Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We will be moved by the end of the week

I am glad to see that several readers have responded to my last post and moved to the new blog at

Monday, October 1, 2007

I didn't want to do this but . . .

Blogger you are forcing me to. This week I will be moving this blog to a new location and address name at I know if you have been reading here for awhile you haveseen me mention that I really want to have discussions about what I am writing. Unfortunately Blogger does not allow the use of a comment count widget and that means that readers and email subscribers can not comment about my posts. Ah well, I have continued to post here while I tried to figure out a solution but I am giving up. So this week, you will probably see some version of this message. Meanwhile, if you'd like to subscribe to my new blog just click on the link above and join in. Thanks. And oh yeah, I hope you like the new blog name. I think it reflects more what I think than my original. Bye Bye.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Capitalism Is Like Water, You Can't Hold It in Your Hands

"But how do you get people to see that they are being screwed by their own dominant economic beliefs?" asks Jan Frel of author Naomi Klein. It's a question many of us are asking as the economic climate of the US heats up or cools down depending on your point of view. In Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine, there are those who can't wait for the next disaster to appear so they can reap the economic benefits. In the personal finance blogosphere this discussion about motive and economic opportunism doesn't appear to have started.

It's been my experience that it's not always the issue that the media is preventing discussion, but rather that the media working on behalf of the public's general desire (of) not wanting to get into an issue. For example, this Monday, AlterNet ran article about the recent report that 1.2 million civilians have died violent deaths since the U.S. invasion. It was our top story, and the number of people who read it (24,000) was far lower than we expected.

Frel's observation jibes with the response I received when I mentioned this last week in a post on in response to a discussion about learning to live simply.

Meanwhile, Klein goes on to point out what happens in some of the media when they do talk about these issues:

but look at Lou Dobbs. Here you have a CNN news anchor who makes a concerted decision that he is going to put the disappearing American middle class and the effects of outsourcing on TV every night, and he's going to use his pulpit to drum up outrage, except that he decides that he's going to direct that outrage to the weakest people in society; to immigrants.

I have said it before at this site, I really believe in the god of serendipity. Yesterday, I just finished reading a new novel by British journalist turned author, Humphrey Hawksley, called the History Book. In it he poses what has become a standard theme in today's thrillers, a conspiracy theory. Persons in government are taking the opportunity provided by the fear of terrorism to use the fear to seize more and more dictatory powers. I know, it's just another story right? But Klein has done more than pose the question. She has spent four years documenting her book.

The timing of The Shock Doctrine's release in Canada is very relevant here because it just hosted a summit with George Bush and Mexican President Calderon to meet with Prime Minister Steven Harper to talk about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) which is basically like
NAFTA-plus; NAFTA plus security issues. The SPP is an example of the shock doctrine I outline, in the sense that this was an agenda that would have been unspeakable in terms of integration with the United States before 9/11, and in the panic after -- in that shock -- the SPP agenda moved forward in
technocratic circles, and it was presented as a done deal.

She is presenting facts. And the interviewer is asking why we in the US
wont discuss them. I find myself thinking of New Orleans and the line from a song by Aaron Neville, "You can't stop running water" as I ponder this situation. Most of us benefit everyday from the system of capitalism, but the question that is appearing more and more in blogs and news papers, is this at the continuing expense of our democracy?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Financial Problems Aren't Just For the Other Guy

So what started off with a decision to read a post at about blogging ended up taking me to England and Wisconsin and back. At the easel, a sketch artist's blog was pointed to as an example of how to attract visitors. But when I got there I discovered the artist/blogger was posting about what she found out by standing in line waiting to get into her bank, Northern Rock.

Apparently, the subprime lending situation isn't limited to the US. In England, when the folks who placed their money at Northern Rock found out that their savings, etc, were not fully insured, they began to line up to move their money. But after several days of the pressure building the bank announced not only were they now fully insured but anyone replacing their money before Oct. 9 would receive a full refund of any penalties they had to pay for early withdrawal. We aren't the only country feeling a credit crunch.

Here in California we haven't seen any bank runs yet, as far as I know, but that hasn't stopped us from beginning to wonder and worry exactly how banks work.

And for that matter what is going to happen in the whole credit industry has become a question that over the next few days I intend to study.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I am not an investor . . . part 2

Whoops, if you were a reader here yesterday you were sent to the wrong (but it may turn out to be serendipitous) address for alternet. The correct address is not which appears to be a multi-purpose address for a variety of topics. But if you click on the alternet button you will find some interesting and contrasting articles that look to be worth your while. Or not. When I first clicked on this button it took me to the home page that showed a lisiting of related links for the site. When I clicked on the alternet link I was sent to a collection of articles headed by one written by Anne Coulter for her new weekly newsletter. The rest of the list was composed of alternate viewpoints from the liberal side. However, when I came here to correct the mistake I clicked on the link again and now the list with Coulter, etc is gone. Replaced by something called alternate which provided a list of computer suppliers. Weird, eh?

I am not an investor . . .

but I am interested in the subject because my partner T. is. So I read with interest J.D.'s post at today when he mentioned a site called Transparent Investing the brainchild a San Francisco based financial planning group called Iperio Group LLC. A quick overview of the site revealed a simple but articulate 10 step approach to designing your own investing strategy. I especially liked the calculators and links to sites. Also, several of the steps were accompanied by video presentations which was excellent for my wife who is much more of a visual learner than a reader.

Meanwhile, at one of the day's lead articles was about America's apparent addiction to credit. At first, as I read the headline and opening sentences, I thought no it's not an addiction. But then I thought back to the Christmas before last when I was in the midst of a cash crunch and how I justified using my card by comparing myself to the country's trillions of debt. Hell, I thought, why should I worry about a $1000.00 when the whole country is pushing 8 trillion? Sounds a lot like the justification a drinker might make just before that fatal car crash, right? Unfortunately, in the article, John Ince, fails to fulfill the promise of the headline. Yes, he does provide several examples of over indulgence in the use of credit that could be very useful in arguing that such behavior is out of control. But no he does not stay with the argument long enough to prove satisfactorily that the reason for the behavior is that it is addictive. Instead he goes off on the tangent provided by the examples and discusses what will happen as we continue on this course of irresponsibility. Too bad, I liked the premise. But I might argue that we are really addicted to the things that the use of credit brings us. Credit in this case is the enabler that when abused becomes the destroyer.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Plastic bags and their replacement

Sometimes, I have to wonder about my ability to think. A couple of months ago I was working on the idea of replacing plastic with reusable bags but found myself stymied by the cost factor. Plastic $.03, reusable $.90. No contest right? But last night T. and I were discussing the costs of something or other and it dawned on my that I had been missing the forest because I was looking at the tree. We use 40 cases of plastic bags a month at a cost of $600. Used and gone, I suddenly realized. Replaceable bags however will last years.

If the above post interested you:

Wow! Things are moving now
Some sense, cents, scents . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Still the Flow . . .

Did I say double? I meant to say, since that was the beginning of something that was out of control, my credit debt began to grow exponentially. I had married this time to have peace in my life. Which translated into whatever it took to make her happy is what we did. New car, buy a house, three times a year trips to visit her folks in Canada or Florida,dance conventions several weekends a year,too. Not that I didn't enjoy it. I love to travel. I like the west coast of Florida in April and the snow in Canada on temporary basis. I liked feeling that I was a part of something besides my work which suddenly came to a screeching halt when I decided to retire early and get out on my own. But something had to pay for all this, even when your credit limit is $35K per card. One day I realized I was borrowing money to pay monthly minimums of $650. I was maxed out and so was she apparently. I discovered that she was more interested in her newly acquired inhertitance than in staying married. The credit debt was in my name. So long, sayanarra, and by the way, have you ever heard of bankruptcy?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going With the Flow, continued . . .

At the time it seemed like the best plan. I had been living alone for years. My son grown enough to know what he wanted at 18 had moved to Santa Barbara several years before. And finally, I had packed up all my books and left the noise of the city for a small town on the edge of the ocean. I needed a change I guess. I needed something emotional maybe. I needed, at the bottom of it to be in something that mattered. Anyway, those turned out to be the wrong kind of reasons. I bought a car. I began to remember how a car actually owns you. Maintenance, repair, insurance, gas, parking fees . . . I hated it. I let my wife drive it while I still rode my bike to work 20 miles each way. But we had to have a house to live in. I'd always rented, like the main character in the John Barth's The Floating Opera, preferring to pay as I went rather counting on a future.

But rent for a two bedroom house is three times the cost of a studio. Furniture, hell, I'd done with just a bed, table and chairs, board and brick book shelves for years. Now we needed a couch, refrigerator, washer, dryer, things and more things, a second car. Then she didn't like her job primarily because she had to work during the summer while I still, now with the use of credit, hit the beach. By the time we split, I was $10,000 in debt and totally stressed. At least she took one car and most of the furniture, and of course my favorite albums.

