Program Review: American Pickers – hardly a pick for frugality

I closed my last post by stating that the popular History Channel program American Pickers offers nothing from a frugal living point of view.  In fact, many of the American Pickers episodes model practices that need to be avoided by anyone serious about pursuing a practical frugal living lifestyle.

The biggest offense has to be the mindless use of exorbitant amounts of gasoline.  Any true frugalist understands the importance of minimizing fuel consumption.  Mike and Frank, however, can’t seem to blow through it fast enough.  Do these guys really drive as far as California, in the monster van pictured above, to buy a thousand bucks or so of abandoned junk?

I recall an episode in which they made a trip to the southeast.  While in Georgia or Florida, Mike paid a thousand dollars for a Southern pottery collection, which comprised perhaps twenty jugs of various sizes, many broken.  At the end of the program, Mike was ecstatic to find a dealer who paid him sixteen hundred dollars for the same collection.  The transaction, he explained, saved the pick.  All I could think was that the six hundred dollar “profit” did little more than reduce by half the travel expense loss that the guys incurred from just driving over one thousand miles from their home base.

In my opinion, the program does its viewers an injustice by ignoring the financial reality that heavy travel miles are a sure-fired way to financial ruin.  Anyone interested in a frugal lifestyle has to realize that driving across the country in any vehicle, let alone an extra-large van, to purchase rusted items of dubious resale value is to be avoided.  We should all strive to minimize our use of gasoline, and doubly so if there is any genuine interest in achieving a practical frugal lifestyle.

What really shakes me up is how carefree the guys are about their prodigious fuel consumption.  The trips are so poorly planned that Mike and Frank frequently find themselves “free-styling,” a term they have coined for driving miles on end down unknown rural roads searching for houses with visible junk in the yards to cold-call upon.  Again, is this a wise use of your four dollar a gallon gasoline – driving down unfamiliar roads on a hit-or-miss search for people interested in having perfect strangers sift through their possessions?

Some will respond that those travel miles are tax deductible, which somehow makes them a reasonable business expense.  I hope, however, that most people realize this is no practical consolation.  Yes, it is true that for every three dollars a businessman throws away on ill-advised business expenses, he will save one dollar in taxes paid.  Clearly, that is not a trade-off you want to base your livelihood on.

That takes me to the second frugality no-no: failure to think it through.  It would take a shallow businessman indeed to simply ignore the cost of unreimbursed, heavy travel expense when deciding whether to take an interstate trip.  And this is without even considering the value of the unpaid time involved in being away from home for week-long periods of time.   I am sure there are plenty of folks with junk right there in Iowa whose yards Mike and Frank have yet to pick.  Wouldn’t that be a more cost-effective location to target?  Better still, wouldn’t their time and money be better spent inviting junk owners to haul their junk possessions of certain categories to the Iowa shop for assessments and offers?

Practical frugal living takes discipline, foresight, and planning.  A frugal person plans trips so as to run multiple local errands in a single local outing.  At the other extreme, driving half-way across the continent to search for junk is about as far from frugality as one can get.

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5 Responses to Program Review: American Pickers – hardly a pick for frugality

  1. Hey take it easy on them. That is a DIESEL Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter van that gets 22/27 MPG and can get 30+ MPG with frugal driving. Plus you got to remember they’re doing a show, they’re getting paid for the show. I seriously doubt they would be going picking to California if it wasn’t for that.

    • vster says:

      I agree that the money they are making comes from the show. My concern is for the viewers who don’t realize this and believe that traveling any distance at all to buy junk that might, at some future point, sell for a relatively small profit is a smart thing to do. Thanks for commenting.

  2. g.e. says:

    omg !!!! This is a freak in television show !! They are not the president and vice president of the united states……. Get a life people!

    • vster says:

      Ah, but it’s not that simple. Remember, this is touted as reality TV, and when they show the actual dollar amounts that they buy and value products for, they lead people to believe that this is an actual profit generating approach. My purpose at PFL is to bust myths and point out when all that glitters is not gold. Besides, this is kind of what a review is all about.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Someone is making a lot of money,havent quite figured out just who yet!!! probably television!!!

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