Friday, December 19, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not:
A Lesson Learned Too Late
By Broke Azz Nation

Civilizations throughout the ages had periods of feast and famine. People who survived did so by a combination of luck, planning, and saving their resources for the times there would be little.

"Waste not, want not," my grandmother used to say.

She endured losing her first husband during the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic which left her with an infant (my mother) and three young kids. This was during WWI. Ten years later, the Great Depression hit. By then she was remarried and had two more surviving children. That woman knew how to stretch a dollar.

Grandma may have been the first to pass along this lesson to me. Too bad I didn't take it to heart. I've done okay in life, but not nearly as well as I could have in stretching those dollars, which convert to resources.

Like many people born since WWII, our country has been blessed with an extraordinary long period of feasting. Collectively it harmed us - we have millions of folks, young adults in particular but also hoards of middle aged baby boomers, who lost the art of guarding and saving their resources.

Brace yourselves, for the days of feasting will soon be like the ghost of Christmas past. The world is about to enter very dark days that will last for years, as the jaws of a more malevolent Great Depression descends upon us.

Our incoming President, Barack Obama, can no more protect us from the first few years of this than he could stop a tsunami. I am convinced he will spend his first term doing damage control, and it won't be until his second term that we *might* get some relief.

I've been reflecting on my past half century of living and all the things I've wasted. Time. Youth. Money. Even love.

I am not alone, nor will I be alone as many of us will be living frugally and with regrets, the kind where you lay in bed at night and think of all the dumb shit you bought and didn't need.

Recently I did an inventory. It's amazing. I have three computers, two monitors, and a laptop. I called them upgrades, but only use one rather than getting the others repaired or buying larger hard drives.

I probably own 20 lamps. Ten are sitting in storage and must be older than my 9th grader. Got tired of looking at those and got newer ones. I should have bought new lampshades instead.

I think of that lifetime spa membership I bought - and never used after the first three months. It would cost me $129 to reactivate it, but I'll bet I won't go more than a few times and quit.

Friends are a resource too. I've squandered quite a few of those over the past 20 or so years by simply not keeping in touch. These include old love relationships that ended, but not so badly I couldn't pick up the phone once or twice a year and say, "How ya doing? Let's have lunch together."

And speaking of food... Hell, I've bought enough junk food and enjoyed feasting at restaurants in my entire adult life to buy a brand new mid-priced car. This includes those $5 to $8 cheap lunches while at the office, when instead I could have brought a sandwich and juice in a thermos.

I am thankfully not a shopaholic. I hate shopping as much as most of my girlfriends love it. However, I went through a fat phase and what did I do? Bought clothes way too small and have never nor will ever fit. Hell, my daughter can't even get into some of them. Now, I was a tiny thing at one time, but not that damn tiny.

My dog is, however. He has three jackets. Did I really need to buy him that many? Two would have been plenty, and he could have gotten by with one during these cold winters.

And back to my daughter - and son... I bought enough toys, board games, video games and Disney movies for them when they were younger to supply a small village. It was sinful.

The result is that my son is extremely materialistic and money burns a hole in his pocket. He takes it for granted - which is financially dangerous. I wised up in the nick of time to save my daughter, who is 7 years younger, from this toy orgy.

Speaking of Disney, I've been to Disney World and other vacation spots a bunch of times. Too many times... Shamu the Whale probably remembers all of us. I discovered the hard way that kids love this stuff the first two times, but after that they expect it and take it for granted. I should've skipped some of them and would've saved a bundle on those hotel and air fares.

Shoulda coulda woulda.

Sharing my wasteful habits are friends who bought time shares they only used once, two and three cars they don't need, and several have vacation homes but only use a few weeks each year but never rented out since they didn't want anyone messing up their stuff. One relative has two houses and lives in both. They're all kicking themselves for excess spending since they're worried to death about getting laid off and their credit is maxed out, their stocks plummeted or worthless, and their real estate devalued.