I began a single life again with an extra room to rent and a futon to sleep on. Luckily, I had always ridden my bike so I found myself slowly finding my old level of comfort but with one significant change. I had gotten used to using credit to pay for things. While I wasn't paying attention, I had moved into a social world that necessitated clothes of a certain style. No more sandals and bare feet. I found that if I wanted I could maintain this life style and take my summers off too. Just use credit cards and pay the minimum. What was worse was in a couple of years I married for the third time. And all my expenses more than doubled.

Twenty Dollar Bill

John heard her voice before he saw her but the picture that flashed into his mind wasn't of her but of what had happened last night. The fire had burned down and the coffee was heating. The large ground level billboard they sat behind screened them from the passing traffic though the sound of it washed around them with an ocean like roar.

"I'm thinking it's time I headed out." May said.

"What you mean, back to Texas?" John mumbled before he could stop himself.

"No, I heard there was work in San Diego. Friend of mine left me a message at the church to come on down. Said the job could be permanent and I could be doing code."

"But, . . ." he had started to say and then stopped because he knew how she loved to work code, solving problems and setting up programs was what made her happy. "So when?" is what he asked instead.

"Probably this Friday. That'll give me time to finish up here and still have time to fine a place down there to stay."

Shit, he thought, as he looked down the library hallway, of all people this was the one he wanted to avoid. His feet however kept him moving toward her voice and now he could see her smile as she looked up from the comfortable leather reading chair she liked and waved hello.

Monday, September 10, 2007

This week I plan . . .

to go with the flow. I liked what I was doing and thinking about last week so much that I am going to keep looking at it this week too. But first I need to explain why I am taking this approach to Personal Finance blogging. I am never very comfortable telling people what to think or what to do. I can give advice but I'd much rather listen and then feed back questions that can help see the topic more clearly.

I don't can food, nor go out of the way to put together recipes, though I am an excellent cook. I prefer to keep things simple. Steamed veggies, I fill the pot and then eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner until they're gone. The same with pasta or with a beef stew in a crock pot. But here's the thing. I could pretend that you've never heard of this stuff and write about like Oh here's a great idea. But it would be a pretense. In life and in my cooking, I season to taste, my taste. I laugh when people ask me how I cooked such a great meal because for me everything is based in experience. First hand.

I read a lot of fiction, and, since T. and I started investing, I am discovering that non fiction writers have become much more literary in their style. Possibly because first person writing has, since the 1990's, been what has been taught in the public school English classes. Or maybe it's because memoir writing has become so popular. But I have found over the years that the more often I recommend a book the less often it gets read. I think its because most people don't like to be told what they should like. Either way, I prefer to tell people about what I'm reading if I am asked or if I feel the need to understand it better myself by writing about it here. Then people can take it or leave it be.

As far as personal finance goes, I know what happened to me as I grew older. There was a time when money was scarce and we ate a lot of potatoes. That was when my family was a wife, a new son, then a new daughter and I was really stretching myself thin between trying to support us and finish college. Then we added a third son. I walked to work, we used the bus if we needed to travel around town, and lived with the entertainment of the radio. Luckily, for us, radio was really good in those days, with jazz hours and radio plays and sports announcers who could let you see the game through their words. And then we had FM before it went commercial. Just about the time I finished my schooling we got a car but I had learned a powerful lesson. You can do what you have to do especially if you are willing to finance it with your own sweat equity. Though I would have laughed in those days if anyone would have suggested such a term for what I was doing working three jobs and going to grad school too.

But though I learned that banks don't help poor people, credit lending companies do, I didn't learn the big lesson about finance all at once. I learned that something in my upbringing taught me to better myself, though I can't really pin down what the something was. After ten years of marriage, we decided that we had different plans, my wife and I, and we went our separate but equal ways. That's when I began to discover what kind of a parent I was, as one son, the oldest, stayed with me and the other two came to visit on the weekends and during the summers.

I grew up mentally in the 70's. I learned that I liked letting people make their own decisions as a teacher and as a parent. I learned that living with the consquences was the best way for independence to develop for all concerned.

Meanwhile, I began living a life from day to day. I worked ten months of the year so I could spend my summers on the beach. I fell back on the old days of no car, no tv, no phone. I rode a 10 speed bike or walked or hitched. I used Grey Hound. But I didn't save for the future beyond each year. I spent it all. Alimony, child support, rent, food and 20% of each monthly check into a savings account for the summer months. Carpe Diem!

Of course, that all ended when I decided to remarry.
To be continued . . .

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Man with the $20 Bill, pt. 2

But now that he'd thought about May, he couldn't get her out of his mind. He knew where he'd find her that's for sure. Down at the Mission, waiting in line for lunch that's where.

When he got to the corner, he deliberated for minute and then began the short trip up to the library. He always went there when he needed to think. Besides, it was as far away from the Mission and May as he could get.

Ms. Turner smiled when she saw the lanky older man pushing the door open and walking towards her counter. He always acts as though he's just here for the books but somehow he always found the comfortable reading chair section first. I wonder if he knows his friend May is already here, she wondered.

Wrap of the Week

A history of money, the topic of middle class salaries, and money and politics have been our talking points this week.

Lets just say we might have gotten sidetracked in our study of money. Somehow, we ended up looking at paper money's beginnings in China. And that left us without too much to say about money and what has happened to it historically. One thing is clear, money is only as valuable as its rate of exchange. Apparently, the first money was metal, presumably iron or copper, both of which were valuable to the warriors of the times. That would be in Greece. Money has changed form over time from metal to paper backed by metal (gold) to paper backed by its printing government's GNP to today's most popular material - plastic. (Oh he was right Benjamin.) It's a VISA world now with the national American debt at Nine Trillion and growing according to the latest govt. statistics. Meanwhile, the middle class may be in the process of being phased out. Recession is rearing its gorgon head, while the Pres and the Fed seem set to lower the interest rate in hopes on stemming the tide. Unfortunately, that wave has already formed and is on the move.

Meanwhile, labor department statics show a consistent decline in employment figures. Out of a job, foreclosed, and being taxed to support a war on just about everything, terror, healthcare, drugs, immigration and their children's obesity, middle class america seems destined to stay in denial while the candidates roam the land with more and more promises and accusations. For years, the middle class has supported their keeping up with the Jones lifestyle by cashing in their equity. Now their equity is dried up like a subprime lender in California. Moreover, the politicians appear to believe that the best solution to everything is to keep on blaming the other side and to keep on politicizing every issue.

"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money." A Cree proverb that is seeming to be more and more prophetic.

One of my searches into money, brought me to the archives of the Context Institute. In an article first published in 1990 by Alan Atkisson, I found this answer to the question What is Money?

In his search for an answer he first sites

Former astrophysicist Robert Gilman - who for the past dozen years has been pointing his telescope at environmental and cultural systems instead of star systems - noted that money is "a convenient way to lose a lot of information." When you buy a new shirt, you have no way of seeing the cotton fields, oil wells, plastics factories, and impoverished Asian laborers who contributed to its production, because the money effectively hides all that."

This reminds me of the travails of several celebrities who have discovered to their dismay that their famous name was being used to sell sweat shop products. Anyway Atkisson went on to quote another source for a definition.

"Money is just life-energy," says Joe Dominguez, a former Wall Street analyst who writes and teaches about personal economics.. We each have only so much lifetime, and we seem to spend about a third of it converting it into money, usually through jobs. We spend another third of our lives spending the money, and another third tossing and turning in our sleep because we're worried about money."

I began to see that Joe's definition could have a revolutionary impact on one's attitude toward money and work - but I wanted something still deeper. When pressed, Joe told me a story about a remote Mexican village where, periodically, there was no money - not a single peso in the whole town. Under those conditions, Joe reported, people still invent money: "I'll give you three hours of my time for a couple of those fish," they might say.

I was puzzled. Why didn't they just give the fish, and their time, to each other? That's when it hit me: the dangerous truth about money. It's the opposite of a gift. A gift is an expression of love and trust and community. Money, therefore, is an expression of our distrust and fear, and our basic separation from each other. It's not a "measure of value." It's a measure of our lack of love.
They say that money is the root of all evil. But maybe that's backwards: maybe evil is the root of all money.

Atkisson's article was preceded by another even more interesting but I'll let you read it on your own.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Five Reasons You Should Give Adbusters a Chance

One, sometimes you just need to give your mind a jolt of the opposite point of view so it can really start thinking again.

Two, when you read this magazine online it works just like a blog in that you can post comments and involve yourself in the sometimes very heated discussion.

