SENSIBILITY AND CENTS-ABILITY AND WEALTH
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 13 August 2010
"The real measure of your wealth is how much you'd be worth if you lost all your money." Author Unknown
Though asked with some frequency to write about the economy I've been hesitant. Beyond a few undergrad and grad school econ courses and, like most folks, decades of practical application--exchanging work for wages and in turn exchanging wages for goods and services--what do I know.
Nonetheless, watching, reading, and listening closely and thinking back on younger days, following is how goingson have struck me. The musings practical and logical though certainly not technical nor comprehensive for there's enough for a treatise. Humor, of course. Some cynicism and pointed but respectful critiscism, of course. Not one that ever mastered the art of innuendo--or cared to, straighttalk is a given. There's a pony or two in here somewhere.
I, a "corn cob from NC" (as one Marine friend--a self-described "mook from PA"--jokingly calls me), have a thought or two about a thing or two regarding our 'teetering on the "brink" (the president, vice president, et. al. swear they saved us from it) of disaster' economy.
Wealth, of the "cents-able" type, is achieved through sensibility. Sensibility--live within your means. How simple. Most Americans understand. And most Americans, blessed with good sense, also understand true wealth is not measured in mere cents.
"The little money I have - that is my wealth, but the things I have for which I would not take money, that is my treasure." Robert Brault
Live by the creed, always within means, and weathering recessions--one or two dips, and a depression doable.
I know what it's like to work. I mowed lawns and raked leaves; delivered newspapers and collected--door to door--on Saturdays; bussed tables and washed dishes; worked produce, frozen foods, stocked shelves, and bagged groceries; flipped burgers; emptied trash cans and mopped and waxed floors in a plant; worked in a textiles mill; worked a production line; worked in a factory; drove a forklift; and did a few other menial jobs when growing up. The work physical and honest and the pay meager. But working, saving, and buying with your own hard-earned money teaches some powerful lessons: 1) personal responsibility and accountability; 2) value of an education; 3) value of a dollar.
I drove my first "car" for 20 years. I was almost 24 before I bought it; with nearly a year's worth of active duty under my belt before I could afford it, the insurance, gas, and routine maintenance. My Dad co-signed the three-year loan, but only after concluding a Marine second lieutenant, he happened to know, was low risk for default.
That 1980 Datsun standard cab no-frills pickup truck was a gem. No frills--no power anything; windows, mirrors, door locks, seats, nor steering. No radio. No air-conditioning. GPS? Not invented. With gas, regular oil and filter changes--which I personally did, and scheduled maintenance it ran, and ran, and ran. The road claimed four sets of tires.
Rarely garaged, it was repainted--same color--twice. The driver's seat was reupholstered once. The battery casing and wheelwell eventually gave way to corrosion. I fashioned crude replacements out of galvanized metal. In later years, baling wire came in handy and matching duct tape covered paint blemishes--from a few feet, at night, someone half-blind could not tell.
I drove that truck six years before marrying--a woman; not my truck. The way things are going in our country, I could one day marry that truck. Anyway, I kept the truck 14 more years. I'm still married to the woman. I have a painting of my truck and a few paintings of my wife. The day I donated my truck to charity (yes, in fine running order) I angled it in the driveway, set up my easel, and went to work. Neighbors thought I was crazy. My wife did not opine. The original ignition key is glued to the front of the frame--I kid you not (photo posted left). When I proudly hung the painting in our living room my wife smiled. A few days later I came to understand it was a 'you have got to be kidding me' smile; humoring me. The truck painting, though not gracing a wall in our home these days, is handy and visible--to remind about hard work and the value of a dollar.
I mention that truck because it relates to wealth--of making do. Count 'em--17 years without a car payment. There was little operating expenses beyond fuel and routine maintenance. Amazing what a little TLC and PM (Preventive Maintenance) can do. That is common sense--sensibility. A lot of cents saved--cents-ability. Oh, and a lot of interest earned--more cents-ability.
