LULLED BY BLATANT CONSUMERISM?

Wake up to financial discipline.

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“Sameer! Check-out the one-hour online sale this website is offering,” Sia squealed with joy as she handed over the entertainment section of the newspaper to her husband.

“Wow! They are giving 70% discount on TVs with latest features, and look, there are smart watches for half the price!” exclaimed Sameer, almost jumping off his chair.

“And clothes, by golly! As if they are throwing away such beautiful dresses and make-up kits for peanuts!” added Sia.

Little Myra was getting ready for her school, and her parents’, almost juvenile, attitude towards mindless online shopping made her take frequent sorrowful sighs. All of twelve years, Myra was wise beyond her years. She was calm, composed and quite practical in her ways. A spirited young girl, Myra was good in sports and studies; but what distinguished her from the rest of girls in her class was her deep concern for the environment and her belief in living a minimalistic existence.

Of course, her orientation cannot be attributed to her parenting. Far from it, Myra has seen her parents splurging money and other resources like there is no tomorrow. The frequent house parties, the sumptuous dinners, and above all, mindless online shopping every other day.  While Myra’s father had a weakness for gadgets and expensive watches – he changed three TVs in less than two years and an astounding five phones within the same period – her mother wanted to have every dress that hit the market. As a result, Myra’s home was slowly turning into a zoo of impulsively bought and cruelly discarded electronic items, knick-knacks and clothes flowing out of closets.

“Don’t you think you must not spend so much on things that you don’t need?” Myra confronted her parents one day.

“Don’t worry dear,” said her mother. “We are well off,” added her father with a smug smile.

Myra couldn’t comprehend how her parents were well off when they squandered every penny they earned on useless items. This was in utter contradiction to her dear Grandpa’s style of living. Myra idolised her paternal grandfather who owned a sprawling bungalow in the suburbs. Every bit rich, Myra’s grandfather showed no tendency towards impulsive buying. On the contrary, he always encouraged Myra to conserve all resources and spend only on things that you need, and not want.

He also taught Myra to be smart with money and invest spare money in mutual funds for a long period.

“Like a tree,” Grandpa told Myra, “your investments would also bear more and more fruits with time.”

Grandpa also taught Myra that being minimalistic is the only way to save the environment, too! He told her that every piece of electronic gadgets and appliances are equipped with precious metals and stones mined from the belly of the earth, and when we keep dumping our well-serving gadget for a higher version, we end up wasting precious natural resources.

Next day, the atmosphere at Myra’s house was completely opposite to the previous. The discussion over morning tea today was not about any mega sale but a ‘mega credit card bill’ that sat heavily on the coffee table.

With a sombre countenance, Myra’s father mumbled, “how would we be able to pay Myra’s fee this quarter?”

“Hmm, all our salary will go into paying this credit card bill,” worried her mother.

“Why! Where did all our hefty salaries go? Myra’s fee is a small fraction of our monthly salary, yet we are finding it difficult to pay it. What went wrong?” her father muttered, sounding very depressed.

At this point, Myra spoke up. “But I thought we are well off! Why can’t we pay my fee on time?”

“It looks like we overspent a little, darling. But don’t you worry, I will take a small loan to pay it on time. You don’t bother yourself with this,” her father casually answered.

Myra was beyond herself after hearing such a nonchalant response from her father.

“It’s time they learn something about financial discipline,” she mused.

With a deep breath, Myra set down to talk to her parents and make them realise that their impulsive buying is not only causing them the present financial trouble, but it could also lead to massive financial distress. Myra’s parents seemed to be unaware about the repercussions of overspending, and she had to remind them each item that they purchased, sighting its utility, and which, now, lay unused in the storeroom. A quick total – Myra secretly collected the invoices of items purchased online (as her parents would throw it away along with the packaging) – revealed an incredibly high sum of money spent in the past two years on online shopping.

“If you had invested this money in mutual funds, you would have earned double-digit compounded interest over a long period, say ten years,” she told her parents, who gaped at her with baffled expressions. They had no clue that their daughter is so smart and practical.

“And there is no need to take a loan to pay my fee. I have a little portfolio, managed by grandpa; I will ask him to redeem some units to pay off the fee,” said Myra, “but on one condition. No mindless online shopping.”

As she picked up her school bag and water bottle to catch her school bus, Myra’s parents stood speechlessly, slowly waking up from the lull of blatant consumerism, and warming up to the idea of financial discipline.

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