Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Economic overbite not easy to straighten

My wife’s father used to joke that if you wanted to see his Porsche, just look at his daughter’s teeth. It was his way of pointing out the high cost of braces, something so many teens need, including my two older sons, and which also aren’t cheap.

My boys’ dental needs are fairly routine, or so says the local dental expert with degrees all over his wall. The bill? “Only $10,000,” he said. Only 10-grand?? Only?? As though it’s a candy bar and they’re on sale so I should take two of them. (photo courtesy: whatsinasmile.files.wordpress.com) The tooth technician told us not to worry because they have a payment plan, as though that makes the bill easier to chew with a few hundred dollars added as a new side dish to my monthly budget buffet.

Can I afford it? Do I really have a choice?

I think those are the two questions haunting so many in the Akron area right now. Many can’t answer the first question, without responding with the second.

It’s been easy for the media experts to simply tell consumers that they need to ask “Can I afford it” before every purchase. “Just do that,” they say, “and good decisions will follow.”

But when the answer to “Can I afford it” isn’t one of yes/no but rather “Do I really have a choice?” the easy rule of thumb isn’t that easy at all.

With unemployment topping 10 percent and with the ripple effect impacting every local family to some degree, many parents in Akron are wondering if they can afford new school clothes for their kids. Do I really have a choice? With the city’s public school district entering its second year of a mandatory dress code, the answer-to-the-answer is a resounding “Of course not. Just whip out your wallet and buy the kid a few new Polo's and khakis!”

I thought the media expert said just "do this" and "do that" and these financial oasis appear in front of me like water in a desert?

Already many Akron-area parents are shopping at thrift stores – Goodwill, consignment, etc .. – for the first time while hoping hand-me-downs hold out for another year. Some are considering carpools while having never let anyone else drive Suzie or Stevie to class; suddenly, being overprotective has given way to need to save gas money.

A few parents of Akron high school students are already wondering if they’ll be able to get their daughters a new dress to attend Homecoming or the Prom – and it’s only July. Again, if your little princess is now in high school, a special experience marked by events like dances, do you really have a choice?

So while so many experts point to the choices that got us into this financial mess, I hope they’re also looking at the choices we as parents in middle-class America don’t have any more. What’s selectively affordable on paper is tough to swallow when you look into your child’s eyes. Or in my case, my sons’ teeth.