Maybe it was the two mortgages we were juggling or the recent Christmas season of gifts galore. Perhaps it was the lack of work for my seasonally self-employed hubby or my recent lay off. Whatever the reason for our dire financial state, and as you can see there were many, nothing could change the fact that it was mid-January in snowy Canada and we had four badly balded tires on our overpriced SUV!
So there we were on a very snowy Saturday afternoon, in our bald tired vehicle in front of a store that had a huge yellow sign in the window emblazoned with black letters that said “GET CASH NOW!” We sat there in silence staring at the neon lettering, both wondering if it held the answer to our financial woes. My hubby and I broke our gaze from the ominous sign of capitalism gone wrong and looked at each other. The heavy snowfall around us made us sure of one thing: we were going to have to drink the insta-cash kool-aid or face sliding to our inevitable bald tired doom. We got out of the car carefully, climbed through the surrounding foot and a half of snow and walked hand in hand towards the front door of the store.
We opened the heavy door and stomped the snow off our boots then walked up to the pleasant young woman sitting behind the not-so-pleasant plexi-glass. After a few quick questions and an inquiry about a cash advance, the cold, hard truth about our need for cold, hard cash hit us; they would advance us the money we needed if we were willing to pay twenty-one dollars for every hundred dollars we borrowed!
A twenty-one percent interest rate!? That’s higher than most credit cards! “Highway Robbery!” I wanted to exclaim for all to hear. But I didn’t. Instead, my husband and I looked at one another and without a single word simultaneously thanked the young lady, turned from the counter and bee-lined it out the door. As desperate as we were, as in need as we were, we were not about to sink lower into our despair by being taken advantage of to that degree! We spent the next few weeks inside and off of the treacherous snow laden roads until we were able to borrow the money to buy new tires from a family member.
Recently my hubby and I drove over to the convenience store located next to the cash shop we visited that snow laden day in January. Sitting in the car and looking at the yellow sign again, I thought about the fact that when we went into to borrow money a year or so ago, we were really in need because we could not afford to maintain our basic safety. As I waited for my beloved to come back to the car with some milk, I began to watch who was going in to the cash shop. I felt so much empathy for these souls, remembering the frustration, fear, and shame I felt when I found myself entering the doorway below that glowing sign. Perhaps the most disconcerting realization that I had as I played cash store private eye was that I continued to see the same kind of people entering and exiting the shop. I saw numerous women with young children, a slew of men who looked like the song, King of the Road, was the theme song of their life and immigrant families.
It hit me all at once; It is the most vulnerable of society that have to use places like the cash shop and they can’t just walk away from the ridiculous interest rates. I was able to walk away because, in reality, I have support in my life; people that will always help me if I ask them. But not everyone is so blessed and most people going into the cash shop are not walking out empty handed.
All of this got me thinking, are there statistics on who uses cash shops in Canada? Well, sort of. The Canadians most using cash shop money services are those who are most in debt. And who are the people who are the most in debt in Canada? According to Statistics Canada the people who are the most in debt in our country are made up of single parent families, down on their luck individuals and new Canadians living in a household that takes in less than a total of $50,000 per year. Moreover, the StatsCan survey says that these people groups rarely get out of debt because they are caught in a socio-economic spin cycle of debt versus need. Essentially, these individuals and households stay in debt because their debt load is so heavy that much of their money is going to debt repayment.
So what does this mean to those of us reading this who are not experienced cash store patrons? Well, we must remember the reality that any one of us may find ourselves spiraling down into debt. Any of us can experience a sudden change in familial status, a layoff at work, a bad investment, or an unexpected costly expense. So, we should care because it could be us at any given time. But more than that, we should care about how those with heavy debt loads are doing because it is the right thing to do. If our sisters and brothers are suffering at the hands of insufferable debt, the very fact that we share this planet means we ought to care.
Our whole world, from plant life, to ocean life, to human life, is connected; either working together in tandem or not working together at all but simultaneously being affected by one another none the less. We talk about environmental sustainability, but don’t we want our economy, and thus by default, our ethics, our morality, our sense of community, to be sustainable. Don’t we want to live in communities where we practice the kind of attitudes and lifestyles that make us want to shout out along with those adventurous and willy Three Musketeers, “One for all and all for one!” So what can we do in our effort to make the world a more economically sustainable place for all besides don a wide brimmed hat, grow a pointy mustache, and carry a sword?
It is never too late to become aware of the reality that our socio-economic structures can be most hard on those at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain. If we foster attitudes of compassion to those facing difficult life circumstances, we are already making a difference. We need to create awareness so we can work towards a world where needs are acknowledged and then met.
- Educate the Next Generation by Your Actions
While we assume the young people of today are off in technologically induced comas, that is not entirely true. Sneak a peak at your tech-obsessed teen and you may just notice they are sneaking a peak at you. How do I know? I’m kind of in the “me” generation ( my older sisters love to remind me of this moral flaw I have no control over!), and I know that while I love fiddling with my IPhone while watching the latest round of reality TV, I am still keeping my peepers tuned into what others are doing around me. Your attitudes to socio-economically vulnerable people, your response to news stories, what you choose to do with what you are blessed to have, speak volumes to the anyone within your sphere of influence.
- Taking Simple Steps
I know a very successful couple who, after having suffered financially in the early years of their marriage, now make significant commitments to helping others in financial need. Today, they own a house that they rent exclusively to single mothers at an affordable rate. They also run a free tax clinic and mentor younger married couples on how to get out of debt and manage their money, (My hubby and I are evidence of the benefits of this last initiative). We can take action by giving some of our time or resources to those in need. We can volunteer, donate, and promote places that serve the needs of those facing dire financial circumstances.
- Choose to Downsize in an “Upsized” World
We can also take action in terms of how we use our own financial resources. Do we really need that second double Venti latte? Do we really want four pairs of winter boots? How important is it that we have the latest bag in the latest colour? Consumers speak and the powers that be respond! Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pudding. Bigger houses, enticing interest rates, double car garages, the end of mom and pop shops – how do you think we got here!?! We wanted more, more, more, and we got it! Well, consumer demand also has the power to reap benefits like the increase we see in the availability of organic foods, the invention of hybrid vehicles, and the surge in social justice initiatives. All of these developments work to sustain human life and human community. When we change the way we buy, the way we consume – we see change unfold! That’s the way it works in our capitalist society of supply and demand. Mmm…who knew capitalism could be used as a socialist initiative after all?
“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.