Monday, May 12, 2008

Week of 05/12/2008

– by David Matthews 2

Back in the early 90’s, my sister and I were asked to house-sit for my parents so they could get their home sold while getting things set up in Atlanta. The arrangement was simple… my parents would pay for the mortgage, so all we would have to pay for is the utilities and food. It seemed like a good arrangement, especially since both my sister and I were working.

Six months into it, I was at the breaking point, and my parents couldn’t understand why. Sure I was working hard, but they couldn’t understand why I was the one spending every penny into paying ALL of the bills when we were supposed to split the costs evenly. Well it turned out the other half of this “arrangement” wasn’t living up to their part of the deal. My sister lost her job and she was depleting what little money she had left in savings to pay for clothes she would buy on layaway. Every time I would tell her how much she owed me for the electric bill, the cable bill, and especially the phone bill (long-distance dial-up online service is NOT cheap), she would tell me how much she paid to department stores for her clothes on layaway. Somehow a sense of priority was missing.

Well fortunately that was well over a decade ago and my sister has paid up those debts and learned a very healthy lesson about living within your means.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that quite often a lot of us have a hard time grasping… myself included.

I take a look at my financial burdens and I sometimes ask myself how I could have gotten into this situation. And then I remember… oh yeah, I screwed up. I put myself into these burdens!

I look at some of the things that I get… CDs, DVDs, video games, books… and I realize that a lot of the things that I’ve been getting have been things that I WANTED, not the things that I NEEDED. I didn’t NEED to get the latest blockbuster hit on DVD, never mind in the extra-special deluxe director’s cut edition with the gold-foil cover. I didn’t NEED to get the special computer add-on to City of Heroes. In fact, City of Heroes itself isn’t a NEED. These are all WANTS.

Once I realized that, I realized that the huge economic problems that America is facing right now are all because of our inability to really differentiate between our WANTS and our NEEDS.

For instance, as much as people hate to admit it… unless you live ten miles away from any kind of beaten path, never mind a paved road, and you have to cross rivers every day to get to your home, then having an urban assault vehicle (aka sport utility vehicle) is not a NEED. It is a WANT. It is an overinflated, overpriced, overhyped WANT. In fact a lot of what is IN that vehicle is also a WANT. Do you really need a GPS system? Or subscription satellite radio? Even the OnStar service has plenty of WANTS in there along with its sole NEED which would be used in the event of an emergency. The built-in DVD player, the individual headphone jacks for passengers, the keyless start button, the electronic seat-warmer, even power windows and air conditioning are WANTS, not NEEDS.

Sure, for many of us driving is a NEED, but when you’re having to get a rental car because you got into a car accident and the insurance company will only cover the bare minimum, you will understand and appreciate the difference between what you NEED and what you WANT. In fact, that’s why I think that the Ford Motor Company came up with a clown car called the “Aspire” in the first place.

A cellphone is clearly a WANT, not a NEED. It’s a convenience, not essential to your existence. And then you have all sorts of WANTS on top of that WANT. A camera and ringtones and surfing the Internet and storing music and videos and push-to-speak… these are WANTS. The iPhone probably could be better renamed as the iWant, because that is what it is… just an overpriced WANT.

In fact, what I’m going to say now will be seen as utter sacrilege, but it is still true… having children is the biggest WANT in the world! Seriously! There’s really no NEED to bring another mouth into the world. It’s just a collection of WANTS from social, personal, and biological urges. This is especially true when you hear about a family in Arkansas that is on welfare from all of their children they’re having and they’re expecting their EIGHTEENTH child! That is probably the best example that I can ever come up with of childbearing being a WANT!

Unfortunately, we in America live in a consumer-driven society now. Our economy has become based on our WANTS instead of our NEEDS. And this is where our problems come in, because we’re now paying the price for all of these different WANTS.

