By Louise Ure
DEAR ABBY: How can I make my husband understand that eating out every Sunday after church is not only a waste of money, but also makes going out for special occasions not as important as they could be? I try to explain that we could do something besides eat out, but he only wants to do that.
We spend anywhere from $80 to $100 each week on dinner out. My husband puts it on a credit card. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not that "up" on how credit cards work, but I know we’ll have to pay them off eventually. We don’t have the kind of money to splurge every week. How should I deal with this?
— TIRED OF EATING OUT, HAMPTON, VA.
I probably should be posting about what a fine time I had at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was truly grand to catch up with old friends and reconnect with such fine booksellers as the folks at the Los Angeles Mystery Bookstore, Book ‘Em Mysteries, and Mysterious Galaxy. I’m still reveling in the weekend and I’m sure the heat rash I developed will be gone by the time I get to the Edgars® celebration on Wednesday.
I could also be writing about how much I’m looking forward to attending my first Edgar® Awards banquet. I’m especially proud of our Northern California nominees, David Corbett (for Best Paperback Original) and Michael Chabon (for Best Novel). Add to that a long lazy lunch with my favorite agent in the whole world, and the trip sounds like heaven.
Or I could be talking about that curious peace I’ve found this week since I’ve sent in the final revision to Liars Anonymous and am hovering over the opening page of the next book.
But I’m not thinking about those things. Instead, my attention did a double flip dismount and stuck the landing last Thursday when I read the above letter to Dear Abby.
“I’ll admit that I’m not that ‘up’ on how credit cards work, but I know we’ll have to pay them off eventually.”
I know the banner at the top of this blog says “Mysteries, Murder and Marketing” and this post has nothing to do with any of that, but I can’t keep quiet about this.
Who is this idiot? Clearly she’s an adult – a woman old enough to be married, anyway. The letter doesn’t say anything about her educational background or whether she has kids or a job outside the house. But is there truly anyone in America who doesn’t know how credit cards work?
I have the same reaction every time I see the flight attendants demonstrating how to put on a seat belt, for all those folks who have never seen one before.
Okay, Eating Out in Hanover, VA. Here’s how it works. You show the card. You eat. You get a bill for that amount, plus some extra for having used their money instead of your own. Now you owe more for that dinner you couldn’t afford than you would have if you’d paid for it in cash.
Good Kind Christ. No wonder the economy is in the toilet.
I haven’t always understood the finer points of finance. Back in the late70’s, when I was spending more money on recreational drugs than I was on rent, I ran up a credit card debt that was bigger than my entire annual salary at Foote Cone & Belding. A co-worker named Jill took me across the street to The Rusty Scupper, bought me a double shot of tequila, and melted my credit cards in the ashtray. It was the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.
I started saving my drug money and bought a house. I spent wisely. I invested well.
And I got smarter about finance.
I learned about the pitfalls of debt and interest and commodity futures. I taught myself to read balance sheets and annual reports. To understand that supply and demand are only part of the equation. Fear, crowd mentality, and “irrational exuberance” are equally significant factors.
So last July, when I took a look around at the craziness going on in this country – in our divided politics, in our spending and lending practices, in the stock market, in car purchases and gas prices – I could no longer validate the key underpinnings of the market that allowed me to believe that we were on solid footing.
I cashed in everything.
This year has brought about other changes. I paid off the credit card balances, then transferred any remaining debt to lower interest cards. I entertained at home more often then I went out. When the vacuum cleaner died, I still replaced it with a Dyson, but I bought it off Craig’s List.
Most of us are feeling the pinch. Maybe we’re using the library more. Walking to the corner store instead of driving. Going to one convention instead of three. But that’s only the beginning of the changes.
Things are going to get worse before they get better, and I don’t just mean the stock market. I mean the foreclosures, the ballooning credit card debt, our kids’ inability to get student loans, a quadrupling in the price of gas, and shortage of rice around the world.
And we still have people like “Eating Out” who say that they “aren’t ‘up’ on how credit cards work?” Honey, you’re part of the problem.
Feel free to vent, my Murderati pals. Do you know anybody like “Eating Out?” And how have you been economizing this year?