This Old Housewife

by FW


The Fulfillment Curve: An Ultimate "Enough" Alarm
June 20, 2008

Going back to my frugal learning roots, I ran across this information while reading Amy Dacyzyn's Tightwad Gazette books long ago, then followed them up with an acquired copy of Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robinson and her now-deceased husband, Joe Dominguez. More recently, a CNN article reminded me of this phenomenon.

As you can see by the graphics here and here, the fulfillment curve is an intersection of spending and enjoyment gained from the purchases—the more (and more often) you spend, the less satisfaction and fulfillment you gain from each purchase after a certain point. It doesn't matter what you buy, and it applies to more than just purchases and material goods.

Recently, I've found that it applied to my writing these articles—the alarm has sounded, and I'm backing away from the computer. As my husband would say, my "fun meter" has pegged.

This "fulfillment curve" can be applied to just about anything: careers, foods, houses, furnishings, cars, people and relationships, you name it. "Buying" doesn't just mean financial transactions, but can cover physical, emotional, personal, political, or just about anywhere you can "buy into" as well as "buy."

Many of us also read and heeded the advice in the book Unplug the Christmas Machine, because it pointed out an excellent example of annual extravagance that we all pretty much thought was expectation and took for granted. Now we know better—it was all a baby shower (for Jesus) gone awry.

We've also learned (and are still learning) where else we've gone awry with our spending and expectations. In fact, the book Great Expectations is another excellent example of spending and emotional dependence on others gone awry—it's an oldie, but a goodie…or at least the TV version on A&E with the actor Ioan Gruffud was.

My personal alarm has sounded as far as computer use, the internet, and books. If I back away now, I'm hoping I might become drawn to them again in the future—we can't live without some sort of input and output (hopefully intelligent). Has an alarm gone off for you yet, dear reader? If so, by all means go start a "fulfillment curve" discussion on the forums and share your experiences with others.

I may be back some time in the future, Gary permitting.

editor's note: Gary is more than willing to give FW space anytime she's ready to blog again!


Tax the Rich? You Can't Even SOAK Them!
June 11, 2008

I saw the video equivalent of this article on Kudlow & Co. (a show I normally don't watch because I detest Kudlow)--the chart contained in the article shows that AT ANY TAX RATE, the rich (and everyone else) pay only 19.5% federal tax. This is known as Hauser's Law.

Hauser's Law is the bane of people who think taxing the rich will solve all economic woes--for every increase in taxes, there's an increase in ways out of it.

From the highest to the lowest federal tax rates laid out by Congress, we all only end up paying in about a constant 19.5% rate, because with every tax increase comes new credits and deductions to absorb the excess. In essence, we already have a flat tax system. Why not just take off the cloak and dagger and expose it to the masses?

Along with new credits and deductions to offset the increases, and creative use of existing credits and deductions, there is also disincentive to make more money, and lots of incentive to just sit tight on one's laurels (and on money already earned and taxed). Then, there's this little thing called wages, tips, and salaries--better known as "taxable income" or ACTIVE income, and another deterrent to money-making and tax-paying. PASSIVE income (also known as investment, rental, or lease income) doesn't get taxed at the same rate as ACTIVE income, so it isn't subject to as many congressional whims...and, of course, has become the "rich" refuge of choice. Do you blame them? I don't--I used to own rental property myself, and got handsomely rewarded for it by Uncle Sam.

As complicated and frustrating as our tax system seems, it's set up to reward ingenuity and capitalistic behavior, and punish mediocrity and submission. While tiny little changes will occur here and there, don't look for dramatic overhaul of this system any time soon.

If all currently low-income families had just one rental property (or even rented out a bedroom), and it were rented continuously, they'd all potentially be millionaires NO MATTER THE TAX RATE. This is why knowing and using your tax code is the best way to fight poverty and end it once and for all. Opportunity lies within the fine print, so learn to read it. Closely examine and understand your tax forms--1040 holds the most clues with the least restrictions. Start adding "A" and "EZ" after it, and you restrict your realm of possibilities. It's called a code for a reason, so learn to decipher it!

The rich have done this, and that's all that separates us from them. As a result, the tax code has pretty much made them "waterproof." Now go out and get some "waterproofness" of your own.


