BITN: Apple Crush Flops; Voice Notes Soothe; Credit Goes Crazy

Posted on: Thursday, June 6th, 2024
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Spendology, Unplugging, BITN, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment


This post features some thunderous rants. But know that there’s usually a rainbow—or two—at the end of the storm.

  • Apple iPad ad blows it

UNPLUGGING. That’s where it’s at…I write from my MacBook Pro while my iPhone buzzes beside me. But seriously, playing piano, reading a book on a hammock, creating art with your hands—these things are the REAL BreakAways that calm the nerves and soothe souls. Apple should embrace this.

Most folks have a love/hate relationship with Apple. But the loathing side hit a fresh low with the recent release of the iPad Pro TV ad. Just watch it. A hydraulic (that must represent iPad) crushes all kinds of creative and playful items: TV, camera, paint, games, guitar, record player, books… BOOKS!

The obvious message is if you buy a new iPad pro, you don’t need those things any more. In fact, let’s just destroy them. Pundits, professors, and celebrities have, well, crushed the ad. More attention for A? Yes. But, man, what a BAD look!

Sure, Apple makes creative tools, and owns that niche. But can you have too many toys and tools? Can Apple replace paint? Not to mention—retro is (as always) COOL! Smash record players and 35mm cameras at your own risk, cuz kids these days LOVE that stuff. They’re hotter than hula hoops—and probably the iPad, which represents only 6% of Apple’s sales.

6%! On a 1-100 scale, Professor Kirk would, charitably, give this ad about a 6. That = Failure.

  • Voice messages gains popularity as option to text (burnout)

In another bite from the Apple tree, in 2014 Apple added the voice message as part of the text message menu. It didn’t catch on fast, but now gets increasingly more usage—and has become included in most SM and messaging platforms—according to a recent WashPost story by Tatum Hunter.

SOUNDS good to me. Texting, while initially cool and efficient, has become (for these eyes) a burden. An ever-growing responsibility that one simply cannot unplug. At least for long.

Some say the podcast revolution helped us remember we DO like the sound of human voices and harbor some attention span. And some of us remember when a (real) phone ringing—and the conversation with the person on the other line—was exciting, even sacred, sometimes scary.

The voice message can serve as an in-betweenie to the text and the phone call—which, for some, has become verboten and invasive. Travel much? Hope so—and that you TALK to strangers wherever you go. Heck, talk to strangers at the corner bar or supermarket!

And by all means, talk to your screen ‘friends,’ including via the voice message tool. You’ll enjoy the nuance, the deeper info, and the REALness that misspelled words and emojis usually fail to convey.

  • Credit card debt reaches “severe” level

Debt is going through the roof. Too bad, because roofs are getting terribly expensive. Credit card debt has jumped to $1.12 trillion from ‘just’ $1 trillion only a year ago. Younger people are harder hit. And higher interest rates don’t help. OPINIONATED QUESTION: Why are credit card companies allowed to charge 18-28 percent interest? OPINION: That’s Mob-like extortion.


Meanwhile, banks make big bucks. Folks go broke. Wall Street loves it. And the rich get richer, while the rest of us keep handing them bags of money. Cards make up only ~6.5% of consumer debt, but hit struggling people the hardest. Some say it’s a bubble, ready to burst. And you know who ends up paying for the mess when they explode? Probably not the CEO of Chase.

TIP: Shop carefully for your card(s). TRY to pay your balance in full every month. Focus on saving not shopping! And teach your children to practice the same fiscal fitness.

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BITN: Debt Rits Roof; Homey Gap Years; Retirees Reeling

Posted on: Monday, February 26th, 2024
Posted in: Spendology, Work/Life Hacking, BITN | Leave a comment

Are ‘kids these days’ lazy, entitled, and floating? Or are they truly having a hard time finding financial independence? To find out, jump in and read on…

BreakAways in the News has been on, well, on a BreakAway for a while. As usual, we partially blame the interns—who are still discovering their inner work ethic, fascinated by their phones, and often taking advantage of our generous mental-health leave bennies. (And some still live at home!)

