Friday foibles and follies – oops that would be me (an updated post)

We are an imperfect lot and there are times when things just don’t go our way. As a 64 year-old, I have had my share of faux pas or as I call them “oops.”

When I was ten, I was a pretty fair baseball  player and would pitch on occasion. After putting a fence around our outfield, every hitter wanted to be the first to hit one over it. Unfortunately, the pitcher on the throwing end of that homer would be embarrassed – oops, that would be me.

I have often said God has a sense of humor to keep us humble. While playing golf with some attorney friends, I had the good fortune to birdie a long par five, something I don’t often do. Walking to the next tee full of confidence, I tee my ball up and proceed to whiff with my swing. That means I did not make contact with the ball – oops, that would be me.

Each October in the US, we honor women who have been challenged by breast cancer. A colleague of mine led efforts to have mobile mammograms for our female employees conducting over 11,000 detecting nine cancers. She was listening to me explain to someone about our specific efforts during “breast awareness month.” She said that would be “breast CANCER awareness month.” – oops, that would be me.

Being tall, my height has been advantage, except when it is not. After class, I was walking into a sunset in the parking garage and walked right into a low steel I-bar that was angled upward. I felt like I was just punched by George Foreman in the forehead as I staggered a few feet backwards. – oops, that would be me.

I have had to do a significant number of presentations and speeches over the years. In so doing, I have had far more than a few oops. Here are a few:

– Don’t wear a wool suit to speak, no matter how cold it is outside, as you will sweat bullets – oops, that would be me;

– Don’t number how many things you are about to say as you may forget one – oops, that would be me;

– Don’t reopen the presentation summary after the decision-maker makes the decision you were suggesting, as you just might unwind the decision – oops, that would be me; and

– Don’t forget to number the pages of your  speaker notes, as they can sometimes get mixed up – oops, that would be me.

The oops are too many to list. Beware of forwarding emails as there may be surprise emails not for public consumption at the bottom of email streams. Do not perpetuate reply all emails, be very judicious. Don’t communicate too aggressive a turnaround time if you don’t have to as you are setting yourself up for failure. Avoid being critical in email, do it in person or by phone if you cannot.

Oops happen. Take the time to review your work and prepare for meetings. And, when they do happen, say you are sorry and fix the problem. Then learn from your mistakes. Remember, God has a sense of humor, so it is OK to laugh along. Especially when everyone else is laughing at something you did.

PS – I have written before about some dating miscues of mine. Here is a link to a post of only some of my dating oops.

Oh, those dating miscues

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Pay day lending – a little easy math to show how perilous this is for a person in need

I wrote the following about ten years ago, but the example remains pertinent.

I am quite certain my fellow bloggers are inundated by spammers who love your blog or post without commenting on anything specific. One of the more popular spammers comes from various pay-day lending groups. When we talk about bad types of capitalism, pay-day lending ranks close to the top. It is the worst form of usury as people in need get preyed upon by these folks. The pay-day borrowers do not realize they are paying an interest rate north of 200% as it is so easy to do.

Yet, what happens are the people in need set themselves up for a death spiral that is hard to pull out from. They begin a journey of paying more and more interest to pay off the use of funds a few weeks before their pay check. These lenders were outlawed in NC, which just meant they moved across the border to do more sales. I have heard people who say they provide a useful purpose, yet in essence they don’t. People are getting immediate money for a need coverable by their pay check. Yet, end up paying more than double or triple the amount they borrowed. And, it does not stop. You are beholden to the pay-day lenders for a long duration.

The lenders used to set up shop just off the military bases. This is unfortunate as they would prey on married couples who are separated by an ocean with one distracted  by war. The one at home needed the money and did not have the counsel of two heads asking is this the right path forward. In the volunteer charity work I do with homeless families, quite often the families are paying interest rates of 23% on a car loan. This type of car payment puts a huge bind on their budget and we help them get away from this loan and into a better one. Yet, for the pay-day lending, you have to multiply the 23% loan interest rate by a factor of 10 or more.

If you do not believe me, let’s do a simple exercise. If I have bi-monthly take home pay of $1,100 and need to get it now, the pay-day lender will give me $1,000. That will likely include a processing fee of some sort, but let’s say it is $0 and the rest due is interest plus the loan. So, the next pay-day, the lender takes my $1,100 payment to settle the loan. That is a 10% interest for a 1/2 month time period. Since there are 24 such time periods in a year, using simple interest, that is a 240% annual rate of interest.

If that is not bad enough, come the end of the 15 day period, I find I need my paycheck, so I reborrow it. So, I give them my paycheck, they take out another an extra $100 (I am rounding to make the math easier) on the interest I owe and they loan me $900 rather than $1,100 in take home pay. So, now I owe $2,200 on the use of $1,900. Assuming I could pay it back in 15 days, that would be a 1/2 month loan rate annualized to the tune of 379% per annum. However, I cannot pay the full loan back as my next pay check is only $1,100. So, I borrow yet again. The take out $200 more in interest due on top of the next $100, so I get $800. So, now I owe $3,300 on the use of $2,700.

