Financial suggestions from an old fart (a reprise)

Recognizing there are many places for financial advice, as an old fart, I thought I would offer some specific examples on ways to save money. Some of these are in reaction to various conversations I have had with my children, nieces and nephews, but regardless of age, it does not hurt to validate your thinking from time to time. Please take these for what they are worth, examples of lessons learned, pitfalls avoided and plans executed when I was prescient enough to listen to someone else beforehand. NOTE: I am not a financial advisor, so please do not interpret this as coming from such.

  • Don’t have too many credit cards. I have one debit and two credit cards – you will pile up too much debt otherwise and expose yourself to identity theft with too many. Pay down your largest interest rate first and close it out. Don’t just cut up the card, cancel it as identity theft can still occur – trust me on this.
  • If you are working and have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, for God’s sake use it. If there is a match, find a way to contribute up to the maximum match percentage. You will retire from some place and the cash provides cushion if you are laid off (company’s do that and it has happened to people who are better at their jobs than you are). You are throwing money away otherwise.
  • Do not play the lottery. I repeat, do not play the lottery. You might as well throw the money out the window. Lotteries are a regressive tax – it means people who can least afford to pay taxes, contribute to the lottery. Use the money instead in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan.
  • Avoid online fantasy team and sports betting. You are playing against an audience using multi-variable regression tools for their predictions. A very small percentage of people win the bulk of the money, with everyone else in the red. If you do play, set a small budget.
  • Avoid payday lending. In the bible, usury is a sin. In Dante’s Inferno, there is a level of Hell for payday lenders of the day. These guys are a step away from legbreakers. You will go into a death spiral of debt if you succumb.
  • If you can’t get a job, try volunteering for a charity group. The networking is good as people will see your energies on showcase in a good way. Plus, the psychic income is rich. By working, you will avoid depressive thoughts and can use your energy in a positive way. Some non-profits may be able to figure out a way to get you some income. Plus, you can see ways to tap services if needed.
  • If you have some money to invest – think dividend paying stocks with low P/E (price to earnings) ratios. Take the price per share of the stock and divide it by the earnings per share. If 20 or under, it may be worth the effort. These companies may also have Dividend or Customer Purchase plans you can access online. This means you buy the stock without a sales charge driectly from the company.
  • You do not need to own the newest gadget or thing. Companies do this to get you to buy something. I am not impressed by who owns what. Most people are not. If people are more impressed by your gadgets than you, then you may want to hang around a different crowd.
  • Be smart with your fast food purchases. Do not buy the drinks there as the margins are huge on liquid. Get out of your car and go inside. You are wasting a ton of gas waiting in line and it may be faster if the line outside is long. Read the calorie chart – the Affordable Care Act is requiring disclosure. This will help you be less of a train wreck later on. And, please do not supersize as you will become what you eat – supersized.
  • Better yet, eat more meals at home and yes, eat the leftovers. The savings are huge. I will never die of food poisoning in my own house, so I usually have to be quick with the leftovers before my wife tosses them.
  • Avoid eye level purchases in stores, especially if you are woman. Not to be sexist, but the highest margin items in a grocery store are at the eye level of a 5’5″ woman. Also avoid out-of-place stuff at the end of an aisle or by the cashier. The stuff by the cashier is lethal. While we are at it, do not go inside a convenience store when you pump gas unless it is to use the restroom. Their margins are huge inside on purchases.
  • Reduce water usage by not running water while you shave, brush your teeth, etc. Also, get a lower flush toilet or put a small enclosed container of rocks in the tank as this will reduce the water usage. Use the energy saver setting on dishwashers.
  • Shut off electrical devices overnight. This will save energy plus it will slow the deterioration of modems, routers, computers, etc. And, it will reduce a fire hazard.
  • Go generic on all prescriptions (some generics are the same pill). Use the store brand ibuprofen, decongestants, etc. as they work just as well. Not all pills are the same as one of my sons breaks out in a rash with one generic, but the brand is fine, so use trial and error.
  • Get a second and third opinion on surgeries or diagnosis. Especially, back surgeries. Sometime surgeries can do more harm than good. If you need one, make sure you get all the answers to your questions and have exhausted other options.
  • Walk to errands. Take a couple of shopping bags and walk to the store. You will be healthier, plus you will buy less because you cannot carry it all back.
  • Don’t drink so much. I don’t drink anymore, but have drunk enough for a lifetime before I quit fifteen years ago. You would be amazed at how much you save, plus the better health pays dividends. My last straw was a friend who died at age 59 because of alcoholism. I can tell most people drink more than they tell people. So, find ways to cut it back. Trust me, I know.