Speaking of mental health…though it’s true that travel is BACK—just check out airfare prices—it’s also true that behind that bright & shiny first-class section, the overall financial health for Americans is rather dark. Here are 3 quick stories designed to keep us aware and inspire that commitment you toasted to on 12-31-23 for better fiscal fitness…

Covid brought much grief and angst, but also some pennies from heaven (AKA Washington, DC). Well, those days are gone. Inflation has raised the cost of everything, student loans are again (over)due, and credit card balances have hit a record $1.13 trillion. All together now: OUCH!

What’s more, savings has also declined dramatically. Duh. Ironically, lots of lucky Americans are simultaneously enjoying a booming stock market and impressive increases in their home value.

But both payoffs are often out of way out of reach, including for the kids of comfortable parental units. For more about that (adult) kid in the basement, read on.

  • 1/3 of offspring 18-34 living at home

For those of us of a certain age (OK, Boomer), the notion of crashing for months (years?) with the parents was unthinkable. Oh sure, it happened to some people, but not for long. My parents gave me deep roots and giant wings; I flew the coop and, though I visit often, I never moved in again. Yes, I’m proud of that. And a bit agog at the current kiddo hospitality boom.

But I get it: It’s the stupid economy, yet again. In a recent column, Michelle Singeletary (the wonderful personal finance writer/author for the Washington Post) laid bare the realities of the current live-with-the-‘rents trend. And frankly, with some mature boundaries and conversation, it’s not such a bad thing. Ponder these factoids, mostly courtesy of PEW…

• 64% of the young adults say the arrangement has helped their financial situation

• 69% state the level of involvement with their parents in their lives is about right

• 68% look to their parents for advice on their money management

Ms. Singeltary (who is of course an expert in these matters, and admits to having 3 adult progeny at home) asserts that success for all can be found in this acronym:

“Make sure they have a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based) plan.”

In other words, there are RULES! Like…Everyone cooks. Rent is free so long as debt is disappearing and saving is happening. Parents get to ask questions—and scream real loud if the kid fails to save yet takes exotic vacations and club-hops like Warhol in the 70s. That’s just enabling, although Andy did NOT live at home and could support himself nicely. (He was also infamous for his frugality; his diaries detail every penny he spent, every day.)

The irony here is that if the adult offspring messes up, you gotta kick ‘em out. What then, dear columnist? I dunno. And as the dad of 2 kids—who are welcome here as long as we co-exist SMARTly—I hope not to find out.

MPR economist and author Chris Farrell recently outlined the rather dire future many Americans face as retirement draws nearer. For starters, 1 in 4 don’t even know how much they have saved. Topping that: A huge percentage are in jobs that provide inadequate retirement benefit opportunities.

Farrell and cronies offer these few ideas for hope…

Increase the benefits of Social Security (which most people rely on)

Have the US government offer low- and middle-income citizens a government-run 401K program

Encourage employers to turn bad jobs into better jobs with improved pay, advancement opportunities, and retirement plans

  • $ makes the world go ‘round (or not!)

Debt crises. Kids unable to launch. Wannabe retirees running on empty. We all hope to avoid such crushing woes, right? And use a part of our well-earned savings to reward ourselves with travel, free time (it’s FREE!), and self-care.

When in doubt, consult BreakAway’s 11 Commandments for Fiscal Fitness.

Quiz Tuesday. Please save yourself. And thanks for listening.

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Got PTO? Use It or Lose It (Literally!)

Posted on: Tuesday, February 6th, 2024
Posted in: HR FYI, Sabbatical Shuffle, Spendology, Work/Life Hacking | Leave a comment

Why is that bucolic scene sitting empty? Because Americans are refusing to take their time—vacation time, sick time, family leave time, PTO, etc!

Our lovely local newspaper has been publishing articles pushing people to take their time off, dang it. And why not? We’re rich! While one story today announced that Americans now over over $1T in credit card debt, the flip side of that coin is this stunning factoid: We also have hundreds of millions of unused paid time off (AKA PTO).

  • Making time for what matters

Those 5 words may best summarize what BreakAway is all about. And really, if your employer gives you the gift of time, you’re not even really making it. You’re just not taking it. Which brings us to a longer variation of our $1m tagline:

  • Making and TAKING time for what matters MOST

Free time matters MOST! Mr. Johnson outlines some common-sense savvy on how to BreakAway from the vocation and find that vacation…we’ll honor those. But first, here are some convincing details about the profundity of the need…

We mentioned: 100s of millions of FREE days go unspent and often, lost.