Three, whatever your politics, the facts that come your way through the mainstream are not always all of the story.

Four, just the fact that articles like this one may really be the start of a grass roots protest that could change our world for the better.

Five, it is subscriber supported and based in Canada.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


If ever a magazine is going to surprise you, this is the one. Cover art meant to jar your sensibility, articles like blog posts designed to make you react, and the best thing of all, no ads except the magazine itself. Take a look, I'll get back to you later.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Blogging and the Arts

So it's Wednesday, and as I promised I'm going to take a look at art on the blogosphere. I decided to do this last week after coming across an amazing site called If you are a visual arts person and need to see what is happening in the field of visual representations this is a great starting place. The site is dedicated to what I consider the true nature of art, the view from outside the box. The title of the site does not refer to the subject matter of the art therein contained but to the freedom of expression of the artists being represented. From a frugal point of view, the only expense of going to this museum of art/artists is in finding yourself so entranced as to lose sight of the rest of your day.

So with this site reminding me of what an enormous canvas the blogosphere is, I started educating myself as to what is out there by, of course, searching the Google. First stop, just because I am always in the market, was Barney Davey's Art Print Issues blog. A quick scan down his lead article Prosperity or Posterity, Can Today's Artist Have Them Both? led me to EE, apparently the prime training ground for today's fledgling internet art crowd and home of a free online art resource for all art lovers and artists. I am so happy to be travelling this route. It confirms for me the very real possibility that you get what you give in the blog world. And this site is about offering training, discussions, links, and above all, support to each and every visitor. Take a look at this post if you don't believe me.

From this blog it was not difficult to reach one of the more complete of the online art stores, I could wander around in there all day but I wont. Mainly because the U.S. Open tennis just came back on and I love to watch it too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Money, Salaries, and Politics

When I was a teen, between my junior year and senoritis, I got a job working for a carpet cleaner that paid $1 an hour. For six straight weeks I worked 40 hours a week and collected a paycheck every Friday. That first Friday was heaven and then hell. I decided to take my girl friend out for dinner. Borrowed Dad's car, filled the tank for $4, and picked her up for dinner and then what the heck a movie after. But first, cause this was a special occasion, I decided I might as well spring for flowers, $2 bought a dozen roses. Add candy, $1. Now I was set. When we got to the restaurant, I let her pick out the dinner. Pizza, $5, cokes, $1, salad, $1, pasta, $4, and finally the tip, $1. A second pizza, I was a hungry lad, and suddenly I was looking at my last $10 bill. Yes, you're right, I had already brought up the movie and had thought about going to the Car Hop, our local late night hangout, after. But not on $10. You may know how embarrassing it is for a kid admit to his limited means but until you've done it with a girl you are really trying to impress you don't know what hell is. Do you suppose this explains how some guy came up with the idea for credit cards?

Barbara Ehrenreich has a lot to say about the financial condition of America's middle class in her book, Bait and Switch, that's why her name on this article at AlterNet got my eye.

It seems that everywhere you look these days you'll find apologists, pundits, and just plain folk trying analyze and deconstruct this financial mess our economy is in. The blame game is big. But so are the new solutions that are being proposed as democracies are starting to try and take back control of the capitalist economies that they should be working with and not for. This article by Robert Reich from Foreign Policy magazine got me to thinking.

The Man with the $20 Bill

John Halsted didn't need to glance down as he walked. It was already a life time habit to keep his eyes on the road. Not that he was hangdog in his attitude toward the world but watchful. So as soon as he saw it, he simply completed his next step with his foot on top of what he thought at first was a dollar but quickly learned was a twenty.

He also didn't need to put a cap on the expected spurt of happiness he felt as he continued his walking while casually looking to see if anyone was suddenly hurrying towards him to claim their loss. Happiness just sort of died out in John on its own. Like the time he had met May down at the pier and then they'd gotten into a fight over where to sit. He'd learned not to expect much in the overjoyed department.

Still, it was a twenty dollar bill and it was all his. Now to plan the day.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Politics . . .and the money

One of the things that has really come to the fore this year as the politicians clamor for our vote is the war of words that is constantly being waged. I thought of this this morning as I was reading the following article from Alternet. George Monbiot is a British author who's credentials are in the economics of politics. In this article about the economic theory that underpins the free market philosophy currently being used in most economies in the world he is discussing the cumulative effect of the neoliberalists on the flow of the world's wealth. Neoliberlism that's what has supposedly set us free. Only the us in that sentence isn't you or I Pogo so much as it is them - the ultra rich, the ones who own everything, control everything and still want more. And now here we are caught up in the political wars while the candidates raise obscene amounts of money so they can product place themselves in our voting minds and continue the reign of the oligarchs who own this philosophy.

Middle Class pay

I'm middle class and proud of it. Actually, I was raised as a service brat who grew up working on a farm during the summers. I don't recall ever thinking about what economic class I was in, my family was in. We just lived. On the farm, there was always food and clothing. I didn't see the work it took to maintain it all and survive the seasons. Still, it just was. The same thing was true at home during the school year. We always had more than enough, lived in a new home, and had the wherewithal to let me work part time if I wanted to not because I had to. I grew up expecting to go to college. And it was there that I began to learn about the very real disparities in our society. The thing is that I still thought of the information as being about someone else.

Now of course, I can see it because the distance between the classes has grown so much.

The History of Money

My own history of money starts back when I was six and one of my older friends started a shoeshine service for the military housing complex we lived in. For 10 cents, we would pick-up the shoes, take them to a central location, his backyard, and clean and spit-shine the lot. After which, he would deliver them and collect the money. Each of us workers made 4 cents a pair. So early on I learned to earn my money and work independently.

Apparently, the first use of paper money was in China. During the Chinese Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) not only did the government produce the world's first known paper-printed money, or banknote (see Jiaozi and Huizi), but paper money bestowed as gifts to deserving government officials were wrapped in special paper envelopes. I guess we have a lot to thank the Chinese for beside spaghetti.

Another interesting aspect of money is how it grew from being something of value, like gold, silver, diamonds, to represent something of value. This aspect of money and, of course the banks that hoard it, is explained more than well in this essay by John Maudlin called the Leverage of Money. I came upon him when I was researching the preachings of our current money gurus Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump. Keep your money moving, working, earning and we will all be all right they say. Do you suppose that's what President Bush is thinking as he tries to resolve the sub-prime lending disaster?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

More or less Paper

As I look around my office, the calendar on the wall catches my eye, it is just above a monthly list of things to do and beside a world map. Stikkies, post cards, even a promissory note from T's sister are all pinned to the wall in front of my eyes. And that's just one wall. Behind me along the far wall are two book shelves that groan with the weight of favorite titles or needed reference works. The floor carries its share too. Three boxes: work to be filed, work to be entered into the computer, or work to be kept out for quick reference purposes sit along one side of a four drawer file cabinet that hold most of my past story ideas/journals or reference news articles. The closet stores its treasures too - Six boxes of past year's tax docs on the floor, and two boxes of business records on the shelf. And yet here I sit musing about the possibility of going paperless.

Maybe I need to define the term. By paperless I don't mean to go totally without paper just use less paper. Online dictionary, Wikipedia provides an excellent reference for understanding the immensity of the problem in this discussion of the pros and cons of recycling. Meanwhile, our changing world and culture may provide unexpected answers like the story in today's L A Times about the new line of clothing that Crocs Inc., you know the ugly plastic shoe people that inspired one of Bill Maher's New Rules last week, is bringing out. In both men and women's style, a form of the same resin material it uses for the shoes will be used to move them from a niche shoemaker to a (I love this line) "lifestyle brand". Who knows maybe this material will become the new paper.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lets have some fun . . .

Today I had the big idea. Here it is. I need to plan each writing week. Put together an outline. For example, on Monday, I list the topics I'm going to be looking into during the week. Along with that I include a list of favorite posts from the past. Tuesday, I start the story for the week, introduce the character, set up the plot, foreshadow a bit. I, also, include updates on the weeks topics and the research results. Wednesday, I start with the continuing research results. Part two of the weekly story. Posts from blogs/sites I've visited for entertainment are next. Thursday and Friday, I review a book/magazine/blog. Saturday, the story concludes. Sunday, the week's research concludes.

Here are some examples: Monday: Topic one - A history of money. Topic two - Middle class America's salaries. Topic three - Politics and money. Tuesday: The Man with $20 Bill. Wednesday: blogging and the arts. Thursday and Friday: Lets take a look at Adbusters.

As I said, lets have us some fun next week.


They say that you need to be aware of tags and keywords in this blogosphere because if you use them incorrectly or without thinking of their meanings then no one will find your blog and then no one will read you. Well, I am sorry but I'm going to communicate the way I want to here and not the way some set of prescribed soi disant bloggers say I should.

