Being thrifty thwarts warriors on Wall Street

January 04, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. In his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column was originally published on Dec. 7, 1987.

On the first really cold day of this winter, I reached into the back of the closet for my heavy overcoat.

As I put it on, the wife made a retching sound and said: "You're not going to wear that awful thing again, are you?"

Why not? It's warm and it fits. What more can I ask of a coat?

"It's old and filthy," she said. "Look in the mirror."

I looked at my reflection. True, some threads dangled from the bottom and the collar. And there were a few mud stains here and there. The cuffs were frayed and a couple of buttons were missing. But I pointed out that the basic structure was sound.

"You ought to throw it out and buy a new one," she said.

But it isn't really that old. I bought it in 1971.

"That's sixteen years," she said, sounding amazed.

Ah, but a coat isn't like a car. I wear it only during the winters. The rest of the year, it rests. So it's much younger than it looks.

"Please," she said, "I'm really embarrassed when we go someplace in public. I've seen coatroom attendants look sick when they have to handle it."

tTC So as I went out the door, I agreed to buy a new overcoat, although the thought was painful. Not only am I sentimental about old clothes, I'm cheap. The coat's price had been $140, the most I ever spent on a garment. But by wearing it all those years, I had amortized -- I think that's the word -- the original cost down to about $9.31 a year. Or maybe $9.50 with dry cleaning.

But she was probably right, so I set off toward my favorite fashionable discount store.

Just before I got there, though, the voice on my car radio said: "And in financial news, the Dow Jones average has plunged 72 points, with declining issues outnumbering advances five to one.

"Analysts say the latest decline was brought on by reports of sluggish sales in November."

Then one of the analysts came on and mournfully talked about how nervous Wall Street was becoming because consumers aren't spending enough money.

And he said that if consumers didn't get out there and start spending money faster, this could lead to even more sharp dips, plunges, turbulence and gyrations in the market.

I suddenly realized that by purchasing a new coat, I would be doing a favor for those hysterics on Wall Street.

So I hit the breaks, made a U-turn, and looked down at my coat and said: "That's it, old pal, it's you and me for another year. I'm not going to cast you aside just to help those profit-grubbing fools."

For several years now, they've been playing their crazy game, buying stocks for more than they can possibly be worth, pushing the prices, selling, buying, merging, insider swapping, then running out to get a new Rolex.

Brokers have been persuading the gullible to buy stocks in companies about which they know nothing. They don't know if the chairman of the board is a lush, if the bookkeeper is stealing from petty cash or if the factory roof leaks and the toilets back up. They don't even know where the company is located or what the heck they make or sell.

Many of the companies weren't even making money. But that didn't stop Wall Street. Wild-eyed people listened to the brokers, the experts, the authors of financial newsletters, who shouted buy, buy, buy. And they threw more money at them and the prices went up.

Now it's all crashing down. If you read the Wall Street Journal, all you get is pitiful moaning. Story after story about brokers who are trembling, economists who are quaking, financiers who are standing in pools of sweat, investors who are down to their skivvies.

And that's the publication that calls itself the "diary of the American dream." Dream? It reads more like the diary of the delirium tremens.

So now, whom are they blaming for their own idiotic behavior? The consumers, because we're not spending enough. Me and my old coat.

I'm glad they told me because I'm going to do everything I can to keep them miserable. The coat stays. So do the frayed underwear, the gravy-stained ties, the round-heeled shoes.

For Christmas, I'll give the kids a promissory note for cash that I will put aside for them in an old coffee can in a corner of the basement. That way, they can't spend it, either.

And how will I benefit from this?

Maybe this time next year, I can sell my old coat to some needy soul on Wall Street.

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