Is It Legit?

Beware ‘professional ‘ beggars.

isitlegit

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. Proverbs 22:9

The United States of America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and  more charitable donations per capita flow from the US than from other nations.  As a country we are blessed with both the largest percentages of Christians and millionaires. These two groups donate more money to charities than any other according to numerous reports. Because of this abundance of wealth, there are numerous scam artists who prey upon the charity and good will of the generous by flipping the script to take advantage.

Earlier this year, you may have heard this heartwarming story in the national news media about this poor woman who was trying to make it home,  but her car broke down when it ran out of gas on I-95 outside of Philly. A homeless vet gave her $20, enabling her to get the much needed petrol for her car. In gratitude, her and her boyfriend befriended the man and set up an online GoFundMe donation account to help this wonderful homeless veteran. As the story went viral, donations poured in and the account grew to more than $400,000. A wonderful story.

gofundme-controversy

Except that’s all it was, a story. The entire account was a fiction, and all three parties were involved in the scam. The vet was indeed homeless, but the couple Mark D’Amico and Kate McClure, conspired with homeless man Johnny Bobbitt  and solicited his help as the face of their campaign. The plan backfired when the amounts received from good-hearted donors spiraled out of control. Greed over the size of the split of the ill-gotten gains is what ultimately undid the trio. Bobbit felt all the money belonged to him, as he was really homeless. Mastermind Mark D’Amico believed Bobbit was only entitled to a portion of the money, so Johnny Bobbitt got a lawyer and sued.  As a result of the legal action and the resulting media attention on the high-profile case, the elaborate plot unraveled and all three were jailed and charged with theft by deception. GoFundMe has agreed to refund the donations collected.  

jail

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The Naked City was a TV crime drama broadcast  from 1959-1963 and based on a 1948 film of the same name. Each episode ended with the iconic line about the eight million stories, a reference to the location, set in New York City, and implying that everyone has a story to tell. As I stated before, the USA is the land of plenty, and we do have homeless and poor, but no one staves in this country except by choice, or by malice. There has never been a famine our country, but there are many stupid people who make bad decisions and then want to blame others for their misfortune, or at least make them feel bad.  It reminds me of a biblical account of a famine in ancient Samaria found in the second book of Kings.  

2 Kings 6:26-30

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.

That’s a pretty terrible tale, but it points out poor decision skills, taking advantage of both stupidity and of wealth, and while you feel sympathetic for the victims there are some people that just can’t be helped. It’s not totally clear exactly what type of help the woman is soliciting, but it is implied that she is seeking justice against the woman who scammed her.

Jesus said we will always have the poor among us. I’m not into the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ which preaches that God wants us to be rich and successful, because by becoming wealthy we are in a much better position to help others.  There is some truth in this logic, but remember that even the Devil can quote scripture and twist it’s meaning to suit his purposes. There’s a scam out there for every legitimate cause, and they prey upon your sympathy.  A ‘church by mail’ called Saint Mathews Churches of Tulsa OK is one such scam that sends out mailings splattered with scriptures and religious iconography promising great blessings in return for ‘seed offerings’.  Some televangelists also fall into this category.

stmatt

Sometimes it’s hard to separate ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Sometimes it’s impossible, so don’t feel bad if you gave in error to a fake one. Live and learn, and move on.  Good people want to help others, and every organization needs SOME funding for its own overhead.  Some organizations are just ‘squeaky wheels’ that exist to cry for donations while little of the funds reach their intended targets.  I’m a firm believer in supporting LOCAL organizations. The best nation-wide charities like The Salvation Army  https://www.salvationarmyusa.org   or Toys For Tots   https://www.toysfortots.org  can get by on a minimal razor-thin operating budget and have LOCAL offices that cater to the LOCAL community. 

If you have any concerns about a charity, you can see how they rank up to similar charities by using the https://www.charitynavigator.org/  website. Charity Navigator is the largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities in the United States providing data on 1.8 million nonprofits.  

