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Confession: I'm a shopping deadbeat

Consumers are responsible for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy, so the more we spend, the better for everyone. But I've got to tell you: I'm not doing my part. Not even close.

By MSN Money Partner Nov 4, 2013 10:00AM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyAmerica provides the engine that powers the world's economy. And consumers -- you, me and our fellow Americans -- are responsible for two-thirds of that economy. So in a way, it's our duty as responsible world citizens to go out and buy stuff; to be the best consumers we can be.

Customer shopping for medications in a Walgreens drugstore (© Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)


Which makes the following hard to admit: I'm a terrible consumer. And my lack of enthusiastic consumption could be hurting my neighbors, my fellow citizens and ultimately, the entire world.

Exactly how am I horrible spender? Let's count the ways.

1. I've never bought a new car

As of Oct. 1, American car manufacturers had sold nearly 6 million new cars so far this year. Last year, the big three automakers made a combined profit of more than $13 billion.

How much did I contribute to the industry that employs so many Americans? Not a darn thing. I'm 58 years old, have always earned a decent living, and have never owned a new car. So if it were left up to people like me, there wouldn't be a U.S. auto industry.

It gets worse. Not only did I remain on the sidelines as America's automotive industry rebounded from the recent recession, I profited from it. Check out my online portfolio and you'll note I bought 500 shares of Ford in 2011 at $10.49. It's now about $7 a share higher, so I've made close to 70% on my investment.

2. I don't watch commercials

This is an especially embarrassing admission, because I've made my living in television news for more than 20 years. No advertising, no TV news.

I don't watch commercials for two reasons. The first is because their unwelcome interruption is like fingernails on a blackboard. The second is because they work.

Watch enough commercials and next thing you know you'll be acting as if you actually believe a new car will make you cool, you shouldn't leave home without a credit card, and using the right toothpaste will get you into bed with fashion models.

Instead of exposing myself to annoying brainwashing, I either record shows and skip commercials, or channel surf to avoid them.

3. I buy generics

Speaking of commercials, if you don't think they work, open your medicine cabinet and see if it contains a name-brand pain reliever. If it does, something convinced you to pay for a label when you could have had the identical product in generic form for 30% to 50% less.

If you do what the commercials advise and pay more for a name, you're injecting more money into the American economy. I just can't convince myself to do it.

4. I don't pay interest on credit cards, or practically anything else

According to CNNMoney, JPMorgan Chase made about $19 billion in profit last year. That's about $365 million every week. Wells Fargo made about $16 billion. Both banks employ hundreds of thousands of Americans, both make it easy to consume by offering easy credit, and both make billions by collecting interest.

I also own the stocks of these companies. Since purchasing them in 2009, I'm up about 85% in JPMorgan and nearly 150% in Wells Fargo.

But am I helping these banking behemoths make hundreds of millions weekly by being a borrower? No. While I use credit cards, it's been 30 years since I carried a balance on one.

Not only that, for more than 20 years I've been advising my readers and viewers to use nonprofit credit unions instead of banks.

5. I buy stuff used

Buying used may help save the planet and your retirement fund, but it won't save the job of someone who manufactures, markets, transports or retails new stuff.

I try to buy whatever I can pre-owned, from cars to clothes. My house was built in 1965, my boat in 1985 and my car in 2009. Sure, I'd be many thousands poorer if I bought this stuff new, but buying used means not pulling my weight as a good consumer should.

6. I don't eat fast food

Compared with the big banks, McDonald's makes chump change. They only brought $5 billion to their bottom line last year. But if it were up to me, they'd be out of business and their 762,000 employees out of work.

Despite the many commercials assuring me all kinds of fast food is both a great value and a great meal, I don't believe either is remotely true.

7. I pay no attention to labels

Many American companies want to charge more for a product because a famous person's name is attached to it. Many others, from Harley-Davidson to Apple, make billions by creating cachet around their brands.

If there's anything more ridiculous than seeking status in a name, I can't imagine what it is. I don't care which phone my friends are carrying in the pocket of their designer jeans. I buy on price and features, not brand.

