Monday, November 24

The Greatest Depression Ever.



2,750 Words On Financial Responsibility (With Poop Jokes!)
By: Ryan J. Zeinert

PART I - "Bathtub Moonshine."

Make no mistake about it, our nation is starting straight down the barrel of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans are losing their jobs. Multi-billion dollar companies are closing their doors. Gasoline is currently $1.80 a gallon. Truly terrifying stuff.

For those of you who weren’t around for the first Great Depression (scoff if you must, but I have an abnormal amount of Nonagenarian fans), allow me to shed a little light on what you can stand to learn from it. My Great-Grandmother was a Depression-era woman, and when she passed away last year, I was asked to root through her house to see if there was anything I’d like to bring home. It was there where the family found age-old collections of bottle caps, newspapers, long-dead appliances and…gahh…Band-Aids. The place was absolutely stacked to the rafters with a lifetime of hoarding and thrifty-ness barely holding everything together. She came from a generation that had no credit, threw nothing away and had to fend for themselves when the Stock Market crumbled around them.

Oh, and she was also a pack-rat that probably would have behaved the same way had the Depression never happened at all, so you may want to bear that in mind. I love her and miss her very much, but yeah, she had a bit of a problem with throwing stuff away. Nonetheless, we can all learn a little something from Great-Grandma Milly: the Government will probably help Wall Street when they fail, but they certainly will not help us, so stock up and prepare for the Apocalypse, ‘cuz it’s a comin’.

Signs of careful spending are everywhere these days. Why just yesterday, instead of buying my usual 10-year Scotch at the liquor store, I had to settle for the inferior 2-year Scotch at the grocery store. Hey, what can you do? Corners need to be cut, and I’ll get drunk just as fast either way. Besides, when alcohol functions as both your dinner and breakfast, you’ll end up saving in the long run.

Since alcohol is recession-proof, however, you can fully expect me to get on board with my own signature brand of bathtub moonshine in the near-future.

PART II - "Coffee + Apples = Instant Enema."

It was this looming fear of going broke, losing my job, losing my house, losing my wife, losing feeling in the tips of my fingers and inevitably losing my ability to remember that I don’t like touching wieners at the bus station for money that led me to a Financial Planning seminar offered last week at one of the many State agencies that could buy and sell my life about a jillion times over without blinking (feel free to take a second; that was an embarrassingly long sentence). I attended because not only did it make me feel responsible and hopefully plant a seed of responsibility and long-term planning in my head, but also because it was a paid afternoon off of work with free coffee and apples.

Oh, and by the way: Coffee + Apples = Instant Enema. You’ve been warned. I swear to God, there wasn’t a single minute of that seminar where someone wasn’t out using the can.

For the first time ever (and for the sake of this essay), I’m going to give you a quick peek into how me and the Missus manage our money. Not surprisingly, it’s based on equal parts Libertarianism and Socialism, if such a thing is even possible. It more or less breaks down like this:

1. Your money is your own. We have separate checking accounts and trust that the other will not become suddenly irresponsible or develop a drug habit of some kind. When you’re out of money, you’re out of money, and can no longer buy stuff. In the six years that we’ve lived together, I can only think of one time where one of us had to pay for something that was normally purchased by the other. Works like a charm.

2. We have one joint Savings account for emergencies, vacations, royalty checks and sweet, sweet Pampered Chef money. This is how we make large, joint purchases; we try to put a certain amount of money into it every month, but this rarely, if ever happens. I honestly think we have 17 dollars in there right now. We blame this mostly on purchasing a house earlier in the year, and also on the fact that we’re allergic to saving.

3. After calculating how much monthly income the two of us bring in, we adjust the bill-paying so that we both have excess spending money that’s relative to the amount of income we bring into the house over the amount spent on bills. Basically, we split things up so we’re both comfy on a month-to-month basis. I’ll pay for this, you pay for that, and we’ll both have about the same cash left over. Spread the wealth, and so forth.

The Missus covers groceries, the mortgage and her car payment, and I pretty much pay for everything else. This means that if she wants to divorce me, she could afford the house and food, but she wouldn’t be able to keep the lights and water on. I, on the other hand, would be homeless, but I’d have a nice cell phone and cable TV service, if I had a television, which I would not. It forces us into mutual dependence while still remaining independent spenders.

