July 30, 2008

The Art of the Possible     -- Or 'Tales of the Frugal'

Long-time readers (first time callers) may recall Ham o' Bone and his awe-inspiring frugality.

I thought I'd devote this space in homage to him. He deserves more, say a Money Magazine cover, for he is the fiscal equivalent of a saint. Just as we bemoan our lack of money even though it's usually the result of choices we've made (but will not admit), so often we bemoan our lack of sanctity despite the choices we've made (but will not admit).

And, like most saints, there is an element of craziness. Witness this mention of der Bone as written on this blog back in 2006:
I long to write the Great American Novel tonight between 10 and midnight. It would be sweet and sad and inspiring all at once. Ham o’ Bone will feature prominently of course, as a partially disguised character who frugally uses one square of TP per bowel movement. Ham, in a bid to save money, once decided to use his downstairs toilet for urination only. That way he could flush but once a month, saving water and cash. This came to an abrupt end when his mother-in-law visited and went for a smoke in the downstairs bathroom. Overcome by the smell, she told her daughter that that was ridiculous and must stop if she expected future visits. How many of us can lay claim to a sweet absurdism such as this?
Ham has mellowed in middle age and went so far as to recently purchase a 2000 square foot house that is extremely attractive. With that purchase the monthly budget for his family of six roughly doubled, to $4500 a month.

They home school their children and the unexpected benefit of this is a reduction in peer pressure ("to 25% of its strength" Bone guesses) and this has an effect on expenses because peer pressure almost always translates to material purchases unless the parents are especially resistant to entreaty.

Perhaps the most amazing statistic is Bone's purchase of two Geo Metro cars over the past 16 years. He has spent under $11,000 on those cars during that period of time, which includes maintenance and the initial cost of the cars, but not oil changes or gas. To have spent $687 per year for his transportation over 16 years seems amazing, and that was done mostly on the back of making every other purchase on his GM Card, which offered something like 3% towards the purchase of a new vehicle. Both vehicles were purchased at ridiculously low prices after the rebate was applied.

Clothing purchases have been minimal. The kids get hand-me-downs from relatives, as well as gently used clothing from Goodwill or Salvation Army. A recent example of Bone's ingenuity: when Meijer's offered 10% in-store credit of the value of any gift cards purchased, he bought $2,400 worth of Meijer gift cards (towards groceries, which he would have bought anyway). That gave him $240 of free money to purchase clothes at Meijers.

His four children, ages 13, 9, and twins aged 4 (roughly) are not interested in sports but he does not skimp on funding what they are interested in. He buys a $210 YMCA summer membership. Two of the children take weekly piano lessons ($2,000 a year). The eldest recently went to Boy Scout camp ($200). And there was a recent outlay of $100 for ten group home school lessons ($100 per quarter).

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