Back to Back Issues Page
May Newsletter: Time to Take a Look at Television
May 20, 2013
Hello to all my frugal friends:

Spring has finally sprung here in Cheyenne, Wyoming and my interest is turning to planting vegetable crops for all of the creatures around the homestead, include me. We enjoy eating fresh vegetables, and we keep our chickens in plenty of fresh goodies from the garden as well.

There's usually no shortage of fresh veggies around here, but one thing you'll never find in our house...television programming. Are we an odd bunch out here on the high plains just outside of Cheyenne? You bet we are, and glad of it. And, as you probably guessed, that's the topic of the featured article this month...the commercial aspects of TV and how it can thrash us if we don't build up our own defenses against it.

Like anything else, some folks can handle it, while others can't turn a blind eye to the nearly constant onslaught of advertising.

The format for this newsletter is the same as last time:

1) a little about the site

2) a little money talk

3) this month's featured article

Let's dive in...


Site Highlights

I want to switch gears this month and tell you not so much about the site, but about what happens when someone makes a contact with me through the contact form. It's an important aspect of the site and I think it's worthwhile discussing.

With rare exception, everyone who writes in gets a response, at least a thank you for contacting me. Most of the time readers write in to thank me for site content. Sometimes they have questions and seek advice. Only on the very rare occasion do I receive non-constructive criticism.

When possible, I try to give the best advice I can and turn it into a page on the site. Of course, I do my best to keep the private business of my readers a private matter, so I never use real names, and often I change the gender of the individual to further protect their identity.

One person wrote to me about a spending problem, and I created a page to help others who might have the same sort of difficulty with excessive spending.

Another reader from neighboring Colorado asked me about how to keep the water for his chickens from freezing. Keeping water available to them can be quite a challenge. Nevertheless, I sat down and wrote about heater bases as a way of helping him understand the options available out there.

I try to respond, in detail, to everyone who contacts me with suggestions, a need for clarification, or simply seeking advice on specific matters. Only once can I remember not responding to a reader. She thought I wasn't a good person because I butchered and ate my chickens when they passed their prime as egg layers. I wonder how much time she spends writing to KFC, Tyson Foods, and a wide range of eating establishments that serve chicken. Well, everyone has to have a hobby, I suppose.

For those who write in with serious issues, I freely write back to them using my personal Email address. For issues that warrant a much more interactive discussion, I have no problem giving out my phone number. I think the phone - that ancient device from times gone by - is an excellent way to have interactive discussion with people who are seeking information and trying to get a handle on key issues in their lives.

I certainly don't have all the answers, and that's exactly what I'll tell you if you write in asking me for advice that is outside my scope of knowledge or experience.

Now, on to current events...


Money Talk - Some Dreaded Expenses are a Good Investment (or at least a means of cost avoidance)

There are some things that we just don't want to spend money on. They're expenses we dread. Let me highlight a few that I've had lately. I hope to show you that sometimes an expense can be a good investment and an excellent way to avoid unnecessary costs.

New roof - many months ago I went up onto my roof to do some work on the chimney. Now, I knew my roof was on its last legs, but it looked much worse than I had remembered from the last time I was up there. It's hard to imagine just how much I dreaded spending over ten thousand dollars to have a new roof put on. It's even harder to imagine that some bids were two and a half times the one I accepted.

Despite the high cost, I view this as an investment. If my roof leaks and my ceiling gets wet, what kind of repair bill might I have for replacing sheet rock and attic insulation? The roof protects the entire house, so it's more of an investment than an expense. Besides, I'll only do this once.

New car battery - no one likes the idea of spending $75 or more on a new car battery, but if we don't, we need to understand that we'll likely incur the cost of a tow or jump start and the cost of a new battery when being stranded in the middle of nowhere finally convinces us that a new battery is necessary.

New tires - a couple of years ago I put new tires on my car, even though I had at least another 5,000 miles of wear remaining on the set I had. What drove me (no pun intended) to replace the tires was an upcoming trip that would likely involve rain and highway driving. I needed the traction and the margin of safety that deep tread affords. When you think of it, your tires are the only things that are keeping you on the road.

The new tires weren't an expense, they were an investment in my safety, health, and keeping my car in good shape. And, my little Boston Terrier buddy was with me, as usual, so I had more than just me to think of. The tire sales slogan "there's a lot riding on your tires" isn't just a slogan, it's the truth.

Dental work - a few years ago I had a tooth break while on a trip in another state. The tab was $1,300 to fix the problem and leave me with my original tooth. I wasn't comfortable with spending that kind of money, but I'm happy that I made the investment today because there is nothing like the feel of your own teeth. To be sure, it was an especially high expense, but it was also an investment in my future comfort, having my own choppers instead of a bridge or some other dental appliance in my mouth.

Another thought crossed my mind while considering the cost of dental work. I know it sounds odd, but my thinking was, "What kind of satisfactory work can I do on my own teeth?" The answer was clear, it was time to get out the checkbook.

We don't always like what things cost, but sometimes expenses aren't just money going out of our pocket. Sometimes they protect our home, our comfort, our good health, and save us money in the long run. Sometimes they can be a type of investment, or probably more correctly, a way of avoiding future costs.


Featured Article

I know this is going to ruffle feathers, because there are so many of us out there who absolutely enjoy (perhaps even love) television. Nevertheless, I need to address the commercial aspects of corporate media since they have a decided negative effect on our personal finances. We're a society of consumers, like no other on the face of the earth. We need to realize that advertising works on us, because if it didn't, we wouldn't see any advertising.