I don't care about impressing myself much less anyone else. Thus, material things--wants vice needs--do not interest me and are contrary to sensibility and cents-ability. The only person I cared about impressing agreed to marry me; truck and all. I still try to impress her, and once in a while she's impressed. She laugh's every day; mostly at me.
Though living in the desert, we do not have a pool--a money pit.
We do not have a tractor--even a small one--to tend to our property. Though it'd be nice and much easier to rearrange the sand after a good rain, it makes no sense to buy a tractor when it rains four inches annually. A shovel, though not especially time efficient, works fine.
After a rain and while shoveling, we pull weeds--by hand. A $10.00 hula hoe takes care of the stubborn ones. If you don't know what a hula hoe is then you've not lived in the desert. Best yard tool ever invented. Thankfully, no one has figured out how to "improve" it by attaching a motor or an iSomething and slapping a $500.00 price tag on it--yet. Since they're cheap we splurged and bought two--his and hers.
Gourmet every night is not practical on the waistline or moneybelt. Accordingly, we follow balanced, nutritious diets. Our cupboards and refrigerator amply stocked--sensible stores. My wife is a bit more particular but I eat just about anything; except liver pudding. Some folks call it scrapple--take note of the four-letter word within starting with the second letter; I don't think it's coincidental. When I was a kid my Dad used to slice the rectangular brick into patties and fry them in an iron skillet until dark brown and the surface was the consistency of heavy grade sandpaper. He "suggested" we eat it and that it would be good for us. Mom sympathized but I don't remember her eating it. Ketchup and iced tea helped wash it down. Growing up that was the only food I had a tough time eating. And I still can't figure out why the product exists as I've yet to meet anyone else who knows what it is. But, turns out, Dad was right--it was good for us. How could a kid have known liver pudding was an important variable for building character. I've no idea as to nutrition. Though, to this day, I refuse to eat it the character remains. As for puddings, my wife likes the fish variety. I do not--see aforementioned four-letter "c" word or replace the "f" (in fish) with "t" and solve the anagram.
Not to stray from topic but while I'm on foods...
Two years ago I developed an aversion to plain broiled chicken and O'Brien hash browns. Why? I cooked them twice a day for nearly two months--the only foods my ailing wife could tolerate while enduring the hell and metallic taste of chemotherapy. Without realizing it at the time, she was cost-effective to feed; cents-able. Glad I didn't think to bring that up as I doubt she'd have laughed; much less broke into her truck-painting smile. Today, the mere thought of those odors trigger foul (intentional word--serendipitous sounding pun) memories and nausea for me.
BLTs with peanut butter instead of mayonnaise are the best. Don't knock it until you've tried it--a fabulous combo. Besides, peanut butter is more sensible and cents-able than mayo. And it's rib-sticking filling.
On occasion, anchovy pizzas, sardines in mustard sauce straight from the can, and hotdogs southern style are on the menu; bachelor weekends only. Tabasco and Texas Pete are not optional condiments--they're key ingredients.
We eat out--occasionally. But not anyplace that serves liver or fish pudding or plain broiled chicken and O'Brien hash browns. We've yet to find a place that serves peanut butter BLTs--America's next rage after this Commentary gets out.
Since we eat daily, we exercise--regularly.
We don't smoke--cigarettes, cigars, or marijuana; legal or illegal. We consume alcohol infrequently and always toast to good health. The cancer battle a hiccup; an ugly one.
We've never hired an interior decorator. With that admission those who've visited are exclaiming "Really"--add whatever inflection and puncutation you want to get the spectrum of interpretations. We have practical furniture not the dainty decorative kind. I know a little something about painting, color, and design. Yes, purple and orange and green can be complementary colors, but you have to know what you're doing. Paintings hang in every room--there's nothing on velvet. A nice one of a Datsun pickup truck is proudly displayed--but not on a wall; at least when my wife is home.
We don't have motorcycles, mopeds, golf carts, Smart cars, SUVs, or an RV. We don't have boats or ski-dos or any other type of seasonal recreational vehicles. We don't even have an airplane or helicopter.
We prefer live theatre. Local venues put on fabulous shows--cheaper than a movie and better. With seating capacity of 100 or less every chair's a great one. Usually we see friends.
