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Keeping Up With The Smiths
This story is not copyright; it is public domain.

    There are two families, the Joneses and the Smiths.
    The Joneses are a typical American family, striving for the American Dream.The Smiths are creating an alternative lifestyle, one that cherishes personal liberty over immediate prosperity.
    This story is about why the Smiths are far more likely to become wealthy than the Joneses.

    In a modest but quiet city neighborhood lives an up-and-coming young family named Jones. The Joneses have carefully made all the widely agreed upon moves to earn success and prosperity. Everyone who knows the Joneses also thinks they're doing fine.
    Mr. and Mrs. Jones are the same age: 34 years old. They refrained from marriage until graduated from our state University at age 22. Then, for four years they both worked and saved even more diligently than they had labored in college, frugally accumulating a down payment for their dream home. They bought something realtors call a “starter house," a very small, unpretentious, 3 bedroom place, only $15,000 down and a mortgage of $55,000 with the rest of your life to pay it down. To the young and eager Joneses this ticky-tacky house seemed an idyllic rose covered cottage. They thought it was plenty savvy to reduce their down pavement by paying the asking price and slightly more interest.
    Promptly upon becoming a proud mortgage holder, and with great optimism, Mrs. Walker Jones started baking two babies as close together as possible. At the time of this story the youngest child has reached first grade and Mrs. Walker Jones is back working full-time. What a relief she feels to have two incomes; what a relief to get awav from her difficult youngest child during working hours.
    The Joneses work in different fields but their salaries are virtually equal. And being very average Americans, their salaries are average: each grosses exactly $1,250. per month. Mr. Jones has a long-hoped-for entry-level executive marketing position with a large corporation; Mrs. Jones, her career set back by childrearing, is now learning to handle real-estate closings for a local escrow company.
    Though both work and have very reasonable hopes for advancement, the Joneses' budget reveals an all-too-common American tragedy.

THE JONESES' MONTHLY BUDGET

ITEM EXPENSE BALANCE
Monthly Gross Income   $2,500.00
House (PITI) $700.00 $1,800.00
Cars, 2, All Expenses $562.50 $1,237.50
Groceries (incl. 4 bag lunches) $425.00 $812.50
Federal Income Taxes $165.00 $647.50
Social Security Deductions $175.00 $472.50
State Income Taxes $70.00 $402.50
Unemployment & Worker's Comp $45.00 $357.50
Telephone, Electricity, Heat $150.00 $207.50
Clothes $150.00 $57.50
Entertainment $57.50 $0.00
Children's Allowances $50.00 [$50.00]
Saving For 2 Week Vacation $80.00 [$130.00]
House Maintenance $50.00 [$180.00]
Furniture Ensemble On Credit $125.00 [$305.00}
Ever-rising Credit Card Interest $50.00 [$355.00]
Illness $100.00 [$455.00]
Christmas? Newspaper Subscription? Monday Night Football Beer? Mamawonchabuyme's? Mrs. J's Secret Wish List? More and More Credit Card Interest? ? ?


