Monday, August 23, 2010

Personal Finance Part 18 – To Crave and Covet (C&C)

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about aspects of personal finance, as I was kept busy the whole of May to July 2010 with analyzing the financial results of the companies in which I hold shares, as well as writing about Sun Tzu’s War On Business episodes. I’d realized the last entry on personal finance was back in April 2010 and was on cycling! I had been thinking in the last couple of weeks about the problems associated with our society in relation to over-spending and lack of prudence or knowledge about financial matters; and it boils down to one major problem which I term “C&C – Crave and Covet”. This will link up to many other concepts which I will point out later (and which have been popularized by the mass media as well).

The simple definitions of the words crave and covet are as follow (from Dictionary.com):-

Crave – To long for; want greatly, desire greatly
Covet – To desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others

It is in our basic human nature to crave and desire for more, of course after ensuring our basic necessities are provided for. But society today is a lot more materialistic and capitalistic than it was say, two generations ago. This is sadly due to the modernization of Singapore, which in some ways has outpaced the maturity of the young minds, who are still struggling to adapt to the “First-World” mentality inculcated within them by our education system. A mature mind is one which is able to handle pervasive emotional influences which may have a detrimental effect on one’s wealth and spending habits. Craving and coveting are an embodiment of that philosophy where everyone starts to compare what possessions their friends and peers have, and it results in a relentless vicious cycle and downward spiral into poverty, debt and bankruptcy if not arrested early.

The Generation Y and Z have been, arguably, brought up in a world of peace, stability and abundance and have not been through the ravages of war (those born in the 1920’s and 1930’s) or recession/inflation (those who lived through the 1970’s). Even more recent is the memory of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 which brought many rich people to their knees. Because of this lack of awareness of how fragile wealth can be and how difficult making money is, most youths tend to be apathetic when it comes to personal finance and succumb to the evils of C&C. The latest iPhone, iPad, car or luxury item is always an enticement to use debt (credit cards) and to make one spend beyond their means. In this regard, I should introduce some terms which readers may be familiar with:-

Retail Therapy – The action of shopping for clothes etc, in order to cheer oneself up

Conspicuous Consumption – Public enjoyment of possessions that are known to be costly so that one’s ability to pay for such things is flaunted.

Affluenza – Guilt or lack of motivation experienced by people who have made or inherited large amounts of money.

What the above coined terms have in common is the mentality that we should live for today, spend for tomorrow and heck care about the future. It is about wanton spending, looking good (at the expense of having a wallet with a hole burnt through it) and enjoying the comforts of modern life. There is nothing inherently wrong with this if you can comfortably afford it; but the problem which is surfacing is that many youths have a distorted image of how they should live their life even before they enter the workforce, and the constant desire to mirror their peers’ possessions and obsessions may ruin their financial future and drive them further away from their retirement goals.

But first ask yourself – why do we covet? In the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”, mass serial murderer Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) mentions that “we covet what we see every day” in order to help detective Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster) solve a crime. So the genesis of coveting is actually being exposed to so many images of wealth and success being associated with material items and spending a lot of money. We also covet because we feel that owning more items enables us to be “hip” and popular, or modern and fashionable. Other root causes include exhibitionist tendencies, to show the world that “I am rich and successful”, even if your Balance Sheet looks tattered.

So how do we solve the persistent and pervasive problems associated with C&C, which have inflicted a majority of our youth and left them almost defenseless against the barrage of advertising by companies eager to suck their money dry? This may sound clichéd but the answer is – Contentment. Contentment is the secret to happiness, and not having more money or owning more physical possessions. I have travelled to countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia where children scavenge rubbish dumps for food, and naked children play along the streets because their parents have no money to buy clothes for them. With this in mind, I have developed within myself a sense of contentment for what I have, and thus have no desire or ache to acquire more material possessions. I see no need to justify to the world that I am rich or successful; my internal self knows the status of my Balance Sheet and Cash Flows and I am happy to keep that to myself. Contentment is telling yourself daily that you are lucky to have a job, a happy and complete family, are healthy and can enjoy the simple pleasures in life with your five senses.

If we are able to propagate this message of contentment instead of continually egging on our graduates and students to strive to earn more (in monetary terms), perhaps this can solve the perennial problem of being rich, yet unhappy. Then again, with the way values are degenerating in this country, perhaps C&C will remain an inseparable aspect of our culture, and it will forever be etched on the faces of our future generations, to our eternal detriment.

