Trash Can Economics

Home Inspector with Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Real Estate Inspections

This morning I found my neighbor in a dilemma. How do you stuff another bag of garbage in an already full can? I told her to throw it into mine. She notices that my can is only a quarter full. Where you out of town, comes the inquiry. No, this is normal for most weeks. I see that other residents have overflowing cans, and one man is pulling out his normal two cans. I wonder if people consider the cost of garbage. In Houston, as I imagine is the case in many cities, we pay for our garbage service through our water bill. I know that many homeowners forget this fact, so the expense of the waste removal is hidden from us in a way.

I wonder exactly how much of this refuse could be recycled. Quite a bit, I think. On the weeks that recycling comes, most of my fellows do not place anything out. A wasted resource that my city wishes to use. The mayor has a campaign to encourage recycling. Along the lines of the amount of trash, I remember that we Americans account for 40% of the items purchased in the world. With this mornings report of tumbling markets worldwide due to concerns over our consumer spending, you can see why the credit market is so important to the economy.

Alright, let me add one more random thought to tie together these threads to make my case. Whenever I taught a class involving financial management to the managers at a firm where I worked, I started off by paraphrasing a quote from Aristotle. (Sorry, it has been so long that I do not know the exact quote now, but it is from Nichomachaen Ethics). He said that wealth is not created by simply accumulating or increasing the money coming into your household, but in conjunction with the amount of money going out of your household. Is more garbage a sign of poverty? Well, that would be hard to argue, but I may make the point that it is. Since much of that waste was paid for by credit. Moreover, some of this waste might not be necessary.

Let us set recycling to the side. I wish to provide you with two examples. At lunch this past Saturday, the owner of restaurant comes to my table as I am finishing my meal. We know each other slightly, and he wants my opinion on a concern of his. He starts speaking to me in German, so his other guests cannot understand. He asks what is it with these Americans and food? After I ask a few questions, the problem is this: he provides a plate of food at a reasonable price. He does not provide large portions, but he serves the same meal for lunch and dinner, and his plates probably have more food than a typical lunch, but less than a typical dinner. He claims that he throws half of his food out the door into the garbage. I look around to see that most people do not finish there plate as I do, and what is left is considered to insignificant for a take home box. I start to think that a portion of food that we buy for home use suffers the same fate. I am not going to rummage through the bins to find out, but look at your own to see if this is true. An article I read last week sheds light on a fascinating situation involving the homeless in New York City. Many used books are collected by the homeless from the trash to be sold for cash at a bookstore. The anthropologists conducting the research on the homeless society found that many can earn good money. A valuable set of first editions brought $1000 into one man's pocket. I cannot fathom why someone would throw that collection away, but such stories come about all too often.

If you are a first time homeowner, you can find your finances strained by your new home. Rooms to decorate, as well as a garden, is just one area of expense. What about those repairs that were done by a landlord? Now you have the joy of paying for these issues. May I suggest that you practice trash can economics? Or should I call it a trash can budget? Each week plan out that you will not fill your trash can up with packaging or unwanted items. Give usable items to charity (garage sales do not really produce much income for the work involved, and in Houston, you are only allowed two a year). Figure out ways to continually reduce the amount of trash you produced. Money saved could go into a fund for home repairs. Build up at least $5000 in such a fund. You never can tell what might need to be fixed, and maybe it will not be covered by insurance. Each week save on the money going out, and place the money kept into a savings plan.

You may be thinking that this is the oddest budgeting plan that you have heard about, and why would a real estate inspector be suggesting it. An inspector's job is to provide you with information. This information may just be on the condition of the home, but could I not offer a little more. The plan is weird, but this unusual method could make you think about what is happening in your home, and how you could save money.


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Georgie Hunter R(S) 58089
Hawai'i Life Real Estate Brokers - Haiku, HI
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Good for you - we should all be encouraged to be less wasteful.  You're preaching to the choir here.  I just love to find a new use for an old thing.  It really amazes me to see the things that people throw out.  Don't they know there are less fortunate people that could use that?  Americans (and others I suppose) have such a "disposable" mentality... they think if they have no use for it, just throw it "away".  I think all school children should be taken on field trips to the local landfill so they can see how much stuff we throw "away".  Too bad away is just right there in our own backyards!
Jan 22, 2008 06:47 PM #1
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