America’s energy policy, which is now highly dysfunctional and unstable, is based on our WANTS instead of our NEEDS, because being stupid enough to block off places where we could have oil and then making deals so we would be dependant on foreign sources for our energy resources is a WANT (not to mention STUPID), not a NEED. Being self-sufficient is a NEED. Being idealistic and fraudulently calling it “eco-friendly” is a WANT. And it’s being done to satisfy a whole bunch of other WANTS, such as those gas-chugging urban assault vehicles.

Now, of course, we can’t afford that WANT of an urban assault vehicle, because the price of gasoline is rising higher than inflation, so now we’re looking at OTHER vehicles with better mileage. However, the American automakers bet the farm on those urban assault vehicles, so now they’re spiraling into bankruptcy and having to lay off workers and shut down assembly plants because of that overhyped WANT.

Credit cards are a WANT, even thought the banks make it sound like they are an essential NEED. The last time I checked, the greenbacks in my wallet still say “This is Legal Tender for all debts public and private”. The local stores accept them just the same as credit cards. In fact some of the stores I go to are THANKFUL that I give them those greenbacks instead of paying for my WANT on plastic.

But here’s the thing… the banks have successfully managed to hook us into putting our lives on plastic, and then they started messing with the rules. They change the rates, they change the terms, they offer us dozens of paper checks and make it sound like we’re giving ourselves a treat by using them off our account.

And it’s become so damn EASY buying stuff on plastic, isn’t it? Just swipe and go, just like in those TV commercials. Or go online and just CLICK.

So now some folks are turning to the Congress and asking them to step in and put some limitations on these crazy rules by the banks. And the banks are screaming bloody murder over this and are saying that putting in limitations would mean that SOME PEOPLE may not be able to get credit cards! Well that’s good because many of the people who have been having problems with credit cards have been allowed to put their lives on MULTIPLE cards and using one to make payments on another. Maybe they would be able to better manage their money because they won’t have that particular convenience.

Plus it may actually cut down on the barrage of “You have been pre-authorized” offers that we are getting for the SAME credit cards from the SAME bank! Excuse me, Bank of the Gouge, but didn’t you know that I ALREADY have a Bank of the Gouge card from you? You would think that after the numerous monthly payments made to that bank that they would figure out that they already have me hooked. Or maybe they think that they can get me again and again.

Either way, folks, credit cards are a WANT, not a NEED. Having money is a NEED, and greenbacks and coin are just as good as the plastic in your local store.

Here’s another big economic headache… the subprime mortgage scam!

Again, what I’m going to say next is going to be considered heresy, but it still needs to be said… you DO NOT HAVE to own a house! Having a roof over your head is a NEED. Owning a home, however, is a very big WANT. And it is a WANT with a huge mantra around it. That mantra comes from so-called “financial experts” and even from family members that tell you that “you NEED to buy a house”. NO YOU DO NOT! If you can’t afford to make the monthly payments on a mortgage, then you CERTAINLY DO NOT!

Once upon a time there were benefits to being a homeowner. If you owned property, then you could vote in elections. But those days are deader than Elvis. Now the only perk to owning property is being able to get a tax break on your mortgage payments. But it doesn’t do you any good if that mortgage balloons to where you can’t afford to make the payments anymore!

And that’s where we got into some serious trouble, folks. Once again the lenders… the banks… changed the rules so that more people could have mortgages, just like they did with credit cards, knowing full well that when the rates go up in a few years, those same people will be driven into bankruptcy and/or foreclosure. Of course it probably wouldn’t matter for many of the lenders because now we also have debts large and small being bought and sold like so much Wall Street stock. Do homeowners really know who owns their debts now? They may be writing the checks to one lender even though the actual paper is being held by another lender.

So combined with that unrealistic demand that people buy homes at all cost and lenders desperate to get as many suckers as they could, it’s no wonder why America is facing a serious financial problem right now with home mortgages.

