Miser v. Stunna: A Case Study

by Jabulani Leffall on 12 January 2008 10 comments

Ever considered where you are on the consumer/financial PH chart? 

Meet Gene Burd. He is an eccentric old journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. I call the septuagenarian scholar eccentric because he's rich. If he were poor he would just be weird. This is a man who according to campus legend and local news reports never married, holds his hand over his mouth when he talks so as not to waste that valuable oxygen. He has no ride and walks seven miles per day to work. He lives in a flat so small if he did the splits his heels would be hanging out of his front and back door. He finds kicks in the trash, cleans them up and rocks them to school. He collects pennies to pay his phone bill. Funny, because he's not keen on using the phone. Yet he has amassed a fortune on a teacher's salary because he's extremely cheap. He was then able to donate a cool $1 million to an educational foundation. You can’t argue that his methods, however uncanny, garnered results. Sick disciplined genius or fiscal pathology?

Now meet Brian "Baby" Williams, known professionally as "Birdman," known para-professionally as the "#1 Stunna." He's the founder and CEO of New Orleans-based Cash Money Records. In his latest poetic opus, he quips, "I got a hundred million dollars and I come from the ghetto!" In a passage from another one of his songs, he says that he leaves the sticker on the Bentley to "show off the price" and makes sure his arm is out of the window so he can floss his "ice." He spent $2 million on a necklace. Sick price of fame or fiscal pathology?

We all fall somewhere in between the extremes of these two gentleman but often exhibit both traits, albeit on a smaller scale.

The most important thing in money management is not financial wit, business savvy or even mathematical prowess. It is attitude. Ask yourself what your thoughts, feelings, prejudices, inclinations and tendencies are around moolah. If you can answer the question honestly, then you can save hundreds or perhaps thousands everyday -- especially in your initial consultation with whatever funds guru you're counting on to help you get your life together.

Sadly, many of us can't answer these questions honestly because we live in a society of instant gratification, a modern realm where we're told we have to have things, where people stand in line overnight not to get paid but to pay for the new, new thing. The dishonesty lies at the intersection of our choice pendulum.

 We convince ourselves we need -- "I need an iPhone so I can e-mail my cat from the train and then I'll just have one topless dance at the strip club instead of a full nude, gotta save some money." -- a good or service.

 Or we bargain with ourselves -- "I'll get this bottle of Patron tonight for all the fellas and the ladiezzzzzz, but next week I'm at the crib chillin, not spending any money. I swear."

 Worst of all, we chastise ourselves -- "I'm not being unreasonable, I deserve this $1,500 spa weekend on the island of Tu Dahmuche, I never get time off!"

Worst still, when things get tight, when confidence dissipates, when we grimace looking at our bank statements, our pendulum swings entirely the other way. All of a sudden we tell ourselves that we're staying home for eternity. Some start collecting Hot Sauce, Soy Sauce and Ketchup packets. Others buy one big whole chicken, chop it up and put it in a stew so they can piecemeal for a fortnight.  

Wowww people, you don't have to do that.

There is a logical range of frugality that you and you alone must consider. At one end is the self-rationalizing spend thrift and manic consumer. At the other is the miser, the cheap weirdo.

You should take lessons from both and try to be practical.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the point you're making in this post; except for the idea that cooking a whole chicken to have meals for a week is somehow extreme--I think that's just practical, "good sense" behavior.

Jabulani Leffall's picture

K, I relent but how about piecemealing a chicken out of a Crockpot for two weeks. Huh? That's kind of pushing it. :)

 

 

Jabulani Leffall

Monetary Gadfly, Common Currency

00000 Broke Blvd. Kitchenette #68 & 1/2

Lowcash, CA 90000-0000

Guest's picture

Two million on a necklace? Say it ain't so.

Guest's picture
charliedigital

as a hip-hop music fan (not particularly Birdman's music), I would say it's definitely believable if you've ever seen the guy. His gold teeth (caps) have diamonds in them. He also claims to replace his fleet of cars every year. Crazy...

Guest's picture
katy

I agree except for the chicken, also! We can have roast chicken one night; slick the leftovers for Chinese food, burritos, dice it up for chicken salad. And if I'm really industrious (not lately) use the carcass for chicken soup. Good stewardship.

Making fun of frugal people is wrong.

Guest's picture
katy

I means slice the chicken, not slick!

Guest's picture
Barbara

Nora wrote an interesting post about this awhile back, using one of her old clients as an example of someone who would spend like crazy, then become a monk and not spend at all.

I have found that finding the balance is really hard. I have to be very mechanical and rigid with my money, otherwise it goes into no man's land. I write everything down on a list, and wait a couple of days. If I still want/need it, I figure out if it's a short term or a long term want/need. New TV? or new converter box to hook up the old TV and new gifted DVD player? A difference of a couple hundred dollars. I can't afford the new TV for awhile, so I opt for a cheaper, temporary solution.

Jabulani, any suggestions on what lessons to learn from both halves of ourselves? Have you ever been in this situation? If you were, what did you do about it, and learn from it?

Jabulani Leffall's picture

Hey Barbara. The first suggestion would be to take a deep breath when you get a large influx of cash or if you come into money or if there's a sale or if it's holiday season. Asking yourself basic questions like how close am I to services getting cut off or how much of a cushion do I have until more money comes in or how far I am in the hole or would I die without this splurge? Those questions are key. Basically pulling out a mental fire extinguisher and dousing that wallet that's burning a hole in your pocket. As far as savings is concerned, I learned that if you allocate correctly, you won't miss your savings because it's already gone and collecting interest. I actually had to save myself from myself by creating accounts with steep withdrawal penalities. Avoid the manic and avoid the panic and the balance will come. 

 

Jabulani Leffall

Monetary Gadfly, Common Currency

00000 Broke Blvd. Kitchenette #68 & 1/2

Lowcash, CA 90000-0000

Guest's picture

I agree it's rather subjective. I spoke to my friends recently about this. And I've noticed that something I consider splurging is considered practical by others. Likewise, the other way around applies as well: what I consider as practical are considered as splurging by some....

so, the line's pretty hard to draw.

My conclusion is this: it's not what we spend on. it's the proportion of what we earn vs what we spend. Spending beyond your means is the killer.

If you're earning $200million a year, well, what's a 2mil necklace?

Guest's picture
Guest

a fortnight is two weeks. one chicken is not enough, i don't care how you stretch it. :)