America provides the engine that powers the world’s economy. And consumers — you, me and our fellow Americans — are responsible for two-thirds of that economy. So in a way, it’s our duty as responsible world citizens to go out and buy stuff; to be the best consumers we can be.
Which makes the following hard to admit: I’m a terrible consumer. And my lack of enthusiastic consumption could be hurting my neighbors, my fellow citizens and ultimately, the entire world.
Exactly how am I horrible spender? Let’s count the ways.
1. I’ve never bought a new car
How much did I contribute to the industry that employs so many Americans? Not a darn thing. I’m 58 years old, have always earned a decent living, and have never owned a new car. So if it were left up to people like me, there wouldn’t be a U.S. auto industry.
It gets worse. Not only did I remain on the sidelines as America’s automotive industry rebounded from the recent recession, I profited from it. Check out my online portfolio and you’ll note I bought 500 shares of Ford in 2011 at $10.49. It’s now about $7 a share higher, so I’ve made close to 70 percent on my investment.
2. I don’t watch commercials
This is an especially embarrassing admission, because I’ve made my living in television news for more than 20 years. No advertising, no TV news.
I don’t watch commercials for two reasons. The first is because their unwelcome interruption is like fingernails on a blackboard. The second is because they work.
Watch enough commercials and next thing you know you’ll be acting as if you actually believe a new car will make you cool, you shouldn’t leave home without a credit card, and using the right toothpaste will get you into bed with fashion models.
Instead of exposing myself to annoying brainwashing, I either record shows and skip commercials, or channel surf to avoid them.
3. I buy generics
Speaking of commercials, if you don’t think they work, open your medicine cabinet and see if it contains a name-brand pain reliever. If it does, something convinced you to pay for a label when you could have had the identical product in generic form for 30 percent to 50 percent less.
If you do what the commercials advise and pay more for a name, you’re injecting more money into the American economy. I just can’t convince myself to do it.
4. I don’t pay interest on credit cards, or practically anything else
According to CNNMoney, JPMorgan Chase made about $19 billion in profit last year. That’s about $365 million every week. Wells Fargo made about $16 billion. Both banks employ hundreds of thousands of Americans, both make it easy to consume by offering easy credit, and both make billions by collecting interest.
I also own the stocks of these companies. Since purchasing them in 2009, I’m up about 85 percent in JPMorgan and nearly 150 percent in Wells Fargo.
But am I helping these banking behemoths make hundreds of millions weekly by being a borrower? No. While I use credit cards, it’s been 30 years since I carried a balance on one.
Not only that, for more than 20 years, I’ve been advising my readers and viewers to use nonprofit credit unions instead of banks.
5. I buy stuff used
Buying used may help save the planet and your retirement fund, but it won’t save the job of someone who manufactures, markets, transports or retails new stuff.
I try to buy whatever I can pre-owned, from cars to clothes. My house was built in 1965, my boat in 1985 and my car in 2009. Sure, I’d be many thousands poorer if I bought this stuff new, but buying used means not pulling my weight as a good consumer should.
6. I don’t eat fast food
Compared with the big banks, McDonald’s makes chump change. They only brought $5 billion to their bottom line last year. But if it were up to me, they’d be out of business and their 762,000 employees out of work.
Despite the many commercials assuring me all kinds of fast food is both a great value and a great meal, I don’t believe either is remotely true.
7. I pay no attention to labels
Many American companies want to charge more for a product because a famous person’s name is attached to it. Many others, from Harley-Davidson to Apple, make billions by creating cachet around their brands.
If there’s anything more ridiculous than seeking status in a name, I can’t imagine what it is. I don’t care which phone my friends are carrying in the pocket of their designer jeans. I buy on price and features, not brand.
The biggest stock winner I’ve ever owned is Apple. A $1,700 investment in my IRA made about 11 years ago is now worth more than $100,000. I did buy a refurbished Apple computer a few years back. I’ve also owned an iPhone, but I recently replaced it with a phone that’s both better and less expensive.
8. I rarely go to the movies or professional sports
The American sports and entertainment industries are the envy of the world. There’s no other country where a guy making $15 an hour will happily surrender big bucks so an actor or athlete can make millions.
Yet if it were up to me, these people — along with the millionaires and billionaires behind the scenes — wouldn’t be nearly as rich.
While I’ve gone to movie theaters and pro stadiums, it’s rare. I’ve found that amateur athletes and actors can be just as entertaining, and waiting a few months to rent a movie isn’t just a less expensive way to watch, it’s far more comfortable than a theater.
The bottom line is your bottom line
Unfortunately, while spending as much as possible is the shortest path to a healthy world economy, it’s also the shortest path to the poorhouse. So while I honestly want the American economy to be the engine, and envy, of the planet, I’m not willing to sacrifice my future to make it happen.
What about you? What do you do that makes you a lousy consumer, but savvy saver? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.