Funny about Money

Simple Living = Frugality = Peace of Mind: Personal Finance and Stress Control

May 16, 2016
by funny
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Walmart & Work & Paletas

So the only thing I’ve done today besides work, work, and more work is to run out to the Walmart just up the road from the ‘hood. After the Fall of the Bush Economy, the fairly shiny Food City in that shopping center (shiny as Food Cities go) was shut down as the owner of the local grocery chain struggled to keep his company in business at all. The anchor tenant’s space was vacant for awhile, and then finally a Walmart Neighborhood Market went in there.

I’ve stayed away from it because I get quite enough of the slum-parking-lot experience at the nearby Albertson’s (where a bum once actually chased me around the cars — did the same to a neighbor, too, I later learned) and Sprouts (where you can watch a hooker pick up a john). But the other day when I happened to be at the Walmart shopping center, I noticed they have a couple of pretty fierce-looking security guards patrolling the place. So, being in a hurry and not feeling much like driving way to hell and gone to the nearest safe Walgreen’s or Safeway, I decided to dart in there this morning.

And was pleasantly surprised!

The Walmart down near M’hijito’s house is just like the scene depicted in a YouTube video: dark, grody, and full of strange downscale specimens:

This store was more like a regular grocery store. It was clean, brightly lit, and didn’t have a single avatar of “Walmart People” as far as you could see. Staff were friendly and didn’t seem especially put-upon. And the shelves were well stocked.

Prices were not noticeably cheaper than other grocery stores around here. To my amazement, they carry Talenti ice cream — at exactly the same price as Sprouts charges.  That would be the stuff that ran up the $15 bill the other day. Picked up a fistful of fresh asparagus — about the same price as Safeway. And a couple of other things.

No money was saved, but I was pleased to find a place that seems reasonably safe to shop in a lot closer to home than my usual haunts.

One thing they do have is paletas — Mexican fruit popsicles — and the gringo version, which sell under the “Outshine” brand name. Made by Nestle, of course they’re sweet. But mostly because the fruit purée in them is sweet. The regular line has some sugar — pretty far down on the list of ingredients — but they sell some that contain no added sugar. I can’t tell much difference between them. They’re really good, and pretty light on the calories.

One of my students contributed a bunch of paleta recipes — the alcoholic variety, actually. But that’s an extra embellishment. The real ones are basically fruit. Get a copy of the 30 Pounds/6 Months cookbook for the recipes!

Certainly lighter on the calories than the Talenti sea salt caramel ice cream I’ve been using to soothe the bilious belly.

Almost finished preparing Honored Client’s book to post at the print-on-demand press’s web page. Actually, I uploaded the contents and soon observed that, because the template we’re using has very narrow margins, the guy’s footnotes were getting truncated. He loves footnotes. {sigh}

So I set about converting those to endnotes after each chapter. Ducky. This process, naturally, fucked up all the work I’d done fixing 436 pages’ worth of widows and orphans, a chore that occupied most of yesterday. So I had to delete all the fixes I made yesterday and enter a whole new raft of fixes.

Then back to marking up page proofs for the current index. Needed to get to page 134 today. Didn’t make it.

But I have made it into bed…and now am about to go to sleep.

Try those paletas!

May 13, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

All Done In…

So I started at about 5:30 this morning. It’s 7:30 p.m. and I’m knocking off. That’s…what? Fourteen hours, interruptus

Paused to walk the dogs (40 minutes), clean the pool (half an hour), and dicker with an Apple tech to get my email back online (probably another 20 or 30 minutes, not counting time spent steaming at Apple’s obnoxious telephone Muzak). So about an even 12-hour workday. Nice.

I’ve created not one, not two, not three, but eight renditions for Honored Client’s book cover. Excessive, I know. But…though I’ve now generated about 30 book covers for my own fine literature, this is the first cover art I’ve ever done for someone else. And I really would like it to be right. I really, really want him to be happy with it.

We’ll see.

