A Penny For Your Thoughts?

Making sense of cents.

cents

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Penny for your thoughts”, and thought a penny was such a paltry sum, consider that when the saying was first coined in the 1500’s, a penny was a pretty fair amount.  

I do a lot of walking during my day job. About five to seven miles. Not a day goes by that I don’t find at least one penny discarded in the street. Although there are some who superstitiously believe that a penny face down is  bad luck, I disagree. A penny found is a penny earned and the only luck a person has is the luck they make for themselves. I also use these found pennies as a reminder to say a quick prayer thanking God for all I have. 

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a young boy, there was still a few years when you could go to the corner Spanish Grocery store and buy penny candies. I remember one of the last times I lived in that neighborhood when I walked into store with a dollar and asked for one hundred Big Bols, which Patricia dutifully counted out of the candy jar, and then handed over in a paper bag. I felt like I was the richest boy in Queens NY.  Big Bol was a cheap wrapped penny candy that was sort of a gum drop with a hard candy shell. Honestly I can’t even remember what they tasted like it was so long ago, but if pressed I’d say guava. Sadly, those days are long gone.

bigbol

A penny doesn’t buy much these days.  You can still stumble upon an online deal for a one cent item with free shipping, but most places simply dispense with the penny all together, or change shipping. Last week, I found a website that offered TOTALLY FREE (including shipping) 300 printed business cards. The back of the card advertises the company and reads FREE by 4OVER4.COM This is a loss leader and an advertisement at the same time, because they can write off the promotional item as a business expense and get free advertising, all while creating good customer relations with potential new clients . Quite ingenious.

Despite the fact that pennies don’t go as far as they used to and are often discarded, Americans still love our pennies and resist efforts to eliminate the coin. Our neighbors to the North abolished their penny in 2012. The Canadian penny coin was produced from 1858 until May 2012. Distribution by the Royal Canadian Mint ceased as of February 4th 2013. From 1982 until 1996, the shape of the penny was 12-sided rather than round. In 1997, the penny’s composition changed to 98.4 per cent zinc, with the rest copper plating. Since 2000, its composition has been 94 per cent steel.  Whenever I stumble upon a Canadian penny, it gets saved now in my ‘Canadian Penny Jar’.  I also save US Wheat cents and earlier, and I do have a few British large cents.

Production of the US penny coin has been continuous since 1793. Prior to 1856 pennies were produced in the large cent coin. There are not many of these in existence today because  many of these early coins were melted down as the copper was more valuable than the coin.  The US penny was made of mostly copper prior to 1982 when the mint switched production to the cheaper 97.5% zinc plated with copper coins still in use today. The US penny has been the same size since 1856 as it is today, but there have been some ‘cosmetic’ changes.

The two precursors of the modern Lincoln penny were the Flying Eagle (1856-1858) and the Indian Head (1859-1909) I once found an Indian Head Penny discarded in the ‘Need a Penny?’ tray at a Rutter’s convenience store in York PA when I stopped for gas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune at discovering the more-than-a-hundred-year-old coin sitting in the dish right on top, unnoticed by everyone except me!

indian

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. Considered the Last Casualty of the American Civil War, Lincoln was the first Republican president. He commanded the Union Army in its victory over the South in the bloodiest war the US ever fought in. The victory ended slavery in the USA, preserved the Union, and Lincoln is recognized as the greatest president of the nineteenth century.

In 1909 to commemorate the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the US Mint replaced the  five decade old Indian Head cent with the Lincoln Wheat penny designed by Victor D. Brenner. A few early coins were produced with the designer’s initials VDB on the face of the coin. The front of the coin has the current profile of Lincoln, the obverse had two stalks of wheat, and read ONE CENT.   During WWII when copper was needed for the war effort, the 1943 steel cent was produced. Likewise I once found one of these wartime Steel cents discarded in the  ‘Need a Penny?’ Dish at a 7-11 convenience store in Reading PA.  The clueless clerk was rambling on about a person being dishonest and painting a penny silver in order to ‘pass it off as a dime’.  I nodded sympathetically while replaced the offending penny with a modern one, then left the shop with a huge smile on my face.

In 1959, on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the Wheat on the obverse was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial for the next fifty years.

wheat

To commemorate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the mint issued pennies with four different designs on the obverse depicting scenes from the life of  Abraham Lincoln.

2009

Since 2010, the reverse side of the penny has sported the Union Shield.

shield

Yes, the US penny is a very common coin, but Abraham Lincoln was a very uncommon man. It’s quite fitting that even the poorest person in our great country can easily posses a coin bearing the likeness of this great man. As always, I wish you success and happiness!  

