Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why I Hate Taxes


In a recent poll published by the Pew Research Center, people were asked what bothers them most about taxes. The results were not what I expected, but were interesting nonetheless. 57% of the respondents were bothered most because they felt that the rich were getting away with not “paying their fair share”.

Honestly, I don’t mind paying taxes in general because I understand that they are a necessary evil, but there are reasons why I hate them too.

Here -- in order of dislike -- are my own personal reasons why I hate paying taxes.

#1 -- Inefficient Use
As I said, I really don’t mind paying taxes. My problem is more with the way in which our government puts them to use. Having them frittered away wastefully or used in inefficient ways bothers me in the utmost.

Use them to fix our infrastructure, use them to keep us safe, use them to build new parks and educational facilities, but don’t give them to big banks, don’t use them to pay ridiculous government salaries, and don’t use them to give to foreign countries that hate and despise us. Seeing my money fruitlessly frittered away, is frustrating to say the least.

#2 -- Unfair
It’s not so much that I feel the rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes, but rather the corporations. When I read about huge companies paying less into our tax system than I do, that is extremely agitating. Companies that reap the rewards of being housed in a country protected and defended with taxpayer money should be paying their fair share just like everyone else.

#3 -- Inconsistent
I always do my own taxes, yet I’ve never encountered a tax year where I’ve been able to follow the exact same format as the previous year. While sometimes this is due to changes in filing status, change of location, job change or similar personal adjustment, it doesn’t change the fact that our tax code is constantly evolving.

From state to state and year to year, there are constant adjustments to state and federal tax codes, some of which come at the last possible moment in the year, adding a further strain to those of us who must attempt to complete our own annual taxes.

#4 -- Difficult to Understand
I heard just the other day, that the US federal tax code runs somewhere on the order of 20,000 pages. Whether this is right or wrong -- even if it’s just 1,000 pages -- in my opinion, it’s just too much.

I feel as though I am regularly trying to update and educate myself regarding tax changes and laws, and while I’m no dummy, I have to say that sometimes I find myself boggled by the series of steps I must take to come to one simple conclusion regarding a particular tax issue or calculation.

#5 -- Time Consuming
I spend hours and hours each year learning and re-educating myself to the ever-changing tax code, and completing my income taxes. This is time that I might otherwise spend in much more productive ways. I could be earning money, learning a new trade, spending time with my family, or even heaven forbid, spending some time enjoying myself away from work were it not for having to spend lengthy periods of time compiling, recording, filing, and retaining a plethora of tax documentation.






Sources:
Wolk, Martin. http://lifeinc.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/20/9587420-why-we-hate-taxes-its-not-what-you-think. December 20 2011.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Real Estate Agent’s Recent Housing Market Explanation


I recently got one of the regular monthly newsletters that our real estate agent (the one we bought and sold our first home with) sends out to former and current clients. This month’s letter was touting the “return” of the real estate market. In the letter, it said, “…real estate has been, and will continue to be, a good long-term investment.” Her words, not mine…definitely not mine.

To prove these words, she included a short, two-page pamphlet entitled “Why Real Estate is still America’s Best Investment”. Here are a few of the things I found interesting about this pamphlet and its explanation as to why real estate is still the “best” investment.

Full of Statistics
Statistics can be valuable tools in finding trends and helping to make decisions based upon all sorts and varieties of factors and data. However, the bad thing about statistics is that that can be warped and molded by the people and organizations utilizing them to make statements, jump to conclusions, and otherwise manipulate data to fit specific outlooks and motives.

The pamphlet this included in our real estate agent’s letter was packed full of statistics touting the long-term advantage of being a homeowner. From increasing rates in homeownership trends to changing demographics, the outlook appeared to me to be saying, “Since more people have been doing it lately, it’s still a good investment,” which I don’t tend to agree with. More people are getting college educations, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the education is getting any better.

Another statistic was about the increasing amount of long-term home equity homeowners were building. Once again, I find the statistic laughable, since I can buy a new car with little money down and continue to “build equity” in that vehicle, but that doesn’t mean the vehicle will be a good “investment”.

“Irrational Exuberance”
I loved the portion of the pamphlet that reviewed home values during the last 120 years. There was a chart -- with prices adjusted for inflation -- that tracked home values from 1890 ($100,000) to 2010 ($126,000). Not all that impressive a jump in my opinion...especially for 120 years.

I also loved the fact that this data was taken from the book by Robert Shiller entitled, “Irrational Exuberance.” Maybe they were hoping no one would look at the name of the source they used, list in tiny print below the statistic. But I guess the takeaway from this chart was supposed to be, (again in their words, not mine)…

“…Values Still Historically High”
Okay, given, the values are higher after adjusting for inflation, than they were 120 years ago. However, this is kind of like saying say my net worth is “historically high” compared to 10 years ago or 20 years ago. That doesn’t mean I’m wealthy or even well off, it just means I’m in slightly better financial shape than I was when I was in college or high school -- big deal! That’s not saying much…in my opinion.


Sources:
“Irrational Exuberance,” 2nd Edition, 2006 by Robert J. Shiller

“Why Real Estate is still America’s Best Investment”. 2011. Buffini & Company

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Rules for Getting Through the Post-holiday Financial Doldrums


There are few times of the year that I dislike more than that month or two that follow the holiday season. October comes with Halloween. November we have Thanksgiving. December brings Christmas and New Years. Then there’s the let-down.

In January, there are W-2 forms being issued, which is about all I can look forward to, and which in turn means I get to start on the family’s income taxes. Then there is the credit card bill that comes for our holiday spending. And in February, my high-point -- if I’m on my game -- is getting our taxes mailed out.

Pretty exciting, huh?

So how do I get through the post-holiday financial doldrums? Well, it’s not always easy, but over the years, I’ve given myself a few rules to help me suffer through this period a little more successfully.

Set Up for Success
I try to set myself up for success before I ever reach the post-holiday financial doldrums. By constructing a holiday budget, breaking down that budget into how, where and upon whom I’ll be spending it, and then abiding by that budget, I can keep from overdoing it on holiday spending. This doesn’t leave me feeling so guilty after the fact and playing catch-up on my bills.

Look at the Doldrums as an Opportunity
For me, this is a great time of year in which to buckle down and really focus on my financial situation. Since we have typically lived in areas where January and February are the “hunker down” months, due to their bringing less than favorable weather for outdoor activities -- and since I’m not a big winter sports person -- there isn’t much to steal my attention away from dealing with my finances.

Not only do I find this is a great time to heighten productivity due to lack of distractions, but I have the time to do the family taxes, do some post-holiday deal shopping to look for next year’s gifts, and work on those financial New Year’s resolutions.

Incorporate Your New Year’s Resolutions
Speaking of New Year’s resolutions, this aspect of the holiday season can be a great precursor to making the transition into the post-holiday financial doldrums. By centering a few of your resolutions around financial goals, you may be able to make them a part of your financial fitness for the new year. With a few goals to help push you, there may be a bit more motivation when it comes to how and how successfully you push through the post-holiday period.

Make a List and Check it Twice
Your holiday list doesn’t have to disappear with the passing of December. In fact, a list could prove just as helpful to your finances after the holidays as before them. I find that compiling a list of holiday or holiday-related expenses that will be coming in -- before they arrive -- can help me better prepare for what could be a higher than normal billing period on the old credit card.