Two of the covers are pretty good. The problem is, we’re working with images he took himself during a lifetime of world travel. He has some wonderful pictures documenting some wonderful adventures, but the quality of the images leaves something to be desired. Even the best of those old point-and-shoot cameras left something to be desired…like resolution, for one.

Later in his travels, he got his hands on a high-quality digital camera, and those images are close to print-quality. But from among those, I’ve only got one candidate for cover art.

One picture is extremely cool: it’s a Gypsy family, presumably in Romania, riding atop a haystack on a horse-drawn wagon. The people in the image are mostly kids. It’s really a kick. But when you take one of these things and blow it up to fit a 5.5 x 8.5-inch cover — or worse, try to wrap it around front to back to get fancy with the thing — it pixelates. Big time.

Tried sharpening it with one of those online photo editors. When set site-by-side with the original, it doesn’t seem any better. Or any worse. The same…that would be the word we’re groping for here.

In terms of print quality, the best picture he has — also extremely cool — is of a man playing a traditional Ukrainian stringed instrument called a bandura.

The guy’s performing on a sidewalk in front of a shop, the door behind him open and the shop window plastered with come-ons and advertisements. The picture is as clear and crisp as you could possibly want. Trouble is, when I set it up to fill the front cover, all those window ads create a mass of visual static. No matter what you try to do with the cover lines, no matter how big you make them, no matter how loud you make them, no matter how white you make them, no matter what kind of shadows or glow or whatever you manipulate, they’re lost. Unreadable.

So  I ended up cropping the thing to create some space above the image for the title and subtitle. The byline could run across the gray stone sidewalk with no problem. It looks…OK. Better than most of the others because it has enough resolution to hold up to some abuse. But not as good as it would’ve looked had I been able to use the entire image to fill the front cover.

We’ll see how that goes over. Tomorrow the client will be here to inspect all these efforts.

Meanwhile, today I also plowed through another chunk of textual analysis of Semiramus narratives ranging from the 1st century AD to the early modern period. If I ever reach the end of this chapter (which just now seems questionable), I’ll be halfway through.

The current Chinese graduate student is quiescent for the nonce, presumably wrestling another chapter of her dissertation into shape. I believe she’s past the deadline for her extension, so I hope her director hasn’t knocked her out with the Nerf bat.

With three large projects on the burner, what should one of the CLS co-editors do but load up a new article for the next issue. Holy sh!t.

Hope to foist that onto the Kid, assuming she’s back from the honeymoon and not completely smothered with the work that will have piled up during that excursion. If she can’t do it, then I’ll have to. How, exactly, escapes me.

May 12, 2016
by funny
3 Comments

Idle Essays Department…on the ubiquity of scams

Summertime!

Summertime’s here!

Gotta quit working for awhile! Loafing time…

Just finished indexing another chapter of the textual study of the Semiramis narrative, followed from the first century down through the ages. 🙂 I suppose that’s progress. It’s going very slowly.

But at least it’s going. Whenever I get off my duff this afternoon, I’ve gotta move on to the next project: organizing the images and creating a cover for another client’s magnum opus.

Bidness networking meeting this a.m. — 7:15 a.m., a half an hour from the Funny Farm. The snowbirds have gone home now that the weather’s heating up, so the traffic’s not too bad.

Puppy peering

Puppy cuteness

Almost out of gas by the time I got back into town, so diddled away some more time traipsing to Costco for a fill-up. Then over to the Favorite Overpriced Gourmet Store to pick up a few edibles, now that I’m finally beginning to feel like eating normal food again. Would like to feed the ailing belly some probiotic microbes and am told you can get many, many more of those from yogurt and from raw sauerkraut, the latter (notably) in a brand called Bubbie’s, than you can from those pricey OTC pills.

Happen to have the Bubbie’s on hand but wanted something good to eat with it: sweet Italian sausage.

Also craved to make some risotto, so wanted to buy some arborio rice and some chicken broth.

None of the broths that come in those cardboard boxes taste like anything other than cardboard to me, so hoped to pick up a can of Campbell’s Soup broth.

Uhm… Not so much. Checking the sodium content…Campbell’s doesn’t even dare tell you what percentage of sodium RDA their elixir contains. No. It’s expressed as “less than 2400 milligrams.”

