As international travelers can attest, the world is as wonderful and weird as it is wide. Nowhere is this more evident than in humanity’s multifarious customs, which are as diverse as the global cultures that spawned them.
1. Muslim culture
Muslims follow Sharia law. Derived from the Islamic holy text, the Qùran, it governs nearly every aspect of Muslim life – including finance.
“Under Sharia law, Muslims aren’t allowed to collect interest on loans,” explains tax adviser Crystal Stranger, an enrolled agent who works with expat clients around the globe, including Middle Eastern countries where Islam is the dominant religion.
“When [the Prophet Mohammad] came to power in the Middle Ages, a lot of people were struggling with large debts because the only loans available at that time were from loan sharks. Many people had their hands cut off, or lost their wives and children to slavery, because they couldn’t pay their debts. [Speaking out against interest] was a big way Mohammad could improve the lives of people at that time.”
Under Sharia law, interest, or “riba,” is not paid on Islamic savings accounts, or charged on Islamic mortgages.
…in many places around the world, like rural Kenya, people add into the mix other things like animals, access to land or even kinship relationships … Lots of things can perform the stored-value function of money.
Lesson: Interest payments on credit cards and other loans are an easy way to enter a harmful debt spiral. Before you take on debt, therefore, be mindful of what it will cost in interest over the life of the loan.
5. Scandinavian culture
When she lived in Norway, Stranger discovered the Scandinavian tradition called the “Law of Jante.” Established by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 novel “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks,” Jante (pronounced Yen-tah) Law encompasses 10 social “commandments” that have since spread throughout the Nordic region. The first commandment — “You shall not believe that you are someone” — is typical of the others, which discourages individual overt self-promotion and achievement.
“With Jante laws, talking in terms of profit is considered distasteful … which creates a very different way of looking at money,” explains Stranger, who says Scandinavians frame everything in terms of social relevance: how it is making the world a better place for the collective, not the individual. “Business plans must highlight the social and community benefits and downplay the profitability of an enterprise. This is the extreme opposite of U.S. corporate law.”
Lesson: Restricting purchases to only those for which you or your loved ones have a true need instead of “wants” could help you better manage spending and avoid debt.
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