A Ratio Hornblower

Ratios aren’t just math, they’re an adventure

By Bill Bullock

“The tattoo to teeth ratio for those folks is pretty high.”

While a comment like that is inappropriate on many levels, ratios are nonetheless an amusing and sometimes telling way of identifying where our priorities lie.

Many folks I know are getting more and more engaged with the condition of our environment, the viability of our community, and the health of their families. Those concerns are manifested in behaviors that cannot only impact the world around us, but our individual well-being. Some behaviors are complementary to one another, others contradictory. Our progress towards environmental, community, and family-related objectives can be measured by some rather unconventional ratios.

Below are several ratios that should at least cause us to ponder our priorities and judge if we are truly acting in a way congruous to our goals.

Joe’s/Mapco: This ratio measures alcohol to gasoline purchases. While a higher ratio may indicate good environmental stewardship, it may also indicate you are getting too high a percentage of your daily caloric intake from liquid. This ratio is generally higher for Midtowners, who tend to both drive less and drink more. Generally, higher is better, but it is most beneficial making this higher through lowering the denominator.

MLGW/PITI: This ratio compares monthly energy bills to monthly housing expenditures. The lower, the better. We have a lot more control over the numerator on this one. Just remember, the most energy-efficient setting on your thermostat is off. (Money paid to Plus One or Green Power Switch gives bonus points here.)

Y/i: This is a more complex ratio. It has to do with expenditures on YMCA, yoga, or other health-related pursuits compared to expenditures on internet, phone, cable, dish, and more sedentary activities. Generally, higher is better from a health standpoint. However, a case can be made for “i” expenditures that may have health benefits (Wii fit) or ones that may keep us from burning as much gasoline (Netflix). An additional factor is that some “i” expenditures may have a detrimental economic impact on the community if the dollars could have stayed closer to home. One dollar spent within a mile from home is likely a better overall investment than 90 cents on an internet purchase.

Rockport/MPD: This is a very simple ratio that compares expenditures on shoes (real shoes you can walk in) versus how much you pay in parking or traffic violation fines. This one is proven to have a correlation coefficient of .93 when predicting miles walked/run versus miles driven. Aim for a high number on this one.

Glidden/Gate City: In your home improvement budget, how much is cosmetic and how much is more practical? Here’s an area where you’d like to see more expenditures generating returns in areas like energy savings (insulation, weather stripping, compact fluorescents, etc.) than just aesthetics. This ratio should be kept low, although that caulk expenditure may yield an erroneous result depending on place of purchase.

Cart/Bin: How many pounds per week are in your green garbage cart versus your tan recycling bin? We should not only keep this ratio low but keep both top and bottom of this fraction as low as possible. The corollary to this is the disposer/compost ratio. Minimize that one as well, though you may become estranged from your plumber.

Playhouse/Blockbuster: In the arts and entertainment world, if you live in Midtown Memphis, there are lots of options. This ratio measures time spent at local theaters, museums, galleries, and live music venues versus time in front of your TV screen. The sky is the limit here. Hint: You can economically increase this ratio by keeping an eye on the local art openings (particularly the ones with wine and cheese) and patronizing the Levitt Shell.

Wolf River/Amazon.com: A less intuitive metric, this number represents the amount of money spent on local conservation activities versus how much is spent on stuff. Keep this one high.

Table/Taco Bell: Particularly if you have kids, try to keep your hours around the dinner table higher than the ones in a fast food restaurant. Too many benefits here to list.

And finally, the Tanning Bed/Floss expense ratio: This ratio gauges spending on things that make you look better versus things that actually make you healthier. Though it is said, “Half the work that is done in this world is to make things appear what they are not,” the long-term benefit is in keeping this one low. And doing so is a good way to bolster the denominator of the tattoo to teeth ratio, as well.

Bill Bullock is a board member of the Evergreen Historic District Association and is an employee of MLGW.

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