Astonishing but true: one-third of all Japanese households have “zero savings,” says Spa! (July 17-24), citing a 2017 Bank of Japan study.
Zero savings. You’re employed, not poor, maybe even rich – which is interesting, because a problem one naturally associates with poverty in fact goes far beyond it, for the simple reason that the more money you have the more you’re likely to spend, with scarcely a thought for tomorrow, until something happens – an illness, a pay cut, the birth of a child – and tomorrow, to all intents and purposes, is here, and you’ve nothing to meet it with.
You would expect savings to rise with maturity before maybe sinking with old age. Not so, says Spa! “Zero savings” afflicts people in their career prime – roughly the 30s and 40s – no less than in the early rising and late falling years.
It has vast ramifications. It affects how we educate our children and plan for our old age – if in fact we have leisure to plan for it, which many people don’t. One result is the rise of “old age bankruptcies” – among poor and rich alike.
Let’s look at cases. The names, naturally, are pseudonyms.
Koji Karashima, 42, earns 231,000 yen a month as a sheet metal worker. He, his wife and their two children, aged 8 and 6, live in a modest apartment in Saitama – rent: 47,000 yen a month. His wife’s part-time job earnings bring the family income up to 4.4 million a year. It’s tight. The apartment is nice and clean, but “we need more space.” All the same, “I gave up on owning a home a long time ago.”
The biggest expense is the kids’ education – 65,000 yen a month for juku and soccer school. The latter at least may seem a dispensable luxury, but “all their friends go; can they be the only ones who don’t?”
The couple’s main concern at this stage is to get both kids into college. You can’t do it – so the common belief runs – without juku.
And so they grind on, not in debt but not saving, hoping the precarious structure doesn’t crash, as they know it might if any emergency arises, even a relatively small one.
And old age? “I simply have no leisure to think about it,” says Karashima. “The way things are going there won’t be enough money for the kids’ college.”
He’s thinking of looking for a weekend part-time job – “but at 42, do I have the energy for it?”
Yukihiro Ogaki, 47, seem to be doing all right financially, he and his wife between them earning 9 million a year. Their two children are 14 and 11. The older boy attends a private high school. The younger boy is slated to as well. But even with just the one attending, education costs – school fees and extra-curricular lessons – eat up one-third of the family income. Perhaps private school is not strictly necessary – but Ogaki admits to having a “complex” in that connection. He works for pachinko parlor chain. The income is satisfactory but the social status is not, and “I want my children to do better.” Private school is seen as the road to that goal.
The kids’ classmates all seem to come from wealthier homes, and they set the pace. For example: lunch with her sons’ classmates’ mothers – an inescapable ritual – costs 1500 yen a meal. The others can spare it. Mrs. Ogaki can’t. But she can’t refuse either, or feels she can’t. And so, with one thing and another, the family ends up spending some 36,000 yen a month more than they take in. It can’t go on forever. But there’s no obvious way out.
Or maybe there is. Ogaki is having second thoughts about private school. He asks himself, “Is it really for the kids’ sake, or is it for my own ego?” He judges himself harshly. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m worthy to be a parent.” At some point he is clearly going to have to brace himself to bite a bullet. Which one?© Japan Today