At least having a general idea of what sorts of bills are coming in and in what amounts can help you get the ball rolling on putting a little extra money away from that first post-holiday paycheck or two for paying down doldrums’ debt. And if nothing else, if you can’t pay off your holiday bills all at once, you can at least start coming up with a plan and timeframe for how you will do so. With no big-expense holidays lurking in the months immediately following December, and possibly little to do outdoors, I find that there is very little excuse for not sticking to your guns and getting your holiday bills paid off during the doldrums months.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Rules for Developing Financial New Year’s Resolutions


Overall, I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I tend to believe that goals should be set when and where needed through the course of the year, not just at the start of a new year. However, this doesn’t mean that I’m against them completely, and can’t see the positive aspects behind such resolutions, especially when it comes to our personal finances.

Over the years, and throughout resolution successes and failures, I’ve developed certain rules that help me to develop and achieve my financial New Year’s resolutions.

Start Early and with Variety
I find that it’s a good idea to start forming my resolutions early in December and sometimes even earlier than that. Waiting until the last minute can leave me scrambling to come up with financial resolutions that might not be the most effective or pertinent to my financial lifestyle or needs.

But just starting early isn’t where I leave my New Year’s resolution preparation. Instead, I consider multiple resolutions that are both short and long-term in nature. Meeting a few resolutions shortly into the new year can provide the motivation to maintain interest and keep pushing to meet my longer-term resolutions throughout the rest of the year.

Make Resolutions Lofty, Yet Realistic
While I might use certain short-term, simpler-to-meet type resolutions to push myself to attain various goals during the year, I don’t make the majority of my resolutions too easy to achieve. Instead, I like to set certain lofty, yet realistic resolutions to push myself.

What’s the point of setting goals, if they don’t push you to achieve?

Therefore, I utilize a combination of easily met goals, paired with loftier financial expectations to drive me in meeting a tiered goal structure. For example, cutting expenses by 10% each month, could help drive me toward an overall yearly savings goal, or increasing productivity by an extra 5% each week could help me achieve a goal of producing an overall increase in profits for the year of 30%.

Make Resolutions that are Pertinent to Your Financial Life
I find that it’s important to make New Year’s resolutions that somehow affect your regular financial life, or if nothing else, build up toward large resolutions. Just saying you want to quit a job and start an independent career as a self-employed individual without doing things like investigating your career interests or forming a business plan, could leave you with a resolution that’s difficult to attain on its own.

I had leaving my job as a New Year’s Resolution once, but there were plenty of mini-resolutions that accompanied that goal. Yet, by meeting those goals, which included building a business plan, testing out my chosen occupation before leaving my job, having an exit strategy, and similar items, I was able to achieve my larger, all-encompassing resolution.

Write Resolutions Down in an Easily Visible Location
I’ve often seen this sort of rule on other New Year’s resolution related articles, but I feel it’s a good one by which to abide. Writing your resolutions down and keeping them out where they are visible and seen by you on a regular basis can be important to keeping them fresh in your mind.

This location doesn’t necessarily have to be on a calendar, but placing them in a spot where you will see them regularly like a desk, computer or even refrigerator can help you stay on top of your financial resolutions and hopefully ensure steady progress. Just bear in mind that if they are not items you’d like to share with the general public, you might want to reconsider placing them in a visible place at work or some other spot where they might be seen by others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Wallet Economics


I guess I’m just old fashioned, but I still like carrying cash in my wallet. Don’t hold it against me. Heck, I think it even helps me in a way. In fact, I think that carrying cash actually saves me money, and might even save you money if you consider a few of my theories.

What Lurks Within
I know pretty close to exactly what is in my wallet at all times. Not only the amount of cash I have on hand -- which is important for keeping an eye on how much I’ve spent and what I have left to spend -- but also the various cards inside my wallet. The knowledge of how much money I carry makes me think a little harder about my expenditures as the size of my cash laden wallet gradually shrinks to a more emaciated form, and tends to rein in my spending.

The inventory of items I carry is important to have locked inside my brain because this way, if I lose my wallet, it is stolen or if I happen to drop a card somewhere during the course of the day, I know what is missing and can take prompt action to ensure I report the loss to the proper party or parties.

Two-section Break Down
I have a front and back section to my wallet. In the front, I keep my budgeted spending money for the month. This money includes entertainment, food, and miscellaneous money -- mostly any items that aren’t things like utility bills, rent/mortgage, insurance, and regularly billed items. I know exactly how much is there -- say $300 -- so at any moment, I can pull that cash out and know exactly where I am with my “fun” money budget. And once this money is spent, it doesn’t get replaced until next month.

I was in a car accident once (before I began this wallet strategy) and the tow truck driver that came to pick us up would only take cash. We therefore had to find a place to get cash to pay him, during a time that was less than ideal. In the back section of my wallet, I now carry a reserve amount that is specifically for emergencies (such as an issue with my debit card or a situation that calls for cash) or special spending, and that I try not to touch unless I have to.

This money carrying strategy works well for me since I’m a responsible spender, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for those who find that they spend cash readily if they have it on hand.

The Secret Stash
I also keep a little secret stash that up to this point, I’ve never had to touch, but it’s there if I need it. It’s only about $15, tucked away in one of those side pockets of my wallet, but in a pinch it can be a little lifesaver. A meal, a few extra gallons of gas, a taxi ride home or whatever; it’s nice to have that little peace of mind socked away.

The Credit/Debit Card Hide
I finally got rid of my last credit card, but I still have a debit card. Even though I highly dislike debit cards, I like to have one as backup. However, even though I carry a debit card, I don’t really like to see it because it’s one of those little temptations that can get me in trouble because of its convenience. Therefore I use a little psychological trickery.

I tend to put my debit card behind other cards in my wallet. Not only does this keep it “out of sight out of mind,” but it reduces the chance that when I go to pull out cash or another card such as my driver’s license, I won’t accidently drop my debit card in the process…a potentially costly mistake.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple and Affordable Home Security Options When Leaving for Vacation


For those of us without expensive security services or fancy alarm systems, it doesn’t mean we don’t like to leave our home as secure as possible when we go on vacation. And even if we have someone coming to check up on our home every couple of days or so, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be stretches with no one around to supervise the well-being of our property. Those can be some long periods of time for someone looking to break into a home, or maybe even worse, when a pipe bursts or a similar security or maintenance issue could result in an extremely costly situation.

Here are a few of the things that we do or consider when we are heading out for an extended time away from our home to decrease the chances encountering a costly issue when we come home.

Mail Hold
We always stop our mail when going out of town for an extended period, even if we have a friend or family member stopping by to check on the place. To do this, we either stop in and fill out a hold mail form or do it through the US Postal Service’s website at www.usps.com. I will typically start the hold several days in advance, just in case there is any confusion with the mail carrier (which there has been before). I also have someone check after we’re gone to ensure no mail has been mistakenly delivered in our absence.

We do this in order to prevent stuff from piling up or getting lost or stolen after being delivered but also so we don’t have mail littering our doorstep, providing an obvious indication to would-be intruders that we are away.

