Archive for May, 2008

We are off to LA

Lakers win, Spurs go home and we are going to LA.  Yes, now that that is over until next Thursday, I don’t have to worry about missing a game while we are in West Hollywood for a book reading.  We have gotten to the point where driving somewhere has to entail a lot of different tasks.  So since summer is on the cusp and the fair season starts in June we have to stop at our storage lot in El Toro to check out the equipment. Then it’s on to West LA for a cruise of the Santa Monica Blvd. shops before we get to the book reading by Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge. 

It’s weird but the more I wrote the above the more it felt like a Twitter post.  Weird because I normally don’t do much on the social networking side of blogging.  It has taken me three years just to add an avatar to this site.  My main reason for that is that I am mostly scornful of the cell phone, text-message crowd.  I really do see most of their constant chatter back and forth as meaningless.  Of course, that isn’t true.  Amidst all the chatter, is a hard core of real work getting done.  People who use the net, and their cell connections, to actually save time and save on energy use by not having to travel physically.  That I applaud.  But people are strange to me in the way they over-indulge in talking.

There is a new movie out I want to see that deals with this issue.  Tim Robbins is in it and it’s called Noise.  Maybe we can find it on our LA trip. 

Speaking of noise, and back to that Lakers game, am I the only one who feels that the announcers have gone crazy?  They are covering a televised game.  We can see it, too.  But the play by and the color, just keep on talking.  Can you imagine watching a game in person and the fellow sitting next to you keeping up a constant chatter?  On top of that, it feels like most of the time they aren’t talking about the game, they are talking about their own experiences.  What are they afraid of, that we will switch channels because they aren’t telling us what to see?  Talk about noise.

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These feet were made for walking

Sometimes I just have to ask myself where did I get this frugal part of my nature.  It makes me laugh to think how odd it might seem to people that I really wear things out, literally.  It has to have an unfixable hole or an unremoveable stain before it goes in the bin.  And shoes, well, forget about it.  For one thing, I go barefoot a lot.  But my current pair of sandals are approximately 10 years old.  They’ve been resoled, insert supported, and resoled again. 

And that brings me to my current tennies, which are on their third life thanks to my local cobbler.  I have always wondered about the built in obsolescence factor in clothes.  You like a particular style, better buy two, because next year and for sure the year after that the style will have been newly improved and you’ll be left trying to make the oldie but goodie last. 

 So that brings me back to the built-in frugality.  I can remember countless times watching as my mom or grandmom patched a shirt or resewed a seam. “There’s nothing wrong with this shirt that a little love can’t repair.”  So that’s what I give those shoes when I take’em to the cobbler.

 “Can you patch the inside of the rim of the heel cup?” 

 “Sure.”

“Can you resole just the heels?”

“Sure.”

Since 2003, I have had the same pair of work shoes.  They were a good solid, comfortable fit when I bought them.  And now, they are even more so.

 

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What goes around, comes around, pt. 1

I’ve written before about the credit crunch, most recently in a six part review of Charles R. Morris’, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown. I’ve also mentioned my love of irony a time or two.  So this article in the LA Times just seemed too funny to be true.  The LBO industry is in deep trouble.  Of course, so are we because of it but that is the other story.

. . . some experts predict that buyout funds launched in the last two years will generate poor returns because they overpaid for the companies they bought and some of those companies will run into deep problems if the economy keeps weakening.

This seems to me more proof that the wizards who run these top funds are no smarter than the ordinary home buyers who somehow convinced themselves that the hype they were creating by buying and trading up was true and the ride up the roller coaster slope would never head down.  Oops!  Overpriced and now the search is on to find a buyer before they lose anymore equity.

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Semi-retirement

It isn’t that I haven’t written about this before but I have been thinking quite a bit about it since I pointed out to T that she was now living in semi-retirement.  We were sitting by the pool listening to the lapping of the water, squinting at the sunshine glints, and talking about our latest movie day.  She turned her head away from the pool and smiled at me. “I like the sound of that but what does it mean?” she said.

I could feel the little thoughts start running around in my brain.  I didn’t really want to have to think.  But that’s the problem with having a conversation, sometimes you have to converse.  “It means to me that you work when and if you want to and on the things that you decide are important and at your own pace.”  I felt so proud.  I knew John D. McDonald wouldn’t turn over in his grave though now that I thought about it I wondered how such a prolific writer ever got to live his own semi-retirement.  Oh well, he’s gone now and so is Charles Schultz the man who created my other fictional role model, Snoopy.  Which reminds me did anyone else ever see that movie “My Life as a Dog”?  Because there is the perfect example of what it means to be semi-retired.  Dogs are born that way.  Cats even more so.  Domesticated ones at least.

Of course, a semi-retired human does so at their own peril.  This is not a world that likes us to do things halfway.  Either retire, you know get out of the rat race, or get back to work and, as the old song goes, “git me some money now.”  Yes, it’s also a little more difficult to be semi-retired if you live with someone who is still working.  You can see it in their eyes.  They don’t like the fact that you’re reading the paper while they’re packing a lunch.  Even if you do the housework, the laundry, the cooking, and take care of all the bill filing that doesn’t absolve you from causing them the pain of having to go into the “damn office” day after day after day.