Meanwhile, I am thinking that this is a good time to talk about how easy it is to let your current state of mind affect what you are trying to accomplish. I don't know about you but my moods and energy levels vary. Some days I know clearly what it is I have to say and exactly what I want to accomplish by it. But other days it is as though the climate changes outside have swept directly into my system and tornadoed me out. I flit from idea to idea, I want to say things slowly and coolly but instead they come out in a torrent.

How do I deal with this? Time wounds all heals. Exercise is best. Read a great book, even if it's one I've already read, sometimes especially if it is.
My favorite repeat books are by John D. McDonald. The Travis McGee series has been in my life since I was a teen. I'd ride my bike over to Carlsbad State Beach and after body whomping for a while, I'd pedal down to the paperback book store on Elm St. and pick out one to read. I loved the fact that he lived on the beach in a houseboat and that he worked when he needed money instead of because he needed money. Even then I knew that making do with less was always going to be my way of doing things. So now when I get particularly stressed I either read one of his books or pedal down to the beach and whomp a few.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Do you ever feel as though . . .

things are just never going to work the way they are supposed to? I have been trying for months to set up my blogs so that people could subscribe to an email version published by feedburner. And I know I'm not the most technically adept of computerists but this is ridiculous. No sooner do I discover that wordpress will actually do what I want it to do when wham the dashboard on my wordpress blog reverts to some older form and I can't use the things I had completed earlier as models for the blog I want to format. Its really easy to fall into that it's all just a waste of my time anyway feeling. If I can figure it out and then it all becomes worth it. Because then I'll have learned something that will put me one step closer to what I want to accomplish. But sometimes, don't you just get that feeling?


Yesterday, while reading GRS I came upon this post which fits in with my current ruminations about letting go of the newspapers in our lives. I know it is a hard idea to get your mind around, especially when the banks are all clamoring for us to go "paperless" and the utilities, credit card companies, and anyone else who can have already started using an electronic debting system even though we wrote them a check. It is really difficult to trust these changes. For one, who trusts the companies who are fostering them? And who trusts completely the electronic storage systems that we all have seen break down or delete info or simply mis-file it?

I like the fact that several comments about this recommend a paper backup system of essential docs. That means that we can reduce the paper in our cluttered lives without losing complete control of our own information. And it seems to me that those individuals who recommend this system are more likely to listen the idea of giving up the actual newspaper for its online version. In fact they are probably already doing it.

The great unwashed is the target here. We may all be computer connected one way or another but there are no doubt millions of people who aren't and may never be. So how do I address this problem and build trust into the possiblity that we could live in a future that has learned how to use its resources responsibly?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More news

The Arguement, Eli Pariser, Paul Wellstone, and assembled thoughts. Things really can't help but come together when the connections are just a click away. Today after reading another chapter, this one on the development of, I found myself Googling Paul Wellstone just to see what the news would bring. Of course, earlier today I posted more about the idea that it may be time to give up our newspapers. But then I went down to the B&N to buy my Sunday times. So I don't know, it's easy to see the forest but man I would really miss the trees.

The News

First some research: You know the Google kind, pages of hits on the subject, newspapers, and some interesting options to the process of reading a newspaper. For one thing if you are really interested in finding out what the world newspapers think about a specific topic then starting online is a much better way to go. Besides, the economics of the situation may take the decision out of our hands. We may not be able to support our habit. Though I have to use that word habit advisedly. My wife never read the newspaper until we met. Our son, a 22 year old, only uses computers to find out what is going on. So maybe the habit will be a generational thing and just as fewer people read books so will fewer read papers. Of course, this doesn't rule out the possibility that the political arena will always need analysis from the underground.

Still, the idea I am trying to espouse is the necessity that we face as we try to harness our remaining resources and learn to live within our means not just as an individuals but as world wide society. Maybe that's what this Blog Day will presage?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

This blog day thing

I've been thinking about this Blog Day for the environment and I am leaning towards writing a post about why and how we should give up our need for paper. For example, I read the LA Times most days but really from day to day the news isn't that new, and some days I just scan the sections before I move to the comic section which I always read. But we have here in Encinitas, five newspapers plus several weeklies that really are just vehicles for ads. I want to think about this more and I do know what a momentous thing this would be so I am going to look at transitional ways to ease into this.

I guess I really started thinking about this when I was reviewing "Deep Economy" and wondering about what happens to the recycled plastic bags and how do we form a habit of bringing a recyclable bag or two with us when we go shopping. I have a theory about habits and learning. Instead of trying to break old habits, I usually try to establish new ones and let the old ones fall by the wayside with disuse.

Anyway, I have to do some research on this idea. And at the same time, I'm wondering about the advisability of this whole idea in the light of how the politicians play.

Friday, August 24, 2007

This cookie didn't go to market

Terri was telling a funny story last night. She said that all this past week a regular customer at our market has been coming in and moaning and groaning about what he should do with the money he had deposited in CountryWide Bank. He really liked his interest rate but with the news papers reporting that there was a possibility that CW bank might face a run of depositor withdrawals, he was beginning to feel he'd better get in line. One day he was going right to the bank, the next he thought he'd give them one more day. Finally the pressure was just too much. He went to the bank branch and withdrew it all. Even paid a penulty for closing a CD. Then he drove downtown and deposited it in a real bank, he said, Bank Of America.

Serendipity . . .

I don't know if this counts as a serendipitous event but yesterday I came across the invitation to join bloggers around the world in a Blog Action Day, Oct. 15, 2007 to discuss the environment. The fact that this ties into my recent musings about the political possibilities of blogging and personal finance principles in particular could be just coincidence but I like to think not. I wonder what this event will be like. I've listened to Bill Maher's rants and read Micheal Chrichton's State of Fear. I've even gone back to some older SF to read John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up. It stands to reason that the environment is threatened by the continuous use and misuse to which we put it. More people, more buildings, more plastic bags/bottles. It is really funny how we use to laugh at "plastic" as the definition of something not real and now it's really clogging the arteries of our oceans, and lining the half lives of our dumps. Anyway, on that day at least we will be able to see what the blog community is all about - real or plastic?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Feedburning, pt. ?

Well, I decided to go back to the forum at feedburner and see if they have come up with a solution to the comment count problem. And the answer folks, a resounding no. I even emailed Trent at thesimpledollar to see if he could advise me, his answer after a couple of suggestions that didn't work was to go back to feedburner and keep bugging them. Shit! This is really frustrating. The forum people act like they don't even understand why this is a problem but for me if I can't engender a discussion on this blog then why publish it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Like clockwork . . .

they park their US Postal vans side by side, one pointed into the space, the other in the escape position pointed out. Ten minutes tops and they're out and walking, arms swinging, usually in shorts but as regular as clockwork except on Sundays and holidays. These two lady postmen. At first, I though it was just an occasion to talk. They were both in the same area and got finished the same time of day. But then I realized that every once in while a third person would join them so I knew that this was regular and organized. The way I see it they started out as letter carriers walking a route. Then as they got more experienced, they won or earned or just got promoted to the truck routes of businesses and apartment complexes and housing developments. But, and this is the part I like, they missed the exercise and the fresh air, plus who wants to get a big butt from sitting down all the time? So they got together or just happened to meet, and decided to keep up the legwork. Like clockwork, 45 minutes everyday, nothing's stopping these lady postmen from their decided rounds.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A while ago, I wrote my . . .

Five rules for learning to be more independent.

1) Start with something simple like learning how to make your own bed and wash your own clothes. It seems simple but from the evidence available this must be one of the hardest tasks known to humankind. The more you rely on someone else, Mom or maid or life partner to do this simple task the less independence you have. And for me that is the secret of taking control of your finances and your life: to have a sense of independence or rather self-dependence towards whatever faces you.

2) Read, even if its just your daily dose of blogs. My life has been tied to books since I was three and hiding under a blanket with flashlight so I could finish reading a Classic Comic version of the Count of Monte Christo. Being able to make sense out of written material has been my savior many, many times, counting the GRE. Two years after I started teaching I decided to go back and get my masters. In order to score well on the GRE I needed to know my math as well as I already knew my language skills. So down to the library I went where I spent the next four weeks checking out and studying (reading) beginning math, algebra, geometry and calculus texts. I crammed into four weeks a lifetime of ignoring math while I covertly read any literature I could get my hands on. Still, I had confidence that I could read and make sense of what I read. And I did, which was proven by my 1350 total score.