Do You Wanna LYFT?

Is using your new car as a taxi really a good idea?

lyft

I grew up in New York City which has an extensive public transportation system that covers a significant area. However there were times when waiting for a bus or train were not optimal and then we used taxis or private cabs. These drivers had CB radios in their vehicles, displayed their operator’s license, and had a meter ticking up your fare as you drove to your destination. Occasionally, some enterprising individual using his own personal vehicle would cruse the bus and taxi routes offering his car for hire. These ‘gypsy cabs’ were illegal and you always took a chance when getting into these stranger’s cars. It was like paying to be a hitchhiker. But if you didn’t have the money to pay for a real taxi, these mostly harmless entrepreneurs were there to fill the gap. Most of them were just trying to earn a living, albeit in a dodgy manner.   

As I stated in a prior blog, owning a car is expensive. If you have car payments and full coverage insurance, you still have to factor in vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.  One way or another if you want to keep your car on the road, you need to have some way of paying for it all. Enter Uber and Lyft.

 Uber (founded 2009) and Lyft (founded 2012 and pronounced lift, get it?) are companies that make ridesharing available through downloadable smartphone apps.  You simply download the app, request the car, and the Uber or Lyft drivers show up in their personal vehicles to drive you to your destination, much to the dismay of taxi and cab companies. Unlike the gypsy cabs of yore, these drivers are registered with their respective companies, and all payments are made via credit card to Lyft or Uber using your smartphone upon reaching your destination. You may opt to tip the driver in cash, or you can just include the tip (if any) in the credit card charge. This is all great for the passenger, but what if you’re the owner of the car?

Whether you choose to work for either Uber or Lyft or even both of them, you will need to meet some basic criteria.

You’ll need to display signage indicating that you are a driver for Lyft, Uber or both, and you’ll need to follow all the rules of the road. Tickets for speeding, not wearing seat belts, transporting children not in car seats, etc are the responsibility of the driver and will negate any income earned from ridesharing.

 Document Requirements

  • Driver’s license
  • Vehicle registration
  • Personal vehicle insurance
  • Driver photo

Vehicle Requirements

  • 2004 or newer
  • Fewer than 350,000 miles
  • 4 doors
  • 5-8 seats, including the driver’s
  • No limousines

Both of these companies do have liability insurance that covers the driver and rider during the trip with certain restrictions and conditions. Unless you have that rare rideshare-friendly policy, the only time you can count on your personal insurance is when you are driving for strictly personal reasons and getting into a accident while hiring out your car could end up costing you big time. All personal car insurance policies contain a clause that specifically excludes using your vehicle for commercial activities. Your personal insurance company may deny your claim as a result and refuse to pay. In a case like this, the Lyft company will cover you with their insurance, BUT they have a hefty $2500 deductible that you will be required to pay. Similarly Uber has a $1000 deductible. The ONLY way to be fully protected while using your car for rideshare services is to carry a commercial insurance policy which will run you $5000 and up.    

The Passenger from Hell

 As an independent contractor providing rides for your clients you may encounter many people of questionable character. Unlike a traditional taxi, there is no Plexiglas window dividing the front and back of the vehicle. You are alone in your vehicle with who-knows-what type of person and are opening yourself up to all sorts of potential verbal and physical abuse. There are numerous accounts of both Uber and Lyft drivers being attacked by the passenger from Hell. For this reason it is a good idea to have dashcam recording devices in your vehicle for your own personal protection. Obtain a GPS unit to track and record your comings and goings. If your passenger is involved in illegal activity, this may clear you with the police, and protect you from legal action. Some of these people may try to get you to break the law, like transporting their young children without a car seat.  Intoxicated passengers may vomit in your car. You name it, it can happen so make sure there is some record other than just your word vs. their word. Also inform any passengers the moment they enter your car that the trip is being recorded for safety reasons because failure to inform them that they are being recorded may get you into hot water. If they are resistant to that idea, they are free to hire another car, but if they have nothing to hide, they should be understanding. Also, keep conversations to a minimum and avoid personal information or hot topics. You are a driver, not their friend. Additionally, these people rate your performance and bad ratings could reduce the number of future fares.  

 Where am I?

 A passenger not used to driving may tell you to drive to a certain road and then make a turn which would be the wrong way up a one way street. You may be totally unfamiliar with the area and have no idea where you are going. Speed limit signs might not be obvious. Having a GPS unit in your car will help to avoid these situations when driving in unfamiliar areas.  

