(Relax! This is not another political post, I promise)
Over the past few months, I have seen the word “privilege” embedded in posts all over my Facebook timeline. I’ve also witnessed how the term has a negative connotation, even within my own perceptions: it is almost an insult when one is referred to as “privileged”. Being insulted by it is usually the result of one’s denial of privilege – and its awkward step sister: responsibility. But acknowledging one’s privilege, and thus taking that odd sister in, is an enlightening, often empowering experience.
Never has there been a time in our society when one could have more control, information, advantages, resources and options available regarding money than now. I mean nowadays we are able to not only buy the brands we love, but easily invest our money in them.
Through the internet, we have access to bank functions on our very laps, at any time of the day, which our parents had to wake up very early on a Saturday morning (in an attempt to avoid winding teller lines) in order to utilise. We have available to us grants that the government gives to first time homeowners, whose salary range is usually within the “recent graduate-bracket” – which could relieve a huge financial burden off of one’s first big investment. We have the ability to invest in unit trusts with the click of a button – without filling out tedious forms and mailing them off through a scanner. We can build credit at a young age, allowing us to have good credit scores by graduation.
Now let me define in Cecelia Wright’s terms what a good credit score is: It is something my parents had to get a job for – so they could open a clothing account at Sales House, which they subsequently had to pay off monthly – just so they could build a credit score. Basically without it we’d be homeless since they would not be able to get a home loan approved from the bank. So I am sure you get the point by now. When it comes to the options we have regarding our hard-earned money, in many ways, we are privileged.
Despite all this privilege we are basking in, according to Business Technology only 23.42% of South Africans have any money left at the end of the month – the other 76.58% are flat broke and South African consumers owe as much as three quarters (75%) of their monthly pay to creditors. If you are a “90’s baby” like me and think this does not affect you, you’ll be shocked to discover that 39% of applicants who wanted to go under debt review in 2015 were under the age of 25.
Surely Sphiwe and Monica cannot be included in these statistics. I mean they just posted their new fancy German cars that they recently bought on Facebook. Truth is, there’s a 50% chance that they could be, since more than half of South Africa’s credit-active consumers are over indebted, according to reports from the SA Human Rights Commission in 2015.
Back in my parents’ day, they had far less options in terms of money than me. For starters, in earning it, they only had 5: Nurse, Teacher, Policeman, and if you were really smart, Doctor or a Lawyer. Today you can make money off doing what you love – including sleeping (I kid you not). In growing their money, they had (and still have) the system of stokvels, which allowed them to furnish our homes, pay our school fees, and send some of us to university. But looking at the stats, it seems that they had far more financial stability with less than what we have with so much more.
Further stats from Business Technology show that 58.83% of consumers are struggling to pay off their credit card debt. And what are people buying with all this credit? Well of course I do not have all the answers, but according to the CEO of Debt Rescue, Neil Roberts, South Africans are notorious for buying luxury cars and branded clothing they cannot afford.
From where I am standing, it looks as though we have invested our financial privileges more in temporary comforts than we have in building sustainable, and even flourishing, financial futures for ourselves. It seems we failed to take the step-sister of responsibility in. Or maybe we have mistaken her for someone else. See, this step sister, she often comes with not being “the kool kid”. She comes with strict discipline, with consistency, with delayed gratification, with starting off buying the other TT (Toyota Tazz) in sacrifice, and only getting the German one (Audi TT) later. Basically, everything she comes with is often not appealing at all.
So, what resolution do we make then? The simplest answer is perception; changing how we see this rather confining step-sister, responsibility, when it comes to our hard earned money. Let us start seeing being financially savvy, even if it means being an extremist cheapskate, as appealing and perhaps even admirable. Considering all this financial privilege that we are inundated with, the first and perhaps the greatest step towards being financially responsible is by being aware of this privilege, and thus continuing to educate ourselves financially. Most importantly, we need to stay awake about the windows of opportunity that this privilege presents for us to, beyond the fleeting comforts of today, realise the wildest dreams that our money can afford us tomorrow. January is all about New Year’s resolutions right? I rate that this one worth making. Not just for 2016 but for the rest of our lives. Starting today.