Thursday, January 7, 2010

Volume 4, Number 13: Mark's Shopping List For the Near Future

(Note: I originally posted this on Facebook as a note on December 31, 2009.)

Among the hundreds of people who lost money investing with Bernard Madoff, there is a woman by the name of Alexandra Penney. An accomplished author and the former editor of Self magazine, Alexandra took it upon herself to write a series of columns--a blog of sorts, if you will--called The Bag Lady Papers.

These columns, I thought, were going to be about coping in the aftermath of the Madoff scam--the "culture shock" of going from being rich to having to re-evaluate her priorities every time she wanted to buy something, her takes on the Madoff investigation and trial--and for the most part, her earlier columns did just that.

But I was hoping her newer columns would present perspectives on just what the most important things in life really are, and that hasn't been the case. Instead, they have smacked of the same longing for the past--croissants at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, the ability to limit one's purchases "strictly to top-quality name-brand stuff," not having to ride the subway, and so on.

In particular, I was hoping her newest column would be a "One Year Later: A Look Back, and Lessons Learned" sort of deal. Nope. Instead, she published a "fantasy shopping list" of things she could have bought if she hadn't invested with "the M.F." It includes pashmina shawls in every color imagineable (I'm thinking to myself: wait 'till she gets one in "snot" or "puke" and I'll bet she changes her tune), a purse that may well cost more than what I spent to buy my car a year and a half ago, and an Aston Martin that runs well over double what my house cost.

With that in mind, here is a shopping list of my own. These are all things I'd love to buy this year, but unless I win a lottery or get an unexpected inheritance, I'll have to settle on a few this year and take care of the rest over the next 5-10 years.

1. A new gas range. I am getting one next spring, no bones about it. My old one is 43 years old, the "towel bar" handle fell off the oven door ages ago, and every so often, a pilot light will go out and I have to re-light it (this sack of crap has three such lights--one for the left stove burners, one for the right stove burners, and one for the oven). I don't ask for much in a new range, as long as the oven has a window I can see through and a light (so I don't burn anything in there) and the oven and burners ignite right away.

2. A new garage door. Mine is the old kind that swings out and uses those huge, dangerous springs. It works just fine except for one problem: In recent winters, my garage floor has risen so the door will no longer shut all the way. It is also hard to open at times.

3. A new driveway. The previous owners of my house had a GMC Suburban, and the driveway shows it. There are pits and valleys from years of being driven on and sat on by said Suburban, so it's not a nice and flat driveway. There are times when I think I'm going off the driveway when all I've done is hit one of those pits or valleys. No fun. This one will run into the thousands of dollars because this driveway is 80 feet long.

4. A remodeled kitchen. Basically, the cabinets are crap, the floor is puke, the countertop is crap, the light fixture is as outdated as the range, and the previous owner of my house did this idiotic thing: he installed a flourescent light above the sink. The only good things in it right now are the dishwasher (even if it is 12 years old now) and the fridge (which I bought two years ago to replace another 40+-year-old sack of crap).

5. A remodeled bathroom. My current one is a mishmash of crap. Gray tiles, an off-white bath surround, wood towel bars from 1985, crappy wicker cabinets above the toilet and by the sink, a bathtub in sore need of reglazing, and the vanity is both outdated and a poor use of space. I wouldn't mind if the contractor told me he'd have to rip out everything but the walls and start over from there. It really sucks.

6. A high def--no, wait, I just bought an HDTV a few weeks ago for my living room, so strike that from the list. But I'll be on the lookout for a smaller (19") one for my bedroom.

7. A digital camera that can run on ordinary AA alkaline batteries. This may not seem like a big deal, but the one I have right now cannot take more than a few pictures without telling me the batteries are low and promptly shutting off. Then I test the batteries and they still have juice in them. How horribly inconvenient. I've been able to make do with that because I don't use cameras a whole lot to begin with.

8. New concrete steps for my front porch. The ones I have are a) crappy-looking and beat-up and b) too darn steep. My mother could dislocate a hip going down those steps! I have two 10"-deep steps when I really need three 7" steps. This item is another one that I'd like to cross off the list in 2010.

9. Seeing as Alexandra wants an Aston Martin DBS Volante, I want you to know that I like that new 2010 Buick LaCrosse. I like the styling of it. I really like how it looks in silver. I'll certainly be on the lookout for one in 2013 (when my current car hits the dreaded age of 11). Whaddaya mean only old folks drive Buicks?

10. Speaking of my current car, three of the tires on my car will be six years old in about 40 weeks. How do I know this? Well, last year, I came across an ABC News report about the dangers of driving on old tires, regardless of the wear on the treads. To my horror, three of the tires on my car--which the previous owner had bought as "new" in January 2007--were actually made in October of 2004. The British Rubber Manufacturers Association warned in 2001 that "unused tyres [sic] should not be put into service if they are over 6 years old." Bottom line, I will have to replace all of the tires.

I look back on her first column and she says she lost forty years of her life savings to Madoff. I'm sorry she lost that much, but at the same time, I wish I could say I ever was able to save that much. Due to problems I had earlier this decade, my savings pretty much only go back to 2006. Even today when I am doing the best I ever did, I save what I can, and that includes things like clipping coupons and trying to combine errands in as few trips as possible (to save gas), because you never know when that next "rainy day" will come... or how long it will rain.

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