Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Personal Economy

We had a birthday party for my mother in law just the other day.  Her sister was in attendance, she lost her husband to cancer in February.  Some ,hopefully, well meaning friends are basically trying to take over her finances and trying to make decisions on her behalf when it comes to the possessions of her late husband.  She is really torn up emotionally over selling his car and now they are pushing her to sell other personal items that he held dear. One of these friends has even gone so far as to take items and have them appraised, without her permission.

The advice I gave her was this. When you get ready to start selling or giving away your husbands things, I don't want you to just let people take them. I want you to take each item in your hands, physically touch each piece. Then ask yourself these questions; do I need this, do I want this, will I be sorry if this is gone? If you cannot answer no to all three of these questions, you are not ready to give up that item yet.

Talking to her got me thinking. Why don't I modify these questions and apply them to my everyday life. The modified questions would look like this. Do I need this? Do I want this? If I want this why? Will it improve my quality of life or make me more productive? Will this thing make me more secure? If I cannot answer yes to at least two of these questions I will not purchase the item.

We are not prone to overly wasteful purchases. Our last fairly large purchase was a tablet for my wife. She researched for about three weeks. She was having trouble justifying a nearly $300 purchase. If she had just wanted the tablet because it was the latest and greatest I would have agreed with her, but she uses it for school, scheduling, eBooks, and music. I use it from time to time and the kids use it while traveling. We have lots of files on it, in short turned out to be a very good purchase. Honestly, if we all ask ourselves these questions how many things would we not purchase? How much better would our personal economies be?

Remember to Keep It Rural.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The American Nightmare

While having a conversation at work ,the idea was floated that a guy who appears to never be happy at work or at home, was living the American Dream (sarcasm). Someone in the room said "It sounds more like a nightmare". That got me thinking. What was the original 1950's American dream? I will tell you. It was a nice but small home, a dependable car, the bills paid, and food in the fridge. All of this was done on one paycheck. How different is this from today? Well it is different in a lot of ways. We will go over several of the differences.

Our appetites for the latest and greatest has grown out of control.  It seems like the Apple company is releasing new iphones as often as I buy new pants.  We as a nation are no longer satisfied with a small nice house, we want what would have been considered a small mansion. If a car is more than a few years old or has started having mechanical problems, we want to trade it off. People are judged by the clothes they wear. We have been trying to "keep up with the Jones" only one problem. The Jones are up to their eyeballs in debt and if either of them lose their job they would quickly be bankrupt. These are just a few of the behaviors that have brought us here.

What can be done to turn the tide back in the direction of personal responsibility? Well I have said some of this before, but here goes. 1) Learn to repair many of your items yourself. If you have any mechanical skills at all most folks can take something apart and put it back together.  I had to stop in the middle of this article to fix the vacuum.  It was really stopped up and the belt was broken.  Good thing the replacement belts come in packs of two. 2) Grow some of your own food.  This can be done anywhere. Even in an apartment you can have a window box and grow some cooking herbs.  Herbs are fairly expensive and if you have never cooked with fresh herbs you do not know what you are missing.  3) Learn to compare unit cost. We as a culture think the bigger the container (the value packs) the better the deal.  I have found several things lately that this is not always the case.  For meat compare price per pound, for everything else learn to compare price per ounce.  This can save you a nice amount on grocery day. 4) Wear it out before replacing it. I have three different types of pants; dress, work, and around the house. There are several more but this is a good start.
While there is some good news out there it is not as encouraging as it should be. The national debt is at 16.24 trillion, that is $51,624 per every man, woman, and child or $141,680 per working person and going up by the minute. Personal debt is going down across the nation. People are realizing that they are just one or two paychecks out of the poorhouse. This trend must continue.

What are the challenges that we face? 1) National debt. If you pay attention at all you know that several countries around the world are in serious financial problems, Greece is the poster child of what can go wrong. 2) Personal debt. Personal debt is crippling each families abilities to deal with problems when they arise. If a family is making just enough money to pay the bills and feed the family, when something breaks the only option they have is to borrow money to fix the problem. 3) Taxes. Whether you realize it or not everyone's taxes will be going up January 2013.  Many people may not even realize the change until tax returns they get in 2014, but it will be a lot smaller return. 4) Unemployment. The official unemployment rate is 7.9 percent, but this does not include people who have stopped looking for employment because they have given up. Some reports say the real unemployment rate is somewhere between 15 - 20%. If you are working you may not think this is a big deal, but it is.  If you are not happy with your job, it is more difficult to find a better job.  According to recent reports there are 3.2 people who need a job for every job that is opened. We just had an opening in my department at work, we had 23 applicants that made it through the computerized screening for one position. A friend of mine said that there was a high paying  position open at his company and there were over 1400 applicants for one position.

Many Americans are critically close to the American dream becoming a nightmare.  Many more people are already living the American Nightmare.

Remember to Keep It Rural.