A little ditty from my inbox: In the Beginning
May 28, 2008

In the beginning, God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach,
with green and yellow and red vegetables of all kinds, so
Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

Then, using God's bountiful gifts, Satan created Ben and Jerry's and Krispy Kreme.
And Satan said: "You want hot fudge with that?"
And Man said: "Yes!"
And Woman said: "I'll have one, too...with sprinkles."
And lo they gained 10 pounds.

And God created the healthful yogurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair.
And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat, and sugar from the cane, and combined them.
And Woman went from size 2 to size 14.

So God said: "Try my fresh green garden salad."
And Satan presented crumbled Bleu Cheese dressing and garlic toast on the side.
And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

God then said: "I have sent you heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them."
And Satan brought forth deep-fried coconut shrimp butter-dipped lobster chunks, and chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter.
And Man's cholesterol went through the roof.

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition.
Then Satan peeled off the healthful skin, sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them in animal fats adding copious quantities of salt.
And Man packed on more pounds.

God then brought forth running shoes so that his children might lose those extra pounds.
And Satan introduced cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels.
And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretchy Lycra jogging suits.

God then gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.
And Satan created McDonald's and the 99-cent double cheeseburger.
Then Satan said: "You want fries with that?"
And Man replied: "Yes! And super size 'em!"
And Satan said: " It is good."

And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.
God sighed...and created quadruple by-pass surgery.
Satan chuckled and created HMOs.


…And So It Begins…Again
May 19, 2008

We have food shortages, high oil and gas prices, high food prices, businesses are going out of business, people are losing their homes, credit is tight despite low interest rates, our energy outlook is poor, and people are stealing high-value metals like copper, gold, and anything ending in "–ium" for quick cash—copper cookware, gold and silver jewelry, pennies, catalytic converters, you name it. Whatever's portable is fair game.

What does it all mean? The clouds can't get any blacker, can they?

It means there is a silver lining on the horizon in the form of a brand new leg up for the economy. The very same sorts of things happened back in the 70's, and it led to the rip-roaring days of the 80's and 90's. The economic cycle has completed it's roughly 30-year turn, and is starting anew again. It may take time before you actually see and feel it, but it will get to you. When it does, you'll be making more money in less time using less personal energy than ever before.

In the meantime, let's examine what the black clouds contain.

Food: Stores are rationing or running out of certain food supplies—mainly large bags of rice and wheat flour, and are either rationing what a person can buy based on prior buying habits, or are not restocking certain items at all due to unavailability. How long will it be before certain stores disappear for lack of stock, or lack of a reason for us to shop in them? We can get our non-rationed and non-food items elsewhere.

Rice is already being hoarded in major exporting countries, and for the first time ever, we'll become wheat IMPORTERS. Oh, and get ready for $4/gallon milk.

Corn may or may not continue climbing after it takes a rest--it all depends on what Congress does about ethanol, what up-and-coming countries are choosing to eat, and whether or not acreage is brought out of the soil bank to plant more corn. If supply remains as constrained as it is today, the price climb will continue.

Remember WWI and II and rationing? Most of you may not, and I myself never lived through it, but I remember Mom and Dad's stories. Many people have written about their own memories in books and articles, and some are right here in the Dollar Stretcher index and archives. I HAVE personally lived through the odd-even gas rationing in California during the 70's—if your car license plate ended in an odd number, you got gas on a certain day, and plates ending in even numbers got gas on a different day. As I recall, there was also some sort of Hawaiian sugar import issue, and this started the sugar beet craze. Schools stopped all field trips, and people were finding ways to do without other imports, like bananas. I was a young child then, so my memories may not be entirely accurate.

We may be making a return to those times, but not as completely—-for example, our aluminum pots and pans, chocolate, and sugar supply may be safe, but eggs butter, rice, wheat flour, milk, and meat may come under fire. If you were ever looking for an excuse to go vegetarian, I think this is it.

