Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Money-saving Tips from the Experts

Every time a TV-news program runs a teaser about “easy ways to save money” or “how to trim your budget,” I stick around and wait for the segment to start. These fluff pieces are useless to me because I’m already doing exactly what the “experts” are suggesting, but I really enjoy pointing and laughing.

We don’t buy Starschmucks [image, by the way, is a still shot from a NSFW-language cartoon], eat out very often, or buy expensive cuts of meat at the grocery store. When we go shopping, we pay cash or use debit cards – nobody in this family owns even one credit card. We also clip coupons and take competitors’ circulars to Walmart for price matching. We do a good bit of our cooking from scratch; it’s not hard to make things like cornbread and cake from the staple foods in the house, and it’s cheaper than buying pre-made versions or mixes.

The family plan (cell phones) isn’t very expensive because we each contribute equally to it – and that ends up costing us less than having our own, individual accounts. We also don’t have, or use, crap like Internet on our phones, because we don’t need or want it. Our satellite-TV package is almost nonexistent because we can’t be bothered to pay outrageous amounts of money for Shotime and other channels from the higher-priced packages. There’s talk around here of dumping the satellite, and that’s probably going to happen soon. The general consensus is that, if we really want to watch something, we can get a Netflix account.

We rarely go to movies; buy CDs or DVDs; or buy the latest and greatest toy (cell phone, for example, or a Nintendo). Mom and I – the biggest readers in the house – buy new books once, maybe twice, every year. For the most part, we buy second-hand books from various places, including the local flea market. (The local library is not very good. They have only a few shelves of books, and many of them are romance novels. Mom and I have read our way through all of the interesting books, so we don’t bother going there anymore.)

Every vehicle in the driveway is paid off. The newest car out there is a 2000 model. We take care of most maintenance and repairs, and have a family friend help us when we can’t figure things out on our own. The cars have good insurance policies, which does cost money, but we’re surrounded by crackheads who don’t have insurance or, in some cases, drivers licenses. It sucks that we have to protect ourselves when they’re the ones who are breaking laws, but that’s reality.

Mom cuts our hair, because she’s pretty good at it and because the set of electric hair clippers that I bought are about the same price as just one haircut. Kid Sis dyes her hair at home when she’s in the mood for a color change. None of the three women in this house pay anybody to do anything to our nails or legs or whatever.

We repair our own appliances when they break. When something is beyond repair, we find a gently-used replacement. Mom recently bought a refurbished, basic washing machine for about a hundred bucks (it came with a guarantee) because the old one just wouldn’t work anymore. This is an older, simpler washer, which Mom insists on having because she stands a better chance of being able to repair it. Newer, more-complicated washers are more difficult to fix, and the parts tend to cost more.

There’s no such thing as public transportation where I live, and we’re too isolated for carpooling to work. We couldn’t coordinate a family carpool anyway, because our schedules are so different. One of my brothers goes to a college that’s about thirty miles away in one direction; I attend a school that’s fifty-plus miles away…in the opposite direction.

Most of our clothes come from thrift stores or garage sales. When we buy new stuff, it’s from the clearance rack. I haven’t paid full retail price for a pair of sneakers since I was in grade school. We do, however, buy new undergarments because we really don’t like the idea of wearing somebody else’s underwear – even if it’s been thoroughly cleaned. But we don’t go to expensive shops to get that stuff, so it’s not like we’re investing a few hundred bucks a year in undies. Please.

There’s no H/V/AC system in our home. When we want heat, we build a fire in the wood-burning stove. When we want to cool off, we open the windows and turn on fans to circulate the air. We’ve also been known to go hang out in the hammock, underneath the trees, when it’s extremely hot. Our electric bill’s not too high because of these “alternate choices.”

News reporters tend to stick to those types of money-saving tips. Even when a teaser for “radical ways to save money” comes up, the advice is still mostly useless to us. Society’s idea of “radical” is to drive an older vehicle…which we’re doing. Their idea of “extreme saving” is to ditch credit cards…which, again, does not apply to us. Their concept of “going really far to save money” is to move into affordable housing…which is exactly what we did.

The sad part is that these “tips” actually apply to some people. America is full of overgrown children, in that we never matured into financial responsibility. We want what we want, and we want it now. It doesn’t matter if we have to rack up debt to get the toys – we’re going to get them, and they will make us happy for about, oh, ten minutes. We’ll work for years to pay off the credit-card charges associated with those fun, shiny things, but at least we won’t be a bunch of losers like those sad sacks who pay cash for everything, and buy only what they can actually afford.

And we aren’t even trying to keep up with the Joneses anymore, as the old saying goes. Instead, we want to be the Joneses. If we aren’t the very first family in the neighborhood to get the newest Escalade…if we aren’t the first to give our kids the latest and greatest video-game console or cell phone…if we aren’t the first to put in the brand-new swimming pool, eight-zillion-inch flat-screen TV, or twelve-billion-channel satellite dish that receives signals from frozen green men on Pluto…we aren’t doing our jobs as Americans.

We’re in our current mess because we didn’t grow up. We are irresponsible, as a society, and we don’t want to admit that we’re facing the consequences of our choices. We want somebody to save us, just like Mom and Dad did when we were children, because we just can’t stand the idea of having to actually take in our belts a notch or two and get down to the business of getting things back on course.

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm