Sunday, June 22, 2008

Economic downturn and the "glorification of good."

Okay, this post may be awful for the following reasons:

1. I am admittedly ignorant to the full scope of the United States economic situation because I haven't lived there in nearly a year and thus haven't had the opportunity to really feel financially affected by it.

2. Even if I were living in America, I wouldn't be using my salary to support an entire family (because I don't have one), so perhaps what do I know?
(This point works in conjunction with point number one. Food prices in Denmark have also been rising in recent months, but I have yet to really feel the effect because I only feed myself, so my grocery budget is small-scale. To further clarify the extent of "not feeling it," I still have my gym membership.)

3. I read the article that prompted me to write this impromptu post* in my RSS right before I was about to hop into bed, so I'm tired and probably rambling to the point of incoherence right now... I'm will very likely sound extraordinarily bitchy at times. You've been warned.
* Can you be prompted to do something that is impromptu? I think so. I think maybe the real point of this remark was that I was interested in the way the words looked and sounded together. It's the prompt similarity. Interesting. Gah, I'm tired.

But, anyway, I have a few comments about THIS Associated Press article.
For Michelle Hovis, that means refilling her husband's used soda container from a 2-liter bottle she buys on sale for 98 cents. She tweaked his daily habit of buying a 20-ounce bottle when the price crept up to $1.39.
No better time to cut soda out of your diet, Mr. Hovis. I mean, seriously, I'm just saying. It's like people think it's necessary to drink soda. It has no nutritional value. Even coffee has been shown to have some nutritional value. (beer has too, in case you're wondering. I was too lazy to look for studies, but google both coffee and beer and nutritional value or health benefits or something along those lines... You'll see.)
While the idea that little costs add up is nothing new, it comes with added sticker shock as food and gas prices sprint along at a record pace. The result is that people are finally putting the brakes on vices once considered necessary — like frappuccinos.
Who has ever considered a frappuccino a necessity? Sure, they are delicious, but surely no one thinks they will cease to exist without them? Air, my friends, is a necessity. Water is a necessity. I think we can agree on these. Frappuccinos, on the other hand, though they incorporate both of those elements (water in its solid form of ice, air in the form of, oh you know, being blended in), is not a necessity. I don't think I've ever known anyone who has perceived it as such. I'd like to meet those people.

A $1.50 bottle of soda for each weekday of the year, for example, would add up to about $390. Now at $2 in some parts of the country, the habit comes with an annual price tag of $520. Over five years, that's $2,600.

This is the point where a financial planning guru might multiply the cost out for decades, demonstrating how a carbonated beverage is quietly robbing you of your retirement. Except now it's consumers crunching the numbers and agonizing over their wasteful ways.

Okay, do people really calculate how much they will save if they cut out soda for five years? Decades? Really? Is my financial future full-speed ahead bound towards failure if I'm not consciously doing this? Should I be thinking about these kinds of things in the decades-long term? Even as a year goes, $390-$520 doesn't even seem like that much money. I mean, I guess provided you cut elsewhere, but it seems like the average middle class individual wouldn't have a problem finding that extra money somewhere in their budget. I guess it's different for families... but still.

Taxis, mocha lattes and sports cable packages aren't even options for those who are suddenly out of a job. Others who rein in pricey habits are seeing the savings gobbled up by gas prices or mounting debt. But even among the relatively comfortable, rising prices are upending habits they've long known were costing too much anyway.

Duh. So, there's basically no hope for anyone, job or not, regardless of income level. They weren't costing too much a year ago... Addressing the last paragraphs sentences respectively. Oh, and as a side note, I can't wait to pay $4 for a latte. A grande latte from Starbucks costs the equivalent of about $15 (75dkk) in Denmark.

Cutting back doesn't have to mean a joyless existence, however. Simple measures like using cash instead of credit cards can make people more conscious of how much they spend, financial planners say. Taking a few hours to scan cell phone and cable bills for unnecessary charges can save, too. Shopping around for better deals when contracts run out is another good idea.

