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Monday, May 2, 2016

The Penny-Pinching Spendthrift speaks out

Monday, June 8, 2009

For the past year I have more or less been cut off from the outside world. However, the occasional internet experience has given me enough information to know that something other than horse droppings outside my ger (and inside my stove) is happening.

By that something , I mean the worst economic downturn to hit the world since the Great Depression. This is huge news that is affecting most of the world except for me (that's not true of course, as a government funded enterprise, we are definitely impacted by the economy.) What I do mean is that my job isn't in jeopardy of disappearing (I don't think anyways), and we actually just got a raise due to rising food prices around the world (I now make 190,000 tugrigs a month. What is a tugrig you may ask? It is the official currency of Mongolia. An exchange rate of around 1400 tugrigs to every dollar means I am bringing in about 135 dollars every month, which is as much or less than a lot of Americans make in one day.)

Because I feel like I am now the king of frugal living, I have decided to change my job title. I will no longer be known as the respected Brett Campbell MD. Instead you can now call me Brett Campbell the Penny-Pinching Spendthrift, and today I will lay out my four-point plan on how to live like a king, on a peasant's budget. Before I begin though, don't forget you can catch my nightly infomercial (on any station not worth watching) where I hawk my new book, "The Penny-Pinching Spendthrift's Guide to Living the High Life: Why riches to rags is the new rags to riches."

First things first, move to a place where nobody really lives (the Gobi desert for example). The less people around you the weaker the urge to buy that new truck, you don't really need, just to keep up with the Joneses (also as in my case, it probably won't be available.) Next, buy a tent. In my town I am a renter. Rent for a ger runs around 40,000 tugrigs (28 dollars) every month. Now, the bad thing is this is already a fifth of my monthly allowance, but this is where the government comes to the rescue and takes care of my rent for me. I'm sure if you're only making 135 dollars a month, the government will spot you a tent too. So, I'm still living large, but we can't forget that other major living expense - electricity. Lucky me, Uncle Sam picks up the bill here too. At about 6,000 tugirgs (4.25 dollars) a month though, it would just be rude of him not to.

So, what is the number 1 rule of a Penny-Pinching Spendthrift? Get the government to pay for as many of your bills as possible. (Note: I am not trying to make a political statement here. This is a joke. No hate mail please.)

Now, the second important expenditure most humans will encounter is food. Farmers have it right; grow your own, but if this is not an option (for example if you live in a desert) then you will have to start making some hard choices. The first thing to do away with is options. The more options you have the more spending you will do. The store I like to shop at specializes in the three major food groups; vegetables (onions and potatoes), sweet breads, and lots and lots of sweets. Because I'm health conscious, my choice is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Bread at 1000 tugrigs (70 cents), jam at 4300 tugrigs (3 dollars) and peanut butter sent from home (sometimes mom and dad are just as generous as Uncle Sam) means I can relive my childhood, be healthy (so says Brett Campbell MD) and save money while I'm at it. You've just pulled off the trifecta. A win-win-win.

Let's review rule number 2. Eat the same thing every day of the week. If your body starts to shut down don't worry about it and admire all of the weight you're losing. I for one have dropped a notch in my belt. If that's not healthy, I don't know what is (Warning: That's not healthy.)

After the necessities are taken care of we can let loose a little and start spending money (or not spending money) on entertainment. Again, excessive options are our enemy here. To be a true Penny-Pinching Spendthrift you should only have 2 or 3 options.

Option number 1: Do nothing at all. As boring as this may sound, you should try it. If you can't afford to do anything else then you won't have much of a choice anyways, but it's actually quite relaxing. I find that sitting in a dimly lit ger thinking of all the things I could be doing is much more fun than actually doing those things.

Option number 2: Get some friends together and buy a 3000 tugrig (2 dollars) bottle of vodka. This is not one of my personal favorites, because well, I don't like vodka (and as with every drinking reference in my articles, I do not condone underage drinking), but this is a very popular pastime in Mongolia. Beware though, a 2 dollar bottle vodka can lead to many problems which any college student (any 21 year old college student) can attest to.

Option number 3: Get outside. Give Mother Nature some love. Not only will your body thank you for the exercise, but you might actually come into contact with other human beings and make new friends (I'm talking to you gamers. Video games are expensive; too expensive for a Penny-Pinching Spendthrift.) Being outside and being around people is definitely something that Mongolians are good at.

Rule number 3 is a rather simple one. Whatever you do for fun, do it for free.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "But Brett, a spendthrift is someone who spends money. Isn't a Penny-Pinching Spendthrift a contradiction?" Well my friend, you are right. But this is the beauty of my four-point plan. Rules 1, 2 and 3 are all aimed at your inner penny-pincher, whereas rule number 4 breaks the mold. We can't expect to change our ways overnight, so we have to give ourselves that one day a month spend-a-thon.

So far we have saved money by using the kindness of the government, slimming down our bodies, and torturing our overactive minds with the boredom of our grandparent's childhoods. So what are you going to do with all of that saved money? You're going to blow it. Go to the city and do all of the things you've been wishing you could do for the previous four weeks. One day of debauchery and our penny-pinching ways will fall to the spendthrift in all of us. I mean honestly, who wants to be known as a penny-pincher anyways? The Penny-Pinching Spendthrift says "Spend Baby Spend!" (One day a month.)

So, there you have it. The Penny-Pinching Spendthrift's Guide to Living the High Life. A simple four-point guide to your financial success. Times are tough now, but what goes down, must come back up, right? I guess that's true if you choose option number 2 for your weekend.

Coming to live in Mongolia has definitely proved my reversed law of gravity. I have had to give up things like good food, good entertainment, and good friends, but the thing I quickly found is that I got used to my new life. I don't have a problem sitting in on the weekend and reading a book, or only seeing fellow Americans once a month. Change is the only constant in this world and the sooner we realize that the sooner we can get on with our lives after a ground-shaking change, whether it be a financial crisis or a life changing move.

After this experience, the thing I will always have when I'm faced with any tough situation is that I've experienced how much harder it can really be. So, life will go on...especially when you buy my new book at its recession special rate - three easy installments of $49.99. A small price to pay for peace of mind in these troubled times.

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