Our consumer-driven economy has become so dependant on us fulfilling our WANTS that it pretty much collapses when we can’t afford to indulge in them. That’s why our government was QUICK to tell us to go SHOPPING after the September 11th attacks!

SPEND! That was their mantra! SPEND AWAY! Keep spending! Don’t stop spending! Don’t worry if you don’t have enough money, you can refinance your home of you have to! We’ll help! We have all-new LOANS for you to help, but you have to keep on SPENDING! Put it on credit! Put is ALL on credit! It’s okay; we’ll give you all the credit you need just as long as you continue to SPEND! What are you doing here? Why aren’t you spending? You HAVE to keep on SPENDING… or else the terrorists win!

Even now in 2008 we have a president that is willing to give us MONEY to help “stimulate the economy”… but only as long as we SPEND IT ALL! Spend it! You gotta SPEND it! Keep spending it! Spend every penny! Don’t save it! Don’t try to pay down your debts! Don’t use it on bills! Your country NEEDS you to spend every penny of that “stimulus package” so you can kick-start the economy. SPEND IT! Buy a big-screen TV! Buy that new computer system you’ve always been looking at! Go on a trip! If you just came back from one, then use this to take another trip. Just keep on SPENDING that money, because that’s the only way that the economy is going to survive. That’s the message, and it’s coming from the White House and the Congress and merchants all across the country.

SCREW THE NEED! FEED THE WANT! That’s their message.

And let’s get brutally honest here… we are doing ourselves a HUGE disservice if we continue to satisfy our WANTS at the sake of our NEEDS. We are literally driving ourselves into utter dependency and indentured servitude to public and private institutions. We’re not just feeding the rampant consumerism, we’re gorging ourselves on it, and it’s driving us further and further into enslavement.

We need to collectively get our priorities straight. NEEDS come before WANTS; and we need to once again differentiate between a NEED and a WANT.

A roof over your head is a NEED. A house is a WANT. If you can’t afford to make the payments of a normal mortgage, then you really should not get a house. That’s the basic mistake that millions of homeowners failed to make and now they, and the communities they lived in, are paying for it.

Basic transportation is a NEED. An urban assault vehicle is a WANT. Yeah, once upon a time gas prices were so low you could fill your gas tank for under $20. But those days are long since gone, and as long as our government REFUSES to be responsible and REFUSES to enact meaningful energy policies, then it is up to YOU to choose the vehicle that you can afford to maintain.

Depending on where you live, a basic phone line is a NEED. An iPhone is a WANT. Living in an apartment may require you to get a land-line for security access. That’s understandable. But a cellphone is a convenience, not an essential part of your existence. Understand the difference.

Food on your table is a NEED. Going to restaurants is a WANT. It often costs you more to go out to eat than to make something at home. Takes a little bit of time, effort, and patience… but who knows? You might become good at it.

Spending some time away from work before you go crazy is a NEED. Going to Disneyland is a WANT. Seriously, why spend time dealing with crappy service on the airlines, prison-style security procedures at the airport, and then showing up at some overhyped amusement park where everything has a line going in and out and you HAVE to drink bottled water because the tap water reeks? Do yourself a favor and stay home for a while. You’ll really appreciate the difference.

Self-sustenance is a NEED. Having children is a WANT. I know, I know, it goes against biology, but if you can’t afford to have kids, then you’re not just doing yourself a disservice by going through with it anyway. You’re also doing your kids a disservice, especially if you’re one of those parents that think that your entire world should revolve around those little tax-deductions.

In short, boys and girls, the very institutions that want you to spend like there’s no tomorrow pretty much have an ulterior motive for doing so. They don’t care about YOU or what YOU need. They care about themselves, and their ultimate goal is to take care of themselves at YOUR expense. And if it means enslaving you, depriving you of your livelihood, your possessions, and driving you into bankruptcy, then so be it. The name of the game here is for you to take care of yourself FIRST and FOREMOST. Satisfy your NEEDS first, and then deal with your WANTS… but only if you can afford to.

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