Peter Griffin is the latest in a long line of stereotypical television dads: dense, crass, jealous, impulsive, eager to drink and constantly living in the past. It would be easy to ignore anything this man had to teach us about money, or anything else we value, for that matter. But perhaps to think this way would be oversimplifying. After all, it was the sophisticated, smooth-talking financial “experts” who kept us all in a lather while the economy was secretly imploding. In light of their failures, maybe the unpretentious straight-talk of an true American family man is just what our wallets need, once again, largely in the form of, “do the complete opposite of this guy:”
Value Based Shopping
Peter: I hope this isn’t a ripoff like that breakfast machine I bought.
(Cut to Peter in his kitchen activating his breakfast machine. A ball rolls activating a series of devices soon reaching a balloon attached to a string attached to a gun. This pulls the trigger and shoots Peter right in the arm.)
Peter: AAAAHH!! WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THAT?! THIS JUST SHOOTS YOU IN THE ARM! IT DOESN’T MAKE BREAKFAST AT ALL!
Cash is scarce in a recession, and many of us exacerbate the problem by spending what we do have on inferior or unnecessary products. The road to recovery begins here. Whether you are being targeted by a fast-talking salesman or feeling the tug of your own whims, it’s time to institute a new policy: don’t buy something you do not need. Simply purchasing something because you see it in a store and it “looks cool,” might sound hilarious at first but that can turn to mild depression upon receipt of your credit card statement. Discipline yourself and scrutinize every purchase beyond the bare necessities. Find customer reviews by people that have used products you’re interested, and you can learn from their disappointment rather than your own.
Peter: I’ll give you $40 for that coffin.
Store Owner: Sir, this casket is $1,000.
Peter: I’ll give you $2,000.
Store Owner: Sir, that’s double what it costs.
Brian (to the store owner): He doesn’t know how to haggle.
But what if there’s something you really do need – say, a new car? In situations such as this, negotiation is key. You wont get very far using a bone-headed haggling strategy like Peter’s. To shave every last dollar off your final purchase price, you will need to arm yourself with pertinent information prior to arriving at the dealership. The sticker price is not enough. To achieve real savings, you need to know the invoice price, which is what the dealer pays Ford or Chevy for the car. Between the sticker price and the invoice price is your room to negotiate. (It also helps to tell the salesman that you are fully aware of the invoice price and what it represents at the start of negotiations.)
Wise Credit Use
(At a lemonade stand)
Girl: I can’t take a credit card sir. I need real money.
Peter: Oh yeah? Whatcha sellin’? Meth, ex, crack, dust, coke, block, crystal? IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD? I DON’T THINK SO!
Most people would not seriously try to buy lemonade from a little girl with their credit cards, but it’s not too far off from reality (i.e., @ Starbucks, Jamba Juice, etc.). Today, credit cards are used for more purchases than ever, and a 2008 study revealed that we actually tend to spend more when paying with credit than cash. According to a recent report by LiveScience.com, researchers concluded that, “…less transparent payment forms such as credit cards tend to be treated like play money and are hence more easily spent or parted with.”
[Peter has bought a sexy version of a relationship tape]
Lois: $49.95? Are you sure we can afford this?
Peter: Lois, our relationship can not be measured in nipples and dimes … nickels and boobs … money.
In addition to making you likely to spend more, credit cards also make it easier to buy impulse items. While the wisdom of buying adult-related content is not for us to decide, this is something all budget-conscious consumers must be mindful of. Anyone serious about intelligent credit card use should take steps to restrain these tendencies, such as only carrying cards when needed or lowering the limits on cards you do carry. In short, only use cards in emergencies or when it really makes sense.
Brian: Face it Peter, you get competitive about everything.
Peter: I am so not competitive. In fact, I am the least non-competitive. So I win.
Interestingly, this is one aspect of money management wherein Peter has it exactly right. Prosperous economies mask our shortcomings with the “flab” of easy profits and raises. Simply showing up is often enough to preserve your standing in the eyes of bosses or customers. But this is nothing more than a security blanket stripped away in recession. With businesses and consumers cutting costs and scrutinizing spending like never before, continued prosperity demands that you out-compete others. Whether it’s delivering a superior product or accomplishing more in each day’s work, the key is to be seen as doing better than everyone else around you.
“Peter: My dad worked at that factory for sixty years. That’s almost eighty years.”
