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Opinion

Save for reasonable expenses rather than new technology

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April 7, 2011

When I first applied to UW-River Falls in the spring of 2004 tuition I remember tuition being roughly $2,000 a semester.  This year tuition for a Wisconsin resident such as myself was $3,447 a semester.  Now, seven years is a long time to take to get your undergrad, but it is in no way a long time when discussing a 75 percent increase in tuition fees.  Countless reasons have been given for the rise in cost, but one I haven’t heard is the increasing cost for the school to stay current with the latest technology.  I can’t count how many times the computers in the basement labs of the library have changed since I started here, and that was in 2006.
When the UC was built, we didn’t just pay for a building, we paid for computers, flat-screens and the latest building materials and designs.  The building is fantastic, and also expensive.  To ‘keep up with the Joneses’ so to speak, UWRF has had to continually spend more and more money and it’s no different anywhere else.  These are expenses that did not have to be accounted for 25 years ago.  The university saves less today, as does the general populous of America. 

The first year the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking personal savings data, 1959, Americans saved an average of 8.3 percent of their income.  In ‘75 savings rates peaked at 14 percent.  For the last decade the savings rate has hovered around 3 percent.  The reason? An increase in available technology and its associated costs.  Twenty-five years ago cell phones were not an essential item.  There were walkmans instead of iPods.  Laptops? “Fuggedaboutit.”  And many, many homes were without cable or satellite television. 

Families today have a landline and a cell phone for every member.  That’s $100 a month for a family of four.  Cable and Internet are another 60 bucks, if you go cheap.  Throw in satellite radio in a couple cars and just those few costs alone are nearing $200 a month.  That’s money that otherwise could have been saved, and history shows us it would have been.

When people don’t save they live paycheck to paycheck.  That’s obvious.  When Mom or Dad member loses their job, there is no rainy day fund to fall back on.  They stop spending and eventually if another job is not landed, lose their house.  Because they stop spending the retailers and manufacturers and service industry providers all suffer and begin cutting jobs.  The disease spreads.  Before the iRevolution, healthy savings accounts served as an effective antibiotic.  The recessions that used to be a mere annoying cold have become fatal in many cases. 

The same theory can be applied to the cost of cars.  The average cost of a vehicle has stayed rather steady at a spot nearing 4 percent higher than inflation since cars became commonplace in the 1940s.  Where your car once had a radio and two speakers, maybe a tape deck, it now has voice-activated GPS, a top shelf sound system and can sync to your iPod.  It’s cool, but baby is it expensive.

The moral of this story is simple.  Next time you’re in the market for a cell phone stop and ask yourself if you need the Android with the eight-foot screen.  Stick with last week’s version like me and although you may suffer from phone envy, you just might be able to pay for at least part of your kids’ college.