Why all that debt never gets paid off (& other musings)


Nostalgia or regret? dream clock time business man life motivation happy dream

I’ve spent some time in Britain this year, for personal reasons.

The end of the summer was outstanding, inspiring some wonderful memories of childhood, and those long Pommie evenings of playing cricket and bunking off school to play snooker (ahh, the halcyon days!).

This week, though, we’ve had dreadful weather and flash-flooding, a timely reminder that not everything is always quite so great in northern England!

And in turn I can look back at some of my past in the UK through a less rose-tinted lens.

School days weren’t all amazing, of course, with teachers forever haranguing us to study harder, live better, and think of our futures (despite going to a Catholic Comprehensive school, I’ve never been particularly religious, so the transcendental message was a bit lost of me at times).

And then as we moved into the hedonistic teenage years, there were the silly things we did and said when drinking beer, the suboptimal relationship decisions, the hours after school stuck pointlessly copying out pages of the dictionary in the detention hall, my parents separating, and all the other less good stuff. photo historiical history picture memory happy holiday hobby

On not-so-bright days, I wonder what might have been achieved if I’d worked harder, or practised sport properly instead of treating it as a hobby filling time between visits to the pub.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, and all that!

These are the two main ways in which we process thoughts about the past: nostalgia (past positive) or regret (past negative).

Living in the now

If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time now, you may recall that I also spent some years living in East Timor, and absolutely loved my time there.

Sometimes I wonder how and why I ended up back in Australia!

Being located relatively close to the equator the climate doesn’t change a whole lot in Timor from day to day – depending on whether you’re there in the wet or dry season the weather is either very humid or extremely humid, which tends to make each day feel rather like the next.

One of the things I adored most about living there most was learning the language.

At school we were forever being instructed to learn languages by rote, how to conjugate Latin verbs in the imperfect tense (-bam, -bas, -bat, -bamis, -batis, -bant…shudder), or trying to recall how all the different cases and genders went in German (der, die, das, den, die, das, des, der, des…urgh).  

Thankfully, Tetun-Dili, being a Creole, doesn’t bother too much with all that.

Although there are words for yesterday and tomorrow, most communication just happens in the present tense – say what you see! – which makes life a whole lot easier for a stumbling malae like me.

Timor-Leste is a safe and stable country these days.

But back then the UN police were still in residence to ensure that a random event didn’t spark a bit of lively behaviour, which is prone to happen in a developing country where people are focused on the present day, taking a more fatalistic view of life.

Given Timor’s tumultuous history, you’d be inclined to focus more on the present than the future if you were born and raised there too.

Looking to the future

According to Professor Zimbardo of Stanford University, one of the key roles of parents and schools is to teach children how to be future- or goal-oriented, rather than focusing too much on living hedonistically like errant teenagers.

This is one of the reasons I railed against i-Phones for youngsters so much in my first book on personal finance.

It wasn’t so much that they cost a lot of money (although they can certainly do that), more that they promote a deleterious attitude of instant gratification.

That’s the modern way, of course.calculator coin money save debt

Believe me, I’ve seen grown men office workers literally reduced to tears because an Excel document took more than 45 seconds to download (lol!).

Of course, being predominantly a dull Chartered Accountant and personal finance blogger, I am duty-bound to note that one of the essential keys to achieving financial freedom is to make sacrifices today for a more prosperous tomorrow.

Or in the good Prof. Zimbardo’s language of time psychology, to live life in a goal-oriented manner, rather than operating in the present-hedonistic time zone.

If pictures are more your thing, think more green, and less red.


Global debt super-cycle

Unfortunately for our struggling pollies, even as allegedly adult voters, as an electorate we frequently behave more like hedonistic teenagers rather than forward-thinking adults.

This makes it somewhat difficult to achieve longer term outcomes when the electorate needs to be placated and is so focused on living in the present-hedonistic time zone.

We’re kind of OK with the notion of the Treasurer asking us to tighten our belts a bit in the future with a vague goal of getting the budget back to surplus by 2021, just as long as we don’t need to sacrifice anything of value today. cycle arrows-small

Trouble is, we’re just as reluctant to see debt paid down even when times are good.

We can pay it off another time, in the future, when everything is ‘just right’.

But, of course, in the words of Ronan Keating, tomorrow never comes.

It’s how the global debt super-cycle snowball began rolling more than sixty years ago.


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Pete is a Chartered Accountant, Chartered Secretary and has a Financial Planning Diploma. Using a long term approach to building businesses, investing in equities, & owning a portfolio he achieved financial independence at the age of 33. Visit his blog

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