Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do we spend too much?

I read a blog post by my brother's friend (Not tagging here, because I want to be honest about my comments on the article and not offend anyone!) It wasn't very well written and wasn't the most thought-out of articles, but it got me thinking. This guy was basically writing about the petrol price and then he was trying to say that we should not just blame petrol, but the fact that we as people have started spending more.
Honestly, I don't think that justifies the petrol price increase. And I cannot say that our economy is among the best managed ones (though we have had some pretty good managing sometimes!), nor do I want to get into the whole "Oh-our-politicians-are-so-corrupt" routine (they are, and they get away with most of it, and its impact is more for a developing country like ours etc., but that's beside the point!)

What I was really thinking about was his minor premise that we as people are spending more. I guess he intended it as a negative thing. And it got me thinking. Is it really bad to have a laptop and a smartphone? AND a tablet?  And this writer really wanted to say that our parents could manage living on very less. He doesn't mention it, but I guess he meant to say that they were as happy as could be. Definitely, it is not as if we are much happier than they are, though we may be so on different terms.

That reminds me of an incident from a few years ago. I met this lady (my mother's age or older) on a bus journey. She was talking to me about how children spend a lot more these days. And she told me about how her daughter who earns about 30k a month almost always spends it to the penny (or paisa, to be precise! :D). "And her father used to earn 750 when we started. He would always save 250 every month...." and so forth. "You may not be surprised, but whenever my daughter visits us, she makes us pay the fare, because she doesn't have enough money to spare!". This was probably one of the worse cases, but I do know a lot of people who spend to the penny and who don't mind spending 5-6k on a dinner, especially if the occasion demands it. Obviously people from my parents' generation would have simply gone to AAB and finished it off in a 100 bucks instead of wasting money on ambiance!

Another example. I remember we didn't have a telephone for ages.. Almost none of my friends did either. There used to be a rare few who would have a telephone in their houses. Most of us would just go to a public telephone when we needed one. And that would be when the issue was really serious or important (Mostly when someone was very sick or something!). And this was probably just 15 years ago. Maybe less. And today, we have a cellphone per person in the house. And sometimes a spare. PLUS a landline. This is probably the case with most people my age from India. 

So did we really grow too much too fast? Are we wasting our money on unnecessary luxuries? I admit that sometimes we have too many gadgets around. One cannot possibly use all of them at the same time (though sometimes I do end up using my phone and laptop almost simultaneously!). And yes, we HAVE become consumers with lesser self-control; in the sense that most of us do end up getting things we really don't need, which was possibly not true of our parents. I am sure my dad would not have spent the way I do at the same age. And I would probably never be as thrifty as my parents were.

That being said, I am generally not a huge fan of people who say everything in the olden days was awesome and the times are becoming worse. That is simply not true. We might be spending more, but then maybe we can buy more in what we earn these days. And a lot more is available. My parents did not have to make a choice between 50 different models of phones with different features and prices. Nor could they (as a generation) have afforded it. They were not working at fancy MNCs that paid them enough to fly to Europe on holidays or buy random gadgets. Most IT professionals in India earn a minimum of 20k per month. An iPad is about 30k, which is less than 2 months of your salary. And you can get a decent smartphone for 7-8k. A pretty good one for about 15k. (Not to mention, a basic camera mobile for about 1.5k). So why would someone not get it? To me, one reason we buy more is because we can afford more. It is the economics. Also, as a generation, we are no longer one struggling to establish ourselves or support our families. Which is quite unlike our parents' generation.

The other reason is societal. With globalization, we are more influenced by world trends in general (which also has got something to do with the fact that India is slowly being recognized as a good potential market by many companies from abroad). If a book becomes a rage in the UK, it soon hits India as well. When the first iPhone was released in the US, I saw one in Chennai less than a month later (obviously somebody's son/daughter in Bay Area had sent them!). And this means that we, as a society, have a need not just to keep up with our neighbors within our country, but with people in really far away places. And how ever much one might condemn such a  need, it exists and thrives and grows by feeding on the Facebook generation. 

The third reason is a little obvious. Not only are more gadgets available now, but they do make our lives a lot easier than ever. For a person who has stayed for very long outside home, I can really not imagine how worried my parents would be if I could only send them postcards once a week (and some of them could get lost!) If somebody is going to tell me I am wrong to Skype, and my parents could live without it, I would find it ridiculous. Arguing that way, we could probably live without electricity or the wheel or fire. After all, mankind once did. Seriously, I find that an insanely stupid line of argument. Obviously, we COULD live that way if we HAD to. But we don't. Besides, I am pretty sure my grandparents had much lesser luxury than my parents did and this would have been an issue even in their times. (2nd law of ThermoD, remember?!) The mixer and the Ambassador car were considered unnecessary luxuries by people who had been used to grinding on the ammikal (manual stone grinder). But obviously, it is easier to do these things electrically, and in the same way it is better to have Skype on both your laptop and smartphone. (I guess this is a cliche, but neurosurgeons can perform surgeries using videoconferencing and stuff today- which is a luxury I would rather have than not.) So if you stop spending and throw your smartphone away, saying you want to be like your parents, you are definitely the one who is going to lose.

Well. If you are one of my regular readers, you are probably wondering why I started this article at all. A lot of it is simply obvious and the kind of stuff I don't bother writing about. I guess one reason is that I am sometimes tired of people who go all 'Old is gold' and we are crap. It is so common among the Indian junta and I really am so sick of it that I think I should remind people of what they are forgetting and what is staring them right at their faces. (Sorry if I bored you in the process!) But the other reason is that, there was a small bit of me that agreed with the writer. Yes, we do spend a lot more, and I really think we should learn some of our parents' saving habits. Luckily, I got some from mine, but as more and more parents tend not to emphasize on saving (or better still, investing) as a value, we will probably reach the situation the US did, a few years ago. And it might simply be wiser to start smart. So, as I always advocate, the middle path it is.. Spend a little, save a little and then maybe, you can laugh a little at these indignant bloggers :P


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