Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spending to Save

"You can get one free if you buy two," the clerk told me as she scanned my candy bar. I thanked her graciously but I told her with a little laugh that if I got three, we would eat them. That kind of spending to save doesn't usually work, unless you normally eat those candy bars often, yet have the self-discipline not to eat all of them that day. So, no, that's not how I "spend to save".

Another thing, "spending to save" often is not an option for those who are struggling just to survive. That's one of the (many) reasons I don't feel we should ever say, 'poor people could help themselves if they wanted to'.  Really? With what? So if you're one of those who is struggling to put food in your mouth, please don't get annoyed at my post about spending to save. Maybe if I can encourage myself and others to save, maybe we will have more to share with you or with someone else who could use a little help.

Okay, here are some of my miscellaneous ideas for spending in the short term in order to save in the long term...or for "spending a little to save a lot":

1) Recently one day, my husband went to zip up his 'decades-old-but-still-very-good' down jacket and the zipper jumped the track (or something like that). I thought maybe I could fix it, but it didn't look I was going to conquer that learning curve in a hurry. So, after calling around a bit, we took it to a dry cleaner that does alterations. They fixed it for him, as good as new. I could hardly believe it cost only ten dollars! Replacing it with a new, comparable jacket would have probably cost at least a couple hundred dollars, maybe more. Back in the days before he had business casual dress at work, he also used to get his dress shoes re-soled, saving a lot of money by not needing to buy expensive new shoes very often.

2)  Ah, and my favorite fence post story.  We once had a large house on a large lot, where we were somewhat "house poor", meaning the house payments, insurance, and repairs were eating away at our discretionary income. We had an essential chain link fence which had a rotting post, rusting out at the bottom where it goes into the ground. Someone suggested we repair it ourselves and told us how to do it. We took off the top of the post; measured the diameter of the pipe; measured the height from the ground to the top. Then, he told us, go to the hardware store and buy a piece of hollow pipe, slightly smaller in diameter and about 2-3 feet longer in height. We climbed a ladder, put the new pipe into the hollow post, and watched it slide down. With a rubber mallet, we pounded the extra couple feet down, down, down into the ground. (Now, had there been good concrete in there, it might not have worked, but the same man who suggested this repair had noticed that the concrete base had worn out along with the pipe.) So the new pipe went in very nicely and held our fence strong for years. Like the jacket zipper, it cost only a few dollars...maybe $20 or $40 to fix all four posts, but in this case - by the time we had fixed all the posts - we may have saved as much as a thousand dollars or more, considering that, without those repairs, we would have had to get a whole new fence.

3) You've all heard this one, but it's so true: An oil change is worth its weight in gold...or at least in oil. My husband and I don't get oil changes every 3,000 miles but we do get them on a regular basis (you can usually check the recommendation in the owner's manual for your car).  My '93 Pontiac minivan made 17 years and just under 100,000 miles before we had to replace it. My husband has driven his 2001 Jeep over 200,000 miles so far, and it's still going strong. That half hour in the quick lube place is so worth it and that 30 to 50 dollars may have saved us tens of thousands of dollars over the years. (But I'm careful about how much extra work I let a quick lube center do...and if they say something major is wrong, I say, "Thank you. I'll tell my mechanic."  We do also have a good mechanic.)

These are just a few of the ways we have saved money by spending money.  Of course, you can also save money without spending money, but I just wanted to share these thoughts for now. How about you?  Are there ways that you have saved a lot by spending a little?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cars as Lethal Weapons

I don't remember who I first heard refer to a car as a gun...many years ago...decades, even. But I remember it well, because I thought it was a good point.

Whether I'm the kind who thinks we should be able to possess whatever guns we want without any restriction, or whether I'm in favor of more gun control (and I'm not saying which I am)...wherever you and I are on that spectrum, I'm sure neither of us would leave a gun lying around, unlocked, loaded, and cocked. We would take safety precautions.

But every time we get in a car, put our hands on the steering wheel, and push on the gas pedal, we are taking a lethal weapon into our hands. Have you ever almost hit a pedestrian? I have come close, on more than one occasion. And - as some of you know - I have also experienced the fear and pain of a family member being struck by a car and thrown...and airlifted to the hospital. Miraculously, he recovered completely. But 14 months later, in January of 2012, he died in his sleep of natural causes. Did the one follow from the other? The coroner didn't think so; but sometimes I wonder. How much does the medical profession really know about injuries to the brain?  And if it was a rare component of my son's LHON that caused his death, as the coroner thought, could the LHON have been worsened by a severe blow that caused hours of bleeding inside his head? How does that kind of injury affect the mitochondria? How much does the medical profession really know about LHON? And not to worry; I believe my son is in a happy place beyond our imagining, but still, there is a human explanation for his passing, even if we will never know that reason.

After Paul's death - for awhile - if a driver cut me off when I was walking in a parking lot or worse yet, cut off one of my sons, I would literally run after the car to yell at the driver! Yes, this normally-non-aggressive, middle-aged woman was chasing people down.  As I told my family about this, and they reacted with alarm, I began to realize I was endangering my life by chasing on foot after strangers who were wrapped in metal armor.

That thought stopped me from yelling at people, but it was something else that stopped the anger. As I made a left turn one day, paying careful attention to the oncoming traffic to see when I would have a break to go, I forgot to look carefully to my left before turning...and suddenly, there was a pedestrian! It was one of my sons who pointed it out before I saw her, and probably saved her life (and my sanity). I swerved quickly. And I missed her. But not by much. She was crossing where she wasn't supposed to. And she was oblivious to the whole close call...which means she would not have helped to avoid a collision. That scared me badly. But most of all, it humbled me. I've always been a very careful driver, but each of us is ever only human.

It also scares me to think of all the times I've had my hands on a phone while I was driving. What if that had been one of those times? Would I have had enough control of the wheel to swerve quickly enough? I honestly don't think so. And still I am tempted to check that ringing phone to see who just called me. I'm tempted to focus on the oncoming traffic while waiting to make a left turn, instead of also scanning to the left side. I'm tempted to text, at a long, boring stop light...after all, we're stopped, right?...but what do we do with the phone, then, when the light changes? If I say no to the temptation to text at the stop light, then I won't be tempted to continue when I begin to roll again.

The temptations are great and ever-present, and that's why I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of what's at stake: our lives and the lives of others. I'm writing this to remind you, my friends, but I'm also writing it to keep reminding myself, too...not to remind myself of tragedies, my own family's, the one that happened today in our county, or others...although I will never forget those, but to remind us of how important it is to be as ready as possible, as mentally and physically available as possible, in order to deal with the unexpected.

Let's not lock the car in the garage. But let's make sure the safety is on.