We’re all in the same boat nowadays. An ever worsening national economy has seen prices for most everything rise seemingly by the day. It’s not just gas – though the global oil shortage has much to do with associated cost hikes. Even food manufacturers and distributors are suffering through tough times and must raise prices. Fact is, we are experiencing an inflationary period similar to the Carter years, and most American heads of household (weaned through the unprecedented expansions of the 80s and 90s) don’t know how to handle the current financial paradigm. We’ve become so accustomed to consumer debt and carefree purchases that we no longer even understand the notion of spending discipline.
Nevertheless, as unemployment continues to rise and property values continue to fall, most families now recognize that something has to be done to halt the endless reliance upon credit cards. The quickly growing mountain of personal debt amongst our citizenry, after all, has much to do with the problems facing our national economy, and most economists agree that things shall not get better any time soon. It’s time to tighten our belts and face the music.
There’s a number of obvious solutions to household budgeting that shouldn’t need to be explained. Take account of family spending habits and cut back where needed. Clip coupons and shop, whenever possible, at bulk markets that offer bargain pricing – though not before making sure you aren’t buying more than your family can use. Trade down your vehicle for something with better gas mileage. Avoid expensive vacations. Do not presume things will improve.
For this article, we asked a variety of different consumers across the nation for their own saving strategies midst these trying times. Most, once again, were rather obvious (the Sports Utility Vehicle would be a poor idea; purchasing necessary household goods at a fraction of cost from estate sales would be an excellent one) or too personal to the specific consumer (a wood stove for those three weeks of relative frost may make sense for Sacramento but would not well serve our readers up north), but a number of their suggestions were actually quite helpful. In the following piece, we have compiled the most helpful tips so that all may benefit from practical solutions to our spiraling economic crunch.
To be sure, especially with so many Americans foregoing necessary check-ups and doctor visits because their employment (and government) do not sponsor preventative treatments, we don’t suggest that anyone avoid paying for health insurance. For many American families, that should – reasonably! – be one of their largest monthly expenses. At the same point, the costs of many other insurance plans may be overly protective or, in many cases, not needed at all. Life insurance for bachelors might have made sense your grandfather’s era, when one needed something to borrow against later in life, but, this age of instant credit availability, there are better investments. Similarly, too many vehicle or home owners are tricked into absurd premiums to off-set negligible deductibles. Think of it this way – how often do you crash your car? Wouldn’t saving a hundred dollars a month within a creditable program clearly make more sense than paying an extra hundred dollars a month just to avoid another thousand dollars should the worst happen?
Phoenix, Arizona’s Mr. Jean Papillcoch told us: “An old buddy sold me on this car insurance package. Seemed great at the time – collision, theft, even took care of me personally if I was in an accident. And, you know, you get used to just paying the bills, but I haven’t driven that car in over a year. Just money down the drain. The wife finally saw the paperwork, showed me what I was actually paying for, and … I don’t even have a boat.”
The problem with many household budgets is that they do not take into full account what family members actually spend their money on. That daily can of Diet Coke after the gym (more about that later) and morning cup of Machiatto would actually be greater than most families’ electric bills once added up. Alcohol, as well, has it’s own diminishing effects upon personal economy, but most oenophiles insist the distinction between a well researched four dollar bottle of wine and the average supermarket find for twenty dollars would barely be noticed. Simply by carrying thermoses or using the office blend, buying generic sodas from bulk discount stores, and choosing taste over label provenance, consumers can easily save thousands of dollars each year!
Mrs. Lisa Munnepenne of Fairbanks, Alaska reports: “It felt weird, the first time, just walking by the Starbucks on the way to work. I mean, I could feel the people behind the counter staring at me. It wasn’t like they waved or anything, but I did feel like I was snubbing them or something. And, Monday morning, the coffee at work tasted just exactly as bad as I thought it would. But, you know what, by Friday, I couldn’t even tell the difference! I didn’t notice at all. Actually … actually, it was exactly like my first week at work.”
There’s so many excuses. The kids want pizza. We have so few hours alone. I’ll make lunch tomorrow. Much the same as with beverage choices, convenience and brand labels control consumer shopping patterns to a ridiculous and inevitably debt aggravating degree. Office workers and young professionals spend too much of their income upon dining out. They might blame a lack of time or wherewithal, but all it takes is a change of habit. Most people actually find that they enjoy their time in the kitchen, and the eventual meals prepared are not only more healthy but, since they’re precisely to the tastes of the chef, genuinely more rewarding. And, regardless of the protestations of fast foodies, home cooked meals are always more affordable.