The idea behind this featured article is it's best if we know how to steel ourselves against those in the advertising world who are out to make us dissatisfied with our lives in the interest of having us part with our money to become more satisfied, often under the guise of something necessary or a good investment, but most of the time it's something purely discretionary.

Media Deliberately Tries to Affect Our Personal Finances, so Here’s My Set of Defensive Measures

by Clair A. Schwan

Today we’re getting deeper and deeper into a culture that is influenced by media, but thankfully it’s “selective media.” I don’t mean media that selectively reports things or gives you one side of the story. That’s nothing new at all. What I mean is viewers can be much more selective about what is watched, listened to, and read. With an ever-expanding selection of television programs, radio programs, print publications, and Internet websites, we have more to select from now than ever before.

And, changes in the marketplace are reflected as more new choices. Large print media are going out of business or restructuring, traditional television stations are competing fiercely for viewers, new players are emerging in markets that have traditionally been difficult for startups to penetrate, and regardless of the format, chances are good that you’ll find a version of it on the web (which means it’s in your pocket, in your handbag, or in a holster on your belt). Okay, so what does this have to do with personal finances? Plenty!

I say plenty simply because someone has to pay for all of this entertaining media, and it isn’t those who are watching, listening or otherwise being entertained by it. At least they’re not directly paying for it – the product and service providers are. And, if they’re paying for your media, they’ll be employing advertising campaigns to help them make a return on investment – from you, the one being entertained. After all, advertising has been shown to be effective in getting you to part with your money for products and services – even if that means you need to go into debt.

Even in a shrinking economy, advertising doesn’t stop. In fact, it has to continue so market share is maintained, and competitor X can displace competitor Z if competitor Z decides to tighten their belt by cutting back on their advertising campaigns. When their advertising disappears, so do they – out of sight, out of mind, out of the marketplace, out of business.

The key point to understand is that advertising has a focus on eroding our sense of satisfaction in life. It hopes to inform us of a product or service, and then make us dissatisfied because we don’t have it – be it a gadget, vehicle, fashion accessory, video game, soft drink or snack item. Media also turns us into watchers instead of achievers, and it tends to rob us of the need to think and be creative. Our fellow frugal friends are going to be challenged plenty when they’re dissatisfied with their lives, inadequately motivated, devoid of critical thinking skills, and lulled into watching the lives of others instead of making it happen for themselves.

With our lives often immersed, surrounded, and “splashed” with media, it’s up to us to find a way to defend against the constant drone of advertisers. After all, their message is quite simply, “you’re not happy so you ought to buy this.” In other words, part with your money, and your life will be turned around for the better. Sadly, this often leads to consumer debt for those of us who must have the latest and greatest of stuff.

Thankfully, in our world of selective media, we have various means of defending against consumer debt, simply by being more selective, and taking action. I’m not suggesting what you should do, but let me give you examples from my life. Some might be good examples for you to follow, and others might make you shake your head. In any event, these things work for me.

  • I don’t watch television – I have one, but that’s for occasionally watching movies, and it’s not located in my living areas. I haven’t watched television for more than 12 years, and I can’t say that I’ve missed anything at all. I have no cable hook up nor satellite dish. When people walk into my home, it’s not uncommon for them to ask, “Where’s your TV?” It’s a telling sign that TV and its incessant advertising is front and center in their home and in their life.
  • At the airport, I sit away from the boarding area to reduce the “splash” effect from advertising that constantly spews out of the TVs that are so graciously afforded the passengers who apparently can’t sustain a moment of their life without entertainment.
  • The radio in my car works just fine, but it largely acts as a carrier for my CDs, and a flash drive that both provide music and commentary of my selection. I don’t normally listen to any radio programs as they are carriers of advertising.
  • My front porch doesn’t have a newspaper on it, filled with advertising, because I don’t subscribe – never have. My magazine subscriptions are limited to only a few that are of social and political importance to me. And, I stop subscribing when the mail-in advertising that falls out from between the pages becomes more of an annoyance than the content of the magazine is worth.
  • At a motel where they offer a self-serve continental breakfast, if I’m the first one in the room, I turn off the television, otherwise I ask if anyone is watching it, and then turn it off if no one objects. I do much the same thing at my doctor’s office.
  • If I go to a grill or other restaurant where every table has their own TV, I sit with my back towards the television. I’m there to eat and enjoy the company of others, not absorb advertising and ignore people at the table.

Okay, so I’m an oddball. I freely admit it, but it works for me. One of the keys to my financial success has been to consider media advertising to be an unwelcome intrusion in my life – indeed, an intrusion into my home – something to be avoided. Therefore, my favorite selection with respect to media is “off.”

I should note that I’ve been an oddball for many years. I vividly recall one day at the office, about 30 years ago, a fellow employee asked me if I had seen the latest episode of a popular television program. I said that I hadn’t simply because I didn’t own a television. She said, “You don’t have a television? What do you do at night?”

I just can’t see that as anything except a sad indictment on what passes for typical American culture – without a TV, there isn’t anything worthwhile you can do with your life after you get home from work. How sad.


Wrapping it Up

This month we looked at how I respond to comments on the site, expenses that are really investments or a means of cost avoidance, and commercial advertising on television as the ever present financial predator in our lives. Again, it's a mixed bag, and I hope to keep it that way.

Thanks for being along for the ride here at Frugal Living Freedom, and I hope your adventures in frugal living lead you to the kind of financial freedom you would like to have for yourself and those you care about.

I wish you all the best,

Clair

P.S. If you are receiving this in text format, the links to the new pages might not be complete. You'll have to copy and paste the link into your browser in order for it to take you to the correct page.

Back to Back Issues Page