Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scarlett's Pain

I saw an article in today's paper about a custom shoe store, Silvio Lattanzi's, on Madison Avenue that charges up to $25,000 for a single pair of shoes. The store's owner says she has no lack of plastic surgeon has purchased 70 pairs in the past 10 years. The shoes are custom stitched in Marche, Italy and take 30 hours to make. Supposedly the shoes will last a lifetime, as long as you have them resoled periodically for a measly $250. For 25 grand, these shoes should make Tiny Tim dance like Fred Astaire!

I buy my shoes on sale and never pay more than $50 a pair. I asked myself how much money would I have to make to spring for $25,000 shoes. The answer is no matter how much money I had, I would never pay more than a few hundred bucks for shoes. I can't imagine how much better my feet would feel, and I would be saving $24,800 a pair! Then I would have enough left over for some $5,000 socks. Has the world gone mad?

I was born after the Great Depression, but I saw the effect it had on those who went through it. Even after the economy recovered, these people couldn't give up their frugal ways, no matter how well off they became financially. Nothing was wasted. My mother couldn't bear to see food thrown away. Clothes were recycled among family members. Luxuries like eating in restaurants and going on vacations were non-existent. I guess I feel closer to that generation and that mentality when it comes to spending money than I do to the Generation X and Y kids who believe in buy it now on credit and damn the consequences.

We're OK financially, but I still try to spend carefully. Even in my later years, the habits acquired over a lifetime are hard to shake, and I'm one generation removed from those who lived through the Depression years. That unhappy period in our country's history left a mark, or maybe put more correctly, a scar on my parents' generation. There was no welfare check, no food stamps, no homeless shelters...the poor were lucky to get something to eat on a bread line or from a compassionate neighbor. Even though the "recession" we are currently in is supposed to be the worst since the Great Depression, it's just not the same.

That's why I harp on the spending and saving habits of many young people. I saw the scars left on my parents' generation from an economic collapse fed by greed and over-extended credit. They were afraid of ever being that poor again, and that fear restrained them from economic excess; if they wanted something, they sacrificed and saved up for it, usually paying cash and not digging themselves into holes that led to bankruptcy. If there was ever a line that expressed their determination to never again live in poverty, it was uttered by a broken but still feisty Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind after she had lost Tara and everything she owned: "As God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again."

Too many people suffering through the current recession will never feel that fear. They may cut back out of necessity now, but the minute things get better and credit loosens up, there will be smoke coming off their Visa cards once again. They'll be buying houses and cars on a wing and a prayer, not caring whether they can afford them, but simply because they want them. The notion of saving went out with the poodle skirt. It took almost 70 years for this country to see an economic collapse anything like the Great Depression. I get the feeling in my bones that the next one won't take nearly that long.


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Joseph Del Broccolo said...

It's funny, that feeling you expressed is so very true for me too. I can't deal with wasting money, even pennies! I'm not cheap, just don't like to waste. I'll give to worthy charities, or help someone in need. My wife laughs at me because I refused to throw different coins in a fountain once. I was running against the grain I had instilled in me by parents who lived in the great depression!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Sad to say Joe but today's "I want it now" generation could use a little of that restraint.