Mr. Raj Meekaaf; Kalamazoo, Michigan: “There was this café right next to our building, had the best breakfasts, and, even when times got tight, I wouldn’t give it up. Some mornings, that was the only reason I got out of bed. That’s what I thought, seriously. After the firm went under, I had to start cooking for myself. Turns out – food isn’t nearly as important as you might think.”
Invest In Savings!
This is a tricky aspect to treat in limited space. We, obviously, would not advise against well thought out investment strategies – though most employees of larger firms should take advantage of 401k plans should their company promise to match funds. At the same point, too many consumers gamble their money away with representatives of internet speculators that, in all likelihood, have neither the training nor experience to accurately vouchsafe their client’s funds. Even for those web sites that do maintain an attractive rate of return, most of them simply refer business to one of the larger mutual funds accounts – while collecting an extraordinary percentage for transactions that can literally be done by anyone within twenty seconds. Over the course of a lifetime’s investment, these transaction costs can climb to tens of thousands!
Ms. Jessie Williams; Lake Osakus, Minnesota: “I run a home business, and the business has done pretty well in the last few years. Seemed time that I should start thinking about investments, and – I don’t know anything about that. And, also, I live in a rural area, there was nobody in my town that I could talk with, so I started up with one of the on-line firms you see on the TV commercials. After a few months, I started to get the hang of it, and I thought to myself – ‘why am I paying three percent of every trade just so these jokers can push a few buttons?’ No complaints with the service, they treat you like a princess, but is that me?”
Drugs Are Drugs!
Generic brands have always been a source of comedy – well, for as long as there has been advertising; wasn’t that long ago that every commodity would’ve been considered generic. Still, for folks that watch the commercials, bargain priced staples or supplements of even necessary medications are something for the poor folks. Understandable that a century of advertisement has prized brand loyalty for consumers, but, once something – especially medication – has been approved for sale by the Federal Drug Administration, there is no reason Americans should doubt quality. Many pharmacies and hospitals benefit from the largesse of medical sales reps and have good reason to promote one brand above another despite demonstrably equivalent results and a sharp reduction of price.
Mr. Bryan Shadd; Fargo, North Dakota: “My doctor had recommended this pharmacist. You have to follow your doctor, am I right? Took me two years to finally wise up and listen to my friend about his friend and this cheaper way of going about things. Same drugs. Absolutely the same. Maybe they come from Canada or wherever. Should I care where they come from? Should I care who’s selling? They’re half the price, that’s what matters.”
Give It A Day!
Habitual spendthrifts should not carry around credit cards. Before deciding anything of permanence (romantic issues, perhaps, aside), consumers should always take advantage of the “rain check” option offered by most stores or realtors or dealerships. A waiting period is simply necessary for a concerted effort toward efficient and reasonable household finances. If, after two days, you still want to make the purchase, the truck or television or suit will almost always still be available. Honestly, for families concerned about maintaining a budget, anything over seventy five dollars should enforce a twenty hour minimum for studied consultation. You’ll find that, often as not, the product in question does not really seem that important after all.
Ms. Sally Falk; Chicago, Illinois: “I used to be an impulse shopper. I mean, IM-PULSE! Whatever I saw, I just had to have. Right! Then! And, just waiting out two days, like they said, I found … ehh. I mean, it was like I just totally changed minds.”
Keep On The Grass!
This will be of less service to our more urban readers, but one of the first suggestions from financial analysts in suburban communities is simply for homeowners to mow their own lawn. On average, property-owners spend over five hundred dollars a year just on lawn maintenance! In the nicer residential communities, even though the homeowners themselves may be crippled by financial burdens, topiary costs can reach five figures. In part, this is meant as an object lesson by debt professionals: you reap what you sow and you should bear the brunt of your vanity.
Mr. Jon Hansom; Corvallis Oregon: “We’ve a pretty big spread in the back, and, this fellow comes around, has his own mower, I figure, sure, it’s worth a few bucks to help a guy out and save the sweat off my back. Then, before you know it, I’m paying him to mend the fence, bury the chickens – we have a few chickens – and his girlfriend’s babysitting the kids while we go out to eat. End of the month, turns out we owe them more than we owe the electric company. I’m worried my wife’s gonna think I’ve gone crazy.”
Call It Quits!