I used a fictitious interest rate for the ease of the math. Yet, I also did not factor in a processing fee either. Yet, the purpose of the illustration is to show how fast you can get in over your head. Even if you did not borrow against a portion of your paycheck, you can soon end up owing the entire amount. A key problem is the people in need are the least likely to run the numbers. They just need the cash.

I am presuming the audience reading this is fairly astute, much more so than the average Joe’s and Josephine’s. If you have friends or relatives who are going down this path or who are considering it, help them look at other options. There are an increasing number of microloan possibilities whose lenders do not prey upon the borrowers. There are some other financial assistance programs that go under varying names. There may be some co-lending options as well. The dilemma is the pay-day lending is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. So, help people avoid that cycle and try to get out of it if they can.

I do not begrudge anyone making a reasonable profit. Yet, I do find fault with people making an excessive profit off the backs of people who can least afford it. If you have a story about pay-day lending, please feel free to share it. Others need to see how this death spiral can affect people.

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.

Price elasticity and inelasticity

These are some interesting words, but what do they mean? They have several related definitions in economics, but in one context, price elasticity means prices are more readily changed by the seller. Price inelasticity means the opposite, prices are changed less easily.*

In our current inflationary economy, much of it has been fueled by supply shortages due to the pandemic and tariffs, as well as some other factors (gas prices go up every summer because of industry maintenance and increased demand, eg.). But, some people have noted there are a few sellers, retailers, etc. who seemingly have raised prices beyond what is needed.

Using the above terms, price setting by sellers tends to be more upward elastic. Sellers will more easily change the price upward when the market supply drops, more so than the market would dictate. This adds to the inflationary push. Yet, when the market supply catches up, the sellers are slower to adjust prices down, hence the term price inelasticity can be used.

In its worst form, the upward price elasticity is sometimes referred to as gouging. A hurricane knocks out all the power, so stores raise the price of bags of ice and bottled water. Retailers in an inflationary market would be foolish to gouge people, yet there are some who have added to their margins on the backs of customers. On the flip side, there will be those that milk the higher prices as the prices should fall, to get every last drop of extra margin.

People should remember who these retailers are. Some have been so blatant in price increases they find their names in news stories. So, my strong advice is to vote with your feet and shop elsewhere. My wife and I use a term that a seller is “proud of their services and products” when we see consistently higher prices. If they do this, people better be getting some darn good service or much higher in quality goods.

Two final pieces of advice. First, alter your demand. If gas prices are higher, drive less and walk more. Bundle your errands more, as well, to reduce travel costs. Second, if you have not tried generic or store products, now is the time. It is funny, people have grown accustomed to using generic prescription medicine as the brand costs are so high, but are reluctant to do so on store brands of food, trash bags, over the counter medicines, etc.  There is no better time to try the lesser priced products than in an inflationary market.

Shoppers tend to know when prices are too far out of line. The best thing they can do is to tell the store manager he or she is forcing the shopper to look elsewhere. No words will be more chilling to a manager than that. Then follow through.

*Note: I am not an economist, so please do not presume the above is any more than from  someone who had economic classes in college, much of which I have forgotten.

Mental health spending on the rise

From a recent article in Benefits Pro, which is a recurring newsletter for benefit professionals:

“Overall spending on mental health services increased from 6.8% to 8.2% between 2013 and 2020, according to a new study published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Approximately 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 youth experience mental illness each year, and these rates have been rising,’ Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Benefits Research and co-author of the study, says in a statement. ‘Over 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues nationally and in the workplace. With increases in both the number of individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders and use of health care services, higher spending is of great concern to plan sponsors of health benefit programs.'”

This trend has been supported by other sources of information, especially as it relates to the impact from the pandemic. When I traveled around with a Behavioral Psychologist who would help our corporate clients set-up mental health programs around depression and obesity management, mental wellness help-lines, etc., she would cite a statistic that 1 in 5 adults would have some form of depression in their lifetime. That is now a dated statistic, as the above surveys cites 1 in 5 per year.

Her main thrust is people who are battling depression to any degree should get counseling. She hated to see anti-depression medicine prescribed by general practitioners, as that just helped with the depression not get at the cause and management. If you know of anyone who is experiencing depression, please encourage them to seek counseling.

There is no shame in getting help from someone qualified to give it. This also goes for other disorders that someone might be dealing with – substance abuse, anxiety, paranoia, OCD, schizoid personality disorder, PTSD, etc. It is not uncommon for someone to have multiple diagnoses. And, I include PTSD, as one need not be in battle to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, as homeless mothers and kids or victims of domestic violence will tend to have PTSD issues as well.

Read the room – make sure your advice is being heard

One of my mentors in consulting taught me and others an approach to addressing problems for clients which he termed the “total approach to consulting.” There are two impactful stories that frame this one – the approach and how he learned it.

First, what is the approach. Address each problem holistically looking at it from all angles – what is the context, what are the end-goals, what are the short and long-term costs, who benefits and how do they benefit, what is the competitive level of the benefits as it fits in the whole, what is needed in communication, what is needed to execute the change, what is needed to administer the change, etc.?