LOL!!! Would that be “2399 mg”? Holy mackerel.

Another brand listed its content as 300 mg.

Granted, Campbell’s is a concentrate; you dilute it by adding as much water as  product. But still: that’s “less than” 1200 mg per serving.

Yech!

So picked up a box of allegedly Italian-made alleged organic chicken broth.

Too lazy today to make risotto: tomorrow, maybe. Meanwhile, grilled a half a sausage (they’re huge) and served it up with some of that lovely sauerkraut and a handful of salad greens. Acceptable enough.

Talavera5-12-2016

Talavera newness

First hot day of the year: 104 degrees. Needed to get a basil plant I’d bought out of its plastic container and into some serious dirt, preferably in a new Talevera pot I snared the other day. And transplant a parched, overgrown spider plant into the other pot snared on the same day. And soften up the soil around the olive tree so as to hammer in a new stake and rope the tree’s trunk into an upright position. And rescue a bunch of other plants that were beginning to fry in the heat.

More room for Spidey

More room for Spidey

Jumped in the pool to cool off. Barely got my hair wet before I heard the damn garbage truck roaring up the alley.

Leap out, grab a towel, race back in the house, dripping all over the brand, spanking clean kitchen floor. Not pleased.

After the gardening frenzy, popped a can of exotic red corn (it comes out white, like any other popcorn), poured a bourbon and water, updated the new SBA website, thought about working, didn’t…

Finally got around to keyboarding about 60 index entries on the subject of Simiramis.

Now only two other projects remain to work on today. Maybe.

Alarm icon on red background

Oh. My. God. Have I held forth on the manifold ways various operators take advantage of the ever-craving, ever-hopeful, endlessly yearning wannabe writers of the world? Yes. I believe I have.

There’s no end to this stuff. Nor is there any honor among thieves. Check out the local university’s contribution, brought to you by a graduate program guaranteed to render you unemployable. Presto-digito! It’s an MFA Lite in genre writing!

And how much will this endeavor set you back? Almost 10 grand!

Holy crap.

Y’know, there’s an easy way to learn to write genre novels: sit down and start writing. Write until you’re blue in the face. Impose on some readers who like the kind of nonsense you’re churning out (one of the honored faculty in this program writes fan-fiction, no less! :roll: ). Extract honest responses from them. Listen. Revise. Get them (or someone) to read the revisions. Listen. Revise. Repeat until you can’t do it any more.

Then either find a publisher (good luck with that) or publish the thing yourself. Then learn to be a marketing exec.

You could buy one whole helluva lot of editorial review and commentary from first-rate genre editors for ten grand. Matter of fact, you could probably fund reviews and coaching for ten novels with that.

{sigh} On that note, I must get back to work for my own wannabe (and real) writers. 😮

May 10, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

PF Notecard # 4: Get Out of Debt!

Advice on a card 2Easier said than done if you’ve got a mortgage, a car payment, and a lingering student loan. Here we are at Item #4 of all the PF advice you need to know crammed on a notecard.

Two things worth knowing about debt:

It can be the biggest rip-off that ever came down the pike.

There’s a trick to getting out from  under it.

Debt — for bank loans, payday loans, car title loans, credit card loans, and whatnot — is a rip because it tricks you into spending more money than you have (or may ever have) and because it causes you to spend far more for an item than it’s worth. By the time you’ve paid on a home mortgage for 30 years, for example, you’ve paid at least twice the purchase price of your house. Yeah, you’ve gotten a little tax write-off, and yeah, 30 years from now your dollars will be worth so little that the house will appear to be “worth” twice as much as you paid for it. But because you’ve paid that much, when you sell the house you won’t make any real profit on it: you’ll be lucky if you break even.

Auto loans are even worse, because a car loses value with every minute that ticks by. Your car is objectively worth far less than you paid for it, and far, far less if you paid interest on a loan over any length of time.