Virtually every single person I know has so much junk in their house, garage, and closets that they hardly ever use. Ice and roller skates, skis, camping gear, expensive tennis rackets, guns, etc. Kitchens are another place of excess.

One reason we have so much junk is sometimes we get gifts we don't need. This happened to me many times. Rather than return them to the store for cash or something I could actually use, I kept the gifts in case what I already had, broke. As a result, I have an extra TV and boombox, two coffee pots, two electric can openers, stupid crystal stuff for formal dining I've barely used, and I would own two microwaves but one actually did break.

Wait... is that Ebay I hear, calling my name?

And meanwhile, there's stuff I really need but don't have: new sheets, towels, dinner plates, a vacuum cleaner, and a new car since repairs on the old one cost me an unexpected chunk of money last month.

Junk rich, cash poor. Collectively we are on the verge of becoming Yardsale Nation. I think James Kunstler came up with great term. Like me, he's dead sure we're sliding down into a bottomless pit where life won't be the same again for a very long time, if ever.

In a spiritual sense, I wonder if this is a time meant for reflection. So many of us, even those of us who have been so-called working class, have wasted so much in our lives. The time of want is almost upon us, and the time to save is now, if you haven't already been doing this.

I don't recall which blogger I read in the past week or two who said a lot of the people running businesses are no different from us. They expanded when they shouldn't have and got in over their heads. They got greedy and wasted, just like us. We shouldn't be surprised; people are people.

Of course, there are the sharks who deliberately preyed on the public trust. They've been running ads for years to make us think we needed stuff we don't, and to give us credit cards and predatory loans we don't qualify for.

These bastards got theirs and are ready to close shop and move on, leaving tens or hundreds of thousands of workers without the $20K to $60K in pension money deducted from their paychecks. Retirees from this companies will be totally wiped out and become dependent only on a measly monthly social security check to survive. Hell, that will only pay for their food.

Here's a heads up, folks: the new face of homelessness will be an elderly person who worked all their lives and was working or middle class. Could be your parents, grandma, Uncle Mike or Aunt Jackie. You might enjoy their company for a two hour visit, but whatcha gonna do when they wipe their tears and swallow their pride and ask if they can sleep on your sofa or have that spare bedroom? You gonna turn them away and into an overcrowded shelter or the streets? Or are you gonna suck it up and take them in?

Kit's prediction for 2009: Dogs and cats will be living together.

This includes your brother who used to pee on your side of the bed or your sister who'd borrow your clothes without asking, and their kids who get your kids in trouble. Don't forget cousin Jamal who plays his music too loud and has an outstanding warrant but promises he won't smoke weed in your crib, or your fanatically religious half-sister who'll be trying to save you 24/7, or your best friend forever who sneaks in their boyfriend or girlfriend at night, whom you accidentally and unpleasantly discover in your shower - using your shampoo.

The newest highly visible group of all ages to get economically shocked and awed will be the soon-to-be former employees of the almost dead Big Three Auto Makers. They're just one of the early Titanic ships running into the tip of the iceberg. Many of these middle aged and older retirees had planned for their old age, and got or are gonna get screwed badly.

Thanks to the sweat shops the fat cat mega-corporations set up overseas along with deregulation and organized piracy since the 1970s, we benefited. We became Consumer Nation, but we're now in a free fall into becoming Broke Azz Nation.

I did a little modest Christmas shopping last evening. Most of the stores had 50% off sales. That is phenomenal. Even so, the mall was far from packed. Earlier I was in an Office Depot to pick up some office supplies. This one is scheduled to close. Good sales... but I was only one of four shoppers in there. I kept thinking this is what's coming... we'll see many more businesses go down, and with them jobs held by people who will be desperate for work, have families to feed, rent or mortgage and car notes and insurance, and maybe medical bills to pay.

How on earth will all of us make it?

