Saving Grace
The Week in Review -- July 31, 1998
by Jerry Thomas (

Greetings, Fools.

What do you suppose was the most popular message folder on our website over the past week?

Given that this is the wild and crazy Internet we're talking about, where everybody knows that stocks of dubious value are touted relentlessly and hyped to the moon, your first inclination might be to choose the message board of some high-flying tech stock with a small float and a P/E bumping up against infinity, a board with frequent contributions from people sporting screen names like "TulipBuyer" and "Lemming2000." And if that were your guess, you'd be wrong.

The most popular message board on our website, measured by the number of posts contributed, is the Living Below Your Means folder. On this board nobody is trading tips about the latest takeover rumor or the next IPO. They're trading tips on how to save money preparing home-cooked meals. They're sharing ideas on what to look for at rummage sales and comparing insights gleaned from The Tightwad Gazette. They are boldly asserting their coupon-snipping lifestyle and touting frugality as a high virtue. This is also the board that spawned this week's most poignant Fribble, in which "MFGreyhound" explains what overcoming cancer taught her about overcoming debt.

The Fools on this board are even playing the "You Know You're Living Below Your Means When..." Game. For example, "RecoveringFool" writes:

You're LBYM if....
-You tear the dryer sheet in thirds
-It's a very happy day when you buy something you need, on sale, the coupon's doubled and there's a rebate!

To this, "chasb" added:

You're LBYM if....
- You drive a car more than 3 years old and it's PAID FOR.
- The highest wattage light bulb in your house is 60.
- You go out of your way to find an ATM that doesn't charge a fee.

How does that jibe with the usual image presented by the media of the online investor? Do these people sound like white-knuckle day-traders, frothing at the mouth after nine cups of coffee, playing the next uptick in KTEL for a couple of quick points? Or does the media simply overlook those who are turning the Internet into a practical tool for managing their money? Are the media making a mistake, assuming that the story of pragmatic people taking intelligent steps to get more for their money is not sensational enough to bring in a big audience? Or does the success of this board itself prove that you don't need to be sensational to bring in a big audience?

I'll leave those questions to others to answer. Me, I'm too excited about the Powerball Lottery I didn't win. Of course, my chances were pretty slim, considering I didn't have a ticket. But, as David Letterman glibly pointed out one night this week, you're chances of winning only get a little better than zero even if you do have a ticket. Thinking that way, I'm one of the big winners in this Powerball thing -- I'm ahead half a billion dollars, thanks to the $500 million I didn't spend on lottery tickets this week.

If you're one of those who have a tendency to get swept up in Lotto Fever, you might want to save and bookmark the sane and rational examination of the national rip-off we call the State Lottery penned recently by Jim Surowiecki. That way, the next time the Powerball mania surges, you'll be able to read the sober truth and Just Say No. At that crucial moment, Jim might even move you to do something more sensible with your money, like flying to Vegas and feeding it into a slot machine. (Sadly, that is not a joke -- your odds there are much better.)

The market had one of its periodic conniptions this week when the word "impeachment" started getting tossed about on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue or another. On Tuesday the Dow had an intraday decline of almost 300 points. Never mind that political scandals have virtually no long-term effect on historical stock performance -- had you invested in stocks at the very depths of the Watergate crisis a generation ago, your performance since then would have been very satisfactory indeed.

With our eyes on the calendar and not the clock, it was business as usual here in Fooldom. We had a fine entry in our series of Dueling Fools features, this time focusing on the outlook for McDonald's (NYSE: MCD). Chris Rugaber (TMF RFK) and Rick Munarriz (TMF Edible) cross swords on this one. Nico Detourn (TMF Nico) gave us another savvy examination of the rapid changes taking place in cyberspace in this week's piece, Slippery When Online. And the Fool's Yi-Hsin Chang called Fortune Magazine on the carpet for a very dubiously researched report on the demographic make-up of America's workforce in her Rogue article, The Color of Money.

Finally, I'd like to highlight a piece of the sort that you don't see very often from the Wise: a dissenting opinion. Recently the Fool Portfolio added Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) to its list of holdings. The stock has not fared well in the brief time since the shares were acquired. In this Tuesday's Evening News, Fool Dale Wettlaufer (TMF Ralegh) looked at the numbers and -- surprise -- he doesn't like what he sees. It's a Starbucks Brew-Ha-Ha, mocha fans!

Imagine that -- Fools can disagree with each other and still stay Fools. That's a revolutionary concept for ya.

Until next week,
Fool on!


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