A Neighborly Offering
We typically try to find family members, friends, close neighbors or some other trustworthy beings to pop in occasionally while we’re away. Even if they don’t come inside, at least having someone to pick up fliers that may be left on the front door, keep an eye open for suspicious characters, or even clear or make tracks in the snow during the winter to make it look like people are around can help keep possible intruders at bay.

Blinds
We tend to keep our blinds and curtains closed for a large portion of the day -- even when we’re at home. Therefore, we feel comfortable keeping them closed when we are away in order to increase privacy and security. However, the other day when at my mothers, we were heading out and I had closed several of her window blinds. She responded by saying, “Well, you really know how to make it look like no one is home, don’t you? (she tends to keep her blinds open most of the time)

It caught me off guard, but made me realize that sometimes, changing the appearance of your home in an effort to increase security might actually be more of an indication that you aren’t present than if you had just left your home as it would normally look.

Lighting
At our last home, we had an outside light that was set on a timer to come up at around dusk and turn off again around daybreak. And while I think that leaving a light on all night in normal circumstances is wasteful, when away, it might be a cheap form of extra home security.

The price of three or four extra kilowatt hours of electricity to leave a kitchen, bathroom or bedroom light on may only run 30 or 40 cents. This is far less than the costs of an insurance deductible and the time and trouble that might result from a home invasion or burglary.

Long-term Considerations
While I’ve never gone this route, I have considered it a time or two, and had I a friend or family member who I could trust not to throw a wild party or make a complete mess of my home, I might have gone the route of letting them stay there while we were away.

Allowing a trustworthy representative to stay in your home during a vacation could act as a money saver for both you and your house sitter. For them, it could be free rent, food, and utilities. For you, it could be free security, supervision, and even a pet sitter.

Valuables
I never really liked trying to hide valuables when on vacation because I know that most career burglars know these hiding spaces and can find them rather easily and speedily. However, I still figure it’s worth a shot. For what valuables I can’t deposit in a safe deposit box (my favorite hiding location), I do my best to ensure that they are stashed safely when we leave for vacation. This includes storing financial paperwork properly and in areas where I hope it might be overlooked if a break-in occurs, and stashing a few small family heirlooms where I don’t think anyone might look.

While my hiding spots might not be perfect, they at least provided a little affordable peace of mind and protection against the unforeseen while we are away.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Winding Road to Retirement


Sometimes the most direct route to something may not always be the best route. This can be true in many facets of life, including the road leading to retirement. For me, this road has taken some unexpected twists and turns in what has only been the first portion of my working life. While I began this road in the fast lane of what I hoped to be a straight shot to an early retirement, I’ve encountered several detours that have turned my plan onto a different, longer, but not altogether bad route to retirement.

What I’m trying to say is that my plan is kind of like a road map. There is a start point from my initial work, which leads to an end point at retirement, connected by an interstate in between. However there are a lot of little side roads that spread out along the way. These alternate routes will eventually get me to the same spot, and they might take me in a different and somewhat unexpected direction, but that route could be a more scenic one than if I had taken the highway straight to my destination.

The Direct Route to Retirement Gets Me There Faster but…

When I was working in the hotel business, I was on the fast track to early retirement…at least that was the goal at the time. I wanted to retire when I was 45 and be done with it all. But this goal largely left me missing out on life. I was stashing as much cash as I could and working all the time, which left me with little time to enjoy myself or my surroundings.

As the years passed, I began to realize that while the highway to retirement might get me to my goal quicker, I was missing all the scenery of life along the way.

The Retirement Side Roads are More Scenic

At the realization that I only live once and that life was passing me by while I worked like an ant, scurrying back and forth between work and home with blinders on to the world around me, I began to view things from a different perspective. While retirement was still an important goal for me, I began to wonder if I was taking my goal to reach it so quickly a bit far. This led me to ponder other ways of living, ways that were somewhat outside the norm, but that might work for me, and in fact, could work for many other people if they stepped back for a moment and reviewed their situations.

This was when I began contemplating leaving the hotel business to become self-employed. At about the same time, my wife and I were considering having a child. I thought that if I could correlate the two (leaving the hotel business to work for myself, and the birth of our son), it might help me slow down a little, enjoy life a bit more and take a few scenic side roads on the path to retirement. In my opinion, it was worth working longer in a job I liked, and be able to take care of my son, even if it meant delaying my retirement.

Adopting a New Retirement Strategy

So now that I’ve stepped back from the regular working world for a time, I’ve seen a lot of different scenery and gotten a new perspective on life, living, and retirement. I’m not in a rush now to retire since I’ve found work that I actually enjoy doing.

When you’re doing something you don’t really like, retirement might seem like the only escape. This could however be a clear indication that it’s time to start considering a different job or career. For those in their younger years especially, suffering through another 20 or 30 years of doing something that is less than satisfactory just to get to retirement, could leave them with years of unhappiness. Meanwhile, doing something you love, or at least enjoy, might have you feeling like you’ve already retired while still working toward bright golden years.

I’ve now shifted gears from the fast paced, “get there at all costs, regardless of the toll on my happiness” type retirement attitude. While those early years helped to get me to where I am now, they also taught me an important lesson about a proper life/work balance -- it’s often not so much about how quickly you get where you’re going, it’s how much you enjoy the drive getting there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Should You Buy a Home if You May Inherit One?


Homeownership can be an acquired taste. There are positive aspects in certain situations and for certain people, but I question whether many of the benefits that people list are really as great as they seem. And many of these same people remind us non-homeowners of the day that will come when a home is paid for and no longer such a burden upon the old pocketbook.

But there are still those holdouts like myself (even though I’ve owned a home for a brief, three year stint), who don’t feel they particularly need or want a home. We want to be free to travel and explore the country. Yet, in the back of my mind, a little voice keeps nagging at me saying, “Wouldn’t a home be nice to have in old age or when you retire?”

Part of me agrees with this voice. But then another voice chimes in and says, “If you buy now, by the time you have your home paid off, you may have inherited a home from your mother.” And while I don’t expect this or count on it, since many things can change in the next 20 to 30 years, it is something to consider.

So if you aren’t big on the whole homeownership idea, but may inherit a home by the time you’re ready to retire; is it worth buying your own?

The Baby Boomer Generation
Many boomers own or may soon be paying off homes as they near retirement. Several of my boomer relatives either own outright or are working toward paying off their homes as they close upon their golden years. While I don’t expect to inherit homes from all of them, there is a good chance that one day down the road I could, so in some ways I’d almost rather help maintain and keep up their particular properties than have to buy one of my own to maintain.

Carrying Costs
There is no denying that homes can get costly; and no matter how much you plan and prepare for homeownership, it’s near impossible to take into account every costly situation you might encounter with a property over the years. Rather than dumping money into a property as I have done previously, why not let someone who loves living in a home maintain and care for it, especially if they may one day leave it to you?

I know such reasoning might sound somewhat harsh, but it’s also logical. A home must be passed along to someone, and it’s not as if you’re knocking off a loved one to get it. But if you have reasonable expectations of receiving a home one day by way of an estate, and you really don’t care for the thought of owning and maintaining one over the next 30 years or so, it’s a logical line of reasoning to undertake.