Nearly ½ of employees don’t take all their days. (Pew)

As burnout rates keep rising, 2/3 of workers say time off is the cure. (Aflac)

Numerous studies prove that more R&R leads to less heart attacks, depression, etc.

Worried about keeping up? WRONG! Performance rates actually rise with time off. (E&Y)

Dream therapy: Even the planning and anticipation of time off lowers stress. (AAA)

R&R also clearly lowers stress. Which improves job attendance, performance, longevity. I mean…Sure, bosses want hard workers, but not sick (or dead!) ones.

  • Some ways to maximize your getaway potential

Over-achievers are always welcome, right? Well then, let’s look at ways to also achieve our potential as well-rounded, we’ll-rested relaxation renegades…

Extend holidays. 3-day weekend? Make it 4, 5, 6, or 7!

Seek staycations. Simplify the logistics and hunker down in your bed or hammock.

Maximize mental health days. Maybe you need it; or perhaps your parents or kids need your help. Don’t be shy. In fact, why not sneak in a narcissism day!?!

Avoid saving up your sickness days. Oh sure, you may need them worse later. But if you stay well rested and recreation-ed, you’re less likely to get sick!

Shop for another way to be away. As employers gradually broaden their offerings, ask about family leave, volunteer days, and bereavement. (Use that bereavement day to lament the lost days off you may have missed in your lifetime.)

  • SUB: It’s never too late to dream on

However you motivate yourself, put it to work! On BreakAways, not…work! Keep a fantasy file? Watch travel shows? Challenge yourself to (at least) one getaway per month? Say YES to invites that come your way? Visit those long-lost (and maybe aging) friends and relatives. Take off with that camera, guitar or other once-vital hobby.

I know, I know…it’s easy for me to say. While I HAVE worked hard (and sometimes still do), I’ve excelled at…Making and taking time for what matters most.

Please join me. Wherever we’re going. Hope to see you there…

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America’s REAL Divide Is $$$$

Posted on: Monday, October 12th, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Rants & Roadkill, Spendology | One comment

GUEST POST: Today’s thoughts come from our old mentor and friend, The Armchair Economist. It’s been a while, so we’re honored he’s back. His resume and accolades would not fit on our pages—nor even the internet. So we again welcome his incomparable expertise and vital voice for this treatise on the challenges of BreakAways in current economic conditions.

  • America’s Haves Vs. Have-Nots Is Now in Stark Black-and-White

As Submitted by The Armchair Economist

My friends! I cannot sit back in silence on my luxurious llama leather recliner sipping Louis XIII Cognac while brushing up on my John Locke any longer. Please pay attention. Or a revolution like we’ve never seen since the 1770s may be an inevitable consequence.

Consider our record unemployment. Government aid in the trillions. Lavish bailouts for corporations, airlines, and most any big-ish business that knows how to play the game and liquor up lobbyists. A few honest syndicates sheepishly returned their mega millions. But most kept the cash despite often churning profits, perhaps chuckling between griping about government over-reach and lazy laborers accepting handouts rather than “gittin’ back to work,” even if it also might mean gittin’ sick.

Generalizations? Perhaps. But maybe not. And with those dispiriting variables as our backdrop, the Armchair Economist is displeased to announce that…

  • The wealth gap is bigger than ever before

According to my friends at the Fed (WE can’t make this stuff up), the pandemic-downturn has actually helped the haves—because they are unable to spend lavishly in their beloved parlors, country clubs, restaurants, and opera houses. Sadly, their diminished patronage equates to lost livelihoods for millions of waiters, chamber maids, and pedicurists.

(Oh, and many investments like the stock market and real estate are doing swimmingly, thank you very much.)

  • Need proof of the disparity?

The top 1% now holds a record high 40% of US assets

The bottom 50% now shares a record low 2% of the nation’s wealth

Inequality will likely worsen as more workers lose jobs while the affluent keep raking it in yet cannot resume their conspicuous-consumption, jet-set ways

  • So how does that hit home?

1 in 3 Americans are having a tough time paying basic living expenses

~10 million are behind or at risk of making their mortgage or rent

1 in 4 adults expect someone in their household to have less $ over the next month

So my friends, please don’t underestimate the dire consequences of these inequities. This holiday season may make Mr. Scrooge’s bleak fable look lush. Homeless villages may come to resemble India’s slums, not just tents in parks. Beggars on corners may battle over worthy intersections.