Here’s the thing about interest: in the early years of a loan, almost all the payment goes toward interest. Thus you’re not really paying much of the principal — the amount you actually borrowed — until the loan has aged like a wheel of Camembert. As time passes, you pay down the principal in tiny increments…after some months or years (depending on the size of the loan), you’ve paid enough principal that fewer dollars per payment get eaten up in interest. That is, the more principal you’ve paid (the less remaining to be paid), the less the amount of each payment represents interest.

So: you can speed the pay-down of a loan by prepaying principal. This means that you make your regular payment on, say, the car. And in addition, you also pay a few dollars a month — it needn’t be as much as you fear — toward the principal. As you pay down the principal, the amount the lender can charge you for interest drops accordingly and the amount of your regular payment going toward principal rises. So, prepaying principal can significantly decrease the amount of time you have to pay on a large loan.

If you can afford to make one extra house payment a year — 13 payments instead of 12 — do it. That also reduces principal over time. Better, though, to pay as much extra as you can each month toward principal. The faster and the earlier you pay down principal, the more of your future payments will go toward principal and the less toward interest.

Lenders are wise to this scheme, of course, and some will try to trap you into a contract that doesn’t allow you to pay principal in advance. Pay attention to the terms of any loan contract, including credit-card agreements. If you can’t figure it out, ask if you’re allowed to prepay principal. If the answer is “no,” don’t sign on that dotted line! Find another mortgage lender. Buy your car somewhere else.

Credit-card debt is especially pernicious, because the interest rates are absurdly high. In fact, credit-card lenders are allowed to charge interest rates that used to be against the law and, IMHO, should still be against the law. Essentially, when you get yourself into credit-card debt, you invite legalized criminals to victimize you.

Don’t do it if you can avoid it.

But if you are already in credit-card debt, you need to escape. The same theory applies here: pay off principal as fast as you can.

Let’s say you’ve run up several cards. The best approach, IMHO, is to pay down one at a time. Which one to start with depends on your personal mentality. Some will have higher interest rates; some will have higher balances.

In theory, it makes sense to pay down the ones with the higher interest rates first. However, if a large balance  at a lower rate makes you feel like Atlas balancing the weight of the world on your shoulders, then by all means get rid of that one first.

How?

First, stop charging things. If you can’t afford to pay for something out of pocket, don’t buy it! That includes meals in restaurants, which will run up your charge card faster than a mouse racing around in one of those little wheels. Eat in. Buy clothes frugally. Don’t buy anything you don’t really need. And use the savings to pay down principal on the chosen credit card. This means that you send in more money than the minimum payment: If you have $1,000 charged up and the minimum payment is $50, send in $150. Over time, the extra amount will pay down the total amount due…but only if you’re not adding to the debt as you go.

Next, budget a specific amount per month to pay toward the selected underwater credit card. Eventually, that will pay off the card.

And third, throw every windfall you get at the debt. Every tax refund, every kickback on the Costco credit card, every cash birthday gift from Mom and Dad should go right straight to paying down principal.

If necessary, get a side job to generate extra cash for the purpose of paying off debt.

Sooner or later, you’ll pay off your targeted credit card. Hallelujah! Have a party — you could even go out to dinner…once…as a celebration.

Then take your budgeted amount and start applying it to the next card.

Keep this up long enough, and sooner or later you’ll have all the cards paid off.

By that time, you’ll be used to living below your means. This is a good habit to have developed — don’t change it.

Instead, use the money that you were throwing at the credit cards to pay down the car loan. Once you have that paid off, start applying the same amount toward mortgage principal.

It makes the best sense to pay off debt in this order:

First, credit-card debt. Why? Because credit-card interest is exorbitant and truly destructive.

Next, car loans. The less you pay toward a commodity whose value is decreasing steadily, the better. This also is destructive debt, but not to the same extent as credit-card debt.

Then, the home mortgage. Because (in theory) your house is appreciating in value and because you get a small tax break on your mortgage interest, mortgage debt is not as destructive as automobile and credit-card debt. But it’s still something that sucks away cash flow that could be supporting you more comfortably or going into retirement savings.

