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Luxuries on Credit

Luxuries are the nice-to-haves in your life, not the need-to-haves. By definition, you can get along without luxuries. You may want that eight-day luxury
cruise but you don’t need it.

You certainly don’t need to be borrowing money to go on that cruise. If you have the extra money sitting around and have nothing better to do with it and you want that vacation, sure, go ahead. If you have borrow in order to go on that luxury vacation … What are you, some kind of stupid? Don’t tell me, let me guess: you put it on your credit card and you’ll pay off the 24% loan over then next ten months, unless something comes up and you have to stretch the payments out a little more.

The same goes for a lot of things that we buy. If you’re an American and not in a city with good public transportation, you need a car. You don’t need a new Volvo XC90. You probably need a cell phone. You don’t need the latest iPhone-whatever in the rare color which costs $200 extra. You need a pair of shoes. You don’t need a pair of Giacometti shoes. And so on across myriad purchases of overpriced goods because the consumer gave in to peer pressure or advertising pressure or the desire to peacock in order to signal their worth.

All that, bad as it is, is chicken feed compared to a wasteful, overpriced luxury which most people view as a necessity. You know it as “education”.

You need a way to make a living. For most people, making a living above the bottom rung means acquiring some skill or knowledge that sets them apart and lets them get a high-paying career.

Can any honest adult claim that modern colleges provide employable skills or knowledge to their students?

The vast majority of college degree programs have no hope of being economically useful. In theory, the student could learn how to think and how to research and how the world works no matter what major he goes into. In practice, we know that’s not what happens. Students are indoctrinated, taught what to think rather than how to think. They learn almost nothing of any economic use.

Employers realize this. Many graduates are less employable than they were before they started college. See the recent articles on students with certain degrees or with any degree from certain universities becoming “dispreferred” in today’s tightening job market. (I’m talking about the United States in mid-2024. YMMV in other places and times.)

I keep mentioning the economic value of a college education. There’s a reason for this. There are plenty of reasons to further your education, many having to do with personal improvement or personal fulfillment.

Personal improvement is a worthwhile goal but it needs to be targeted toward achieving some purpose, preferably a purpose whose progress and effect can be measured and which will make you a better person. “Be my best self” ain’t it. “Spend years of my youth and $100,000 with teachers who tell me that I’m a victim and deserve reparations” definitely ain’t it.

Personal fulfillment is almost always a luxury goal. “I always wanted to know more about 18th Century French literature.”

Those might be worthwhile and might not. As something to do in your spare time, great. It’s good to always keep learning, to keep your brain flexible. It’s debatable whether it’s worth spending money on courses. The internet has fulfilled its promise of making the world’s information available to the public for free. Why aren’t you taking advantage of that? What do you gain by listening to a professor in person rather than in a recording? What do you gain by sitting next to bored students who don’t know anything either?

More valuable than your money is your time. Is it the best use of four years of your youth, to take courses which the college thinks you need so that you’ll be “well rounded”? More to the point, do you have the luxury of wasting years of your youth on this?

Another consideration: At age 18, do you really have a deep and abiding interest in 18th Century French literature? Or are you going to college because your parents pushed you to or because of social expectation or because you don’t want to get a job and this lets you put off being a grown-up for a few years, and you needed a major and this didn’t look too hard?

Put it all together and you should think twice and then a third time before planning to go to college straight after high school. You want to become an accountant? Go ahead, if you have the aptitude. You’re not sure what you want to do so why not get some loans and spend the next four to six years figuring out what you want to do? Wave off! Danger, Will Robinson!

Get a job instead. That year you spent picking items in a warehouse might not have advanced your life goals, but you got paid for the time and didn’t go into debt or use your parents’ savings for the time. And maybe you found that driving a forklift is fun and not to difficult and getting the certification was easy enough and now you have a decent-paying job that you can do for a few years. At worst, you’ll have realized that low-end jobs are absolutely not what you want, that firms your resolve to get a good education so you can avoid them, and when you do go to college in a couple years you will make good use of the opportunity and not spend your time screwing around, as many students do.

Or if you want to make your living as a musician or a painter or such, just why are you going to college? Find an artist who makes a living at it who’ll take you on as an apprentice. Even if you don’t get paid for your work, you’re not paying and you’re not wasting your time in writing essays about the effect of the seafood industry on the price of blue paint.

All that said, there is one good reason to attend an Ivy League or other top-rated college: Contacts. Even if you major in something useless and never use anything you learn in class, your Harvard or George Mason classmates will include future political movers and shakers, elite corporate C-suite denizens, and the like. If you talk to as many people as you can, get contact information, and make a bit of effort to stay in contact after graduation, you’ll be in contact with a pool of influencers — real influencers, not puffed-up social media “influencers”.

Your professors can also teach you many things outside of the class’s syllabus. This is available at all colleges, not only the Ivy League. One of my former coworkers was mentored by his advisor in registering patents on tiny changes to existing patents and then licensing them under threat of legal action. Perhaps not the loftiest of careers but apparently it made the prof several hundred thousand per year, almost 30 years ago.

I don’t mean for that example to denigrate this kind of mentoring or additional instruction; it’s simply an example which I saw playing out over a year or so. Aside from the teaching assistants, your instructors will almost always have achieved a good measure of academic success and some will have achieved commercial success or be well-regarded experts in their field. If this interests you, identify these professors and learn all you can from them.