Why should you and a relative or loved one each pay property taxes, maintenance, and all the rest on a home for the next 30 years if you don’t really need to, and when eventually you would have to sell one (or even both homes) eventually anyway?

Freedom to Move and Explore
Choosing to avoid homeownership with the chance of inheriting a home in the future, could also provide a chance to move and explore without the hindrance a home. Not having to worry about upkeep and maintenance while you are away for long periods of time, or having to go through the sales process each time you want to move, can be a weight lifted from your shoulders.

My wife and I have moved multiple times over the last decade and have found that it is much easier, quicker and cheaper to do so without having to sell a home.

Principal Considerations
Not everything might be coming up roses however in a scenario in which you might be expecting to one day inherit a home. In our case, one set of relatives has a second mortgage on a home, which means that should that set of mortgages still remain at the time of their passing, rather than inheriting a home paid in full, we could be straddled with additional debt.

The amount of principal -- or debt -- a home you might one day expect to inherit carries is another factor that may likely have to be considered in such planning. Whether a home is paid off, still carries a mortgage (or two), or has a home equity line of credit, reverse mortgage or a lien of some sort attached, might affect your decision as to whether or not it’s wise to purchase a home of your own and work toward paying it off regardless of what an inherited home might bring.

Can’t Count on it
Maybe the greatest factors of all to consider when deciding if it is wise to buy a home if you may inherit one, is that it is extremely difficult -- even with all the planning and preparation -- to ready ourselves for what the future may bring. A relative might change their will, they may encounter unexpected health or financial issues, or you might pass away before them.

This means that with all the planning, hoping or expecting, you may be left on your own when it comes to eventually tackling the housing situation. While this won’t sway me one way or the other when it comes to how I feel about homeownership, I do think it is something important to consider when it comes to an inheritance and could alter the way others could or should see the possibility of being left a home by way of a benefactor.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Where I Look for Self-employment Work Ethic


I always looked up to my grandfather. He had attended the University of Michigan, majoring in journalism. He even played baseball for the school. He was going to play football, but upon entering the stadium to suit up for his first practice, he was met by a fellow player coming off the field carrying his front teeth in his hand (this was back in the leather-helmeted days of the late 1930s mind you). He therefore decided that baseball would be the better route to go. I can’t say that I blame him.

After graduating, marrying, getting a job as a woman’s undergarment salesman, and having a few children, he decided it was time to try his hand at becoming a full-time writer. The rest of his story is what motivates me the most in my writing endeavors.

Upon making the decision to pursue a full-time writing career, my grandfather figured that if he was going to do it -- and having had enough of the Michigan winters -- that he should haul the family, which by now included three children, down to Florida.

After four years of only moderate writing success though, and with grandma working as a waitress to help support his work, they decided to head back to the Midwest where he took a job as director of communications with that same undergarment company he had sold for previously. He did their weekly newsletter, copywriting, and performed similar duties, but he didn’t let his dream of becoming a full-time writer die.

Motivation and Mentoring from Beyond the Grave
I didn’t start writing full-time until a year after my grandfather passed away, but his example still served to motivate me in my endeavors. Before work each morning my grandfather would wake at four in the morning to write for several hours before going in to work. I used this example to push myself in my early years before I quit my work in the hotel business. I used to come home from work each day and write for several hours in the evening in an effort to gain experience before taking the plunge into full-time writing.

While it took years, my grandfather eventually found success. After selling several stories to The Saturday Evening Post Magazine he became a humor writer for them and eventually senior editor. And though it had taken him several decades in between, his perseverance had finally paid off.

Generational Differences…and Similarities
Thinking back to the writers of my grandfather’s day, I find additional motivation in my self-employment work ethic. It makes me wonder if they would have found our current writer’s market unbelievably easy to tame. They wouldn’t have to type everything out by hand, type additional copies by hand, send their articles and manuscripts by snail mail, and wait for weeks on end with no response. While some of these aspects are still part of a writer’s life, it’s now much easier to be noticed in a variety of other mediums, although the amount of competition for that attention has increased dramatically as well.

And just when I think that technology has drastically transformed the way we go about things these days and that I’m probably pursuing my writing career completely different from the way my grandfather did, I find a box of his old articles, short stories, poems, and notes. Within, I find all his unpublished work for which he never found takers.

I find myself surprised that a senior editor at a major magazine had boxes full of unpublished work, rejection letters, and even his old expense book documenting each cent he spent.

So now, even with my grandfather dead and gone, I can set his box of rejection letters next to mine, his handwritten expense book next to my handwritten expense book, and all his unpublished work next to my zip-drive of unpublished work, and I can look at it as a reminder of just how hard he had to work to get where he was and as motivation to keep me hard at work when the rejection letters are steadily pouring in (by way of email that is).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trimming Our Dining Out Costs By $950 a Year


I enjoy going out to eat ... in certain situations, that is. Going out to eat just to go out to eat doesn't do it for me. I need character, ambiance, fun and interesting servers or great prices and good food in a place at which I pay someone to bring me my food.


Call me picky. I'm not, but that's OK. I simply don't like wasting my money at a place that offers little outside what I could create myself. I want a menu or an environment that's outside the norm. I want people who entertain my brain or who are characters. I don't want to just waste my money eating a meal I could have cooked myself at home.

READ MORE...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Will Happen to Yahoo?


There's been a lot of speculation out there about the future of Yahoo. Will it be bought out by Alibaba? What about Providence Equity Partners? Is Microsoft still in the picture, or have they finally called it quits on trying to acquire Yahoo?

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Thanks for the Memories Dan Wheldon

When a Twitter follower joked with Dan Wheldon before his final Indycar race (one in which he was eligible to win $5,000,000) that he should just pay the other drivers to pull over, Dan's response -- his final re-tweet before his death -- was: "That's not the way to win my man!!!"

Though I didn't know him personally, I think that says a lot about him.

Thanks for the memories Dan!!!





Monday, October 10, 2011

Breaking Down Our Monthly Energy Bill


Breaking down and understanding utility bills isn't always easy. Here are some of the things that I did to more fully comprehend what these bills were telling me and how I used that knowledge to save money.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thought of the Day


After watching the stock market today, it makes me wonder why the markets just don't open for an hour between 3pm and 4pm? It would save a lot of trouble for those poor writers having to change their headlines from "Dow Takes Huge Loss on Greece Concerns" at 1pm to "Dow Has Big Day on European Plan to Fix Greece Situation" at 4pm.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How I Screwed Up My 401(k) Rollover


I don't claim to be any financial genius, but I do feel I'm reasonably competent when it comes to many personal finance matters. One of the matters that I have felt a little shaky upon over the years though, was my 401(k).

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Internet Articles


This might seem an odd choice for a personal finance article; however, many of us waste a lot of time on the Internet, time that could otherwise be used for more productive things -- even making more money. Much of that wasted time may be spent reading -- often inefficiently or unproductively -- Internet articles.

Whether an article isn’t all the title makes it out to be or for one reason or another, you just aren’t taking the full message away from what you’re reading online, there may be ways to get the most from the Internet articles you read.

Here are the main ways that I ensure I get the most from the online offerings I read.

