rick_rossFor most of us, money is not an unlimited resource so we have to save up for things, or at least we used to. Saving up offered at least two advantages over impulse buying. First, it allowed one to accumulate all the funds necessary to buy something and second, it gave you time to consider all the ramifications and nuances prior to purchase.

Do I really need a new pair of shoes? Is that sweater truly me? Is it too thin for colder weather? Is the color just right? These are all things one might consider while saving.

boise_mallModern shopping has eliminated both the need to consider and the attendant reflection because we don’t need to save up for anything anymore. Credit cards allow us to buy things with money we don’t have and debit cards allow us to buy things with money we don’t have with us.

When we purchase on an impulse, contemplation is sacrificed. The reflection that may occur is all post-purchase and sometimes appropriately called “buyer’s remorse.”

I find that saving up for something virtually guarantees that the item in question is a complete success and exceeds all expectations.

ny_cabsAfter most purchases today, more often we are merely satisfied… until the next desire begins to invade our thoughts. If you should fall short of desires, television commercials are there to fill the void or as a NY cab driver once said to me, “TV commercials are corporate education.”

I remember the first significant purchase I ever saved up for (not including comic books and record albums). I was fourteen years old and I was working at my first real job. I decided to save up for a television. It was a no-brand, white plastic, 9” black and white model and the price was $79.99. It was about 1975, so eighty dollars was a lot of money to me.

I had never purchased anything so valuable ever. To be honest, I don’t even know why I wanted it so badly. I suppose because it was small and seemed so personal. In 1975 my family had never purchased a new television set before. We were not wealthy and even the middle class was something in the distance.

boyle_heights_homeI don’t know where the things in our house came from but most were probably gifts or hand me downs or low priced alternatives to full retail. Perhaps they were acquired in trade or barter, or by some other non-standard means.  I remember that once my mother bought blankets from a man selling them door to door.

What must have made them so attractive to her was probably the fact that he sold them on the installment plan. Every Saturday for months that little man in a shabby suit would come by and collect exactly one dollar from my mother. These were terms she could afford. I miss that world.

2_door_tv_cabinetI remember at one point we had a large black and white television in a wooden cabinet. It sat on the floor and had two doors that opened when you wanted to watch. The doors were held shut with an old fashioned ball-and-catch closure that made a distinct “ping” sound when you opened them.

One day the audio from the television went out and the television was no longer of much use. We stopped using it and found a smaller portable black and white television that we placed on top of the old cabinet now serving as a pedestal. About a month or so later the picture went out on the smaller television and in an instant we were the not-so-proud owners of two half-functioning televisions.

blassie_mtmWhen my father got home from work that day I’m sure he was looking forward to watching Freddie Blassie smash a few beer cans on his forehead or the LA Thunderbirds roller skate around the Olympic Auditorium.

Instead, we told him what happened. He looked at it for a few seconds and then instructed us to turn them both on to the same channel. The effect was fantastic and my eight-year-old self and five-year-old sister were conscripted as the official “channel changers.” In a weird way it was sort of fun to have two televisions on if you wanted to watch. Sometimes we would turn them to different channels just for fun.

st_vibiana_post_cardAbout six years after this television mayhem I was working at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana on skid row in Los Angeles. I used to walk the surrounding streets on my way to the bus stop, never the same route to throw off the would-be attackers. I was not scared of the homeless people on the street only the people who would rob them. You have to be pretty desperate to rob the homeless.

rtd_bus_los_angelesPaydays were every couple of weeks and with a pocketful of cash I would meander through the  neighborhood on my way to and from the old RTD number 47 bus stop. One day I spotted a 9” black and white television in the window of one of those cheap electronic stores on Broadway, the kind with windows filled with gadgets of every variety and placards screaming at you to buy.

Saving would be an extended exercise. I only worked Saturdays and Sundays so saving up eighty dollars was not going to happen overnight. After weeks and weeks of self-abnegation and considered economies I finally had the eighty dollars. I worked from morning until after the last mass about 6 or 7pm so I decided to go on my lunch break. It was only a couple of blocks away and I am a fast walker.

As I entered the store I passed the television in the window on my left. There it was on a small pedestal, antennae all up and the little white sign with black hand lettering in a comic-book like script with a thin red border on the edge of the card.

As soon as I opened the door the distinct smell of hot pastrami and cold pickles permeated the room. The inside of the store was lined with analog electronic equipment of every type, cameras, televisions, radios and a multitude of personal devices. There was only one salesman in the place and he sat behind a glass showcase counter on a stool. He was a portly older gentleman with a balding comb-over, a graying mustache and a short sleeved dress shirt with pens in his pocket and disheveled hair like he just woke up not that long ago. He had before him an open sheet of white paper recently containing a sandwich. The sandwich was now in one hand and with the other arm resting on the counter top he seemed to lean into the top of the glass cabinet like some kind of food-athlete striking the pose before the gun goes off.

I had practiced my opening line many times. I walked up to the counter with all of the pride and determination that eighty hard-earned dollars can engender in a skinny fourteen-year-old kid from East LA and said, “I’d like to buy a television.”

I imagined him asking me which one and showing me different models with varying features. I knew he would probably try to up-sell me but I would hold steady, firm in my resolve that I had considered it carefully and had come to the right decision.

picklesInstead, without looking away from his sandwich and with pickle juice running down his chin he said, “Not now kid, too busy eatin’.”

I had never been so crushed. How could he say that to me? Didn’t he know I had at least eighty-seven dollars in my pocket? Didn’t he know what it meant to me or that I had been saving for weeks? Well, of course not. At that moment all he knew was that it was lunchtime for him too.

It has been claimed that I am hard headed, single minded, capricious and as my wife likes to say, I have an “iron whim” so off I went to find another store, another television and definitely another pastrami-free salesman. I was going to buy a television that day if it was my last act on earth.

goodwill_broadwayAcross the street on Broadway was a store that I had never entered. It was called Goodwill and when I stepped inside I thought I had found heaven itself. At fourteen, I already had a high regard for all things old but I had no idea they had a home and were for sale.

I walked around and found the televisions. A 19” black and white “portable,” meaning no huge wooden cabinet surrounding it, was $12.00. I took it back to the rectory and carried it home on the bus that evening. They are heavier than they look and I weighed 125 pounds so we were pretty evenly matched. It was great having my own television and that experience was the beginning of what has become a lifelong relationship with thrift shops.

I remember that buying things second hand carried a certain stigma back then. I’m not sure why. Even in East LA, people who had no money felt the need to buy new things and maintain appearances. Appearances of what? I have no idea and to whom? I couldn’t say. I lived in Boyle Heights. There was no one to impress. Maybe it was only to distinguish ourselves from people who were “really” poor and not us, standing about three degrees to the right of them.

pastrami_metro_cardA few years later words like “retro” and “vintage” entered the vernacular in a big way and “pre-owned” things became cool. But in 1975 I didn’t care. You have no idea how satisfying it can be to buy a television for twelve dollars when you thought you were going to spend eighty. I love pastrami.