That is all I have for now. I hope this was useful. I am sorry about the preaching on the last item, but that is a big-ticket savings item. I welcome other ideas as I want to learn how to save more as well. Please provide additional suggestions below.

A first step in breaking down barriers

Many of us have written about how divided we are as a nation. We are more divided than ever, but what does not get written about enough are what brings us together. We do not hear or read as much about the good news stories or people just getting along. Our friend Jill does a weekly post on these kinds of good news stories, but her frequency of covering good news is greater than that of most news publications.

One of the things I have observed in my many years is people will set up we/ they groupings, even when they do not need to or it serves no purpose. I recall a true story from 1987, when a large housing development we moved into had a North side and a South side. At a party, I heard someone make reference to “those folks in the North side” not being good people like us. Really, I thought. This person made up an artificial group to fear and ridicule. Now that is inane.

So, the first step to breaking down barriers is not to create them. Try to avoid we/ they groupings. If we do that, there is no one to blame for our troubles but us. A good step down this path is do not identify yourself as a member of a group unless you actually have to in response to a question. I am guilty of taking pride in being an independent voter, but even that is a grouping. I do that to get my message heeded by members of political groups, but it is still a banner I am waving.

When I hear or see people put down someone for the way they look, worship or love or their heritage it builds off we/ they barriers that have been created. For a diverse country, we tend to complain about the most superficial of things. Just taking food as a counterexample, think of the rich diversity of choices we have as consumers to eat a variety of foods from around the world. We even have “fusion” restaurants that blend together tastes from Asia and Mexico or Italy and Greece, for example. A Hawaiian pizza did not originate in Italy and Fried Chicken and Waffles is alleged to have started in California not the south.

If we can eat these wonderful foods from diverse sources, I think we can break down a few barriers. Think of it as breaking bread with people with different backgrounds. If we did not eat a variety of foods, we would certainly live in a bland world. And, think of how more seasoned the conversation will be as we delve into histories and mutual interests.

So, test yourselves. Lessen the identification of groups. Don’t define yourself by where you go to church and especially not how you vote. An old line comes to mind that is less applied now, but don’t ever bring up religion or politics at a party, as it will start an argument. If you must, focus on an issue at hand, not the grouping. The one group that matters is the human race. Let’s be better human beings.

Medicaid expansion – letter to the editor

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, a key element was for people who made less than 133% of the poverty limit based on their family size. This group would pay no premiums through a state-by-state expansion of Medicaid. The federal government said it would reimburse each state for 90% of that cost.

At this point in 2022, there are twelve holdout states that have not expanded Medicaid. That leaves 2 million Americans with access to no healthcare coverage. The holdout states include my home state of North Carolina and big states like Texas, Florida and Georgia (see link below to a NPR article).

North Carolina was close to passing Medicaid expansion, but the effort stalled once again. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that they graciously printed this morning.

NC and Medicaid

As a retired benefits consultant and former benefits manager for a Fortune 500 company, I was hopeful that the N.C. General Assembly would at long last pass an expansion of Medicaid to fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. Failing to do this has harmed N.C. residents. Our economy has been impacted and some rural hospitals have either closed or are in financial trouble, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan healthcare advisor.

As former GOP presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich noted when Ohio expanded Medicaid years ago, it was a no-brainer with the federal funding the state has realized for years now. Please move forward on Medicaid expansion.

We have heard of food deserts in largely rural states which impact people in need more than others. But, we also have healthcare deserts as well. Taking only one data point, it is not a surprise to learn that maternal mortality rates in these states are worse than in other states and first-world countries. Note, this is mother’s dying in childbirth. That is a sad state of affairs, especially for a country who claims exceptionalism.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/01/1011502538/12-holdout-states-havent-expanded-medicaid-leaving-2-million-people-in-limbo

Southern sandwiches

If South Carolina were a sandwich it would be a tomato sandwich with plenty of mayo on white bread.

If Georgia were a sandwich if would be a pimento cheese sandwich.

If North Carolina were a sandwich it would be pulled pork on a bun with a touch of sauce.

If Florida were a sandwich it wound be a Cuban on that long bread.

If Kentucky were a sandwich it would be a Hot Brown.

If Tennessee were a sandwich it would honor Elvis with a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

If Virginia were a sandwich it would be a country ham biscuit.

If Maryland were a sandwich it would be a soft shell crab sandwich.

If Louisiana were a sandwich it would be a shrimp po’ boy.

