Monthly Archives: October 2011
(If you need a primer on Occupy Wall Street and what it’s protesting, check this out.)
Retailers are concerned that the American consumer has permanently changed his/her ways. Take this recent article in the Wall Street Journal:
“They are trading down, consolidating shopping trips to save on gas and generally not spending a lot on discretionary purchases,” (Target CEO and Chairman) Mr. Steinhafel said.
That’s the best news I’ve heard all week! It may not have happened by choice, but a state of permanent frugality is actually very good for the average consumer. Why else would the media make it sound like a bad thing? The media needs to sell stuff constantly. Journalism today is sponsored by advertising, and digital advertising is even more cutthroat than traditional advertising in print and media (Advertiser: Your website is only getting 1 million page views a day? Sorry, LA Times, we’re moving to TMZ!). So the media wants you to think that frugal shoppers are bad for the economy. Wrong, frugal shoppers are bad for retailers. They also want you to think that a positive savings rate is bad for the economy, because it means consumers are saving more than they earn. Wrong, a positive savings rate is CRUCIAL for providing for you and your family in an emergency, not a credit card. They might not ever directly state it, but it is certainly implied that times must be good when Americans are spending more than they can afford, even though that is most certainly right before a bubble is about to burst.
Remember, “Consumer spending fuels around 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.” That means that instead of getting riled up about one-day boycotts that don’t work, permanently changing the way we shop and spend our precious, non-inflation adjusted wages, can have a real impact on the corporations that many people feel frustrated with. Change will come from both sides of the issue: we as consumers will have a bigger impact by showing restraint, not being affected by advertising, and corporations will take notice as sales will not grow by forcing an idea on to the consumer through incessant advertising.
I have been very tweet-happy regarding Occupy Wall Street and Occupy LA. I’m just pumped to see Americans speaking out against the stark stratification in our society and I appreciate the movement’s strong opposition to being classified as left/right, liberal/conservative. Those words and those parties have zero meaning to a regular person, and that’s why this movement is resonating with those of us who have never identified with a political party but are still on Team People and/or Team Common Sense. As the movement grows, the people will realize that financial clout and media clout are needed to make this into a real movement, and changing the things we “need” is a direct statement of our power and influence as a group.
Finally, Yahoo! commenters are always the most colorful. I read this comment recently:
Dearest 99%: This is how STUPID you 99% peasants are. You pay us $100+/mo for cable. You pay us $100+/month for cell service. You get a new $200 phone every frickin’ year. You go out to restaurants 7 days/week. You buy unnecessary apps…you go to sports games whose players don’t give a rat’s #$%$ about the fans…you pay the $4/gallon gas…shall we go on? We have a right to increase costs and profit from that. YOU DON’T LIKE IT, DON’T BUY IT!!! It’s that simple, you peasant-#$%$, peasant! We OWN you! Now get the flick off our street and go the flick home! Sincerely, the 1%
I thought it was illuminating because it shows how the 1% look down on the 99%, and yet there is a simple way out: less spending. It reminds me of the report that came out earlier this year by the Heritage Foundation about poor Americans having televisions and microwaves that Bill O’Reilly cited as evidence that they are not really that bad off. Normally, I won’t even bother wasting space on people like Bill O’Reilly, but that particular argument comes up often and it’s important to understand. Is having a refrigerator the same as being able to afford healthy foods and fresh fruits at a nearby full-service grocery store? Is having a television the same as having access to a well-rounded public education that offers your children access to rigorous academics, arts, sports and a safe haven before and after school? Is having a cell phone the same as having access to medical care that will be vital to providing preventive care that encourages exercise, a good diet and treats illnesses early on rather than later when they become more costly and complicated matters?
Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But you gotta give it to O’Reilly for continuing to defend his dim-witted opinions to the death. He can’t stop now. He’d look like a loser!
What do you think? Will spending less and frugality on the part of the average consumer have an effect on the direction of American society?
This is just a quick post to start the week off in the right direction: the biggest change I’ve had in my personality has been learning to follow through with things. I actually had the idea of starting a blog over 3 years ago. It was not a very clear idea (just a personal blog with guest posts by my friends) but I wonder if it would have grown if I had done it and stuck with it. Then I had the idea for a shower foot-scrubbing device I coined the Scrub Shack, and it turns out it got invented at the same time I was thinking of it: Avivo Shower Sandal Footscrubber. There have been others, but I’m not living in the past. I’m just reflecting on how much better I have been since the beginning of 2011 on following through with things. Here are a few things I finally got right in 2011:
Exercise: I got back into working out regularly and playing tennis regularly. I feel better and it gives me energy to do other things, so I am not just coming home from work, falling on the couch and watching TV all night.