We travel for leisure once in awhile.
We do have cell phones and computers; necessities. I have recurring sweet dreams of one day throwing both in the trash. But I know that's not sensible. Nor would it be cents-able. But it's okay to dream--that's sensible.
The modest material things we own we worked hard for. Some of them are outdated but work just fine. We make do. In short, we live well within our means. We live sensibly. We live cents-ably.
We have degrees from decent schools--worked hard and paid for them. And, despite the formal education, we avoided nit-witdom. We did not permit academia elites and loons to strip us of common sense nor the ability to think for ourselves. After all, a real education is self-acquired.
We're not superstitious. But suspicious of lawyers and politicians--all of them. We don't join silly causes, entertain telephone solicitors, or open doors to strangers. We don't gamble. And we don't otherwise throw money away. We're compassionate. When we give money away it's because we choose to and the cause is a damn good one.
We believe "Please" and "Thank You"--regardless of tongue--are common courtesy and among the most powerful words in language, and words not used near enough--spoken or written. They are magic--they open doors. Common lingo or not and no matter the age of the utterer, the reply "No problem" to "Thank You" sounds moronic.
We pay our bills. And taxes. All of them. In full. On time.
We are not rich. If so, with career military backgrounds, we'd be under investigation. Maybe in jail. No one's looking--as far as we know.
But, we are wealthy. Yes, wealthy. Wealthy in that we are healthy, have built a decent life for ourselves, legally, through sensible and cents-able decision-making and hard work, and achieved some semblance of the American dream on our own--not through handouts or "redistributive" government programs that smother self-reliance and create, on a grand scale, nearly unsolvable problems. Our families and friends stake similar claims. Those not in similar straits think we're all lucky--as if there's a Fairy that flits about randomly handing out bags of luck and money and their time has yet to come. Luck has nothing to do with it. "Luck" and "Mega-Ball" or "Super-Lotto" are words that belong in the same sentence.
Nothing comes easy. And nothing is free. However, there is a direct correlation between hard work and return on hard work. But it takes time. Lots and lots of time. Sensibly cents-able people are decades-worth of overnight successes. And the overnights started in their youth.
If you're a kid or young adult just getting started and reading this Commentary, sorry, there are no shortcuts. That's the bad news. Should anyone try to sell you one--a shortcut (e.g. credit, a "hot" stock tip, a "sure thing" or "can't miss", "Get Rich Quick" book, etc.)--run like hell; with your pockets zipped and buttoned. Why? Because if they were "invested" and raking in the cash they wouldn't be coming to you. The good news is work hard, be sensible and cents-able, and you just may amount to something. Take pride in what you do and accomplish. Strive to improve. Be independent. Be self-reliant. Stand for something. Take responsibility. Accept accountability. Sacrifice. Use common sense. Save your cents. Sensibly cents-able is wealth however defined.
We are not in need of anything. Not really. We'd dearly like to have my wife's parents and older brother back with us but that's impossible. But impossible does not stop us from wanting it. Some things--all things truly important in life--money cannot buy.
Between us nearly three score of uniformed service and the clock is still ticking. The Stars and Stripes stir strong emotions. We fly colors 24/7 in front of our home and per etiquette illuminate them during times of darkness--a stunning sight on a dark desert night. We appreciate the service of anyone who has worn a uniform--military or first-responder. And that appreciation extends to families. It's tough duty.
We realize our colors represent an ideal. Not perfection but an ideal. A land of freedom. A land of opportunity. A place where hard work, good decision-making, and perseverance goes a long way. And a decent, comfortable life can be realized through commitment and sacrifice. Even in America life's not fair. Nor is it any other place worth living. That is reality.
And that sobering reality comes at enormous costs to defend and protect; even in peacetime.
Unashamedly, I am prejudiced--against the stupid, lazy, arrogant, ignorant, foolish, incompetent, criminal, unethical, dishonest, immoral, cowardly, narcissistic, et. al. who, inescapably, happen to be white, black, brown, yellow, or red and span the spectrum from religious fanatic to atheist.
