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American Finance: High School with Credit Cards

I'm currently reading Stop Acting Rich by Dr. Thomas Stanly (best known for The Millionaire Next Door), and something stuck out in my mind. The group who Dr. Stanley refers to as aspirationals -- those who act rich without having high net worth or high income -- likely learned the behavior in the social environment of high school popularity. Being different is criticized by high school students, your family shopping at stores like Walmart or K-Mart (i.e. less expensive products) is shunned and not wearing the latest shoes is "social suicide."

The problem is that high school students don't really understand money. They know what it is (a medium of exchange), they like to spend it and they may have a part-time job to earn it; but they don't really understand it. There are two math lessons that should repeated early
and often to our youth: probability and risk, and compound interest.

If people were to learn about the ideas of probability at an earlier, then, hopefully, less people in the lower income bracket would waste money on the lottery. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightening three times than to win the lottery. If more youth would learn about the way compounding works, then, hopefully, as they grow into adults they would be less likely to take on debt and more likely to save and invest.

Unfortunately, what they see around them is the product of hyper-consumption. I don't understand why even some lower income parents buy their children the newest shoes, coats, and/or gadgets. Perhaps, they remember growing up being the "poor kid" and being ashamed when other children would taunt them, or maybe it is tat by giving more expensive things to their children they hope to shape people's opinion of the families financial situation? I suppose that it's lower economic class acting middle class, instead of working and saving toward becoming middle class; just as Dr. Stanley describes middle class acting rich, rather than taking steps to become rich.

Ironically, Dr. Stanley's findings tell us that prestige items don't actually make us happy (at least as adults), but rather higher satisfaction ratings were reported by th financially independent than by the aspirationals. Money can buy things that are fun (at least in the short term), but it can not buy us true happiness.

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