I saw on the news that the euro is down compared to the dollar. "Europe," they said, "is on sale. Tourists are flocking there to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate."
Then they showed an American woman shopping for shoes.
"They're a bargain," she said.
Yes, a bargain. Where else could she possibly have bought a pair of shoes so inexpensively? Why, all she had to do was cough up $1,000 for a round-trip plane ticket to Europe, then rent an average hotel room for $350 a night. What a bargain! At the mall 15 minutes from her house, she would have paid $3 more for those same shoes.
I am all for people traveling, but don't tell me it's a bargain. No one in Europe is giving things away. The euro's not worth nothing; it's just worth less than it was last year.
Still, I hear the word "bargain" a lot. A guy at my health club was going on and on about what a bargain property in Florida is right now.
"Why, you could buy an $800,000 house down there now for $600,000. It's a bargain," he said. Yes, I should go snap it up. If only I weren't about $599,000 short. It seems that my house is worth a lot less than it used to be, too.
The word "bargain" has been misused for a long time. When Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, traveled around Europe in the '60s, it wasn't uncommon for him to ask his reporters and bureau chiefs to show him around and tell him what was going on. One reporter impressed Luce so much that as he was leaving, the wealthy publisher turned to the reporter and said, "Let me give you a tip."
Expecting to hear something about the stock market, the reporter was all ears.
"Buy Rembrandts," Luce told him. "They're a bargain. The Picassos are overpriced."
It was good advice, but not of much use, even to a high-salaried employee.
There is a store near us that Sue likes to shop at because it has such good bargains. Their price tags always seem to say things like, "WAS $60, NOW $29.99!" Something tells me these items were always meant to be sold for $19.99, but Sue keeps insisting she is getting a bargain. Would they be selling them for that price if they were losing money on every sale? Not for long.
Why can't she spend money wisely, the way I do? I only buy the necessities. Like that electric tortilla maker I bought yesterday for $49. Now we can make our own tortillas anytime we want, instead of buying expensive tortillas at the store.
"For $49, you could have bought enough tortillas to fill the garage. We could eat them every night for five years and still have plenty left over," Sue told me. "Of course, we'd have to build another garage for the tortillas, because ours is already full of junk you've bought that we never use. It looks like Ron Popeil's warehouse. You'd think with all the exercise equipment in there, at least you'd be skinny. What do you do with the NordicTrack and the Bowflex? Sleep on them? You're not getting buff; our FedEx guy is getting buff from carrying all that junk to the front door."
"Junk! I think the word you're looking for is 'collectibles.' These are savvy, wily purchases that will make our retirement dreams come true."
"My recurring retirement dream is to be living off your life insurance. Of course, I'll probably have to move to Europe because the dollar will go farther over there."
Ha. The joke's on her. I already cashed in my retirement fund to buy a few things on eBay. Where does she think I got the money for all those Beanie Babies? They don't grow on trees.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.