The biggest stock winner I've ever owned is Apple. A $1,700 investment in my IRA made about 11 years ago is now worth more than $100,000. I did buy a refurbished Apple computer a few years back. I've also owned an iPhone, but I recently replaced it with a phone that's both better and less expensive.

8. I rarely go to the movies or professional sports

The American sports and entertainment industries are the envy of the world. There's no other country where a guy making $15 an hour will happily surrender big bucks so an actor or athlete can make millions.

Yet if it were up to me, these people -- along with the millionaires and billionaires behind the scenes -- wouldn't be nearly as rich.

While I've gone to movie theaters and pro stadiums, it's rare. I've found that amateur athletes and actors can be just as entertaining, and waiting a few months to rent a movie isn't just a less expensive way to watch, it's far more comfortable than a theater.

The bottom line is your bottom line

Unfortunately, while spending as much as possible is the shortest path to a healthy world economy, it's also the shortest path to the poorhouse. So while I honestly want the American economy to be the engine, and envy, of the planet, I'm not willing to sacrifice my future to make it happen.

What about you? What do you do that makes you a lousy consumer, but savvy saver?

More on Money Talks News:

Nov 4, 2013 10:30AM
I'm so happy to say that I'm exactly like you!!!   I do go to the Dollar Movie on occasion and i eat very well and heathy cooking at home.  I spend money on stocks and wish i could brag about an Apple investment like yours!  Kudos to you
Nov 4, 2013 11:58AM

This is a very nice article Stacy and pretty much how I live as well.  We have a debt and consumer spending "bubble" everywhere.  People are caught in the trap of "Keeping up with the Joneses" rather than thinking independently and making rational spending decisions. 

Nov 4, 2013 12:29PM

If people didn't buy used stuff. A lot of people wouldn't need new stuff. Would you be so quick to buy a new car if you couldn't sell your old one. Buying used stuff, allows people that can afford it, room for new stuff.

You are my Hero . I love seeing someone tell the truth.

Nov 4, 2013 12:46PM
The bottom line is your bottom line

That pretty much says it all.  The best way to ensure a healthy global economy is for everyone to have healthy personal economy first.
Nov 4, 2013 1:03PM
The American worker can't be the consumer of the 1950' and 1960's.  More taxes, more deadbeats on government programs, mroe illegals soaking us dry; what the hell do you expect?  Now we have the added costs of Obamacare thrown on top.  Real estate taxes have almost doubled in the past 10 years, payroll taxes increased, gas taxes/gas prices, and the list goes on.  Illegals with 5 or 6 kids taking up space in our schools and can barely speak english which means more teachers and more bilingual teachers which means increased costs.  Where the hell is the money supposed to come from to go out shopping and keeping this economy alive?  Maybe if our "leaders" would concentrate on America and Americans instead of the "world" we here would still be the greatest nation on earth and have the money and lifestyle to prove it.....but thanks to the liberals, we are slowly wasting away.
Nov 4, 2013 12:49PM

Good article. We as a nation need to re-evaluate our priorities. Most "needs" are merely wants. Financial experts recommend a "cooling off" period of a good month or more when you see something you want, which helps you evaluate its actual value in your life.

Sure it means less overall GDP, but we should have been operating at a reduced level all along, instead of unrealistically inflating our spending since the 80s.

Nov 4, 2013 12:30PM
I am not a consumer just going out and blindly buying useless crap that I don't need and don't want.  I am a customer trying to find things that I need that might be somewhat durable and might fulfill the function for which I made the purchase.  To paraphrase, ask not what your corporate masters can do for you...
Nov 4, 2013 12:57PM
I could have written this article.  Describes me to a T.  My house was paid for 35 years ago, have no debts or credit cards. When something breaks I fix it myself and I shop at thrift stores.
Nov 4, 2013 1:15PM
I too am a shopping deadbeat. I have a flip phone(only use for emergencies or to call my friends in other cities and countries)I have a virgin mobile at $7 a month cost.  I don't go to movies any more- watch on the internet when I want for free, shop at aldis for food, shop online at amazon or other cheap site, have a 13 year old car,  etc. and I have a good life besides. I never understood why people buy name brand anything . what a waste of money. I couldn't care less what celebrity endorses a product. they do it for money only anyway.   
Nov 4, 2013 12:31PM
I guess by this list I am a shopping deadbeat. I don't watch much tv. I don't buy anything that has a well known label, I don't have a credit card, I don't even have a car. I ride an electric bike I built myself. I only buy what I need or what I want, and I protect my bottom line which is more important to me than some rich executive's bottom line. And of course I rarely go to the movies and never have been to a professional sports event which I do not care about.
Nov 4, 2013 12:48PM
I try to "recycle" as much as I can. And I grow my own food, too! So I'm not even good at spending at the grocery store. It may not be great for the economy at large to live this way, but I do have an ethic about buying local and from small businesses when possible. It makes choices easier and I feel good about keeping my money in my community.
Nov 4, 2013 1:01PM