Quite often, the last three points are afterthoughts and are key reasons changes fail to deliver. One of the things he did in his reports and presentations is have sections on these subjects so the client knew what they entailed. And, what it cost. Sometimes changes are too burdensome to administer, so options should be considered.

Second, how he learned of this approach. On the last day of an internal seminar, when everyone is checking flights and airport shuttle arrangements, a fairly round man who I will call Paul got up to speak about this concept he had been using called – the total approach to consulting. No one was listening.

After about ten minutes of a fidgety and bored audience, Paul stepped away from the podium and slammed his hand on the top waking everyone up. He said very loudly, “Look at me. No one hires me for the way I look! This stuff works and if you want to make a difference, you might want to pay attention.” The audience was rapt from that moment forward.

He taught them the total approach and one other important lesson. Read the room. If the room is not with you, then you better change the paradigm. Slamming the podium and drawing attention to his looks as an obstacle got their attention.

Reading the room is why I always wanted to be present with the client, even if we had a colleague on the phone. If the client was not getting it, I could see that first-hand, and metaphorically bang my hand on the podium. Read the room – even the best advice needs attentive listeners.

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.

Fifteen years and counting

Tomorrow will be the fifteenth anniversary of my last alcoholic drink. I wrote my most frequented post nine years ago and it still resonates with many, as my struggles are not unusual. The echo of wanting a drink remains, but it is faint compared to what it once was.

If you or someone you know are having struggles with an addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, food or cigarettes, please read or share the post below. It is a daily battle – the mantra for me is “I am not going to drink today.”

Since we are creatures of habit, though, I encourage you to know your triggers and find better habits to substitute than the more addictive ones. In my case, it was fruits, popsicles, chewing gum, green tea, tonic water with a twist and non-alcoholic beer, etc. Dried fruits are an ideal snack when an urge strikes as things like figs, dates, apricots, et al are quite dense and filling.

Each person can figure out a substitute that works for them. But, know your triggers. Mine were grilling out on the weekend or coming home after a long day. My body would crave the alcohol at the end of work day, so I would get hot and my face would redden.

I don’t get red face anymore, but that craving lingers a little. Now, I can more easily kick the craving to the curb, so it does get better as the years pass.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones and friends with any addictive problems. It is not easy to escape the habit, so don’t let anyone tell you it is.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Letter to the editor – concerns over attacks on others

I sent the following brief letter to my newspaper this weekend. It will likely go unprinted, but I want to share it with you in case you would like to modify and use. Maybe it will get printed somewhere.

Reading about the increase in verbal and physical attacks on LGBTQ+ citizens or the denigration of the rights of women or people of color concern me. This is especially troubling when it comes from people who espouse the teachings of Jesus. When he said treat others like you want to be treated, he offered no caveats. Full stop. If we would only follow that one rule, which is so important it is called “golden” and also appears in in other religious texts, we would be in a much better place with our civility. We have two ears and one mouth, we should use them in that proportion. We all deserve such treatment.

People died for our country to preserve the freedoms for all its citizens. That guy Jesus chose to spend most of his time speaking to and hanging out with the disenfranchised people in his time. We should remind ourselves why would they choose to do that. Our country has had fits and starts of trying to live up to our ideals. Yet, we should never stop trying to be the best version of ourselves.

Friday free form – recognizing those mistakes

Happy Friday all. I thought I would throw a few random musings down in free form on this Friday. In no particular order:

  • I watched a great movie whose title was uttered by a prescient boy with a debilitating immune disorder. He said you are “more beautiful having been broken.” He was sharing this with a new female friend who he sensed was sad. Its poignancy and pertinence to the plot was profound. Think about this line as it applies to all the screw-ups, errors or misstatements in your own lives. We learn more from failure than success.
  • This self-awareness is important for self-improvement. If we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, then we never learn from them. One of the best teachings by the former president is what we should not do – not recognize that we messed up and blame others for our transgressions. This is what a toddler would do. “I didn’t do it” is uttered with his hand in the cookie jar. It is not what a more mature person should do.
  • I don’t think I have enough toes and fingers to count all of my mess-ups. Thank goodness for erasers, backspace and delete keys. In fact, it would be great to have a life oriented “undo” button. Handling a break up poorly – undo. Saying something hurtful to a loved one – undo. Passing along a rumor that may be untrue – undo.
  • I wonder if ol’ Putin wishes he could press the undo button. For such a control freak, who used disinformation to build the impression that Russia is stronger than its adversaries, to make the horrible mistake of invading and failing to execute in Ukraine is telling. Russia’s economy is not large enough to support the military spending of its aspirations and the Ukraine president called the bully’s bluff and said “I am not going anywhere.” Russia has made some inroads but has also been fended off and is now viewed as a pariah.
  • Speaking of undo buttons, ol’ Boris got a vote of confidence, but the celebration is muted because of the closeness of the vote. He was fortunate to recognize he would benefit by calling Putin on the carpet for his invasion. Everyone needs a foil. Had he not been able to do so, Johnson may have been on his way out. He may still get there, but he should learn some lessons from this about lying, cover-ups and poor decisions. The question is will he?

That is all for now. Key lessons. Our mistakes make us better, not worse, unless we choose to ignore them. In that case, they can be an anchor.