Another Friday is upon us! It’s been a long time since I’ve
spent my weeks lusting for Friday and the weekend that follows it quite like
this. That probably means something…
I don’t always just write about finance. I’m also big on
self improvement. It seems like most of the world has already discovered this
app but for anyone who hasn’t, I highly recommend that you check it out. Learning
a language is a very rewarding way to spend a little time. In addition to the
positive feelings that result from building a new skill or improving an
existing one, language learning forces your brain to exert itself in ways that
everyday life often doesn’t. Brain science is still so young but we already
know that doing things just a little differently makes lasting changes that
will benefit just about anyone in any stage of life.
Plus, Duolingo isn’t anything like your high school or
college foreign language classes. Believe me, I despised those! I’m decidedly
ungifted in this particular area for some reason. But this app actually makes
it a reasonably enjoyable process and it teaches pretty effectively as well. I’ve
been rapidly improving in both German and Spanish and it just doesn’t suck as
much as I would have expected, for lack of a better way to describe it. I’ve
only used the cell phone app version but I’m told it has a great web based one
as well. I will also note that recently, a new feature appeared – the leaderboard.
It has added a fun element by getting my competitive juices flowing. And
judging by watching other people on the app, I’m not the only one who feels
As always, I’m not getting anything from this. I haven’t
even added a link. I just think this is an awesome app that can really enrich
one’s life and I wanted to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already given it a
I’ve been reading a book about sleep lately (review coming
soon) and mostly it has solidified what I already knew; sleeping affects damn
near everything about your body, mind, and life. It’s a little mind blowing how
many of the issues I’ve struggled with could potentially be affected, if not
completely caused, by this one problem. As a lifelong insomnia sufferer, this
is both good news and bad news. The bad news, of course, is that I’ve probably
done an incalculable amount of damage to myself by not getting this taken care
of much sooner. But the good news is that everything I’ve accomplished in my
life has been accomplished in a severely handicapped state; and now that I know
this, I can remove the handicap and see what happens!
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been very focused on
getting more sleep in general and I have definitely accomplished that. I’ve
been averaging well over seven hours per night, as measured by a Fitbit, for
most of that time. That’s around an hour more than I’ve ever averaged with the
same Fitbit previously and probably even more of an increase over what I’ve
done over most of my life. So that’s good and it has definitely been reflected
in how I feel. But I’ve noticed that even post improvement, my deep sleep is
consistently near the bottom of the range and my REM sleep never even touches
the bottom of the range at all. So there is still something left to fix.
Based on my research, I’ve purchased a mouth guard on
Amazon. Yes, one of the $30 ones the dentist I only went to one time assured me
wouldn’t help me one bit as she attempted to sell me a $600 version of the same
thing. But there were several reasons I didn’t go back to that dentist for a
second appointment, the reviews on this mouth guard are excellent, and I have an
easy way to measure my results against plenty of my past data. Worst case
scenario, I’ve wasted $30. Best case scenario, I’ve moved closer to fixing a
lifelong problem that has been much more serious than I wanted to believe all
along. I’m always willing to try an experiment with that kind of risk/reward proposition.
I’ll give ya’ll an update on how it works out in a couple of weeks or so.
We’ve just about made it through another week! Here are some random thoughts and ideas to celebrate.
Summer is finally upon us and for those in horrible
climates, that means golf season (it actually seems to be a down time for golf
here in Houston, probably because it is too hot for a lot of wusses fair
weather only golfers)! If you’re anything like many of my customers and I, you
don’t get as much time to play as you’d like. In my case, that means I’m
inconsistent and launch golf balls into the woods, water hazards, and who knows
where all else when I do get out. Spending $2, 3, 4, or even more per ball can
easily double the cost of a round with so many of them destined for such a
disappointing fate. But the world’s largest bookstore turned everything store
has your back.