8 comments:

Ben said...

I totally agree with you. It is good to be content with what we have and cherish the things that we have at the moment. Most of the time, we aspire to be chasing for more things and neglect on the things that we currently have with us. It is only when the things suddenly leave us that we start to feel for them. That's human nature.

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Ben,

Yep I think contentment is the hardest thing to achieve, especially if you have lived among luxury and material possessions as part of your life or if it revolves around you (like in Singapore!). People in Bhutan are happy without all these worldly goods; and I feel relationships can be the most happy and fulfilling of all without having to covet physical goods.

And of course, cherish and treasure what we have. That's important too I agree!

Thanks,
Musicwhiz

Ben said...

Time is the important element. Once gone, it cannot be chased back. Everyone has the same amount of time in a day. Money cannot buy back the time that has passed. Therefore, it is important to cherish every moment that we have especially with our loved one.

Ben

Musicwhiz said...

Hi Ben,

Haha yes you are right! Time and tide wait for no man.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

mm said...

MW,

Its been sometime since I left a comment on your blog. Hope that all is well. :)

The five senses of the human body is meant to ensure our survival and our eyes are "burning", our ears are "burning", our tongues are "burning", our minds are "burning" and our noses are "burning", making us covet what we cannot have. The five senses are continuously burning with desires.

The 2 MOST coveted things in life are:
1. What you CANNOT have
2. What you just LOST.

Until ppe. can curb their sensual pleasures of the five senses, this inner urge of our human body to covet will always present itself.

Most of the younger generation are like Pavlov dogs, conditioned to respond to "sexy woman, nice houses, fast cars" and they don't even know that they are "conditioned".

It takes a learned and disciplined mind to control it and its not easy. :)

Cheers,
mm

Musicwhiz said...

Hello MM,

Hey thanks a lot for visiting and commenting. I enjoy reading your comments on personal finance issues as you are very perceptive and articulate when it comes to expressing your views; and it seems we also share the same sentiment about the younger generation (Y) these days.

You are very right to say we covet what we have lost and what we cannot have. In fact, it does happen to me a lot of the time, but I have to consciously control it; we are human after all!

To be frank, I can control my urges when it comes to cars, houses and gadgets; but in terms of women, haha perhaps I still cannot control the "coveting" part! Then again, it's safe to look but not take action....hehe.

On a serious note, I think many youths today are so used to a certain lifestyle (as reported in the papers) that they end up not being able to give up the "good life". This in turn drains them of serious cash and they may end up as slaves to their car/house/gadget. Sad but true.

Regards,
Musicwhiz

Ben said...

I guess that it's human nature to be aiming after the "C"s. Another factor is the peer pressure. Such peer pressure aims at the "pride" of oneself. One will feel left out if he/she does not have the "C" that his/her friend has. In order to be within the group circle of his/her peers, I guess that he/she will have to adopt the approach of "if you can't beat them, join them" approach.

Most of the people are likely to join in the "Crave and Convet" cycle. It is not only one time. Once one carve has been fulfilled, the next carve will set in. An example will be the "i-Phone". I believe that I do not need to elaborate on it. It seems that the i-Phone is a must in the current circumstance and everyone must have one. This is the type of opinion that I have from my circle of friends.

In my own prespective, I prefer to be myself. There is no need to go after things that people think that one should have or must have. I think that the "carve" is a never ending journey.

Musicwhiz said...

Haha Ben,

Funny you should mention it, but I was prepared to devote one whole post on the "iPhone Phenomenon" as I planned to call it. Then again, I decided against it as it would give Apple too much coverage and I want to deny them the "publicity"!

The iPhone is truly one of those products which can change lifestyles and trends and literally "suck people in". Even though I don't see the point of owning one (as I treat a phone as a phone and not a games device, mp3 player and internet whatever); you have to admit the device is quite groundbreaking in the way it has managed to change attitudes and perceptions about WANTS and NEEDS. Not that it's a positive thing, I admit; but nevertheless interesting from a case study perspective. Haha.

I think in sunny Singapore, everyone has some form of coveting or craving. It's only human but we have to think clearly before we act and not get ourselves into financial hot soup.

Cheers,
Musicwhiz