Saturday, March 7, 2009

Weary of Financial Advice

It seems that everywhere you turn, advice on dealing with personal finances flows. From news stories on television and talk radio to ads in the media, everyone is advising how to save money in "these tough economic times."

I grow weary of it all. However, I realize that most folks have little financial discipline. They carry huge debt, don't save, and live paycheck to paycheck.

I think what set me off on this rant was an interview that I watched on TV news recently while preparing dinner. The interviewer was speaking with a young married couple who have a small child. They live in a typical middle-class neighborhood. Both parents work. The child's grandmother provides daycare.

Okay, all well-and-good. Then the woman chimes in, "oh, I save a lot of money now by changing what we do for dinner. Instead of going out to eat as often, I stop by (insert name of fast-food chain here) and bring dinner home!" Like she discovered penicillin, the extols the "virtues" of bringing take-out home to eat. Does anyone besides me see what's wrong with this picture?

The interviewer compounded the aggravation of the silly story by complimenting her on her choice to "eat at home more often." And then the yuppie Dad says, "and I can even have leftovers to snack on later." Oh, puhleeze....

I heard a report on the radio that people are changing their habits about lunch. Yep, instead of going to a restaurant every day, some buy ... you get it ... fast food and bring it back to the office.

Throughout mainstream media, reporters tend to miss the mark entirely. All of the "advice" that I hear is not helpful, and actually promotes some really bad and expensive things to do.

For my partner and me, our views are different. Perhaps it is because we both are children of parents who lived through the Great Depression. We are frugal, but not cheap. For example, we always eat a home-cooked meal every evening. We do something that seems to be unusual (at least as far as main stream media observes): we go to the grocery store once a week and stock up on foods that we use to prepare a well-balanced meal for dinner AND for lunch AND for breakfast that we pack to take to work each day.

We believe in having breakfast, though with our schedules, we bring breakfast to work and eat it upon arrival. And for three meals a day, seven days a week, we are spending about US$100 per week on a full range of fresh vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and other goods. That's about an average of US$2.38 for each well-balanced meal for two adults.

I should say, though, that my partner's "avocation" or interest in grocery stores helps here. He cuts coupons, and when we prepare our shopping list, he reviews the store's weekly ad for what's on sale and matches sales with coupons. By using the store's loyalty card (which gets you the "sale" prices) and coupons, we save an average of US$50 every single week on our groceries. Seriously -- that much. The investment of time in reviewing the ad, making a list, matching coupons is definitely worth it.

And don't get me started when all the yuppies start yapping about not going to Starsucks "every" day -- that they've "cut back" to fewer visits each week. I bring a can of Coke Zero to work with me in the morning for my morning Caffeine shot, and drink water throughout the day otherwise.

Another thing has bothered me is all the advice on saving on utilities. Suddenly yuppies have "gone green" and are discovering CFLs (compact fluorescent lights). Heck, we've used them for over a decade. And if I hear advice to install a programmable thermostat one more time, I'll scream. We have four such devices for the four separate heating/cooling zones and have had the thermostats and zones since the house was built. We heat or cool only the rooms that we occupy at different times of the day. Our utility bills for heating and cooling are 1/3 what our neighbors are paying.

Don't even mention about paying down credit card debt. We never carry a balance, thus, we never incur finance charges. My partner and I both think the same way: only charge what you can pay for when the bill comes due. We use credit cards, but only for major ticket items or for internet purchases -- but not for small charges. We still pay cash for most in-person transactions, including groceries. It's a well-researched fact that when you spend cash, you're less likely to spend as much. With plastic, you never really "see" the money.

Well, now you know my "secret." I have never adopted -- in fact I have strongly rejected -- the yuppie outlook on personal finances. Or in other words, my partner and I still hold true to the values our parents taught us. We save for a rainy day, we don't carry debt, and we buy only what we can afford and pay for.

So thanks anyway, Suze or whoever... we're doin' just fine. Go help those yuppie-wanna-be's out there who have their financial house in disarray and priorities out of order.


Tef said...

And if I hear advice to install a programmable thermostat one more time, I'll scream.

Maybe if I start giving financial advice too, you'll throw a bitch fit? Hahaha...

But you're spot on. I can't figure how people can treat Starbucks as staple. I keep a tin of freeze dried coffee powder where I work so I can get my cuppa in the morning. Breakfast is a little tough since I can't wake up any earlier than 6 am; I go sleep too late and don't have enough sleep. But if I have time, I cook up a proper meal at home. Otherwise, eating out in Singapore ain't all that expensive.

Hope your weekend commitments went fine!

David J said...

Spot on. My partner and I are the same: we prepare our own food, have been using low energy light bulbs for about 10 years now, and try to live within our means. (I've even saved up for every pair of boots I've bought)!

It's a bit long, but here's my take on the Credit Crunch (though it looks a little out of date now as I write it last September).