I want to believe completely and wholeheartedly in our government. I certainly have a heck of a lot of respect for our Constitution. When that document was completed some 218 years ago, it put in motion the longest-running, uninterrupted true democracy in history.
Still, despite my awe of our system of checks and balances, our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence . despite all of that, I'm dismayed. But I'm also not all that surprised. You see, I just read in The Hill that many of our elected representatives don't seem to be the most frugal consumers.
How to spend $1.2 million
Did you know that each lawmaker gets, according to The Hill, "an average of $1.2 million a year for his or her member representational account (MRA), which pays the salaries of 18 full-time aides, travel, mass mailings, leased cars, bottled water, coffee, and everything else a modern office needs"? I didn't.
The Hill lists lots of seemingly egregious examples of congressional overspending. Here are a few:
- Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) -- $6,448 on a videoconferencing unit.
- Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) -- $5,427 on a 42-inch Sony plasma-screen TV.
- Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) -- $4,117 on a desk for her district office.
- Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) -- $5,915 on a Gateway 42-inch plasma-screen TV.
- Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) -- $629 on a Herman Miller Basic AE chair.
- Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.) -- $348 on late phone-bill fees.
Now, I'll admit that some of the expenses in the report may look bad but actually make some sense. Thousands spent on videoconferencing equipment, for example, might save even more thousands in travel expenses and thereby make governing more efficient. The $629 Herman Miller
Late phone bills? Well, I know that sometimes accidents happen. But maybe this wasn't an accident, and regardless, paying late fees is not the best use of hard-earned taxpayer money. A $4,000 desk? Well, is it made of titanium? Does it sniff for bombs or make coffee? That's a lot to pay for a desk, when saving the taxpayers' money should be a concern. Finally, let's consider these large-screen TVs. Gateway
Deer heads and leather jackets
The Hill doesn't tell it all. If you want to find waste and poor financial management in Washington, you don't have to look too hard. It extends beyond the halls of Congress. As I wrote more than a year ago, the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) had found that government-issued credit cards had been used for all kinds of things that didn't seem too critical to our government's workings, such as:
- Cosmetic surgery.
- A $250 Louis Vuitton designer briefcase.
- Expensive wine.
- Leather jackets.
- Fake diplomas.
- A mounted deer head.
In whom do you trust?
Look at U.S. money, and you'll see "In God We Trust" printed on it. That sounds better to me than "In Congress We Trust." Congressional representatives may mean well, but let's face it -- they don't get done all that we want them to get done, and many times they make poor decisions. In the tax world, for example, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) has long been a problem, yet it's still with us. Others in government are also failing to make smart money moves. (I'll concede, of course, that Congress isn't entirely useless -- it did give us the Roth IRA, for example.)
When it comes to your retirement, whom do you trust? Do you trust Congress to keep Social Security afloat? Do you think it will provide enough for you to live on? As we've long suggested, the best person to be responsible for your financial well-being and retirement is . you.
Take control and take action
Don't count on Social Security. (Read Robert Brokamp's "7 Myths About Social Security" to see why.) Instead, save, save, save . and invest, invest, invest. Do you have a 401(k) plan at work, or something like it? If so, take advantage of it, especially if your employer matches your contributions to any degree. That matching represents free money.
Have you opened a Roth IRA, and are you contributing to it regularly? Learn more about IRAs in our IRA Center, and see whether the Roth or the traditional IRA makes the most sense for you.
Let us help you set yourself up for a comfortable retirement. Consider taking advantage of a free trial of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter. It arrives in subscribers' mailboxes (the real ones, not via email) each month, is readable in a single sitting, and contains a broad range of practical personal finance advice and inspiring testimonies.
I know that the idea of tending to your finances may not be too appealing -- but remember, the payoff is worth it. Better still, you can get much of the work out of the way early (like now), and then sit back and ultimately reap the rewards. The longer you put it off, the less time your money will have to grow in the most effective places. And the longer it can grow, the larger your ultimate nest egg is likely to be.
The following articles may also be of interest:
- 9 Retirement Killers
- Stocks for the Really Long Term
- Do You Want to Work Forever?
- Get Rich by Beating the Odds
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Selena Maranjian's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Amazon.com and eBay. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.