3) Ride alternative forms of transportation to get to and from work. I was thinking about this yesterday as I rode my bike back from Borders books where I had been studying a new book by Matt Bai. I have been riding a bicycle for 40 years. I bought my first one as an adult when I sold my car and moved to within a mile of my new job. The thing I learned almost immediately, and have enjoyed ever since, is that a bike can take you off of the beaten path. It happens both physically, as you choose alternate routes, and mentally, as the routine of riding frees up your left brain for cogitation and rumination while your right brain takes over the guidance system. It great for working out problems and for coming up with new ideas. And as a philosophy it ain't half bad either.

4) Pay all your bills first. This too is tied to independence. Even if it's is just a pittance of what you owe, pay a little on each, use the snowball approach, starve yourself, live without, but pay off what you owe and you guessed it, you are free. Of course, Bobby McGee may have said it all when he pointed out the true freedom is when you have nothing left to lose. But I'd rather be able to say I owe no one.

5) Work no work, no work work. When I first started teaching, I came across this concept in a unit I was putting together about world religions. It struck me then and stays with me now. When work is work that you enjoy, then it really isn't work.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Politics . . .

Yesterday, admidst the various blogs I travelled I came upon a discussion of some merit that had to do with how one goes about judging a candidate's merits especially in regard to their stance on lowering taxes and I really enjoyed the intelligent tone of the discussion. But more than that, I found myself thinking about the real situation that our country has gotten into and how looking at the problems and needs through a personal finance perspective might just be what we need. Frugality first. Not by cutting taxes to please a rich and powerful minority but by actually starting out with the idea that we need to care for our money and our lives and our planet in equal amounts.

Seeming isn't being . . .

I tell myself that things are going well and that I am right where I want to be. But then it comes to me that things that seem alright may only be that way because I am really not taking the time to think about them in relation to what I had planned. It is very easy to slip into the state of mind that says a task is completed especially if I haven't written down the actual goal I set myself. It is at this very point that seeming isn't being.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Your money or your life?

This morning while noodling around two of my favorite blogs, I had cause to think about how important it is too really pay attention to the things you enjoy in life. Simple things, like the feel of spring time sun on your back as you step outside of your classroom or the rush of catching a wave just right and sliding through the water before you kick it out and start again or the wonderful feel of signing that check that pays off your last credit card debt. And complicated things, like working out a way to teach a seminar on personal finance to kids or figuring out how to control your urge to treat yourself by giving in to your wants instead of working on satisfying your needs.

The simple things are easy to enjoy but the complicated things quite often make us feel stressed and unhappy. Robert Kiyosaki points this out quite well in his RichDad series when he talks about how schools teach us. We learn to fear failure and thus set ourselves up for a life time of it. One thing my own education taught me was that it never hurts to ask for help is a difficult concept to keep in the forefront of your thinking as a problem develops. All they can say is no is usually the concomitant back up. But the truth is that it does hurt and sometimes they can say a lot more than just no. The key for me was in learning the concept behind these homilies. What others think about your ideas and plans doesn't have to matter especially if you are happy in working on the problem until it is resolved. And that brings me back to my original thought, letting life's complications be enjoyable can really be just as simple as waiting for that ninth wave even if it never comes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sabra wins but do we?

So You Think You Can Dance ended Thursday with the big surprise being that neither Lacey nor Danny nor outside chance Neal won. Sabra did. All of them deserved to win somehow but that ain't the way competitions work, right? One person wins and everyone else is second. But the real winner was we viewers, anyway, so why quibble about the one that ended up with the $250,000?

I quibble because I can. Terri and I were talking on the way to work today about her difficulty in staffing the market she manages. She can't find help. The high schooler's all want to take vacations even after they sign on and the college age kids aren't even applying. She points out that if you look around you'll see that all the businesses seem to be hiring - counter help, barristas, clerks, cashiers - the signs are everywhere and have been all summer. Meanwhile, the LA Times reports that the state of California lost over 8,600 jobs in the month of July.

My response to T. was that in a culture that popularizes reality tv shows where you can pursue your dream and win millions just for opening the right suitcase, where the lottery and sports betting and Indian gambling casino signs flash from every freeway what we are seeing is what we should expect. VISA is a way of life right? Don't slow down the purchase line with cash. Don't slow down at all. Run those red lights, yellow lights, push yourself forward and grab for all your worth. Who knows, you might come up with a new show idea.

Meanwhile, the fed is being forced to lower the interest rate to save CountryWide or the government from having to bail out CountryWide and we get to sit on the edge of our seats and see how it all plays out. Hmmm, maybe we will all get to apply those frugality lessons our great grandparents used during their great depression after all, instead of the whoopee isn't this fun of doing it by choice way we seem to be adopting here in Personal Finance land?

I've been down

and now I'm back up. It was a weird summer. I went in to it with the big plans about tracking our work at the fair and tracking my self with Volumetrics but guess what that didn't happen. Too much work, not enough day. Oh I thought about things a lot. Made mental notes, started posts in my mind, even collected some news articles that made me think about personal finance but the end result was still the same, I couldn't find a place or a time to post on a daily basis and so the result was just a big blank space here. However, I did start one thing that may pan out.

The first time I actually met Jim was the year I came up to help my girl friend, Terri, with her stand and ended up starting my career as a vendor slash carney. At that time, Jim was working for the Icee guy setting up his stands as they moved around the California fair circuit. The big ones at Del Mar and Sacramento and Pomona and the mid-size ones like the Orange County fair where this whole story started for me.

Now I didn't know how he moved over to the vendor side but right from the start Jim struck me as a carney. Maybe it was the fact he seemed to sleep in the same clothes he worked in, or that he never spent a dollar when he could get you to spend yours, or that his hands reminded me of my farming days and the locals who always had a finger missing from hands that looked like they could chop wood without the need of an axe. Or maybe it was the fact that he moved with a slight limp which I was later to find out was caused by the Giant Horse's sidekick pony but that's a story for another time.

The thing was I didn't know that there was a distinction between the carneys and the vendors until Jim and I were talking one day and I said that I felt I really could get into this carney life. "Well," he replied, "That'd work out real well if you was a carney but I can tell you right now that it ain't no life for you." I came to learn he was right. There's two things you should know, you cut a carney and his or her blood will sort of seep out dark and dangerous and while you're watching that happen a silent alarm will gone out and you'll be having to fight the whole carnival just to get out of there. Cut a vendor and they'll just bleed.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Car niv or us ...

Jim told me once how he got started in this business. One summer, he said, just before he was to enter the 10th grade, the carnival came to town. He and several friend proceeded to get jobs helping set up the tents and whatever else needed doing. He found the rhythm of the life, late night repairs under the stars, sleeping in and then eating at the carney table, working with the old machinery, feeding the live stock, or sitting in as a gofer for the guy who ran the basketball toss to be addicting.

Two years later when a different carnival rolled into town, he rolled out with it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Changes . . .

I see him every morning as I drive my truck around the fairgrounds to our stand. In the mornings cool, he carries his wash bucket and towels from one Footsie Wootsie to another. His daily rock is to set themup bright and shiney for the new fair day. He looks up and grins as I motor past. His shoulders are slumped, his hair grey with years but his cheerful recognition is hard to ignore. Basil Rathbone face, like a street character in a Dicken's novel, Jim is his name.

Only, I see him in my mind's eye because this year as the fair opened we got the news that he'd passed away.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursday, the 19th

Every day is an adventure so they say. Today, we started off with our setup crew missing so instead of breakfast we got sweat and groans. No that's not right. What we really got was the pleasure of doing it right, no esplainin' just clean the display, put away the fruit, get the counters set with cash registers, and smile alot while we remembered the old days when we did it all. Start at 6 AM pulling the produce from the coolers, setting up the stand, making the first of the day fruit boats, then working the back counter to keep it full of bowls for display and manning the cash registers too. Finish up at night, cleaning up and counting the day's receipts, then jumping in the truck to go to the LA Produce Market and buy the next day's produce. Back at the cooler to drop the shipment and whoopee, it's 6 AM and time to start again.

Meanwhile, more Volumetrics. Both T and I are thinking about this now. She is even testing her Jenny Craig food against it.

And I'd like to write more but my shoulder is too sore from the muscle strain I got the day before yesterday.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday, the 18th

Well, here’s a new idea. Since I don’t feel the same about writing to this blog in a crowded bookstore, why don’t I write it in my notepad and then just copy it in later? I know you’d think I would have thought of it before but I didn’t, so there.

Meanwhile, let’s get back on topic. It takes a certain kind of spirit to work as a vendor/carney on the fair circuit. Independence slathered with flexibility. Obstinance and durability and the ability to smile through the pain. And like many of the personal and financial choices you make in life, choosing to work as your own boss in this manner can reward and punish you in equal measure. You beat up your body for six months and then you’re on vacation until the circuit begins next year. But when you are up close and watching the turtle like intensity with which these men and women slog through each day so that they can answer the question, "Didja' make any money?" with a sure and sly smile its hard to see past the pain of sore backs, swollen joints, and sleepless nights. I know for myself it takes at least a week to get in shape. My hands ache and my shoulders are as tense as the cat lady's tail. But not many quit. They stick around and even though their children now run the show the old ones are there in the background ready to help or join in on the complaining with stories of their own.

