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Money down the drain. January 12, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Parents, listen up: This tip was so good our friend Ben simply had to share it. It’s from Dr. Gary North’s Tip of the Week e-mail, which is free and often contains excellent ideas for saving money (sign up at www.garynorth.com). This time, however, the tip is about wasting money, but wasting it in an excellent cause.

Dr. North received the tip from one of his subscribers, who had hit on a way to teach his daughter the value of money. When his daughter was home from college for a break, she’d rented some DVDs and failed to return them in time, racking up fees. The father returned the DVDs, calculated the amount she’d run up, and confronted his daughter. But rather than asking her to reimburse him, he told her to get the money and flush it down the toilet!

His horrified daughter begged to be allowed to give the money back to her father, to no avail. Reluctantly, she tossed the bills into the toilet and watched them wash away. He reports that she has been much more responsible about financial matters from that day forward. Talk about a graphic lesson!

Our friend Ben draws the following moral from this story: Sometimes the most memorable lessons come from doing the opposite of what you hope to teach. Keep this in mind next time your kid is careless with money. It might work for you, too!


Belt-tightening in tough times. December 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben subscribes to Gary North’s free weekly e-newsletter (www.garynorth.com), which focuses on sound financial advice that applies to everyone, even such low-budget creatures as myself. A friend suggested it a few years ago, and I’ve really enjoyed it, especially when Dr. North’s advice ties in to what I’ve always done, such as buying used cars for cash and keeping them going as long as possible.

Today brought a new newsletter to my inbox, and I eagerly opened it to see what Dr. North had to say for himself. He recommended an article on www.lewrockwell.com by Karen De Coster called “Tolerating Spiders, Credit Cards, and Other Depression Survival Tactics.” We tolerate a lot of spiders here at Hawk’s Haven, since they provide free 24/7 pest control and we refuse to use toxic chemicals that will kill us as well as pests, so I accessed the article with great interest.

Much of what Ms. De Coster had to say was both interesting and sensible, and I recommend that you read her suggestions and put them into practice. But her opening comments aggravated our friend Ben to such an extent that I decided to write this post to rebut them. Here’s why:

Ms. De Coster opened her piece by saying that she was going to provide practical, real-life advice on budget control, not “silly, impractical” ideas like turning down the thermostat (she keeps hers set at 74 degrees F.) or riding your bike to work. Instead, she suggests spraying toxic chemicals all over your home yourself to control spiders instead of paying a pest-control service to do so, and buying an expensive espresso machine to make your own lattes in the morning so you can consider Starbucks an occasional treat rather than a daily necessity.

Well. Our friend Ben concludes that Ms. De Coster is still drawing a regular paycheck, and is trying to make the most of it. Nothing wrong with that! But for those of us who are scraping by as freelancers, who have been laid off, or who for whatever reason find ourselves trying to keep the financial wolf from the door, her suggestions are a bit otherworldly. After last year’s fuel oil bills, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have turned our thermostat to 60 degrees, and are still talking about dropping it into the 50s before we go to bed. Yes, it’s cold in the house. Our fleece vests, fleece-lined slippers, and fingerless gloves help keep us warm while we’re working at the computer, and Silence has been known to keep her fleece jacket on over the fleece vest and wear some legwarmers to boot.

We’ve put those sausagelike fabric draft excluders at every door, including some that you wouldn’t imagine, like the door from the mudroom into the house and the door from one closet that seems to draw cold air from outside. We’ve tacked up bubble-wrap “curtains” over windows and unused doors that tend to be drafty. We have thermal-lined curtains over our windows. We’ve managed to cut our fuel oil bill in half. If Ms. De Coster would like to subsidize our fuel bill, we would be very happy to turn our own thermostat to 74 degrees. Otherwise, perhaps she should consider our plight, and the plight of millions who are even worse off, before she dismisses turning down the thermostat as “silly and impractical.”

Ditto for biking to work or using public transportation or (gasp) walking. We certainly don’t advocate biking or walking in bad weather. But if you can, leaving the car at home and getting to work by bus or bike or foot makes a lot of sense to us. (As my grandfather famously remarked when my teenaged father requested a car, “Walking’s not crowded.”) We envy those of you who have access to public transportation or whose jobs are within biking or walking distance. Conserving our non-renewable resources and getting some exercise doesn’t strike our friend Ben as “silly and impractical.” 

As for that espresso machine that will save you so much money, here’s a thought: How about unearthing the coffee machine you got as a wedding present or with your first apartment, making coffee, and skipping the espressos or lattes? I really don’t think it would kill you.

Enough griping. Ms. De Coster has some really great advice about, for example, credit cards, something our friend Ben had never read before. Read her article and get everything you can from it.

Here’s another piece of advice I urge you to consider: One thing Silence and I have been doing for the past several years of belt-tightening is prioritizing. Every year, we take stock of our expenses and priorities, and decide what really matters to us. Ms. De Coster, for example, says that she’s stopped subscribing to magazines. Silence and I have cut back on our magazine subscriptions, but we each continue to subscribe to one magazine we love, and we request subscriptions to other favorite magazines as Christmas gifts. We’ve also cut back on our professional and personal memberships, but we have, for example, continued our membership at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, since we love going there and being members saves us a considerable amount of money in fees we’d otherwise incur over a year.

Two places where Silence and I could have practiced belt-tightening are to stop putting out birdseed for our wild birds and to stop using our greenhouse in the winter. But we love our bird visitors, who provide endless entertainment for us, and we love our plants, which would die because of low night temperatures if we stopped heating our greenhouse. (They’re fine during the day, since we’ve done everything possible to make the greenhouse a solar collector.) We can’t imagine not taking care of our tiny flock of six heirloom chickens, who give us an abundance of rich, organic eggs for much of the year, or our outdoor cats, drop-offs abandoned at our rural property who provide companionship and earn their keep many times over by keeping the rodent population under control.

On the other hand, we’ve dramatically changed our views towards groceries. We’re both native Southerners, and being Southern seems to include a genetic predisposition towards brand loyalty. So it’s been a struggle, but we’ve finally managed to free ourselves from most of our standard brands and buy what’s on sale, and store brands, instead. (We haven’t managed to abandon all our beloved brands, but we now look for sales on our faves—10 for $10 on Coke products, for example, as opposed to $1.89 per bottle, or great deals on Kleenex or our preferred cheeses.)

How about you? If you have some great budget-stretching ideas, we would really love to hear them. What a wonderful way to ring in the new year. Our blog mentor and hero, Ben Franklin, would approve!