August 2010

August 2010 - HE SAYS / SHE SAYS: If Someone Gave You An Extra $1,000 A Month (And You Couldn't Pay Bills Or Save It) What Would You Spend It On?

Author: Keith Kelson & Jean Wharton | Photographer: Photography by Anne

I tend to be very conservative when it comes to spending money. I wouldn’t say that I’m a cheapskate, but I always try to get the best value for my dollar. This month’s topic presents an intriguing challenge for me: what to do with an extra $1,000 every month that I have to spend. My first impulse would be to find some sneaky way to deposit that money in the bank. Ben Franklin said it best when he pointed out that a penny saved is a penny earned. Ben also got struck by lightning trying to prove to Queen Elizabeth that the earth was round, so I think it’s safe to say that the man knew what he was talking about.

So, what to buy? I’m just an average man with simple tastes, but I guess it would be okay to splurge and get a little crazy. I do need one of those fancy drink stations that makes all the drinks that the cool people have at their parties. I also need a good poker table and some nice poker chips for Vegas Night.

I know that a thousand dollars isn’t a lot of money nowadays, but in the hands of a frugal master… The average frugal master will use coupons, bargain hunting and haggling to stretch that thousand dollars like a giant ACME rubberband in a Road Runner cartoon. Thanks to auction sites like Ebay, we have access to virtual garage sales and virtual flea markets 24 hours a day.

Can I actually spend a thousand dollars in a month? I can’t make any promises—it’s like asking a rooster not to crow or asking a used car salesman to tell the truth. I am what I am, and I’m thrifty.

First things first, to ensure we spend the bulk of the money each month, let’s get a few of the geekier purchases out of the way. Let’s start with some of my favorite television shows and movies on DVD. I’d purchase copies of every Star Trek television show with the exception of the last one, Enterprise. Scott Bakula as a starship captain? Are you kidding me?

I Love Lucy and Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World would also be on the list, mainly because the next time someone mentions to me just how funny Adam Sandler is, I’d like to be able to show them what real comedy looks like.

Well, it looks like despite my best efforts to splurge, I’ve only spent a couple hundred dollars so far. Three hundred dollars to be exact, as I was able to pick up a slightly used box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation for a song. Who knew there would be so much pressure involved in spending money? Now I know how Paris Hilton and the guys at the Pentagon must feel. But I’m determined to spend this money even if it kills me.

My niece has always wanted a Barbie Dream House and I would also throw in a Barbie doll that still has its head attached and a Barbie Corvette convertible. I would buy her a Ken doll, but it turns out that those dream houses are pretty darn pricey, even in a sluggish economy. Maybe it’s best that Barbie enjoys the single life for a while.

What’s that? You think that I’m being cheap? Look, I would buy a Ken doll if Mattel made one with Kung Fu grip action.

Thanks to Barbie, I’m a lot closer to spending all of that thousand bucks, but it’s getting harder. I stood in line at Wachovia for three hours, drenched in a cold sweat, fighting the urge to deposit the rest of the money. I finally mustered the courage to leave—actually the bank closed and the tellers were through taking bets on whether or not I’d actually make a deposit.

Okay, I cry uncle on this one. I can’t spend an extra thousand dollars a month without saving the bulk of that money. Sure, I need that $600 custom-designed joystick for Super Street Fighter IV with the Sanwa parts. I also need that Back to the Future Delorean paperweight that lights up, but there’s just no way I’m spending that kind of money without making sure that I’ve gotten the best deal possible.

Cheap? Miserly? Hey, I’m no Scrooge McDuck. I do spend money, just not all willy-nilly like some people do. I’d give Walter Mosley a million dollars if he would promise to write 10 more Easy Rawlins novels.

So, maybe I’m not able to spend $1,000 a month, but I did spend $800 (actually $650.87, but hey, I tried). I bought my niece her Barbie Dream House and taught her that Ben Franklin sailed the ocean blue and got struck by a bolt of lightning proving that the world is indeed round and not flat. The lightning bolt also inspired him to keep a copper penny on him at all times as he also discovered that copper doesn’t conduct electricity. Ben was a pretty sharp cat.

There is no such thing as “extra” money. I don’t care what your take-home pay is, be it $500 a month or $15,000 a month, there is never “extra” money. Extra buttons? Yes. Spare tires? Sure. Additional tax? Without a doubt. No one will ever have enough money, time or closet space. Having “extra” implies that you may not need it or want it. Everyone needs money, and all of us want more. If you don’t want or need more money, please send your “extra” my way.

Assuming that a magical benefactor does have extra money to spare and is sharing with me, I’d be happy to find a use for it, even with the caveat that I can’t use the money for practical purposes like paying bills or saving for retirement, rainy day or emergency. This topic is oddly similar to the premise of a 1985 Richard Pryer comedy, Brewster’s Millions. I’ll play along.

I’d immediately allocate a portion of the funds to charity. Having the gift of an additional $1,000 means the freedom to donate as need demands during any given month. If someone gave me money, I’d feel obligated to see it put to good use. I would donate to schools and children’s charities, disaster relief and environmental issues. I would invest in micro-financing initiatives across the globe, so that as the loan gets paid back to me, I’d continue to invest. Let’s say I contribute $200 to charity each month.

The remaining $800, I’d share it with friends and family in my presence. I would love the feeling of being out to dinner with my friends, and rather than ask the waiter to complete the painstaking task of splitting up our meals down to who pays for the cheese dip, I’d pick up the check without blinking an eye and pay the bill (tipping generously). I would take my parents out to dinners as nice as the ones they share with me. I’d rent a convertible to drive around with my roommate. I’d pay for a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway with my friends. Spending money is fun, but spending it with friends and family is way more fun. I don’t think $1,000 more each month is enough to drastically change my perspective on life. I would still like to eat Mexican food and shop the sale rack.

Okay, so now I’ve spent some of the money. But let’s scratch that generous nonsense. Say, for the sake of argument, that I am a selfish miser who doesn’t want to share her money.

Here is what I would do with the money if I spent it all on myself:
1. Plane tickets: I’d buy flights to NYC, San Francisco and Austin. All the while, I’d be watching flights to Europe and buy tickets to Paris, London, Prague or Barcelona as soon as possible.

2. Spa treatments: A pedicure I would normally get every few months would be upped to monthly. The massage I get once a year would also go up to monthly.

3. Personal Trainer: You can’t get a Cameron Diaz body without someone dragging you out of bed each day, getting your butt to the gym and making you work it.

4. Concert tickets: Along with those plane tickets, I’d fly to whatever city I could to see Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, Ray LaMontagne and countless others.

Not too bad, right? I’d like to travel more, have my fit, toned body massaged and listen to good live music. Is that really so much to ask? I would love a new car, a better wardrobe and faster computer. But at the end of the day, or at the end of this life, it will be the events and feelings shared among those closest to me that matter. No amount of money can change memories, friendships or journeys.

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