How to Spend Less on Yourself and Share More with Others (Who REALLY Need It)
Monday, September 24, 2007
Despite my well publicized spending phobia - or maybe because of it - people often assume that the Ultimate Cheapskate must be a mean spirited, selfish, greedy individual.
My wallet anxiety aside, in fact just the opposite is true. Simply put, my goal is to amass a quality of life, not a quantity of stuff. For me it's not just about finding the best values, but valuing the best things in life, which are usually things without a price tag. In short, it's about how to spend less on yourself so that you have more to give to those who really need it. And I'm talking about giving of both your treasure and your time.
Here's an idea: Rather than spend $40 on a six-hour audio tape by some financial pundit telling you how to make a bundle in the stock market, send the 40 bucks to your favorite charity and volunteer for six hours at a homeless shelter. Trust me, spending time with those who are truly needy will do more to motivate you to spend less - and value all you already have more - than any talking head ever will. It'll teach you to spend more time taking stock, and less time buying stock.
"Giving the gift that costs nothing to give, a gift of your time as a volunteer," was the subject of one of my recent appearances on the NBC TODAY Show, and one that's near and dear to my heart. The point of the piece is to present a different perspective on the old adage: "Time Is Money." Sure, that's true enough. So, I say, if you spend less money, you'll have more time --- including more time to volunteer.
If you're interested in finding nonprofit groups near you that need volunteers, try these online resources:
www.211.org (United Way)
Remember that many out-of-pocket expenses incurred while volunteering are tax deductible, including transportation/mileage (See IRS Publication 526 Charitable Contributions). And why not double-down like I do, and donate your tax savings back to the nonprofit organization, since you've already paid for the expense upfront?
Click here to view the Ultimate Cheapskate on the Today Show talking about volunteering:
Spring Fashion News Prompts Ultimate Cheapskate to Increase Spending Threat Level to Code Magenta
(Accokeek, Maryland April 24, 2006) U.S. fashionistas from New York to San Francisco have declared magenta the new pink, shocking the free world and prompting an increase in the Spending Threat Level.
With U.S. consumers already spending more than $330 billion annually on apparel (roughly equivalent to the combined Gross Domestic Products of Africa's fifteen poorest nations), Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, estimates that the breaking news about magenta will likely generate billions in new spending, although he's convinced that the switch to magenta was in no way based on that consideration.
"I'm confident that the fashion industry has the scientific data to support its position regarding the superiority of magenta over pink, otherwise I'm certain that these discretionary dollars would have been directed to world hunger or other secondary priorities" said Yeager.
"This magenta crisis is really a wakeup call, and our speedy response in terms of focusing public attention and financial resources on the problem bodes well for the priority response system we have in place. Given our response to the news regarding magenta, we can all sleep easier tonight, knowing that well be able to effectively address issues like global warming when the time comes," Yeager added.
In the interest of full disclosure, the Ultimate Cheapskate has filed documents with authorities verifying that he has spent nearly $23 on personal clothing in the last 48 months. He also confirmed that he does not own any magenta colored clothing, although there is a grape juice stain on his good dress shirt that bears a remarkable resemblance to America's 22nd President, Grover Cleveland.
About the Spending Threat Level
The Spending Threat Level System (STLS) was established by the Ultimate Cheapskate to alert the public to emerging threats to their pocketbooks. Modeled after the highly confusing and ineffective Terrorism Threat Level System developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at a cost of several billion dollars, Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, was surprised to find that he could establish an even more confusing and ineffective rating system without requiring the expenditure of a single additional tax dollar. "It just came to me when I saw the big 64 pack of Crayolas sitting on my desk. Undoubtedly the government was working with the basic 8 pack, but that's how new ideas and technology evolve," said Yeager.
Suze, Oh Suze
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Although I've never met her, Suze Orman scares the pants ($12.95 @ Costco) off me. In part that's because I'm always a little frightened of anyone who obviously feels better every single day of their lives than I will probably feel on my very best day, ever.
Like a lot of people, sometimes I feel like crap. And then I have my bad days. Occasionally I feel OK, and sometimes even pretty good. On rare occasions I actually feel really good or even great. But I've never achieved the kind of toe curling Orman-gasm that Suze seems to be experiencing every time I see her on TV.
Whenever I watch her PBS show and see her entranced in a 100,000 watt performance that would scare even the Energizer Bunny back into his hole, I think maybe Suze's right. Maybe I'd feel better if I had more money. Because like most personal finance pundits these days, that's ultimately what Suze is prescribing: How to be happy by having more money. Or maybe, more accurately: How to get more money, to buy more stuff (including more Prozac), to be happy.