Do you even know anyone under forty who maintains a traditional telephone service nowadays? With the sudden ubiquity of cellular service and seeming necessity for digital internet, a generation might not even recognize the entire concept. At the same point, the average monthly stipend for cell phone nears eighty dollars a month – or, to put it more plainly, nearly four percent of the average American’s gross monthly income. They are, to be sure, helpful conveniences and some people (largely, cell-tower repairmen and that Verizon guy) genuinely require them for their work. For most of us, though, the money could be better spent. If the mobile is honestly integral to your work, then there is no reason to maintain long distance service at home.
Tim MacMurray; London, Ontario: “I just realized after a certain point … I mean, if I’m already out, why do I need to talk to someone else? It’s just dumb jokes or ‘hey, call me back’. I can’t talk to anybody when I’m at work. Why do I need a cell phone? What’s wrong with land line?”
This, perhaps, is the least needed lesson. Most every commercial these days advertises the need of light bulb efficiency, sweaters in place of sweltering winter heating, any small change needed to forestall global warming. Still, a regrettable number of our countrymen refuse to acknowledge both the coming energy crisis and their own culpability – not to mention their own sweeping debt loads. Just making sure that all unnecessary appliances have been turned off and that (though it may take an uncomfortable hour to warm up afterwards) the heat has been turned down those long weekends out of town would save the average American an estimated three thousand dollars a year. And, y’know, help save the planet for their grandchildren.
Mr. Jack Trevors; New York City, New York: “Took a while to sink in. I’m the kinda guy that used to leave the TV blaring, lights on, whatever, when I left the house. Then, bills start running tight, you start thinking about where the money’s going, where your priorities are at, and you end up making a change. That last summer – seemed like we didn’t use electricity almost at all.”
Friends Don’t Let Friends Spend!
One of the more unfortunate consequences of budget maintenance may be (temporarily, we would hope) distancing yourself from acquaintances with either more money or less regard to their emerging debts. Many analysts proficient in personal economics would counsel the newly thrifty to spend their time and money with only those friends engaged in similar cost cutting measures. Seems a bit harsh, we know, but those worthy of lifelong allegiance should understand that you are attempting to plan for a brighter future.
Mrs. Pauline Merriam, Au Claire Wisconsin: “Awful hard time, about two years back, we’d just left California and had to depend on some old friends that were themselves barely scraping by in Chicago. Once we explained that we just didn’t have any money … there were looks, of course … why, the people we were staying with didn’t ask for anything at all whenever the check came around. And we’re friends to this day! Just goes to show.”
Don’t Mail It in!
To be sure, anyone that’s worried about even the annual postage costs for their various debts and utility payments likely has greater issues than we could possibly aid through glancing at this article. However, there are other issues at play advising the advantages of electronic payments well beyond the cost of stamps. For one part, individuals can request a small percentage of their checking balances to automatically be moved to their investment accounts every month – thereby tricking capricious spenders towards helpless savings. For another, the definitive separation between business and checking accounts dramatically aids tax accountants when preparing deductions and defending against potential Internal Revenue Service audits.
Beyond which, most every creditor and utility now actively assists electronic transfers and virtually every utility will literally reward consumers for automatic payments (often, banks will as well) set up through their personal or business accounts. They won’t be large rewards, five dollars a month at most for the gas bill, but that could equal a free month of gas for consumers willing to spend the extra ten minutes setting up such a plan. Beyond even that, automatic payments stop the risk of late fees from forgotten bills or mistakenly posted items. This day and age, there’s really no reason anything besides mash notes and a grandparent’s birthday card need be sent by the US Postal Service.
Mr. Marc Duper; Danbury, Connecticut: “Honestly? I have not mailed a check to anyone in over ten years.”
Find Your Own Fun!
From premium cable services to movies every Friday, Americans somehow believe they are entitled to historically unprecedented entertainment upon whim. This should not be thought of as a utility. Humans need shelter, food, water, (for some cultures) clothing, and little else to survive. Western civilization has taught the importance of education and hard work for satisfied lives. Avoidance of pressures through the exploits of better looking others rarely enables self growth. Even gym memberships, where personal trainers are highly paid to force their clients toward labor, would seem ridiculous to past generations. Leave the HBO and family fun nights aside. Use the library. Start running in the park. Start managing and settling your debts. It will be a long life, and a better one can start right now.
Larry Brattner; Colorado Springs, Colorado: “There was a period, right after college, where I think I went to the theater every night. Didn’t really help anything. Liked some of the movies. Most of them were crap. In no way did it help me save money or pay down any of my debts. Do I miss those days? Not. At. All.”