  • Who cares?

But who cares? That’s an intellectually, if immorally, puzzling question. And that’s what troubles this scholar and embarrassingly successful capitalist…who DOES care. And will vote. And will donate bazillions to the kindly causes that try to fight back against SuperTanker FilthyRich. But we need more than that—more resources, more action, more…fair and balanced humanity.

After all, for example, my very close personal friend Kirk, your Curator and Host here at BreakAway, simply wants everyone to get healthful, meaningful, time off. To take care of their loved ones. To get out of town—or tent. And to see the world (or a slice of it), whatever that may mean to the individualist, as allowed and affordable and safe. Everyone wins—even the proverbial property owners whose profits may depend on those of lower class (caste?) having coinage with which to splurge on simple pleasures.

Any alternative could get ugly. And who wants to experience unrest (what an understatement!) and stupid plundering if the working class can’t afford proper anger management courses while the rich and classless keep getting richer?

  • In conclusion…

Here’s the hardest part: There’s enough for everyone. At least in this land (is your land, is my land). Unless the greedy build even bigger walls than that one Mexico kindly built for us. And refuse to share their many toys, like so many spoilt brats.

That sounds like no fun, for anyone. Let’s hope we’re BIGGER…than that. All of us. And that the 1% with 40% realizes the slimy slope between lucky success and greedy narcissism. Otherwise, well, the tea may get dumped in the harbor. And frankly, it’s already dirty.

The economy—and possibly CIVILization as we know it—are in the imbalance.

As Mr. Horsted would say, and I try to repeat as my mantra, “Keep the faith.”

“Those least able to shoulder the burden have been the hardest hit.”

— Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman


The Fed

Census Bureau Weekly Pulse Survey 



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Stuff is Making Us Stuck (Part 2)

Posted on: Wednesday, January 15th, 2020
Posted in: Rants & Roadkill, Sabbatical Shuffle, Spendology, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment

Last month, in Part 1, we dove into our junk piles and bemoaned the detritus that weighs on us, our culture, and our shifting populations. We continue that slog by taking a peek into where our rejected stuff goes.

It’s not pretty. In fact, the benevolent feeling we may enjoy when dropping off our rejects to charity might be just plain ignorant. Ex-Minnesotan Adam Minter, now a columnist for Bloomberg in Malaysia, provides a rare expert overview, having grown up in a Minneapolis family that has run a scrap heap since 1920s, published a book titled “Junkyard Planet,” and late last year released a follow-up book called “Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.” Mr. Minter also did an interesting Star Tribune interview when recently in town.

  • “People like shiny new things”

States Minter. It’s human nature, yet he advocates making things last as long as possible. How? Buy quality, for starters! Not only can you enjoy it longer, but the reuse market should be more plausible. He also recommends repair, despite that cheap goods often sway us just to replace. Another idea: Seek second-hand stuff, since a heckuva lot of it is nearly new.

  • What else causes this glut?

You may have noticed this: Often, the merch in Marshall’s has about the same price tag as that in consignment stores. Why? Because the mass production of goods—especially when lower-quality—can be surprisingly price-competitive. So people buy new, and second-hand stores get less traffic.

In fact, Minter notes that thrift stores in the US sell only about a third of their inventory, while the rest gets exported, recycled or tossed in the trash. Ouch.

  • Will millennials save us?

Much has been made about their less materialistic lifestyle. But don’t bet on it, says Minter, who cites research suggesting that the shared economy only appeals when it’s cheaper. And that as the millennials accrue more spending power and maturity, they’ll buy happily acquire more, just like other generations.

  • Good ideas to help clean up this mess

As mentioned, Minter promotes repair before replace, and insisting on quality. But even more radical, common-sense solutions could include “durability labeling,” which tells you things like how long a company will support smart phone or how many washings a shirt might endure.

He also proposes “right to repair” laws, noting that much repair information is protected by companies, trademarks, trade barriers, and more. Brilliant.

  • Sins and solutions

We can all think about our own sins and solutions, of course. And here’s one of mine: Sin—buying lots of new clothing recently at insanely affordable January clearance sales. (When asked who’s my favorite designer, I always say Clearance!) Solution: Spread it all out alongside similar old favorites, and make smart choices about what to keep and what to return.