Which is why it is really important that you figure out a way for your partner to semi-retire too.

Five ways to semi-retire without quitting your day job:

  • Set up a budget analysis – You need to know what your finances are.  How much of what you make is left over?  This can be done simply by just making a list of your expenses in one column and a list of your income streams in another.  Add up each and subtract the first sum from the second.  Think of this as laying the groundwork.  So if it turns out to be a negative amount you have already taken the first step by seeing that you are working hard for no reason since you now know that you are just treading water in the labor pool.

I know this seems like work but trust me organizing things on paper is a great way to relax.

  • Make out a list of your spare time activities – How do you unwind?  Are you a gym rat?  Do you head to the nearest bar?  What happens on the weekends?  Do you spend time alone or with friends?  When was your last semi-vacation?  You know, the kind where you went somewhere but brought your laptop just in case you had a little spare time to catch up.  While you are making this list, use a calendar to remind yourself of when these things actually happened.

Time is sometimes hard to quantify.  It passes on by or stacks up.  When you take the time to look at what you do in this backward looking way take note of how many unplanned things you do to.  Unplanning is key in the semi-retirement world.

  • Take a look at your job – Look at a week on your job, day by day.  How does each day start?  What is the first, second, third, …, thing you do once you get there?  Who is your boss or rather what is your boss?  Is a person in charge of setting your task load or are you in charge of doing that?  Do any tasks carry over from day to day?  Who do you work with?  Where do you eat that sack lunch and how long do you take to do it?  What happens at day’s end?  Do you drop your tools and head home or do you pack up some of the work to take with you? 

A semi-retired mind is in control.  The best way to get control is to know what your job really is about.

  • Figure out your hourly pay – Go back up to your budget, take the amount you added up from column two and divide it by the actual number of hours you spend working at, thinking about, and doing your job.  I know, sometimes the amount you get might turn into a reverse motivation, but that’s life.

Again, a semi-retired mind doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the hourly stuff but you might have to do a little growing in order to reach a point where you can mentally afford to semi-retire.  Maybe you’ll even have to do some work on the self-advancement plane in order to get there.

  • Figure out your hourly pay for the spare time activities – Same deal, go back to your budget only this time look at column one.  Total up how much are you spending on leisure time into two columns, one for cash expenses and one for credit expenses.  Divide the hours you spend into the credit expenses to see how much it is really costing you hourly to do those things.

Yes, here’s the key to semi-retirement.  It is a cash only state of being.  No credit card liabilities allowed.  Just remember that the reward is in knowing you can stay semi-retired for life once you take control.

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Weekly Tags

Yes, it’s that time again.  You and I get to go back into the future as we look at the varied and sundry.

  • Frugality is in.  Who knows, maybe we will even hear GWBIII telling us to save instead of spend those stimulus checks.  Well, I don’t know that seems a little far fetched.   Anyway, for those of you who always wanted to be like your grandparents, here’s a great place to start clipping those coupons and banking those pennies in the cookie jar.

 

  • Everyone has probably heard of Life Hacker the blog but I never took the time until I was reading a post by Trent at www.thesimpledollar.com the other day and he mentioned that one of the ways he has discovered to save money is to take up a hobby that doesn’t cost a lot to start and almost nothing to continue.  Like buying a basketball and a hoop for your garage door, like I did a 66 key keyboard to teach myself how to play.  Once I laid out the $200 for the board, the only cost is time spent playing.  And just like shooting hoops, it is just as rewarding.  Now Trent pointed me at this post on the LifeHack site.  Yipee.

 

  • I came across this site while researching my post on the real estate wasteland.  And because wordpress has some funny protocols about using javascript I haven’t yet taken the time to figure out if it will work for me on this blog but if it doesn’t work here I can always take it over to by blogger blog.  I know it always likes a brainy quote.

 

  • PC World lists it in its top five best blogs and I came across Alex Eckelberry because of a comment he made on jtaplinsblog about conservatism’s rise and fall.  But I visited the site out of a curiosity about security concerns on the internet.  How much firewall do we need?  I know that wordpress uses a screen to keep out spam and still I get one or two comments a week that could only come from a bot.  Anyway, I plan to go back to this site when I have time and ask some more questions.

 

  • And finally, it is Memorial Day and stores and banks are closed while outdoor barbecues and baseball games go on.  Somewhere a soldier is killing or being killed.  Somewhere a family is mourning their loss whether it be the soldier or the ones she killed.  On this site which I think I’ll be visiting quite a bit in the future I discovered a different sort of party. 

 

 

And I leave you with this poem I penned anon:

THE SUNSHINES BLUE . . .

On the day outside my mind,
           bike rides like wind flies and trains of inconsequence trade themselves for
                        thoughts as I wish for more than I can have or hold or even use in this
                world gone mad as a hatter,

In a world where anything can un happen, can re happen, can happen more or
              less with consequences and all the trimmings,
While we (you and I) still stay in a quandary, at a loss,
Up in the air like a coin star-crossed, our minds flipping, tripping

                        at all the evil dripping from the last bomb tossed.

