ARBOR WEALTH: Russell, Springsteen, and the art of saving

Margaret McDowell

“Now mister the day my number comes in

I ain’t ever gonna’ ride in no used car again.” — from “Used Cars” as performed by Bruce Springsteen

Somewhere between directing “Jaws” and “E.T.,” Steven Spielberg found time to produce the movie “Used Cars.” Released in 1980 and starring the late Jack Warden (in two roles) and Kurt Russell, the story chronicles the career of Rudy Russo (Russell), a fast-talking, gum-popping used car salesman who needs to raise $60,000 to enter state politics.  Yep, only 60 grand will buy the party nomination. Talk about your good ol’ days.

When Russo’s boss Luke dies during a test drive of one of his prized cars, Luke’s power hungry brother Roy stands to inherit the car lot. But Russo and his fellow salesmen fight the local political powers to maintain control of the business and stage a series of hilariously shady sales events to promote profits. In the midst of the chaos, the deceased owner’s daughter appears and claims ownership of the business for herself. And Russo is smitten with her.

It’s a silly comedy, but wonderfully entertaining. And who doesn’t like Kurt Russell? 

What’s the economic connection? Each evening when Russo arrives home, he tosses his newly made car sales cash into a portable safe. Then, with a red marker, he colors in the new high-water mark on the “savings thermometer” on his refrigerator. Thus, he is able to watch his savings grow visually and gauge his progress toward his $60,000 goal.

Saving is a lost art, one that took a huge hit during the credit card era.  Yes, borrowed money is currently cheap, with today’s low interest rates.  But like the saying goes, no man’s credit is as good as his cash.

Want to surprise yourself? Try this for a month. Each time you or you and your spouse consider an optional expenditure, choose instead not to spend the money, and color in on a “savings thermometer” the estimated amount that you saved. Tired and don’t want to cook tonight? Eat at home anyway, and give yourself credit for, say, $100, if you would have dined in a relatively upscale restaurant. Need a couple of new lamps for the hall entry way? Pass on ordering them online, and color in another $250. 

At month’s end, look at the total savings. It’s staggering how much we all spend on unnecessary items. Brown bag it at work instead of grabbing a sandwich out, even for just a month. That savings attitude becomes a habit that may mean a more abundant retirement account. The rewarding aspect of compounding interest can allow those saved dollars to be worth more when you need them down the road, when that previous expenditure is only a dim memory.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 —, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.