When I wore younger men’s clothes, April was my favorite time of year. That’s when I got my yearly check from the government.
I’d figure out my taxes – much easier in those days – mail the form in the government-supplied envelope and strategize how I was going to splurge or squander my windfall that the government was withholding from my paycheck for a year.
Make an extra payment on my car loan? Pay down my Gold’s Department Store revolving credit card? Put it in a Capitol Federal Savings and Loan savings account?
Not in a million years.
Like so many other Americans, college-age or older, that treasure trove of surplus cash would go right back into the American economy. A much-deserved weekend trip. A fashionable new outfit. Maybe a video tape recorder everybody was talking about.
How times have changed.
We had the honor of paying our fair share to Uncle Sam this year. Like practically everyone else, not enough was withheld. In my case, I’m retired. Nothing is withheld and, frankly, those 1099 forms from all my freelance work add up by December.
My tax bill got me to thinking, “Why do we spend so much?” I may have the answer. It’s the Joneses’ fault. You know the Joneses? The people who “vacayed” in Buenos Aires last summer, or bought their offspring that cute little sports car. Or, worse yet, put in a swimming pool.
My “online research” revealed that a team of American and Canadian economists got their pointy little heads together and figured out that why we spend money is downright simple: Spending is a lot more visible than not spending. Traditional and social media make other people’s spending more visible to the rest of us. That makes us spend more.
I’m not sure that I’m spending every retirement dime I make because I see you spending every bit of your hard-earned cash but, hey, I’m not an economist. I just write for a living. And those economists make a lot of sense.
When we see other people spending money, we tend to believe we should be spending, too. A new boat in your neighbor’s driveway sure draws your attention more than not parking a boat there, they write.
When I got my treasure trove of cash from the federal government oh, so many years ago, I had a small group of friends as poor as I was to influence me. I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t have a television. I read the Lincoln Star every morning, but it just told me what was on sale at Gold’s Department Store.
Now look what’s happened. The Home Shopping Network entices me to purchase much-needed products. Friends and neighbors post their exotic vacations on Facebook. YouTube shows happy kids unboxing expensive toys.
I need to read the rest of the study to see if the researchers figured out a way to keep us from consuming so much.
One thing you can count on from me next year. No more surprises. I’m withholding enough so I don’t get any surprises at tax time next year. And I’m starting right after we get back from our “once-in-a-lifetime” Caribbean cruise.