For those of you who haven’t heard the news yet, on February 10 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act comes into effect. One of the major changes that this program will bring into play is a mandate that everything sold for children 12 and younger will have to be tested for lead and phthalates, and anything that isn’t tested (or that fails) will be considered hazardous and can't be sold. Read more about the CPSIA at the L.A. Times and some interesting blog commentary from the fashion industry.
For as long as I have been writing Christmas letters, I have assumed the folks reading were better off and more stable than our neighbors here in Walnut Hills. This year, however, I am not so sure.
Oh, I know the economic crisis hasn’t brought you down to worried-about-your-next-meal status, but I also know that most of us don’t measure our well-being in absolute terms.
In the book, Gladwell mostly argues that exceptional success is the result mostly of factors outside of our control: demographics, genetics, and so on. However, he does point to a few tantalizing clues of things we can control for increasing our own chances at personal success.
Jacques Cousteau described then Antikythera mechanism, a First Century B.C. computer, as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa. The device has been reconstructed a number of times. This video is the latest and illustrates the device's gearing and clockwork that was more than a millennium ahead of its time.
There have been a lot of days when I’ve wanted to just throw in the towel on all of it and just stay in bed all day, reading books and wallowing in some sense of self-pity. Each time, though, I’ve made myself get up, eat a decent breakfast, take a shower, and at least make some sort of an attempt at productivity, whether it be writing a handful of entries on a good day or simply just answering a couple of emails on a bad one. Some days, I would stop very early and take a nap so that I would have energy in the evening to spend with my children.
What’s kept me going - and will keep me going for the foreseeable future - is hope. I truly believe that at some point in the near future, things will return to some degree of normalcy in my life and health, and that will be a great moment for me, for my wife, for my kids, and for everyone else in my life.
I look for signs that today is better than the day before it. Many days, I can find those signs, and they keep me optimistic, even if I still don’t feel normal. As I write this, for example, I can reflect that today my energy level has been pretty consistent all day, and that’s been a pretty rare thing as of late.
I keep the positive things in my life front and center at all times. My office has a bunch of pictures of my wife and my children adorning the walls and the desktop. Whenever I need some inspiration, I look at those pictures - and I remember the great things I have to work for and live for.
I remind myself of the positive potential of the future. I think ahead to the things I want to enjoy in the future. I look forward to Christmas, for example, and to the spring and summer beyond that. Thinking of a warm summer day gets me actually excited and really keeps me positive.
I take care of the fundamentals by eating a very healthy diet. I’ve been focusing very hard on eating healthy foods over the past month, carefully selecting a diet that will keep my energy levels up, not put a lot of junk into my body, and provide all my nutritional needs.
What these tactics have in common is that they’re the same tactics I’ve been using to fix my personal finances. I look for ways to motivate myself, keep careful track of my progress, set goals, and focus on the fundamentals.
Whenever you see something that seems difficult in front of you, stick to the basics. Look for ways to motivate yourself and think positively about the obstacle. Keep track of your progress, so that you can clearly see that you are moving forward even if the path seems very difficult. Set goals and milestones along the way so that success can be reached on a regular basis. Focus on the fundamentals along the way - the little things that you know how to do well and the things that can “grease the skids” for the more difficult pieces.
The building blocks of success are universal. One just needs to apply them effectively in the situation they find themselves in.
TRENT HAMM blogs about personal finance at www.thesimpledollar.com. If you have a question that you would like answered, ask in the commments on his blog.
Researchers from University College London say that there's no clear link between antioxidants and slowing the aging process and that the 50-year-old theory that aging is a result of cell damage caused by free radicals is wrong.
From the BBC:
Dr Gems said: "The fact is that we don't understand much about the fundamental mechanisms of ageing - the free radical theory has filled a knowledge vacuum for over 50 years now, but it doesn't stand up to the evidence. "It is clear that if superoxide is involved, it plays only a small part in the story - oxidative damage is clearly not a universal, major driver of the ageing process."
He said a healthy, balanced diet was important for reducing the risk of many "old age" diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, but there was no clear evidence that eating antioxidants could slow or prevent ageing, and even less evidence to support the claims made by antioxidant pills and creams.
