Monday, September 12, 2011

Live within a budget! And other stellar ideas

“Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.”
–Benjamin Franklin

On my break from my minimum-wage job, I decide to go window-shopping downtown.

The first store I pass has the most adorable pair of Apepazza boots (a steal at $289). They’re on the feet of a mannequin that’s wearing a pair of 7 For All Mankind denim jeans (a mere $215), and an awesome Gucci satin blouse ($650 – OK, that sounds like a lot, but not if you wear it every week).

Let me tell you, it had been one of those weeks at work …whiny customers, the boss in a snit. And I have a party coming up Friday night. The outfit’s $1,154 all together – more than I earn in a month. But that’s no problem, because I have a MasterCard. And when the bill comes, I can just put it on my Discover. So I don’t have to spend any actual “money” at all!

What the hell…? I’m getting it. After all, a girl’s got to splurge once in a while.

Do you know this chick? I don’t. Oh, I don’t doubt that she exists. But the majority of Americans who are in debt today aren’t there because they were hypnotized by shiny objects. Medical expenses, job loss, and divorce wreak more havoc on peoples’ financial lives than that oft-demonized “daily latte.”

You wouldn’t know that, though, to listen to many of the financial gurus. Take Dr. Jason Cabler, who created the “Celebrating Financial Freedom” program. Dr. Cabler’s bio reveals the terrible difficulties of his first years of marriage, when he and his wife battled over the bills. They decided to develop a written budget, and voila! They now live debt-free and worry-free. (And, he says, you can too, if you purchase his program.)

But consider his curious case: He’s a dentist (median U.S. salary, $133,851); married to a banker (let’s pretend that she’s only a loan clerk: $35,522); living in Tennessee (the state with the lowest cost of living in the United States). He doesn’t mention having any children. His humor page contains jokes like “You know you’re broke if you make $40,000 a year and drive a $50,000 car.” (Ha, ha! He’s funny.)

Oh, and every time Dr. Cabler sells one of his “Celebrating Financial Freedom” programs, he makes $59.95.

Then there’s Dave Ramsey, who founded the Financial Peace University. By age 26, Ramsey was earning $250,000 a year; by age 28, he was broke. Ramsey is thumbs-down on credit cards (sensible) and thumbs-up on emergency funds (also sensible). (Parenthetically, though, he doesn’t mention what to do if your emergency occurs before you’ve saved up your fund.)

For $119 (a 40% savings off his regular price; I’m not sure exactly when his price is “regular”), Ramsey will sell you his debt-reduction program. (By the way, you have to use a credit card to order it online). He must be doing well, because he recently purchased a 13,307-square-foot home, assessed at $4,909,200, also in Tennessee (LOL!). Utility records show his electric bill alone is $1,285 per month (more than my mortgage). His master bathroom shower supposedly has 18 shower heads (does he feel dirty? I’m just sayin’).

And I really can’t finish this blog without bringing up The Duggar Family, even though Jim Bob isn’t, strictly speaking, a financial advisor. The Duggars have 19 children “and counting,” and they’re very big on “debt-free living” (especially because – like Dr. Cabler and Dave Ramsey – they happen to be conservative Christians).

The Duggars live in Arkansas, the state with the fourth-lowest cost of living (the other states rounding out the bottom five are Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas). Jim Bob’s a “real estate agent and investor” by trade. He credits the Jim Sammons’ Financial Freedom Seminar for teaching him how to support 19 kids without a mortgage and without resorting to credit.

His wife Michelle keeps a blog on living debt-free with super-smart tips like “(go) to thrift shops or pawnshops or whatever” and “(I tell my children to) shop around a little bit.”

I wonder if it helps, though, that the Duggars also have a reality show on TLC, and a 7,000-square-foot house that was completed by Discovery Networks. Also, corporate sponsors provided “the painting, decorating, furnishings, appliances, and other finishing touches, such as a stocked pantry.” (You know, I happen to be a big fan of Coca-Cola®. I wonder if I could get some kind of corporate sponsorship from them? Just thinking out loud here…)

We should all aspire to acquire as little debt as possible. We should all spend wisely and save as much as we can. Intelligent advice is always appreciated. But please, Dr. Cabler, Mr. Ramsey, and you Duggars (all 21 of you!) – spare me your condescending crap about living on a tight budget when you have no clue what it’s like.

People richer and brighter than me have sunk my nation so far in debt that we’ll never be able to climb out. So-called "entitlements" already earned may be lost. Tomorrow looks scarier by the day. So (while I have no intention of ever buying a $600 blouse) if I want to blow my money on a McDonald’s Café Latte ($2.29) tomorrow morning, then let me do it in peace.


Anonymous said...

Amen, sister!

Brenda said...

Oh dear, have you forgotten the "Latte Factor"? I think it was in the book "Smart Couples finish Rich". If you stop wasting your money on lattes, you'll have enough to pay off your home in just a few years. While I agree with this thinking, it is a bit condescending. We all need to buy a cup of coffee (or your cup of choice) now and then just to feel NORMAL!

Forgo the book, buy the latte instead :)