A recent article caught my eye today with some glaring headlines: “Canada’s middle class is on the brink of ruin”. Pretty dismal stuff, but unfortunately, probably true.

When I was a kid, I have a very distinct memory as it relates to debt. Debt was something that was considered with great deliberation. Typically, one used it to purchase very significant things – homes, and in the case of my father, machinery that helped him do his job. Other than those situations, it was to be avoided at all costs. The concept of debt was inherently negative – one was exposing oneself to risk, so a great deal of thought went into the process before the paperwork was signed.

However, I do recall one time that my parents broke this rule, and it was a result of my insistence. We were shopping for clothes before going back to school, and my mother and I were waging a cold war. She had a pair of jeans in hand that fit, but weren’t “cool”. I had in my hand a pair of jeans that would cement my place within the grade school pecking order, and they fit. The choice was clear, to me at least. I insisted that the un-cool jeans simply didn’t fit, but my mother saw right through me. Nonetheless, she eventually relented, and with a great sigh, pulled out the credit card. I remember her reluctance to do so, and the memory stayed with me for a long time: she was going out on a limb for a non-essential item, and it was a big deal.

In 2017, this little anecdote is quaint – but unfortunately, that’s all it is to many people. Credit today is two things – easy to get, and easy to use. Because of this, we confuse the concepts of “want” and “need”, something which gives me instantaneous migraines. When I hear someone close to me say “We need to buy a new…” , I know the statement is almost always incorrect. In some cases, we do need something. For instance, when the neighbour’s kids accidentally nails our window with the soccer ball, we do indeed need a new window. But in almost all other instances, what is really being said is “we want a new car”, or “we want a new toy”. With the easy availability of credit, the concepts of “want” and “need” have become so muddled, that many people are unable to really differentiate between them.

The linked article goes into much greater detail than I can provide (or want to) here, but it’s the confluence of easy credit and “keeping up” that keeps people chained to jobs or careers they despise. The net effect is a large segment of society that might not be living that healthy of a lifestyle. How happy can you be when you get up to go somewhere that you don’t want to really go? You try and make yourself feel better via some retail therapy, thereby guaranteeing that you will go back to your job or career tomorrow. In the meantime, you are likely unhappy, and your family is suffering the fallout. Perhaps Mom & Dad are both doing this. Wow – what an awesome environment for the kids.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against working. I believe it’s important to find something that engages the mind and the spirit. We can’t all sit around gazing at our navels. But when we begin to dislike (or despise) our work, and are working only because we are desperate to keep up with payments, something is going to bust. Many people begin their careers with noble intentions, but get derailed by buying things they can’t afford, which turns the tables on them. The individual that once showed up at the office because they wanted to pursue a particular career is now showing up because they are being pursued by an unsustainable debt load and lifestyle. The job or career that was once a choice is now a necessity, and if it goes, the house of cards collapses.

So, you might ask, what is the point of this rant? I think it can be boiled down to some fairly old-school wisdom, which I’m sure everyone has heard before:

  • If you really need something because it’s a necessity, buy it. You have to eat.
  • If you want something, ask why? What happens if you don’t have it?
  • When you go to work, remember: you are trading your life for money. You can’t get more life.
  • Since you are trading your finite life for money, try & do something you actually like.
  • Lastly, spend money wisely. You traded your life to get it, so you are really “spending your life”.

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