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Sixty-eight

I was raised to not talk about money. When and where I grew up, most people had about the same amount of money, more or less – mostly less. The guy who owned the bank in town must have had a lot but didn’t live like it. A lawyer in the county owned a Jaguar, but only drove it on trips out of town where no one would see him. Conspicuous consumption didn’t hit farm country until about the turn of the century.

I’m not alone in my queasiness about money talk. One study showed people would rather answer the question “When did you last have sex?” rather than “How much money do you make?”

I’m squirming in my seat as I write this and there’s a reasonably good chance I’ll get 600 words down and then just hit “Delete.”

This whole thought process started when I was teasing my wife about not being Escalade material, because I didn’t see any chance she’d be willing to pay $100,000.00 for a car. It may run in the family – our daughter has vowed never to buy a car that cost more than their first house. If I remember correctly, their first house is already limiting their options.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the cost to lease an Escalade and was shocked to find out we’re talking thirteen to seventeen hundred dollars a month.

Whoa.

Granted, I’m not a car guy. When I shop for pickups, I usually buy the cheapest one I can find and then keep it for ten years. But this is shocking to me, because we’re not talking rock star purchases here – I see expensive cars and pickups in parking lots all over and it gives me pause.

As is often the case, coincidence makes things worse. There’s a school in Haiti we’ve been supporting for about a decade. Because we adjusted our giving a little, I’d spent some time on their website. You can sponsor a student for $300/year, which pays for the teacher, supplies, and a solid meal every day. To me, the math is easy. You can lease an expensive car or else make educational opportunities possible for 68 young people.

Sixty-eight.

Here’s the thing. We’ve always had a problem with ultra-rich people doing stupid things with their money. Take the pyramids, Buckingham Palace or any mega-yacht with more than one helicopter. The Bible says, “The poor you will always have with you...” but my guess is there was no need to say, “...and the rich and stupid as well.” That seems obvious.

So, we’ve always had people spending in order to look good, or at least better than their neighbors, but it’s only been fairly recently, like in my lifetime, that there’s been this push to make regular people spend more than they can afford on things they don’t need. Bigger cars, older whiskey...all that stuff. Another coincidence is that I’ve been reading “The Fifties,” a book by David Halberstam. He explores the birth of modern advertising, how we’ve been pushed into keeping up with our neighbors and wanting more stuff without worrying about whether our old stuff isn’t serving its purpose anymore.

I’m trying hard to not be judgy, because Lord knows, I’ve thrown away a lot of money in my life, much of it in an effort to make more money. And I’m really not trying to make people feel bad about the choices they’ve made, because Lord knows I’ve done some dumb stuff in my life. But I’m afraid that from now on when some great big shiny black vehicle blows past me in the fast lane I’m going to be thinking, “Sixty-eight kids aren’t getting a chance to reach their potential, or a chance to possibly change the world.”

Sixty-eight.

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson

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