Spendology

Loyalty Programs: Bogus!

Posted on: Sunday, December 11th, 2011
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Everybody’s looking for a way to save money these days.  And nobody’s got more brilliant ideas than Corporate America.  You can’t buy a cup o’ jo or a paperclip without some store-clerk puppet mouthing that smarmy question:

Are you a Bogus Bonus member?”

  • Trick question

This stressed-out consumer dodged those programs like telemarketing calls until, dang it, the cash flow was turning pink and some stores were bleeding my wallet.  Take my hardware store (please): When procuring $1,000 worth of lawn equipment, the sales woman got me all aroused at my potential payback.

  • How could I say no?

So I signed up.  There, and most everywhere.  So now and then, a $5 (or whatever) discount diploma comes in the mail.  One must take them when going to the store. And not forget to use it.  Before the expiration date.  And when shopping, they’ll probably have an irresistible snow blower on the counter, and you’ll spend another $1,000.

  • Worth the hassle?

Are they worth it?  In a word, no.  The issuers send junk mail and spam.  They profile your purchases and probably sell or trade your data.  They pay back a fraction of what you spent to get the “discount.”  And usually, they make you carry around little cards and fobs that make your jeans bulge in strange ways.

  • Take care of your millions…

Back in the day, I worked at a small ad agency with Audrey the Accountant.  She would preach,

If we take care of our pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”

Well, yes, BUT.  In the case of loyalty marketing programs, it’s too easy to start thinking like “them,” instead of thinking for yourself.  You get tempted to take extra airline flights to “get the miles.”  You get nowhere.

Audrey, may I respectfully suggest that if you take care of your millions, your dollars will take care of themselves.  Oh, you don’t have millions?  Well then, start saving.  Because spending is rarely the route to wealth.

 

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Freedom from Financial Angst

Posted on: Monday, July 4th, 2011
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What does freedom mean to you?  Americans continue to feud about that question like the Hatfields and McCoys.  But to this Yankee, personal freedom means, above all, freedom from financial angst.  Life is too short to spend it fretting about debt, regret, and lost dreams.

  • Money Maven Kara McGuire Suggests 5 Tips

It’s not that hard to get out of the red.  Just yesterday, the Star Tribune’s “Your Money” column offered 5 tips that may be easier read than done, but can help achieve financial indpendence.  The author suggests spending some holiday weekend time (on the hammock) pondering these sensible ideas.

Like…

  1. Revisit your retirement-saving regimen.
  2. Teach your children well—including common sense about dollars and cents.
  3. Free yourself from debt.  ‘Nuff said.
  4. Just say no, thank you, to pricey splurges.
  5. Seek financial independence by brushing up on your estate and retirement planning.
  • America has a spending problem

Thanks to Ms. McGuire for keeping the holiday speech upbeat.  That’s not easy. Consider:  A TIME magazine poll recently found that 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of income earners.  With such widespread delusional living, it’s no surprise we have an epidemic of economic dysfuncionality.

  • Set yourself free

The good news, of course, is that here in the USA, we remain mostly free to determine our own destiny.  Our money habits will determine much of that fate, as well as whether one can afford that career break, or even a simple, sweet vacation at the lake.

So take Kara’s advice.  And if you want 11 (super-short) more ideas, speed-read my “11 Commandments of Fiscal Fitness.” Then, enjoy a day off.  Watch the clouds and the fireworks.  And envision a life free from financial fear.

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American (Money) Idiots

Posted on: Thursday, December 2nd, 2010
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P1000896We Merr’kuns may still be learning our money math. But if a downturn is good for anything, it’s for ruthless fiscal forehead-gripping—for economists and Joe 6-Packs alike. 

The good news:  Americans are reducing their credit card usage.  In fact, more than 8 million people stopped actively using their cards in the past year.  Now a big part of that is because many folks have gotten their swiper taken away.  But maybe we’re also wising up, and those 20-something interest rates just don’t interest us any more. Still, the sad fact remains that the average credit card balance hovers around $5,000.  Ugh.

The bad news: Our college students admit to overall cluelessness about managing their own money, and (of course) blame their parents.  (Duh!)  

The latest digits…

  • 77% of students said they didn’t feel fully prepared to manage their own money when they went to college, according to a BookRenter College Experience survey.
  • 85% believed that it was a parent’s responsibility to actively teach them about money.
  • 5% felt that the onus of learning about money is on them. 