This doesn’t mean that every need has an accredited 501-c charity that exists to back it. Sometimes, legitimate needs do ‘pop-up’ unexpectedly, due to tragedy or stupidity, or both. Many of these hard luck cases turn to GoFundMe.com  There are many true needs out there that need to be met, but like the couple and the vet who scammed over  $400,000 some of these ‘needs’ might be fake. Whenever you donate money, never donate more than you can afford to, never feel bad if you have to say ‘no’, and never, ever, EVER donate money if you feel like you are being FORCED to give. Extortion is just as illegal as theft by deception. I have heard of people who used GoFundMe to raise funds for funerals, medical expenses, and because they lost their home in a fire. I once even donated money to a homeless Superman impersonator who had been mugged, had his teeth knocked out, and was robbed of his cape and super-suit. I have also heard of  people who used   GoFundME because they felt they were entitled to lots of money for their upcoming birthday, or who needed rent money because ‘they just didn’t have it’.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes people are just stupid and make bad decisions.  All things come from God and you are the steward  of the riches He has bestowed upon you. How you choose to distribute from your bounty is a matter of your heart, and only God can judge you because He knows the truth behind ever human heart. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

FROM THE GROUND UP!

Building Your business from scratch.

From The Ground Up

All business ventures involve an element of risk. There are ways to minimize your risks but there is no way possible to totally eliminate the possibility of failure. Whether you start your business from scratch, franchise, or purchase an existing business, what you don’t know will hurt you badly. Since starting a brand new business is the most risky of the three ways to get a business of your own, this is the one which requires the most amount of background work.   

I spent more than a decade dreaming about opening a coffee shop of my very own before I started taking my first steps towards attempting to realize that goal.

Step one: Learn all there is to know, and take notes!

My earliest research into the grounds of the coffee business involved visiting a lot of cafes and observing their operation. Field work is essential to determine not only what everyone is doing, but also to know what they need in order to do it. Espresso machines are not cheap. You want to make sure you buy a commercial machine which will be able to handle the demands of the consumer. You want to make sure there is adequate seating, and that you have something that brings people back, it could be the food, or it could be a gimmick.  Get it right, because people will talk and their words will go far. You want to be remembered for being great, not for being so bad that people have to see it to believe it.

A tale of two cafes.

‘The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe’.  

Several years ago, I visited a very strange coffee shop near the end of North Queen Street in Lancaster PA. It wasn’t in operation very long.  The only signage was a flag that read COFFEE. The woman had a small espresso machine that made one cup at a time, it was not a commercial machine. I think it was a De’Longhi. Coffee was served ONE SIZE in a 12oz cup, black, no creamer of any kind. The only sweetener she had was  rapadura . Rapadura is unbleached, unrefined dehydrated cane sugar juice. It’s brown in color and has a molasses taste to it. And like the flag on the outside of the building proclaimed, coffee was the only item to be had in that establishment. I paid $2, then sat at a very large dining room table, the ONLY table. It was covered with newspapers and magazines.  I remember thinking to myself that this had to be a joke. I went there two, maybe three times in total and brought my friend Talley with me the last time I went. For years after the fact, we jokingly referred to  that nameless cafe as The Bohemian Coffee Shoppe.  It certainly was unorthodox.  

coffee flag

Snakes and Lattes.

I first heard about this unique coffee shop from a friend on Twitter. I then drove 500 miles north from the USA to Toronto Canada to check it out. I ended up spending 11 hours in that cafe. Their gimmick was that they charged a cover fee to enter, which allowed you access to use their vast collection of board games.   I played game after game sitting at various tables with complete strangers, and I had a tab run which was settled at the end of the night. It was also the first cafe where I ever saw computer tablets being used to record customer orders.  A couple of years later, I drove a hundred miles to The Board and Brew in College Park MD. The owner had also visited Snakes and Lattes and had cloned their business model. I too had had a similar thought upon  my initial visit to Snakes and Lattes, because you can’t copyright an idea. My lack of knowledge of gaming was what quickly made me abandon that plan. I’m a coffee man, not a game boy.   

Step 2: Learn the basics and practice.

