Nowadays, it has become common practice for people living in the city, especially the youth, to spend their valuable money prodigally on ephemeral things like fashion shoes, clothes or new model cars.
One may argue what the value of money is if it cannot buy comfort or happiness?
I believe that money can buy not only the transient feeling of happiness and comfort but also sustainable development of a society if used wisely and frugally. Even other creatures – for instance, the bees and the ants – save food to survive in the winter season. Saving has been the sole determinant of survival for many species, including humans.
In the early times of the Stone Age, living in a cave, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers; feeding themselves with what they found in the forest. They had to search for a daily meal every single day either by hunting wild animals and fishing or gathering edible wild fruits and vegetables using simple handmade flint tools.
Through time, as a result of population growth, people had to go far away in search of food, hence hunting and gathering became tiresome work. To solve this problem, domesticating animals and planting fruit seeds or cultivating crops in backyards was the solution they came up with.
They became farmers and then traders. To thrive in times of natural disasters and cope with unpredictable weather, they learned to save what had been left from daily consumption, thus, gradually, saving became a fundamental part of human survival.
In Ethiopian society, there have been traditional financial associations, temporary or permanent, with the purpose of saving money and helping one another; they are called Idir and Iquib.
Though very useful, particularly at times when there were no modern banking systems, such methods are only good for saving money for a short period of time, until every member of the Iquib gets their share of the accumulated money back from the group. It is like borrowing from dozens of individuals at once, or raising a fund that can be used for emergencies, and paying it back again every month.
These local breakthroughs are good enough to be proud of, but it would go against the grain to claim that we, Ethiopians, have a good culture of saving. Apparently, our society is well known for its extravagance in marriage ceremonies, religious holidays, memorials and baptisms.
Sparing some, the youth, especially those who live in the cities, usually prefer extravagant fashion items and beverages which would cost them far more than they earn in a month. Saving and frugality are terms that come to their minds only after it is too late.
After they have lived a fancy lifestyle in their heyday, it is common to see artists, unable to cover their travel and medical costs, begging for money via media when they get an illness that can not be treated locally.
The lack of saving not only affects the life of a person but also hinders investment. Banks can not give loans to investors if they do not have sufficient capital deposited by the clients. The fate of newlyweds is spending their life renting a house unable to afford one unless they start saving as early as possible.
Warren Buffet, one of the richest men living on Earth and known for his strict saving discipline and frugal nature, once said, “Do not save what is left after spending; spend what is left after saving.”
Such is the value of saving that billionaires have already exploited much of its potential, whereas the poor have yet to grasp the meaning.
One who saves is also, most probably, frugal in his lifestyle. Contrary to most of the rich men in our country, titans of digital technology, such as Bill Gates (founder and owner of Microsoft technologies), Mark Zuckerberg (founder, owner and chief executive officer (CEO) of Facebook), and the Asian giant and business magnate Jack Ma (founder and CEO of Alibaba Group), all have something in common – frugality.
There is no way they spend their money on petty fashion and luxury cars. All they aim for is grand issues, such as changing the world for the better, improving the lifestyle of the human race by investing in renewable energy sources, disease prevention mechanisms, fast and durable communication methods, etcetera.
Understanding the value of frugality as early as the 17th and 18th centuries, the English naturalist John Ray noted, “Industry is fortune’s right hand, and frugality its left,” while writer Samuel Johnson once commented, “Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor”.
Are we giving the value and attention that saving and frugality deserve?
I say, had we understood and mastered these two basic building units of an economy, we would have lifted ourselves from poverty long ago.
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