The best news:  Only 5% think (I mean “feel”) the onus (what’s an “onus,” anyway?) is “on them.”  Self-esteem must be thriving, even when the fiscal fitness is getting way flabby. 

In The Graduate, Mr. Mcguire says,

I want to say just one word to you.  Just one word, Benjamin…

Yes, sir, Mr. McGuire?

Plastics.”

Could we finally have Graduated from Plastics?

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Excess & the Stuff of Life

Posted on: Friday, April 16th, 2010
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | One comment

DSC_0384_2When schlepping more stuff into the house the other day, a brilliant idea hit me: 

How about a family project in which we try to acquire nothing new for one month. (Okay, except for food and wine.) 

I ran it by a few family members; the idea elicited eye-rolling, if that. 

Fine, I figured.  Simplicity is not so simple.  We can keep crowding ourselves in our cluttered habitat.  And such challenges will only help me with my Zen training, right?  Anyway, spring has sprung, so a guy can finally ditch the house and dig the outdoors. 

  • Self-imposed scarcity gets trendy

Little did I know that bloggers and books are rampant about the relentless pursuit of living with less.  Some of it is recession and spend/save related, though the political and spiritual motivations may carry more weight.

One couple subsisted with a food budget of a dollar a day, blogged about it, and made many dollars on the book deal they landed fast after the near-fast ended. 

A San Fran artist has given up autos—even riding in anyone else’s—and has 15 months under his belt.  Of course he, too, has a blog to share his saga

And up in Seattle, a diehard fashionista has sworn off buying new duds (other than underwear) for a year.  And has lived to tell the tale.

Of course, TIME magazine recently brought all these projects into the old-school media mainstream with a feature.

  • Back home, the stuff-fungus grows on

Wish we had a bigger house, but then we’d just fill that one with more stuff too.  Meantime, the last week alone brought (bought?) a ton of new baseball equipment for The Boy.  Dance uniforms (3) and American Girl gear for The Girl.  And several springy garments (albeit secondhand) for the wife.  (NOTHING left the house, save trash.) 

As for me?  Nothing new!  That’s some level of success, right?  After all, we learn over and over that we can only control our own actions.  And when it comes to stuff-coveting, self-control isn’t easy. 

Much of America is blessed with so, so much.  The question is:  When do blessings become burdens?

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The Time/Belt-Tightening Continues…

Posted on: Friday, March 5th, 2010
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frfruitWhich is more important:  How you spend your money…or your time?

Over the past decade and around the world, people are increasingly eating out, ordering in, and picking up their edibles.  Such habits may save time, but they typically cost much more than making your own meals.

One upside of this relentless recession is that folks may be getting more finicky about how they spend both time and money–including regarding food.  Even the French are changing their ways!  To wit:

  • 66% of Americans say they have changed their food consumption patterns as a result of the economy.
  • 72% of Americans now pack lunch for themselves or their children.
  • The French now spend an average of 31 minutes eating lunch, down from an hour and 38 minutes in 1975.  (Which likely saves time AND money.)

As usual, such symbolic stats suggest both good news and bad news.

Bad: What’s Paris without leisurely lunches?  What happens to all those restaurant artisans and traditions?  What are the French doing with that extra hour—working?  Zut alors!

Good: If Americans are changing their eating ways, maybe (just maybe) we’ll save on both money AND calories, since packing lunch may whisper “apple” instead of bellowing “Big Mac.”  Bottom line: Growing (or at least cooking) your own is good soul food–time well spent that typically costs less.

The balance battle of money versus time wages on for each of us.  But for most folks, it’s the shortage of jingle that keeps them from dancing away on a Sabbatical dream.  Perhaps simply taking charge of your own food–rather than constantly saying “charge it”–will help people create money-saving habits that someday, someday, will lead them to a BreakAway.

And then they can go out for a long, classy lunch in Paris!    :  )

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$ome $aving Tips from W$J

Posted on: Saturday, December 5th, 2009
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DSC_0674_2Saving money can be hard work. Worse: Many strategies have no obvious, immediate payoff. I mean, who can figure the savings for, like, not leaving all the lights on?  WSJ—that’s who.

This article has tips that are good for saving (for your BreakAways), good for the earth, and in some cases even good for your health. 