The very first cafe that I ever tasted espresso and espresso based drinks like lattes was at The Monk’s Tunic . I became addicted to these drinks very quickly, so I purchased a very basic espresso machine and several espresso bartender guides and spent years studying the books and making my drinks at home. There’s a reason why the coffee at cafe’s taste better, they have much better equipment and their beans are  usually much fresher, having been roasted very recently and freshly ground for each drink. Better ingredients and better equipment equals better product, especially when made by the hand of a skilled barista. You can’t do latte art with a home unit. The machine just doesn’t have the right temperature and pressure to generate a proper crema on the espresso or the micro foam in the steamed milk.  There are only really a dozen basic drinks that form a basic menu and they are easily learn-able once you know the basics of how to operate the machine.

Step 3: Beef up your bank account.

Banks do not loan money to new business start-ups. The majority of all new business fail in under 5 years, and a fair amount shut down within months of opening.  This is often because they underestimated the expenses and ran out of money. If you plan to open a business you will need money. Lots and lots of money. You will need to self-finance, and possibly enlist the help of friends and relatives as potential backers. Cash flow is the life blood of business, and if you run out of money, you are out of business. You will not be able to prolong the inevitable for very long.

Step 4: Hire competent professionals and consultants.

The very first person you should seek out is a qualified CPA (certified public accountant) and a reputable business attorney. These two should be able to help you set up the paperwork and ground work to set up an LLC, open a business banking account, etc. LLC (limited Liability Corporation) status will protect you from losing everything you own including the shirt on you back should the business fail. You’ll also want to run a check on the name you intend to call your business to make sure no one else is using that same name, or you could face legal action. I once worked for a video game arcade that made the mistake of calling themselves Jolly Time Inc. They had the  same exact name as Jolly Time Inc, the Popcorn company. They were forced to re-brand the arcade to Pocket Change. Never use your personal banking account for your business. Open a business checking account. Open a P.O. Box for the business, never put your home address on anything for the business. A few months ago, I purchased  a jar of Salsa at a food festival. The proprietors at the stand were from Columbus Ohio, where I happen to be on vacation this week. There was an address on the jar which I assumed was their local storefront. I drove there and very quickly realized that this was their home address when I saw all the town houses in a residential neighborhood. This is why you open a P.O. Box.

I would also recommend contacting consultants in your field of business.  If you live in the USA, I would contact the S.C.O.R.E. Association. The Service Corps Of Retired Executives has been in operation since 1964 and is a 501 nonprofit organization that provides free business mentoring services to prospective and established small business owners in the United States. They will provide all sorts of advice and contacts.

If you are looking into the coffee shop industry as I am, I fully recommend contacting Crimson Cup. https://www.crimsoncup.com/ They are a franchise alternative and are consultants and suppliers for independent coffee shops. They have over twenty five years of expertise and experience, and have helped over 400 small coffee shops open. When I finally do open That Coffee Place, I will be proudly serving Crimson Cup coffee. They are awesome! The Better Business Bureau rates them A+ status.  If you are serious, really truly serious about opening a coffee chop, buy Greg Ubert’s book, Seven Steps To Success. It comes with a sample of their coffee and teas, and you get a phone consultation. It’s worth the $69.99. When you do sign up with them, their fee is about $30,000, but that includes a lot including shop design, staff training,  and coffee supplies for your store.  These people are the cream of the crop!

Next find a good business realtor. I have looked at over a dozen potential sights so far. Nothing has stuck yet, but some were very close. When you do locate a property, you’ll also need to hire an architect , a building engineer, and a construction crew if the landlord doesn’t have their own. This is all before you even open your doors. My first year of attempting to open a  cafe generated thousands of dollars of business expenses, and I still don’t have a shop. The point is, by going through the process, doing everything in order, dotting all my ‘i’s and crossing all my ‘t’s, I’ve protected myself from potentially disastrous mistakes while establishing a firm foundation for my future business venture. Hopefully, you will do the same. As always I wish you success and happiness!   

Any Business Lately?

Why places close.

