Save America

Is anyone else disturbed and embarrassed by our national debt? America’s way of doing business is expensive. The current national debt is a staggering  $ 1 6 , 1 7 8 , 3 1 4 , 5 3 1 , 7 5 3 . 2 4 . It’s hard to quantify such a number. I think it would be accurate to describe it as irresponsible and disheartening. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t run-up by one administration, or one party. If America truly is a democratic republic, then we all have a part in this number. If the government works for us, we have a responsibility – an obligation – to see this number go down. But how?

I certainly don’t know the answers, but I do know what our household does when we forecast a shortfall in our budget. I don’t demand more money from my employer or go out looking for a higher-paying job. We reduce spending. We look seriously at what is a ‘want’ and what is a ‘need’. We make do. We scrimp. We pinch. We save. We survive. It’s simple math. Spend less than you make. Live within your means.

At some point we as a country stopped making fiscal responsibility a priority. We treat debt as a way of life – a necessity to live the ‘American Dream’. It isn’t. True, the politicians all know how to pay lip-service as to how they plan to lower that number, but it will take each one of us to adopt financial accountability as a priority in our own lives. Isn’t it hypocritical to expect the government to be debt-free if we’re not? I think if we want to save America, we need to save, America.

Recipe for Saving

It’s no secret that dining out too often will help your wallet lose weight. This familiar mantra is one of the many ‘battle cries’ of Dave Ramsey, financial author, radio talk-show host and motivational speaker. If you’re one of the millions who tunes in to the Dave Ramsey Show you know all too well how often the rice and beans ‘diet’ is prescribed to financially-strapped callers as a means to a wealthier, healthier lifestyle. Dave recommends a simple, six-stage “baby steps” formula (based in part on the debt snowball method), which includes avoiding all debt (except for certain types of home mortgages) and investing conservatively —  advice he more affectionately refers to as ‘grandma’s common-sense’.

If you’re new to Dave Ramsey, or even a long-time listener of his radio show, you can attend a Dave Ramsey Show Simulcast on Saturday, October 6th. Visit this link for more details. 

Paper Route

One of my first paying gigs as a kid was delivering the local paper. For maybe a year or two I shared this responsibility with my older sister and younger brother. I still remember the delivery truck dropping our route’s stack of newspapers at our doorstep before sunrise. From there we rapidly tuck-rolled each paper and like cords of firewood filled the front and back pouches of the canvas delivery vest. It was a relatively easy route; four cul de sac streets, a couple apartment complexes and some outlaying developments – still a fair amount of work for kids (and helpful parents) willing to earn a dollar.

I didn’t mind the delivery, it was collecting subscription fees that really stunk. I still remember going door-to-door with that ring-bound book of perforated date tabs printed on index card-sized pages each bearing the subscriber’s name and address. I recall knocking timidly on all those subscriber’s doors awaiting an answer and simply uttering the word ‘collect’ when someone did. Looking back I think they despised the whole process as much as we did. In fact, I would bet that many simply didn’t answer to delay having to pay for the paper. I really didn’t care if they did, because it made the unpleasant task much shorter.

As miserable as delivering fish wrap was, it did require a lot of values that I wish to teach my boys. I don’t know that I’ll ever encourage them to don the canvas delivery vest anytime soon to hoof through the neighborhood during the wee hours of daybreak, but a good dose of responsibility beyond doing household chores would certainly prepare them more for the adult responsibilities of employment… On second thought, do households of delivery boys get a FREE subscription?

Money Talks

It’s funny how people’s attitudes about wealth in this country have become skewed. One of the things that makes this country great is the freedom of choice. Every time you are faced with more than one option you have the ability to exercise the power of that freedom. When you make a decision to purchase you’re essentially voting with your dollar. It’s a simple concept, I know, but how many people look at it that way?

The price of goods and services is largely determined by the law of supply and demand. Why then do some Americans have a problem with businesses that have become wealthy? In most cases, their wealth is simply the spoils of working hard to develop and sell a product or service that the people have determined they want. The more demand, the higher the price. If you don’t want to line the pockets of (insert successful widget-seller here) then don’t buy their product (that is, assuming you have a choice).

It makes little sense in my mind to bellyache about the high price of something and then turn around and buy some of it. You’re perpetuating the law that makes it so. Granted, your vote won’t override the millions of others but if everyone truly looked at their money in this way I’m sure we’d all become more fiscally responsible. If only it were that simple.

Inflation

What’s a dollar worth these days? Just Tuesday, we met with our new financial adviser (for the record – we didn’t fire our last one, he quit the firm) and looked over some of our retirement accounts and investments. It’s crazy to see what the past year of recession economics has done to our portfolio. We were assured that as a nation we’re on the way out, but we still have a ways to go. The president was quoted recently stating that the answer is to “spend our way out” of this downturn. I wasn’t an economics major, but I realize that when times are tough people tend to spend LESS and save MORE. I even heard that because so many people are saving, it’s destroying the credit card industry (I find it ironic that this is viewed as a problem, but then I’m not in the credit card business). So, do we spend money we don’t have to get out of debt? It’s an interesting premise. I’ll let the econ geniuses wrestle with that one.

Time for a New Tradition

Well, today’s the big day. Will this year’s receipt totals prove that our economy is finally on the mend? Personally, I don’t partake in the consumerist hysteria surrounding Black Friday. Yes, I realize there are great deals out there. Yes, I know that shopping is synonomous with the holiday season. No, I’m not against capitalism. I just don’t get supercharged about rising hours before the sun to feed the gluttonous idea of a materialistic Christmas. It seems that every year, the lists are longer, the budgets more bloated and still nobody’s any happier than they were the year before. In the process people simply end up over-extending themselves financially (isn’t that what kicked off our recession troubles to begin with?). Knowing full well that we don’t really need anything (or have the space to put any of it) we’ve decided to spend half of what we did on Christmas last year and give the other half to a local charity. I don’t know that it will be a huge hit with our kids, but I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned. Besides, I kind of thought Uncle Sam needed to lose a few pounds anyway, so I’m really not seeing the need for a big piece of cake.