 

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Scooterville

For several months T has been looking at bikes.  Harleys, Vespas, Yamahas, and now at our local Costco, a Schwinn.  Yes, they all have motors which works just fine for her since she really doesn’t like pedalling a bicycle very much.  Says the seat is too hard, or there are too many hills, or it’s too much like exercise to be fun.  Weird eh?  Anyway, as gas prices have continued to rise, we’re at $4.05 today in California, she has become more and more concerned.  It takes $50 to fill her little run around BMW and that lasts about a month.  But the truck we have to take to the field to pick up our produce every other day costs $100 a tank and has to be filled weekly.  So her awareness has risen.  She also likes to think of herself riding a motorcycle, roaring around the curves of the road that leads from our produce stand back up to our house.  But that’s just a dream because the lightest Harley is way to heavy for her to balance.  Hence the Vespa or the Yamaha.

Vespa has a new model, the 2008 Vespa S, that sells for around $4,200 and weighs in at 243 lbs and get about 69 miles to the gallon.  While Yamaha’s 2008 Vino comes in at $2700, weighs 229 lbs and claims to get 96 MPG.  Both fit her needs but the extra $1800 has her leaning towards the latter though she likes the history of the former.  Strange but true, if she can’t get the big bike then she’d like to get the one everyone knows.  But neither one of the above has a wind screen so since bugs in her teeth isn’t her style either, we have been forced to widen our search.

Here’s where price makes a difference.  Honda has its Silver Wing ABS for $8,600, and Suzuki has its Burgman 650 executive at $9,000.  Both are more solid and good for freeway traffic if you have to but since she doesn’t we are now taking a long look at Yamaha Majesty.  It’s priced at $6,000, gets 51 MPG and weighs in at 432 lbs. 

Once we make a pick though the fun really starts with the training.  First, it’s highly recommended that you practice first by doing some bike riding.  Get used to the balance required and the comparitively easy shifting.   I have to laugh as I tell her this but she doesn’t appreciate the irony.  Then take a safety course.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a 4 hour scooter school but we found out it’s not available in Cali.  Luckily, California has its own Basic Ridercourse offered through the California Motorcyclist Safety Program.  A 15 hour course leading to the M1 license that’s required here if you want to drive a bike that engine-sized over 49 cc. 

Still I have one bike I have been leaning towards that I think may be our best option.  It’s a motor bike.  It’s light in weight and is offered at least 8 different models all priced at below $2,000.  To be truthful, every time we see someone riding a motor bike, that’s really the one that T seems to like. 

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New bet, the same old tax?

But first, that was just too easy.  Lakers over Spurs and the starters rest for most of the fourth quarter.  Hmmm.  Seems similar to the Spurs in New Orleans.  I’m just saying.

Anyway, perusing the LA Times OpEd page on Friday and came across this item about how the state and the gov think that the best solution to the current budget problem is to float a bond issue against future lotto revenues.  Here are a few factoids from the opinion:

  • a 1999 national study conducted by Duke University concluded that families making less than $25,000 a year spent roughly $1080 on lottery tickets.  10% of their income.
  • Families earning between $50,000 and $100,000 spent only $495.  1% of their income.
  • The state of California spent over $93 million the last three years in advertising the lotto.

As the writer, Michelle Steel – BOE member for the 3rd District, points out, “the governor’s plan to pay for the state’s irresponsible spending rests, ironically, on getting Californians to spend more irresponsibly.”   I really do love it when things get ironic.

Remember last summer when everyone in the personal finance blogs, well maybe not everyone, was posting about how to save on fuel while driving?  Drive slower, plan your trips so that you do more on each one, carpool, use public transportation, and go ahead, ride a bike to work.  Remember.  Well, one of the tips I remember had to do with going to the pump early in the morning or late in the evening because the day’s heat affects the gas by expanding it.  You get less gas more hot air in the middle of the day.  Well, yesterday it was reported that “a survey shows that Californians could be overpaying as much as $3.4 million a day as heat makes gas expand.”  More irony.  You moved to California for the hot weather only to find that the automobile state is costing more to live in because of it.

And then there is this.  A long time ago I read a novel by Calder Willingham called Eternal Fire.  It was a fine trashy, sexy novel about a sociopath and his love life in the New South.  Yes, I read it mostly for the sexy, trashy part.  But there is a section the story that chronicles how a court trial is rigged so that an innocent person is besmirched.  The scripted actions of the community leaders and the judge has always stuck in my mind and is frequently brought to the fore when I read things like the headline story about the Congress defying Bush by passing the Farm Subsidy Bill or the Military Spending Act.  Who are they kidding?  Bush who has favored these programs all through his two terms now gets to act all righteous while the bills still get passed and the Congress now run by the Dems gets to seem defiant.  Wow! What a script.  The bills still get passed though.  $630 billion for defense, $10 billion for not growing crops.  What’s ironic is that our media actually purports to be covering the real story.  Hah!

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