Retail businesses: Several major stores are having one heck of a credit crunch, and are looking at closing some stores, filing for bankruptcy, or just going out of business altogether if they can't secure some sort of credit. This means big, empty holes in malls, shopping centers, and shuttered stand-alone stores with even more unemployed people. This also means a (thankful) deflation of the retail over-abundance balloon—fewer stores essentially duplicating each other's selections. A towel is a towel, no? So why was there need for stores that specialize in towels, or even the entire domestics department?

As far as clothing goes, you've seen one red cable-knit sweater, you've seen them all—so why was it necessary to stock the same sweater in 10 different stores in the same mall, with brand name and price being their only difference?

And someone please tell me just how many flat-screen TV retailer we need, let alone stores that SPECIALIZE in electronics and flat-screen TVs! Then we have the furniture mile here in my town, and that mile keeps getting shorter with every going-out-of-business sale.

Non-food and non-energy retail items are so far the only things not really hit by inflation, but they're getting hit from within by lack of access to store operating capital.

For now, retailers are holding back on importing more inventories, seeing as how they're having a hard time selling what they already have in stock. They are carefully watching and waiting to see how and what we buy.

Credit: Speaking of operating capital, banks are consolidating, going out of business, or filing for bankruptcy themselves these days (not at consumer level yet, but at Wall Street level, and it will trickle down), and this means a whole lot more is going to dry up besides retail choices. Whole nations, including our own, could go down in flames without access to credit—it's what's been keeping us running since the last Depression. This is already happening on a miniature scale to the many families who've been using their homes as an ATM for the past five years or so—we're ALL learning lessons about devaluing assets, lack of access to capital (credit), and shaky future repayment futures due to iffy job outlooks. Now magnify this picture to include banks, businesses large and small, and nations.

Energy: Not only is oil predicted to go to $125/barrel, it's also predicted to reach as high as $180/barrel, because major oil-producing countries are either "drilled out" or hurting for money to develop newer and larger finds. Russia, one of the countries having found new deposits in remote areas, is loathe to accept foreign assistance in getting this oil out of the ground because they don't want to have to share profits. Nigeria, the only major producer that ISN'T drilled out yet, is pretty much always in a state of political upheaval, rendering itself sufficiently unreliable for anyone to safely depend on.

Meanwhile, the second- and third-tier producers, such as Mexico, are hurting for money to expand and modernize their fields, making the possibility of expansion next to nil—all these things in concert, combined with oil trader shenanigans, only serve to stifle supply and artificially raise value, regardless of actual demand. Never mind that there might be some oil hoarding going on.

Countries that are hurting for money IN GENERAL will be down-shifting their production in order to assist raising the price of crude oil, making each barrel more pricier than the last, and you could very well see an $8.00/gallon price at the pump. By that time, we probably will have switched to metric, meaning you'll be buying gas by the liter, and the rest of Europeanification will begin. All of a sudden, the price of gas will have seemingly dropped by two-thirds, and so will the quantity—there are roughly three liters to the gallon.

Question: is it just me, or has anyone else out there also noticed the distinct LACK of refinery fires, outages, and refineries going off-line for maintenance this year? Now that oil's up over $100/barrel, maybe they no longer feel the need to jack up prices by manipulating local supply.

Isn't it strange how maintenance, fire prevention, and electrical service to refineries can greatly improve when oil reaches a certain price level?

Last night, I learned that my local electric utility is going to raise prices 20% starting July. I also heard about just how many people are going without electricity because they can't afford it. Couple the unaffordability with all the foreclosed homes in the area, and I get a better picture of why rates are raising besides the increased costs of producing power in the first place (through gas and coal).

Something else to factor into the high price of oil: government subsidization. Much like Big Pharma and high drug prices being borne by individuals in THIS country (as well as others, but not many), oil is going through pretty much the same thing--more affluent countries paying more per citizen, while smaller, less affluent countries paying less because they're being subsidized by governments.

Like Big Pharma and the "we-pay-for-research-and-development" scam here in the U.S., we're also paying for the "research and development" of global oil resources too through UNSUBSIDIZED oil and gas purchases. To give you examples of how drastic the swing in prices can be per country, I include some links here and here (a video segment) for your perusal. Oil-producing countries pay the least (presumably to avoid civil unrest), while the biggest users pay the most. THERE IS NO CHANGE IN OVERALL GLOBAL DEMAND OR SUPPLY, ONLY THE AMOUNT OF SUBSIDIZATION, SPECULATION, AND CURRENCY WORTH.

