Society has taught us to be consumers. One can get credit without having a job. One can buy a car, furniture or clothes with no money down. But none of these items has lasting value.
Once a car is driven off the lot, the clothes are worn or the furniture is used, they have lost some of their value, and it will never be regained. Even if they mean something to the owner, they have no economic value, and they are certainly no longer worth what was paid for them.
We are taught to live off of 120 percent of what we make. Yes, spend all that you have and borrow the rest from a credit card or loan company at high interest rates. Ordinary working people are in debt. Our government is in debt. This is why Congress had no problem recently raising the debt ceiling to continue paying for a war that many feel is unjust.
Power and wealth come from investing in sustainable goods — that is land, property, houses, money in the bank and a good education for all.
We first have to teach some common sense that leads to practical economics and education. A rich, reasonably honest man once told me if a young person would save/invest at least 10 percent, give away 10 percent and live off of no more than 80 percent, then he or she could die a rich person. John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in U.S. history, once said the same thing.
That means that one has to buy a house, not rent an apartment. When we drive a car it need not necessarily be the newest, most prestigious one. We must wear clothes that we can afford to pay for now, which may not be the top-of-the-line designer clothes.
Let me suggest some things that may be helpful. First, if you don't have one, go open a savings account now. Start with 1 percent of your net income on a regular basis. Don't hand me that fixed-income jive. Income is income. If you hit the lottery, get child support or get a tax refund, that is income. If you are already saving, go up 1 percent from where you are until you reach 10 percent. Open an account for a child, grandchild, niece or nephew and teach them how to save.
Give away 10 percent. Make sure that some of it is used for justice causes. Many "charitable causes" can be rip-offs, including some churches. We must see that our giving is not in vain and that it benefits others.
Invest in your own education and in the education of others. Enroll in a class that will move you toward something worthwhile. Work toward a degree or certificate. Volunteer in a public school near you. Adopt a child to work with on a regular basis. If you own a house or land and plan to sell it, make sure that it benefits the poor as well as yourself.
Do you go for the top dollar, or do you benefit and help others benefit who are in need of a helping hand? We must move forward while helping others to do the same.
Ervin Milton is director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks, a conference, retreat and educational center in eastern North Carolina.