If times get hard for me next year and the years after that, I know I don't want to spend that time wallowing in regret. I think it's somewhere in my Bible, or perhaps it was a Bible lesson that taught me the wisdom, "fear and regret are the twin thieves that rob us of today."

We can reflect on our past wastes, but that won't pay the rent or fill our stomachs in the future.

It's not quite here yet, not in full force anyway.

Most of us with the luxury of Internet and time to read blogs still have time to reflect and prepare, so in the very, very near future we won't be over-burdened with regret and fear.

It is a historical inevitability that unimaginable mass poverty is coming on a scale few of us have ever seen in America.

I can feel it. Can you?

Are you ready?


  1. I was peering out the window this morning at my backyard shed. The shed that I purchased on credit, that's filled with contents purchased with additional credit. Unemployed and in the throes of pre-foreclosure, those contents which were once so important to me, will probably be left for the eviction company if I'm not able to find a job soon.

    For some of us, if we could do it all over.

  2. Kit, this really hit home. I could kill myself for all the useless crap I've bought for me and and my kid. I was laid off after Thanksgiving and now flipping burgers to keep from going under. I am also running myself ragged trying to find another job like the one I lost.

    You're right about 2009. I have never had so many unemployed friends and family. It's depressing, but as a citizen of Broke Azz Nation (I like that name!), I have learned my lesson.

  3. Maryland Blues and Kitchen Angel, I'm feeling you, truly, and hope your burdens lighten soon.

    Lately I've been toying with the idea of accepting a high paying job evening job, but the hours are such my kids would only see me on weekends, or keep looking and hoping for an okay I guess I can get by with this kind of job.

    A 13 year old girl with no supervision from 3 to midnight, five days a week is begging for trouble, and I know my son would have his homeboyz sitting around partying and leaving a mess. Nah, can't do it... but the fact that I'm tempted speaks to how insecure I am about the future.

  4. I agree with your post 100% but I've been prepared since 9/11 so I'm livng the scaled back lifestyle. And I can't tell you how freeing it is not to be consumed by consumerism.

  5. It seems to me that all of this is a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." Meaning that you can work for many years, scrimping and saving with the belief that you will be rewarded handsomely when you reach retirement. Or, you could save moderately, and splurge on occasion while still having enough to live decently.

    Either way, none of that matters in light of the financial fiasco our country is in. After all, everyone seems to arrive at the same conclusion, more or less.

  6. Good read. I could feel your despair. I've shared some of that feeling lately.

    I too have done an inventory of things I own and wondered if I really, REALLY needed that big ass high def television. Sure, I got a good deal, but that's a lot of money I'll never see again.

    However, I"ve never been a big spender. Some folks call me a cheap bastard. Also, I do believe that it's important to turn your home into a comfortable place. How far you go in doing that is the important thing.

    It's a toss up in some ways.

  7. Hey Kit, When I read your first paragraph or so I thought, "yea, I did too, but it's everything I had to do to get exactly where I am today.
    I sorta think the same way about our economic situation. Maybe we need this. We've been living a life of materialistic unconcern for the past 60 years in Amurka. This may be the ake-up call we need. Time to adopt a lifestyle that is more focuses on what we have rather than what we'd like to have.
    Hope all is going well with you.

  8. You are Right! To right. Even though I try to be conservative and green, it is still hard - I don't like to cook. Thank goodness I'm famine resistant (fat). That might buy my some time during these soon to be leaner times.

  9. Sagacious, I agree. There is something spiritual, or karmic, about a nation who had everything, much of it taken by force or coercion from other nations and the people lived good but it didn't make them better human beings for it. Instead, it's made so many of us lazy, hedonistic, greedy and selfish.

    Otherwise doing fine. Found out Friday some people want to interview me but no date set yet. The hours are good. Don't know if the pay but be as great as past jobs, but it'll be decent. I've got my fingers crossed and hope to hear from some other places too.

