Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Money View from My Vantage Point


I don't understand how so many empty stores can stay open.

      It's important not to decide that whatever your own economic situation, that everyone else might not be experiencing the identical circumstance.  I remember that in some of the most economically profitable days of the Reagan administration, my own young family had some of its most challenging financial times.  I graduated from college in the early eighties, started working, and bought a small house in a rural mountainous neighborhood where many of the people with good jobs commuted to New York City.   We didn't wish to do that, and so we both took jobs closer to home that paid a fraction of the salary, but without such a commute. When our first two children were born, we were challenged by copays, medical bills, hospital bills, and ultimately the bills of a Northeastern Winter.  The high property taxes of the region were also difficult.   We turned our home from a lovely Summer cottage to a year round home, and the county responded by increasing our annual taxes to more than the total equity we had in our home.   As with most unsustainable practices, the answer soon came to us.  While on a vacation in the American South, we found less expensive housing, better weather, at the time more jobs within easier commuting, and a child friendly community in which we would probably rather raise our children.  Our move went fairly well the following year, and we have been a good deal more secure than in those early years since.

       Money comes, and money goes.  It's important that we hinge our lives on people and positive activities rather than on cash, which is fleeting.    Still, I like to report what I am seeing financially here in my neck of the proverbial woods.  It might be representative of things which are occurring in your part of the US, or of Canada. It might be completely different than your present experience in another nation.   Interestingly, the people who shoot me an e-mail usually see similarities in what I am saying financially, wherever they are.

       This week I needed to run out to town and to a pharmacy.  When I got there I realized that I had also intended to pay a bill that is due at an unusual time of the month. (Yes, I have those odd-nik bills too.)  My checkbook was at home.  I didn't want to drive thirty-five miles to simply get a checkbook, not did I wish to pay the bill the following day which could have made it late.  This particular bill cannot be paid online.   While filling my vehicle with diesel, I had an idea.  I wonder if I can buy a US postal money order ? ( for this domestic bill )    I went to the post office to find that I could pay cash for a postal money order and I could mail the check at once.  The cost of the postal money order itself was $1.25  .   This certainly solved my immediate problem.   The postmistress in the empty rural post office told me that many of her customers have chosen not to have a checking account any longer, and that they simply pay all their bills using postal money orders.   I did some quick math realizing that the seven dollars a month I pay for the honor of having a checking check fees and a fee to get photographic evidence of my paid checks is still a little cheaper than buying all postal money orders, but it's close, when you consider we pay a few things online. This may be one of the reasons the banks seem so desperate.

Cheese and chocolate are my favorite foods.

          I don't spend a huge amount of time in grocery stores.  We grow whatever we can here in terms of vegetables and some fruit, because we believe it's healthier to do so, and because it teaches our kids to do the same. We have plenty of eggs from the chickens, except in the Winter when we buy a few, which aren't as fresh or taste as good as our free range large brown eggs are..   We buy meat, cheese, and larger containers of fresh fruit from Sam's Club. We also get trash bags and detergents there, about once a year.   We fill in with items of which we use much less,in occasional trips to Giant, Food Lion, Kroger, or others when we are in the city, which is every couple of weeks for one reason or another.  Since we live such a distance, we put food in a large cooler in our car to get it home safely.  We don't make special trips to shop. My husband picks up meat, cheese and other items on his way home from work.   I pick up other items on my way back from errands.    From our limited vantage point, I can tell you that far fewer people are shopping in grocery stores over all.   All of them used to be busy no matter what the hour, but now, I am often the only person in the store when I am there.  Most items are much more expensive than they were a few months ago, which was often my last visit there, since I rotate the shops and buy the specials if I need them, incorporating the "cherry picking" technique of shopping.   Some of these stores also have store brand generic items which are often quite good. If I like them, I tend to buy them there.  Yesterday for example, one store is discontinuing its own brand of decaffeinated tea bags.  They were reduced from three dollars a box to $1.34, so I bought ten boxes.  This will keep my daughter and myself in decaf tea for quite a while.
Jams, cheeses, yogurt and bread have all jumped significantly in the last six months.  I didn't think it was that cheap to make my own low sugar jams, but I am going to look at it again. I may also continue to buy organic honey from one of my neighbors.   I am also considering getting sheep for the purpose of establishing dairy sheep, and then making cheese for personal and family use.  I am still paying a premium for yogurt, but since only one family member eats a great deal of it, it may be cheaper just to buy it in bulk at Sam's. This works for us just now, but as families grow, children grow up and leave, and needs change, we need to be flexible enough to reconsider our long held shopping techniques.  For example, when the kids were small we used a fair number of paper towels.  Now, I wash dishtowels in the washing machine, and only rarely use them.  I use only one roll a week.

          Also in the last few months, everywhere has a donation box for canned food.  The post offices, the mechanic who inspects our cars, the vets waiting room even has a donation bin for dog and cat food for the local pound. Even the art supply shop had a big food donation box for the local food bank, and it was filled with bagged cereal.

         The trend of very few cars being on the road here, even on weekends is continuing.  People go to work, and they see the dentist or buy food on the way home.  They stay at home otherwise.

           We have a luxury open air shopping mall in Richmond.   I get there about once a year.  I was there about two weeks ago, and I was quite frankly the only shopper in most of the stores there.    It felt strange to be the only shopper.  It's hard to believe that they are busy enough during the weekend to justify being open and completely empty during most days during the week.

              In the cities within a few hours of our home, the local governments have enacted a "meals tax".  This makes even a meal at Wendy's cost more, especially for a family.   On the edge of our closest cities, McDonald's isn't full.  Burger King has a few construction workers eating there, and Wendy's has families who have just completed baseball practice on weekends.

          I just got another e-mail alert concerning a number of additional bank repossessed homes which have gone up for sale.  None of my remaining kids are financially strong enough to try to buy one yet, especially  even with only modest student loans still outstanding.

          Animal feed costs have skyrocketed in the last one to two years.  Farmers are passing this along to anyone who wishes to buy sheep, goats, or other animals. The exception are horses, dogs and cats.  They are being abandoned in droves and this breaks my heart. I have taken on all I can.

          Substantial numbers of homeless young people are panhandling at all of the stores we go to. This seems to be worsening, rather than improving.

Less food is coming here.

         In conclusion, from my own vantage point, we are having a tougher time buying less food than we used to. Our food bills for essential items have increased substantially in the past year.    My husband is making less money than he did last year.   I paid a significant amount of both federal and state taxes this year, as changes were made to the tax laws.  This has left me with very little reserve, and I will not be buying anything for the rest of the year other than essentials.  The farm vet, the equine vet, and the small animal vet are all charging more this year simply because their materials are costing more.  This means that I will be doing even more of the immunizations and planning to see them less.  In order to save some money and perhaps continue prepping, I will need to find a small part time job.   Of course, the people I know who are looking have not found work in a year or more.

          Here's hoping that the imaginary economic improvement we are being told about on the news is genuine where you are.  It certainly isn't improving economically here.



October, 2014:     
Although we are deluged with American media reports as to how the American economy is improving, my local assessment which I just reread is about the same as I have reported above.  In fact,  we are seeing even more homeless young people outside interstate edged shopping malls etc.  Now we have more homeless veterans here, and more young amputees begging for cash, work or just a little food.
 There is certainly a disconnect as to what government reports and what we are actually seeing.  I did note this week that China has replaced the United States as the largest economy in the world.  The US held that ranking for about a hundred years, but no more.