 The Tax Man

 Keep in mind that income is INCOME and is taxable! You will be required to track all of your income and expenses and will be expected to reconcile these come tax day. Many of the items you need for operating your car as a rideshare vehicle may qualify as legitimate business expenses so contact a certified public accountant to learn what may or may be covers, then keep records and receipts. Always remember that your money is YOUR money and you want to keep as much of it as possible

 I made HOW much?

 Although it seems like using your own personal vehicle as a rideshare sounds like a great idea on the surface, when you break down the costs, it’s not really worth the hassle in my opinion. According to the IRS, using a vehicle for commercial purposes averages about 54¢ per mile.

 This breaks down to:

  • Fuel 12¢
  • Depreciation 24¢
  • Repairs and Maintenance 9¢
  • Insurance and Paperwork 9¢

Considering this, at best case, you’ll be earning about minimum wage for all the trouble you’ll be going through. Wouldn’t flipping burgers at McDonald’s be easier? As always I wish you success and happiness.    

Do You Really NEED A New Car?

Can you rely on a used car?

newCar

There’s no smell on earth quite like that ‘new car’ smell. I really think that everyone should own a new car at least once in their lives. The only two draw backs of a new car are the price and the depreciation.  New cars are EXPENSIVE! In most cases if you buy a new car, you will have to finance it, and depending upon your credit rating and the term length of the car loan, you can expect to  pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars in interest. Additionally,   when you finance a brand new car you are required by most lending institutions to have the vehicle FULLY insured. If you own a car outright in the USA you can get away with really inexpensive liability insurance that covers the damages to another vehicle should you be at fault. You can further reduce the cost of insurance by opting for limited tort insurance which places a limit on how much you can sue another driver for should they cause you bodily injury and financial loses. Of course, how much you pay for car insurance also depends on how safe a driver you are.

With the possible exceptions of the first year of a new model,  there’s usually nothing more reliable than owning a new car especially if you depend on the vehicle for transportation to and from your day job.  But there’s more to think about besides just the monthly loan payments before you  decide to buy that brand new car. You should examine your needs, motives, and current situation.

Do you even need a car at all?

I’ve owned eight cars so far in my life, all but three were used. My first car was a ’71 Bug.

cars

Next I owned:

  • ’80 Chevette
  • ’89 VW Fox (New, but a remainder that sat on the lot until 1991)
  • ’80 Pinto (I miss that car)
  • ’97 Escort (New)
  • ’91 Tracer
  • ’96 Accent
  • 2002 Accent (New, now 16 years old with over 475,000.)

I grew up in New York City. Specifically the town of Woodhaven in the borough of Queens. In NYC there’s really little reason to own a car because the public transportation system will get you almost anywhere in the city, by train or bus, round the clock, seven days a week, even on holidays. And there’s also taxis, private cabs, and now Ubers and Lyfts to get you where you need to go.   So I didn’t learn to drive until I moved to Pennsylvania for college. I got my driver training at the Wilson Driving School. In Lancaster PA, a car is really a necessity, and those early years living in this state prior to 1993 were a nightmare when I was without a car. Buses to when I lived didn’t even run after 6 p.m. and there was only so far I could travel on foot or by bicycle, weather permitting.

Now having lived in both places, one where a car is an optional luxury for convenience verses one where a car is an absolute necessity, let me tell you  I’d much rather have a car I don’t need than need a car I don’t have. Public transportation is great for some people, but I love to travel and I want to go where I want to go, whenever I want to go. If you live in a big city with an extensive public transportation system that suits your needs, and you don’t suffer from wanderlust then you really don’t need a car at all and you can save your money.

If a NEW car is a must have…

You have to decide what kind of car you need, and if it must be new or not.

My first NEW car was a 1989 VW FOX. The 71 Bug lasted only four months, I brought it used for $500, it needed rust repair, and I sold it for the same amount. I brought a used Chevette for $1000 which I drove around for a year before trading it in towards the VW FOX.  I COULD barely afford the car, and the insurance, UNTIL I damaged it, and couldn’t afford the repairs to the front axle and didn’t have enough to cover the deductable. So the car sat undriven in a friend’s driveway,  I cancelled my insurance, and I took the bus to work. UNTIL I GOT FIRED. When I was unemployed, the first thing I did was to surrender the car back to the dealership that financed it as a voluntary surrender.   I explained the situation, I was not going to play the ‘car, what car?’ game until the repo man found it, I just said here it is, here’s the keys, sorry.  Trust me, THAT was my BEST option. I ended up unemployed for almost the entirety of 1992.

