In the Indian context the early 90s that unleashed a wave of liberalization and market economics and helped a growing generation escape the ‘Hindu rate of Growth’. The economy on steroids provided a financial upliftment to the generation that is in its middle age now.
And the generation is caught in cleft of guilt – as youngsters they were chided to practice thrift and economy by their parents who had seen hard times and shortages. But the generation finds much to its chagrin that their teenage children feel no guilt about splurging and have little patience for your advice on managing money.
A middle-aged colleague of mine wanted us to suggest a good mobile repair shop. He sheepishly mentioned that his teenage son had forgotten to remove his smart phone in his jeans and washed it in the washing machine. He had tried to admonish his son who was least bothered and did not even admit of being careless.
My colleague then kept the wet phone in an air tight jar containing rice (it is a play on the hygroscopic properties of rice and a grandmother’s recipe to dry out the moisture), and his son felt it was a bit batty. Finally his son could not see the sense of running around to repair the phone – instinctively he just wanted to buy a new one to replace it.
One could sympathize with the father who seemed a bit ‘battle-weary’ in trying to instill a sense of thrift and discipline in his son. And before we dismiss it as an odd episode of generational gap, I think it makes sense to talk about the reasons behind the new attitudes. The son had grown up in an environments where he had not really experienced any shortages or seen anyone wait for three years to get a phone connection or a scooter. He was just about capable of waiting overnight to ensure he grabbed the latest version of the smart phone on its release and then flaunted it in his friend circle.
He did not quite understand why his parents still made monthly budgets and tried to stick to their plans. They pored on financials and investments every year, trying to optimize the tax outgo by planning investments. The Indian economy has never been kind to ‘savers’ and implicitly we earn a negative return on our Fixed Income investments perniciously ruined by rocketing inflation and yet the small investor needs to be careful to avoid getting caught in Ponzi schemes or playing the Russian roulette in the share market. Yet inured against the pain inflicted by the environment, the older generation continues to plod on in a determined fashion to secure the financial resources required for long terms goals including the eventual ‘retired’ life.
Guess our generation can never quite let go of guilt splurging induces in us. And we have our peculiar instincts – like many people I find it difficult to pay for an experience in itself – the mind invariably seeks ‘value-for-money’ and something tangible in return. And I take a rare pride in having got a Credit Card even before I started to work and yet having never paid a single rupee towards interest. Not a bad record to preserve for over 15 years now. It is an ingrained habit to pay the full dues on the due date. But I can only sigh when I wish that I could have been like Polonius and say –
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
Unfortunately the modern economy makes it impossible to practice the dictum – but I have been prudent enough to have been a borrower only to buy a house and a lender only to Banks through FDs that earn me the prevailing rate of interest income.
My colleague had to rationalize his angst and it took a form of inverted pride – ‘Well I can’t blame my son. We have never let him feel the want of anything if we could help it.’ Yes indeed, his son was three years away from commencing his graduation and my friend was already stretching and straining his finances to ensure he could pursue it in style by going to a college in London.
But the middle generation is sturdy and resourceful so my friend will not let a damp smartphone dampen his spirits. He will continue to finds ways and occasions to din into his son’s ears the virtues of thrift and economy. My daughter is just six years old now and I am yet to formally step into the shoes of a middle-aged man. Guess I am about a decade away from the duelling the angst of the middle generation that I see so commonly prevalent in the middle class Indian families around me …