Wednesday, June 11, 2008

As Ye Think, so Shall Ye Do

A friend on Shavuous told me of a new "game" that was going around in her school. The moderator of the game turns to the first "contestant" and says: "You are about to be given one million tax free dollars. What will you do with it?" The moderator then turns on a ticking timer set for 5 seconds and the contestant has to answer. Kind of boring actually until you hear what the results were. The "game" was played in a classroom. The first person started off the answer with "I would buy...." No one else in the room could hear all the answers being given before they were called upon. And in that entire classroom every answer began with "I would buy...."

Interesting to note that everyone was thinking of buying things. No one said "I would give..." or "I would donate...." And surely no one said "I would save it" or "I would repay loans with it."

When we have a chance to get our hands on some money, whether make believe or real, our first thoughts turn to spending it by buying something. It is the gut reaction. And it is probably responsible for so much of the impulse buying that gets done by people who "hear" a dollar jingling in their pocket.

It should be alarming to us that young people in a frum high school consider that the first thing to do with money is to spend it on buying something. It doesn't make for prudent spenders later on within marriage. And it certainly doesn't highlight any charitable impulses.

A lot of discussion here and there on this blog and on others--Orthonomics for one--has focused on the lack of financial skills our young people have. Suggestions have been made on how to teach fiscal responsibility. If this new "game" is indicative of the attitude among adolescents (and the friend indicated that the other classes that played the "game" had the same results) then what needs to be done first is to try and change the attitude. If nothing else, we need to make the answer to that question be "I'll have to think about it."


Anonymous said...

I wish it were only teenagers who have the spend mentality. My sister in law has never known just how much my brother makes because if she knew she would spend it all. Only way he can put anything away for savings is on the sly. Don't bother any more telling her that you need to save today so you can spend tomorrow. She and a lot of people don't want to hear about tomorrow. They are only interested in today.

Scraps said...

Interesting...and troubling. Not to brag or anything, but my mother and I played a version of this game a few times when we were on long car trips together and there was a high lottery jackpot, and we always started with what sums of money we'd give to what organizations, followed by paying off loans, followed by investing the bulk of the rest such that most of it couldn't be touched but would keep generating income (annuities, etc). Very little was discussed of what we'd buy with it, now that I think about it.

I wonder if the experiment would have gone differently if the person kicking off the discussion would have started his/her statement with "I would donate..." instead of "I would buy..."? Maybe in such a situation, the students would feel more pressure to think about what kind of good they could do with a large sum of money, rather than what new gadgets they want.

Anonymous said...

ProfK - to be fair, these are teenagers. They don't have debts so they wouldn't think about repaying loans. They don't have their own money, so they are constantly forced to beg parents for money to buy this and that. Having a million dollars to a teenager means freedom to spend and travel without parental supervision. And as far as donating it is assumed in many (hopefully all) frum circles that 10% automatically goes to maiser. Halochicly we are not allowed to donate more then 20% of our income-Hashem gave you that money for a reason.

Orthonomics said...

I guess I don't expect a ton from teenagers. But, what would be far more interesting would be to ask the same question of different demographics in the frum world behind closed doors. It would be interesting to see if they would say "I would buy" and how the answers change with age, financial position, social circle, etc.

In the eyes of a teenager, 1 million is a lot of money. Looking through older eyes, it just isn't as impressive of a figure (sadly). I'd say after giving 10-20%, You are left with enough funds for pre-paying 8-15 years of full tuition for an average Orthodox family of 5 kids. Given that dim figure, I wouldn't be trading in my house.

Anonymous said...

Or you can buy a multy family house with that money and rent it out for profit...

Anonymous said...

I think when I was a teen, I would have saved it all. Hey - that basically is what I did with my money anyway. Now I would have a few things to spend it on before putting away the rest. So yeah, "I would buy" would start my sentence too. Though at the moment, I can't think of anything to buy. :-/ Why does that make me feel like a pathetic American?

G said...

Kids with no concept of money?

I'm shocked!!!

--this is not alarming...this is normal/healthy. In my opinion it is a sad day when children replace dreams with rationality.
They will have plenty of time for that later.

Anonymous said...

One thing that busy parents do to assauge their guilt at not spending enough time with their kids is buy them gifts. And eventually the kids equate gifts with happiness. So when they grow up and feel empty inside, they buy things.
So I'm not shocked at this.

ProfK said...

So let me segue on your "children replace dreams with rationality" from a linguistic point of view.

