Like so many metropolitan yonkers of the 21st century, the car in front of me at the Starbucks drive-thru paid for my coffee the other day. They “paid it forward” as the Kevin Spacey/Haley Joel Osment movie convinced us to call it. It was lovely(ish). I, of course, paid for the next car in line. I didn’t need the seven years of bad luck. But can you imagine if I had instructed the barista to tell the car behind me that the guy in front just broke a “pay it forward” train in order to realize a financial gain? Who in the world has the gall to do that? So, I started thinking about what area of our lives does this “pay it forward” scenario actually go to hell, and not workout, like it does in the movies? (Although Haley Joel Osment didn’t quite think it worked out.)
My parents paid for my college education. My wife’s parents paid for her college education. These generous acts set us up for financial success. We can’t piss it away. Yet sadly, I see privileged young adults pissing away the pay if forward responsibility, almost everyday. Except in this situation they aren’t shafting the middle aged women in the beaten-down Volvo behind them at Starbucks, they are shafting the kids that sleep under their roof!
“Meemaw and Popsi paid for my college, Kenny, but you are on your freakin’ own.”
Yeah, that makes sense.
Peruse the interGoogle for 30 seconds, and you’ll find article after article after article detailing the effects student loan debt has on our broader economy. Young college graduates are forgoing car purchases, delaying home purchases, getting married later, and LIVING AT HOME LONGER. The good thing is that if your parents paid for your college education, then you didn’t have to deal with any of this BS. The really good news is that you could leverage this financial advantage to personally benefit you, and just you. You don’t have to share with those needy kids of yours.
Whether you want to admit it or not, if your parents paid for your college education, you were the beneficiary of great financial privilege. It’s quite possible your parents’ parents paid for your parents education. And it certainly is conceivable that your parents’ parents’ parents paid for your parents’ parents’ education. But go ahead, break the chain.
I happen to get fired up about this because I happen to be in a position in which I happen to hear tons of reasons why people aren’t saving for their kids’ education. “Well, I’d much rather they learn the value of a dollar.” I then ask if their college was paid-for. Of course, it was.
We need to try and understand why and how this started happening. I have some guesses. When we were kids, our parents weren’t overhoused. When we were kids, our parents didn’t dine-out as much and drink fancy beverages. When we were kids, our parents didn’t spend $300/month on communication toys. When we were kids, our parents didn’t spend thousands of dollars per years on travel sports.
In other words, our parents made tough decisions. Our parents didn’t give us some of the things we wanted, so they could give us some of the things we needed. I think about this a lot. Sadly, I stand in front of thousands of people every week who have decided to take a different route. They’ve decided there are too many reasons why they can’t pay-it-forward.
Ultimately, breaking the “pay it forward” momentum is a conscious decision. So what’s it going to be? Are you taking the free latte, and making the jerk behind you pay for their own damn mocha? The choice is yours.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.