You can find used golf balls on Amazon for fifty cents a
ball or even less. Many of them are sorted into specific brands and graded by
condition. I picked up a giant bag of Titleist balls for less than forty cents
each last year and guess what? They fly into the woods every bit as effectively
as brand new balls. I believe these particular balls were graded B/C but to be
honest, if it weren’t for many of them having companies’ promotional designs on
them, most of them would pass for having been hit only a couple of times. The
question becomes whether those first couple of times hitting each ball are
worth 75% or more of the cost. For someone who only plays a handful of times a
year, the answer is a resounding no. Definitely a winning find.
One part of my cooking hobby I find surprisingly satisfying
is buying different types of produce and figuring out how to use them in both
new and existing recipes. And in order to do that, sometimes I need to start by
figuring out how to separate said produce from its natural packaging in the
best way possible. I’ve found some awesome tricks on Youtube – a great place to
learn almost anything by watching (sometimes) experts demonstrate it. This week
I learned how to efficiently cut an acorn squash and it actually worked very
well on the first try. But easily my all time favorite discovered method has
been the mango pint glass trick. Want to give it a try? Type “mango pint glass”
into the search tab on Youtube and prepare to have your mind blown. The picture
above is a recent example of how incredibly effective this method is; literally
nothing but skin is left behind and it is so easy! If you’ve ever done this,
you’re probably nodding knowingly right now. If you never have, you’re welcome!
Squash as a snack
Sticking with the same theme, I’ve been experimenting with making squash as a snack. It’s fairly easy, cheap, tasty, and much more nutritious than chips or anything made primarily of the precious sugar I recently decided to try going mostly without for a while. I’ve been using basic “roasted squash” recipes and using nothing beyond salt, pepper, and olive oil for seasoning. Some types of squash definitely work better than others but in general, there is a natural sweetness that is really brought out well by those simple additions. One thing I’ve discovered is that I like the squash slightly darkened/crispy, which usually means leaving it in the oven a little longer than the recipe says and then doing a little extra broiling at the end. But your results may vary. I’ve been making a panful over the weekends and then snacking on it throughout the week. So far, I’m very pleased!
That’s all from me this week. Have a great Friday and
weekend and I’ll see you on Monday!
Holy cow are we in some suddenly dark days! I’m seeing some genuinely good people and businesses getting hurt and some being taken down altogether and it is all happening so quickly. And this, of course, only intensifies my problems. I’ve seen this recession coming on paper (or at least screens, the 2019 equivalent) for a couple of years now and while I may have made some early calls, I would much rather have been early than late. And more importantly, I believe we are now almost definitely in it. I see more real world signs of it every day and I hear similar reports from my contacts all over the country. If you haven’t started preparing yet, I strongly recommend doing so right now because you won’t get a better opportunity. Anyway, mercifully, another Friday is upon us and here are some random observations and anecdotes from the week.
Don’t Let Car Dealerships Take
Advantage of You Because You’re Lazy
In spite of
what I wrote above, I have been quietly watching the market for my next vehicle
for a while. I’m not saying I will pull the trigger any time soon, but as I
believe I’ve mentioned before, I typically watch the market for months before I
so much as set foot on a dealer’s lot. I don’t just want to take the internet’s
word for it; I want to know for a fact whether a price is good or not. Plus, I
predict some amazing recession discounts on cars this time around. Plus, I
enjoy the research. Yes, because I’m weird like that.
Anyway, I’ve noticed that these “no haggle” dealerships have gotten very popular. I’ve also noticed something else; their prices are absurdly high! I’m talking 10-15% higher than average in most cases! After doing a little googling and perusing some forum posts, I’ve confirmed that this is exactly what it appears to be – another example on the long and growing list of times American companies have had the balls to fairly openly exploit laziness for profit – and succeeded at it. Two quick notes on this.