So the above tale of woe covers the next set of considerations.

if you have a car loan:

  • Will you be able to keep up the payments should you lose your job?
  • Will you be able to pay for repairs and maintenance?
  • Can you afford the insurance?
  • Do you have GAP insurance should the car be totaled to cover the difference, or will you be making payments on a large crumpled paperweight for several years?  

Never buy a car that is more that you can afford. Don’t but a Jaguar if a Jetta will do. Don’t buy an SUV, a truck, or a van if all you need is an economy car to get to and from work. A car is for the most part, an A to B machine. If you’re not going off road, you don’t need an off road vehicle like a Jeep. Plus consider the cost of gas. Do you really want something that gets 18 miles to the gallon for a daily driver? My Hyundai Accent gets 40 Miles to the gallon, and is adequate for MOST of my adventures. I do plan to buy a Jeep Wangler in the  near future, as a SECOND vehicle for adventures.

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If a USED car will suffice…

There’s a brand new shiny super stocked Dodge.

And ev’rybody’s sayin’ that there’s nobody meaner than

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard,

She’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard. – The Beach Boys, The Little Old Lady From Pasadena

 

Bear in mind that whenever  you buy a used vehicle, you are buying every misdeed the previous owner subjected it to. Did they keep up the maintenance schedule? Was it involved in undocumented accidents? Did they punish the vehicle mercilessly or were they gentle? Highway miles, or city gridlock with potholes thrown in for good measure? Is there a warranty? Every used car dealer will swear that their cars were only driven by a little old lady, once a week to church. Of course that little old lady may have been from Pasadena…

Also, most lending institutions will ONLY finance a used vehicle up to so many years, and miles. Remember what I said earlier about making payments on a large paperweight.  If you finance a five year old car for five years, you’re bound to have something major occur. If you don’t have an emergency fund to cover the repair costs, including towing and renting a temporary replacement car, you could be in trouble and without a car for a long time.

Here are some possible repair costs:

repairs

Over the last sixteen years that I’ve owned my current 2002 Hyundai Accent, I’ve replaced EVERYTHING at least once, sometimes two or three times. I’ve probably been towed in for repairs at least a dozen times, and if you live in the USA as I do, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND signing up for AAA (American Automobile Association) or if you live in Canada they have CAA. Trust me, one tow cost will pay for the basic membership fee. I splurge for AAA Premier because of the long distances I drive, and even that is well worth the fee. An ounce of prevention always beats a pound of cure!    

In EVERY case, I still managed  to keep the repair costs for the year under what a year’s worth of car payments would be. It’s always been cheaper to keep my car than to replace it, and I look forward to hitting the 500,000 mile mark sometime within the next  twelve months. I haven’t had a car payment in fifteen years, and my insurance is less than $500 a year.  Hopefully you will be as fortunate with your next car as I’ve been, As always I wish you happiness and success!

Gone Phishing?

Beware of Cyber Scams.

gone phishing

Back when I was a young boy and living with my aunt and uncle in Woodhaven, I remember this one day when my late uncle John got very excited because of a letter he received in the mail. It was from Publishers Clearing House informing him that he was in the top 5 to be entered in a drawing for $500,000! He happily showed the letter to my Aunt Arleen, who promptly grabbed it and proceeded to quickly tear it into little pieces. My uncle was devastated.   

It amused me greatly. At 13 years old, even I knew that the letter was a scam designed to entice ignorant people into subscribing to magazines in the hopes of winning that big cash prize. The one that some ‘lucky winner’ was guaranteed to receive. I could never fathom how some people could be so gullible as to fall for such things. Unfortunately the elderly are the ones who  fall for such scams quite often.

Not born yesterday.

You may have heard the sad tale of Richard Overton, the oldest man in America and a World War II vet who at 112 years old had his entire bank account drained by thieves who managed to use his social security number to gain access to his bank account in June 2018.

Newsflash! Your bank is NOT going to call YOU on the phone and ask YOU to verify YOUR information.  Even in the event that YOU call your financial institute for some reason or other, they only usually ask  for the last four digits and your date of birth if they ask at all. Yet time and again, people fall for such scams.  The number of scams that exist today is so extensive that entire books have been written on the subjects of cyber crimes, phishing, and identity theft.

You’ve got a friend in Nigeria!