Consider the Source
Doing a quick scan of the article author’s background or even considering the site you’re on could provide some important information as to the quality of the content you’re reading. Education, background, experience, and whether the site is simply an informational site or is running an angle on certain topics or subject matter to make a buck could mean you’re getting an ill-informed or biased opinion in the article content.

Look for Trends
Sometimes it can be hard to know if the information you’re reading in a particular article is backed up by fact or is even accurate. In such situations, doing an Internet search for related content can help you clarify whether your source or sources are indeed on the right track.

If you find articles with similar content and findings or suddenly see several unrelated Internet sites all running similar headlines or subject matter, it might be a trend that tells you that the articles you’re reading are based upon or written by reliable and knowledgeable authors.

Make it Your Own
You can’t assume everything you read on the Internet is applicable directly to you. Sometimes you have to take the information provided and make it your own, applying it to you and your personal situation.

Just because an author has written about how he paid off $200,000 in credit card debt --more such debt than many of us will ever hope to see in our lifetime -- this doesn’t mean that the tactics and techniques he used in doing so won’t be applicable to you, but maybe just on a smaller scale.

Don’t Expect the World
I find that many people expect information served to them on a platter and hand-feed to them and their exact personal situation. It’s important to realize however, that an Internet article author can’t write to everyone’s direct personal situation. The author prepares and presents the information that is available -- often in a quite limited or directed way (e.g. “less than 500 words” or “easily scanned topic headings or bullet points”). It’s up to the reader to determine whether the information in that article is worthwhile to their particular needs and at times mold it to fit their personal situation.

READ the Article…All of it
You can’t expect an Internet article to give you its best, if you aren’t giving it your best. Scanning through the first few lines or paragraph doesn’t mean you’ve read an entire article, and if that’s how you read an Internet article, you might as well not even bother in many cases because you’re likely missing the meat of the subject matter or only getting part of the story.

Reading an Internet article thoroughly (unless you’ve decided it isn’t applicable to you or you just don’t have time) can be important, especially if you plan to comment upon it.

Comments…or Lack Thereof
Personally, I don’t know why the majority of people who comment on Internet articles actually do. To me, it’s largely a waste of time, and unless I’m trying to network with other sites or authors, I don’t do it.

From the vast number of comments I’ve seen over the years, most people haven’t taken the time to fully read or understand the entire article anyway. They often base their comments off of assumptions based upon the article title or a quick scan of several sentences.

If there isn’t time to read the entire article in the first place, why is there time to waste commenting on it, especially when a large portion of those comments are ignored or illicit snide, sarcastic, and sometime hateful remarks?

Wasting time on a poor Internet article is one thing. Wasting time (time that could be used productively creating or doing something) to comment on a poor Internet article -- or worse yet, spending time to find flaws in that article and then commenting upon them -- is something else altogether.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Retirement Lesson for Those of All Ages


I’ve heard many retirement stories as of late. Most of them are disastrous tails that leave me feeling either sad for the people involved because they were affected by forces outside their control or mad because these people failed to take advantage of situations that could have set them up securely for the entirety of their retirement years.

The following story involves people who are close to me, and it leaves me with mixed emotions. Part of me is angry about the wasted opportunity they had presented to them, and the other part of me is saddened by the outlook for their retirement future.

A Sad Moment
The story I’m about to tell you, involves a close family friend, whose small business was started several generations ago by his father. It was built into a thriving operation by the son of the founder and his brother during the several decades following the father’s passing.

Half of the business was held by the two brothers, the other half by their mother until her death in 2005. Both son’s were devastated by the loss of what was a strong woman who had largely held the family together even before the passing of their father. It was a tough moment for the entire family to bear.

Sunshine after the Rain
The passing of the mother left the two sons -- who were now in their early and mid-50s -- with a wonderful opportunity though. Not only did the two now inherit the entirety of the family business, but they were also left with a sizeable inheritance and their childhood home, which was to be sold entirely for profit.

This meant that the two men had a golden opportunity before them. The home was sold for well over $200,000, and while I don’t know the specifics of the estate settlement, each son should likely have received a sizeable amount of cash, plus an additional 25% of the family business.

The first son took his money and began planning to leave the business to enjoy his retirement. The second son, rather than taking the loot, putting the business up for sale, and heading for what should have been a cushy retirement, instead decided to continue working in hopes of helping one of his own sons learn and eventually take over the operation.

A Missed Opportunity
With the second son’s continued work in the family business, his portion of the inheritance went fast. There was a sizeable chunk that when into the business itself. There was a new car for the wife. There was a wedding for the daughter and out-of-state tuition for five years of college at a Big 10 university for another son.

But things were looking bright for the business. It was paying a sizeable salary to both father and son. The son was learning the ins and outs of the operation, and a grandson was on the way.

Then “The Great Recession” Hit
As the economy began to falter and stagnate, so did the business. Similar businesses began to fail. The father started combating several health issues, and business levels slowed just as retirement age began to near. Nothing had been saved in the way of retirement. There was no pension. The wife, a school teacher, wasn’t making a sizeable income and hadn’t put much away in the way of retirement savings. Debt began to take over and the father stopped taking a salary in order to continue paying his son.

This left little in the way of retirement hope anywhere in the couple’s immediate future. The business is still operating, but output is low and the father has been paying his son in lieu of himself for nearly a year. What was a wonderful retirement opportunity was wasted due to the mindset that things were good and would stay that way, rather than hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How I Got My Freelance Career Off The Ground


Leaving the regular workforce to venture out on your own can be a frightening experience. I found it both scary and exhilarating. But one thing it wasn't, was easy. There were plenty of mistakes and hurdles to clear along the way. And not everything came up smelling like roses, yet I persevered and managed to make a go of my freelance efforts.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Downsized": My New Favorite Show


Call me what you will, but I actually kind of like this show...even though it's on WEtv. I mean, besides "Russian Dolls" on Lifetime, it could be my new favorite show. It's got some good personal finance lessons and actually has some good examples of communicating money issues to family.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Taking an 19th Century Approach Toward Modern Day Personal Finance -- Part III



As I conclude this three part essay regarding Thoreau’s views on economy, I will take a look at some of Thoreau’s thoughts upon shelter, homes, and possessions.

Thoreau states:

“As for a Shelter, I will not deny that this is now a necessity of life, though there are instances of men having done without it for long periods in colder countries than this.”

Here, Thoreau relates another interesting tale that proves his point illustrating the excess when it comes to the human need for shelter.

“Formerly, when how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for unfortunately I am becoming somewhat callous, I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three feet wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night, and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free. This did not appear the worst, nor by any means a despicable alternative. You could sit up as late as you pleased, and, whenever you got up, go abroad without any landlord or house-lord dogging you for rent. Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far from jesting. Economy is a subject which admits of being treated with levity, but it cannot so be disposed of.”

While certainly an extreme example, and admitting the desire of most of us to remain free from the obligation of sleeping in a large wooden tool box with a few breathing holes cut into it, I think Thoreau’s point here regarding our overly exorbitant need for reasonable housing, is proven.

