Why is it so hard to grasp the concept of scarcity? Didn’t we learn that stuff in grade school? Although I believe it’s important to minimize the negative impact we have on the planet, that’s not what I’m getting at. Even if you don’t care about responsibly managing the earth’s resources, you should concern yourself with taking care of your own.
Oh, how I remember my very first lesson with scarcity. I couldn’t have been more than eight years old at the time. It happened while waiting with my mama in the supermarket checkout line. I can’t recall what I asked my mom to buy for me, but I remember my mother saying I couldn’t have that thing I wanted because she didn’t have any money. Well then, “write a check” I told her. In a few short sentences, my mother taught me all I needed to know about scarcity.
Honey, you have to have money in the bank before you go to writin’ checks! You can’t just write a check. You have to have money.
All the time prior to my mother telling me that, it never occurred to me that checks represented money – the result of someone paying you for providing a service. I wasn’t devastated by my mother’s response. I remembered going to the bank with her. She put money in the bank. She took money out. I understood. From then on, I knew there were no easy solutions to getting what you want out of life.
In order to replenish your bank account so that you can write checks (man, that’s ol’ school) so that you can buy the things you want, you have to work for it.
Investopedia explains scarcity as follows:
When we talk of scarcity within an economic context, it refers to limited resources, not a lack of riches. These resources are the inputs of production: land, labor and capital.
People must make choices between different items because the resources necessary to fulfill their wants are limited. These decisions are made by giving up (trading off) one want to satisfy another.
It’s a bit strange that I’d bring up scarcity now given I haven’t seriously thought about the matter since I taught it to a group of first graders a few years back. Actually, it’s not that strange. This past Saturday, I spent almost the entire day attending a financial educator volunteer training session. I won’t get into it now, but the programs offered by this organization are phenomenal.
During the latter part of the day, we went over how to teach high school students about money management. One of the pointers offered by the financial counselor-in-chief (I just made that up) was to let the children know that name brands aren’t important. Money spent on luxurious clothing could be redirected to savings and retirement accounts. A fellow volunteer expressed concern with how she’d deliver the news that labels aren’t necessities when it’s so important for teenagers to fit in with their peers.
Over a short break, I discussed with my fellow financial education volunteer how to let the children down easily. I thought the matter could be summed up in a sentence. “Your parents don’t have an unlimited supply of resources.” Done.
But the parents in the classroom carried on and on about how parents don’t put their foot down. And how some people will go into debt in order to provide their children with every trinket they fancy.
I could not understand why these people thought it’d be so difficult to teach young adults about the limitations placed on everyone’s resources. They were taught this stuff in grade school.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to any of the volunteer events for high schoolers, but, just in case, I’ve been thinking about how I’d let the children know they can’t have everything they want all at once. Assuming they’re having a hard time revisiting a concept that was taught to them barely a decade prior, I’ve prepared the following response:
What?! You stupid?! NO ONE has an unlimited supply of resources. Including parents. They’re not leprechauns. They’re real people who have to give in order to get. You will too some day. So if you want to buy expensive, high-end products then you’d better start thinking about what kind of career will compensate you well enough to afford the things you want.
What do you think of that? How do you determine how your monetary resources should be allocated? What would you say? Remember these are children I’ll be dealing with.