If Alabama were a sandwich it would be ribs with white bread, not a sandwich per se, but the folks in Tuscaloosa will know what this means.

If Mississippi were a sandwich it would be a standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich using your favorite jelly.

Note, there are no right answers to the above, only my and other opinions. Where have I strayed? What are your thoughts? I limited this to the south, but let me know of other states.

Refill stations for cleaning products in a Switzerland store reduces plastic waste

My youngest son made me aware of this neat initiative going on Switzerland with a supermarket called Migros. Migros’ aim is zero waste. In order to save plastic and rely on the reuse of materials, customers can refill their laundry, dishware and cleaning products themselves using the packaging more than a few times. The store noted “If you refill a bottle at least three times, the reusable bottle is already more environmentally friendly than the refill packaging. Migros hope to extend this service to other products and store.”

Per a press release, “Migros takes great pride in her investment in sustainability. The refill stations are just one example of many how we aim to reduce packaging and waste. At the moment, we are considering expanding the refill stations for cleaning products to more supermarkets throughout Switzerland. The first two refill stations were a huge success. Our clients appreciate this service very much. The numbers are a proof of this: our sales goals for six months were already reached after 2,5 weeks. Apart from the refill stations for cleaning products we are also offering refill stations for long lasting bioproducts such as rice, nuts or pasta. At the moment we are in the process of expanding these refill stations in Migros supermarkets across the country. 

Furthermore, in order to reduce packaging and waste we engage in several different project such as offering a reusable bag for fruits and vegetables, called «veggie bag». We offer reusable trays for restaurant and take away food. The mineral water of our own label « Aproz » comes in 100% recycled PET-bottles and in central Switzerland we have started a plastic waste collection system with our own plastic collection bag: You can buy such a bag in our supermarkets, collect your plastic at home and bring your plastic waste to a Migros supermarket near you. We transport the plastic to a recycling factory and with the produced regranulate, we aim to produce recycled packaging for our own label products.”

This is a terrific idea. I also like the idea of reusable restaurant take out trays. There is an initiative in Durham, North Carolina where twenty-five restaurants participate in a reusable tray program, where you exchange your cleaned tray for the new take-out order in an even more cleaned tray. If we can do things like this and reduce buying plastic water bottles, we can try to stymie this wastage in our landfills and oceans.

Wednesday wanderings in late February, 2022

It rained this morning, so I am hoping it won’t impact my walkabout later today. Our Australian friends adapted this term “walkabout” and I have always had a fondness for it. One definition is simply a “walking tour,” but it is also defined as “a journey on foot undertaken by an Australian Aboriginal in order to live in the traditional manner.”

So, whether I make it on my walkabout or not, here are few musings I would likely have as I wandered.

-Vladimir Putin has planned to do what he just did for many months. You don’t amass troops and send blood supplies to the front line to just say howdy. For those who believe anything Putin says, I suggest you go back and read some of Senator John McCain’s speeches about Putin, sometimes given at the same conference the Russian leader had spoken at before. Putin is a KGB trained agent in the art of disinformation. Disinformation is a fancy word for orchestrated lying.

-One of the dilemmas in pushing back on Putin, like Xi Jinping, he plays a long game, while the west plays a short one. Being an authoritarian leader means not caring too much what the people in his own country think. Western leaders are not so fortunate. Putin has long known he can do bad things to acquire territory, accept sanctions, make a few concessions to get sanctions removed and keep the territory he stole. It is a repeating plot that he is doing here and he will do again elsewhere.

-I am glad Biden is president rather than his Putin infatuated predecessor. Biden will at least be able to build a coalition as he has done, while his predecessor would have difficulty in so doing because of how he treats every relationship like a transactional one. The sanctions will be tougher, but the best thing is the more unified response against Putin’s aggression. What troubles me is the Russian people have to pay for Putin’s egomaniacal pushes, yet as noted above, he really does not care what transpires at home.

Those are my miscellaneous thoughts. America is far from perfect and has made mistakes that have breached trust (WMDs comes to mind), but fortunately we stumble in to doing the right thing on more than a few occasions. Mr. Putin is just trying to rebuild the Soviet Union and Ukraine is known for its abundance of resources being known as the “breadbasket of Europe.”

The calorie high

Thanksgiving is the best of holidays, but one of its benefits is one of its shortcomings. Too many good food options, often prepared homemade. I was doing pretty well at our big family celebration which we held in a picnic shelter for the second year, until it was time for dessert.