Any Business Lately

It happens to all of us. You travel to your favorite place of business and arrive to see the place shuttered. Another shop closed. How did this happen? Sometimes we can see it coming, but other times it comes as a complete shock, tragic and disheartening.  This year alone, two of my favorite products stopped being made. My favorite hot pepper jam, because the company apparently folded. The website says online items are all out of stock, the phone call I made went unanswered to voicemail, and the owner was absent at a local food festival. Just this week, I went online to order a few cases of this awesome specialty iced tea, not sold in stores. I always order six to twelve cases at a time, extra of  the diet blueberry flavor. I was devastated to learn that Two If By Tea  had been discontinued due to rising production costs.

As upsetting as it may be for us, often it is many times worse on the owner of the business because although we were loyal patrons, the business was their brainchild. What do you do when your dream dies?

The reasons why places shut down are as varied as the businesses themselves, but there are often several main reasons business close.

Declining customer base.

The first espresso bar to open in Lancaster PA was The Monk’s Tunic. It made the local newspaper. (That local newspaper has since folded also.) When you are the first business you often inspire imitators.  Competition for customers is often fierce when several shops of the same type open in close proximity. Customers are the life-blood of a business, and losing too many customers will kill a business. Although it is speculation on my part, I blame the press release, because within the first year of business, at least a half dozen similar cafes opened all within two blocks of each other.  That same newspaper article also mentioned a national bookstore chain that was opening at the mall, BORDERS BOOKS which would have a sit down espresso bar.

Why do I blame the newspaper? Think of the California Gold Rush of 1848 which brought over 300,000 prospectors to California when newspapers announced gold had been found at Sutter’s Mill.  Here was the local newspaper proclaiming the discovery of ‘Black Gold’ in the city.

I did manage to visit all of the cafes which opened during the ‘Great Espresso Rush’ to sample their drinks. I’m a coffee snob, so it takes more than just what’s in the cup to leave an impression on me. The ones that offered poetry readings and live music often brought me back rather than the coffee, all of which tasted pretty much the same. They must have all been using the same local roaster. The Monk’s Tunic put up a valiant fight, outlasting all of the newcomers except BORDERS, which in turn folded a decade later. Each of these shops were unique in their own ways, but I really miss both The Monk’s Tunic and BORDERS the most.

monk

Location, Location, Location.

Where you sell your goods is often as important as what you sell. Unless you sell a highly coveted item and have a rabid fan base clamoring for it, customers will not usually go out of their way to visit your establishment. A highly visible location with vibrant signage and easy access and exit are key. If your customers can’t see you easily, or get to your shop, they won’t stop and just pass on by. And don’t forget about parking, no one wants to fight for a space, or pay to park just to go to your store.

Accessibility.

Most new construction in the USA conforms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The ADA sets standards for construction of accessible public facilities.  However, if you buy an older property built prior to the establishment of the ADA to house your business, you may need to make modifications. This can include ADA bathrooms for customers, a designated check-out counter space set lower, designated seating and parking for disabled people, ramps, and even wider doors in some cases to accommodate wheelchairs or motorized carts.  Depending upon the modifications, this can be quite costly.

Staff.

When I was a young boy, I used to walk two extra blocks to a small grocery store to buy Pepsi for my aunt, because it was a nickel cheaper per bottle. The store was run by an old man. Two weeks in a row I went in and he was out of Pepsi, and I had to go back to the bigger grocery.  So I stopped going to his store for a few weeks. Sometime later, I went back to his shop, and there was one six-pack of Pepsi so I brought it. As I was walking out, I heard the old man grumble angrily to himself how ‘the boy doesn’t come in for weeks, then buys his last six-pack’. I NEVER went back to that store again.

You and your employees are the face of your business. A customer should always feel like you appreciate their business, not like you are doing them a favor by being open. Staff should be friendly, courteous, clean, identifiable, competent, and well versed in your product. Your employees may be well extremely versed, but NO ONE should know more about your business, or be more skilled at it than you. You should be easily reachable by both staff and customers to solve problems that your employees may encounter.  Yes, there are SOME high-maintenance customers who think the world revolves around them, but they are the exception, not the rule. I try very hard to be nice to ALL my customers, including the ‘difficult’ customers. IF you have a ‘difficult’ customer, it may be necessary for you or a trusted high-level employee to personally  deal with them. By isolating this E.G.R. (Extra Grace Required) customer, you are protecting your staff from them, and vice-versa.

