Sponging and sharing: Life lessons from young adults

My son Etienne vented his frustration about a mate who mooches. A group of friends go to a bar, where everyone orders a beer and food except Alex, who only drinks, then asks for bites of everyone's food. They comply, but resentment builds.

I was immediately reminded of a order of monks who have a practice: if one needs more food, he must circulate among the order, reque
sting one spoonful from each of the others.

Alex is out of work, living on unemployment. He's been a friend since public school, and because of strained family relationships, has lived on his own since barel
y 16. Sometimes he's working in a skilled trade, sometimes not. As we talked, Etienne veered between compassion and irritation.

The root of his issue was that when Alex has, he does not contribute. "We take care of one another", he said, "but he doesn't."
I told my son, who is sensible and kind, that I well remembered the freeloaders of my 20s.

At the same time, I found Alex's sponging heartbreaking, and can guess that he knows how he's perceived. I poi
nted out to Etienne that Alex does not have someone to take care of his dental bills, cheer on his achievements, provide dinner or a pair of shoes, let alone a laptop. Harrowing economic conditions and family dysfunction change how people operate.

I was asleep when Alex turned up with the other kids at the house last night; Le Duc was happy to see him. I wish I had been up to offer him a meal. Perhaps one day he will
have the ease from which to abandon his anxiety and desperation, and reciprocate.

When I read that many of the boomers have not saved enough for retirement, I wonder if Alex's cadging will show up amid those a generation or two older. Will the senior grasshoppers ask the ants for their food?

According to the American Association of Retired Persons,
the economy has made saving anything difficult: 35% of those ages 45 to 54 have stopped putting money into their 401(k), IRA or other retirement accounts, and 25% said they have prematurely withdrawn funds from their retirement accounts.

On the 'ant' side, here in Canada a survey conducted by The Royal Bank, retrieved from The World of Work, says that only about half of Canadian Boomers (47%) expect to be fully retired by 65.

Will we care for those friends who had years to save, but did not?


Susan B said…
And even those of us who have saved like crazy still feel that we're not making much headway with the decline in value of our 401K's!

It used to be that retirees could count on a pension if they'd worked for an employer for a number of years, but most employers in the US have done away with them. 401K's and other savings instruments were intended as a supplement to pensions, not a replacement for them. It's going to be an interesting few decades, and I mean that in the Chinese proverb way.
materfamilias said…
You make some interesting links here, Duchesse, especially when you point out that it takes some kind of wealth (material or social or emotional) to provide the foundation for sharing. Alex's actions may be driven not only by a foundational insecurity but also a resentment of those who have what he lacks -- unless we achieve some shift in values over the next few decades, I fear these issues will become increasingly divisive and difficult. We sometimes hear jibes about the fortunate position we're in pension and home-equity-wise, but this "luck" (which I concede is at least partly just that) was also based on some tough choices and frugality both innate and cultivated. We've watched peers live in bigger, better-furnished homes, eating out regularly and taking extravagant annual vacations while we made do, yet I suspect our enjoyment of our planned security after retirement will be marred by unease over having what others don't. As Pseu says, interesting times indeed.
Belle de Ville said…
Even people who have lived frugally, saved and followed the number one rule of investment, diversification, have lost so much. I think that many people will be working full or part time during their retirement years.
Anonymous said…
I had years to save, and did.
However, between health problems and stocks plummeting, there is little left. I would never expect others to help, but will continue working as long as I can.
Maggie said…
Times are tough, but lifestyles have been lavish in the past 40 or so years. I've always been a saver and have had to bear the brunt of friends playfully saying things like, "You can't take it with you", "Life is not a dress rehersal", "Who are you going to leave it to?" etc., etc. Now those same friend's ate at all the best restaurants, jetted off to exotic locals on a whim, bought closets full of clothes and when cooking took over as in indoor sport, thought nothing of buying $100 worth of ingredients for a simple dinner for 4. Suddenly, they are faced with the reality that to maintain this lifestyle or something close to it, they may have to keep working into those golden years. I have lots of compassion for those that played it close to the chest and were frugal but still are suffering. Unfortunately, I can't summon compassion for those that spent every dime.
Interesting - has your son or any of his friends talked to Alex about his sponging and how it makes them feel?

It'll be the children of the boomers who didn't save who are left to look after their parents when the governments won't.
sallymandy said…
Tough questions with no easy answers. It's a discouraging situation we're in.

I'm reminded, for some reason, about a job I had many years ago with the March of Dimes. Do you have that group in Canada? The people in the most economically depressed towns gave by far the most to this organization, and donated the most volunteer hours. I'm not sure why.