One – and I
know this doesn’t apply to all of them, but only some of the very most millennial-ly
ones that may as well be throwing in a year’s supply of avocado toast with their
overpriced cars – but any dealership that will not let you inspect a car in
person first at a minimum, needs to be avoided at all costs. Cars, particularly
used ones, are not commodity items. If you aren’t going to test drive one
before you buy it, you deserve whatever you get. And if you’re not willing to
spend a hundred bucks or so to have a qualified mechanic check a used car out,
you’re taking an awfully huge risk. Sure, you may get lucky. But you could also
wind up out thousands and thousands of dollars. And sure, some of these “dealerships”
allow returns. But do you really want to stake that kind of money on these
policies being honored? Better you than me if you do. But then, I’m just a car
freak who has done extremely well with car purchases over the years. Not only
have I had to do almost zero repairs beyond preventative maintenance, I have
even pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of selling one car for a profit
after driving it over a year and another for exactly what I paid after driving
it for several months. But then, I don’t like to toot my own horn…
dealers literally believe they can overcharge people by thousands of dollars
because the average person either doesn’t even have the courage to sit and talk
to a salesman (or woman), or is too lazy to do so. Are you really willing to
validate that theory for them? For the sake of all of us, I hope not. But based
on the fact that some of these companies appear to be extraordinarily
successful, it would appear the mob has already spoken. In any case, at the
risk of sounding like your parents, do you want to get ripped off just because
a million other people have been?
Aldi Now Accepts Credit Cards
This could be old news, I don’t know. I stopped going to these stores years ago because I didn’t like playing roulette with the possibility of getting stuck waiting in line for fifteen minutes because there was one employee in the entire store. Also because I don’t do business with anyone who doesn’t accept credit cards outside of incredibly rare, possibly life threatening circumstances. Anyway, I stopped in to an Aldi for the hell of it recently and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the company has joined the rest of the civilized world in accepting credit cards. Someone must have had a eureka moment and realized that not accepting by far the most popular payment method on earth to save a few nickels per order, which could easily be accounted for in the pricing of everything (again, like the rest of the civilized world does it), might not be quite the brilliant business tactic they had once thought it was. No, no sarcasm here at all. And by the way, speaking of spare change, I genuinely believe the quarter deposit thing they do with their carts is brilliant. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one freely roaming a parking lot en route to damaging someone’s several thousand dollar vehicle because someone else is a lazy, entitled asshole. My goodness, I’m in an interesting mood today. But I promise this is happy, if cynical. Remember, Friday.
line thing still happened. As it turned out, the only employee in the store was
in the bathroom. There was a line about half the length of the building when he
came out. I probably won’t repeat this experiment anytime soon. But if you’re
looking for absolute bottom line grocery prices, this store may be worth a
visit for you – especially now that you don’t lose out on 3% of the
purchase price (it’s actually 5% until the end of June with Chase Freedom)
because management doesn’t believe in pricing its products according to the
costs of doing business with the vast majority of all possible customers. Seriously,
charging credit card users extra is basically like installing pay toilets in
the bathrooms since a few people may have a phobia of using public bathrooms or
something. Or in the case of shady gas stations, who tend to discount their
cash prices by several times anything approaching a possible credit card
merchant rate, putting up a giant “IRS, please audit me!” sign outside one’s
place of business. And not accepting them at all? Well, it’s their business,
not mine. Yes, as old fashioned as I can be, I get incredibly irritated when
people fail to adapt to the overwhelming convention of the times in this
particular area. We are all hypocrites; the only difference is that some of us
are at least willing to admit it. Anyway…
Time to Make a Dietary Change
Sugar is the devil. We all know it deep within our sad little souls and just in case we’re intentionally ignorant anyway, there are about forty million studies rightly screaming it. Recently, I finally accepted that I’m weaker than I need to be at standing up to its cocaine-esque charms. So I’m cutting it out. No, not all of it. We all have to find a balance that works for us in life. In this case, I need to be somewhere between excessive, gluttonous consumption at will, where I have been for much of my life, and eating only what I grow on my isolated, non GMO (if that is even possible given the selective breeding that has gone on with just about all crops for hundreds, if not thousands of years – but I digress), 100% organic farm in the middle of some God forsaken backwater town no one ever visited, let alone lived in, on purpose.
