human, being


The new frugality is off the chain
March 2, 2009, 10:46 pm
Filed under: As I See It, money | Tags: , , , , , , ,
Penny, from Chrissy-D on flickr

Penny, from Chrissy-D on flickr

I jut got done watching today’s episode of Oprah via TiVo. Now don’t get me wrong: I like Oprah. I admire her actually. But it seems completely inauthentic for THE RICHEST WOMAN IN THE UNIVERSE to be counseling us normal folks about how to behave financially in this recession.

I appreciated the stories today about the woman who has enough processed food in her basement to feed her family of four through Armageddon, and the other woman who was coping with the death of her husband by buying, buying, buying. Both families took a vacation from spending any money, stopped driving their kids a few blocks to school, ate at home. It’s all good. Yes, we’ve all been little piggies for the past decade or so. Time to step away from the trough.

During the broadcast, Oprah cringed when one mom threw away an expired super-sized tub of sour cream. “I hate waste,” she said, wrinkling her nose. She also claimed to pick up pennies. Steve, who was sitting on the couch uncharacteristically unsarcastic for the most part, said, “Oh, come on, Oprah’s earning a million pennies in the time it takes her to pick up that fucking thing.”

The lesson is not lost on me. Oprah is a billionaire, right? Or hundred-millionaire at least. She didn’t get that way buying Jimmy Choos on credit and refinancing her house to pay off her car and buy a second (unnecessary) car, as one of her guests today did. Maybe she does take her lunch to work every day, and save used Yoplait cups because they may come in handy someday. It’s not like she was born rich. She worked for her money, and got lucky, and was smart.

She says that having the best stuff — craving it, really, and indulging by buying it — keeps us from living our best life. I agree with her, and I am working on unhitching my feelings of satisfaction, self-acceptance and success from the stuff that I have (like my house, my car, even the wedding we want to have). I know it is Oprah’s mission in life to save the world, one million audience members at a time. But the message, coming from her, rings false because at this point in her life, I just don’t see how she can relate. Like a skinny person complaining about her 22 percent body fat to a woman in a size 22 dress, she’s trying to make us feel like she’s one of us. When she’s obviously not. Maybe that’s beyond the point: We need to relate to the message and to her guests.

::::::::

And on this topic of frugality, I’m torn. I haven’t been saving lately because I’m trying to undo the financial damage I incurred last fall. All my exta money is going to pay off credit cards, yet again. Frugality is cool, it’s in, it’s hip, it’s off the chain. Everyone’s talking about how they aren’t spending money, and that RAWKS! people! Every night on the news, there’s another story about how to save money, cut corners, do without (but without the suffering!). Instead of bragging about our latest purchase, we guiltily hide it in our closet and when we finally pull it out, we’re all, “This old thing? I just pulled it out of mothballs. I’ve had it for years!”

Folks, believe me, I know what it’s like to freak out about not having any money. To worry about the mortgage getting paid. To cross my fingers that the Xcel check will clear the day AFTER my paycheck hits my account. But if nobody is spending any money, how the hell are we going to get out of this recession?

Suze Orman a couple of weeks ago challenged people to stop eating out entirely for a month. Now Steve works for a restaurant, and if a large percentage of the population took her advice–sound as it is, he could very well lose his job. So no, please eat out, especially at Subways at Cherry Creek mall, Park Meadows and on the 16th Street Mall. It’s a fine line to walk, this new frugality. By trying to be “responsible” with our money, we’re killing the economy, which makes companies lay off people, which means more people have to be responsible and not spend any money, which means another business closes and so on and so on.

So I’m going to make it a point to NOT be frugal a few times a month, to buy something that I want but don’t need, to frequent small businesses in doing so. Next week, we’re traveling (gasp! no–not that luxury!) to Napa, and we will drop a few hundred dollars into that local economy. And I’m going to feel damn good about doing it.

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2 Comments so far
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I’ve been noticing those stories too, and worrying about its magnifying effect on the economy – although I’m also hearing more stories about the “vicious cycle” that’s starting from people not spending. Maybe the most surprising thing is that last month the savings rate was the highest it’s been in something like 15 years – and it was still only 5%! Scary.

Napa will be a great trip, and I hope you have a lovely time! If you like spicy Vietnamese eggplant, I highly recommend Annalein. (1142 Main St) Don’t be too responsible, it’s not right with so many vineyards around.

Comment by Derende

This time last year, I was saving 10% of my take-home salary in a money market, plus 15% of pretax (5% from me, 10% from employer) in my 401k. I’m still doing the latter because it’s mandatory, but my money market has $43 in it right now, and the balance won’t grow for a while. One day I’d like to get back to it. It felt good to pay myself first. Just not feasible right now.

We’ll put Annalein on our list!

Comment by humanbeingblog




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