Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Front Yard

J took a week off work to help me with the front yard. Actually, J took a week off work to dig most of the remaining ivy out of the front yard, remove the juniper that was in my way, turn the soil, turn it again with six bags of compost, and terrace the slope for me. We then laid out the plants and he installed them for me. And he did it all with winds that gusted to 35 mph. I supervised.

Some of the penstemon moved from other parts of the yard isn't going to make it, so we purchased new penstemon, which J planted on Sunday for me. We also planted more red feather grass, another mallow and a butterfly bush that has already attracted a butterfly. (Unfortunately we can't see this one from the house, so we'll only see the butterflies when we're standing at the corner looking at it.) We'll have to find some smaller plants for the foreground, and then install the erigeron on the border.

And, no, I haven't been oblivious to the economic crisis unfolding. I just don't have a whole lot to say about it that hasn't been said more concisely and better by others. One thing I have noticed though is that we're getting the usual crop of media pieces on frugality. This happens in every recession, and I've gone from being amused to irritated by them. Most of them are obvious--don't go out to dinner every night--or irrelevant to the vast majority--limit the cost of vacations. I mean, if I owned a house, I could sell it and move to a cheaper one, theoretically, but that's not an option for us. And it's not even an option for many people who own houses; they owe more on the house than it's worth. Most people's big costs are fixed and can't be reduced--rent or mortgage payment, transportation, health insurance, childcare. We can fiddle 'round the edges with food and entertainment, but most of us aren't eating extravagantly or buying big plasma screen TVs, or going on expensive vacations to exotic locales. I already use the library. I don't go to Starbucks every day. In fact, I rarely go to Starbucks at all.

Even things that once might have been considered extravagant are really necessities. I don't use my cell phone enough to make it worth keeping it, but with the demise of the pay phone, I do need to keep it for emergencies. At one point I investigated getting one of those phones that requires that you refill them with minutes, but I discovered that the savings over the basic plan I have now would be less than $2 a month. Without the "limited basic" cable service that I have, we wouldn't be able to get regular broadcast channels. So we might be able to cut out a few things, but it wouldn't save us more than $100 a month. And I suspect that's true of most people. Half the population lives in a household with an income of $50,000 or less per year. You only need to add up the cost of living to find that most of that income goes for basic necessities. Savings is all very well and good, but people have to have the incomes to make that possible, and most people don't.

And some of the ideas are positively dumb. For instance, carrying collision and comprehensive insurance on my car costs less than $100 a year. But it means that if a tree falls on my car or, as happened when we lived in Oakland, some idiot in an SUV runs into my parked car in the lot, I can get the car fixed for the cost of the small deductible. Coupon-clipping is great, if the coupons are for products you already use, but a lot of them are for packaged and processed foods that are overpriced even with the coupon.

And some of the ideas are obvious--rent movies for $2.99 instead of going to the theater for $20. Duh.

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