Volumetrics: About that cottage cheese, I haven't gotten to the part in the book where it's explained how something that is 45% fat grams can be a low energy food but I am taking thier word about it until I find out different. It is fun though to do the math on so called health foods and diet drinks and see where they are really at.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

May the milk of kindness . . .

Man oh man, what a month this last week has turned out to be. I figure I can count it that way because I have been working 20 hour days and logging sleepless nights ever since we moved up here last week. My body just flat out aches. And because I haven't been blogging, feedburner somehow has lost my feed or my email or something, my mind is chock full, as they say, of ideas and observations. It's strange though to be sitting in Borders doing this though. I miss my home office and the great sounds of while I'm composing. But . . .
so what?

Volumetrics is quite an interesting read especially if you are surrounded by fair food. One our friends, Chicken Charlie, has made a fortune the last couple of years by deep frying just about every thing in the food chain. His crispy cream hamburger was quite a hit last year. Ironically, he got his nickname because he bought a stand that sold broasted chicken which was supposed to be the alternative to deep fried southern chicken when it first came out. Still, because our stand, Terri's Berries, makes great all natural fruit smoothies, and serves up gloriously colorful fresh fruit bowls, I think I'll survive. Nerves and worries are the enemy right now. We devote about a third of our year to this business and we know it must stay successful in order for us to keep on keep'n' on. What I am discovering in Volumetrics is a way to think about food and a strategy for working on the weight loss I need to accomplish and maybe learn how to lighten the stress factor too. Fact of the day, the energy density of cottage cheese, one of my favorite foodsis 1.

Meanwhile, back to the fairgrounds, where I am spending a little time looking at the age of my contemporary stand owners. Man, they are getting old. And, the new generation, is not that young either. Too bad, because there is plenty of money and independance in this business if you are not leary of working for it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It's a new day

Today is the day we move up to OC. The stuff is packed, the bikes are in the truck and away we will go.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Problems in dreamland . . .

Yesterday, I found out that the email subscription is not working anymore. So I tried contacting feedburner about it but so far they have just acknowledge receiving my request for help. Meanwhile, I decided to try and find out what had gone wrong myself so I went to feedburner and checked my setup and discovered that for some reason the delivery system at godaddy had been rejecting my emails and thus had triggered an automatic deactivation of the account. So I reactivated it, but still today no new posting has occurred.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's going to be wild

This fair bodes to be a wild one. First, and foremost, we have an almost new staff. Of 22 employees only six have worked for us before. Second, the new fair management has seen fit to rearrange the layout. This means that the traffic pattern will change and, most importantly for us, it means that our competitors may have been placed in front of us. The only thing we still have going for us is that our product is unique. We sell fresh fruit and all natural smoothies to which we have added a whole line of chocolate dipped products. Oh well, at least the set up is done almost. And we are experienced at this. But on the other hand, as we've gotten older we have grown to like the idea of managing rather than working the fair.

Today, by the way, is the fourth day of my use of the fair as a way to diet and exercise. Volumetrics. Lets see how its gone. I started out with weighing myself. 201 at 5'11''. We have been working every day, lifting, sweating, and putting in 10 hour days. Unfortunately, the eating plan has been sketchy. Since we're busy setting up, someone usually just runs to a fast food place and then we scarf down whatever we've ordered and get back to work. Then there are the old friend's meals. Since we only see these people once a year, we usually spend our evenings with one group or another eating a big meal and drinking a lot of iced tea. So four days in and I'm at 200 lbs. But no worries mate, at least I'm thinking about it.

And on another tack, there have been some more interesting developments in the real estate purchase we are pursuing. As everyone knows the lending market is in the throes of resizing itself. What this means is that the loan offers keep coming but the guarantees are less valuable. Almost every thing the lender promised at the beginning of this process has been restated to the lenders advantage. The lock-in rate is really not locked because our finances have to be verified at least twice. It seems that we will need extra insurance even though we are putting 20% down and the rental property we are buying is for sale way under appraised market value. And now that the wheels of the deal are moving, we are fair bound and less willing to spend extra time renegotiating what we thought was a done deal. I keep saying we've done our part and now lets let escrow do theirs but T is a worrier so I have to let her. Oh well.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

We are off to do the fair.

I always look forward to this time of year. We pack our bags, computers, whatever books we are reading, and head up to OC for a month and a half of working, bike riding, beaching, and this year blogging about the way things work during fair season. First off, I have to think about how to say this. Every year when we start getting ready, say in April, I begin thinking about how I have to get in shape enough to be ready for the lifting, and carrying, and the long hours, and the other stuff I like to do while I am near a lot of good dance places. But somehow, this year thinking about this stuff didn't turn into doing anything about it. Maybe it was the weather, or the fact that our real estate business took up a lot of travel and thinking time, or maybe it was that I was spending so much time pecking away at my keyboard and reading through the blogosphere. Anyway, here I sit.

So in awhile, T. will be back from the bank. We pay all bills and make all the deposits and try to touch all our financial bases before we leave. I, meanwhile, have started reading Volumetrics and have decided that I am going to use it as a strategy for eating this summer.

And I have been doing some thinking also about the nature of this blog. I am interested in the world of personal finance but I am very hesitant to give other people advice. Hence, I find it real difficult to compose lists of things other people might do to live more frugally. I also am very non directive in my relationships with people. So as this summer progresses I hope to find a consistent voice through this blog that will let me explore my interest without boring the occasional reader.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Some days . . .

I've just been hopping around the blogosphere this morning trying to decide if anything is worth my time. Wrote a leapfrog response over at Helium, then dropped in own my emails to check out GRS and The Simple Dollar. Trent seems to be increasingly concerned about his children, while J.D. can't wait to head to Europe. Next, I came over here and looked at the Carnival listings, and decided that and the wealth building one had some interest for the future though I'm really not interested at the moment. And finally, I picked up my copy of David Liss's The Coffee Trader and started thinking about the review I'm getting ready to write.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Buying a Rental Property, pt.4

This story just gets better and better. One reason, maybe the main reason, that my partner and I haven't purchased a home is that the amount of interest that one pays over the life of a 30 year loan sticks in our combined craw. I am reminded of this as I look over the loan lock-in documents for our recent rental property purchase. For a loan of 103K at 6.875% we will be paying $143,131.82 in interest. Since it is a rental property and a tax deduction and the renter will be paying 100% of the mortgage, we can swallow this info fairly easy. But think about it if it is a home purchase. Yes, we get to write the interest off but we still have to pay the mortgage out of our pocket. And since home prices in our area, the beach in SoCal, are hovering at $550,000 to $780,000, the resulting interest we would pay for just the lower amount would be close to $700,000. Imagine the retirement fund we could have with $700,000 invested in an index fund over 30 years. Oh yeah, I should mention that our current rent for a large 2 bedroom, 2 bath, with office, and clubhouse and swimming pool is $1600 a month.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Buying a Rental Property, pt.3

Wow, if you have never done this, inspect a house you are planning to buy, then get ready for some definite eye opening. Here is modified copy of the email I sent to the seller and his realtor after our home inspection visit:

"Let me start off by saying that after talking it over, we have decided to proceed. But I have to say that both T and I are quite puzzled by the actual condition of the house. I, for one, was amazed by the fact that the only cleaning that had been done was superficial. Dust layered on the ceiling lights and on the cabinet shelves. Dirt crusted in the sliding door frame. It's as though the original plan was to rent it so why fix it up and then when it wasn't renting, let's sell it and just get out from under. But still, missing window screens, cabinet doors that don't fasten, a laundry room that looks to be decimated by mold, torn screens on the patio room, a fire place that doesn't work, windows that don't slide open and don't close completely, carpet stains and tears, broken tile and cracks that indicate leaking in the bathroom, blocked access from the outside to the sink and bathroom water works, no direct connect to the AC, a clearly visible ceiling stain in the hallway, and finally a roof that is so in need of reshingling that the current shingles crumple at the touch. We don't understand how you could think that this house would be saleable? Especially, since you, the seller, are a building contractor.

But this is what we understand the agreement to include: The seller will install new tile counters and tile the floor in the kitchen, repair the broken tile facing and rusted tiles in the shower stall, will re-screen the patio room, clean the back yard, and remove the cabinets, install open shelving, and repaint the laundry room, fix all sliding doors and windows so that they work easily.