Take another few hours to call your cell phone or cable provider to dispute a small suspicious extra charge or two... What's worth more? Time or money?

Giving up pricey routines isn't stopping the Hovis family from enjoying life. Instead of buying pre-packaged Lunchables at around $4 apiece, Michelle Hovis makes her own using deli meats and cookie cutouts; her daughters don't know the difference.

Okay, first of all, the Lunchables with the deli meats and cheeses go on CRACKERS, not COOKIES. Sometimes you might get a cookie for dessert (usually a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, though), but it's not like its ham and American cheese on an oatmeal cookie. I'm just saying. Check your facts, AP. Crackers. I wonder if Ms. Hovis makes her own. Maybe she grinds the wheat and everything. How quaintly Amish! Secondly, I wonder if Ms. Hovis is still buying the overpriced Capri Suns that often come with Lunchables to continue her ruse on her daughters, whom she claims don't know the difference? Thirdly, it seems like economic downturn is the perfect time to introduce to them that they can have healthy, satisfying lunches that aren't prepackaged. Maybe even teach them how to make their own bagged lunch each evening using fresh ingredients that you buy as a family at the store each week. Look, family bonding, financial savings, and acquirement of a useful skill. Perfect.

To save money on gym memberships, they now take their two young daughters on family bike rides. There are no more trips to Chuck E. Cheese, but they have even more fun taking picnics at a nearby peach orchard.

Healthier, more family time, of course it's win win. What bothers me about this is that I don't know why the media feels the need to highlight families like this. There are plenty of families that did these kind of things before the economy started taking a nosedive. Like, even during the Clinton-era. They weren't all over the news for saving money and doing things as a family.

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Meh. End of bitch post.


jeff said...

really, it's all media hype and ridiculous spin.

all of your points are well founded. people forget the difference between need and want. you NEED clean drinking water. you WANT soda. you NEED shelter from the elements. you WANT a 3000sq ft home with a pool.

people forget that we're not entitled to excess. it's amazing what happens when you filter out what people tell you what you should have and take a hard look at what you really need. they say money doesn't grow on trees? it does when you start cutting out all the chaff from your life.

on a different note, i really like what you've written up here. i popped over from your account creation on btt. you hint at running in a couple posts. what sort of training do you do?

Sarah said...

Hi Jeff,

I'm glad you like my blog. I like writing it and, though I mainly write for myself, I like when people read and comment. :)

I just created my btt account because I saw someone had one on another blog. I haven't really played around with it yet. As far as "training" goes, I'm not sure I "train," per se. I like to run and go out a couple of times a week, but I haven't really ever incorporated anything specific to increase speed or distance or anything like that. My usual running route is about 8k. Running is just something I've done on and off over the years because it makes me feel good. I don't really consider myself a runner, but I guess I am, sorta. I'm just not sure I would ever say it is an identifying characteristic about me though, you know? :) I've ran a lot of 5ks and I just ran my first chipped 10k last week, "to see if I could." Well, I could and I finished in under and hour, which was my goal, but I'm sure I can do it faster if I actually pushed myself. (same with 5k times) I tend to just go out and jog a comfortable pace, racing or not. I finish and I'm like "Okay, I did it... where's the free food?" :) ... But I never push myself any further than just, you know, going out and doing it in the first place. I'm debating a few more races here in Denmark this summer. Perhaps another 10k. I'm actually kinda surprised I can do that distance so comfortably. It just kind of happened without my realizing it. I'm moving back to the States in September and I'm already signed up for a few more 5ks - mostly because it's the easiest distance to find races for. I think I'd like to do an 8k, 15k, and a 10 miler as my next couple "Hmmm, can I do it?" distances. :) My life is in flux right now because I'm not really sure what I'll be doing or where I will be living after I get back to America in September. I think running is largely a tactic I use to not think about how confused I am about my future. Meh. This post makes no sense. Sorry. I'm tired. I just got to work and I slept horribly last night.

I hope you keep reading my blog. You should read some of the back posts. :)