If the gas playing field ever were to level out, meaning everyone paid their full share at the pump, prices would drop for the highest payers while climbing for the lowest payers. This is the same for food, drugs, and everything else that has global reach.

Just for fun, I took the highest and lowest paid price per gallon (London @ $7.03 and Bagdad @ .05) and averaged them--it came to $3.54/gallon, which sounds like a fair share global price to me...if only everyone paid his fair share. Perhaps it's time for some civil unrest HERE!

As for the subsidization of alternative energies, here's a story in the Wall St. Journal about how much it costs compared to fossil fuels.

Where we are going from here: According to Louise Yamada (a commodity researcher) and commodity charts spanning the last 30 years from today, gold has topped out, oil is going to take a breather before climbing further, corn may also take a breather for awhile, and wheat is going to continue climbing for the foreseeable future. Here is an easy-to-understand video segment of her explaining it all, so turn up your speakers and watch.

Also, keep an eye on what Europe's doing—it will be the best indicator of what's to come over here in the future, like a shrinking population due to birth slowdowns, and our government on day having to pay people to have kids. Jobs will only be available for those with super-high educations (in the public sector) and for people whose families already own a business—anything in between will be rare and hard to come by, hence the breeding slowdown.

Why this is happening: the world is flattening, and more countries are becoming prosperous. This means they are able to eat better, eat more, and now have more money to demand more, whether it's food, energy, merchandise, or whatever. Some day, we will reach a level where just about everyone will have "enough", but it will take a lowering of First World standards and lifestyles to accommodate the rise of Second and Third World countries to accomplish this. Meanwhile, we have to endure the growing pains (or shrinking pains) that go along with it. With "enough" comes peace and contentment (I hope).

More of the world is demanding more FROM the world. The higher the price of something here in the U.S., whether it be oil, gas, or food, and whatever the reason for inflation (speculation, shortages, outages, etc.), the higher the SALES TAX placed on it. The less we use, the higher the price and subsequent tax will go (to make up for loss of revenue) until complete demand destruction occurs, and the market collapses from total lack of demand, along with prices. Basically, when the crowd moves on to something else, the excitement is over and monotony (along with low prices) rolls back in.

Welcome to Fair Tax Lite. This same sort of thing will happen if the Fair Tax plan gets enacted, only it will cover everything, not just food and energy. The plan's proposed 23% rate is not set in stone, and can be raised to any level at any time.

We are making up for the severe loss of state revenues (property taxes from foreclosed homes) through increased taxes on increased prices paid for food and energy items. This is a small part of what the Fair Tax plan would bring us, and it would play right into the hands of those wishing to join Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.--the Europeanification and metricizing of this continent, the Euro-ing of the dollar to the Amero, and the firm latch to currency values for any kind of discounts—I previously wrote an article on the death of the coupon.

The whole time I lived in Italy, I never saw a coupon or sales flyer from any store. Through friends and neighbors, people got the word about where to shop and what to do for lower prices. Mass mailings and newspaper circulars just don't exist there, and this is probably the same for all of Europe. Guess what's NOT coming from a store near you in the future?

What we can do about it: say goodbye to all that wretched excess that some will say made America great, and go lay in a store of flour, rice, beans, and powdered milk while you can still find them. Plant and use a Victory garden to fill out the rest, and the victory will be over food inflation. Find other sources or learn to live without those things that will go or already have gone into hyperinflation mode—plenty of people live just fine not consuming meat, dairy, eggs, wheat flour, etc., due to food allergies or personal preference, and so can you.

Learn to live without a car, or at least cut back car use drastically. Reroute your shopping and living so you're either closer to work, or closer to shopping if you have good public transportation to work (since you won't be carrying much to work, riding the bus or train there would work out better—lugging bags of groceries with a couple of small children in tow, and/or a sick cat to the vet just doesn't fly on a public bus or train).

