In these bleak economic times, when companies are losing billions and unemployment is on the rise, I can't help but wonder how so many businesses keep going even in a good economy. Sure, we all need food, shelter and transportation. But how do tanning salons, travel agents, expensive boutiques and pet therapists make any money? Who uses them? Who needs them? This is not intended to be a "holier than thou" screed, but my wife Miki and I really do live within our means, debt-free, and although we don't make a lot of money, we never want for anything. But as I have said only half-jokingly to friends and family, If everybody lived like me, the economy would collapse. Here are nine industries, for example, that would cease to exist if the world followed my example:
- Beer. I never drank alcohol at all until I was 33, but even now, while I can enjoy the occasional glass of wine, cider, and some spirits, I don't like beer at all, putting me in a tiny minority. The whiskey industry, while not as gigantic as the beer business, would also go under if people drank as I do. [2013 update: I do drink beer now.]
- Television. I grew up a TV junkie but haven't watched TV at all (with the exception of the Oscars and presidential elections) since 1991. In our household, we have enjoyed watching DVDs of recent HBO series. But if both network and cable TV shut down right now, it would make absolutely no difference to me. (Of course this would crush the advertising industry, as well.) The film industry is just as useless, but obviously I go out to the movies and watch DVDs all the time. Call it a vice.
- Fast food. I actually think most of the garbage you can get at a fast food restaurant tastes pretty good. But it's so bad for you in so many ways, and my wife cooks at home, and when we do go out, we go out to local mom-and-pop restaurants. I honestly could not tell you the last time I patronized McDonalds, or Jack in the Box, or whatever. People who live in the burbs may have fewer non-chain restaurant choices (I am lumping in atrocities like Applebees, TGI Fridays, etc. in this "fast food" category), but they do exist.
- Wedding. I'd say there's a "wedding industry", wouldn't you? If you include not only wedding planners and dressmakers but bakeries, caterers, printers, musicians, photographers, florists and of course venues for rent. Look at it this way: the current average cost of a wedding in the United States is nearly $29,000. Twenty nine thousand dollars. For what is basically just a big party. Miki and I spent a laughable $900 on our wedding, most of which went into renting a hot air balloon for our ultra-private ceremony. And we were far less stressed out, to boot.
- Credit. I do have credit cards. I use them for frequent flier miles. But I pay them off 100% of the time. If I ever wanted something that I couldn't afford with the money in my bank account, I'd do without until I'd saved up enough money. Credit cards are a major scam which has become so pervasive that modern society has actually become reliant on this scam. You can't buy a house or start a business if you haven't established credit. So I see its validity, unfortunately. (I could also lump both the real estate and the mortgage industries into this category, but I know that other people do need these industries, unlike the five mentioned previously in this list.)
- Beef. I am, strangely enough, a beneficiary of the beef biz: my family owns some cattle in Idaho and I see something like $200 a year from it. But ever since I married a vegan (who is also a gourmet cook), my meat consumption has dropped drastically. The average American eats 180-200 pounds of meat per year. Yikes! I reckon I eat only 12-15 pounds a year nowadays (meaning, on average, one quarter-pound serving each week), with less than a pound of that coming from cows (perhaps 3 servings of beef each year), and clearly I could easily do without even that. Pork farmers would go out of business too.
- Professional sports. A wuss like me has zero interest in watching games, buying related merchandise, or justifying athletes' multi million dollar endorsement contracts. Everything from the NFL to Nike would go out of business if it were up to me.
- Cruising. I like to travel, but there are two aspects of the travel industry that I'd never pay a nickel for. The first is timeshares, which are an undeniable ripoff as far as I'm concerned. The other is cruising - meaning enormous ships, not riding around in a low rider or picking up gay guys. I have been on a cruise, but didn't pay for it. So I can definitely say that I've been there, done that, and don't care to do it again.
- Tobacco. This one's easy. I don't smoke.