I asked 14 adults close to my age a similar question to the one above with the caveat that I asked them to tell me how they believe they would have answered when they were teenagers.

First, every one of them admitted that they had thought to themselves what they would do with a million dollars. Then they volunteered what they had thought about doing with that money. Only one couched his desire with the word "buy" in it--he wanted to buy a convertible in candy apple red. All the others answered using the words "I wanted to do...," "I wanted to be/become...," and "I wanted to go...." In other words, that money would represent some action that could be taken. One, whose family didn't have the money, would have gone to Harvard or Yale. Another would have taken a trip around the world. Yet another would have visited all the great art museums in the world. Another wanted to visit all 50 of the US states. Another would have taken flying lessons towards a pilot's license. Another would have gotten the orthodontia her family couldn't afford to get her. Still another would have used the money to invent something that would have made him famous for ever.

In short, the "dreams" were all about actions, about things to be done rather than things to be purchased. So perhaps my question is "Why are today's teenagers not dreaming the big dreams, the dreams of places to go and things to do, but dream instead of purchasing things?" Why does one million dollars represent "buying" money rather than "doing" money?

Anonymous said...

A good question ProfK and I might even get around to thinking about it but I'm meeting a friend and we're going shopping for his first Blackberry and then we're going to come home and get on the Internet and watch videos about all the other people who are out there doing things so we have something to watch. And you thought that I couldn't be sarcastic.

Six of us went down to Orlando to see the parks. 4 spent the whole time shopping for souvenirs of the places they didn't really make time to see completely. My brother and I didn't buy any souvenirs or do any shopping but we saw and experienced a lot. But our parents believe in doing over buying.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-You make a great point about lack of dreams. I know that when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade, my friend and I used to look at the JC Penny and Sears catalogues and circle what we would buy if we could. By high school, however, my mother had helped me think bigger and a lot of the gimmes were out of my system, allowing me not to blow my college funds on junk. I'm afraid many young people do not have the gimmes out of their system, and it is oftentimes fueled by the parents who don't help them think big.

Anonymous said...

You know why the kids don't dream big? Because the schools and communities and some of the parents have already decided what those dreams have to be--sitting and learning for the boys and marriage for the girls. Just how many frummy parents would beam with pride and joy if their daughter announced that her dream was to tour Europe for a few months with a group of friends? Or was to become a doctor? Or write a great novel? How many parents of boys would encourage the talented artist or musician to go for the gold? About all we have left a huge number of our children is the dream of buying something.

Michelle said...

This sounds completely typical of our consumer culture.
Especially one that focuses on coach everything and bug-a-boo strollers.

You just ask my 11th-grade economics teacher in a typical well-to-do Bais Yaakov. She was shocked, lemme tell ya. Fast forward a buncha years, many of them are on Daddy's credit cards while their husbands learn in Lakewood and they drive brand-new mid-size sedans (they dont have the chutzpah for a lexus there) and wheel around bug-a-boos.

G said...

"I asked 14 adults close to my age a similar question to the one above with the caveat that I asked them to tell me how they believe they would have answered when they were teenagers."

Forgive me if I question their memories.
Do you really mean for us to believe that their "recollections" were not impacted by their current ages and lives to this point?

Come now.

ProfK said...

I can't speak for today's girls, but in my day most girls had a diary or journal. They were the perfect gift for when you couldn't think of anything else. I still have all of mine and I would bet that there are lots of women out there who still have theirs as well. And while there are a few references in those diaries to things I would like to buy "some day" most of the dream entries were about going places or doing things or being things. Olympic time I wanted to become a world class gymnast. Oscar time I wanted to write the perfect movie. When I was 15 I wanted to become a professor (strange how that one worked out). I always dreamed of a trip to Australia to see the outback. I was going to be another Marie Curie and discover the cure for cancer.

So maybe you are right that today's life experiences are coloring what those adults said, and maybe you are wrong. Maybe what is coming out, both male and female, are those daydreams that never left and never let go.

G said...

You are conflating general dreams with a particular question of what would a young person do with a large amount of money.

Now, I started the use of the word dream and in truth it was probably the wrong one. I should have used something more along the lines of "fun". Regardless, do you really think that today's youth lack those same sort of dreams that you recall from your youth/diary?

ProfK said...

Just not that egotistical that I believe I can speak for all youth. But there's a way to find out if the people that you know dream those "big" dreams, the kind that money could help make come true, or if they think in terms of buying things instead. Ask them. Or leave the money out of the equation all together and just ask what dreams they have of doing or being or going.