One of the most well known internet scams involves receiving an e-mail from the relative of a member of a royal family who was murdered during a civil war somewhere in Africa. This person will cut you in for a percentage of their vast wealth IF you can help them recover their inheritance by sending them a little now money to help them accomplish this task.  Over six billion people live on this planet, and this person you’ve never heard of in a country you’ve never been to has sent you an e-mail asking for help? Does this make any sense at all? It’s hard to believe that people can be that stupid, yet for years that scam circulated from one e-mail account to another and  dumb people fell for it over and over.

Anyone e-mailing you asking for money, pretending to be in trouble, or informing you that you’ve won some fantastic prize or lottery and need to send a ‘processing fee’ is trying to scam you.  

How do you spell that again?

Another popular scam involved either misspelled website addresses, or using the wrong domain extension at the end of a web address to confuse people into visiting a bogus website and thinking it was legit.  Back in the early days of the internet, the default extension for a website domain was ‘.com’ but there were others, such as ‘.net’, ‘.org’ and ‘.gov’ which some people were unfamiliar with when the home computer boom took off in the early 1990’s. Scammers used to buy up domain names to create fake sites that seemed legit. One early fake site started in 1997 was whitehouse.com,  the real site is whitehouse.gov  with the extension .gov used by government agencies in the USA in place of the popular .com. The fake site used to redirect clueless victims to a porn site. Today whitehouse.com is an anti-Trump site,  protesting everything that’s good about the USA including our president.

Today there are over 1000 top-level domains (TLDs) for internet addresses, covering everything from ‘.abb’ to ‘.zw’.       

A popular trap that many people fell into was visiting these seemingly legitimate sites that were in no away affiliated with the real site.  Take the American post office for example. There are people looking for jobs, or  maybe there are people that have moved and want to change their mailing address. There are scam sites that pretend to be the United States Postal Service that are totally bogus and will charge exorbitant  fees for both of these simple procedures. The REAL website is http://www.USPS.com and they charge $1.05 to change your address. Employment and the required exam are BOTH FREE.

 Your computer is infected!

There’s nothing more alarming than having a pop-up window open telling you your computer is infected with a million viruses and that the ONLY way to fix this is to BUY this antivirus NOW from this site.  Malware and ransomware  will destroy your computer if you fall for this scam, and you’ll probably need to cancel your credit card if you were foolish enough to type it in and purchase this ‘cure’. I know of at least one former friend whose know-it-all teenage son fell for this.

Your mystery date is waiting.

I’m sorry, but from what I’ve seen internet dating sites are bad ideas to be avoided altogether whether they are scams or legit. Even the REAL sites are polluted with fake profiles, so why bother.  

In summary, there’s many ways to fool yourself into believing pie in the sky claims, but in the end pipe dreams are just that.   There’s an old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” You shouldn’t have to be reminded of this fact over and over again. As always, I wish you happiness and success!

Are You Motivated Yet?

Are motivational courses and seminars worth it?

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“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.”– Earl Nightingale

We become what we think about.

You may not have heard of Earl Nightingale (March 12, 1921 – March 25, 1989) or his best selling work, The Strangest Secret. The Strangest Secret was a 1957 spoken word record by Earl Nightingale.  

Originally, Earl used to give weekly pep talks to his staff at the insurance agency he owned. Many of his ideas were inspired and influenced by authors such as Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. During a vacation in 1956, Earl left a pre-recorded motivational record for his staff to listen to in his absence, and this message spread like wild-fire. Staff requested copies of The Strangest Secret, which they shared with friends and family, who also requested copies. Eventually The Strangest Secret sold over one million copies and received the first Gold Record for the spoken word, which helped launch the fields of business motivation and audio publishing. A written transcript was also published and Terry Savage has described it as “…one of the great motivational books of all time“.

If you’d like to listen to a recording of the Strangest Secret  you can Google it or click this link:

There is nothing new under the sun.

Motivational speeches and ‘pep talks’ are nothing new. They have been used for hundreds if not  thousands of years by parents to encourage their children, by generals to lead their troops, by pastors to encourage their flock to revival and by leaders to give hope to their nations. Sometimes you need someone else to encourage you to stop the pity party and get back to living an abundant life.

Back in May of 2003, I drove down to Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena to attend “The Challenge: A Call to Action” which was a conference for men held by a Christian group called Promise Keepers. The cost for the admission was $100.  10,000 men were expected to attend the 17 hours of sessions and entertainment. Dr. Crawford Loritts was one of the many speakers, and a free bag lunch was provided, It was crowded, and it was electrifying to be surrounded my thousands of like-minded men. Beyond that, I don’t remember much of the event. The message about God was something I already knew. The fact that I was not alone was something I already knew. Everyone on stage was selling books, CDs, T-shirts, you name it. I brought a few items on impulse. I was satisfied overall but if I had to do it again, I’d probably stay home.  

