Friday, November 2, 2007

Save big on a tiny income ???

So maybe I'm just an eternal critic, but I caught this one off the wire and I had a good laugh, though there are few gems here too:

Save big on a tiny income - Savings & Debt Insight - Sympatico / MSN Finance

FTA: When I wrote an article describing how some of us could save more, I got an earful from frustrated readers, many of whom don't earn as much as the rest of us.

"If I had that kind of income I could save easily. Try (saving) on the incomes of most of us working, single moms, which is more like $2,500 a month! Cut our expenses? How???"
Carrie Bowers, 29, of Colorado, added: "How would the average service worker go about saving for retirement, a child's education (or even (her) own in hopes of moving up in the world) on less than $18,000 a year? Some financial advice for the public-transit set would be appreciated more than you know."

Now I read the original Dunleavy article for which she received the "earful" and it was pretty prissy. Of course, now she tackles a far more complex issue and basically fails to satisfy needs. I mean, imagine that you are making $18,000 / year. That's less than $9.40 / hour, that's $1500 / month to feed you and a kid (and pay taxes).

Now here's the advice that you're given:
- Stash a dollar in a jar every time you do the laundry
- Save all your $5 bills in a coffee can.
- Create bank errors in your favour. "If I spend $2.16 on a coffee, I deduct $3 (in my check register),"
-Switch from paper to plastic

Because you somehow have these "extra" dollars sitting around with 18k / year, right. And I doubt that the plastic will be necessary (if the 29-year old making 18k actually qualifies), the truth is, she probably makes like 8 purchases / month: 4 grocery runs, 1 rent cheque, 1 "bills run", 1 bus pass, 1 misc shop. She doesn't need a credit card to control spending, she doesn't have any money to spend! ($3*20 on coffee = 4% of pre-tax income!)

This one sounds like a great idea:
-"Don't forget gardening as a money-saving venture,"
Until you realize that single Moms making 25k/year don't exactly have houses with gardens. At the least she could suggest some public programs that offer free "gardening space" for families in need (and yes these do exist).

And spoken like a true "rich kid":
-"Look at the Pottery Barn catalogue, shop at Goodwill,"
-Buy generic instead of brand-name products.
-Buy non-perishables in bulk

Like anyone living on less that $400/week hasn't figured this out already. I'm pretty sure this strategy is part and parcel with keeping our two commenters off the street. Of course, when you can't afford a car (and on 18k, you can't), buying bulk goods is really a pain unless you're really lucky and the bus happens to go to your local Costco (which doesn't tend to happen b/c buses and warehouse districts don't tend to cross paths). The only saver here is this:
-Share the savings. ... buy toiletries and such at a warehouse store and divvy the spoils up with friends.

Which can at least mitigate the transportation and storage issues ('cause you don't have a lot of square footage when your monthly rent budget is under $600).

Am I being overly critical? Well OK, I'll throw out a couple of bouquets: "Make your savings automatic". is a good, if standard piece of advice. I guess if you pretend that you only have $1400 instead of $1500 each month that you may be able to parlay that $1200/ year into both a retirement fund and a university education (but good luck). She also suggests making "trades" (i.e.: bartering your time: cleaning for daycare time), which actually has useful applications but obviously doesn't scale.

Ok, so I can hear the readers now bored with my criticism: What would you do, oh GatesVP the smarty-pants???

Simple answer? Find a way to make more money.

What? What kind of answer is that?

It's a realistic answer, if you're 29 & single, with a kid and you haven't cracked $10/hour then the only way you're going to get ahead is to find a better paying job or move up in the job you're working. You can try all of Dunleavy's silly tricks, but all you're going to be doing is cutting more corners. You're not putting your kid through expensive American college, you're not "quitting work at 65".

At some point you have to figure that you're not going to make ends meet, and I think that 18k has hit that point. I mean really, even a 30k single mom with multiple kids has probably hit that point.

I know a guy who started managing his own McDonald's at 23, making 30k+. In fact corporate McDonald's stores have good family health coverage, good training, good benefits plans and managers even get a car after a few years. Now 23 is young, but I have met tons of McManagers under 30 (even some with kids) and I've even met a district manager under 30 (50k+ bigger car).

These are not prestigious positions, these are entry-level, show-up-to-work-and-we'll-train-you positions. These aren't kids with university degrees (those ones are working elsewhere), these are the ones who put in their 40 hours, go to paid McSchool and work their way up the chain is 5 years or less.

So at some point you have to ask yourself when are you going to start running your own McDonald's (insert career here) and build yourself a future?

Yeah I know you can't save for your own education, but if haven't noticed, we have tons of government programs and funding for single mothers in just this situation. Maybe it's just a Canadian thing, but you certainly don't have to starve to get an education, you just have to put in the time and pass your courses. And we also have nearly draconian laws when it comes to child support, so hearing about mothers not getting child support, while others are receiving money they're not supposed to (yes I've heard both), just burns my bacon.

Now I want to be clear here... I make 54k/year (18k * 3) and I don't own a car and I don't own a place (I rent an apartment with my fiancé) and that's how I (we) get ahead. I live close to work and do all of my grocery shopping on foot. We bus to the mall on weekends for "stuff" runs, but we've mostly cut that out now that we're done furnishing the apartment.

I'm cutting a bunch of big corners to help me get ahead, but at 18k / year, you're just not cutting it. There's simply not enough money there to live a healthy lifestyle and save.

It's cute that Dunleavy tries to help, but I think she missed the point of what it means to feed multiple mouths on 30k/year. It has nothing to do with cutting corners b/c you're already cutting tons of corners. It has everything to do with making enough money to support your needs and then making a little bit more.

9 comments:

Kyle said...

You say "Like anyone living on less that $400/week hasn't figured this out already."

I have known plenty of folks that have not figured out the advice you are tearing apart. Instead they finance their "pottery barn" lives on CC's and then wonder how they ever got themselves in this hole. Typically, in the States, they end of filing bankruptcy.

Gates VP said...

Typically, in the States, they end of filing bankruptcy.

Agreed, this the likely scenario, as evidenced by the debt numbers coming out of the states, but it's not my point.

I'm working under the assumption that Mrs 18k is not in the red and wants to save for future goals. And my point is really that she can't. She can make small footsteps, but she likely can't even achieve the 10% number. Saving 36k over 30 years (compounding or no) is simply not going to pay for your kids education and for your retirement.

TKO from Ontario said...

Gates for Finance Minister

RESPECT!

Seriously, those are some much needed tough words. Truth hurts sometimes but it doesn't kill, self deceipt and lies do.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this - finally someone who starts from the place of "you don't make enough money" rather than "if you just spent less of the money you have". I look forward to any future advice.

Bravo!

Gates VP said...

Finance Minister, eh?

Thanks for the support "anonymous".

I have a few more takes on personal finance in the editing tray, but they'll be ready when they're ready.

Gates VP said...

Finance Minister, eh?

Thanks for the support "anonymous".

I have a few more takes on personal finance in the editing tray, but they'll be ready when they're ready.

TKO from Ontario said...

Gates for Finance Minister

RESPECT!

Seriously, those are some much needed tough words. Truth hurts sometimes but it doesn't kill, self deceipt and lies do.

Kyle said...

You say "Like anyone living on less that $400/week hasn't figured this out already."

I have known plenty of folks that have not figured out the advice you are tearing apart. Instead they finance their "pottery barn" lives on CC's and then wonder how they ever got themselves in this hole. Typically, in the States, they end of filing bankruptcy.

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