Get Your Money Back… From the Future!

To survive current economic hardships, you have to act in the now. What better way than getting some inside tips from after this whole debacle blows over, courtesy your future self? Hindsight by way of time travel is 20-15, after all.

Congratulations, your suspicions were well-founded. I am, in fact, from the future. I tried to conceal this fact in past articles but it’s extremely important that I reveal the truth at this juncture.

Now, to the matter at hand: I’m here to save you… like the Terminator, but with fewer shotguns. I’ve seen the end of this recession. It is coming. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how it ends (there’s an ironclad unwritten rule amongst all us time travelers: we can merely tell you that something will happen, we are prohibited from explaining why or how important events happen in the future – our official position on that subject is “there isn’t enough time to explain”). But it does end. I’ve traveled back from 2013 to bestow upon you some key pieces of advice and information that helped many people survive the economic downturn and prepare for the future.

Unfortunately, not much is different in four years; cars do not fly (not after the Helsinki incident), the Earth doesn’t overheat (thank you, Silver Surfer – I always believed you were real), and fast food places are still everywhere (there’s actually more, I think). However, one thing has not changed: you are more in control of the economy than it is of you and I have the compass to get you through the storm.

1. Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Collect change and cash it in. I’m not breaking any news by telling you this but it’s a common suggestion to “create” money for a reason: it really works out. You don’t need to wait until you have a water cooler jug full, either. A cereal bowl-full of coins will put a few fun tickets in your pocket and do a lot more good than they will scattered throughout your life. Coinstar and similar machines take about 8-10% of your total, as a service fee. Pay it. Don’t waste time rolling coins and then driving to the bank – the frustration and wasted time is worth at least that tiny slice of your cash pie.

Hot little secret: There are coin collectors everywhere and the current hottest trend with them is completing multiple sets of the commemorative state quarters (all of which are now in circulation). If you happen to know someone who’s into this (read: grandparents, friends of grandparents, eccentric guy who works down the hall from you), inquire whether they’re willing to pay you above-face-value for quarters. It sounds a little crazy but tell me again: which one of us is from the future? That’s what I thought.

2. Try Being a Kid Again

Do you live near family (or someone who is practically family)? Do they have a lawn that needs cutting, a pool that needs cleaning, a dog that needs walking? Odds are the answer to at least one of those questions is “yes”. You won’t earn your rent money in an hour but when you need every penny you can get, are you really going to pass up tax-free cash in exchange for a few hours of listening to headphones, working outdoors and breaking a good sweat?

Hot little secret: People that use professional landscapers will put a sign for that company in their lawn – make a note of these locations. You won’t be able to usurp the gig right away but if you take your time and get good at the craft, then you can go and prune some of the bigwigs’ business (while also saving that homeowner some money).

3. Temporary Solution to a Temporary Problem

Temp agencies have a bit of a bad/weird reputation thanks to television and film but they really can yield interesting and well-paying gigs even in the most trying of times. When an apartment building needs a doorman, they usually won’t hang a sign in the window or put an ad in the newspaper – they’re going to call a temp agency. Sign up with one or more near you, keep in good touch with one of their representatives, and before you know it, you will line up a bunch of mini-jobs that usually pay well and won’t crush your soul.

Hot little secret: If you’re at all capable/interested, many private schools do not require substitute teachers to have teaching degrees or licenses and, lest you forget, “substitute teacher” is the Cadillac of temp jobs. You’re welcome, in advance.

4. Capitalize on Capitalism

Businesses are living in this recession, too – don’t forget. If your local gas station or grocery store has a “Rewards” program, sign up (there’s a reason the old couple who lives across the street coincidentally has all those keychain swipe cards AND all that money despite the fact that neither of them has worked in 24 years). You will save money, little by little, on everything you buy; you’ll get coupons and deals that will really start adding up. Make sure you are aware of where your money can go the furthest. Do you or people around you drink products from Coca-Cola? The MyCokeRewards campaign is a nice way for you to get something out of all those bottle caps (free year-long magazine subscriptions, for example).

Look, I understand that when you have money to throw around, it seems like the ultimate senior citizen/nerd move to keep track of when prices are slightly lower. However, when you’re suddenly keeping track of your expenses more astutely than Bob Cratchit does Scrooge’s books, you owe it to yourself to take advantage where ever and when ever you can.

Hot little secret: Y’know that chain of gas stations whose fuel prices are always the lowest in town? Yeah, they purposely do that while increasing the price of everything inside the store. Tread lightly.

