Living on Credit

Levi's Cleanup
Living on credit sometimes means we have messes to clean up. The mess Levi cleaned up here was the size of about 1/4 of one towel. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Budget, budget, budget – crisis. It seems, today, everywhere you look, everyone is suffering from a budget crisis. Business, non-profits, families, single people, countries. What I found most interesting about this concept, right now, is the emotional stress it causes when not dealt with.

If you have 6 eggs, and you know you aren’t going to get anymore for 2 weeks, and you need an egg a day to survive – you’d probably ration your eggs. Some people, though, would rather risk the eggs, eat them once a day, and not have any for 8 days. It’s Aesop’s fablesthe grasshopper and the ant. The ant stores away, day after day, while the grasshopper plays. Then, winter comes, and the grasshopper is surprised. He has no food. The ant has enough food because he’s been preparing all spring, summer and fall.

When we live on credit: credit cards, borrowed money from friends, and lines of credit from the bank – we are playing the part of the grasshopper. I’m observing here. My husband and I are guilty of living on credit. We recognize it’s a problem, and are trying to have those hard conversations to stop it – but they are hard conversations.

I find it interesting how we are unwilling to have those hard conversations. We know what will happen, but in my case, I’d rather not give up my newspaper, netflix, and mobile phone. So, we live on credit and risk another windfall. We can’t plan for the windfall. We have to plan for the somewhat secure income.

I say somewhat, because hopefully we all know how risky even those secure jobs are nowadays. Unions on the chopping block in Wisconsin, so much rage, so much apathy, all coming up against each other – crashing. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia – this global unrest from the micro to the macro – and in some way – it stems from living beyond our means.

Sometimes, I think it stems from arrogance and lack of understanding. Like, when I try to piece together why the whole Northern American continent was basically clear cut in the 19th century. While studying sustainability at Portland State University, I took a sophomoric class in the university studies program. Our professor introduced this concept of short-sighted-ness with a story about shephards living on a hill. They all wanted to add just one more sheep to their flock – each. But, what happens when all 100 shepards add one sheep each? You have 100 more sheep! The hill can only hold so many, and if the shepards add another sheep to theri flock every year – at some point you’ll reach the carrying capacity of the hill.

The idea is that if you plan for the future, you will make wiser decisions for the group. Individually, or for families, the idea is that if you plan for your future you won’t be destitute and will be able to navigate tragedy with a stronger plan, or safety net. If government can help us out, I think that’s great. I also think, in a society as rich as ours, it should be a moral obligation. But, ultimately, we really need to say the buck stops here, and we need to plan for ourselves. So, it’s building within and building without. we need to make our own houses strong, strengthen our communities (that meas you have to get to know your neighbors), and have honest dialogues. Honest dialogues that recognize living on credit, while a luxury, isn’t the best course of action.

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