Broke and Broken

My friendโ€™s bank balances touches zero a week after he gets his salary. My cousin has to borrow money from his friends for fuel, so that he can drop his children. Do not ask about me. Most Bhutanese are broke a week or two after they get their salaries.

Why?

The prevalence of financial challenges among many Bhutanese individuals reflects a complex interplay of various socioeconomic factors, creating a landscape of economic hardship that poses significant obstacles to financial stability and prosperity. At the heart of this issue lies the absence of effective saving habits within the populace, a critical factor that exacerbates the vulnerability of individuals and families to financial shocks and setbacks.

One contributing factor to the lack of saving habits is the limited access to formal financial services and resources in many parts of Bhutan. Despite efforts to expand financial inclusion in recent years, significant segments of the population still lack access to basic banking services, such as savings accounts or credit facilities. This limits their ability to save and invest their earnings effectively, leaving them vulnerable to the impact of unexpected expenses or income fluctuations.

Moreover, cultural and societal norms may also play a role in shaping attitudes towards saving and financial planning. In some cases, traditional values emphasizing present-focused living and communal support networks may discourage individuals from prioritizing long-term financial goals or planning for the future. Additionally, the pervasive influence of consumerism and materialism in modern society may promote a culture of immediate gratification and impulse spending, detracting from efforts to cultivate saving habits and prudent financial management.

Furthermore, economic factors such as low wages, underemployment, and income inequality contribute to the financial challenges faced by many Bhutanese individuals. With limited earning potential and precarious employment opportunities, individuals may struggle to meet their basic needs, let alone save for the future. This economic insecurity perpetuates a cycle of financial hardship, making it difficult for individuals to break free from the cycle of poverty and achieve upward mobility.

A significant portion of Bhutanese individuals often neglect to prioritize saving for the future, instead opting for immediate gratification or consumption. This lack of foresight and financial planning results in a precarious situation where individuals are ill-prepared to weather unexpected expenses or financial emergencies that may arise in the future.

Furthermore, a culture of impulse spending and conspicuous consumption exacerbates the problem, as many individuals succumb to the temptation of acquiring goods and services that are not essential to their basic needs or long-term well-being. This pattern of excessive spending on non-essential items not only depletes limited financial resources but also contributes to a cycle of perpetual indebtedness and financial instability. For instance, even if there is a good functioning rice cooker or furniture at home, many Bhutanese who can afford will tend to buy the new ones.

Moreover, societal pressures and cultural norms often perpetuate the notion that material possessions equate to success or social status, further incentivizing excessive consumption and overspending. In such a milieu, individuals may feel compelled to keep up with the perceived lifestyle expectations of their peers or societal standards, regardless of the financial strain it imposes on their personal finances.

Additionally, limited access to financial education and literacy exacerbates the problem, as many Bhutanese individuals may lack the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively manage their finances or make informed financial decisions. Without adequate guidance or resources to develop sound financial habits and practices, individuals are left vulnerable to the pitfalls of financial mismanagement and instability.

Addressing the root causes of financial challenges in Bhutan requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both individual behavior and systemic barriers to financial stability. Efforts to promote financial literacy and education can empower individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed financial decisions, cultivate saving habits, and manage their resources effectively. Additionally, initiatives to expand access to financial services, improve job opportunities, and address income inequality can help create an enabling environment for economic empowerment and resilience

Furthermore, initiatives aimed at fostering a culture of prudent financial management and responsible consumption can help shift societal norms away from excessive spending and towards more sustainable and equitable economic practices. By promoting financial resilience and stability at both the individual and community levels, Bhutanese society can work towards building a more prosperous and secure future for all its citizens.

Sonam Dorji, Olakha/Thimphu