So, lately we’ve been hearing a lot of cheery news. The economy is turning around. The crime rate is dropping. Retail sales are rising. Houses are selling. Prosperity is just around the corner.
Yeah, and flying monkeys are desperately trying to launch themselves headlong into space from my rear end.
OK, OK, at least as long as you’re employed, insured and relatively healthy, things aren’t too bad. Inflation may be up, but that’s not necessarily all bad, either. After all, I’ve always wanted to wear a $200 shirt and drive a $200,000 car. Thanks to inflation, even in my 10-year-old Subaru and my rattiest and most vintage wife beater, I’m almost there.
I don’t care what they say, especially around election year, times are still plenty tough and belt-tightening remains the norm, if not the rage, except in Washington, where thrift is at best an unintended consequence and at worst a punch line. Back here in the real world, where everything is going up except incomes and life expectancies, we’re still looking for ways to trim the fat, as it were.
Now, I will admit I’m the last guy in the world who should be giving financial advice. I am the guy who approached school with the mindset of if you set your academic goals low enough, you could do what you wanted. Coupled with enthusiastic and frequent investments in as many products made in Milwaukee as I could consume guaranteed, I was able to achieve all my goals. This philosophy would follow me well into my adult years only slightly modified by the caveat I wouldn’t have to worry about retirement because I’d be dead long before I retired. However, as the years go by, it occurs to me my luck is such I will live forever only if I remain desperately impoverished. If I come into a fortune, such as the winning Powerball ticket, chances are I’ll get run over by a semi as I dance in the streets celebrating.
So, I’m guessing if my life were a Star Trek episode, Mr. Spock would give me the inverted Vulcan salutation -- “live long in misery,” or some such. Thus, I have learned to pathologically seek out new cost savings ... go boldly where no penurious, miserly curmudgeon has ever gone before.
The thing is, too, most expenses aren’t so big -- they’re just numerous. There is great truth to the phrase, “getting nickeled and dimed to death.” Granted, the few big ones will mount you like a pack mule, but the vast majority is simply a school of baby piranhas, each taking a tiny little bite until you look around and realize you are a walking, talking X-ray, so to speak.
So what is a poor old scribbler like me -- rich in everything but filthy lucre -- to do?
Well, speaking of nickels and dimes, as a long time silver miner -- that is, one who shakes sofa cushions, ashtrays, coffee cans, pants in the laundry hamper, and the kitchen junk drawer for loose change -- I can tell you a couple of fun factoids:
1. A car ashtray will hold about $17.73 in loose change, give or take a buck fifty, if you have the patience to fill it and assuming cars still come with ashtrays.
2. A large plastic solo cup, the mainstay of keggers everywhere, will hold $35 - $65 bucks in loose change, if you have the patience to fill it.
3. An empty magnum of champagne will hold almost $200 in loose change, if you have the patience to fill it.
4. If you cash in all those ash trays, solo cups and empty magnums of your loose change, use the coin counter machine at your own bank -- it’s easy, convenient and, most important, they won't charge you for the service as long as they’re your bank. Other coin counters might be more conveniently located, but beware the piranha school, I mean small percentage charge which, well, nickel and dime you significantly.
I used to scoff at the coupon clippers and bargain hunters in line in front of me. Now I hold up the Express Lane with great joy. Clip those coupons and use those cards the grocery stores offer -- they’re like having coupons without having to keep up with them.
I also used to scornfully regard those folks with all those generic brand items in their carts. Store brand? What are you, some kind of peasant? Well, yeah, I am. My name’s Jim Tatum, not Jay Rockefeller and I just write for the newspaper; I don’t own it. As far as earnings go, newspaper writers are so poor we have to borrow money from teachers.
I suppose lightning could strike at some point. People find old mason jars full of gold bullion and lost Picassos in their attics all the time.
Owww -- another winged primate failed to launch.