So there I was, making my lunchtime news site cruise, and I stumbled across a story on WCVB-TV’s website entitled “5 Phone Calls To Save $200.”
Hey, I want to save $200! I like saving money, especially since my wife and I just dropped $1,500 on our new kitten, who rudely decided to develop a staph infection after getting spayed. Damned cats, always thinking of themselves…
Let’s see what it has to say. Call one to the phone and Internet provider, talk the monthly bill down. Okay, I could do that.
Call two is to the electric company. Volunteer to let them turn off power to the house entirely for a short time and get a rebate. Kinda weird, but I can see that.
Call three: lawn service, got the $95 per month bill talked down to $65.
Wait, what? Lawn service? Where do you live that you need someone else to do your lawn, Gillette Stadium?
Call four was to bargain down your cleaning service from — are you screwing with me? — $200 a month to $80?
And thus we see why so many people are in a financial hole: their idea of saving money is to pay less for stuff they don’t even really need. If this bargain hunter really wants to save some money, she’d just ditch the lawnscaper and maids altogether and do it her damn self, but I think if she was so keen to hold onto these luxuries she’d haggle like a merchant on a Moroccan marketplace, that’s not going to happen.
Like too many people, the woman in this story has a hard time separating “need” from “want.” Does she need someone to mow her lawn for her? Unless she’s physically incapable of the task herself, then the answer is no; she is, I would dare to say, just lazy. Mowing a lawn is not a Herculean labor only an elite few can tackle by their lonesome, nor is picking up after yourself.
Ah, but such financial crises are not for those who are perhaps a paycheck or two away from living under an overpass. The well-to-do are also strapped, as evidenced by this story from The Wall Street Journal On-line, which reveals the hardships people making a quarter-million a year have to endure…
Ellen Parnell and her husband, Donald Parnell Jr., seem like the kind of well-off couple President Barack Obama has in mind when he suggests raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. A surgeon at Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center in Sevierville, Tenn., he drives an Infiniti. They vacation at a beach resort every year.
Yet, right now he is working seven days a week. The car is more than a decade old, the vacation home in Sandestin, Fla., comes at a moderate weekly rate because members of Ms. Parnell’s extended family own it. Her family of five would like more room than they have in their 2,500-square-foot home, yet they can’t afford anything larger. The downturn has them skittish about paying for renovations.
“I’m not complaining, but the reality is Obama may call me wealthy, but I thought we were just good old middle class,” says Ms. Parnell. “Our needs are being met, but we don’t have a load of cash to cover wants.”
Excuse me? You can’t cover your wants? Yes, apparently a vacation home — even one owned by family and pro-rated — and an Infiniti (starting price, about $33,000) are necessities.
The Parnells break down their finances thusly:
Ms. Parnell says the couple’s gross income last year was about $260,000. Taxes, premiums for medical care and deductions for Social Security and their 401(k) contributions cut the gross to about $12,000 per month. The family tithes $1,300 a month at their church. Their mortgage, second mortgage and payment on land they bought is nearly $4,000 a month. Other expenses, including their family car payment, insurance and college funds, as well as basics like food, utilities and donations to charities, leave them with about $1,200 left over each month.
Ms. Parnell concludes by saying, “I’m not after sympathy. We are blessed. What I want is a reality check on what rich means,” Ms. Parnell says. “I can pay my mortgage and I can buy some clothes. I’m not going without, but I’m not living a life of luxury.”
Oh, poor baby. Only $1,200 a month to piss away on luxuries, boo hoo.
I’ll put that in a personal context: I take home slightly less in two weeks what she has “left over” per month.
The WSJ article discusses the relative nature of rich and poor, stating that if you live what many of us would consider a high-class life and suddenly find yourself short on cash, $1,200 a month in pin money seems like chump change.
Anyone who considers $1,200 a month in superfluous income inadequate to fund frivolities needs a serious wake-up call, and needs to look at whatever it is in life that’s sucking away their income under the guise of a necessity. A vehicle is a necessity; an Infiniti is not, not when a good old Honda Civic can accomplish the exact same task as a car twice its price: getting its owner from point A to point B. What does the luxury model provide it’s owner beyond that? Prestige. A boost to the old self-esteem. A blaring message that says the person driving this car is successful and important.
You feel it necessary to pay extra to massage your ego? Then kindly do not dare to complain about your poverty, relative or otherwise.
So, why am I bringing all this up? Well, as Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story so I could tell you this one.
As you may have heard, the House yesterday approved an increase in the state’s sales tax, from five percent to 6.25 percent. The rationale: they need revenue, and just making a buttload of cuts isn’t going to work. The message I’ve been reading is basically, yeah this sucks, but we all have to pitch in and do our part to contribute, because there are a lot of needs out there that need to be met.
Excuse me. Did you say “needs?”
According to Governor Deval Patrick, he “needed” to fill a job that had been vacant for 12 years (assistant executive director of the quasi-public Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority), a gig that paid $175,000 a year…though State Senator Marian Walsh graciously offered to take a relative pittance of $120,000 after the villagers showed up outside her office with torches and pitchforks in hand. She finally turned down the job (I think the sight of constituents wheeling in a trebuchet was the deal-breaker).
Sift through the list of 1,000-plus amendments state reps filed for the FY10 budget and you’ll see hundreds of “needs.” Well, ask the amendments’ respective sponsors and they’ll call them “needs”…ask someone else and they’ll question if a true need exists. It’s the axiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” on a grand scale, except whether it’s trash or treasure, we’re the ones paying for it.
Oh, yes. We’re also paying lawmakers $61,000 a year to do their job. Plus reimbursements for travel, meals, and lodging. Plus stipends for chairmanships and other power positions. All of which factors into their eventual pensions. Which we’re also paying for.
Funny how amidst all this talk of cuts and raising income, lawmakers are conspicuously mum about the personal sacrifices they plan to make.
Our elected officials might argue that their time is worth something, and I agree, to a point. The thing is, they are called public servants for a reason; they ostensibly sought elected office to make life better for the general public, so their overriding priority should be doing whatever they can to help the people they represent, even — perhaps especially — if it means digging deeper into their own pockets.
I can sense the argument out there that a voluntary pay cut would not resolve the larger problems nor allow the Legislature to restore funding to, say, local aid, but a symbolic gesture can still hold great power. It sends the message that all their talk of being in this mess together is not just talk, that they’re willing to walk the walk, at least a little.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.