Before the escrow can close, these are the concerns that have to be addressed: As pointed out in the Property Inspection Report, the roof has to be reshingled and the flashings need roof mastic, the large crack in the driveway/front walk needs to be repaired, the eaves and the caulking on the facia needs repair, the sprinkler heads need to be cleaned, access to the shower drain needs to be cleared, gas needs to be turned on so the heating and fire place can be checked, the AC needs to be checked by a HUAC contractor and have a direct disconnect installed, an air gap needs to be installed on kitchen sink, the kitchen cabinet latches and shelves need to be repaired, and the missing window screens need to be replaced.

In addition, once escrow has closed, we will arrange to recarpet the entire house, remove the popcorn accoustic from the ceiling, repair, repaint, or replace all interior mouldings, replace the windows with double hung windows, and possibly restructure the interior wall as a see through between the kitchen and the living room."

See what I mean? We had no thought when we first walked through the house that it was going to be a fixer-upper. It seemed livable and clean. All the windows and doors were already open and the walls had been repainted recently. Yes, the laundry room and back yard were in poor condition but the seller agreed to clean them up right away.

Still, if ever we needed to remember the rule that you must see a property personally before you buy it, this was the time

Monday, June 25, 2007

Some sense, cents, scents . . .

Is there really a future in ethanol or hybrid vehicles or lithium powered super bikes? A recent article in the LA Times about the transmogrification of motorcycles got me to thinking about this especially since every once in a while my partner T. gets it in her mind that that's just what she needs to go to work. Sometimes it's a Harley, sometimes a Vespa but either way when she's feeling frugal or adventurous she says she's ready to jump on a bike. And I don't doubt her. I just don't believe her. In my mind if you want to do something you do it. Not doing it means just that. Like when I drive on our California freeways and I see 50 cars with single drivers for every one car in the carpool lane. So while I applaud the creativity of these bike manufacturers for creating a lithium-battery proto-type, I still don't believe that it will have any effect on what people will choose for their transportation in the future.

What's the connection between the green revolution and the world's immigration problems? So we revolutionized the farming techniques and created a jobless, homeless hoard of wanderers who are like flotsam washing up against the shores of richer countries, and cities around the world. Australia, Paris, Jackson, Mississippi - we take away their livelihood, refuse them entry, decry their unwillingness to fit in, and there you have it, the unsolvable problem. Get those emergency funds ready folks. Here they come.

Ads in our restrooms. I wrote about this just the other day. Do you think we are ever going to reach a saturation point (tipping point?) where the advertising agencies finally realize that the real message in TIVO and fast forwarding is that people are really, really, really fed up with the bombardment. Or will that mean that the people in charge have finally come to their senses and decided to base the economy on less instead or more?

What's really up with China? Is China a democracy now? Has economics driven the country to change its politics. They use to be our enemy, The Yellow Peril, are they now US? I can't help but laugh as they become more like us with our gas hogging, over-producing ways. Because from what I understand the majority of the population in China isn't able to afford what the country is producing for the rest of the World's economy while their growing middle class and younger generation of bloggers are creating a tremendous pressure that someone is going to have to deal with. Wait I take that back, it doesn't make me laugh it makes me curious.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Two Dogs in what a place . . .

Back in 1975, I took a long look around at the things I was doing and what I really wanted to be doing and decided a break was what I needed. To think therefore to understand, I moved my small community, a son and a girl friend, to Santa Barbara's East Beach. And it was during this time I composed this piece:

Two Dogs

Brisk paced Passed my place.

I had to squint. The sun was in my face.

The dogs' heads held high

Scarcely slowed barely bowowed

As their tales swept by.

Two dogs out in the sun a daily run.

I began to scribble this to catch the sight just right.

They ran on were gone.

Quickly now black & tan and tan

Were they male&female I couldn't tell?

Whose? Where? Uh oh, there they go ...

Around 1985, I was living in the small beach town of Encinitas and riding my 10 speed to work everyday. It was a nice 20 mile commute each way and it gave me time to think and let go of all the tensions that came from teaching high school students. Times were still changing but the thing was still way up ahead somewhere and I was living frugally sans car, wife, and or other material accompaniments. That's when I wrote this:

Two dogs . . .

In the back of two trucks

Out in front of the laundromat

Put there for safety

And to see that no one fucks

With their owner's stuff,

Bark like crazy, loud at ear height,

Reminding me of Bar bouncers

Out for fun and A good fight.

Bristling and jostling, they shiver the sky

Until closer inspection reveals that

They are just barking goodbye.

Now it's 2007, a new, but getting old fast, millennium and I really would like to say that things are getting better but then when I think about it here's what my imagination has to say:

Two dogs . . .

Some Low level of rage runs through my thoughts

Like black&tan rottweilers barking and snapping and thirsting for blood.

I know I can’t let them loose. It won’t do me no good.

Still, they run, They rage, Seek solace on a page.

Act out, . . .No doubt, . . . I’ll end up in a cage.

But just once wouldn’t it be worth it

To let them all the way out.

Get blood up the snout.

I have to find a punching bag, a tackling dummy, a blocking machine;

A way to vent my spleen.

Just picture it: A meal on wheels made of corporate heads, millionaires’ homesteads, stars and starlets fresh from their magazine spreads.

The growl snarls up and through me

My chest vibrating . . . My voice gone vibrato,

My jaws unclench, saliva flows. God, just to be raving pack of two dogs Finally let go.

Insurance, assurance . . .

Today, I sat down to ruminate over our new whole and term life insurance policies. After much thought and some careful (we thought) research, we chose to buy $100K of whole life and $500K of convertible term. The whole life comes with a guaranteed annual premium and will be completely paid up in 22 years. We will have contributed at that point $49,261 and the benefit amount will be $105,479 guaranteed. This insurance is for my partner T. and assures her that when she dies she will be leaving an inheritance to her son. The term life is also for her son and in her mind guarantees that if anything happens to her before the 20 years is up, her son will receive that death benefit, too. Originally, the plan was for T. to convert the term insurance gradually over to whole life so that sometime before the 20 years ran out she would have $600K of whole life insurance to pass on.

They say you buy insurance for one of two reasons: you love someone or you owe someone. They also say love can make you blind. I love my partner so I worked with her to set this up. But all the way through the process I knew that there were other choices that would provide the same thing and still let us be in better control. Once the insurance company has our money, the only way we can access it is through borrowing against the current cash value. At 8%. Of course the money we contribute is guaranteed to, at the least, double while it is in their care. And that is worth something. But the same $300 a month place in a 4% savings account will reach $168K over the same time period and we could use it if the need arose without any penalty. And if we put it in a long term investment fund like the Vanguard 500, the return might be 10% which would mean its value would compound to $268K. But in order for us to choose either of those two options we would need to have the assurance that our continually growing net worth would be the legacy that she would pass on to her son. Because that's the real key to deciding about whether to buy insurance, isn't it? Do you trust yourself or some insurance company?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Buying a Rental Property, pt.2

So things are moving a pace, Watson. Our lender, a very friendly and hardworking guy, has added a new wrinkle to our tax write-off question. Just as we were about to enter escrow, he suggested to the agent that we would like to roll the approximate non-recurring closing costs into the loan. He figured them at @ $3000. So now a quick calculation at shows us that this will increase the amount of the interest we might pay over the life of the loan to $7200 at 7%. We are just ball parking here because the lender has told us already that he is looking to use a stated income basis for the loan because of our son's credit history. His FICO is 730 but for real estate, especially these days, since he has only about a year of payroll background, the FICO is not as important as it normally is. The question for us though is the value of the tax write-off this year. If we pay the closing costs, we get to claim them now. However, since this property will be a cash flowing entity, the $20 a month interest will decrease our income from the property and so affect out tax basis that way too. Now, I have to think about this property from its other purposes (retirement income, early mortgage reduction value, property appreciation, etc.) point of view.

Today, we meet with the lender. It will be interesting to hear his perspective. I'll get back to you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Buying a rental property

Well, first things first. Just as things settled down with our rentals (the one that was unrented got rented and renovated right away) we discovered that a our contractor had a nice two bedroom, one bath that he wanted to sell in the worst way. Apparently the rental market had soured him on the whole landlord deal. At the same time, our son's new income is driving him to find some way to create some tax write-offs. So we decided to do the deal with him for our son's benefit.

It's weird though to approach the purchase of a property from this perspective. We want to make the best deal but it's possible that the best deal might not provide the best tax write-off. Since what can be written off is operating expenses,the interest on the loan, the points, the depreciation on the house over the life of the loan (not the property), any repairs and additions to the house, the property management fees, insurance costs, non-recurring closing costs, and the property taxes, we find ourselves doing a rather delicate balancing act.