    The Joneses’ budget needs explanation. PITI (Principal, Interest, Taxes and Insurance) on mortgaged homes generally runs about 1% of the value of the home each month. The Joneses were surprised, astonished actually, when they received the first year's summary of their mortgage record and discovered that after paying about $7,000 on the house that they had reduced their amount owed by almost nothing. However, Mr. Jones' father explained to them that is how mortgages worked. In the early years almost everything paid in went to cover interest. What would make it bearable was that home prices had increased steadily, so you could rely on your house value inflating far faster than inflation. Father Jones stressed that there was no reason to worry about home deflation. This had happened in the East but would never happen here in the Northwest. Why, in eight to ten years, their house might sell for twice what they had paid, giving them a tidy profit they could use as down payment on a much bigger house--when their sure-to-be increased incomes permitted them to make bigger mortgage payments.
    The Joneses each drive 40 round trip miles to work and back, plus another 50 after work miles each week, toing and froing; on weekends they usually enjoy a tenting trip to the Coast or the Mountains or visit family or friends in nearby cities where they've no motel costs. Average driving: a very average 2,250 miles per month. One IRS method to account for business-related auto expenses, including depreciation on a late-model car, repairs and maintenance, gas, insurance, fees, etc., allows a little over 25¢ per mile. This figure can easily be cut in half by driving old beaters and mechanicing them yourself, but the Joneses need every possible day's income to make ends meet and can't afford to risk their tenuous job security and image at work driving an old or unreliable car. So every two years, the senior of their two cars, the one with about 50,000 miles on it, is replaced with a brand new plain-jane compact. One day they expect to be much happier driving nicer cars.
     Food. The U.S. Government estimates that the average family spends 17% of their gross income on food. Lets generously assume 17% also includes detergent, light bulbs, paper products and other non-food items usually bought at the supermarket. This figure can also be greatly reduced through bulk purchasing and avoiding prepared and processed items. But Mrs. Walker Jones hasn't time for much kitchen work; she is too busy helping balance the budget.
    Taxes. I'm assuming the Joneses can't itemize deductions and pay about 6 percent in State Income Tax. Utilities. I'm assuming they live in the Maritime Northwest where winter is not really cold and low cost electricity from the Federally subsidized Bonneville Power Administration is available. Electricity is much dearer in the Eastern U. S.
    Illness. Going steadily deeper into the red every month, the Jonses are under a lot of stress, not good for anyone’s health. And Mrs. Walker-Jones is usually too tired after work to prepare really healthful meals from scratch: her unsupervised children eat junk food after school. Worried though they are, beset by aches, pains and sniffles though they are, still, there's no money for more comprehensive health insurance than the major medical provided at work. Consequently, there are many uncovered bills for frequent doctor visits for their two hyperactive, flu-prone, allergic children; and many over-the-counter remedies essential to keep Mr. and Mrs. Jones going to work, and their children in school, ill or not. The Joneses are praying for a government bailout of their health situation, because they can't afford to be sick. Nor can they afford it when one of their children is sick, for this means losing pay resentfully nursing the kid or begging one of their increasingly put-upon parents to help them out.
    Behind their pasted-on smiles and their automatic response of “fine" whenever asked how they're doing, the Joneses are writhing insecurely in a self-created financial trap, praying for a raise or a better job to lift themselves out of their financial hole. Should one of them be seriously sick for long, should the family miss a couple of month’s income, their home, cars and etc. would all go by the boards. Their jobs are rather unsatisfying and they have to tolerate considerable stress there, Mr.Jones is very worried about the layoffs his company has initiated to become leaner and meaner. He has also seen how many other executive marketers are pressured to produce beyond any possible reality, and then discarded, sucked dry like a spider does to its prey. Sadly, more income won’t really help them much because to make life tolerable after work they are conditioned to spend, spend, spend.
    And Mrs. Walker-Jones is privately noticing lines appearing on her tired face and wondering what happened to the boundless energy she once had. Every night she feels tired; on Saturday she drags through their pleasure trip. And she worries that her once lovey dovey husband is becoming increasingly irritated with her over little things. And secretly, she worries about her increasingly powerful urges to really smack the children who frequently misbehave loudly.
    There's a common semi-joking term in our culture for this kind of unfreedom: wage slave. And a bumper sticker that goes with it: "I owe, I owe, so its off to work I go." PITI!

    The Smiths and the Joneses started out very much alike. They all came from the very same small Oregon city, became teenage sweethearts at the same high school, attended the same university and are the same age. And like the Joneses, Mr. and Mrs. Smith also graduated Bachelors of Arts from our state university in the same year the Joneses did, when they promptly married too, just like the Joneses. Then, just like the Joneses, the Smiths also worked hard for four years, frugally accumulating a down payment for their dream home. That accomplished, Mrs. Smith also baked her own pair of babies.
    Actually, subtle differences between the two couples first became apparent during their teenage years. Both the Joneses and the Smiths were already serious couples in high school, but the Joneses were what their friends called "grinds," intent on future success by getting excellent grades. Most evenings and weekends they studied together. The Smiths, exuberantly bubbled with joi de vivre, and never saw much sense in denying themselves fun in the evenings, especially when without considering that much work it was still very easy to get passing grades, even B's and occasional A minuses.
    So no one in high school or college pegged the Smiths as most likely to succeed, and in fact, their jobs after university weren't the career sort of white collar entry-level junior executive positions the Joneses competed for. No, during summer breaks and after graduation the Smiths did more proletarian, outdoorsey things like planting trees on piecework.
    Then Mrs. Smith got an easier, minimum-wage job doing field work at a winery, where her natural warmth and easy facility with Spanish (picked up while at university and during summer vacations bumming around on Mexican beaches) led her to promptly be promoted to a field "foreman" running a latino crew. Soon she was making very good money.
    And Mr. Smith, who had an innate commitment to being responsible in contractual relationships and an ability to recognize and relate to other peoples' self-interests and viewpoints, soon upgraded his contacts in the forestry business and became a self-employed contractor, living in a tent doing timber surveys in summer. For a couple of months each year he managed a Christmas tree sales lot in Los Angeles for a percentage of the gross sales.
    After one year of too much distance between them, Mrs. Smith left her 9-5 at the winery and joined him in the woods and on his annual trips to LA. Though they now only worked about six hard overtime months a year, and hung out the rest, during that time the Smiths made about the same amount of money that the Joneses earned all year. The Smiths had nothing of what the Joneses called "job security," but they did have the tax benefits of being self-employed and kept a lot more of their income.
    When it came time to make their first nest, the Smiths chose a life-style of independent self-sufficiency rather than buy what the realtors call a starter home, mortgage and all, like the Joneses did. Mr. Smiths prowled the countryside looking for a small, cheap and rather undesirable piece of raw land that they could build a house on, their prime consideration was that they own their property free-and-clear