Heck, sometimes that nice $15 shirt hardly seems worth the bother to take back, right? But there’s principal at work here too. And $15 is $15. Save $15 a day somehow, and you’ve got $5,500 to apply toward that BreakAway you want more than more stuff.

Even better, there will be less clutter-y obstacles in your way!

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FOTOFRIDAY: Stay Bullish

Posted on: Friday, November 1st, 2019
Posted in: Spendology, FOTOFRIDAY, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment
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Recession Forecast: Dark & Stormy

Posted on: Thursday, September 20th, 2018
Posted in: Spendology | Leave a comment

After a long and self-indulgent break, the Spendology category is pleased to get off the recliner and return to the turf of BreakAway. And thus ends the good news—and the party. Because we are here to predict that the U$A is exactly two years away (or less, maybe much) from the next recession. Duh.

Market timing remains a foolish and dangerous sport. So “SELL” makes little sense. But neither does “BUY.” So here’s our best recommendation: “GO!”

  • Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans (or not)

Stick to your plan, of course. If you have one. But if you’re like most Merrkuns, you don’t. Even worse, a recent LAT article made a painfully compelling case that most of us have not improved our fiscal fitness since armpit of the last downturn. Yep, despite the longest uptick in our history, our national personal debt has actually risen…from $12.7 to $13.3 trillion.

Last spring, CNBC reported that 1/3 of Americans have less than $5k saved for retirement, while 78% are “extremely” or “somewhat” concerned about having enough for their golden years. Naturally, we’re all also getting older. Meantime, youngsters are afraid of making babies and our “leaders” are afraid of immigrants. So, absent willing & able taxpayers, the next bust could be particularly painful on our aging populace (and bodies).

Let’s not even go into the recent tax cuts that may ultimately benefit only certain lucky citizens certain large corporations. Meanwhile, our government will go wa-a-a-ay deeper into debt. It’s the American Way, right?

  • Stupid students, etc.

Student loans are the new cash sow and guilty party. And really, let’s hope they’re enjoying their bookish bash because when the crash comes and they enter the Real World, the party’s over. Ironically (or not), the brain trust in DC is the loan shark here. And FBOW, they go all Soprano about collections: Death may be ex-students’ only option to escape paying somehow, somewhere, someday. But hey, as a fellow Armchair Economist chuckled, “Student loans are a killer way to pump up the economy…because kids spend that cash immediately!”

Later, many of them kids can’t afford a house and are missing that rare boom moment. Rents soar, while wages stagnate like a draining swamp. “Fintech” loans have created a new way to float billions that, when the levee breaks, we have no idea who will sink and who will swim.

Speaking of sinking, remember in winter of 2009 when the S&P 500 hit an epic low of 6,443? You don’t? Good for you. Even better for you is if you bought (or at least held) in the 9 ½ years since—because you’ve nearly quadrupled your money! In record time!

  • Feel rich? Cash out and BreakAway

All to say…Buy low/get high applies. Right here and now is a GREAT moment to consider cashing out some gains and taking a sabbatical. Skip the second property. Punt the Porsche or vintage Pinto. Or if you’re like most folks and are still watching and waiting to get your financial act together, you may as well go anyhow.

What are you waiting for? The biggest boom in the history of Our Great Nation? Bummer if you missed it. Awesome if your ship came in.

Either way, it’s a good time to ship out. Winter is coming. Again. You ain’t getting any younger. It’d be a dirty rotten shame if your dreams died before you do.

Happy sails…

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Career Breaks: Better When Not Broke

Posted on: Sunday, March 6th, 2016
Posted in: Spendology | Leave a comment

This week, Fast Company released a sobering article for anyone drunk on debt or worried about an economy that’s become a tipsy house of (credit) cards. Stephanie Vozza shares her family’s saga about getting spanked in arrears—and then launching into a bold recovery program and emerging debt-free. Her relief is palpable.

Equally evident is that choking sensation happening to the millions who are deeply underwater.

  • How bad is it?

Some pop shrinks say it’s a bad idea to compare yourself to others. But in this case, please do. If you can’t—because you don’t know your own numbers—you may be in the camp of the clueless and hopeless who are worse off than these “average” folks.