Finally, student loan debt. Interest rates are fairly low on these instruments, making them less evil than other forms of debt — although a student loan, too, sucks money out of your pocket.  If you’re one of the lucky people whose college education helped you to get a decently paying job, then a student loan in fact represents a kind of “positive” debt. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get rid of it; only that it’s not as pernicious as the first two or as burdensome as the third.

It’s surprising how fast prepaying principal brings down loan debt. I was able to pay off my first After-Divorce car, a very nice Camry, by taking every windfall straight to the credit union and telling them to put it toward principal and by paying a set amount extra each month toward principal.

The car had a five-year loan on it. I paid it off in 18 months.

You can do that, too.

🙂

All You Need to Know about Personal Finance Fits on a Notecard
#1 Get an Education
#2 Get a Job
#3 Live below Your Means

 

May 7, 2016
by funny
8 Comments

How Failure Can Turn to Success

Closeup view of hardcover booksThey say failure can help turn your losing experience into a successful endeavor. That’s becoming evident from the publishing enterprise, which so far has been a total flop. On the surface, what I learned from that is not to try to sell anything unless you have some very strong marketing skills and are willing to spend uncountable hours using them. However, something far more positive is coming out of it.

For the past two or three months, I’ve had more work than I can handle. People are lined up at the door trying to get me to edit their golden words or advise on publishing them. And one of my clients has hired me to help him self-publish a memoir that he intends not for the public but for family and friends.

Yesterday I mocked up three draft covers for his book. One of them turned out looking pretty darned nice. Another would be even better if the quality of the image were better — it has a couple of flaws, one of which probably resulted from dirt on the lens and the other of which appears to be a data issue. We’re using his images, taken with a variety of cameras over 40 years. I dare not post them here, since they are his images and since he has no intention of making this book available to the general public. Too bad…it’s an entertaining narrative.

As I reflected at Plain & Simple press, there are any number of good reasons to use print-on-demand or e-book technology other than trying to trying to publish a best-seller. In fact, trying to publish the Great American Novel is the worst of all possible reasons.

Well. No. Probably trying to get rich selling smut on Amazon and B&N is worse. 😀

One of several things I learned a-sailing the Amazon (and falling off the edge of the earth) is how to create a nice-looking paperback through print-on-demand technology. As we scribble, I now have the skills and tools take a book all the way from manuscript to print. And that process can be modestly lucrative.

Three projects like the one I’m working on now would recover all the losses I’ve enjoyed in the book publishing enterprise.

I’ve also learned of a Mac app that allows you to create really attractive .mobi, ePub, and iBook e-books fairly simply. I may try this on the client’s MS just to see what happens. If it can handle images (not an easy trick), then I would be able to offer e-book formatting of fairly complex documents, too. This would further enlarge the opportunities to make a profit helping other people publish their projects.

I would never advise a client to spend a lot of money self-publishing what he or she imagines is the Great American Novel. But if the person has a good reason to create a book-length document for a business, for a nonprofit organization, for patients or customers, or for family and friends, self-publishing can be an economical and relatively easy way to fulfill certain specific needs. And if you’re just a hobbyist — and you know you’re a hobbyist — writing a book because you get a kick out of writing and would like to see your results in print is surely no more expensive than skiing or four-wheeling. As long as you understand what you’re doing and don’t imagine you’re going to get rich (or, probably, make a profit), I’ll even help you publish your novel.

Does this experience generalize?

Evidently so; otherwise we wouldn’t have those chestnuts to the effect that you have to fail before you can succeed.

In learning how to lose money, you learn how not to lose money. With any luck at all, you may learn how to make money. This is an underlying principle of all the “personal finance advice that can fit on a notecard“: if you get into debt, you can learn not to get into debt; if a bank screws you, you can learn to use a credit union; if you’re not earning enough, you can learn ways to earn more.

Some errors, of course, are not so easily rectified: fail to save enough for retirement and you won’t have a second chance. Text your way up the wrong way of a freeway off-ramp and your next success will be a Darwin Award.

But most of the time you do have a chance to learn something — and profit from it.

What “failure” have you turned into a success, dear reader?