MIDDLE-AGED PLAGUE - Trickling Economics: The home edition

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Well, gosh Beave. Since everyone else is talking about economics these days, it's time for me to throw my (gorgeous, hand-knitted) hat in the ring.

While I do realize that I'm not a lettered expert in the subject, considering where the experts are getting us these days maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Today's pontifications originate in the grocery store, my preferred locale of random human interaction, where I fell into conversation with a woman who mentioned a new eatery in town.

"Oh, the prices are reasonable," she assured me. "A half-sandwich, a piece of fruit and beverage came to just over seven dollars."

Maybe it had something to do with my surroundings, but I'm thinking that I could slap some deli lunch meat on a piece of bread, grab an apple, do my teeth a favor by skipping the pop, and have several dollars left over for the "I need more yarn because I never have enough" fund.

Does this sound weird to you?

I ask because, through the years, we get incredulous looks from people when we admit that no, we haven't tried out the new pizza place. We make soup from scratch. Haven't seen the latest movie yet because we can easily wait nine months and rent the DVD, which by that time won't be assessed new-feature charges any more.

"Don't you people live?" we are constantly asked.

"Don't you people budget?" I have always wanted to retort, with that sweet, gentle smile of mine.

It is fundamental reality that most of us are not related to Bill Gates - unless you want to go all the way back to Adam and Eve, but I don't think Bill takes this seriously. We operate under limited funds, the majority of which are already designated for property/income/payroll/sales taxes, auto/life/health/insurance payments, utility bills and their roster of attendant fees, gasoline, the monthly mortgage and dog food.

Are we having fun yet?

What's left over we splurge on stuff like prescription glasses, a visit from the plumber, four new tires and light bulbs for the bathroom.

Oh, and there's food.

While I don't go around asking other people what they make, I do hear complaints about how it never goes far enough. And I am properly sympathetic - because of that tax, fee and insurance premium thing - until I notice the year, model and number of vehicles they drive; the quantity of empty carry-out boxes spilling from their overflowing garbage can; the regular garbage bags of really nice clothes that they pass on to our tribe not because their own progeny has outgrown them, but because the stripe on the side is a different color this season.

I understand the desire to have new, fun stuff, and if we weren't already obligated to pay for demanding intangibles that we can't see or really enjoy, then I'd probably splurge on more of it.

But with the little bit we have left over, we make soup, setting aside funds - for emergencies, for a highly anticipated family outing, for an automobile purchase five years in the future. We try hard not to be judgmental, but at the same time, we find it hard to be sympathetic when the same people who call us boring moan because their hours got cut down, and they're seriously considering cutting cable TV. (Our TV, a cast-off, lies silent until 99 cent DVD Thursdays.)

This is economics: Most of what we make is taken up by purchases that do not directly benefit our daily lives.

Because individuals - unlike government - cannot create more money out of nothing, we are forced to make do with what we have, meaning that:

1) We can't buy everything we see, but

2) We can still have special, beautiful things if

3) We don't fritter it all away in little increments first.

Dayton columnist Carolyn Henderson, who manages Steve Henderson Fine Art, can be reached at 382-9775 or via email at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com. More of her writing is at middleagedplague.areavoices.com.

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