I think this is something we could see coming for some time. There's no Fountain of Youth or miracle cure for aging and death. Even if geneticists arrive at DNA-based solution, it's not going to be perfect and it won't keep you young forever. A healthy lifestyle, moderate diet and happy disposition may be a harder road, but it's also the only road that leads anywhere.
As usual, we’ll start things off with a few links to older articles
that directly answer questions I’ve heard recently. A few people have
asked for suggestions for books on how to live cheap. Here are four
suggestions (besides my own book):
The Complete Tightwad Gazette
America’s Cheapest Family
The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches
The Frugal Duchess
And now for some great reader questions!
My wife is pregnant and our first kid is due in April.
It really is a miracle, but obviously money is always on the mind. Would
it be better to:
1.) Buy life insurance in case something happens
2.) Start saving for their college
3.) Pay down our house payment to rid ourselves of the devil called PMI
4.) Pay down our very low (less than 2%) interest student loans that my wife and I have ($25g or so)
Throw out No. 4 immediately. Compared to the others, it’s a very poor choice. Stick with the minimum payments on that one.
I would look into term life insurance for both you and your spouse, just in case. Many insurance salesmen will try to sell you more than you need; you should strive to replace one’s salary for a few years, plus enough to cover burial expenses. This shouldn’t cost you too much, though.
I’d also start a 529 plan for the unborn child. Start it with one of you as beneficiary right now and set up a regular contribution plan, then when the child is born change the beneficiary. You don’t need to contribute a ton to this one, either; $50 or $100 a month will give you a huge boost in 19 years or so.
I’d probably focus most heavily on getting rid of the PMI. Get your mortgage down to 80%, then refinance that thing. It’ll be more financially beneficial for you over the long run than almost anything you could do.
I’m a gin and tonic fan myself. What is your favorite gin?
I am highly partial to Bombay Sapphire for the gin. I’ve tried several different kinds and I keep coming back to it.
More important for a great gin and tonic, though, is good tonic water. Skip the Schweppes or the Canada Dry or the store brand. Instead, look around for Fever-Tree tonic water. I swear by it, but I have a hard time finding it locally.
I am currently a college student. Throughout high school
I worked really hard to earn scholarships and save money for college.
During my third semester in college, I started CoOping (if you are not
familiar with this, it is where a college student works for a company
that does work related to the student’s major, and the college student
earns money and gets work experience). Not only am I funding my entire
education, thanks to scholarships and CoOp, but I also have a lot of
money just sitting in the bank earning no interest (on the range of
about an extra $5,000 - $10,000). I am 21, and I have thought the best
choice would be to wait until I make a down payment on a future house
until I start investing long-term or putting money in a 401k. So I have
been trying to put money in short-term CDs. However, I hear that CDs
don’t even keep up with inflation at times (such as now - I think). Is
there anything I can do with this spare money for short-term investing
with little risk other than CDs? Is this the proper approach - waiting
to invest after I purchase my first home (which I plan to purchase
maybe 2-3 years after college)?
CDs are probably your best choice. Given your situation, I would go CD shopping, perhaps using the CD rate tool at Bankrate.com. Allow yourself to look at CDs that mature when you’ll actually need the money - if you know you won’t need the money for three years, then look at CDs up to 36 months, for example.
I’m almost sure you’ll find a CD much better than what you’re buying right now. They’re a pretty good choice if you’re seeking a simple investment choice that keeps your balance safe.
Do you keep tabs of your web site's readers? How many did you have the day you began? How many at 6 months, 1 year, 2 years?
Well, I started The Simple Dollar in November 2006. Let’s use Google Analytics to check my site usage.
During my first month, November 2006, The Simple Dollar had 6,287 visits and 17,080 page views.
During my sixth month, April 2007, The Simple Dollar had 288,301 visits and 586,509 page views.
During my 12th month, October 2007, The Simple Dollar had 423,359 visits and 864,551 page views.
During my 24th month, October 2008, The Simple Dollar had 626,939 visits and 1,178,976 page views.
Other than astronomical growth during the second and third months of the site’s existence, the growth has actually been extremely steady on average (with a few months of fluctuation).
If you are frugal and smart, you have a credit union as
your bank. However, my credit union does not have safety deposit boxes.