Motivation is motivational!

Brian Tracey once described motivational speaking as the highest paid profession in the world. Likewise, Earl Nightingale called selling the highest paid profession. This is not surprising because a motivational speaker is selling you a message you want to hear. The good news is that you desire to hear this life-changing information they are promising to impart. The bad news is that what they are selling you is something you could have found out for yourself for free. In the 1950’s people did not have the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips as we do today. If you wanted information, you had to borrow the book from a library, or buy it outright. If you missed the TV show, you couldn’t watch it online, it was past tense, gone forever. Computers were the toys of mad scientists, no normal person owned one.  Knowledge was limited to time and opportunity. So attending seminars was a practical way to get the most amount of knowledge on a single topic  offered in a single location. BUT knowledge in and of itself is useless if you are unwilling to act upon it. You have to be motivated to make the necessary changes needed to improve whatever aspect of your life you are trying to change. 

Some people have been so beaten down during their life that they no longer believe that their goals are achievable, This is why the second job of the motivation speaker is to encourage and convince their audience that if they follow their method they will succeed. If you can conceive it, and you can believe it, then you can achieve it! Hint- being surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic, like-minded individuals helps. But when it’s all said and done, the hard work is all up to you. If you fail to follow though, and give up because ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘it doesn’t work’, then you are wasting your time and your money. The only one getting rich is the motivational speaker because you paid for his or her seminar, and the books and materials they are offering. No one can make YOU a success except YOU. If you truly want to succeed, success begins with YOU! If YOU want to become motivated, just start doing whatever YOU are attempting to achieve. Begin working and the motivation will follow because motivation is motivational! There is nothing as satisfying as seeing results.

SNAKE OIL!

A few months after the PK conference in Baltimore, I was visiting a local mega-church which shall remain nameless, and that pastor had encouraged his church members to attend a special financial service later that evening.  As money and  finance are of great personal interest to me, I decided to go to this free seminar. I forget the name of the speaker, he did not impress me. He was preaching a prosperity gospel and his program was called INCREASE. He kept going on about how God wants us all to be rich, and that if you followed all the information in his INCREASE program, you too will be rich. He was very enthusiastic, but at one point he used a ‘negative’ tactic. He told the audience that his program would not for 90% of the audience because they would fail to follow the instructions. Yet when he was done speaking, dozens of people were lining up to buy his $400 financial INCREASE program on 16 CDs. I did NOT give that snake oil salesman one penny, and I never set foot in that church again.

Everything is online!

Before you shell out your hard earned money for seminars, programs, or encouragement:

Almost everything  you want to know is already online somewhere, FOR FREE.

E-books, recordings (both audio and video), charts, graphs, statistics, plans, you name it, it’s all out on the internet for you to access. You have the sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips if you own a Smartphone or have some way to access the internet. Knowledge is power, and that power is yours for the taking. You just have to believe that it’s possible and do it. People will always try to discourage you from succeeding, but when they do you have to tune them out. Their dreams died long ago and they can’t stand to watch you succeed where they failed. Misery loves company, so decline the invitation to their pity party because you’re better than that.  You can do it! I believe in you. As always, I wish you success and happiness.

Help Yourself!

Are self-help books all they’re cracked up to be?

 

selfhelp

If you walk into any decent bookstore, you’ll notice that a large section of the store is devoted to self-help books. Self help books usually fit very nicely into three inter-related categories:

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

Depending on one’s  personal situations, one of these three categories may be more important to you than another, but from my personal view point wealth (or financial stability) is the lynch pin that holds the other two components in place. The stress and worry associated with poor financial decisions will ruin both your health and your relationships.   Fighting about money is the number one relationship killer. With such a huge selection of self-help books and authors to choose from, you might wonder if self-help books really work at all.

A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n. – John Milton

John Milton was a 17th century English poet. His most famous work was Paradise Lost, a long narrative poem which basically expands upon the biblical story of Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.

In the 1997 movie The Devil’s Advocate, Al Pacino  plays a character named John Milton, a lawyer who is  actually Satan in disguise. At one point during the film, Pacino utters this quotable dialog : “The worst vice is advice”. It’s a statement that’s a little confusing, but I found it to be both funny and profound. Some people are in the habit of advising other people about anything and everything, even when they have no worthwhile advice to offer.  So it’s very important to be able to discern if the advice given is of any value. I cannot tell you how many times people (who didn’t know what they were talking about) gave me bad advice which had I been foolish enough to act upon would have had disastrous consequences.