Not to overlook illegals in our country--get them out of here. Now! Their presence neither sensible nor cents-able. Rights, benefits, and entitlements awarded is insanity. That money belongs to us--Americans, and will go a long way tending to those we all have an obligation to take care of--those incapable of fending for themselves--handicapped, disabled warriors, and the aged among the first to come to mind. Enough nonsense, Mr. Obama and Congress. Secure our circumference. Now!
Thoughts now come full circle. It's oh so simple. Forget painstaking analysis. Through casual observation it's logical to conclude our leadership did not mow lawns and rake leaves; deliver newspapers and collect--door to door--on Saturdays; bus tables and wash dishes; work produce, frozen foods, stock shelves, and bag groceries; flip burgers; empty trash cans and mop and wax floors in a plant; work in a textiles mill; work a production line; work in a factory; drive a forklift; or any other such menial, but vitally important to responsible adulthood, jobs when growing up. As such, their lives void associating hard work with compensation and wise spending--the essential framework from which to create national policy to direct our country. They don't know what they don't know. Nor will they ever know; it's too late.
Recalling the words of an economics professor from some 35 years ago, "You can't do macro if you don't know micro." To take that one step further, 'You can't know micro if you haven't done micro.' Need we any more proof than today?
Look no further than our first family. Examples abound. Though she does not hold elected office, there's no better timely example than Michelle Obama, with young daughter in tow, on vacation but taking a three-ring circus to Marbella, Spain, last week on the aching backs of taxpayers. And for what purpose vital to United States interests--a token visit with the king? To justify spending taxpayer dollars? Exemplary--to the world? Hardly. Exemplary--to her homeland she not-so-long-ago admitted being proud of for the first time? Hardly. To her daughter(s)? Hardly.
With estimates running $75K to more than $100K daily courtesy of the taxpayers, how about pompous? Abusive? And some of the other prejudicial characterizations noted earlier? Good grief, over-stretched public-furnished coffers are not lottery winnings--though they're treated as such. And it's not just about the money. There's the more unsettling matters of appearance and the complete antithesis of real leadership--example--during difficult times.
The ethical and moral act of contrition--the right thing to do--would be for the Obama family to reimburse every last taxpayer cent; an economics lesson--for the global community, our country, and especially a young girl. The odds of that happening?
Multiply sensible cents-able behavior by tens and tens of millions and there should never be a fiscal problem in society nor government--town, city, state, or federal; micro nor macro. But what do I, "a corn cob from NC", know.
For me, the underpinnings of our economy--good times and bad times--is that simple (yet understandably more complex) and explained so a youngster can figure it out. The short of it is, 'The buck stops with each of us.'
The sensible balance sheet's cents-able bottom line is comfortably in the black.
What's your two-cents? A penny for your thoughts! Ironic, even in axioms it's impossible to break even. Who knows, beyond being copper, maybe that's why pennies are referred to as "red" cents.
These are unsettling times but it's not too late to right our country. Many in America are like-minded and like-behaving and are now taking to the streets and voting stations. Fight's on! Throw the bums--easily identified as the ones lacking sensibility and cents-ability--out of office; every last one of them. House--Congress and White--cleaning is coming; November 2010 and November 2012. Vote--informed and responsibly. It's civic duty. Keep the faith!
I recently learned the story of James Robert Kennedy and Harold Jones. Ever hear of these two men? James is "Radio". Harold is "Coach". Radio is black and pushed a shopping cart. Coach is white and drove a pickup truck. Coach, the head football coach at a high school in rural South Carolina, against great community opposition, took a bold step forward to help Radio--a mentally handicapped youth. Coach had his priorities straight. Coach did what coaches do. He led and taught--a youth and, in the end, a community; near and far. He changed not one life but many. There are sensible and cents-able lessons in this story. Important lessons especially for current times. Look up the story. The award-winning film of little fanfare with well-know actors, good family entertainment for all ages, stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ed Harris, and Debra Winger. In my humble opinion, a First-Class movie and a must see.