I remember when my folks retired to Florida, back in the 1980s, we saw a used-car lot out on Route 1 with a big sign that advertised: "Buy Here! Pay Here!"
We thought it was a joke. Isn't that the way everybody buys things? We couldn't figure out what the sign was offering that was so special. But the sign was up for as long as my parents lived there.
(We later found out that "Buy Here! Pay Here!" is a way used-car salespeople sell cars to people with bad credit. The dealer extends credit to the buyer, so the buyer doesn't have to go to a bank where they will likely get turned down for the car loan.)
The other night B and I were driving home from our dancing class, and for some reason I thought of the term, "Pay it forward."
So I asked B, "What does 'pay it forward' mean, in your mind?"
"Someone does you a favor," she replied. "You can't pay them back, so you do someone else a favor instead."
I was ruminating (B was driving, so I was ruminating) on my last post about how we pay for our children's college tuition, and might help to pay tuition for our grandchildren as well. Your parents paid for your college tuition. You can't pay them back, so you pay it forward by paying for your own children. My kids are finished with college, and I don't have any grandchildren (yet?), and so it's easy for me to suggest that people chip in for other people's college tuition.
Maybe I do my part by paying school taxes. Our school district just passed its 2014-'15 budget, spending a little over $26,000 per student. I have two kids who went through the school system; but I wasn't paying $52,000 a year in school tax. Other taxpayers were paying for my kids to get educated. Now it's my turn to pay it forward ... help pay for other people's kids to go to school.
I guess everything we do for our children is paying it forward from our parents. Except we try to do it better, don't we?
Last week I finished up my first year as a volunteer tutor at our local community college. I'm paying it forward to these other kids for all the help and advice and favors done for me when I was a younger. Not that there were very many that I remember. My parents were pretty hands off, even remote. My high school was a hostile place, and nobody helped me there. I had a professor in college, and a boss early in my career, who were mentors to me to some extent.
I think some other people tried to help me out when I was a kid, but I found it hard to accept help . . . and even harder to ask. I see a difference in my kids. My daughter asks for a lot of help, and gets it. My son is much more reluctant to ask; and he seems to be more on his own. Maybe women find it easier to ask for help?
The kids who come into our tutoring center at the community college are asking for help, and they need it, for most of them are from economically disadvantaged families. Some of these kids get more out the center than others; but they are all trying -- trying to get an education, trying to get a better job, trying to grab a piece of the American dream that some people think is fading away.
I'm sure there's one thing they know that I never did -- what "Buy Here! Pay Here!" means. And so regardless of what our own backgrounds are, I think we owe it to them to Pay It Forward.
There's a movie called Pay It Forward starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. It came out in 2000 to mixed reviews -- by and large critics thought it was sentimental and syrupy while the audiences liked it. It's not on Netflix, but maybe I'll go down to the library and see if they have a DVD. Because I think we all need less "Pay Here!" and more "Pay It Forward."