Saturday, May 3, 2014

Eighty or bust

The other day, I was in Costco picking up a few things for my entrepreneurial endeavor. While there, I spied a gentleman with a dolly loaded up with what had to be the hugest TV I have ever seen in all my life. I mean the thing was enormous, eighty inches at the very least. I saw it, processed it briefly and went about my business. Clearly, it was a troubling sight because this morning, as I was again, about my own business, that image returned to me afresh. The insight (if you want to call it that), that I drew from the sight of a man and an eighty inch TV was just "Really?" followed by, the very judgmental "Meanwhile you ain't saving nothing for when you get old". Like I said, very judgmental.

I get (no, actually I don't get it, but I'm going to pretend that I do) the attraction of the eighty inches of television. For one thing, people like me are going to see you in the store driving your cart around and think something about you. Maybe some folk will be envious of your ability to buy an 80 inch TV. Maybe some people will assume you have a home theater that actually has room for such a monstrosity (sorry, judgement again). And then there was me, probably the only person immediately wondering if we've learned anything from this last vicious recession and the need to be judicious in our spending. I shudder to think that we haven't.

There is nothing wrong with retail therapy. Again, I'm saying that but I don't really believe it. Retail therapy has both its place and its people. Food therapy likewise has got its place and its people. Both also have their consequences. As a proponent of food therapy, I understand this all too well. I am also a proponent of 'workout therapy' to compensate for the ill effects of said food therapy. Just to be clear.

I was reading recently that perhaps as many as 85% of Weight Watchers users/clients are repeat users. In fact, the business model for the various weight loss clubs and products is based on that one critical fact. Yes the product must work, but far more importantly, we who use it, must fail to apply the lessons permanently to our lives. It is this one fact that ensures that we will return time and time again. Something very similar is true with financial management or the lack thereof. If we get on the payday loan treadmill for example, we rarely if ever get off. If we get into the habit of swiping our credit card for minutiae - and neglecting to pay off the balance - one day we wake up to discover that we're piling new debt onto old and paying copious amounts of interest on all of it.Whether it is as catastrophic as payday loans or just carrying a large credit card balance, the effect is the same: financial treadmill.

For me, the thing that really saddens me with Mr 80" TV is the greater issue: the long term plan. Are we preparing for retirement; preparing for long term illness; building an estate which we can leave to someone else; building multi-generational wealth with the same eagerness that we rush out and buy 80" of TV or the latest i-product? My guess is no.

I understand the rush that shopping gives. It makes you feel good to have something new and fancy and let's face it, nothing beats that new purchase smell. Believe me I get it! I've felt the rush and enjoyed the smell a time or two myself. However, at some point, we've got to start thinking about the long term consequences of our buying/spending behavior. Whereas the long term consequences of our eating behavior are readily apparent, the consequences of our spending behavior are more private and perhaps more easily avoided. We can only pretend for so long that our clothes still fit. Likewise, we have to know when our budget and finances can no longer 'fit' the things we're doing. The question is: will we continue to live in denial?

I really wish we would all cast our eyes behind us for an instant. It is said that when you know better, you do better. That's true and not. We first have to decide we want to do better. Better is not a happenstance. Better does not fall out of the sky and hit you in the head. 'Better' requires real work. Eighty inches of TV doesn't strike me as being the route to better. And yes, that is a judgement. Or maybe not. Maybe it's straight talk?

big screen tv photo: Big Sceen TV DSC01598.jpg

When it comes to weight loss, 'better' is no carbs after 2 pm - so says Bob Harper; or working out 6 days a week for 45 minutes or more - so says Jillian Michaels; or no carbs six days out of seven. Something. Better requires effort and discipline and plenty of each. When it comes to financial dieting,  better starts with separating 'want' and 'need'. If we do that assessment, ain't no way an eighty inch TV is going to land in the 'need' column. I'm not saying you can't want it, I'm just saying ain't no way you 'need' it.

I will never say, "Live frugally to the point of extracting no joy from the money you earn". Heavens no! I think I'm pretty frugal and yet I manage to shop and buy one or two nice things for myself from time to time, I just try not to make a religion out of it. And when I'm doing some splurgy thing, I try to be sure that the 'needs' have been properly addressed. First.

Many of us have a great deal of financial rebuilding to do in this post-Great Recession period. Many of us are frustrated by how far back we have fallen and have perhaps given up on the idea of catching up. OK. Maybe it is nearly impossible to get caught up. So what? Does that mean we don't even try? Does that mean we just throw financial caution to the winds and find the nearest Bernie Madoff to whom we will hand our hard-earned money?

C'mon man! Wake up! Or as Samuel L. Jackson said in that Mellody Thomas ABC money matters documentary, "Wake the Eff Up!" Nobody said any of this was going to be easy but considering where many of our forebears (of all colors and ethnicities) started out, we have it significantly easier. Getting straight with our money starts with getting straight with ourselves. We know we don't NEED those massive TVs. We only bought 'em cuz the fellas is coming over to watch Pacquiao vs. Mayweather or some other such great event. If that's the case, couldn't we just rent the thing, watch the fight and give it back? Seriously. 

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