I am sooooooooooooooooooooooooo happy to see this way of life in print at long last!  I have been encouraged by many to trade in my paid off car.  Why?  I bout it in 2000  it already had 44 thousand miles on it.  It is a 99 dodge stratus.  I have the tranny flushed about every 5 years, I change the oil every 2000 miles I change the Air filter every 5000 miles ( sooner if it needs it )  This car still runs and looks like a champ.  Every time I read about the recalls it makes me happy!  lol

A used fridge is fine a used freezer is finer still.  Tv' are cheap enough that  new ones are cheap enough to buy new.

I still send an average of 8-10 hours looking through newspapers fro grocery coupons and I use them whenever I shop.

I do confess going to the movies once every couple of weeks, but I bring my own snacks with me.  Cut up fruit in a zip lock bag, tootsie roll pops, or home made cookies.  I do have the cup that can be refilled for a buck, and hubby and I share.  I am so glad that I am not the only cheapskate out there!

Nov 4, 2013 1:06PM

If you ask me, which, in a way, you seem to be, you're not what's wrong with the common citizen. You're one of the few doing things right.


New house? New car? Brand-new Brand Name merchandise? Charging it to plastic? Taking repetitive loans out just keep up with the Jones?


The obsession with these is what helped bring about the economic collapse! Spending like a drunk sailor makes no one rich (except banks who like a person to be in debt, as long as its debt they can keep collecting on) and the world a lot poorer. I'm surprised this article made it to MSN's front page. It does nothing but reaffirm what we all know: The economy is in the tank. Attempting to say we're responsible when few, far too few, of us HAVE money is untrue.

Nov 4, 2013 1:18PM
I agree 100%---------- I am  not  one  of  te "sheeple" either-------- and I am cheap and    PROUD OF IT!!!
Nov 4, 2013 12:33PM

Since it's all about consumption, our economy is unsustainable and, I believe, entering the final stages of its existence as we know it. Sadly, within a hundred years, America and the rest of the Western world will be just a fading memory replaced by worldwide disease, famine, poverty, war and the grimmest of futures.

Nov 4, 2013 12:45PM
so to be a good consumer, we are supposed to buy the most expensive to pay for every one else's poor shopping habits. Dumb.
Nov 4, 2013 12:41PM

Although my business moves money around (employees pay, materials, electricity...) Personally recieved parents house in 1974, the same year I bought my 72 Chevy pick-up I drive daily. I seen Star Wars in 77 at the drive-in,  went went to a 49er/Raider preseason game in 94 or 95.  and that is it basically.

But I have spent hundreds of thousands fishing all over the country. So i guess we are even.




Nov 4, 2013 12:45PM
Which phone was better and less expensive?  I'm tired of my iPhone and with each update, it gets more annoying to use since I am not rushing out to get the latest phone to go along with the upgrades.  It gets slower, and slower.

I absolutely hated the version 6 upgrade when they took away the Google map and replaced it with one that didn't work as well.  A lesser known problem with that update was it erased contacts that were there from a previous a phone.  All contacts that were put in the phone from when we bought the it were still there, but everything else got wiped out!  I don't care if they fixed the problems with the upgrade.  Don't EVER take stuff away from me!

So, yeah, I'm never going to upgrade to version 7.  I've heard about problems with that one, and with what I've seen in the past, I do not want to upgrade ever again.  That translates to changing phones when my contract is up...
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