You see, I appear to be among a small and shrinking minority of Americans who actually believe the old saying "money can't buy happiness." And while I, like most people I know (other than Suze), have my ups and downs, I don't think money really has much to do with it. Other than I believe you can waste a lot of time getting
money you really don't need in order to enjoy life. In this way, money - or the exercise of pursuing money - may actually ensure that you won't find happiness, because you'll never have the time. Pretty ironic, isn't it?
Money is a relative commodity. That is, what's a lot of money to someone is considered very little money by someone else. All most people - particularly Americans - know is that they want MORE of it. They never really stop to think about what ENOUGH would even look like. All they know is that they want more than they have now. More than their parents had, and certainly more than the guy next door has. More than they ever thought they'd have, and probably more than they'll ever need.
One of the smartest, most accomplished businessmen I know was recently telling me that he was thinking about retiring, but couldn't figure out how much money he needed in order to do so. It wasn't because he couldn't do the math; he's a brilliant financier and God knows retirement savings calculators can be found on every finance-related site on the web. Heck, Suze publishes a new book on the subject every six months! No, as I talked with him I realized that what he was really saying was that he could not decide at what point he, personally, was prepared to say he had "enough;" that it was OK to stop the exercise of amassing wealth, that it was OK to declare victory and retire with his spoils.
In his must-read book The Progress Paradox, Gregg Easterbrook tackles the question I think more Americans, particularly those in the middle and upper economic class, should be asking themselves: Why, at a time when we enjoy a higher standard of living than ever before, are more of us feeling less happy than in previous generations? Easterbrook's conclusion isn't necessarily that "less is more," but it's absolutely clear from the research he presents that "more is NOT more." When it comes to the relationship between money, "things," and happiness, there isn't one. At least not beyond a base level of financial resources, which is north of the official U.S. poverty level, but not by much.
And so when you look at the advice brokered by Suze Orman and so many other personal finance gurus these days, understand that it's probably terrifically solid advice about how to get more money, although that's admittedly not my primary area of expertise. But if you accept that money truly can't buy happiness, then you find yourself, as I have, asking the next question: So why should I spend so much of my life in pursuit of more money? Why can't I just cut to the quick? Why can't I just live on less, and use my time to enjoy life more?
The Last Lunch Bag You'll Ever Buy (and you probably already own one)
In the overall scheme of personal finances, the amount spent on disposable brown paper bags or reusable lunch boxes to transport your daily noontime fare is not a terribly large sum.
In fact, I would estimate that it costs about $126.19 to buy a lifetime supply of brown paper lunch sacks, assuming that you carry your lunch every day throughout a 30-year career and throw away the sack each day (NOTE: This is based on generic store-brand bags, and allows for sick days, vacations, sacks that need to be replaced prematurely due to overripe bananas, and occasional lunches out with the boss). Unlike non-cheapskates who mindlessly shell out each and every day for a fast food lunch or something even more frivolous, the cheapskate is still far ahead of everyone else by packing his own lunch, even if he treats himself to a new bag everyday.
No, this story is more about pride - pride in being cheap - than it is about generating huge economic savings (even though there's hardly anything the Ultimate Cheapskate wouldn't do for $126.19). When Miser Advisrr J.P. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, shared with me this story about a dollar stretching friend of hers, I realized that this story is really about the Red Badge of Cheapskate Courage, a symbol that all of us who are tight with a buck can use to declare our miserliness to the rest of the world.
According to J.P., her friend has managed to get SIX YEARS (and counting) of lunch bag service out of something you probably have in your cupboard at this very moment. His Domino Sugar bag, with its multiple layers of industrial strength, indestructible paper, has served him faithfully, day in and day out, for six long years.
Now, if this same idea had been conceived by the Madison Avenue marketing firm that probably represents Domino Sugar, you can bet that by tomorrow Paris Hilton would be sporting the trendy new lunch sack (and little else), every child and many adults across America would be scrambling to get theirs, the price of Domino Sugar would soar, supplies would run short, trade embargos against Cuba would be lifted, Fidel would be offered a position managing the Yankees, and so on. But it is, once again, the cheapskate who must blaze this trail.
I can think of no more fitting symbol of Cheap Pride than the one offered by J.P.'s friend. For years frugal people have been "brown bagging it," but now true cheapskates can proudly "sugar bag it." And nothing bothers a cheapskate more than paying for something with the express intention of throwing it away. The Cheap Pride Movement could have no more poignant symbol; one that makes a statement and saves money, but involves no actual sacrifice or decrease in standard of living. In essences, it symbolizes all that we stand for and believe in.
And so, I call on my tightwad brethren to throw down your brown bags and store-bought lunch boxes and proudly fly the yellow and blue colors of the Domino Sugar bags. When we see a fellow cheapskate with the distinctive Sack of Courage, we will lift our heads high and proudly declare: "We will not pay for what we do not need and already own!"
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