    Big Man, Yeah, agreed. A home should be a comfortable place. Enjoy your new big TV! As long as you're getting pleasure out of your stuff and it's not pushing you over the edge, I'm all for it.

    Miriam, I hate giving yard sales or the Ebay thing... I'll just keep or give away my extra stuff.

    Salsa, nice foresight; too bad Lehman Bros and the Big Three weren't run by someone with your gift.

    V-Knowledge, Wonderful point! It's a damn shame folks who did all the right things to save and work hard are getting the shaft by so many of these companies.

    Urban Scientist, Oh man, no kidding! Eating out is a budget killer. I have one friend who ate out nearly every day, twice a day, at nice restaurants. That was his only area of excessive spending. He made over $70K a year and after many years of this had little to show for it. He's really suffering now too because of job loss and taking something at a much lower pay, not to mention being at a very unhealthy weight.

    (Sigh) A nation of reflection... that's where many of are or are headed. As the good Lord said, there's a time for everything...

  10. Just found your blog and I'm slowly reading through posts. I love your perspective.

    I'm a stay-at-home mom and to do it has required me to figure out how to be extremely frugal. Even at that, my husband is working lots of overtime to keep us afloat. I'm grateful, however, that because we have been working with one income for so long, I've been able to clearly identify needs versus wants and over the last few years, have not given in to my wants so much. Anyway, it's tough to think that with as much scrimping as I do I will still have to do more as the economy worsens. I am encouraging all my friends to hold on to what they do have because they might be able to barter with their goods--especially as the dollar loses value. I'm encouraging folks to start gardening and getting more self-sufficient.

    I think you're absolutely right. We have enough time right now to get our heads into the game and bear down. We'll make it. It's just a simple shift in the way we have been approaching life. I think it's good. Balance is good. 7 years of fat, 7 years of famine. Without darkness, you don't appreciate light.

  11. Chi-Chi, Glad you found my blog, enjoying my essays and left a comment.

    Your comment of "7 years of fat, seven years of famine" was a nice reminder of that Biblical passage. The majority of Americans have had closer to 60 years of feasting, and collectively it's spoiled us rotten.

    I think people with experience of having to be frugal resources like you may fair better in this New Great Depression. Good luck to your husband in keeping his job.

  12. You are so right, like you I gotta a ton of junk and have wasted so much money on really silly things. My biggest weakness is eating out because I don't feel like cooking. Thankfully using my crockpot more often is making that happen less often but I am still guilty.

    Like you I believe the past decade of consumption is over, I am a follower of Kunstler and truly believe the whole system needs to be scrapped.

    Today's NY Times wrote about a guy who has been jobless all year, he is getting extended unemployment but as a member of the formerly middle class he still feels he is above some jobs. Silly man, times are tough and as you have written of before many middle class folks soon will need to bust suds or whatever to bring in the cash.

    Great post as always!

  13. "fear and regret are the twin thieves that rob us of today."

    How true. Fear for the future and regret of the past.

    I think our karmas are colliding Kit.


    Secondly: You'z a funny muthafucka! I've been cracking up at this entire post. Damn I wish I could write like this. Seriously, I do.

    Thirdly: Can a nigga get adopted by you?


    Shit is gonna be jacked up for a long time to come. I just hope people realize it and instead of jumping off buildings tyake all that excess shit to the pawnshop. Niggas like me could use "nice shit" bought ast a cheap price.

  15. Thanx 4 stopping by my spot. & err, umm - I just keep reminding myself that I come from resourceful survivors. That trait is in me & I'll be okay, too! All this "junk" we've accumulated may soon be trade-able or sale=able;-). One nevah knows...

  16. What an absolutely great piece... My Read of the Day.

  17. Hey Kit, it's interesting that you brought up "Wall Street". I've gotta take a look at that movie. I'm sure it's pretty timely to what's going on right now.