Word of Mouth.

Do your customers rave about you and your shop? Do they leave positive reviews on social media? Do they even know you exist at all?

Thirty years ago, most people looked up businesses in the Yellow Pages phone book. They saw advertising on TV, in magazines, newspapers, and on bill boards. Reviews were often by word of mouth. Today however, social media is the main go-to.  It is very important to have an online presence. Although I am still in the process of trying to establish That Coffee Place, I do have a Twitter and a Facebook page already established. Both have been dormant for years waiting for my brick-and-mortar location to open someday.  When it does, I’ll probably expand my online presence to Yelp! and Trip Adviser, as well as Google. When that does happen, positive reviews will be very important. One bad experience at your place of business can be all it takes for a disgruntled customer to leave a negative review online which can harm potential sales.

Incompetence and mismanagement.

The saddest reason a business can fail is because the owner failed to do their homework. There is much more to opening a shop than signing a lease and hanging an OPEN sign. As the owner of your shop, you need to know everything there is to know about your business and the location BEFORE you even open the door. I know of a struggling pizza place that is barely keeping its lights on because they opened in the same ‘Turn-Key’ location as FIVE other pizza places before them, all of which folded. In the same little strip mall, there is an empty restaurant which was a ‘Turn-Key’ restaurant that in the last seven years had 3 different Spanish restaurants, 2 African restaurants, and a Jamaican restaurant.  Just because it’s a ‘Turn-Key’ location selling all the necessary equipment and furniture included with the lease does NOT mean it’s a great place for a restaurant.  There often are very good reason these shops closed.

The neighborhood changed.

When you’re surrounded by a large population of very poor people on public assistance, these people do not dine at restaurants often, if ever. When a neighborhood goes into decline, litter, graffiti and crime increase. This alarming trend often discourages patrons from more affluent areas, who tend to avoid such slums and favor more inviting places.

Parking.

Not having a well-lit attached parking lot with adequate spaces will discourage patrons.

Tastes changed.

What you’re selling may no longer be desired.

Staffing issues.

You can’t pay people enough to stay, or find good help.

Money Issues.

You ran out of working capital and are robbing Peter to pay Paul. No Ponzi scheme on Earth will keep your Money Pit open long term.

Health Issues and Retirement.

No avoiding it, we will not be young and healthy forever. Everyone one of us will grow older, feebler, and eventually die.  When this happens, we are often forced to downsize, and this will also include either shutting down, passing on, or outright selling our businesses.

The Pancake Farm in Ephrata PA will be shutting its doors in eight weeks on December 1st, 2018. The owners are retiring. The business has been these since 1960, and owned by them since 1982

The owner of The West Reading Diner sold the business to his son, who re-branded it as The American Diner.

american

After decades of business, my guitar teacher Ken Rohrbach shut down Ken’s Music Studio on 10th St several years ago,  and retired. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I may be a coffee expert, but I’m no guitar player. I could probably earn a fortune standing on a corner asking passers-by for tips for me NOT to play my guitar. Just goes to show, pobody’s nerfect. As always, I wish success and happiness!

GOING CLUBBING?

Membership has its rewards.

goingclub

Last weekend, Wegman’s held a grand opening for its newest store in Lancaster PA. This would be the second largest supermarket in the county. (The largest is Shady Maple.) It was a rainy day, but I kid you not when I say it was standing room only. Everyone and their mother living in a twenty mile radius was there. People were lined-up ten deep in three different queues to sign-up for the store loyalty reward program. You could not move one foot in any direction in the store without encountering someone with a shopping cart, and state police were directing traffic into and out of the fully occupied parking lot as drivers circled the lot, jockeying for position. It was a total madhouse. I left after 15 minutes without buying a single item.

wegmans

Now there may only be ONE Wegman’s Supermarket in Lancaster county, but there are more than a hundred supermarkets owned by at least a half-dozen chains. Wegman’s has things that you cannot get anywhere else. It is the ONLY place I have ever seen that carried Oaxaca cheese! Oaxaca is a white, semihard cheese from Mexico, similar to unaged Monterey jack, but with a mozzarella-like string cheese texture.

oaxaca

Loyalty has its rewards.