4. Other things, such as investments, retirement, Deferred Comp and whatnot, have been set into motion years ago through our employers and don’t factor into our day-to-day. Also, considering the current state of the economy, we don’t even look at these statements when they’re mailed to us. They are immediately lit on fire and thrown into the garbage disposal, unless we’re looking for a reason to cry for five to six straight hours. We have a good retirement program, conservative, diverse investments and a few other things that put money away for us because we’re too irresponsible to do it ourselves. If anything, it’s an excuse to watch MSNBC and pretend I know what everyone’s talking about.

5. …that’s it. We’ve been running with this plan for over six years now, and it’s been absolutely rad and headache-free. No late payments, nothing past due, no arguments, nothing.

But, as I’m sure most of you can surmise from this (well, those of you who are smarter and wealthier than I), this doesn’t work for crap when it comes to anything long-term. Sure, we have the monthly formula down to a science, but when it comes to a five-year plan, sudden emergencies, paying off debt in a shorter amount of time or accumulating a savings, it’s complete junk. We’re living too well, too soon, and nothing is carrying over. It’s stagnant, and unless we both start making more money or serious financial changes, we’ll be treading water for eternity. No finished basement with a pool table, no new cars, no mewling babies with poopy pants, nothing.

Let’s face it. Socialism and Libertarianism doesn’t work, even in tandem.

PART III - "Asses & Assets."

Of course, most of us would take ‘treading water’ over ‘bankrupt’ in a heartbeat, but when I look at our monthly income, I know we can do better to protect our asses and assets for the oncoming trainwreck of an economic collapse, and I had hoped that this semin-izar would siz-et me striz-aight. All I really wanted was someone to hypnotize the love of sub sandwiches, bagels and Pay-Per-View violence out of me, and I’d probably pocket an extra $400 a month from that alone. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sick to think that there’s enough cash for a 2009 Mercedes-Benz tucked in my wallet, but it’s being pissed away in the form of potato salad and honey-almond cream cheese. Completely unacceptable. And fattening.

Instead of tips and tricks for better saving, this seminar put the fear of God and guilt into me in a way that not even 16 years of Catholic church had ever done; a remarkable feat, to say the least, and they didn’t even have to touch my Swimsuit Area to get their point across. By the end of this seminar, I was convinced that not only was I going to go broke at the hands of some tragic and unavoidable accident that would surely leave me paralyzed and inhaling puree'd ‘Hungry Man’ TV dinners through a straw, but that I deserved it because I didn’t plan ahead. Now I’m dead and char-broiled in hell, and my wife and cats will soon be joining me because we didn’t repent before it was too late. It was like watching a Chick Tract unfurl before my very eyes. However, unlike Religion and God’s love, this wasn’t a figment of my imagination; this was serious business, and I needed to change in a hurry.

Rapture!

I’ve seen the light! I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’m ready to embrace the love of savings and reasonable budgeting! I hope it’s not too late to turn things around! Praise the Wisconsin Investment & Risk Management Firm! They have truly saved me and my family! Praise the Excel spreadsheet! Praise the amateur-quality PowerPoint presentation!

After my fiscal awakening, I couldn’t wait to come home and share the Good News with the Missus. Tell her about all the wonderful things that had happened to me, and all the wonderful things that were about to befall us if we just obeyed the Gospel of the Semi-Balding Accountant. I had full-color pamphlets and literature, too; just to drive the point home.

I snapped out of my good mood quickly, however, when I realized that I was about to explain to my wife that we could never spend any money on anything that made us happy ever again for any reason, forever and ever, until the end of time, Amen. Even though I was on a high, I still didn’t think that she was going to go for this. Our spending habits were about to change. Nay, our lives were about to change in the name of Spending. We were about to argue over Money; something we’ve successfully avoided for years now. We were going to live our lives for the future instead of paying for the past, and it wasn’t going to be comfortable.

PART IV - "Phantom Smells."

Now, telling your wife that you want to be 100% in control of her money is a…how shall I put it…born-with-half-a-brainstem retarded argument to start for no good reason. Especially when your wife makes significantly more than you do annually and could probably take you in a fight if push really came to shove. However, telling your wife that you want to be 100% in control of her money because you fear she’s not handling it responsibly is almost certain death, and instantly on the Top 10 List of the Craziest Things I’ve Ever Done and Expected My Wife To Be Cool With, somewhere in between passing out in the driveway on Halloween and drunkenly grabbing my co-worker’s ass at a wedding reception. For this current outburst, I wouldn’t even have the excuse of inebriation working for me, for crying out loud.