According to Nerdwallet, here are 5 debt amounts of the average American…

~ $15K                       Credit card

~ $26K                       Auto

~ $165K                      Mortgage

~ $47K                       Student loans (for the many who got ‘em)

~ $6+K                       Annual debt service (9% of HHI)

  • Too small to bail

You’ve heard the phrase, “Too big to fail.” That’s about the mega-banks with gazillions; the government tends to regulate them po-lightly and bail them out whenever they “spend” too much. In comparison, the crush of debtors crashing on tapped-out households looks more like a Soprano’s shakedown. Little mercy exists for the chronically strapped or bankrupt.

  • Poor mental wealth

So it’s no wonder that the article lists a litany of disorders and conditions from which the in-debt individual often suffers: stress; anxiety; depression; desperation; obesity; accelerated aging; risky behavior; heart attacks. Can you guess the favored therapy for treating these problems? Yep, spending. Now always one click away.

At some point, most broke folk fall into a what-the-hell downward spiral. What will happen if millions of families run out of get-out-of-debt cards at once? Stay tuned.

  • The trip at the end of the tunnel…

Despite the debt, Americans are traveling—more than ever. Alleluia! Postponing joy rarely helps. And a spring BreakAway investment to sun and sand might inspire the revelation that experiences matter more than materialistic expenditures.

After all, could there be a better reward for getting out of the red and into the black than flying off to the adventure of a lifetime and a future of balanced priorities and checkbooks?

Start with these simple 11 Commandments of Fiscal Fitness. Then calculate all your debt and savings and attempt a realistic strategy to break even. Then go for a walk. Meditate. Call your mom. Ditch the digitalia. And try spending time on things that cost little but mean much.

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Boomer Bust: Beware the Retirement Burst

Posted on: Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment

“When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life;

now that I am old I know that it is.” ~Oscar Wilde

  • Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.

We BreakAway artists advocate saving money and taking temporary retirement occasionally throughout your life—rather than waiting until your final years—even if it means working a few years longer before closing time. Most anyone can get excited about this idea. Few, however, can prudently pay for it.

Tragically, few will be able to afford perma-retirement either. And that applies particularly to Baby Boomers. All 76 million of us—many of whom have already begun (or delayed) our proverbial walk into the sunset. A recent article from the local paper’s special section, “The Good Life,” paints ugly pictures of stormy sunsets.

  • Consider the “facts” 

As always, research findings will vary. But in this case, the storyline remains consistent regardless of which digits you dig into. Consider these estimates from The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) or the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)…

2/3 of households 55-64 (pre-retirees) have savings equal or less than their annual income

1/3 have no savings at all

The second study (EBRI) offers more optimism, but still stings…

57% of boomers are prepared to support themselves at their current standard of living

43% are not 

The outlook darkens for various groups, including women, people with serious health concerns, and minorities. And as for young people? Their future looks potentially rosier—because though they’ve also set aside little, they have more time to save. (Do you think they will?)

  • A dearth of bucks, but ample blame to go around

So how did we get here? After all, the current retired generation lives richly in comparison. Blame the death of the pension—which assured retirees a steady stream of income. Blame the rise of the self-funded, tax-free plans—which force folks to cut their income to save (or not). Blame the merciless markets of, oh, the last 28 years or so: Black Monday (1987); global crashes (late 1990s); the tech bubble bursting (2000); 9-11 (2001); the Great Recession (2007-09).

Not only has this unprecedented market mayhem repeatedly shattered nest-eggs, but it’s made would-be investors pull out at lows and forever fear investing. You can’t make money without stashing cash, embracing risk, and letting time work its magic.

The blame game never ends. Stagnant or decreasing wages (some say since the 1970s) means that even responsible, two-income families can be stretched. Income inequality continues to worsen, with the top 5% of Americans now controlling 54% of the assets, while the bottom 50% has 3% (NIRS). That’s rough, if not unethical. But nobody seems to want to do anything about it. We could go on and on.

  • Is a crisis (rather than nice walks on the beach) on the horizon?

Funny. We’ve heard a lot of grousing about the impending student loan bubble fallout. Everyone (particularly politicians) likes to gripe about Social Security and other entitlements going broke. A few of us (like myself) like to point out the mind-boggling materialism wave that has inspired us all to “need” so many things that our grandparents had never heard of to the point that shopping is a popular pastime and Goodwills turn down donations.

