"Live within your means," a female voice forcefully asserted over the radio waves one morning as I was making the daily commute from Jackson to Clinton for class. I had accidentally found myself listening to a financial radio talk show, and because my hands were occupied with a morning glory muffin and the steering wheel, I thought it best not to attempt to adjust my radio dial.
As I weaved through traffic on I-55, I inattentively honed in on bits and pieces of the broadcast, eventually being sucked into one man's story of simply living within his means. Lucky to make $400 a month at one time in his life, he learned at a young age to plan, budget and resist the temptation of instant gratification with impulsive buying. He explained that his wife's mother was a schoolteacher earning a modest sum, but it was more than enough to contribute toward the family's needs. They were wealthy enough, but they lived like poor people, the man told the radio host. When his wife's mother died, she left her daughter enough money to pay off her house, which she'd only purchased six years before.
Becoming more aware of what the two were saying on the show, I began thinking about what it really means to live within your means. America has bought into the gratifying culture so much that people will financially ruin themselves just to find temporary happiness in mass-produced materialistic things.
Back in April when the Crossroads Film Festival was in town, I remember sitting in the dark theater watching "What Would Jesus Buy?" While over-the-top antics characterized the movie, it depicted real people who were obsessed with projecting an image of wealth and happiness with themselves and even their children.
One woman in particular looked into the video camera nonchalantly as she told documentarians that she'd gotten new credit cards to buy Christmas gifts with. Her husband didn't know about them, she saidotherwise he would be upset with herbut she wouldn't tell him because he didn't understand what it was like to grow up with nothing. She wanted to give her children everything they wanted. Explaining that her newest card would be charged to the limit by the time she left the shopping mall that day, she turned away from the camera and gleefully began an obsessive ritual that she will probably regret later.
At the end of the film, the camera crews visited her after Christmas to follow up on how the day went. She looked exhausted as she tried to force a happy glow, but the dismal thought of the credit card bills arriving later in the week would not allow her to fake it. "It was worth it," she said.
But was it really?
Driving still, I thought about my own spending habitsthe shallow high I get every time I inch closer toward the checkout line at Target. I'd always resented my parent's attempts to get me to endure some Dave Ramsey financial course or planning workshop. But like the man calling in to the radio show, they only wanted to teach good habits early in life.
Television programming, advertising and promotional schemes repeatedly tell Americans that it is OK to forsake security in the name of expensive thrills, that it is OK to be frivolous with money.
Just look at Jackson's city government. In the last several months, the city council has dealt with problem after problem dealing with money. Budget shortfalls brought on by a lack of planning have added a cumbersome load to Jackson and its prosperity. If city officials can't get it straight, how are we to expect the city's youngsters to do so?
Education is the key to raising successful young people who will be responsible with their money. Fiscally irresponsible adults have already plummeted this country into a never-ending war and massive piles of debt. Not only do parents have to educate their children in the ways of financial prosperity, but they also should help them discern between what is necessary and what is not. This is where Americans drop the ball many times.
Let's teach our future leaders that planning is key to success, whether financial or otherwise. Restraint is not a weakness, but a sign of character and wisdom. If we really want something, it will be all the more sweet when it comes to us through meticulous strategizing, saving and hard work.
"Live within your means" is a phrase that should guide us and be our motivation. It shouldn't be a curse, or a principle we plan to adhere to "one day." It needs to start now.
"If you can't afford it, don't buy it," my mom has always told me. She's right.
Mississippi can't afford to be poor any longer, and neither can Jackson. We can't afford to be passed up for projects in favor of a larger, more prosperous city. We've got too much to offer. We've just got to decide what we want and what we need. We need Medicaid, legislators. We need a higher tobacco tax. It starts with the adults, with the leaders.
We can only hope that with sound instruction and strong minds that our young people can pull the city back into its place as a capital city that flourishes, and teach other generations the same valuable lesson: Live within your means.
Leadership starts at the top (or does it?). I recall someone telling us we should all go shopping after 9/11.