My entree/ salad plate had tiny portions of several things to make sure I got a taste of everyone’s cooking. I decided to go especially frugal on the carbohydrates. So, I was feeling pretty good until I realized how many homemade desserts there were.

With our best pie maker home sick in another city, we had a lot of finger food desserts. So, I felt I was being less sinful by sneaking on an extra homemade cookie. Yet, one of my sons made a cupcake size cheesecake that was wonderful, but quite filling.

So, I was in a high calorie stupor the rest of the afternoon. Nonetheless, we had a great time. Our count was down to sixteen with above illness (and her family) and another late cancellation. Yet, it was a beautiful day. Inside the open shelter, it did get a tad breezy, so were glad we had the fire going for the duration. We are also glad we brought tape to secure the discount paper table cloths, so they did not blow away or turn someone’s plate over.

We started the picnic shelter gathering last year because of the pandemic and we held it on Friday, as we did this year. So, we had a small family gathering on Thanksgiving with the larger one the next day. We have latched onto this new tradition as it gets us out into nature and is a more central location. Plus, a few that could not make it called via Face Time.

This year, we had three new/ old relatives that joined us as they were down visiting other family. One of two remaining members of my deceased mother-in-law’s family of nine kids came with one of his daughters and her husband. Since dementia is slowly taking over this very smart and congenial man, his daughter had brought him down to see his remaining sister. My mother-in-law died from complications due to Alzheimer’s.

I hope everyone had delightful holiday, if you celebrate Thanksgiving. It is the best of American holidays in my view. Have a great weekend.

Don’t let Black Friday take you into the red, plus other savings ideas (a reprise)

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” which is the official launch of holiday shopping. Some even start on Thanksgiving, which is usurping the best family holiday in America, for people to spend money. If you are an American or know one, you know that Americans like to do two things more than anything else – be entertained and buy stuff.

I have written before about ways to save money, as we have too many folks who want yours. Let me use this Black Friday to rehash a few of them and speak to the holiday season where buying gifts is done in excess. If you follow a few of these, you will end up with more money to live better, have less stress, retire earlier, and be more in control of your life. In no particular order:

– you don’t need to participate in Black Friday. Trust me, the retailers will get desperate closer to Christmas and layer in discounts. You will also be less tempted to buy if you take your time.

– speak with your family and friends about gift giving. Maybe you could limit the giving to the kids or have a charity donation for adults donating a small sum to a favorite charity of the recipient.

– for year-round, do not play the lottery. I have written several posts on this, but my favorite line is from John Oliver who stated your chances of winning the lottery are the same as being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark. Save the $10 a week and at year-end you will have $520 plus interest.

– for borrowing, tear up all credit cards but one or two. You do not need more than that. My wife and I get 3 to 5 offers a week for new cards. You get very popular when you manage your debt and save a lot of money.

– do not borrow from pay-day lenders. They are one step above leg-breakers and you will quickly spiral into a rabbit hole of debt with over a 1000% interest rate. I am not making this up. This is about the worst thing you could do if in trouble.

– be wary of credit consolidators. They are not all created equal, so do your homework. Also, there are a number of non-profit advisors who can help you consolidate or manage your debt.

– be wary of for-profit colleges which are 5 to 6 times the cost of community colleges. A rule of thumb, the bigger the celebrity advertising the college, the worse its record for graduating. These colleges prey on veterans, spend more on marketing than education and graduate less than 15% of their students.

– if you have no health coverage, sign up for the Affordable Care Act at http://www.healthcare.gov. Subsidies to pay for premiums are available up to $95,000 in income for a family of four, higher if a larger family and lower if smaller. Healthcare coverage will get you doing preventive medicine rather than reactive medicine and keep you from going bankrupt.

– if you work, save in your 401(k) plan or something similar. Using payroll deduction, it is like paying yourself first, especially when the employer will match your savings.

– walk more, drive less. Many stores are within walking distance, so if not buying many things grab a tote bag and walk. Your health and the environment will benefit, plus most accidents occur within a mile of your home. And, with one bag, you have to limit your buying.

Finally, be wary of scammers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Many scammers prey on church and association leaders to get at others, prey on the elderly with confusion, and prey on everyone with fear (IRS scams, power shut off scams, computer repair scams, etc.). If someone offers you a potential high rate of return with no risk of loss, it is a scam.

If you do all of these things, great. If you know someone who would benefit from the advice of an old fart, please send them this link. Always remember, you do not have to buy anything except food, water, minimal clothing, transportation and shelter. The rest becomes wants and can be managed. Happy holidays.