Take a look at what the Amish are doing: using gas- and battery-powered lamps for light, employing copious use of generators, hydraulics, and solar power (through skylights, solar tubes, and panels to recharge batteries), using ice to cool, feeding leftovers to a family pig or two (for slaughter, of course), subsistence farming and gardening, outsourcing electricity-consuming things like computer needs, outsourcing any transportation other than horse and buggy, and relying on lots and lots of manual labor to get seemingly ordinary things done—you might say less mechanization and more perspiration.

For a better idea of how this "techno-less" life would be, here's a book recommendation: Better Off—Flipping the Switch on Technology. It tells of one young man's adventure as he transitioned from the high-tech, convenience-laden world of today to a simpler, more meaningful way of life for his college thesis. Along the way, he discovered that "labor-saving devices" don't really save that much labor or time. He also practiced what he learned in his "after-thesis" life, and includes it in the story.

These will be the "good ol' days" as far as prices go. If and when you see prices dip, stock up...same goes for stocks and mutual funds as well as food and energy. Your retirement account will need all the help it can get now.

If you ever needed an ego boost or just wanted some positive recognition for being frugal, it's coming. If you ever wanted an excuse for frugal living, this is it. If you aren't frugal yet, now is the time—better late than never. This is why we frugalites hoard, and hoard money in particular: to take selective advantage of the soon-to-be-incredibly-marked-down excess at rock-bottom prices. We're bottom-fishers.

The bottom rung of Third World countries are always going to be hurting for food, redundant retailers are always going to be hurting to stay in business, and thieves are always going to be hurting for money, but if you concentrate on your own personal economy (stay out of debt and pay all bills on time and in cash), teach a man how to fish (as it were), practice your own "fishing", and get and stay prepared, this too shall blow over in time. Who knows? You may even come out on the other side a better person--a better, wealthier, and wiser person as you enter the next leg of the economic cycle.

Lather, rinse, repeat--this will be happening all over again in about 30 more years. Make sure your children and grandchildren remember and learn from this experience.


Profits from Three Little Letters
May 5, 2008

Remember when three little letters used to mean something, like Ph.D.? Now the "profitable three" are E, C, and O, and are used as a smart new prefix for rather mundane occupations and materials.

The career world is taking a turn with those letters by adding them to ordinary jobs: eco-banker, eco-broker, eco-lawyer, eco-consultant, eco-planner, and so on.

It was bad enough that the three letters took over ordinary products, like baby food, household cleaners, laundry supplies, and toiletries. Now we have a whole new class of jobs to negotiate for, educate for, and to battle society over for widespread acceptance.

I, for one, am not falling for it. Eco-ANYTHING requires a higher set of substantive standards to be acceptable from me—the eco-broker, for example, is a lot like All Tempa-Cheer. This soap says it will work in all temperatures of water, as will ANY laundry soap, but this one is billed as being special. Eco-brokers are also billed as someone special, but an eco-broker can help you buy or sell a house or a stock just as well as an ordinary one. The moniker "eco" is meant to delineate a higher cause (to the planet rather than the people), but it actually delineates a scam to me.

To become an eco-ANYTHING, there is no separate set of rules, no regulations, certification or licensing requirements, or tests to pass, because none have been invented yet. To hire an eco-person to perform your mundane tasks with this so-called "higher ethic" is to pay extra for the services, products, and the good feeling that goes along with it. Basically, anyone with a law degree, real estate license, house cleaning skills, investment broker license, or any other occupation that requires some sort of certification or licensing as a part of that occupational field can call him- or her-self an "eco" worker.

Imagine the redundancy of an eco-landscaper or eco-lawn care company. These might be the only fields that won't be able to take advantage of the "green" movement, because they were there first.

Lots of money is being made over in England right now in the field of eco-planning and eco-brokering, because businesses have to figure out how they're going to meet the mandated goals of reduced carbon emissions by a certain date. The so-called eco-planners supposedly help businesses draw up plans for more energy efficiency, reorganize production and energy usage, and make adjustments to the ways of doing business so the company is more eco-friendly and meets the stated country goals. Eco-brokers in England are people who specialize in the trading of carbon emissions credits, and a whole new market (like the commodities market) has been created to determine the value of these credits after they have been bid up or down by traders.

It's the equivalent of buying indulgences to get into eco-heaven.

