Reality’s Fisting: Lotteries & Financial Literacy

No, this isn’t about saving 20% of your paycheck instead of betting on the lotto. If you’re anything like me, you’ve read one too many already. Some of them don’t even bother to hide the finger-waggling, with the sins of gambling laid as the thinnest possible veneer over financial advice that could be found elsewhere on the web. The degree of dissociative arrogance is astounding.

But I’m not surprised.

Let’s talk about the regular lotto player for a second: the regular men and women who line up every day to bet on at least one draw for the day. Many of them are poor, barely (if at all) subsisting on minimum wages of up to Php 400/day – tricycle drivers, house helpers, farmers, and so on. Many are men, but there are women who also gamble when they can. Many do it as a pastime, a way to spend that little extra they have after a long day’s work at a faraway shot.

But one thing unites them all: the small glimmer of hope that their bet will turn into millions for them. With that money, they could buy the luxuries that they dream of attaining: a new house, land of their own, perhaps a new set of false teeth. They could pay off onerous debts, get their children or relatives into better places in life, or maybe take that trip abroad that they were always postponing – because when you’re poor, survival is much, much more important than anything else.

Yet some financial gurus – whether out of misguided intentions, lack of comprehension, or the old-fashioned need to spew words onto a webpage in order to justify a per-character paycheck – like to sit on their digital towers and yammer at these very people without a second thought. Gambling is bad! Save your money in a savings account! Make it grow with compounded interest and other financial vehicles! Work hard and be wealthy! Even if the poor don’t have the documents to actually open a savings account (and would be incredibly lucky to have enough money to meet the minimum amount required, to begin with) they’d still be vilified for making “the wrong choice” of continuing to choose the lotto out of quiet desperation, as if money was equally handed out to everyone.

Reality, however, is much less rosier than these experts would like.

The truth is that for these people, the 20% they’re told to set aside instead of gambling represents money for things that they would rather have to survive in an insanely cruel world: another cheap meal, a treat for a son doing well at school, or medicines for their loved ones who can’t afford another day away from work lest they get fired. It’s a cost that they cannot rationalize, especially when their stomachs are grumbling, their children are crying, and they might be rendered homeless before they know it.

So they choose, and they sit, and they write down six numbers on a sheet of paper in the hope that it might lead them to a promised land. They’ll keep trying – to hell with the nay-sayers and their barely-recognized yet privileged lives.

The alternative is too much to bear.

Post-script: How do we fix this problem? We start with satisfying their basic needs first: nutrition-laden food provided on a consistent basis, a solid roof over their heads, good education for young and old alike, and free healthcare for almost all their ills.

Then, once they’re settled in, we start talking about saving their financial literacy.

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