Normally, we would be looking for the best interest rate in the most stable loan, say 6.75% plus one point for 30 years but our son's age and relatively thin employment history will probably push us into 7.5 or higher territory. Which in this case, on this deal, is good. It means there will be more interest to write off. Also, if a house is in fair shape when we buy it we would usually make the minimum touchup repairs in order to get it quickly back on the market. But in this case, we are actually going to do some major overhauling because it will improve the long term value of the property and write off, write off, write off is our game plan. The same is true of personal property items like a washer and dryer or refrigerator. In the past we might have supplied these, this time we definitely will. Of course, I should explain that it really helps that our son's new job has provided him with plenty of cash to fund the improvements.

Meanwhile, the other aspects of buying a rental seem to be taking a back seat to our driving purpose. Several times my partner, T, has asked me what I think about the deal but when I start talking about the kind of renters we might find and the area that the property is located in, and if there will be cash flow, she has just smiled and then said, "but yeah think of the tax write-offs." "Yeah," I answer.

Some related posts:
To Rent or Sell
Putting the Real in Real Estate

Rent or Sell, part 2

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Taxes . . .

They say death and taxes are the only two things you can’t avoid.

There’s a finality there that is hard to ignore.

A sense of dying already let in the door.

But what if you want to deny this truth?

What if you wanted nothing, and needed less? Would governments be

Satisfied without redress?

Somewhere out there on the edge, where the sky meets the earth, where

Birds fly and the unknown still lies like a sea serpent looking for dinner,

We look to find our salvation.

An eternal spring, a new life form that when wedded with ours will create an

Everlasting, always young, new humankind.

And I wonder, could we do that without changing, rearranging our current

Universe. Or would this change like some domino exhibit collapse us all into

Some black hole that is worse than death and . . . taxes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

to Blogger or wordpress it, that is the . . .

Today, after much searching and reading and getting help from the feedburner forum, I found out what I've suspected all along. As Robert Heinlein pointed out in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, TANSTAAFL. The folks at wordpress do offer the commenting funtionality in a flare but it comes through their paid service at version 1.x or 2.x so this great adventure has now taken another fast curve. Yesterday, I said I'd write more about the differences and similarities of these two blog hosts. So here's a brief list. At blogger, you sign up and get your first template within three clicks. At wordpress, your template is called a theme and when you sign up they assign a default one until you've had a chance to pick a theme. They are real big on themes over there. At blogger, if you need things explained you can go to help and choose the forum or the help center/FAQ but there is really no way to directly contact someone. At wordpress, you can read through the documentation for the whole site if you so choose, or go to the forum or FAQ or contact an administrator who will email you back pretty quickly. At blogger, they have the blogger news and updates, at WP they have the Blog News which is an online magazine with editorials, articles, ads, and all the trimmings and it works like a blog so you can comment on the ongoing events and search for past stuff too. At blogger, you work with your page template (which you can change at will) and you can post and add widgets. At WP, you can work with the presentation of your posts (choosing themes and placing widgets in the side bars or you can work with Pages which you can design and fill with the content that you don't need to change. So far, I haven't seen any upgrades that cost you something at blogger, but as I pointed out above at WP if you are going to make money with your blog they want some too.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blogging, the way its done

Today I'm sort of summing up the things I've learned about my blogs and blogging in general this week. This short and steep learning curve occurred when I realized that I was emailing subscriptions from blogger that were not carrying my comment option. When I went to the forum at blogger for help I was put off by the advice that wanted to refer me to adding beta code to my template. For those of you that don't know, beta means still in the testing mode. So I went to the location of my feed account and asked their forum for help. I was told first of all that (something I'd noticed in passing) that was currently the only hosting/publishing service that allowed that capability with email subscriptions. Apparently about 90% of the commentary received on blogs is spam. Consequently, comments are heavily monitored and difficult to transport. I am not quite sure why a comment that has been moderated is any further concern but this is still the situation.

So the dilemma. I like my blogger blogs; the templates, the ease of use, the familiarty I have developed with the process but I want to publish my blog as an email newsletter and if wordpress is the only way then I figured I would have to try it out.

Wordpress has taken this whole process to another level. Why this is I don't know but I think it probably has to do with starting well after blogger and wanting to be better and different. And it is different, right from the start. Tomorrow I'll spend some time telling you how.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Setting a goal

I've come to the conclusion that looking inward may be the best way to prepare a person to look forward. As a child, I developed into a loner. Whether it was caused by being a service brat who was in a new school every one of my first 7 years or because my parents were of different religious origins, she was Catholic, he Baptist; different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, she was a city bred Italian, he was farm bred Southerner; or because I discovered the world inside books when I started reading at the age of six, doesn't really matter. Whatever the cause, the effect has been to leave me very short sighted when it comes to goal setting. Ask me my goal at any time in my life and the answer would have been the same. To be alone with a good book.

The result is that I've always sought jobs, entertainments, and yes, even friends, that would leave me alone to organize my activities so I could hurry back to my reading. Hurry being the operative word here. I didn't so much plan the future as I did try to control it so I could go back to my books. The odd thing is that this shaped my eventually becoming a teacher of English and it foreshadowed my decision to retire early and go off on my own. The thing is that teaching was never my goal. An occupation that gave me a license to read was. Later, when I discovered how much I really liked teaching, I had already retired so that I could get back to my privacy and my reading.

The point here is that I never really set my goal. It set me. When I look back at the jobs I've had, truck driver, coach, teacher, concession manager, dance teacher, and now computerist, I see how they all were choices that fit my personality and that I gravitated to naturally. But I remember distinctly in every case I pursued or took the job because I wanted to be in control of my time so, you guessed it, I could have more time to read.

So I have this to say to those of you who are about to sit down and list your short term and long term goals, goal setting is a forward looking activity. But a look inside at who you are and what you do with your own time now may serve you very well as you plan for the future.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lists: More things that I've been thinking about . . .

What is the real truth behind the economics of the velocity of money? Other people's money is really just our own money coming around again, isn't it? Now that the sub-prime lending industry has been acknowledged for the financial boondogle it always was what's going to happen to all those gurus who preached getting rich on no money down? Well, their seminars might go out of favor but the need that drove people to attend them will still need an outlet wont it? Meanwhile, it's now becoming apparent with the convergence at Blackstone that OPM will more than likely coming from China.

Is this one of those emergencies we should be preparing for? The growing transfer of power to China. Last month, after writing a post about Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, I decided to check out the market for reusable shopping bags for our farmer's market. I found five companies that we're ready and willing to fill my need in six to eight weeks. The time it would take their Chinese production facility to deliver my order. So there I was, faced with the same old investing dilemma with a new twist. Now I could choose to save the ecology while exploiting the slave labor market. Ha! Which comes first the world or the people in it?

Ads in our restrooms. I was cruising along being a passenger on a trip to LA when I suddenly realized that the billboard we were passing was animated. Yes, it had changed its message as we drove by. Hmmm, I thought. Technology ain't it grand. But then last night I was perusing my latest edition of the magazine for change AdBusters and came across this disturbing article. It's too far fetched isn't? Governments and corporations file sharing our private info to track us, sell us things, to further control our freedom. To what end, I wonder. Maybe this is a clear signal that that emergency fund should be moved back to its old favorite spot under the mattress.

Some times it helps to make lists

Here are some ideas I've been playing around with in my mind:

Five rules for learning to be more independent. 1) Start with something simple like learning how to make your own bed and wash your own clothes. 2) Read, even if its just your daily dose of blogs. 3) Ride alternative forms of transportation to get to and from work. 4) Pay all your bills first. 5) Work no work, no work work.

Is my brain becoming more and more like a computer?
The other evening just before T. and I climbed into bed for the night, we got into a discussion about what the name of the actress was in a commercial we had just watched. Neither one of us could come up with it. The next morning though the very first thing that popped into my head was her name. As I thought about this situation, it dawned on me that my brain was acting like a computer that by the end of the day had so many programs running that it took forever (or in this case all night) for it to complete a task.

How to retire early by staying frugal.
It just seems ridiculous to me that a person would teach themselves to be frugal and then when they retire that they would slot rattle themselves into a entirely different behavior. Why not just use your frugality to retire from the whole rat race early?

What do you do when the goals of your partner are different than yours?
Wow, this is one that I am just now coming to grips with as we have seemingly reached our first plateau of goals. She keeps talking about The Secret and looking at BMWs in the $50k range while I would rather ride my bike than drive somewhere any day. I keep thinking whoopee, our business is solvent, we own four cash flowing rentals, all our insurance is up to date, we have an emergency fund, we both are busy working on things.

What is a business handshake worth?
If you are in the farm, produce or small farmer's market business, you know what is meant by the business handshake. Deals within deals. Nothing shady, just back scratching. But in the small business world it is usually the only way to make a living. You buy all his oranges now because come strawberry season you want the pick of his crop.