Friday, August 16, 2013

Fiscal Friday: Talk Is Cheap

If you ask parents if they value their children's education, they will, to a one, say it's very important to them. After all, who is against education? It's like being opposed to kittens and flowers and sunshine.

But consider three demographically identical families who say they value their children's education and what the children do between 3:30 when school ends, and 8:30 when they go to bed:

  1. Family A's children go to sports practice for a couple hours, then eat dinner, spend an hour on homework, and then watch some TV before bed.
  2. Family B's children come home, do their homework, eat dinner, and spend the rest of the evening playing indoors before bed.
  3. Family C's children go to a math tutoring center for an hour after school, do some homework, eat dinner, go over material taught earlier in the term, review the notes from the tutoring center, read a book for a little bit and then go to bed.
Despite all ostensibly sharing the same values, Families A and C clearly have very different childrearing philosophies and place a very different value on education. That isn't bad (and there's good evidence to suggest playing team sports helps kids prepare for the workforce in important ways), but it brings up an important point. What people say is important to them is less important than how they act.

By the same token, pretty much everybody believes financial solvency is good, and their vision of The Good Life includes material prosperity. That isn't debatable; everyone would like to be well off. The more pressing question is: does what you do on a daily basis move you toward this? What will your sacrifice to attain it? Because that is the real measure of your priorities. Economics deals with the problem of scarcity, and how we choose to allocate our scarcest resources shows what we think is most essential. The question is not "What would you do with all the time and money in the world," but "Given the need to make tradeoffs and limited time and money right now, what are you doing?"

If the choice is between free time and freelance work, which one are you picking? If the choice is between cooking dinner when you're falling down exhausted or calling for pizza, do you order delivery or grumble, sigh, and put water for pasta on? Do you go on vacation while in student loan debt? Have you bought new clothes instead of hitting the thrift store? Do you indulge in an expensive hobby rather than saving?

I've chosen the less fiscally responsible option in some of these scenarios, as I'm sure most people have. I slashed budget a few months ago because I realized when I was doing wasn't in line with what I really wanted. Once I observed that I was letting my inner lazy toddler ("But I want it, I WANT IT NOW, I WANT IT RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!!!") rather than my rational adult self call the shots, I worked to get what I was doing back in line with what I was saying. That doesn't mean I always succeed, but it means what I say and what I do are becoming more aligned, as I had hoped. If you're pursuing any long-term goal, it's worth asking if you're making similar efforts to align your words and behaviors.

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