Commentary by George W. Mantor
RISMEDIA, Dec. 30, 2008-For the last two decades, our freeways have been getting increasingly clogged with a steady stream of trucks loaded with imported goods. They were advertised to us and we bought them. I like my stuff. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming and, in an odd sort of way, I don’t own it, it owns me.
It would be easy to blame crooked politicians and their global capitalization for our declining prosperity, collapsing infrastructure, looming debt, lack of health care, and the other problems that don’t bode well for our future; but hey, we elected them.
We were willing participants in a headlong scramble for the “good life.” We rushed from the farms to the assembly lines, and from the factories to steel and glass towers, and now they don’t need us any more. If you worked in the rust belt a couple of decades ago, the words of a Bruce Springsteen song might mean something to you, “…these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.”
We have been marketed to, and we were encouraged to consume. Twenty years ago I got by just fine with what I had. But, who doesn’t want a big screen plasma, a faster computer and an iPod? However, it all comes with a price tag and we don’t quite have enough.
The American savings rate is far below historic lows, but I think saving might just come back into vogue. There could be a time coming when you wish you had a little stash of cash. But, with prices rising and the American workers earnings not keeping pace, what is there to save?
From the crash of 1929 to the end of World War Two in 1945, Americans became more resourceful than at any time in our history. They saved or recycled everything, and got by on what they needed.
The fact is that we have simply forgotten how to save. We have been encouraged to consume, not to save. We are wasteful in ways we do not even realize; hence, we do not see opportunities to save.
Don’t think of savings as not spending money, rather see it as a way of getting what you really want, a house full of imported crap on it’s way to the junkyard or a little less anxiety about the future. It’s a choice.
1. Be proactive
Make a game out of it. Pennies are points, so scoring is easy. Everyone in the family can play because pennies are easy to come by. I guarantee if you see it that way, you’ll never pass up a penny in the street again. The idea is to make the goal of savings more fun than the goal of temporary distraction. If the act of saving isn’t fun, you probably won’t do it.
2. Create a budget
Simply make a list of the bills you pay every month. What can be reduced to create regular savings? Can you eliminate a phone line and do you really need the premium cable package when everything winds up on DVD? Many categories, including utility bills, clothing, groceries and sundries are ripe for savings. Take the electric bills for the last six months, add up what you paid, divide by six and you have your monthly average. By simply being conscious of opportunities to conserve energy, you should be able to save a few more dollars every month.
3. Establish a Kitty
Put the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and even folding money in the Kitty. Keep it handy. My grandmother raised six children during the Depression; her Kitty was a sugar bowl in the pantry. She never spent change, saying that these were the seeds of more dollars and we wanted to grow more dollars. If she saved money with a coupon or a bargain, she put that money in the sugar bowl and, when the bowl was full, she was off to the bank to deposit in her savings account.
Clip coupons, take surveys, get cash back, join shopping clubs and when savings are realized, put the equivalent amount in the Kitty. Often, register receipts will show your savings total. Put that in the Kitty. Tax refund-in the Kitty. Any found money goes in the Kitty.
When the Kitty gets full, take it to your bank or credit union and deposit it in your savings account. Here’s a great idea; Coinstar, the coin counting machines, are now participating with some credit unions and banks so that you can direct deposit your change right from Coinstar into your savings account.
Savings accounts don’t pay much interest, but don’t worry too much about that.
Once you start accumulating money, you’ll want to have it working as hard as you do and generating as high a rate of return as possible. But first, your goal is to have six months of budgeted living expense saved.
Distribute them between a savings account to collect the money and a Money Market Account to generate a higher return with no risk and easy liquidity.
Depending on your institution’s minimum money market balance, say $2500, you might want to collect $5,000 in your savings account and then move half to the money market account to get started.
After you have saved six months living expense, it’s time to start saving for the long term; start investing the overage in the S & P 500 and forget about it.
If you haven’t been saving, you probably haven’t been interested in investing. Start with what’s easy and works. Over time, the S & P has produced a solid rate of return.
Now that you are taking your money seriously, you may be tempted to seek the highest returns possible. Starting out, settle for security and performance history.
4. Plan your purchases
One key to savings is simply to eliminate all impulse buying. If you really want something, take your time, research it, and see when and where you might get the best price. Any kid who grew up during the depression will tell you that one of the greatest aspects of getting something they really wanted was anticipation. The waiting, the thinking, the dreaming often deliver greater satisfaction than the thing itself.
My uncle broke my new Pogo Stick on my tenth birthday before I ever even got to try it, and, despite promises, it was never replaced. I spent a lot of time anticipating my birthday and the joy of my Pogo Stick, and then I got to anticipate its replacement until winter came. Knowing me as I do, I probably would have gotten bored with jumping up and down after about four days, but many a happy hour was spent thinking about it.
Everything goes on sale at some point. And, if you plan your purchases, you’ll get a discount of 30-50 percent.
5. Buy things that last
…..like a better Pogo Stick. Often, the best value isn’t the cheapest but rather, the highest quality. Not having to replace something is an easy way to save money.
6. Ask, do I really need it?
I’ve made it through life without a Pogo Stick and still had a pretty good time, and plenty of ups and downs. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The point is that it is okay not to have everything you want. The thing probably won’t deliver the satisfaction you imagined and it won’t fill the void of wanting. In a short time, you will be wanting something else, and your former heart’s desire will collect dust somewhere.
7. Can you do it yourself?
Gardening is a pleasant hobby to some but, during the Depression, it was a necessity. Canning and preserving food is a chore but families then had no other choice. The added benefit of gardening is that you can have the most flavorful organic food without worrying about where it came from or how it was grown.
We do not know what we are capable of until we are really challenged. We can all do more for ourselves, get by on less, do without some things and, with the right mindset, become a nation of savers.
Depression era thinking is coming back. Throwing things away is so yesterday. Besides, there is no more “away” in which to “throw” things. The landfills are all full. Just when it seemed everything was headed for disposability, durability will make a comeback out of necessity.
The mantra of the Depression was, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without!” Now, that appears to be solid advice for the future. Being frugal could be the new fashion. And it could be fun.
George W. Mantor is known as “The Real Estate Professor” for his wealth building formula, Lx2+(U²)xTFP=$? and consumer education efforts.
During a career that has spanned more than three decades, he has amassed experience in new home and resale residential real estate, resort marketing, and commercial and investment property. He is currently the founder and president of The Associates Financial Group, a real estate consulting firm.
Prior to launching his own firm in 1992, he had been Director of Training and Customer Service for Great Western Real Estate. In addition, he has served on virtually every real estate committee, including a term as a Director of the California Association of REALTORS. He is the creator of the Personal Best System, a business and life planning process, and the Red Zone Time Planning System for Business Professionals.
Mantor can be reached at GWMantor@aol.com.