Boxes seem like they are becoming a rarity in my area. The only bank
that has them is the BofA in the next town, and that branch is closing.
I’ve switched to a fire-proof “go” box, but are there better
I highly disagree with your first sentence. Credit unions are good for some things but not so good at others. For example, compare them to an online for-profit bank. Such banks can offer a higher interest rate than credit unions can because credit unions must pay for brick-and-mortar infrastructure. However, credit unions do have the advantage of manually underwriting any borrowing you might want to do, which means they’re a great place to go to get loans.
One option would be to open an “emergency fund” savings account at another local bank and use them for a safe deposit box. That’s probably the option I would use in your situation.
If money were no object, would you send your children to a private school?
I would be open to it, but it would depend on the specific school.
I’d want to know about the school in detail. I’d want to tour it and perhaps take a look at the classes offered there. I’d ask around for referrals from people I trust in the community.
If it measured up, I certainly would send my child there. My primary motivation would be for my children to get the best education available to them, and if that meant a private school in my area and money didn’t matter then a private school is what they’d have.
Where do you purchase your Certificates of Deposit (CDs)? Are the online banks reputable?
I buy my CDs through my primary bank, ING Direct. It’s been incredibly easy; just a few clicks and it’s purchased.
I have more faith, actually, in an online bank than I do in a teller-based bank in my local community. With a teller-based bank, you have other members of the community who have access to your personal financial information — and that, frankly, makes me nervous. I’ve known bank employees who openly gossip about the account status of people who bank there. With the online banks, you’re largely just a number; rather private.
If an online bank is associated with a large financial institution and the accounts are FDIC insured, I actually feel more secure with an online bank.
Do you actually practice all of the stuff you write about?
I try almost everything I mention on The Simple Dollar. Obviously, sometimes I mention tactics that simply aren’t routinely applicable in my current life. For example, frugal dating tactics - I’m not a part of the singles scene, so I don’t have a good opportunity to try them out. My wife and I tend to spend almost every evening home with the kids.
Quite often, I’m innately curious and I want to see if things work. Can I really make homemade laundry detergent that works? Does baking soda and water really do a good job at cleaning grout? How much money do CFLs really save? I’m naturally curious and following these questions often lead directly to posts.
In what areas of your life are you NOT frugal?
Our big area of splurging is food. I confess, although I do use shopping lists for my groceries, I tend to choose food items almost entirely based on quality and not on price. We buy a lot of organics and a lot of farm-fresh poultry products. We buy meat directly from a butcher as well.
When we do buy items, we’ve moved from just buying lots of things to rarely buying things - but when we do buy things, we buy high quality items. Rather than buying tons of cheap items for wall decorations, we’re now slowly buying high-quality items (original art, for example) that click with both of us, for example. We plan for these purchases pretty carefully, but we’re willing to spend for quality items that will last us forever.
Do you participate in meetups with other bloggers? If so, which ones?
I’m willing to participate in such meetups, but rural central Iowa isn’t a hotbed of blogging activity. There is apparently a regular blogger meetup in Des Moines, but I’ve never attended it — it would take me almost an hour each way to go there for a one hour meetup, so I usually find that I have something more high priority to do.
My wife and I have discussed going on a long trip this coming summer to a few large cities. If we do so, I’d be willing to have meetups with readers in any large cities we go to: meet somewhere, have a drink and chat freely about whatever.
TRENT HAMM blogs about personal finance at www.thesimpledollar.com. If you have a question that you would like answered, ask in the commments on his blog.
AP: Doctors may drop vaccinations for insured children due to paltry insurance reimbursements.
Health News: The brain's natural appetite suppressant.
Are you thinking about money this morning? That's what most people are doing--fretting over how much they have to spend and where they can find the best deals. Money should be the first thing on your mind today and, conversely, the last.
In case you hadn't heard, Black Friday has an alter ego: Buy Nothing Day. It's a loosely organized event designed to help you unplug from money for a day. No transactions. No gifts. No buying gas. I like it and advocate it, though I won't be a strict adherent today. I have a car with a bad axle and I need to fix it. So after I finish this article I'm on my way to Autozone. No gifts for me, but I will spend $60 on a car parts.