t need to impress people who won’t even show up at our funeral. What do you think we are? Crazy people?”
It was one of the most sarcastic remarks since Johnny Carson said, “Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.”
Somewhere around third grade I received my very first allowance. I couldn’t believe it. My mother, a Scottish Presbyterian, doling out free money. Had she lost her mind? But I discovered quickly that there were chores attached, and that if I wanted the money I would have to listen to a brief speech right there in the kitchen. And so I tried to sit still as she offered me all the financial advice I would ever need. If I recall correctly, her little homily sounded something like this.
a prayer of thanks whenever you receive money. All that we have is on
loan. Be grateful. And stop eating all the cookie doe, it’ll ruin your
will serve you well, just make sure you don’t serve it.
give the first part of it back to God. 10% is a great place to start. And
smile when you drop it in the offering plate. It’s fun to shock people.
that borrowing money is like wetting your bed. You’ll feel warm for
awhile, but it won’t last. Hey, quit pulling the dog’s ears.
Tortoise and the Hare
is a book about finances. There’s no hurry. Don’t run after get rich
quick schemes. Go slow and steady and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at
you can’t afford the donut, leave it on the shelf. Remember if your
outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall. If you want
a 10-cent ice cream cone and only have a penny, come home and raid the
fridge. But not right now. Right now you need to step away from the
cookies and sit down and listen.
things without owning them. We can’t afford a motorcycle, but Philip
Dawson has one. Here, take him some of these cookies.
money is like dessert. You have to wait for it, but you’ll be glad you
did. Besides, you may need the money one day to help people who didn’t
follow these principles. You may go now. Be a good boy.
Other advice would come as I aged, and it would come from those more fiscally astute than my mother. (“Don’t pay interest on anything that loses value.” “Never co-sign a loan.” “If you need more money, go out and make some”.) But after heeding her simple advice these forty-seven years, I have discovered that I owe no one anything, that contentment has been my companion, and that during the recent crash, panic was something I only witnessed on television. John Wesley challenged Methodists to “make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” and I imagine the emphasis may have been on the third syllable of that exhortation. The early Methodists lived simply. They dressed simply. They founded societies on frugality, not that they might hoard, but that they might give.
In his book, The Decline of Thrift in America, historian David Tucker traces our cultural shift from saving to spending. He notes that throughout much of American history we saved up to 15% of our income. Then came the 1990s when credit came easy and borrowing became a way of life. It felt good for a few minutes, but did not last. Today the average American is buried under more debt than at any time in history. In fact, the average American now owes more to credit card companies than the average American earned annually in the 1970s. I kid you not. I researched this myself.
one of the most tragic days in U.S. history, the President advised
Americans on how to deal with their grief: “Go shopping,” he
said. After the news that unemployment was high, he reiterated: “I
encourage you all to go shopping more.” We
had no money for donuts, but who cared? Why worry when you can spend?
Perhaps one of the greatest blessings is a financial crisis. It can cause us to engage in activities we haven’t tried in years.
some are staying home talking with their children rather than going to the
movies and eating out. Fathers have been seen throwing baseballs with
their daughters, leaning over fences chatting with neighbors. Some have
been caught riding bicycles and walking the dog. If this lasts much longer
you'll find people with time to read a library book!
very week I discovered that my RSPs had been devalued by 50 percent and
that I would therefore have to work until I reached the age of 112, I
wrote these words.