A good friend of mine says, "Generosity breeds generosity." I like that. Thank you for this post.
s. said…
Such an interesting post, Duchesse. I have some friends who saved wisely, lived simply and supported charity generously when times were good but got screwed just because of terrible luck and timing. Most of these people would never expect others to help, and are touched, surprised and grateful when we do.

I also have friends like Alex; what I find most troubling is that they seem to feel as though friends -- and life in general -- somehow "owe them". When others help them, they rarely express genuine thanks because it's their "right" to enjoy whatever they imagine that the rest of us have but when they have money, they never reciprocate because they "deserve" to spend it all on themselves.

With a few decades on Etienne, I now know what I'd do in his position, but we all have different thresholds and so I send no words of wisdom but just a big hug in his general direction.
Duchesse said…
Imogen: Yes, and behavoiur continues, but they are running our of goodwill.

All: Whether people had savings which eroded, or never had them at all (and derided those who saved) might make a difference in the ants' being willing to share. I predict the most common request will be re housing: "Can we move in with you?"

Whether the grasshopper's children will help out again depends on whether they have means. I predict a lot of older people living at or below the poverty level.
Frugal Scholar said…
My son has some mooch-y pals. But with Alex: I wonder if he feels like part of the family. We have some stray kids who feel like that. They come in and eat what they want. Hence, Alex mooches off your son because he's "part of the family." Am I making sense with this?
Duchesse said…
Frugal: Alex is not one of those 'one of the family kids'- he does not visit here. This behaviour happens at bars with old high school pals, now 5 years past being schoomates. We have known plenty of kinds who turn up around dinner time over the years!
Anonymous said…
I remember Oprah saying that when she got rich, many friends and relatives started to mooch. At first she gave unconditionally, then came resentment, then she came to a point where she told each one, "This is what I'm willing to do for you, financially, but then that's it." Maybe your son and his friends could follow suit: sit Alex down and say, buddy, here are the limitations of our generosity. It would be hard to do, but I truly think a good excercise for everyone involved.
Anjela's Day said…
Even those of us who drifted around the world and never thought about growing older and then had children and all the money earned went to raising a family. Went to surviving. Some people are fortunate.They inherit. They are born into money. Some people are great providers. Then others struggle. My ex lost everything following one car accident that involved no one else but himself- suddenly everyone sued- everyone put liens on houses. There was no money left.He worked day in and day out from the time he left university until he was 45 years old and suddenly couldn't. Things happen that are life altering.That noone can make allowances for. If a person has pensions and savings and homes and assets, they are indeed fortunate. But all of that can be wiped out by some huge catastrophic event.
About Alex something very telling, when you mentioned how at times when he had, he still did not contribute.
On the other hand penurity is in some people's DNA. I have seen generous parent's with stingy children.Generous parents with one generous child and one stingy child.Is it in the genes? Are freeloaders in their 20s the freeloaders in their 70s?
Alex may well have had to scrimp when he was on his own since he was 16- that would be very frightening for anyone- He would not have had the same carefree mentality that others in his group perhaps may have had- Paying for food in a restaurant or cafe may well have taeken all of his money for other necessary items of survival.
But when the day comes that he has more than enough and is older to know better (?) Maybe the kindness and compassion shown to him by lovely humans like your family will sink in and he will be able to give back- one of life's great gifts- generousity.
I feel sorry for Alex. He reminds me a bit of a fellow I've known since I was Étienne's age - and I'm about 5 years short of Duchesse, so that is a long time. He was shunted about between foster homes, as a friend said "Il n'a pas été élevé" - he wasn't brought up at all. I remember him sitting on the steps of an alternative bookshop where we volunteered in the 1970s - I had painted the sign - eating a "petit gâteau Jos Louis" - the type of sugary snack cakes that were so emblematic of Québécois working-class culture at the time. (My family was just as poor, and dysfunctional in other ways, but eating crap was NOT ALLOWED).

This fellow was a serial mooch but somehow most of us understood. Eventually he got himself together somewhat. He's not a bad sort, unlike some other people who are maniupulative and users without really having to be.

Anjela, as to what you say, a relative of mine was wrongfully accused and convicted of a serious but non-violent crime. He was eventually released and cleared his name (it was a matter of someone framing him) but this permanently damaged his finances and health, and this was a real go-getter of a guy who worked very hard and enjoyed the benefits.

Hope Étienne and pals are able to help Alex get his act together. I hope he can go back to school - not necessarily university; there are a lot of good and worthy jobs in the technical trades as well, but nowadays those also require postsecondary education.

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