“And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

Again, it is quite incredible the amount of truth that has recently rung true from the words of Thoreau as we watch the housing market continue to struggle. Like a personal finance guru, Thoreau seemed to be able to pinpoint what appeared as common sense issues to him, but issues that nonetheless have been clouded by the wants, desires, and need for immediate gratification of the modern man and woman. And as we see today, with a large portion of homeowners underwater on their mortgages, behind on their payments, facing foreclosure, or having their home sit for sale in a stagnant market, it is indeed not the homeowner that has the house, but unfortunately, the house that has got him.

“Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.”

This is a costly lesson that many have learned as of late. The need of many people to keep up with what are now considered the norms of society has indeed left many of these people needlessly poor. By selecting homes that conformed better to their needs and taking time before committing themselves to a mortgage in excess of what they could afford, many homeowners could have avoided the pitfall that Thoreau has laid out so clearly. Although, I’m sure that in some ways, these same people are doing Thoreau proud. To see these homeowners walking away from underwater properties or homes that are entering foreclosure, I’m sure that Thoreau might have agreed they were doing the right thing. Such actions would likely have applied to Thoreau’s views upon civil disobedience. He probably would have supported these homeowners’ decisions to vacate the properties and forego the property taxes that have so sapped their energies, finances and placed such constraints upon their personal freedoms, leaving massive financial institutions and the government that allowed allowed for such an environment in the first place, left to deal with the mess instead.

“The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful. Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation; now, a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no home and no housekeeper.”

The things in our lives often act to conceal or to buffer our true intentions, wants, desires, and needs. I think Thoreau is right, we often begin accumulating what we feel are the necessities of life, following the example of others, before we even evaluate what it is we need to make us truly happy.

It reminds me of the time when my wife was preparing for our wedding. I left her in charge of registering for and selecting our wedding gifts. I later regretted the decision, finding that she had selected stores and gift items based upon what her friends had done for their weddings as well as what was popular as opposed to what we needed or would actually use.

When we received our gifts, it turned out that due to the exorbitant prices of the items at these trendy stores, we received far fewer gifts than we might have had we selected similar items at lower end stores. Not only this, but we ended up with items that her friends found useful in their lives, but that we rarely used. Essentially, she put the cart before the horse. She decided what we needed by looking at what others had selected before she actually considered what we needed or if these items would actually be of use.

“But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.”

This quote probably rings most true in today’s world of omnipresent high tech gadgetry. Look at how dependant we are upon technology. Sure, in many ways, tools such as cell phones, the Internet, GPS units, ATMs, and similar gadgetry have made our lives easier, but many of us now center our lives around the ability to reach or have access to these forms of technology.

And what happens if or when we are left without them? We can’t find our way around town. We can’t check our email or chat nonsensically with friends and family. We can’t take ridiculous photos and videos to post upon the Internet. We can’t go through the check-out at the grocery store. Some of us can’t even earn a living without these instruments of social creation -- or destruction -- depending upon your outlook.

This quote of Thoreau’s however, relates to our lives in numerous other ways, moving beyond just the social networking tools and technology upon which we’ve become so dependant.

A large portion of us must work, often working exceptionally hard, to keep up with the payments upon our tools. In many cases, the tools of the modern man may also be considered toys, as most of them are not what many in lesser nations would consider needed for an existence based upon the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, etc. Items like vehicles, vacation homes, boats, movies, recreational vehicles, sporting equipment, cell phones, laptops, etc. are all things that are often part of our daily lives, but may be considered frivolous to the pursuit of life and the necessities needed to survive.

Consider if a majority of these expenses were removed from your life. How much less would you have to work or income would you need to earn in order to survive? And here, I’m not just talking about getting rid of the monthly movie budget or going without gourmet coffees for a couple of weeks. I’m talking about paring your life down to the bare minimum -- food, shelter, basic clothing, and a few cooking utensils. Let’s even take it a step further and say your are growing some of your own food, living off breads, soups, and low cost foods, living in a cheap, one-bedroom -- or better yet, studio apartment,-- and you only own several outfits of clothing and one or two pairs of shoes.

Of course, this example is taking it to the extreme in our modern day society, however, how much would such an existence truly cost? You might be surprised to find that without all the daily temptations such as cable, phone service, internet, gourmet foods, restaurant meals, car payments, gasoline, insurance, etc. there are relatively few expenses for which we must pay.

That being said, maybe it’s time to rethink our priorities, purchases, and daily life decisions regarding our possessions and the accumulation and retention of things. Maybe it’s finally time to consider Thoreau’s words a bit more carefully and begin to apply some of his ideas to our modern-day existence. Not only might such a life save money, but without the numerous trappings of technology and possessions, it could very well provide a happier, more carefree existence.




Sources:

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Henry David Thoreau. Barnes and Noble Books. New York, 2003.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading Copyright 2003, Jonathan Levin.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Note on Henry David Thoreau; The World of Henry David Thoreau, Walden and “Civil Disobedience”; Inspired by Walden; and Comments & Questions. Copyright 2003 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.



Disclaimer:
The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Taking an 19th Century Approach Toward Modern Day Personal Finance -- Part II


I continue my sorting of Thoreau’s thoughts on economy with a review of some of his ideas pertaining to employment, the ideas of what others conceive of as “good” and clothing.

Thoreau states:

"Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off, -- that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and by some magic wealth and standing followed, he had said to himself; I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture*, but I had not made it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?"
* Here, Thoreau refers to his work as a reporter at a local journal that did not print the majority of his work.

While times have indeed changed, I find the last three sentences of this short, yet poignant tale, particularly interesting. Many times we may limit ourselves to what we assume to be the norm. After college, I myself worked in what would be considered a regular job, with a major hotel corporation, clawing my way up the corporate ladder, and playing office politics.

It was all very exciting at first. It was like a game I hadn’t played before. But all too soon, I found myself bored by the rules, and while traveling regularly around the game board in a seemingly unceasing cycle, the only exciting aspect of my life became passing “Go” and collecting my paycheck. While everyone else around me scurried like frightened animals in the presence of the powers that be and looked for ways to advance through the manipulation and degradation of others, I began to wonder why such a lifestyle was looked upon with respect and admiration by others, and those best at playing such games were the ones considered successful by my peers. And so, rather than looking for ways to continue my advancement in a work environment that held little enticement or satisfaction for me, I began to look for ways to change the rules of the game.

In doing so, I soon realized that I really needed very little income to live a quite normal and respectable life. Therefore, I began stash every spare penny I could. I looked for ways to reduced expenses, studied how much I spent each month and on what, and focused on how much my savings could earn me by way of simple and secure investments like savings bonds, savings accounts, and CDs.

After several years of this, I had enough of a nest egg that I could quit the life that others found so appealing and that I found quite appalling, to write and stay at home with my newborn son. Rather than the selling of “baskets” that I found so distasteful in the business world, I found ways to “avoid the necessity of selling them,” as Thoreau had done. Given, I wasn’t making huge sums of money through my writing, nor was I saving vast amounts for retirement. However, unlike many of those who were scurrying to work each day around me, I also wasn’t in debt, my home wasn’t being foreclosed upon, I was maintaining a normal lifestyle. I was my own boss, living a longtime dream, and was able to raise my son rather than put him in a daycare.

This exuberance at finally being free however; was short lived, as I once again began to realize that writing was yet just another form of basket weaving, just as Thoreau had discovered years ago. While it afforded me the luxury of many freedoms previously unknown to me, I now found myself having to find buyers for my tales of woven “baskets,” being surprised when I found that there were so many out there who did not want them after I had gone to the great trouble of creating them.

