Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Cigarettes and Credit Cards

My Mother-in-law, and in turn my wife, are both incredibly money smart. That is to say they are savvy in how to retain as much as possible of what we make. Mrs. Mosley fills out the tax forms, balances the books, and make sure all the bills get paid (and bless her for it). We are also diligent on putting money into investments and retirement accounts. We're not rich by any stretch, but I have every confidence that our planning will result in a very comfortable life for the many years to come.

No, all this is not going to develop into a rant on Dubya's whole anti-Social Security traveling circus. Rather, I was driven to write this post after recently reading this and this at Daily Kos. This is a discussion that Mrs. Mosley, her mother and I have had several times: The fiscal irresponsibility of your average U.S. citizen. This is not really news, of course, but I'm thinking of a specific phenomenon that Kos touches upon.

Back during World War II, soldiers on the front lines were given tons of cigarettes for free and they in turn were all soon smoking like chimneys. When they got back to the States, they were seriously hooked. Similarly, teenagers enter college campuses these days being bombarded with offers of free gifts for signing up for credit cards, only to dig themselves deep into debt. I entered my first year of College back in 1991 and then again for Graduate school back in 2001. If anything, the situation had gotten worse in the intervening decade.

Considering the conditions of the Second World War, you can argue that the stress relief cigarettes gave soldiers was a godsend, despite their eventual drawbacks. Such an argument cannot be made for college students because there's no real need for them to have credit cards. If there were truly a need for funds to go towards housing and food, then the parents can handle that. Most of these teenagers have no education in terms of what repercussions such frivolous behavior can bring on. And like the lung cancer that afflicted veterans of the Great War, these students will be paying for the consequences of their spending for years and years to come.

It's nonsensical that there aren't mandatory financial management classes in schools nationwide in order to prepare these kids. When teenagers ask that classic question of how math classes will help them in their daily lives when their older, why not show them by having a class where these lessons have specific applications. Teach these kids how to balance a check book and fill out a 1040, for crying out loud. Teach them how the stock market works and how to save money for retirement. Most of all, teach them all about credit ratings and how vital it is to stay out of debt. And with the recent passing of the Bankruptcy Bill, it's more important then ever to inform these kids how this stuff works.

At the very least, it's a helluva lot more important than friggin woodshop.

1 comment:

John said...

Classes might help. But the fiscal irresponsibility that you speak of strikes me as a cultural problem. I'm not sure that you can legislate a solution. Not that I have any solutions of my own to offer.