The logical choice seems simple. I’m not going to try to police every gram of sugar out of my life. Cutting out only the stuff that is primarily sugar (cookies, my beloved Nutella, my even more beloved Freddy’s chocolate custard concrete mixers with various mix ins, etc) will amount to a major improvement for me. I recall reading somewhere that habits take seven weeks to form so I’m going to do two months for good measure. I started on Tuesday so that means I’m going until July 28. I’m hoping that by then I won’t even want the stuff anymore. But we’ll see how it goes.
We’ve nearly made it through another week – at least those of us who work conventional hours have. Here are some quick tips and recent observations to celebrate the coming weekend.
Listening is a lost,
but crucial art.
Back when he was just a regular NFL quarterback and not the center
of a controversy the media hasn’t completely stopped exploiting for ratings,
page views, etc to this very day, Colin Kaepernick was in a commercial for some
incredibly overpriced noise canceling headphones that involved him easily
ignoring very hostile Seahawks fans. At the end, the slogan “hear what you
want” is displayed. Much like paying a premium price for very pedestrian
headphones, the slogan was rather unproductive.
This week, I had a conversation with a customer that made it
painfully clear he had been taking this approach quite literally in numerous
conversations we’d had over more than a year. Not only had he missed some
fundamental, incredibly important points, but he had apparently been operating
under the assumption that what he “didn’t know” (I put that in quotes because
I’m still not sure I believe anyone could have every one of the conversations
we had and still not know things that were repeated so emphatically, so many
different times, in so many different ways) couldn’t hurt him, and that
everything would work out in a very advantageous, but tragically impossible way.
Based on this wildly inaccurate view, he wanted to make a decision that would
likely have cost him tens of thousands of dollars over the remainder of this
year and much more in the long run. I like the guy, but the sheer absurdity of
what he apparently believed almost made my head explode. It was a visceral
moment that forced me to understand that my efforts are simply not
accomplishing anything in his case. Anyway, when I informed him of the almost
certain consequences of the decision he wanted to make, he immediately changed
his mind. But clearly this was the first time he had ever listened when I told
him these things and he had managed to walk all the way to the edge of a
financial cliff while ignoring me repeating them again and again.
Listening doesn’t always have implications that expensive,
but sometimes they can be even more important. How many relationships have
broken down because one person stopped listening to what the other was really
saying? How many medical mistakes has this caused? How many decisions that
affected thousands of people have been made based on faulty or incomplete
information as a result? The costs of this phenomenon aren’t even quantifiable.
But one thing is certain; we can all do better in life if we go into
conversations with the goal of gaining whatever information the other person is
trying to share with us first. Not only will we make better, more informed
decisions, but relationships will improve. I’m working on improving in this
area myself and I recommend everyone do the same!
If you’re buying a
greeting card, the dollar store is your friend!
Obviously if you want something to last a while, the dollar store is a questionable choice at best. But if you’re buying a folded piece of paper with canned words on it for the strict purpose of having something to give someone versus not, you’re about to save some money. Rather than paying the ridiculous amount of $3-5 (or more!) for something that will most likely be in the garbage within ten minutes of receipt (multiplied times goodness knows how many per year), you can buy the same damn thing for a buck – or even fifty cents if you choose certain cards! Will this turn your financial situation around on its own? Not likely. But it will save you 80% or more on this particular purchase, which happens to be repeated many times, year after year. And perhaps more importantly, it will help you stay in the mindset of being financially intentional – accomplishing 100% of your goal without spending more money than you have to. This mentality will save you a ton more money if applied to all areas of your financial life.
Game of Thrones is
The ending, along with the entire final season, was ever so
slightly controversial. I don’t believe in ruining good entertainment for busy
people so I’m not going to post my thoughts on it yet. And besides, my opinions
are still swimming around upstairs as they form, almost solidify, break down,
form again, etc. But rest assured, that post will be coming in the next couple