I got Clark Smart today

2 05 2009

I learned how to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off today.

You guessed it. I was among the crowd in Durham, N.C., today for one of Clark Howard’s road shows.

It was a couple of hours well spent on a beautiful Saturday afternoon listening to one of America’s cheapest guys — and I mean that in the most sincere, most admiring way. And I don’t think Howard would mind. He often refers to himself as cheap on his syndicated radio and TV shows.

At today’s event, which was sponsored by Coastal Federal Credit Union, Howard was dressed in his trademark casual dress of a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers. He was equally down to earth in his advice to the crowd at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

I was struck by his optimistic view of the economy, despite all the difficulties we face as a country in these tough times. No sugar coating. He simply pointed out that Americans should see this time as one of opportunity rather than despair. 

If you’re ready to buy a house, he said, take advantage of bargain-basement prices and equally low mortgage rates.

If you’re thinking of opening a business, take advantage of  the vast amount of talent in the labor pool, take advantage of commercial vacancy rates.

If you have money to invest — and you are young enough — take advantage of low stock prices.

If you’re in the market for a car, buy a new car this summer when, he said, we’ll see the biggest bargains in history. This, by the way, is a huge departure from Howard’s usual advice on car buying. He has always been a big proponent of buying a two- to three-year-old used car, allowing someone else to take the huge hit in depreciation.

It was also great to see some of our home-grown frugal talent as part of Clark’s “pre-game” show. Among those offering advice were Faye Prosser, author and coupon guru from Clayton, N.C., who teaches workshops on using coupons and spending money wisely.

Handing out pens and nifty magnets was Dan Griffin of  SavvyDollar.org, a North Carolina-based deals forum that I check two to three times daily to keep track of deals. I highly recommend this site if you’re serious about lowering your grocery bills and live in North Carolina. Every state should have a SavvyDollar.org.

I think the best moment of the afternoon for me came at the very end when Howard was wrapping up his question-and-answer session. Someone mentioned something about First Lady Michelle Obama’s $540 sneakers and he revealed he was wearing the most expensive pair he had ever purchased. He paid $55 for them after his doctor warned him cheap shoes would ruin his feet.

He then went on to tell a hilarious story about how he recently went on a business trip and forgot the suit and tie he had intended to bring for a formal speaking engagement.

From his hotel room, he looked in the phone book for the nearest thrift shops. He ended up purchasing a $5.50 sport coat from Goodwill and a tie. When he told the story to the group that evening, they didn’t believe him until he pulled out his receipt.

You’re my kind of people, Clark Howard.

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