Writing/Blogging: This blog is already 4 months old and posting regularly keeps this blog active and reminds me that paying off all of my debts is one of the best things I can do to improve my situation. Plus, I have always wanted to be a writer and yet never exposed my written work to anyone but myself. I’m getting a little better at writing and am putting together some ideas for a few good books, which is one of my top goals in life. I’m planning a big revamp after 6 months of blogging, which is the point I will have proven to myself I can be committed to the American Debt Project: getting me out of debt, motivating others to get out of debt, stay out of debt, and understand what gets us so easily indebted in the first place.
Work: I started my job in February 2010, and with my inconsistency record, that is the longest I’ve EVER held a job. And even though I should be making more, it all comes one step at a time. First, be good at a decent-paying job, then move on and be great at a better-paying job thanks to the first job.
Spending: I’ve been desperately trying to pay off my debts since 2008. And yet, I was still regularly visiting TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, going out to eat a few times a week, and taking trips to Hawai’i I couldn’t afford. I always felt like I HAD to do things. Well, I’ve finally stopped going to the stores, eat out way less often, and don’t make promises to visit people or places when I can’t afford it. I know it sucks to say no all the time, but I am seeing results and it’s worth it. I sometimes get overwhelmed and think there’s no way I’m ever going to get out of this financial blackhole, but I would be even less likely to get out of it if I was shutting my eyes and hoping it will magically go away. That’s like hoping the fried chicken smell is going to leave your house after you deep-fried a smorgasboard of meat, potatoes and cheese. Do you have an industrial fan? Because that smell doesn’t just fade. It only seeps in deeper.
Business/Investing: I’m working on some things as side investments/income. I’m still in the early stages, so it’s not worth analyzing yet, but I know that being consistent and spending some time on those ideas every day is going to pay off.
People: I’ve been getting better at staying in touch. I hate when I call someone and they don’t call me back for a week. And yet we all do it. I’ve been getting better at being responsive, and seeing my family and friends who live nearby regularly. I really miss the family and friends who don’t live in California, but I know I will be a better family member and friend if I can take care of myself and not complain about my situation, and when I finally do visit, it will be with an ease of mind I don’t think I’ve ever had.
I know, why all the back patting and self-congratulating? I told you I need a good start to MY week! But seriously, this is just part of the “following through” and “paying my debt to society” themes I’ve been focused on. Persistence does pay off. Even if you’ve never been persistent, never followed a routine, never broken a bad habit, never kept a job longer than 6 months, a new focus and new dedication will pay off and help you change any of those things. If I can do it, that means even the laziest, most self-satisfied and easily distracted type can get there. As usual, I found the idea of persistence perfectly captured at Genius Types. I think he got it right when he said, “The reason 20 percent of the people make all the money is because 80 percent of the people quit early.”
Learning Things From People You Think Are Stupid (Or How I Learned to Let Go of My Dislike of Lauren Conrad)
I used to despise Lauren Conrad. Like, couldn’t stand her. But I’ve since realized that I didn’t like LC of The Hills and Laguna Beach. She may or may not be this person in real life, but her character on TV always seemed to be annoyed with everything, unimaginative and dull, dull, dull. I’m definitely in the minority here because I know she has a lot of fans, but to me, carrying a Chanel bag and being obsessed with fashion does not make you “classy”. LC refers to herself as classy but what she doesn’t realize is that the term “classy” is quite negative and you should never use it to refer to yourself. Take this definition of classy from UrbanDictionary.com:
Ghettofied adjective from the late 70s & 80s that somehow became socially acceptable with predominately middle & upper class homogenized White Americans, especially during the last few years. The biggest mistake connected with the use of this term is that it should never be used to describe oneself. Those who use it to describe themselves never are.Example: Excuse me, I am a classy lady! May I please have a paper bag & a straw!
