Shattuck: Saving to stimulate the economy

By By Ryan Shattuck

By Ryan Shattuck

What do the following three items have in common?

A piggy bank made of granite and filled with a tinier piggy bank made of porcelain and filled with pennies and broken promises.

A copy of Jimmy Buffett’s single Margaritaville, autographed by Jesse Ventura for some reason.

A dictionary with a hollowed-out center, so that one may hide trinkets such as tiny porcelain piggy banks and well-worn DVDs of “Snakes on a Plane.”

The answer? They can all be purchased with my economic stimulus check!

Two months ago, the House and the Senate, in a rare move of relative bipartisanship — a level of cooperation that hasn’t been witnessed since the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 or the Janet Jackson nipple attack of 2004 — passed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 in an attempt to bolster the U.S. economy.

Thanks to this stimulus package, tax-paying Americans (Wesley Snipes and Al Capone, you can skip this part) will receive anywhere from $300 to $1,200, depending on such variables as income status, number of children and children’s income status.

Although it’s doubtful whether this economic stimulus check will do much to stave off the recession in which we already find ourselves, the checks are intended to serve just one purpose. To be saved in a college fund? To pay off credit card bills? To be invested in Ashley Dupré’s five-diamond musical career? What exactly do the House and the Senate prefer that we do with our stimulus checks?

Spend the money!

Spend the money!

Spend the money!

It doesn’t take a financial expert like Jim Cramer (can I get an amen, Bear Stearns stockholders!) to understand that money invested in the economy gets a lot more mileage than money invested underneath one’s mattress.

Most Americans are more than willing to support their country by spending money, even if it means they have to make such painful sacrifices as buying iPods or new cell phones.

Nevertheless, the new stimulus checks beg the question: How many of us will actually invest our stimulus checks in savings? This also begs the question: What percent of Americans actually have any type of savings in the first place? Further more, this also begs the question: Why are questions always begging, and why can’t these lazy questions just get a job?

Because my savings account — which consists of $Less Than Five Bucks.00 — plants me firmly in the same demographic as the majority of America, I can’t help but wonder: Why are such small numbers of us investing in savings? Considering that 78.5 percent of the U.S. is Christian, it might be argued that more Americans believe in a Rapture or a Second Coming than they believe in saving for a rainy day.

What would Jesus do? According to national trends, even omnipotent beings would rather spend than save.

Why are such small numbers of Americans putting more money into a savings account than into a cash register? Saving money might not be as sexy as a vacation, a new car or a $4,300 prostitute, but in a financial crisis a person shouldn’t expect to find comfort in a vacation, a new car or a $4,300 prostitute (unless of course, the prostitute has a heart of gold).

Has our want-it-now-need-it-now society driven us to such a point that we’ve become so financially irresponsible that any small financial hiccup is likely to give us financial cancer? Do too many of us believe that it doesn’t matter how we live and spend today, because the sun will come out tomorrow?

If I learned anything from that red-haired orphan, it’s that one doesn’t need to worry for one’s future, for “Daddy” Warbucks will fix everything in the end.

OK, bad example.

Although it might seem pointless to ask questions in retrospect — What if the South had won the Civil War? What if John F. Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated? What if Keith Richards could remember any part of the ‘8os? — it nevertheless can provide us with a historical reference point from which we might base our future decisions.

Would larger percentages of savings from yesterday have played any part in the financial crisis of today? Hopefully we’ve learned by now that although recessions might be unavoidable, any sort of savings can at least soften the blow.

I’m clearly not a financial expert. The extent of my financial advice consists of “Don’t spell your name wrong on your own checks.” Regardless, common sense dictates that saving more and spending less, while painful, will be beneficial in the long run. I haven’t decided yet how I’ll use my stimulus check, but I’m definitely going to use it on something responsible.

Like a copy of Margaritaville. And only if it’s signed by Jesse Ventura.

[email protected]