“The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad…”

This is an important observation made by Thoreau; one I feel is made clearer by the recent US financial collapse. When we look around us, we see our neighbors setting their goals and the standards by which to live their lives by those of their neighbors, and those neighbors by their neighbors, and so on and so forth. But why is it that we assume that what these people feel is “good” is what we should also feel is good?

The vast majority of people felt investing in homes, taking out large, unsupported loans, and generally overextending themselves financially were acceptable, if not positive actions. We now however see the repercussions of these actions, which were for the large part, quite negative. We watch our neighbors spending on new patio furniture, new vehicles, dinners out, the latest fashions, lawn services, and riding lawn mowers, and immediately feel we are due the same, often without pause to consider whether these trappings are necessary or are even good for us.

We saw the line of cattle herded toward the precipice of the stock market collapse in 2007 and 2008, as the greater part of our neighbors assumed stocks and the stock markets were good, safe investment vehicles for their money. Much the same happened with the housing collapse. It is often these rushes to judgment by the masses that might be the obvious indication that something is askew and that it might be time to refrain and recoil from the lures of what our neighbors call “good” in order to better review the situation from afar before joining the fray.

“As for Clothing, to come at once to the practical part of the question, perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility.”

I won’t go into too much detail with Thoreau’s quote here since its meaning is relatively obvious. More often than not, it’s the label or designer name that is looked for during our clothing purchases as opposed to the true functionality, quality or durability of the clothing. While times have changed since Thoreau’s day, and a much larger portion of us make our livings from work in an office or business rather than upon a farm or as a general laborer, his statement almost rings truer today.

Due to the visibility of our garments in daily life, our need to wear the latest and most fashionable trends often outweighs the comfort and utility of the clothing. Even worse is that in our current economy, many of us still don’t make use of the vast array and quantities of affordable clothing available from thrift and consignment shops, choosing instead to spend ten times as much money or more just to be seen shopping at a local mall and sporting a name rather than a garment upon us.





Sources:

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Henry David Thoreau. Barnes and Noble Books. New York, 2003.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading Copyright 2003, Jonathan Levin.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Note on Henry David Thoreau; The World of Henry David Thoreau, Walden and “Civil Disobedience”; Inspired by Walden; and Comments & Questions. Copyright 2003 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.



Disclaimer:
The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taking an 19th Century Approach Toward Modern Day Personal Finance -- Part I


Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau grew up learning the value of economizing and living modestly. Born the third of four children, Thoreau’s family experienced more than their fair share of challenges when it came to business and the world of personal finance (his father owned a grocery store that failed, a stint teaching school, and eventually took over the family pencil-making business, at which point the family took in boarders to help make ends meet), Thoreau’s upbringing may largely have contributed to his jack-of-all-trades work mentality and desire to acquire a love for life without much in the way of need for material possessions.

Thoreau continued to practice and proclaim the values of simple living and economy throughout his adult life, experimenting with them extensively during his time spent living largely off the land on the shores of Walden Pond outside of Concord. In the section of Walden entitled “Economy,” Thoreau expresses, explores, and experiments with many of these view and values, and discusses them in detail.

It is not my intent here to expound upon Thoreau’s views, as I feel they speak plainly enough on their own. I simply wish to point out and comment upon some of what I feel are his more valuable words regarding personal finances, self-sufficiency, and economizing, as well as to consider how we might learn from and apply these thoughts to the current economic environment.

The views of this economizing, and at times, self-sustaining man, may be far more insightful and ahead of their time than most of us realize. We often tend to consider the state of our economy and personal finances as a modern issue, built from greed, bonus-based careers, and swiftly bursting bubbles that leave the average investor scratching his head and wondering where his money has disappeared to. While such factors have certainly contributed to the recent economic crisis, the real issues, the ones that belie the fa├žade of big business blame or ignorant government regulators, might be more fundamental, ones that lie within human nature itself and date back hundreds, if not thousands of years.

In Thoreau’s analysis of thrift, needs versus wants, home ownership, clothing, and fashion, you might be surprised to find that the economic problems facing the average person of a century and a half ago, and the attitudes toward the handling of those issues, were in many ways not far different from those of today.

The following are several quotes from Thoreau’s Walden that I have found particularly relevant to the current handling of our personal finances. Under each, I have added my own thoughts in what I consider a modern day compliment to Thoreau’s observations.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

For all the objects we accumulate, the huge homes we live in, the fancy cars we drive, and designer clothes we wear, are we truly happy with our lives, or are these things just a way of masking our own despair?

I think the vast majority of us shove our true intentions, dreams, and aspirations down to places so far within ourselves, and for so long a time, that even if we did have the possibility, either financial or otherwise, to explore these goals, we would no longer know how to do so. Many of us hide behind the security of our stable jobs and safety nets of sure things and steady paychecks. And because we waste our money on consumer goods to keep us content while the days of our lives are slowly whittled away, we diminish the ability to provide ourselves, by way of financial stability and security, the opportunity to explore our dreams and possibly to achieve our true goals.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Just recently, I was out raking the leaves from my front lawn, not because their looks particularly bothered me, but because they tend to clog the street gutters when left unattended.

Looking up and down the block, I saw my neighbors out, attempting similar activities, however not with rakes but with catch-bag lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other instruments of mechanical terror. After a quarter of an hour, I had finished my work; invigorated, heart pumping, lungs full of fresh Autumnal air. I again looked around me, up and down the street, surveying my neighbors. I watched as they puttered and sputtered back and forth, blowing leaves to one spot and then to another, eventually into a pile, only then to have to stop and rake them up or having to stop every five minutes to empty their mower bag.

It must have been at least another thirty or forty minutes before any of them, using much more technologically advanced devices than my lowly rake, were finished with their jobs. How silly and how wasteful I thought, especially when I see many of those same neighbors jogging up and down the streets in snazzy workout shorts and fancy running shoes to get their daily exercise.





Sources:

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Henry David Thoreau. Barnes and Noble Books. New York, 2003.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Introduction, Notes, and For Further Reading Copyright 2003, Jonathan Levin.

Walden and Civil Disobedience. Note on Henry David Thoreau; The World of Henry David Thoreau, Walden and “Civil Disobedience”; Inspired by Walden; and Comments & Questions. Copyright 2003 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.



Disclaimer:
The author is not a licensed financial professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Taking Negotiating to a Whole New Level


When we recently negotiated the sale of our home, I was surprised to find just how much things had changed since I took a negotiations course in college a decade ago. With the Internet now providing more information than many people imagine, you might not realize just how important a tool it can be in gleaning valuable information about your negotiating adversaries.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Power of Games and How They Get Us Spending


Games can be fun, but they can also be great marketing ploys to get us spending more. Here are a few of the games I've seen, and at times enjoyed, and that might get a small business owner thinking about creative ways to get customers having fun, and maybe more importantly, spending money with them.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

5 Personal Finance Lessons We Can Learn From Ants


My son recently received an ant farm for his fourth birthday. Though the gift was for him, I found myself taking an intense interest in the little buggers, and realized that by watching them closely, a few valuable personal finance lessons might be learned.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Advantages and Disadvantages of a "Rent-to-own" Home Sales


Before we ever put our home on the market, we had never considered a "rent-to-own" home sale. But after receiving a few such offers, it was time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to such an option.