So I usually never miss out on an occasion to bash LC, whether it was her collection of book-shaped objects, terrible first clothing line or misguided attempts to be “classy”. But with my new path of regular posts on this blog and a dedication to discovering more in life instead of just hatin’, I’ve reconsidered LC. Consider this: she’s been by far the most successful person to come out of the Laguna Beach/The Hills franchise. She’s managed to make her career in the Hollywood/fashion/celebrity complex more relevant and current than when she was on air. She’s churning out 1-2 books every year and they’re staying on the New York Times bestseller list (in the children’s section, but still). And she’s doing it without being all that likeable, truly creative, smart or some great personality. Why all the success? I used to think she was just a typical rich OC kid who was being given everything even though she wasn’t the coolest or funniest one on the show. But there are things Lauren did that her costars didn’t and now they all seem pathetic while LC is slowly but surely gaining the sort of respectability that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have garnered despite the fact that their original claim to fame is one of the lamest sitcoms in American history. What has she done right?
1) Lauren Conrad works hard. She’s done a lot of different things-from sponsorships to book deals and none of them have been failed music careers or desperate attempts to cash in on her fame. In Hollywood, you don’t have to have 100% artistic integrity. There are those who do and who achieve great success on their own terms (think Chloe Sevigny), but there are plenty of equally if not more successful stars who get what they want because they never stop working. LC figured that out and got the right people on her team (managers, business managers, publicists, etc.) to figure out how she could be successful and she stayed the course. She promotes herself on talk shows and book tours, appears happy in public (now that she’s not on The Hills), and has two popular websites, Laurenconrad.com and TheBeautyDepartment.com.
2) She hasn’t let the fame get to her. Fame is a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but LC managed to take the worst of it, like sex tape rumors and a publicly destroyed best-friendship, and still come out on top. Have you seen Heidi and Spencer lately? They made The Hills entertaining but they have nothing to show for it. LC used her fame and celebrity to boost her brands, products and image and figured out how to reveal less of her personal life even while she was still on air.
3) LC hasn’t let failure keep her from trying again or trying new ventures. The Lauren Conrad Collection in 2007 was unoriginal, overpriced and didn’t fare well in sales. It folded quickly. But because she kept her image positive, she launched a second line with Kohl’s in 2009 with better clothes and greater success and has a third line of aspirational contemporary wear, Paper Crown, that looks poised to do very well, thanks to much stronger marketing and design. That’s impressive to me because I don’t find LC’s sense of style to be very original, but she has convinced a loyal legion of followers that her “classic, simple, pretty” tastes with a California twist are totally creative. Leo Babauta said, “If you have been convinced a product changed your life, then it has. That’s how the magic works.” The same idea applies here–if LC can convince people that she has style, taste and originality, then she has it.
4) Lauren Conrad knows who she appeals to and she markets herself towards that group. I know Lauren Conrad isn’t supposed to appeal to me. I’m too old and have read way too many magazines and commentaries to not see her as just a pretty face with a good eye for putting things together. LC’s target market is 15-23 year-old women. They’ve watched her on TV but also see her as older and thus wiser, especially for getting out of the snakepit that was Heidi and Spencer’s world. She’s kept herself relatable and is obsessed with appearing nice and polite, which this young group rewards.
We can always learn from people. Perhaps we say it but when it comes down to it, we don’t really think we can learn from someone who seems at first glance to be vapid or successful just through luck and looks. I think LC has become successful and found what she likes to do by having a great work ethic and more common sense than most “talent” in the entertainment industry. When the urge is strong to dismiss someone because you don’t connect with them, they’re not like you, or you think you’re smarter than them: try taking one good lesson from them. I bet it will at least be worthy of a blog post!
PS- If you’re interested in all things LC and her businesswoman prowess, check out her Celebpreneur blog at Forbes.
This update is coming a little late for September, but the month was pretty good. Remember my updated debt strategy of paying off my smallest bill first? Well here’s an update on that account, which is at 0% interest:
August 2011: $2,100
September 2011: $1,815
Pretty good, right? My goal for finishing October is to get it to $1,400. I can easily do it if I don’t pay small amounts to other accounts as well. Now for the overall debt update:
Total Debt Update:
September 2011: $37,084
% change from August 2011: 1.26% Decrease
OK, that doesn’t sound like much, but that’s with carrying that money I lent to someone (now down to $900) and buying two tickets to Costa Rica for November. The person I lent money to also has a 29% interest-rate Chevron card, so I told her to focus on that first instead of paying me. I should be below $37K by tomorrow but that’s not really a September update anymore. Paying off debt when you don’t make a lot is very difficult- and here’s a cool site I found that’s trying to educate people on the plight of many Americans: http://playspent.org/ The site is really well-created and well thought out. Let me know what you think of it.
Remember to click on the ‘debt update’ tag for this post to track my debt reduction process from the very beginning of this blog!