I just made the mistake of looking at my IRA balances. Thank god I am 20 years away from retirement. My accounts have gone down almost 50%. Egadz, the only thing that actually made money for the year was the cash in our savings account.
I know it shouldn’t bother me. Plenty of time to make up for lost value. Sigh. I need a Suze Orman pep talk.
For a couple of years now Oprah has tried putting her audience on a “debt diet”. Long before the recent meltdown Oprah had more than a few shows dedicated to getting her viewers to take responsbility for their personal debt. Since the meltdown she has stepped up the frequency of those shows. Her usual guest, Suze Orman, has explained the meltdown with more honesty than anyone else I have seen on TV or read in the press. Not only did she describe the greed and dishonesty that fueled the meltdown up and down the financial services food chain, but she also called out rank and file Americans for living a life of financial dishonesty. Buying too much house, using their home equity as a piggy bank, and piling up consumer debt to finance lifestyle choices that were far outside of the reach of their incomes.
There is something odd about listening to a multi-millionaire (Orman) and a billionaire (Oprah) talk about pinching pennies. But, being a person that gets a perverse pleasure out of paying off debt and helping others get their finances in order, I can understand their interests/motivation and I don’t think these shows are hypocritical for Orman and Oprah. They have tons of money and can afford pretty much anything they want. But that is the point, buy what you can afford, not what someone else can.
My one quibble with Oprah’s efforts get her viewers to be responsible about their finances, is that she still tends to have these shows that glorify high end luxury goods. Who can forget the thank you gift of 24 pairs of designer shoes that she got from Jessica Seinfeld that Oprah gushed about. And what about those “Favorite Things” episodes where Oprah parades out expensive gift after gift and then gives them all to each audience member. Great for those in the studio, but what does it say to her millions of viewers? It says “go out and buy some of these fantastically expensive gifts.” With all of O’s concerns about America’s overspending and some of the great shows she has done on money saving ideas, perhaps she will stay true to her quest and cancel the Favorite Things episode.
About a week and a half ago a Christmas tree popped up in the living room of one of our neighbors. In what can only be a Yuletide arms race, that person’s next door neighbor soon decorated his balcony with all kinds of Christmas lights. I can understand why profit-motivated retailers push the holidays earlier and earlier every year, but what compels an individual to do so? Why, when there are still the carcasses of smashed jack-o-lanterns scattered on the streets does someone decide to decorate a Christmas tree the first week of November? And what about Thanksgiving? It is perhaps the loveliest of holidays. It is a shame to skip over it and move right on to the next one.
It could be that we have become a nation of children, unable to delay any gratification and expecting everyday to be Christmas. Or maybe we are a nation of bored, boring, individuals that need shiny objects and blinking lights to feel something. Or maybe we are a nation of Orange County Housewives, whose only goal in life seems to be to shop. Other than a supersized grocery cart, Thanksgiving doesn’t really require us to buy anything. Although, it does, of course give us the day after Christmas shopping frenzy. Financial responsibility evangelist Suze Orman has been saying for years that Americans are driving themselves to the poorhouse buying things to impress people that they don’t know or don’t like. I agree, but would add that our addiction to shopping is not just about impressing others, but it appears that shopping is all we know how to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I can really enjoy a good shopping trip. And the other Mr. MyPorch and I don’t really want for anything. But what troubles me is how so many people predicate their happiness on a daily basis on the act of consumption and a constant state of personal reward. Just like the Christmas season, why can’t the joy of shopping be one of many diverse things that makes us happy throughout the year? How about a little balance? To every thing, turn, turn, turn.