Belt Tightening Trend — T.F. Stern

By T.F. Stern,

There’s an AP story on Yahoo this morning, Frugality among consumers is outliving recession , a trend which indicates a lack of confidence in perilous times. I’m not so sure belt tightening is a bad thing, having observed America’s “shop till you drop” mentality these past several decades.

“Their behavior suggests that the Great Recession may have bred a new frugality that will endure well into the recovery. And because consumers fuel about 70 percent of the economy, their tightfisted habits means the rebound could stay unusually sluggish.”

Lucy and I have been living frugally most of our adult lives, not because we didn’t have funds available; but through wise council we’ve been instructed to keep back a portion for when times get tough, injuries or illness could prevent earning a living or any number of unforeseen challenges that are bound to crop up. Those who fail to save for a rainy day; well, remember, Noah started building the Ark long before the rains had already begun to fall.

I have some concerns, the economy being what it is and a sneaking suspicion Obama’s administration’s agenda intends to wreck what’s left of the free market system, capitalism and individual liberty. My concern; how much further can my wife and I cut back since we’ve been living frugally all these years, is there enough of a buffer left to work with?

Don’t get me wrong, Lucy and I are living the American Dream; we live in a nice house with only about 7 years left on the mortgage. I have a nice work truck for my mobile locksmith business and Lucy has her Solara that gets her to all her meetings, grocery shopping and picking up grandchildren for visits. We don’t make car payments and can spend that money on other things and since we don’t accumulate credit card debt we don’t have to pay interest; we pay cash for most items or we wait until we can.

Several years ago I saw a snappy looking sports car, a BMW Z-3 Coupe, cruising down the road; something about the lines on that car sent my desire mode into overdrive. The new car sticker price was beyond what I was prepared to spend on a “toy” so we went looking on Ebay for a used one; a scary thought, buying a car from a stranger over the internet. A long story short; we bought a two year old BMW Z-3 Coupe exactly like we wanted in “primo” condition for about half of what a new one sold for. We flew up to Philadelphia and drove it back to Houston; our test drive and mini vacation all rolled into one.

Why bring up the subject of frugality and the purchase of an expensive toy? The American Dream isn’t centered on being frugal; it’s about obtaining those things which are important, a nice home to raise a family, success in the marketplace, enjoying a nice dinner out with your sweetheart on date night and driving a car that makes you feel good.

I got a kick out of over hearing somebody at church comment about the fancy little green Beamer in the parking lot and how surprised they were that a couple of “old fogies” owned it. They were floored when I stepped into the conversation, noticing how the topic had changed from “what a neat car” to “how much it must have cost”; the implication was we were living an extravagant life style beyond what was reasonable or prudent; not that it was any of their business.

I explained that through careful planning and purchasing we’d been able to obtain our dream car for about the same as you’d pay for a new Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Chevy Malibu. I happen to like the way my car looks and drives so it boiled down to freedom of choice; a used BMW Z-3 Coupe or Melba toast with wheels. I like to tell folks that Lucy and I are planning ahead, to that time when we are in an assisted living center. The little green jewel will fit down the halls so we won’t have to purchase those silly looking scooters; Medicaid won’t be around to pick up the tab by then anyway.

Lucy and I are living the American Dream because we’ve been able to juggle our income with our expenses efficiently, not doing without. We don’t take extravagant vacations, spending money we don’t have; but we enjoy each others company regardless of where we are; Outback Steakhouse or What-a-Burger, makes no difference.

I’m concerned when Congress spends trillions of dollars, tax dollars which are not in the treasury as yet and won’t be for at least another generation or two. Tell Lucy not to buy any of those little chocolate covered donuts I enjoy on Sunday the moment I get home from church; that will save us another couple of dollars.

I’m concerned when the Fed prints more money all the while devaluing money which is already in circulation. I’m sure we can make that truck last another five years if we continue to maintain it as we have these past five years.

I’m concerned when I see congress seriously considering Cap & Trade legislation which will damage the already crippled economy, raising the cost of industry, shutting down incentives to invest and further eroding confidence in the free market system. We can put off that trip to see my folks for another year or two; we can always talk on the phone.

When the cost of gasoline triples along with heating and air conditioning expenses, natural budgetary items that determine how we enjoy the fruits of our labors, then we will have to decide what comforts are more important than others. Will I be eager to turn up the AC after a long day in our Houston summer, drive to the shopping mall and wonder if that extra gallon of gasoline is worth the trip or cancel my cable television subscription and go back to dial up internet connectivity? As you can see the choices are there; it’s just a terrible shame watching the death spiral of the free market system. I don’t want to take two steps backward for every step forward, that’s Not the American way!

The Moral Lib­eral asso­ciate edi­tor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer, self-employed lock­smith, and gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since Jan­u­ary of 2005.

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