The tragedy of this seemingly well-intentioned scheme to lower carbon emissions is this: companies were ALREADY doing their best to lower emissions over there, or already were well under the artificial cap set to be met by 2040. Some activists want the cap date to be shortened to 2014, but even that wouldn't make a difference in the outcome of this scheme-turned-scam. We know the scheme to lower emissions (whether real or imagined), but the scam that was borne from this is even MORE tragic: companies are making more money from the trading of these carbon emission credits than they are actually conducting their own business. Theoretically, a business could completely shut down on the inside; firing all its workers and turning off all machinery, and STILL be showing a profit due to carbon credit trading.

What's worse is that there is no actual emission reduction going on—measurements taken recently have shown that emissions in England have INCREASED since the cap-and-trade policy went into effect. Companies with little to no emissions are buying the credits and selling them to big polluters, who use them as sanctioned permission to continue polluting, or even increase emissions.

Now you know why our president is so against this carbon cap-and-trade scheme for our country—because it's all a scam. In this country, General Electric has already cornered the market on these credits, and has an army of lobbyists pushing hard for passage of the cap-and-trade laws. The reason why: profits in the face of unprofitability. G.E. has already strayed far afield of its original business in search of profits, and wants to stray even further away by making money for nothing—nothing's actually produced, manufactured, transported, or sold, and labor isn't necessary to perform this task. I'm surprised they don't just sell ad space to make money the way Google does—one person with a computer is all it would take, but even that is more than they want to spend.

Let's take a look at something a lot closer to home: the renovator. Over here, there are people who buy homes, rip out perfectly good cabinets and flooring, and replace them with so-called "green" products—cabinets made from compressed sunflower seed hulls, bamboo flooring, and so on because of WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT THEM rather than what it does for the home and for the budget. These alternative products are not cheap, and they do not add to resale value (except only in the minds of "green" home buyers), but nevertheless, perfectly good, serviceable cabinets, tile floors, countertops, and already energy-efficient appliances are being yanked out of homes in favor of so-called "green" replacements…with the ECO moniker on them, of course. The only ones profiting here are the home improvement center and eco-home broker or eco-agent.

Funny how these formerly non-eco people and places existed and functioned quite well before going green. Home improvement centers still sold stuff, and real estate agents still sold houses.

Then we have the most absurd product of all: organic baby food. Anyone who's a mother can tell you that baby food is an unnecessary expense, and that baby can eat mashed up adult food when the first tooth erupts—even doctors will tell you that. But oh no, we don't care enough about our children unless we feed them "green" baby food that's eco-friendly—never mind the fact that baby can eat Mom's organic food just as well without the expense and waste of those little jars. Just how are we saving the planet again here?

Speaking of absurdities, Pottery Barn is currently hawking a soy-based couch—do I sit on this "tofu sofa" or chop it up for a gigantic stir-fry? This has got to be eco-seating at its finest! Even with the eco-friendly hemp fabric on it, it's still a dangerous fire trap—maybe even more so now, because "eco" doesn't come with any fire retardant regulations attached.

Has anyone looked into the flameproofness of soy? I think not.

A whole new world and a whole new economy is being brought to you by the letters E. C, and O. Sounds like something from Sesame Street, doesn't it? This is supposed to be our next big idea to get out of this recession and into the next economic leg up—it shows just how deep we're in deficit as far as ideas, education, production, and integrity, let alone competitive ability.

Need a job? Need to sell your house faster? Need to create a business or industry, or just need a new couch? Just add the magic three letters in front of what you do or use now (or used to do or use), and voila! Now you can charge more, market more, pay more, and just have more, instead of dealing with the realities of here and now. Anything to keep the fantasy alive, I suppose.

Need to know more? Just visit with an eco-entrepreneur—they DO exist. One was just interviewed on CNBC, and he'd be happy to show you how to open new worlds by adding the eco moniker and adapting "green" thinking to your current business or business ideas.

We already have eco-accountants, eco-lawyers, eco-home brokers, eco-investment brokers, eco-maids, eco-designers (both clothes and furniture), and a whole range of hidden "green" professionals that just last week were colorless. Many more will be popping up just as soon as someone figures out how to put a "green" spin on them and a guilt trip on you.

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