If you’re considering seeking out a self-help book, then you’ve already made the first step in problem solving, admitting to yourself that there’s a problem. The second step is gathering information so you can formulate a solution. The third step is putting that information into practice, but the forth and final step is the real key to success. That forth step is maintaining the third step while improving upon and refining it as new and better information comes along. Practice makes perfect, quitters never win, and winners never quit.      

All the good advice in the world is worthless if you fail to apply it. Therein lies the problem. Most people looking for self-help books are ACTUALLY seeking quick fix solutions to their problems that require little or no effort on their part. They are NOT expecting to discover PERMANENT life changes.

Take diet books for example.  (At the risk of insulting any actual dietician or fitness expert who may have written a really sound book, I’m NOT going to mention any specific book title, or author.)  

Average Joe is 100 lbs overweight and hears  about a fabulous new diet book by a well respected author, and he immediately orders a copy. The book arrives and after a month of making all the tasty  meals, Joe loses 25 lbs. He pats himself on the back uses his new diet book to prop up the short leg of the table, and goes to the all-you-can-eat buffet to reward himself. A month later, he has gained back the weight he lost, and blames the author and the stupid book. Then he hears about another new diet book and repeats the process over and over.  The problem isn’t the advice he received, it is that he stopped following it the moment he saw positive change, and resumed all the bad habits that caused the problem in the first place.

If you want to stop a problem,  you MUST stop going all the things at caused the problem, PERMANENTLY! You don’t go back, ever.   Occam’s razor, dictates that “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one “. If you keep wondering why all your problems keep happening to you, it’s because the problem isn’t the problem, the problem IS you. To quote Shakespeare  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”  You’re not a victim of your circumstances, you’re a volunteer and it’s up to you to break the vicious cycle that you’ve trapped yourself in.

As I’ve said many times, I grew up poor because my father died when I was young, and my mother didn’t have the intelligence to handle money. If you gave her one dollar, she’s spend two.  I broke the vicious cycle of poverty that had trapped most of my family by seeking wise council on money and financial matters.  I put these practices into place years ago and never stopped working my way towards financial freedom.   This is why I’m successful today. I realized that my way of thinking was what caused the problem, and I actively sort out better information from someone smarter than myself.  This is because a greater intelligence is always needed to fix a problem than the intellect that caused it.  

So as your trying to figure out which of the near infinite self-help books will provide the answer to your problem, let me give you a ‘short cut’. The best self-help books all offer the simplest answers, and often quote the Bible.  If you read enough of them, they all eventually seem to offer the exact advice.

  • For wealth–  Spend  less then you earn,  live within your means, and save and invest.
  • For health– Eat proper nutritious meals and exercise regularly.
  • For relationships – Be good.  

It’s just common sense, not tricks or gimmicks.  

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. (Proverbs 28:26)

You may have heard it said ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is NOT biblical. You will not find that phrase anywhere in the Holy Bible. Benjamin Franklin popularized it.  The Bible tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and also encourages us to seek wise council. It is the first and the greatest ‘self-help’ book, timeless and perfect.

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Proverbs 11:14

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 13:10

Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.

Proverbs 19:20

Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days.

So if you’re seeking the ultimate self-help book why not try reading the time tested original first. As always I wish you happiness and success!

Free to a Good Home!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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When my aunt Arleen was still alive, she used to collect salt and pepper shakers. She would often ask friends or relatives going away on trips to bring her back a souvenir salt and pepper shaker from their vacations. Because my aunt was always so nice, and the requested ‘memento’ was rather small and inexpensive, most people would happily oblige. Aunt Arleen would dream of going away on vacations, but traveling to such exotic locales was financially beyond her means. So each piece of kitsch she received was a sad little attempt at living vicariously though the treasured knickknacks. When Aunt Arleen passed away in 1994, she had over two thousand dusty salt and pepper shakers on display in her small dining room. Almost every one of them ended up in the trash, discarded like so many shattered dreams.

It is amazing the things that people collect over the course of their lives. Sometimes, there is a theme, like items that feature cherished Cartoon characters, or a favorite brand like Coca Cola, or sports teams, you name it. Sometimes, it is because the item makes them happy because just it’s cute or silly. In very extreme cases when individuals lose all self control and become hoarders, it can be a sign of deep psychological issues. Hoarders are the exception, not the rule, so just because someone has a huge collection of something doesn’t make them crazy.