Day Tripping

For those of you old enough to remember, I am not referring to The Beatles’ song by this name or the one the Rolling Stones called “Mother’s Little Helper.” So, narcotics or amphetamines will not be part of this story. I am referencing my wife and I like to do short one day excursions around the region.

Today, we are off to the mountains to see my daughter and her boyfriend. She has an afternoon planned of BBQ, mountain views and hiking on a cool autumn day. It will be just over a two hour journey, so it is not a bad trip for even our old bodies. Of course, we have to add time for the inevitable rest breaks on the way to and fro.

It will be a fun day. She lives in a cabin-like home halfway up a large hill (or small mountain) in a very eclectic area. She has a coop of eight chickens, so when we visit we bring empty egg cartons for their use. I have shared before the town close by is very artsy, so there is a lot of wall art on buildings, galleries and craft shops. There is even a place where they show how cheese is made.

My daughter is an environmentalist, hiker and rock climber, so she is in heaven up there. She met her boyfriend’s sister first, as they were on the climbing team at college up there. And, the sister is the one who made the introductions to her brother. He is a very nice and grounded young man.

So, I will keep this one brief and report later on our journey. Have a great rest of you day.

My tribe is America, my race is human and my home is Earth

Tribal politics will bring down America’s democracy if we let it. It has already caused one of its two major parties to become adrift, untethered to truth and lawfulness. While I can disagree with Democrats on various policies, Republicans are just not often in the same ballpark as the facts and seemingly do not care. We need them to care or step aside and let a new party form. A party cannot vilify its truth tellers and aggrandize its liars and be credible. Both parties lie, but what I see as an Independent is a tipped scale to the right.

My tribe is America, my race is human and my home is Earth. Each of those are important. If we do not give each of these elements proper footing, then we increase our chances of our demise. Those apocalyptic films use a desert like Earth that became that way due to nuclear holocaust. We are destined to be that way, but it will be due to insufficient water and food resources for the population.

There are more autocratic governments who are cleverly aiding and abetting the demise of democracy. With social media and conspiracy minded zealots, it is like shooting fish in a barrel to wind up America (or British) toy soldiers and point them at each other. We should never forget this is what Vladimir Putin was trained to do in the KBG – disinformation tactics. He had no idea at the time how much easier his skill set could be deployed.

Democracy requires an informed public. Even before the rise of the last president, the most untruthful person to ever inhabit the White House, there has been an orchestrated attack on mainstream media and institutions. These groups are not perfect, but they have been painted with broad and narrow brushes to mask their effectiveness. Fear sells. Facts are boring. Competence is boring. As Putin and Hitler knew, people can be made to believe just about anything. Or, at the very least, be taught to doubt it.

So, we Americans and other citizens, must do our part and become more informed. We must use multiple sources of information and avoid getting news from social media. I try to be accurate, but what I write is not news, so please verify everything you read here. Over time I have learned there are sources that have more veracity than others, but we must do our part to be informed. I grow tired of party leaders telling me something did not happen that just happened or whitewashing history.

We have infrastructure needs in America that are ten years over due. Yet, the last president is attempting to not have an infrastructure bill passed because it will make the other party look good. The fact he passed on doing something on infrastructure after campaign promises seems to get overlooked. America needs these improvement and Americans support the effort in the majority. Our tribe needs to see this happen before the next train derails or automobile bridge collapses.

Yet, our human race is critical. We all bleed red. We all want safety and security. Most of us want some form of community, either friends and family. But, if we do not take care of our planet, it will have a harder time taking care of us. All of us. Climate change has already reared its ugly head and we are seeing the cost of worsening conditions in money, health and lives. Many of our ocean fish have particles of plastic in their bodies which we, in turn, will digest. Chemicals have been tainting and poisoning our water supplies and air for some time.

For elected officials to do nothing or as little as possible to remedy these issues. is beyond poor stewardship. In my view, it is malfeasance. The story (captured in the movie “Dark Waters”) of Dupont poisoning its workers, their families and other citizens surrounding a plant that made Teflon is bad enough. This was proven in court with the largest data trove ever assembled. What unnerved me the most is they knew it long before per memos and reports in their own files. And, when they lost the arbitration based on this mountain of “causal data” they reneged on the deal and had to be sued one case at a time before settling all claims after losing the first three.

Tribe – America. Race – human. Home – Earth. Let’s stop the BS and start solving our real problems. As the old Fram oil filter commercial used to say, “You can pay me now, our pay me later.” Let’s install those oil filters now in this old car or it will stop working and we won’t be able to get anywhere in it.