Monday, 26 January 2009

Of Mice and Graduates

It’s very difficult to squirrel away money for a later date. For the foreseeable future, I know that I am consigned to renting an overpriced flat and that any thoughts of a mortgage or getting a foothold on the property ladder have been successfully stamped out by an over-inflated market that is only now being reconciled, but this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be trying to collect funds for a later date.

When I was still at school, we studied John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, which despite the best efforts of the English Literature interrogation approach of dissecting text, I thoroughly enjoyed. Without giving too much away, the main theme of the book is that two friends are trying to work and save enough money to buy a farm of their own and live the American dream. One of the comments made early on is that all the farm labourers start with that intention but end up spending all of their earnings on whiskey, women and pool (assumedly in that order). It becomes clear later on in the book that this is probably what is going to happen to the main characters as well and that they too are going to end up getting locked in this cycle of working, earning money, spending money, repeat.

This cycle sounds an awful lot like what can happen to anyone in life if you’re not careful. There is a significant consumer urge built in to a lot of western society, and if you are immune to it, congratulations, but I know that I for one am not. Somehow, I get convinced that I need to buy things that I really don’t need to buy. Fortunately enough, I have a guilt switch that gets automatically thrown once the money gets too big and I don’t spend vast amounts of money or land myself with buy now pay later schemes that can become crippling, but I can see how easy it is to fall into those. It is so difficult to resist the lure of instant gratification. Work for most people is tough or at the very least despised and we all need picking up from those sorts of things, and a quick bit of retail therapy can often seem like the obvious answer.

I don’t know what the answer is to this. It’s easy enough to preach willpower and budgeting, but we’ll all give in to that eventually. Maybe the key is to just always work and not give yourself the time to spend your earnings, or maybe it’s to earn so much money that you can’t realistically find enough ways to spend it all.

Of Mice and Men is quite a short book and well worth a read. It has certainly become more poignant to me since living an independent existence with an uncertain goal before me.

Additional Notes:

The name of the book comes from a poem, “To a Mouse” and the full saying goes something along the lines of “The best-laid plans of mice and men/often go awry” or as it is in it’s native Scottish, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley”. I really hate it when things gang aft agley.

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