The first thing about ‘things’.

Things are just things. No matter how much importance we place upon a thing, that thing is still just a thing, and it is important only to us. People are important, not things.

The second thing about ‘things’.

Unless we find them discarded, or are given them as a gift, things cost money. If you’re wasting your money on things, you’re wasting your money.

The most important thing about ‘things’.

We can’t take them with us when we’re gone. Someday, each and every one of us will die, and someone else will have to have to sort out our estate.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal …” (Matthew 6:19-20)

At one point or another every single one of us will accumulate a collection of something or another. These items may or may not have value. In the vast number of cases, these collections will be meaningless to those we leave behind, and like my late Aunt’s cherished salt and pepper shakers, they will be tossed unceremoniously into the dumpster. The more things we own, the more our things own us.  We have to take care of the items in question. Storage, cleaning, protecting, polishing etc. A place for everything and everything in its place,  until we run out of places to store our stuff, and everything becomes lost in the clutter. At which point, we really should make an effort to ‘de-junk’ our lives. This will probably take as long to eliminate the clutter as it did to accumulate it. The fastest way to get rid of it is to throw it out. Just get rid of it. And many people do just that. I live in a rental community, and it is amazing the things I’ve found discarded in the dumpster. Some of these things still have monetary value or use.  I do not recommend scavenging things from the dumpster. I have friends who have gone ‘dumpster diving’ and even I have removed an item or two (sitting right on top and in reach) that had value. Just last Sunday, I found this brand-new watering can with store label and price intact, right on top in the bin. I kid you not! Someone threw this out. Boggles my mind.

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Because people in a hurry to de-junk their lives are sometimes pressed for time, throwing things away (new or not) is the fastest possible to rid one’s self of unwanted  items, but there are better ways to get rid of the ‘good stuff’.

If the item has monetary value, and you can wait a little while for potential buyers.

  • Have a yard sale. You might be able to turn your trash into cash.
  • List it on Craigslist.org, the Facebook market place, or even eBay.com  . You might be able to get some money for the thing in question, but this is labor intensive, and will probably require you to photograph the item, write an ad, and possibly send e-mails to or meet with potential buyers.

If you just want it gone ASAP.

  • Ask friends if they want it. I once gave away a dorm-sized mini-fridge I no longer needed to a down-on-his-luck friend renting a room at a boarding house.
  • Put it on the lawn with a sign that reads FREE STUFF.  People will haul it away. Just make sure the stuff is far away from anything that is NOT being discarded so that a confused person doesn’t ‘accidentally’ abscond with your lawn furniture or your kid’s bikes.   If it’s not gone in three days or so, you may have to throw it out anyway.
  • Donate it to Goodwill or a similar thrift shop. They have ways of disseminating your discards.

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Re-purpose it

Use the unwanted item as material for an art project. I cut a useless wood frame from a broken mirror and turned it into a box frame for my plastic planter. 

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I also see these plastic flower pots in the trash all the time. If you have small glass jars, use them to grow plants from cuttings, then plant the cuttings into the old discarded plastic flower pots and give them as gifts to friends.

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Recycle it

Almost every major town or city in the USA has a recycling program now-a-days.  Don’t just throw it out if it can be recycled.  

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If the item has some worth, like a nice vacuum or something that can be easily repaired, put it BESIDE the dumpster, not in it. People are more apt to notice and remove a useful lamp or piece of furniture that’s sitting on a clean space beside the dumpster. A word of caution with discarded furniture. NEVER, EVER, EVER take home padded furniture,  discarded cushions, mattresses, or boxes of discarded clothing. Bed bugs are on the rise in the USA, and you don’t want to unknowingly take along nasty hidden pests or bring disease into your home.  

Also, never climb into or actively scavenge through dumpsters looking for ‘treasures’. Dumpsters are for the use of the tenants, and there could be hazardous items that could cause serious injury or infections. There are always reasons why something was thrown away to begin with.

Avoid the mess

The best way to deal with clutter is to prevent it altogether in the first place. Always ask yourself if you really need something before you buy it in the first place. Things are just things and there’s only so much stuff one person can fill their home with before it starts to take over and ruin your life. Instead of wasting your money on stuff, spend time with your family and friends and actually travel to the places that you are dreaming of visiting. The memories you make with the people, and the places you see, will be worth more than the cheap plastic trinkets from the souvenir shop.  Trust me, you’ll be much  happier when you cure your ‘stuff-itis’.   As always I wish you happiness and success.