Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some Thoughts on Personal Finance

It was unfortunate that Mark decided not to write about personal finance as I think that there is a lot to say about this topic. In particular, I agree that it was odd that this article was treated as a revelation. Consider this comment:

I won’t bore you with the math, but this meal plan cuts out all the extras. No snacks, no OJ, no organic milk at $5.99 per gallon, no Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of that pasta, no frozen yogurt at night in front of DWTS. The husband brown bags it to the office. I’ll admit I included my coffee, at $2.15 per week, because I consider it essential, along with milk for the kids at every meal.

I have actually been extremely poor and I begin to think that most financial journalists have never been in that state. I remember saving up to buy powdered skim milk (as the only possible option) and would never have dreamed of affording organic milk. Some of the cheap food options that are listed are good but I remember buying huge bags of rice (10 kg, if I remember correctly) so I could stretch a tiny food budget out over a month. I notice this level of extreme economy is absent from the discussion.

In a lot of ways this is a good thing. The United States is wealthy country and it is good that inexpensive food is an feature of our society. But one should not mistake this advice as being how one would actually deal with dire poverty.


  1. I'll try to circle back to this one. There was just so much wrong with the article, it was hard to know where to start. The biggest point was probably the one that you mentioned -- the cluelessness of journalists when it comes to living below the median -- but I was also annoyed by the laziness of the writer and the terrible quality of the meals she came up with, unappealing dishes of limited nutrition loaded with salt and sugar.

  2. Agreed. Consider a 200g bag of Potato chips:

    There are 1094 calories in 200 grams of Potato Chips (Salted).
    Calorie breakdown: 60% fat, 36% carbs, 4% protein.

    Two of these per day would be cheap (could be less than $4) and fulfill calorie requirements but few people would mistake this as a healthy diet choice.