Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Foolish Consumer Spending Can Be Meaningful
This is one of those times where I'm blogging without a clear direction of where I'm going, or what point I'm trying to make, and I'm hoping that problem is able to rectify itself by the time I'm done. I happened upon this article in which a self-sufficient blogger is talking about the foster children she has helped raise, and that in many instances, they come from very poor families. These families are often food-insecure and regularly decide on which of their many bills they will pay for the month, and these decisions can carry heavy consequences, such as phone service being turned off, or even electricity or heat. But at the same time, there are certain examples of opulence and luxury in these poor families that prevail even in these dire circumstances.
For example, some of the poor families that this woman has mentioned as having come across, have state-of-the-art cellphones, or give generous gifts to loved ones or throw lavish parties. Now, those of you who read this will probably condemn these people in the strongest possible terms, and in a lot of ways, I'd usually agree. However, one of the points this writer makes, and I do agree with her as well, is that our culture places enormous, almost overwhelming demands on people of every class to have these things. Just as you may condemn them for spending money on a smartphone as opposed to keeping their house stocked with enough food to get their family through the month, if they didn't have a smartphone or a flat-screen, you'd condemn them for being backward and ask, "what kind of person doesn't have a fancy television?" Definitely a situation in which the person is damned, no matter what they do.
She makes other good points, and I wholeheartedly recommend the article. But I wanted to make one more point. It kind of reminded me of my situation. I still live at home and do not have enough money to either move out or buy a car. Being locked out of these two options has basically fucked any chance I have of finding a better job and obtaining the things (I don't mean material by "things") that I always assumed that I would have when I was younger. I do have a Bachelor's degree and a postsecondary certification, so working at a low-paying service-level job is not what I had in mind at the age of 33, and it has been a very bitter pill to swallow. But I'm digressing. The point I wanted to make is that the one thing I do perhaps spend a bit recklessly on is gaming. I have all the latest consoles, and regularly buy games. Now, I don't buy the latest, 50-to-60 dollar Call of Duty game, but between buying used games and downloading games off of Xbox Live or Playstation Network, I do spend a good deal.
And I question myself all the time, "is this the best use of my money?" I love games, but can't help but feel that I could put my money towards a better purpose, be it by saving or something else. When I make a particularly big purchase, I will agonize over it for days on end. But something my mom has said to me a couple of times will make me give in and buy it. What she has said to me, when I'm agonizing, is "Jeff, why are you working?" And from what, I understood the gist of that article and what the writer was trying to say. Yeah, the poor should prioritize having enough food on hand and making sure all the utility bills get paid. But what some of us would call "bad choices", those choices being things like spending money on liquor or cigarettes or the latest gadget, can be all that stands between someone and the abyss. A person cannot live on food alone. In a life without stability and in which you don't know what's coming at you from one day to the next, sometimes that bad choice is the only meaningful thing you have. We all need our escape. For me, it's games. It opens up a world to me that I am unable to experience in any other way.