[NOTEBOOK]Home finances, by the numbersDecember used to be the month when we were flooded with calendars for the coming year, but the number has decreased sharply in the past few years. Many people say the problem is the slow economy; companies don't have the money to print advertising calendars anymore. But that explanation doesn't seem to hold water; perhaps there is too much competition from online calendars, which have increasingly replaced paper versions.
The word "calendar" goes back to the Latin word calendaum, which translates as "chart of the year." It was an account book kept by moneylenders. Debts came due on the first of the month, the calends, and the chart kept track of when repayment was due.
There is less than a month left in this year's calendar. How do we calculate the interest due at the end of this month?
Let's look at some numbers. The amount of household loans outstanding at Kookmin Bank, the largest private bank in Korea, is now 79 trillion won ($ 66 billion), a 20 percent in-crease over its position last year. Loans have increased by 80 percent at Woori Bank, reaching 22 trillion won. The number of borrowers behind on payment exceeds 2.5 million. The rate of credit card bad debt has also risen about 10 percent for the first time since the foreign exchange crisis.
The foreign press warns that the increase in outstanding debts will eventually lead to another crisis at financial institutions. Even now, banks have adopted a personal debt consolidation and restructuring service, and courts are allowing consumers more time to pay off debts or annul them. So what are our economic alternatives? How can we plug the holes in our financial markets?
Financial advisers say that people should keep their family finances as simple as possible and set priorities for personal spending. To do that, the advisers say that individuals should do things for themselves that they may have been spending money on, use their networks of friends and relatives and take full advantage of public services and facilities for their personal needs. Budgets can be slim-med quite a bit in those ways.
Other experts say that it is more economical for couples to keep separate sets of accounts, detailing their earnings and expenses. Those accounts should also include nonmonetary contributions -- the value of a housewife's cooking and cleaning, for example.
From an economist's unromantic perspective, a marriage is made when the total productivity of a couple exceeds the productivity of the two persons acting alone. "Productivity" includes both tangible output, such as housekeeping, child care and leisure activities, and intangible outputs like mental stability.
In a society where notions of gender roles have changed, specialists suggest, these separate accounts will help the partners identify the contributions of the other and highlight areas where mutual help can be given.
Kenichi Omae, a Japanese economist, noted that humans live in four different environments: as a social being, as an employee, as a family member and as an individual. Mr. Omae says these environments must be balanced, with no single one dominating.
In family life, many things cannot be postponed. If a parent did not spend much time with his child when the child was young, his chance is gone forever. Mr. Omae puts special em-phasis on that point, and also talks about the importance of thrift and savings, a universal human value.
Confucius said a person must maintain a balance between the material and spritual elements of his family. Managing family life, he said, was basic to a well-organized society, and the principle for managing a family is to emphasize thrift and savings.
The sociologist Max Weber noted the spirit of capitalism in the Protestant ethic. He emphasized, while talking about the concept of using one's talents described in the Bible, that a person must maximize his talent, lead an ascetic life and maximize his efficiency and productivity. There are many ways for households to keep their finances stable.
* The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Gwak Jae-won
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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