The danger of thrift

Thrift has taken on a new definition. Through the 1960s ‘thrifty’ people maintained Christmas Club accounts and stores offered ‘layaway’ options; i.e., saving money prior to making a purchase. In recent years ‘thrift’ has been re-oriented to using credit in a way that takes advantage of immediate savings; i.e, buy it now and make payments.
If you are of a certain age you will recall a time when credit was hard to come by. If you did not have money in hand, you did without. Spending discretionary income (anything beyond basic necessities) was thoughtful and deliberate. Hard-working, intelligent, responsible people simply did not contemplate debt.

Over the past fifty years, attitudes toward saving vs. debt have reversed. Rather than strategizing how to save money to make a future purchase, the typical modern American strategizes (often unsuccessfully) how to get out of debt for purchases already made. Average credit card debt in 2012 was $15,950, with interest rates in the mid- to high-teens.

Credit cards entered the marketplace as a convenient means of transacting sales, with the presumption of a single, immediate, payment of the balance in full at the end of each month. It is pointless to blame lenders and merchandizers for the evolution of credit cards. As Pogo noted, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The notion of ‘thrift’ has evolved to keep pace with modern life. Rather than save ahead to make a purchase, we now make purchasing decisions based on a purported ‘Sale’ price. If that was true only for necessities it would not be a problem. The problem arises when a discount price is interpreted as too good to pass up, causing one to purchase things of no personal value; rather, simply to participate in a ‘good deal’.

In other words, discounting creates the impression of saving, but it still requires spending money for things you would otherwise NOT purchase. And there are at least two reasons that such purchases turn into a ‘bad deal’.

1) Carrying a balance on a credit card, with interest rates in the mid-teens, means that over time you are paying the bank whatever you did not give the merchandizer.

2) Just in case you think you are old-style thrifty, examine your home for ‘closet fodder’; items stored in closets and drawers that you do not use and are unlikely to use.

2a) If you are new-age thrifty, much of your closet fodder will contain ‘Sale’ stickers.

2b) Give up the notion of being thrifty at all if you rent a storage unit to house your closet fodder. Rental storage began in the 1960s and has grown to 44,000 self-storage facilities (about 1.5 billion square feet).

A third reason to avoid new-age thrift is to prepare for eventual retirement. Thirty-six percent of Americans have not saved for retirement. Two thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds have saved nothing.

If you recognize the perils of the new-age notion of thrift, and desire to regress to a pattern of saving, Dr. Kweethai can help.

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What did I say?

A common strategy for working thru interpersonal communication issues is ‘restating’. “What I heard you just say is…” The idea is to clarify assumptions and, over time, improve mutual understanding. Now, what if you were to apply restating to your own communications?

A teacher acquaintance related the following experience. “I gave instructions for a group task and told students to begin. I was surprised to see a couple groups doing something other than what I instructed. My immediate reaction was that I should scold them and get them back on task. Instead, I approached them calmly and inquired what it was they were doing. I was very surprised to hear them repeat word- for-word the instructions I had just given; as it turns out that is exactly what they were doing!

“Again, my natural teacher impulse was to scold them for not knowing better; after all, other groups had figured out my intent despite my actual words. Instead, I got the attention of the class, acknowledged the work they were currently doing, and then restated the task; this time making sure I conveyed my intent more accurately.” 

In this scenario the teacher adopted a strategy of responding vs. reaction. The typical reaction would be to scold, assuming the discrepant task to be an indication of poor discipline, disrespect or inattention. It took a bit longer to consider that something else might be going on, but the gentle inquiry lead to a response that allowed instruction to continue with a sense of harmony.

Certainly in your own life you have had the experience of a surprising response to a communication with a child, spouse or co-worker. Before assigning blame on them for poor listening, disrespect or simply mis-understanding, play back in your own head what you just said. That is, if you can remember it.

If you cannot, ask. You will not always get a word-for-word playback, but the summary may provide vital clues about how well you communicate what you think you are communicating.

Even when your words are chosen well, the message can be distorted by non-verbal cues. Remember, it is often not what you say but how you say it.

Perhaps more important, though, is your desire to communicate harmoniously. People who jump to negative conclusions about others often have a similarly negative view of themselves. A helpful strategy for reversing negativity is to consider a positive alternative. It need not be specific; my teacher acquaintance was surprised to hear himself quoted, but was relieved at the positive explanation for the students’ behavior.

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Attention Deficit Trait

Digital natives—the generation that has grown up with digital technology—are accustomed to playing, working and communicating almost simultaneously on multiple wireless devices such as a phone, tablet and laptop computers. Adults of a certain age are less sanguine about the gradual slide into electronic multitasking, often claiming to have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

It turns out they may be onto something.  ADT, or Attention Deficit Trait, was coined a few years back to describe behaviors learned from one’s environment that often mimic ADD (now more commonly referred to as ADHD—Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).

ADT is a non-medical condition. A “trait” (as opposed to a “disorder”) is learned, and therefore feels somewhat normal. Adults with ADT are not aware of a problem.

Neither are children. The environment in which digital natives have grown up makes a myriad of demands on attention, often pulling in opposite directions. Multitasking has become commonplace.

Imagine young children’s exposure to digital devices: cell phones, tablets, Play Stations. It is all portable, moving from home to the car; even available while walking. Any given device can have multiple apps open and active; so that a child may be listening to music, playing a game and talking on the phone at the same time.

Despite the appearance of active engagement, too much electronic media is isolating and anti-personal: ear buds, texting. You do not have to be a Luddite to be concerned that children now have less opportunity for direct interpersonal communication and that abbreviations common to texting are showing up in school work.

The traits learned from electronic immersion—poor spelling, inability to listen or pay attention in live settings—would otherwise seem to point toward ADHD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 3-5% of children have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD affects mainly children and adolescents, but can carry on thru to adulthood. The cause is unknown; so there is no way to prevent it; and it resists conventional treatment.

Children with ADHD are easily distracted and have challenges in following instructions. They cannot keep track of things and often appear to not be listening when someone speaks to them. They tend to daydream.

What makes it difficult for teachers and other significant adults is that children with ADHD are often impulsive, talk excessively and have trouble sitting still. These behaviors are also common among children who are simply bored, so diagnosis requires assessment by a competent mental health professional.

While ADHD is a medical diagnosis, ADT represents a behavioral challenge. True ADHD is congenital, a disorder requiring medical intervention. In contrast, ADT is created, and can therefore be changed, by environmental conditions. 

Children and adults alike benefit from reduced exposure to digital media. Adults stressed by worked-related multi-tasking should prioritize and use only media and apps that are most relevant and critical to that work. At home parents need to set limits for their children, restricting overexposure to digital media and encouraging live interaction with real people and nature.


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