After days of charting, projecting and calculating, I was about to pitch the idea of a joint-checking, joint-savings household to the Missus, with me calling the shots, budgeting out cash, determining purchases and accumulating a savings. There’s wasn’t a Pie Graph or Hi-Lighter in the world that was going to make this work in my favor, so imagine my extreme shock and incredulousness when she not only didn’t murder me, but totally agreed with me.

Holy sweet Goddamn. How did I pull it off? I wasn’t prepared, sprung it on her at a bad time and failed to have any of my note cards on me. I must have really had the charm working overtime that night, which led me to believe that either I was being double-crossed, or the Missus had developed an inoperable brain tumor that she wasn’t being entirely honest with me about. I asked her if she was experiencing any ‘phantom smells’ before I continued on with my argument. But the truth of the matter was this: she admitted that she wasn’t handling her money as well as she should be (me too, of course), and something needed to be done to develop some sort of long-term plan for the future. Now, you don’t know my wife as well as I do, but she must have sincerely hated balancing her checkbook to turn such a responsibility over to me so flippantly, even more so than I ever knew. Expecting more of a backlash and subsequent stabbings, the realization that I was now in charge of our financial future was a feeling of equal parts maturity, nobility and full-blown pantal urination.

Inspired by President-Elect Obama, I drew up a battle plan and instantly went to work. I had earned this unenviable household task, and I wasn’t about to let down those who helped me to get there. Excel spreadsheets were created, budgets were handed out and toilet paper was purchased in bulk. A plan was put into play to cut our credit card bills in half within a certain amount of time, cut excess monthly costs, and create a long-awaited emergency fund for when I shatter my pelvis installing the new garage door. It was finally going to happen; we were finally going to get ahead.

I was forgetting one tiny little detail, however.

I never get ahead.

At all.

Ever.

PART V - "Tinker, Monkey, And/Or Fiddle."

If you recall from this hilarious and brilliantly-penned essay, I am the living representation of Even Steven. This assurance of breaking even comes in handy when faced with hard and troubling times, but leaves me powerless to accrue any sort of insurance for the future. Surely, something was going to happen that would stomp my well-researched plan into the dirt. Would it be a gardening accident, perhaps? An illness? Pink slip? Unexpected pregnancy? Unexpected divorce followed by an unexpected pregnancy caused by a gardening accident? Answer me, damn it!

My main fear lies in not the potential for arguments or figuring out a new system for day-to-day survival, but of the sheer unknown of it. We’re about to tinker, monkey and/or fiddle with something that maybe didn’t deserve to be tinkered, monkeyed and/or fiddled with in the first place. What if it’s a disaster? What if me and the Missus become passive, vindictive people to each other because of our newfound budgeting and the inevitable power struggle that accompanies it? Then again, what if it’s a complete success, allowing us to move onward and upward in the constantly-rigged game of Life? Honestly, that outcome might be a fate more frightening than failure, for a number of reasons only a lifelong pessimist could possibly rationalize.

This pretty much brings us up to speed. The Great Experiment is a few weeks away from its estimated launch date, and despite my former optimism and life-changing fiscal awakening, I’m left nervous and trembling by the looming, greedy hand of Fate. What will come of this? Will everything work perfectly, allowing us to save money and yet remain happy in our luxuries? Will tension, arguments and poor planning slip us into a debt larger than ever before? Or will Fate step in and give me cancer of the balls? Only time will tell, my friends. Only time will tell.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. If you’re feeling especially charitable, let the CDP Network in on how you budget your money, and offer us a quick tip on saving cash each month. I’ll start us off with a few that I’m currently using concerning ‘Luxury Expenses’:

1. By only going out for lunch once a week, I will save over $40 a month.
2. By only going out for dinner once a week, I will save over $100 a month.
3. Thanks to eMusic.com, my monthly music budget is only $20 a month.
4. Cutting back on UFC and WWE Pay-Per-Views will save me over $40 a month.
5. Carpooling would probably save me $60 a month, but I’m totally not doing it.