I mean, go to a high school with 50% free lunch and most students somehow enjoy the latest iPhone, fancy sneakers and hairdos, and of-the-moment duds. They may be hungry, and their abode may be cold. But most got stuff. Expensive stuff.

In the American household, meanwhile, there may be no retirement plan. But the place is probably abundant with cable plans, wifi plans, cellphone plans, laptops, kitchen gadgetry, recreational gear, monster media systems, late-model cars, and more (including, of course, debt).

I don’t know who pays for it all, or how. I don’t know how my fellow Boomers are going to fare in their golden (raven?) years. I do believe in market forces that somehow, gradually, fix things (sometimes). But I also know those markets can be ruthless and wrong. And they don’t really care about people, individuals—not even if millions of elder-Americans end up living in poverty. Markets care about money.

Money. Numbers on paper or puter screens. We call the category of this post “Spendology.” But perhaps “Saveology” would better fit today’s topic. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could save enough to take just one three-month sabbatical in their life?

Wouldn’t it be even better if everyone could save enough to enjoy several years of relaxing retirement?

Good luck with that.

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Stuff = Stress

Posted on: Monday, April 27th, 2015
Posted in: Spendology, Blog | Leave a comment
DSC_0346As the CFO of my household of four, I was forced into action recently when a pile of credit card statements finally got my attention, and were packed with pages of purchases for … who knows?

Dozens of Amazons (a company that doesn’t bother to specify the items). Various online purveyors of whatnots. Sports sites and cosmetic clubs and, worst of all, a few scams—that can take hours (months?) to unwind.

Shopping has become easier than ever: Click! And The Thing is on its way. No boring browsing, no pawing or fondling. Heck, trying something on and inspecting it for quality have become passé; just peruse a few reviews, and return The Thing (with free shipping!) if it fails to fit.

Is it any wonder that 40% of Americans state they have too much stuff? Is anyone surprised that the stuff storage industry is booming (with 76% of the stuff stuck away because it’s seasonal, sentimental or simply never used). Should we rejoice that our economy is enjoying a new burst (bubble?) of consumerism thanks to internet commerce? Fine. But the buck stops here.

  • This calls for executive orders

Though I rarely succumb to such extremes—because I know they may not work in the long run—I immediately wrote up and sent out a new procedure for making purchases. Now, there’s a form to fill out: Date, what, amount, from where, why. No pushing “buy” until a parent has initialed approval. And the discussion may include who’s paying. (Extravagant offspring can turn frugal fast when that $55 widget means gutting the piggy bank.)

The goals include stopping the Amazon flood, increasing our family’s mindfulness of greed, clutter, and the environment (Amazon’s packaging—ugh!), and making do with the backpack we have rather than assume the fancier new one will hold more happiness. Above all, we’ll all have one page of purchases to ponder: Transparency!

These life lessons start at home, and are more timely than ever with things like braces and college costs right around the corner. The cost of living keeps rising; does quality of life keep up?

Wish us luck on our new procurement policy; good thing I know better than to expect little more than a temporary rethink/reduce movement. Still, it’s helping. The orders seem to have slowed. We now have more conversations about stuff—and sometimes find a way to say no, make do, or seek a more creative (and less costly) solution.

  • A student essay on simplicity inspires                    

On the same day I was issuing restrictive dictums, I was poring over past student work to find a sample for the writing course I’m currently teaching. The best one—that serendipitously fit that day’s theme—was titled, “The Art of Being Creatively Simplistic: A Minimalistic Manifesto.” She wrote a touching, compelling piece that offers a heartfelt alternative to knee-jerk materialism.

In case you, too, could use some fresh guidance for your SMI (Stuff Management Issues), here are her…

  • 11 ideas for enlightened material restraint
  1. Don’t get in debt
  2. Work to get paid and meet your needs, not advance a career
  3. Live in a small space
  4. Get rid of excess material objects
  5. Reduce expenses
  6. Avoid the materialism of modern technology
  7. Exercise, stay physically capable
  8. Eat basic, wholesome foods
  9. Improve practical skills
  10. Serve your community
  11. Learn the value of true pleasures — nature, friends, art

Pretty simple stuff, right?

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