Saving Money: American Style

As I compare my homes, my native USA and my adopted UK, against each of the four Frugal Fam values this week; I am struck for the first time with a touch of homesickness. I suppose a big part of it is the result of my ever shrinking family. My oldest three children are gone and my in-laws will be retiring to Barbados in less than six months time. I am aware that very soon my large family will shrink to three and a half (since I have shared custody of my youngest son). These rapid changes have put my mind in place where I am examining all that I do…including my countries. As I said before no place is perfect and both of homes have their positives and negatives.

Today though, I will attempt to compare the Frugal Fam value of saving money. I say attempt because as I learned within weeks of moving to the UK it is akin to comparing apples and oranges. I soon adopted the idea of not converting everything from pounds to dollars. Otherwise, it would have been virtually impossible to pay almost two dollars for a 500 ml Pepsi. I accepted that what something cost in dollars in the USA was roughly equivalent to what it would cost in pounds in London.

But the good thing is that for this comparison I am using London and Los Angeles, which are roughly equivalent in terms of cost of living. The comparison would be much different if I were using a smaller US city such as my mother’s home in South Carolina or Orlando, Florida, where we had considered living when we returned.

I have a confession: I have been to Wal-Mart…twice. But I am proud to say that neither time have I splurged on wants. On my first trip I made a careful list of the things we needed and I stuck strictly to that list. The next trip was with the specific purpose of buying Emily a baseball bat, ball and glove. I also bought her a two dollar outfit for her Barbie doll, but halted my purchases there. And trust me that is good for me. I have two weaknesses: Wal-Mart and the 99¢ Store. I could spend a hundred dollars in the 99¢ Store and far more in Wal-Mart. So this has been quite an accomplishment for me.

One thing I have noticed about America though is the number of television commercials for the latest must-have items. Not that we don’t have those in the UK, but not with the same frequency. During day time television, even the children’s channel is flooded with adverts for under-the-bed storage, space-saving vacuum bags, special hangers, cell phone holders and of course a million and one beauty products: all of which seem to be an amazing deal at just $19.95 plus shipping and handling…or something like that.

I have been a tad shocked at some price rises I have noticed. A basic three-foot kiddie pool now costs $15. I can remember when it cost half of that. The discount store where I used to buy the children’s clothes for $1.99 for a shirt and shorts set; those same sets now cost $3.99. I am thankful to say that the cost of my Pepsi has not risen significantly.

Overall, I would have to say that Los Angeles ranks slightly higher for the saving money value; if you can resist the temptation to indulge at Wal-Mart, the 99¢ Store, and those ever-present television adverts. One of the biggest contributors to this has been the trend in the housing market, which has seen significant drops in the rental prices. Of course, gasoline/petrol is much cheaper here: £2.19 for a gallon of regular versus £.98 for a litre in London.

But I would say that if this were the only value on which to compare the two countries then I do not think that the difference is significant enough to make a huge difference. But as I said if I were comparing London to a smaller town or city then I would guess that the US would have a major advantage.

One thing I would like to note is that today as we drove to the park, we were constantly passing road crews at work repairing the streets: a part of the stimulus package already at work. I was amazed, because it was the most substantial sign I have seen of real investment in the people rather than banking institutions. I was also shocked at how quickly the money had been put to work: the package was passed just a few weeks ago and already we have road crews at work? I have to question if the UK government could accomplish such a task as saving and creating so many blue-collar jobs. I mention this simply because the other side of saving money is having an income to bring that money in to begin with. It does not matter how much lower prices are if you do not have the income to survive.

My American readers don’t let the past two blogs go to your head. Brit readers don’t think I have forgotten the wonderful things that my adopted country has to offer. I think the next two days will lean heavily in the UK’s favour.

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