Cheers.

Comments:
wow, this was a genuinely amazing post. I laughed out loud and actually shed a few tears. Life's getting harder for everyone but it's good to know that I'm not the only one who berates myself about my day-to-day spending habits and worries... as always, well done sir.
 
Thank you so much, Swoonie; I really appreciate that. I thought that trying to get someone to read a five-page essay about someone elses' checkbook would be like pulling teeth (hell, it probably still is), but I'm glad that it resonates and is entertaining, even just a little bit.

This is my story, but like most of my stuff, it attempts to remind us that we're all in this stupid mess together.
 
You made my stomach to strain much while laughing.

Looking for your future updates.

Retirement Plans, Retirement Savings, Retirement Investments,Retirement Income, Retirement Funds,Home based Business
 
I've severely slashed my groceries budget, and avoiding bars like the plague. Any drinking done by me is done by myslef in a locked, lightless room. Or at my house or the houses of friends where we pay much less than $3 per beer.

After football season, the cable will be cut off.

Also, I'm selling my house. More on that later.
 
Husband and I have joint checking and savings, but I also kept my own checking account (he didn't keep his, but he doesn't like to spend money on anything, ever, so he doesn't really need the security of having his own cash to spend on frivolous items I wouldn't approve of). I pay the bills (unless I'm pissed off and annoyed at him, and then I tell him it's his turn, but I've only done that twice because he never follows my system; this may or may not be related to the fact that I've never told him what my system is).

Most of our bills are paid automatically through online banking (because I was really bad about actually paying bills on time, not because of a lack of funds, but through laziness). Those that change each month I pay with a check so that I can see what the total is (and weep over our gas and electric bill, which is always ludicrous, despite a strict policy of never turning the thermostat above 64 degrees, except for once a winter when we crank the heat, put on bathing suits and drink margaritas all day: it helps me cope with the winter). When I pay bills I check what we have left in our checking account after everything that will be deducted before our next paycheck and transfer some to our savings account based on that amount and whatever we can afford at that time. If there's something I really want that I can't picture myself trying to justify to him, I use money from my own checking account, but I actually don't think I've ever done that (which is good, because I don't remember the last time I put money in it).

My husband has a stock portfolio that his dad (an accountant) put together for him years and years ago, which we never touch or make much of an effort to understand, but it's nice to know that it's there in case the shit hits the fan (of course, it's been shrinking recently, but it's still a lot more money than we would have if one of us suddenly lost our job: not an unreasonable concern since my company cut 20% of jobs in my area this spring).

It's a ridiculously amateur way to go about things (no spreadsheets or what I could really call a budget or tracking system), but it seems to work for us, as we have a pretty tidy savings, and we were able to save up for a 3-week honeymoon around eastern Europe in about 18 months. On the other hand, this may be because we don't have expensive tastes: our biggest unnecessary expenditure is far and away going out to eat and drink, and I'm definitely starting to curtail that just because it makes me feel so irresponsible. We also are remarkably debt-free: our only debt besides the occasional credit card bill are our car loan and my student loans (a significant amount, but nothing they can really take away from me if we get in a bind). This is probably the primary reason we've never fought over money and I can't actually picture us doing so, though of course now we will.

I long for pie graphs and charts and a budget, but apparently my longing isn't strong enough to actually do any of those things.
 
It's funny, I have a mandatory 401k introductory meeting tomorrow at work. I'm all for saving for retirement, and am certainly overdue to start, but I admit to being torn about the 401k: because the stock market is so shitty right now, does that make it a good time to get in on the ground floor, as it were? Or are things more likely to keep getting worse, thus sapping any meager savings I might start now?

This getting older business is tricky.

Baby eating jokes will help!

Also, I agree with our spamming friend: You made my stomach to strain much while laughing.
 
Not paying tax is FUN!
 
You also made my stomach to strain, but I blame it more on my allergy to MSG in Chinese food than your writing.

You make me hurt in a good way, you sexy man.
 
You know it's a good post when you made someone's stomach to strain while laughing.
 
JT - That's how I roll.

Wait, you're selling your house?

DUFF - I have to ask, what's the sentiment like over there now that Obama was elected President of the US?

