Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Found" money can take a little bit of looking

Sometimes the answer to a particular money problem is right in front of you. Finding it is often simply a matter of getting in the habit of looking there first.

A friend of mine recently needed a new lawnmower. He saw one on sale at a local dealer, but didn't have the extra few hundred dollars to purchase it. He also didn't have time to save for it. His grass was already tall and the management association overseeing his subdivision readily fined homeowners for shaggy lawns.

In such a situation, it would be easy for many of us to pull out our credit cards--an all-too-convenient temptation. We might even have been able to rationalize the decision: better to pay the cost of the mower upfront and maybe pay a little interest, than pay the association's fine each month.

But a wiser choice is to keep that temptation in check. Keep your card in your wallet. Instead, start developing a new habit: actively look for ways to avoid buying items on credit in those times you don't have the cash.

My friend started looking around his house. In his garage, he came across a couple containers of scrap metal he'd collected over the years as a machinist and contractor.

Scrap metal prices, like other commodities, have soared in the last several months--so much so that some folks have taken to (please don't try this at home) ripping guardrails off highways and the tracks from railroad beds to fetch a high price at the scrap dealer. For my friend, the containers of scrap metal yielded enough cash to pay for a new mower.

He had other options: He could have borrowed one from a neighbor. He could have temporarily hired one of the neighborhood kids to cut the grass until he saved up enough for the new machine. He could have gone online or looked in the newspaper for a used mower.

But I was encouraged that he at least took a step in the right direction to hold the line on his existing debt. He and his wife have struggled to keep their card balances from inevitably climbing higher and higher, so this is a very good sign.

Credit card debt is avoidable. You don't have to live under the yoke of a monthly minimum payment that really only serves to keep you at the mercy of the lender.

When you catch yourself reaching for that card to buy something with money you don't have, stop. Think. Get creative. See if there's another way to make the purchase without going deeper into debt. With a little bit of looking, you might be able to find something like scrap metal that is as good as gold.


Jimbo said...

You might also try joining It's an online newsgroup that pairs people looking to offload surplus items with those who need them.

Best of all, there are a multitude of local groups. I belong to the King of Prussia one. So it's really about neighbors helping neighbors.



Jimbo's consumer experience

CJ said...

Funny coincidence, someone else just mentioned to me. Might be a good topic to write about sometime.