Wandering into an electronics store and buying an expensive television off the wall, on a whim, is like stuffing a cooked ham into a tube sock and referring to it by a woman’s name—that is to say, the activity completely baffles me. White haired fifty something’s with popped windbreaker collars and spotless internet shoes seem to just stroll into the Best Buy, start pointing at things, and fifteen minutes later they’ve got a new 60” high definition television fit for the garage, apparently so their old lawnmower and unopened boxes of deer jerky have something to watch. I don’t understand these people. Whether the notion of financial whimsy came to them later in life, or perhaps the result of never having to balance a checkbook, damn near everyone needs some sort of accounting in order keep walking among the thick and the clothed. Maybe they just know the score, or maybe they’re on pills, or maybe both. I have questions.
Traditionally, those of means use a CPA for more than just the yearly disappointment. They’ve got one on retainer to manage every dime that drops from their ears, and that very CPA is on the horn when something mischievous claws out from the bank statements. Perhaps there is a certain level of income that any average family can rake, a number that just levels you out and makes what would be a fancy-pants purchase for the knowledge workers, nothing more than a cup of coffee for the wealthy. The middle-class might mistakenly ask the upper for financial advice, a large purchase on the horizon and the like, since that pair of white socks pulled to the knees clearly represents a certain level of self acceptance. They laugh a tinny, high cackle of a laugh, like you’d asked them a nonsense question that sounded like your cat trying to speak a few sentences of English. “You want to buy something?” they reply, “well, just use money. Have you tried using money? That’s all it takes.”
The way you do it, the way we do it, the way I’ve done it—responsibly—is to find that giant-ass television you want, then immediately slam an ink pen under your toenail, and bathe the wound in vodka. I refuse to rack up debt in order to grab one, so the conspiracy sets off in a slow crawl toward a material thing that we simply don’t need. First comes the research—flyers, coupons, daily deals and all kinds of reviews flood your computer screen, anything to show you where to find a television that lives up to roughly seventy percent of your original expectations. The planning stage is the next one, the part where you’ve got the calculator open and parsing hypothetical financial situations for the next ten years. “Let’s see, if we take this much each month and set it aside, we can skimp on diapers and dog food, heck I can probably invent my own dog food… and… let’s see… yeah, we can probably buy this television with whatever sort of future currency exists in the year 2063. Probably ‘blood credits’ of some sort. Okay, can’t wait!”
The day of the actual purchase, the part that should be the most fun, is in reality the most terrifying. You’ve finally got a fist full of cash money and you’re going to mosey into the store you’ve already called to ensure they have your television in-stock, and you’re going to come home with a receipt and a delivery date. It should all be on the level, the score finally wrapping up with the goods in-tow, but all you can think about is how much more useful that money would be in paying off student loans. Instead of butterflies, excitement, and playing with a modern toy made for adults, you’re counting cash, calories, and anything else that a television will continue to remind you that you’re not good enough for.
Here’s roughly how it went for the Mrs. and I:
We pull up to the Best Buy that we’ve already secured will have a television within our price range. We skulk into the place, racked with heavy guilt over the thing we’ve saved up for in an honest fashion, thinking about bills and debt and starving puppies and the like—better things the scratch could fund, better things that would secure a barrel or two of karma for when our adult son drives a tractor through a Dairy Queen, or whatever the unborn dumb-ass has planned. The wall of televisions is wide, the cable connections and video settings all rigged to get you to swoon over the most expensive ones. There it is, the television we can afford. We stand there, pouring over the thing as we shuffle printouts of prices and photos and reviews. We lay down the card, make it official, then find out with tax, delivery, and a warranty to apparently prevent the television’s imminent sentience and hate crimes, the final tally shoves us right over our comfortable spending limit and into the weird excuses we tell each other during the drive home. Before we leave the store, someone’s rich Dad swings by and picks a TV off the wall for his mistress’s koi pond.
I’ve been told it’s just debt, the way people seem to buy things without having any reasonable explanation for their windfall. That unemployed neighbor with the house, the boat, the motorcycle and two cars to his name, that’s how he must do it. We know how the wealthy do it, they just use money. What is it like to think like that? To just be like that? Is it a facade? Do they really have the carefree luxury to never jot down in some little journal or accounting program every time they go out to a nice restaurant, or is it all a lie, some big wet coat of lead paint over a crumbling financial mess? When you start making six figures, does the handbook on how to ditch a hooker corpse just show up in the mail? Is there an 800 number for that? We bought a big DLP television a few years ago that we certainly enjoy—minus the stupid $100 light bulb that powers it, the one that keeps blowing up every six months. We bought the television with thoughtful pre-planning and careful judgment. For us to do this on a whim, finances be damned, just isn’t something our kind can get away with without involving a man-sized raccoon costume and an assault rifle. I have so many questions.