Finally, there’s spouse-hunting. Many years ago, when only a fraction of the young population went to college, it was a good way to meet intelligent, motivated people with good prospects for careers and success. That’s much less true today. With close to half of young Americans continuing schooling past high school, college clearly is no longer exclusive. With inordinately relaxed standards for admission, continuance, and graduation, college does not select for the hard-working, either. Still, some of your classmates will be bright, hard-working, and aimed for success, probably a higher percentage than you’d meet in the workplace or through your mother’s friend group. As I said before, identify them, start talking, and see where it gets you.

Bottom line: Go to college in furtherance of some specific goal, probably monetary in nature, if the payoff will be worth the expense. Go ahead and go if you or your family is rich and won’t be bothered by the expense. Otherwise, get a job, get an apprenticeship, or just spend time on the internet and in the library.

Your bank balance will thank you.


9 thoughts on “Luxuries on Credit

  1. I had my daughter, age 16, read this when I finished it. Nothing new here to her because we’ve talked about such topics many times. Nothing new here to the people who regularly read Daily Pundit or Cold Fury, either, I imagine. But you’re not the target audience. When I asked if any of her friends or classmates should read it and did she want me to send her a copy to pass around, she said not to bother because none of them read except for school assignments.

    -siiiiiigh- That’s a whole ‘nother problem.

    It also suggests bad things about sales prospects for the book of advice and thoughts for young women that I’m writing. (In my copious free time, and you may insert a mocking laugh here.) Based on my daughter’s words and other things I’ve picked up over the past year, I’d better plan on a podcast or webcast of anything targeted at teens and young adults.

  2. I’m old enough to remember when credit cards were not accepted at grocery stores.  The thinking was, if you had to ‘borrow’ to get food, you were probably a serious credit risk.  Of course, this was at a time when they had blank counter checks from several local banks available for you to fill out for your purchases.  I wonder how long before you can buy lottery tickets on credit cards?  As far as college goes, I started working at a large company without a degree but found you could not advance without one.  I don’t know if things have changed since then, but when I found myself working for a boss with a history degree (totally unrelated to my profession), I returned to obtain a BS degree in Information Systems taking evening classes.  It made quite a difference in pay.

  3. I graduated from a public HS in ’58, small school. “Bout a quarter of the kids went to various colleges: did OK for the most part; ’bout a quarter went straight to work andd most became managers, shop foremen, or th equivalent; bit more than a third went into the Armed Forces, took advantage of OCS when offered, and went on to become VIPs in various organizations; yeah! the other percent became bums of one sort or another trying to live off their folks.
    I know it’s quite different today, but I’m just concerned to see you didn’t mention “service to your country” in the Armed Forces.

    1. “…but I’m just concerned to see you didn’t mention “service to your country” in the Armed Forces.”

      I’ll at least provide a non SteveF answer – Steve did serve his country so it’s not that he is unaware of this option. I have a father and six uncles that all served during war and peace, and they all, every one, gave the “go to school before serving” lecture to all of their children.
      Currently, as much as it pains me, I would not recommend any young person serving in the military. Who and what will they be serving? Where will they be sent and who will they die for? Nope. I demanded* as best I could that my children (3 boys, 1 girl) not do that.


      1. This shall change!
        F’ Gawd’s sake! it has to; hopefully under The Donald.
        If it doesn’t, we will no longer have a United States of America

  4. A few of my thoughts –
    Never really used credit card as credit, just as a purchasing convenience. The exception to that is when the 4 children were at home eating every dime in sight 🙂 I vividly recall using some credit at that time.

    Some of my children take expensive vacations. They can afford it though. I would never spend 10K+ on a vacation even though I could. Just different philosophy. I rarely allow anyone else to even fix something, including cars. When I do it’s because I just have too much to do, or I’m getting too old to lay on my back under the car trying to wrestle something. In a few months my new shop will be up and a I will have a car lift 🙂

    Luxury is OK IMO as long as it is a sound investment. It’s the write off luxury that I’m not real fond of. Of course, flying sailplanes and racing cars are extreme luxuries, but I don’t and never have borrowed for those activities. You would be a fool to do so. I didn’t participate while my children were growing up as they sucked up all the $$$ available (which is fine).

    And for my last – the problem with education is the government. Government is at the root of every problem. Government *could* be useful, but even when it is, soon it’s not going to be, it will always devolve.

    Education is an absolute requirement for a modern functional society. You need engineers and physicists, you need biologists and mathematicians, you need bankers and businessmen, among other needs. All of those skills are best passed along and added to by education. But government perverts the entire process. Instead of biology we get women’s studies grads, useful for nothing but marxist agitprop. We need a sociologist or three, we just don’t need thousands.

    Government perversion is the root of every damn problem in this country.

  5. Most decent jobs today require college to even look at you as a candidate.

    And if you want to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer etc you need College.

    BUT, you don’t need Harvard and Yale when UNC and NC State and the NY College I attended. Just.get.your foot in the door at a decent company. If you bust your ass and prove your worth they may send you to the next level at a top school. FOR FREE. ON THEM.

    That’s what I did. It worked for me. YMMV.

    Of course, I have two childhood friends who never went to college, learned their father’s business and took over one day. AFTER BUSTING THEIR BUTT AND EARNING IT.

    1. We have a society that currently values “credentials” over accomplishment. Far too many companies allow the HR department to set guidelines that are excessive and exclude solid individuals that did not go to college but can do the job they are tasked with.

      One exception is the IT world where credentials are required but not college degree’s. Certifications and experience are keys in the field. It is a solid example of how it should work in many fields.

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