Peter’s liberties with numbers notwithstanding, sixty years is roughly how long the average person works. Unfortunately, many of us do not make retirement the priority that it should be. Increasingly, people do not have enough put away to retire at 65, what was once-considered the normal age of retirement. This is due to either (or a combination of) poor planning, and bad management and working for the wrong employer. In any case, more than ever, individuals need to be more proactive in preparing for retirement, and make understand that poor financial decisions today can result in a lack of financial freedom in the future.
“Peter: I have a plan so good, it’s retarded!”
If you want to save for your retirement instead of just wishing you did, you need what Peter had – a plan. Start by playing by tracking your expenses, and setting goals. Take into consideration how old you are now, when you want to retire, your yearly income, how much you save, and put a realistic plan together that you are able to stick to. You might need to start small, and as you become more ambitious with saving, you’ll learn to change your consumption habits. The bottom line is any plan is better than none, put together a savings foundation, and feel free to monitor and chart your progress, because most people do not retire financially self-sufficient by accident.
Brian: Peter, did you read the fine print on this loan contract?
Peter: Um, if by “read” you mean imagined a naked lady, then, yes.
Every family should have someone they trust with important legal and financial documents. This is the go-to-person for buying a house, a car, investing or anything with a minimal level of risk. Clearly, Peter is not that person. But, his gullibility illuminates the importance of a healthy skepticism. Never assume that the other party to a transaction is looking out for your best interest, because they usually are not. Debt consolidation or restructuring are good examples. The allure of a lower monthly payment can be tough to resist, but ask yourself: does this sound too good to be true? If the answer is yes, then it probably is. “Quick fix” debt consolidation means you make payments for longer and therefore pay more over time than if you just made the current payments. Always do your research on the implications of committing to a deal that “sounds irresistible,” – and here is the important part – and is readily available to anyone in any financial circumstance.
Peter: I don’t take coupons from giant chickens, not after last time.
Everyone loves a discount, and bargain hunting is a cornerstone of financial savvy. That being said, discerning shoppers know that many alleged “discounts” and “sales” are no such thing. Grocery stores, for example, have long been criticized for advertising “3 for $20” type deals where $20 is just the every day price of buying three of that item. Other stores will claim that they usually sell something for one price, but are now selling it for a lower (but still high) price for a limited time. Research often shows that the item was never actually sold for the “original” price and so the “sale” was illusory. Still other coupons require buying more than you intended thereby eliminating the savings. The only way to know a deal is worth taking is to shop around and ascertain the real “original” price of the item in question.
Curbing Unnecessary Costs
Peter: Come on you guys. I gonna buy us the most expensive meal we’ve ever had.
Peter (to drive-through speaker): Yeah, I’d like 6,000 chicken fajitas please.
Drive-through speaker: I beg your pardon?
Peter: 6,000 chicken fajitas.
Brian: And a sausage McBiscuit please.
Most families only include groceries when estimating food expenses. And this may leave out substantial money spent on vending machines, coffees, convenience snacks, and yes, fast food. It’s cliché advice to be mindful of these expenses, but sometimes clichés are correct. Giving yourself a pat on the back for “only” spending $150 a week at the grocery store to feed your family deceives you about your true spending in this area. And while we assume the typical reader isn’t ordering fajitas by the thousand, most of us could stand to scrutinize and restrain our out-of-home eating expenses more than we currently do.
Peter: Hey, anybody got a quarter?
Bill Gates: What’s a quarter?
One of the most common rationalizations for not saving or investing is: “I don’t make enough money.” Surely, the reasoning goes, whatever pathetically small amount you put away in a week wont amount to anything. But this ignores the real issue involved, especially if you’re young. What matters is not so much that you start saving $500 a week (although it wouldn’t hurt) but that you start at all. Recession or no recession, most people see their income rise throughout their working lives until retirement. You will eventually be able to save more. But how likely is it that you will save more once you have it if you don’t get into the habit of saving now? Saving should be scaled up in-tandem with earnings, rather than put off until earnings are perceived to be high enough to have an amount taken out for savings.
Peter: Guys, our money problems are over; we’re officially on welfare! Come on, kids, help me scatter car parts on the front lawn.
Don’t take the Peter Griffin approach to solving your “money problems.” Instead, adopt the above mindset of starting to save and invest with whatever resources currently in your possession. The only exception is if you are in debt, in which case, pay that off first. A well thought-out and consistently implemented savings and investment program should minimize your need to rely on others (be it friends, family, or Uncle Sam) during financial hardships.