For everything else there’s MasterCard

Have you seen the television commercial that begins with a little boy’s sleepover gone awry?

A sleepy looking man clad in his bathrobe and pyjamas is driving a station wagon. He pulls to the curb in front of a large suburban home and walks toward the front door, the narrator’s voice details the "Cost of a sleeping bag: $40. Cost of a backpack: $18. Cost of walkie-talkies: $25."

Some one in the home meets dad at the door. Dad smiles, collects his homesick boy, and guides him back to the car. Once safely belted in the car the youngster falls into contented slumber. Dad and son cruise homeward through the night, the narration concludes with the observation that "Some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard."

At first, there seems to be nothing objectionable in the ad's content. No sex, no violence, it's a simple vignette illustrating the value of parenthood intended to leave the viewer with a case of the warm fuzzes. Comfort and security brought to you courtesy of parents, and MasterCard. And therein lies the problem. Dad, you see, just spent $83 he doesn't have, so his son could spend the night in a friend's backyard. We know that he couldn't afford to outfit his son for this failed venture because he charged the purchases on his MasterCard. This parent is willing to go into debt to fund a simple project dreamt up by a seven-year-old and his friends. What's wrong with this picture?

What does money mean to you?

Now is the time to ask, “What does money mean to you”? A sleepover probably seemed like a wonderful adventure when anticipated from the comfort of daylight with all the other boys. What little boy wouldn't want new walkie-talkies and wilderness gear?

Dad, on the other hand, has mortgaged his future to provide his child with instant gratification. What is the lesson here? The $83 debt won't break dad, but it's symptomatic of a mindset that might. His son conceives a childish plan and dad is there at the ready, plastic in hand, to insure that he has the state-of-the-art equipment to have “fun”. Dad just taught his son that you can have it all and you can have it now – What this dad has not taught his son is the cost of having it now.

The emotional cost of having it all – today – what did dad just buy with his money? I don’t mean what was purchased, I mean what emotion was fulfilled by the spending of money? Was it love, or happiness, peace, or was he trying to fulfil his parental mentoring role. The dads of today no longer sit down with the evening paper and draw meditatively from a pipe before offering advice because:

  1. The evening paper is obsolete,
  2. Smoking is unhealthy and,
  3. He’s too busy trying to deal with his credit card debt to have time to acquire wisdom that he can afford to share.

Having failed as a mentor, he provides material excess to fill the parental void. It's not his fault - he's simply the product of his times.

The charge card mentality says that you can have it all now, then pay for it in some distant tomorrow. Unfortunately, tomorrow has a disturbing tendency to become today. People no longer "save up" for future purchases but rather have to "cut back" to pay off yesterday. Like the sword, instant gratification tends to kill those who live by it. Cost of the interest paid on your MasterCard account if you religiously make the minimum monthly payment: "priceless."