To encourage you to read more, here are a few pecuniary teasers:

  • Cool down:  Turning down the thermostat can save hundreds yearly.
  • Slow down:  Drive 55 and save 70 cents per gallon.
  • Use your legs:  Biking or walking to work could easily save a thou or more annually. 
  • Brown-bag it:  Save another thou (or more—and that may include daily calories!) by taking a lunch to work. 
  • Don’t grocery-shop on an empty stomach.  
  • Get a better credit card. 
  • Get your DVDs from the library. 

Check it out!

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Survey Sez: Home & Retirement Values Look Bleak

Posted on: Saturday, September 26th, 2009
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RAROV_1_2

photo by Kirk Horsted

This darn recession shows little sign of mellowing. Oh sure, the economic indicators and trading markets look better. But without the infusion of massive (borrowed) cash courtesy of Uncle Sam, we’d still be sinking. Just ask the Average American—who volunteered this depressing assessment of their major holdings…

  • 25 percentage of Americans who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth
  • 70 percentage of Americans who aren’t sure they’ll save enough for retirement
Is there a silver lining here? Possibly, but remember that silver isn’t worth much compared to America’s gold-standard lifestyle. Perhaps the best hope is that the cycle has to end someday. And then home prices will again start rising, mortgages will seem more worthwhile, and retirement accounts will be both higher in value and priority.
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Coupon Clipping Makes a Comeback

Posted on: Friday, September 25th, 2009
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Thanks to the miserable economy, coupons — like board games and family dinners — have made a comeback.  Who’da thunk it?  Coupon clipping peaked in 1992 and then nearly died off.  But usage rose 23% in the first half of this year and could nearly double next year. 
 
This recent NYT story cites these interesting trends…
 
  • The affluent led the rally; households earning more than $70,000 are the top users
  • Printable website coupon usage is skyrocketing, thanks to sites like redplum.com and coupons.com
  • In tough economic times, people like the feeling that they’re doing something to survive and thrive—rather than just getting all depressed and whiny
 
Great, but don’t forget to save for sunny days…
 
If consumers also practiced such discipline and diligent pennypinching when times were good, perhaps they could enjoy more vacations, weekend escapes and even three-month BreakAways.  But with any luck, these good habits can last even when the wealth effect makes folks feel flush again.  We can only hope…
 
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Survey Sez: We’re Smothered With Stuff

Posted on: Saturday, September 19th, 2009
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The suffering economy may be leading people to couponing and cocooning, but we’re still suffocating in stuff.  Gosh, when I recently took some high-quality clothes to a local consignment store, they rejected almost all of it.  “We just can’t handle any more inventory; we’re stuffed!” the manager told me. 
 
If the stuff surrounding you seems to be growing like a fungus, you’re not alone, as this Zogby Interactive survey suggests: 
 
  • 22 Percentage of U.S. adults who have given away more than 10% of their belongings because they were no longer needed
  • 17 Percentage who said they gave things away in the past year because they have too much 
  • 28 Percentage who said they had given away more of their belongings in the past year than they had previously
 
Let’s face it:  We’re not addicted to love (as the song says), we’re addicted to stuff!  And shopping!  No doubt there are cultural reasons (the buy-buy messages never stop, and shopping is social), and probably some psychological ones (retail “therapy” and oh, the joy of the purchase!). 
 
Nonetheless, imagine how much more money we’d have if we could limit our addiction.  And with that extra money, we could slow down, buy some time and give ourselves a BreakAway. 
 
After all—as we say on this website over and over—the best investment you can make is in good memories.  Because nothing appreciates more over time. 
 
No, not even your stuff. 
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Blame Us: 40% Spend > They Earn

Posted on: Monday, June 29th, 2009
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We blame the banks.  Blame the Wall Streeters.  Blame the Joneses.  But once again, we did it ourselves.  This fine article reminds us that the average credit card debt has hovered around $8,400.  And more than 40% of U.S. households spend more than they earn.  And that was BEFORE the current meltdown really got nasty. 

The history of consumption in America goes back decades.  But the propensity to “need” posh stuff is fairly recent—and went off the charts for a while. 

If we can buck that trend—and save a few bucks instead—not only will our nation will be stronger, but we’ll be able to afford more BreakAways. 

 

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