5. Stick it to the Man

As the guy who sees around 60 movies per year, I realize this is a lot easier to write than it is to actually carry out for an extended period of time but it will absolutely make a massive difference. A movie will be in theaters past its opening weekend, I promise. If you cannot wait for it to hit the second-run theaters (and their criminally low prices) in a few weeks, see it somewhere between Monday-Thursday, when most multiplexes lower their admission prices (seriously: $2 and $3 cheaper).

Don’t worry about it “affecting your relationship” with favorite writer/filmmaker/actor, either – one of you is reading a column on how to save money during the recession while the other is making a few million dollars to play pretend for a few months… who do you think more desperately needs those few dollars? Additionally: I know that it’s still rather chilly in most places, so you can still wear a jacket to the theater without looking like a Presidential assassin… and with a jacket comes all its pockets and extra concealed space, meaning you can “save” on concessions, if you follow me.

Hot little secret: I’m aware of the convenience of buying tickets online but there’s usually a service charge on Fandango and MovieTickets.com. You do not need to pay it. Also, if you are a college student (or if you graduated recently but “accidentally” forgot to take your student ID out of your wallet), you can get cheaper tickets – many qualifying people fail to realize this little nugget of information despite the fact that it is definitely one of the top-10 things about going to college.

6. Non-Essentials are Surprisingly Not Essential

Again, I (as much as anyone with 400 DVDs and shelves full of books) realize this is a tall order. You do not need to own Vicky Cristina Barcelona, this week. Call of Duty 4 will still exist in eight months. You can “borrow” the new Decemberists’ record from a friend or someone on the internet. Think about everything you absolutely must have before you spend money on something you can live without. Don’t confuse this maxim with #4, either. A great deal on some computer accessories is no different than an overpriced deal on some computer accessories, as of right now (avoid Costco and Sam’s Club for this very reason).

Tell me: what will saving $80 on a camcorder matter when your checking account balance has a negative sign in front of it, three weeks from now?

Hot little secret: It might be difficult to come to grips with this but some of the non-essentials you already own have monetary value. If you still have all your CDs but haven’t used a CD player in years, why not sell the discs? Do you use that Xbox (and your games) enough to pass up the couple hundred bucks you’d stand to receive for it at new/used electronics store? Think about it.

7. Nobody Likes a Show-Off

You may not believe this but people generally can tell who has money and who does not (although it was admittedly a lot easier to decipher back when rich people always wore top hats). And even if you do have money, there are many ways where you flaunting it ultimately make no difference. Waiters will not be upset if you tip 10-15% rather than your normal 20% — he/she will make those few dollars of gratuity back when some doctor and eleven of his friends come in for a birthday party. Cashiers won’t judge you if you decline to donate your loose change to any of the three-dozen charities that place those guilt-inducing collection containers on the counter. Your neighbor is not charmed to see that you leave lights on when you’re not at home. Your girlfriend is not turned on when you blast the air conditioning and leave the car running as you dash into 7-11 for six minutes.

Most importantly: your friends aren’t expecting a pair of $100 shoes for their birthday. You don’t have to pretend money’s not tight. We all know it is. And when giving a gift to someone, that lack of money forces you to be creative and guess what? That usually leads to a final product that is worth a hell of a lot more than the gift you couldn’t afford (I feel like I’ve mentioned this somewhere, before).

Hot little secret: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether or not you should turn your car off when you’re going to be sitting still for a little while. Here’s the real deal: turn it off. Standard estimates believe that idling engines account for about 20% of the energy value in the gasoline you buy. Anytime the car will not move for 60 seconds or more (railroad crossing, drawbridge, drive-thru, waiting to pick someone up, etc.), turn off the engine. Merely not-leaving-the-engine-running would reduce U.S. petroleum consumption by nearly 1 million barrels per day (hint: this will help your wallet).

There are plenty of additional ways in which to manage and ultimately succeed despite this difficult climate and if you’ve discovered tricks that work for you, I hope you’re making the most of them. I won’t bore you with the endless stories of small businesses that went on to become massively successful corporations despite being founded in the face of the Great Depression but I will say that Winston Churchill rightfully noted that only an optimist identifies the opportunities in every difficulty, rather than the opposite. Be that optimist.

Realistically though, I know you can’t control everything. That’s not what the above list is all about nor is it why I went back in time (if I’m being honest: glass is looking more and more like it will become a currency and I’ve come back for a whole bunch of that). The list is about navigating a tumultuous situation in which everyone needs a hand, even supercool guys from the future. Nobody can control the wind but everyone can adjust the sails (or “sales,” if that’s funnier and/or more poignant).

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.