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Times are tough. For many of us, our houses of cards are collapsing. Our houses of credit cards, specifically. Spending what we earn and saving for goals and emergencies is a steady sort of thing. If we don’t have the money, we must wait. Credit has become a boom-and-bust burden on our economy. Like speeding up then jamming on the brakes in traffic, with credit we can spend ourselves not just broke but beyond broke into a ruinous black hole of debt. First we zoom, and then we slam on the brakes.Out here on the prairie, we’ve never understood the attraction of debt. Most people don’t like taxes. Nowadays, income tax, state income tax, sales tax, payroll tax, property tax, the inflation tax, etc. take up about 50 percent of the average family’s earnings. So like it or not, to spend a dollar you have to earn two.Well, debt is a tax you put on yourself! Even good debt, like a mortgage, will have you paying $400,000 to pay back $200,000. Credit card debt is much worse. That $1,000 big screen TV might be $4,000 paid off over time on a credit card. Of course, all the nice people that push debt don’t want us to think about that, and mostly we don’t. “Have it now, you deserve it” is a seductive siren call. Follow the money. People pushing such immature nonsense live off of our indebtedness and lack of self-discipline.There is a way out. We’ve all heard about consolidation loans and bankruptcy, but these are not the way out of a lifetime nightmare of debt. The way out is found by cultivating an attitude of thrift. Without becoming truly grown up and learning to defer gratification and take the long view with regard to purchases, we’ll just be back in debt again. It’s hard to break a bad habit, but it is easier to create a new habit and let the old habits wither away. Becoming thrifty and making it fun will help banish the shortsighted habit of immediate gratification.Of course, shopping is fun – retail therapy some call it. It can be as much fun finding a $6 treasure at Goodwill as spending $300 at retail and with none of the feelings of anxiety on the drive home. Spend more time together with loved ones and friends. Cultivate friendship; it’s free! Often, we buy stuff out of guilt for not spending more time together. This trap means we’ll spend even less time together as we work our tails off to pay for the stuff. A good way to cut back spending is by having no time for it; you’re too busy enjoying the people you’ve invited into your life!Be clever and think about thrift tactics. I read that the refrigerator is the single largest consumer of electricity in the home. It is also said a full refrigerator uses less energy because less cold air spills out when the door is opened. I wash out old milk jugs and fill them with water (leaving room for ice expansion). The jugs are set out on our picnic table on cold, wintry nights. Next morning, these jug-shaped blocks of ice are used to line the back of the refrigerator. The fridge hardly kicks on for a few days, by which time we’ve more ice jugs ready to swap in. Spend some smart money. Insulated window shades can be had at any big box building supply. Properly fitted and lowered at night, these shades can pay for themselves in one heating season and give the immediate payback of eliminating chilly drafts from cold window glass.Of course, thrift tactics can go overboard too. Buying a pop on the way home instead of another pair of shoes is a good diversionary thrift tactic. Fishing a used pop cup out of the fast food place’s trash and asking for a refill is thrift gone badly. Spending quality time with your sweetie on Valentine’s Day and giving her a thoughtful card is good thrift. Showing her the card while you’re both in the card shop, and then putting it back on the shelf is a tad too thrifty. Including your older children in discussions of family belt-tightening creates a sense of shared goals and teamwork. Telling the kids that they’ve always been a great asset to the family but current economic conditions means, regretfully, you’ll have to let them go, is taking thrift a bit too seriously!Let’s learn to enjoy thrift. Thrift is freedom, no worries and more time with those we care about. In today’s time of economic reality checks, it’s time to form new habits.Tom

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