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The Benefits of Renting Your House in a Down Market


A slow real estate market can have you looking for ideas to get on your way, even if you haven't sold your home yet. If you have yet to receive an offer on your home, but are ready to get on with your life, here are a few things to consider.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saving Time, Trouble and Money When Staying at a Hotel


I have worked at several hotels throughout the years, and I was always amazed at the costly situations guests managed to get themselves into while there.

My experiences taught me some valuable lessons about staying, and maybe more importantly, saving money when staying at hotels.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Retirement All It's Cracked Up to Be?


Before getting all hot and bothered about not being able to retire as soon as we'd like, maybe we should take a moment to consider whether retirement is really all it's cracked up to be.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Expecting an Inheritance to Fund Your Retirement?


Counting on an inheritance to fund your retirement can be a great backup plan, but if it's the only thing you're counting on to carry you through your golden years, it could backfire big time. Rather than count your inheritance chickens before they hatch, consider the following...

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Living Like Each Paycheck is My Last


Have you ever lived like each paycheck is your last? I have. You might want to give it a shot some time. You could be suprised by the results.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

How One Page Simplified My Financial Life


It often doesn't take much to make a major impact in simplifying your financial life. For me, it only took one page...

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Valuable Financial Lessons From Mom and Dad


Mom and dad can impart some valuable lessons to us throughout the course of our childhood, young adulthood, and even our adult lives. Here are some of the valuable financial lessons that my parents taught me.

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

3 More Television Shows That Might Make Me Money


This is a follow up article to my recent post of similar title. In addition to my three previous picks, I’ve recently started watching a couple more television shows that I have found could provide a bit of insight into making money by way of antiques and collectibles, and one show geared toward fixing money problems and avoiding financial pitfalls. Since I’ve run through almost all the episodes of my other favorite such shows by way of my cable provider’s OnDemand services, I need something new to put on for an hour or two at night when I’m exhausted and no longer want think.

Here are three of my new favorite new shows that have been providing me with interesting information that provides entertainment, keeps my eyes glued to the screen, but teach me a little something valuable in the process.

Auction Kings
“Auction Kings” is a show I caught just recently in a marathon run. I think I ended up watching about four straight hours. The show revolves around an Atlanta area auction house named Gallery 63. Its owner and employees attempt to research and then sell all sorts of interesting items at auction. Since I was a small child, I thought the auction atmosphere was intriguing, and it certainly can be exciting when a bidding war erupts. From the historical to the just plain odd, you might be as surprised as I am to find out how much certain items sell for.

Catch “Auction Kings” on the Discovery Channel.

Hollywood Treasure
I kind of fell into this show since I typically don’t associated the Syfy channel with providing knowledge on how to make money. However, “Hollywood Treasure” is a unique opportunity to catch a glimpse inside the hunt for and sale at auction of a variety of television and movie props and memorabilia. These items sometimes sell for thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars!

While I don’t get a chance to discover many items from the silver screen where I live, you never know what you might stumble across that has a famed background. And even if the stuff that is being auctioned has been used on film, its back story can still provide an interesting education that can help me in my search for items or paraphernalia that might be viewed as valuable in my future antique hunts.

Catch “Hollywood Treasure” on Syfy.

“‘til Debt do us Part
Breaking away from shows revolving around the finding and selling of valuable heirlooms, memorabilia, or historical items, I’ve decided to toss in a show that focuses more upon personal finances.

In my opinion, the “‘til Debt do us Part” program tends to use a bit of shock value to awaken its viewers to the dangers of debt and overspending. It typically features couples who have dug themselves into tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and who must complete a series of financial challenges that will not only teach them valuable personal finance lessons but will get them closer to receiving a $5000 bonus to put toward their debt upon successful completion of their challenges.

Personally, I like this show not only because it reaffirms many of my opinions and beliefs regarding personal finances, but it occasionally teaches me a thing or two about how better to save and certain techniques that can help cut costs.

Catch “’til Debt do us Part” on CNBC.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Money & Time Saving Projects After Buying a Home


Moving into a new home can be an exciting time in one’s life, and the anticipation that comes with this event often makes you want to settle into your new abode as quickly as you can. You don’t want to jump the gun though, as rushing to move all of your possessions into your home can leave you with a lot of extra work down the road.

There are typically plenty of projects that come along with a home, especially if someone has lived there before you arrived. Getting these projects out of the way before your home is cluttered with your belongings can be save you big headaches later.

If you have the time and opportunity, here are some of the larger projects to consider completing before you officially move in.

SORT LEFTOVERSIt’s amazing what people leave behind when they move out of a home. Much of the time it’s junk, but when my wife and I moved into our first house, we found all sorts of stuff – dishes, dining utensils, garden equipment, laundry, even a paperweight I sold on eBay for $80!

CLEAN CARPETSIf your home has carpets, consider cleaning them, having them cleaned, or removing them (if they’re in really bad condition) before you move your furniture into the house. This can make your life easier since you won’t have to work around furniture and other household items you’ve already placed in rooms.

CLEAN/REFINISH HARDWOOD FLOORSThe same can go for cleaning and/or refinishing any hardwood floors that might need some work. By doing this before you move in your furniture, floor rugs, etc. you avoid double work when you have to move all this stuff a second time when you need access to the floors.

REPLACE/REPAIR TILE FLOORSLike doing work on carpets and wood floors, it can be a good idea to replace or repair any damaged linoleum, ceramic tile, or stone tile surfaces before you have things sitting on top of them. Not only will you save yourself time and effort, but you can avoid doing more damage to already broken or chipped flooring by not moving heavy furniture onto or over it until it’s repaired.

PATCH WALLS/CEILINGSPatching and repairing walls or ceilings before you hang pictures, mirrors, and other decorations is a good idea. Not only do you avoid having to take those items down later to do the work, but drywall dust has a nasty way of finding its way into and onto furniture, rugs, and other possessions when you’re working on these areas.

PAINTInstead of moving all your possessions into the home, and then having to move them again or cover them up when you paint, get your painting done with ahead of time. With no furnishings to mess with, you can just throw a drop cloth down on the floor, do your tape work, and get going.

CLEANOnce furniture is inside your home and blocking walls, baseboards, vents, etc. and you’ve put things in cabinets, drawers, closets, and the like, it can be difficult to do your deep cleaning. Therefore, get this work done while the house is still empty and all areas are easily accessible. This is a good idea, not only because it saves you work doing it later, but who knows what people before you have done to and used these areas for. You don’t want their germs spread to your stuff!

HANG PICTURES/MIRRORSHanging pictures, mirrors, cabinets, and other wall decorations after you have make your repairs and done your cleaning, but before you move in, can make your life easier. This way you aren’t stretching over, moving, or working around furniture that is already in place.


Disclaimer:
This article is for informational purposes only. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is at the reader’s discretion.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is it Time to Sell Silver?


With silver prices peaking, you may be wondering if it's time to cash in on some of the silver you have been holding on to. But don't be too hasty, the timing might not be right just yet.

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