  18. You never cease to delight and inspire! You my dear have a fine mind.

    Wishing you and yours a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  19. Lovebabz, Thanks for the compliment and glad you enjoyed it.

    V-Knowledge, yes, that was an interesting movie review you did. Watching Wall Street again could definitely spark some thoughts of how we came from the Greed of the 80s to Broke Azz Nation of 2008+.

    Eddie, Glad you enjoyed it; thanks.

    CapCity, Yeah, having that "resource survivor" is a good thing...

    Rippa, My bro, your plainspoken common sense and humor is always refreshing and welcome. And no, I ain't adopting you; you too old and I already got two big-azzed crumb snatchers eating me out of house and home!

    Sagacious, Indeed I too cringe at America's date with karma. It's gonna be a bitch.

    Black Girl In Maine, James Kunstler's post rocked today! Dang, it was MAGNIFICENT. Folks, if you haven't read it, I can't recommend it enough. Read it here: Legitimacy Fails .

  20. Awesome post, Kit... just AWESOME.

    I too made attempts to go green and escape Consumer Nation, but apparently I haven't been successful. I see the clutter where the money went over time. I see how eating out after a long day of work broke the bank.

    Then I see everything I need. I need a better wardrobe for work. I need emergency savings. I need to move my family out of our declining neighborhood.

    Nobody wants to give up cable. Nobody wants to chuck the cell phone. So I always feel like I'm fighting the battle of family finances by myself.

    My parents are no help, because they want the boys to have what they want. In fact, they're dropping in this Christmas with a Nintendo Wii and expensive clothes from a clothing line that my teenager begged for. I could never afford to care for the home and buy all those extras.

    Well the wake-up call that you speak of is my new trump card. I refuse to entertain any more complaints (from inside my home or from outside e.g. my parents).

    Luxuries used to be LUXURIES. That's where they need to stay as food, shelter, and an emergency stash must rule.

    Thanks for another great post.

    Hawa, author of
    Fackin Truth Blog (Personal Blog)
    Cleanse Master Remix (Health Blog)

  21. Hi there K.I.T.! {waves}

    I just wanted to stop by and bring "Merry Christmas" greetings!

    Isaiah 9:6 (NKJV)
    For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;
    And the government will be upon His shoulder.
    And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

  22. Man this is about as real as it gets. I read some of the comments on this blog post and I know that I ain't the only one who hoards needless things and purchases beyond my means. 2 things i'm working on for the '09 are...

    Physical and Fiscal Fitness. What you know about that?


  23. Watchu know 'bout dat?

    Yo my man, Ed da Sports Fan!

  24. Hi Kit, Love your writing. I am a community college instructor in the psych department. I am teaching a class on human adjustment and we are currently discussing self-knowledge and how it benefits us to know our prejudices and therefore work to rid ourselves of them. I am going to use this video and your commentary in class if you are okay with that.

  25. Sorry, posted on wrong article above, however, I wanted to comment. I was in a lot of debt after graduate school and have been guilty of the greed and wastefulness that leads to debt. My debt was college loans and hospital bills, and I paid every penny of it back. I am from a middle class background where credit was power and phone calls from collectors were avoided. It is almost like those movies about witches where the more they use their powers, the more it destroys their lifeforce. Like all other yummy and invigorating substances, it is addictive. I have broken that chain with the help of my husband and we have learned to say no to all of the extras considered to be needs by others like data packages for cell phones,new cars, iphones and iPads. If we cannot pay cash, then we don't need it. We enjoy cheap dates and cash (no debt) Christmases. Our family has a 5 dollar limit on Christmas gifts. It motivates us to try to look for the best gift for 5 or less dollars and we have a blast with no worry about money. Getting out of debt can be done. I am praying for my fellow humans struggling to get through these tough times.


Hi, this is Kit.

I haven't posted since summer 2010, and comment moderation has been on for a very long time.

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