BERRY JO - Thank you for that EPIC COMMENT. Seems like you've got it more or less figured out for now, responsibilities and whatnot. Good for you, and thanks for sharing.

EMILY - Isn't it, though? Sometime last week, I just came to the realization that nobody is going to develop a plan for me except for me, because I'm in charge now. Scared the whazz outta me, but it put me in the right frame of mind.

This economic collapse will pass in a few years, so don't worry too much about starting a little investment portfolio. Just don't, you know, go crazy.
 
B-but it is a funny essay!
 
Yes, it is!
 
Yup, Casa de JT is on the market. I'll have a post up about it sometime soon.
 
Your arrangment sounds similar to my own...sans the mortgage. We our house free and clear. Yup...I got me a Splenda Daddy...I can't say Sugar Daddy because I still have to pay for some things...like abortions.

wow...that was tasteless.
 
Oh yeah...we have joint "adoption" account which will never be used for adoption as we have decided that neither of us is fit to parent children. I am not sure what that money is ultimately going toward. I am voting for a condo in Moloka'i
 
HIL - Tasteless, yet infinitely amusing.

Like Mark Wahlberg.
 
JT - Lemme guess; you're getting married and moving in with the Missus? Or did I ruin the potential surprise?

HILBELINK - Hilarious. I like the idea that you'd be saving money to adopt a kid while continuously aborting fetuses.
 
Panic and guilt are good motivators for fiscal planning. If they aren't strong enough, I have another tool for you to use: smugness. Knowing that you're maxing out the 401k (or 403b -- you work for the state, right?) contributions that your employer will match and fully funding your Roth IRA will make you feel tremendously smug. It's awesome.

I made a rough sort of budget a few years ago when I bought a house, and it's worked well enough that I haven't had to do a particularly good job at it. I had two basic premises:
1. If you plan to save the money you have left over after you spend the rest, you'll never save anything.
2. If you plan to spend frivolously the leftover money after you pay all the bills, you'll spend every penny every month.

The two of those can work together to ensure you live from paycheck to paycheck.

Solution: I have only two rock solid line items in my budget. I have a reasonable weekly allowance I give myself for eating out, drinking, used CDs, cocaine, and strippers. And I have a monthly payment into the house fund. The latter will buy me a new furnace when the current one goes unexpectedly, pump the sewage out of the basement, or-- actually, I don't want to think about any of that stuff any more. Bad stuff. It's for bad stuff.

So, by budgeting for the thing that no one does (saving for a rainy day) and the thing everyone wants to do (cocaine and strippers), all the money that's left doesn't really have anywhere interesting to go. I pay my bills and buy boring things that I need but don't really want. There's generally a bit left over every month because there's no pressing need to spend any of that.

I have no idea whether this would work for anyone else. I think the reason it works for me is that I am, by nature, very cheap and disinclined to spend money. I spend the allowance money without guilt because that's what it's there for, but I'm not tempted to spend any of the other money because I've convinced myself it isn't really mine. If I think I'd enjoy something, I'm have to use the allowance money to buy it.
 
Well, we wanted to adopt from China, and not matter how hard we tried...my husband and I were unable to make a Chinese baby pop out.

So we got a dog.
 
CDP - You are mistaken, kind sir.
 
JT - I'm sort of glad, because I like surprises that don't have to do with me. Looking forward to the (hopefully) good news.

HILBELINK - Because I am a friend and would like to help in any way I can, I'm more than willing to get a Chinese girl pregnant for you two.

Wait, that makes no sense. Oh well, too late.

MIKE D - Sounds like a great plan for you; responsible, too. You raise good points, particularily about paying yourself first and developing emergency and luxury budgets. These are things I'm trying to get into come 2009. Thanks for sharing, man.
 
All this budget talk is making my head a-splode. I'm glad that I won't be dealing with money ever again come January.
 
That's the spirit! Live like you don't have any; It'll make my job a lot easier.
 
Geez; if that can happen in Russia, it can happen anywhere.
 
All the lights are off at my office today and no one can figure out why. I actually like it better this way.
 
Yeah...take it from an alcohol salesman. My numbers are down from last year.

No one is buying my high-end Scotch, and I'm mainly selling middle-to low end wines and beers.
 
JT - I think you know what this means.

It's time to invest in bathtub gin and moonshine!
 

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