It seems that every chain store in the world encourages people to join their loyalty rewards program. Signing-up is free, you save money on specials, and you get a wallet card and or a small fob for your keys that you have to scan at the checkout.  I have so many of these that I ordered a small loyalty-card holder for my key ring to protect and organize these flimsy, plastic-coated card-stock tags. 

loycard

Aside from the initial hassle of filling out the application, it’s a smart way to save money for the customer, often on products you already use.  On  National Coffee Day, I got a free cold brew coffee from Sheetz, after I downloaded their app to my smartphone and ordered online. A minor inconvenience for a free $2.99 drink.

sheetz

The downside is that you’re supplying personal info and shopping habits with that company. I know people who refuse to provide their contact info and insist on asking the checker at the register for ‘the store card’. Some chains used keep a card at each register for people who ‘forgot’ their card, which they would scan so you can still get the discount on the specials, but this is slowly being phased out.  As more and more people have smart phones, loyalty programs are switching over from cards and fobs to apps you download right to your phone.  Stores really want you to sign up for these reward programs.  It provides their company with vital market research as they track your purchase history. Knowing what brands and items you buy allows them to stock greater quantities.  Knowing where you live can help them determine the potential viability of opening new stores in your neighborhood. I used to shop at Wegman’s sporadically because prior to last week, the nearest store was over 35 miles away. The same goes for Trader Joe’s, I’d love to have a local store.          

Membership has its rewards too.

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” – Groucho Marx

There are several store chains such as Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Club which require an annual membership fee for people wishing to shop there. This may sound crazy to some people.  Who would want to pay $60 a year for the ‘privilege’ of shopping at a wholesale ‘club’? Firstly, let’s go back to my harrowing tale of the Wegman’s grand opening.  You NEVER encounter crowds like that at a wholesale club. EVER. Every person with a cart paid their membership to shop there.  If you’re curious and want to look around just to determine if a wholesale club membership is for you, you can go to the customer service desk and they will allow it (and probably offer you literature and an application form). I used to belong to BJ’s years ago when I was in charge of supplying drinks and snacks for the employee break room, until the honor system broke down and the till dried up. I don’t understand people stealing snacks and sodas when we get paid as much as we do.

Wholesale clubs eliminate the cost of shipping and distribution of items from the warehouse to the retail store, because the warehouse IS the store. Also because these items are special packed in larger quantities, the per-item cost is much lower for the consumer. So if you have a large family, buying in bulk at a wholesale club will save you a significant amount of money, and allow you to recoup the initial investment you made when you brought your membership. 

But what’s a single person going to do with a hundred-roll case of Charmin?

Fortunately there IS an online alternative to the warehouse wholesale club. There are two members-only online shopping clubs that I know of. Like the warehouse clubs, you pay an annual fee. BUT you get free shipping IF you buy a certain amount. You are also buying only their unique brand, so don’t expect to order Pepsi or Doritos. Now there are store brands that meet or exceed the quality offered by national chains. The organic specialty health food chain Trader Joe’s sells almost exclusively their own unique brand with very few exceptions. I LOVE Trader Joe’s. They really have the best groceries, but they are pricey. Again, many  of these items are organic, free of artificial preservatives and chemicals, and are much healthier so they are better for you. (Isn’t your health worth the cost?) Costco sells KIRKLAND brand exclusively, GNC sells its own brand, I could go on.

So back to the two members-only, online shopping clubs which offer only their own brand. Both launched in past two years.  Their mission is to provide the customer with a high quality product at the lowest cost possible.   

They offer factory direct non-branded products with simple black and white no-frills labels with just the company , product name, ingredients, and nutritional info. You won’t see a photo of a tomato on the tomato sauce. It will say TOMATO PASTE. From the few examples I’ve seen online, the labeling is ONLY in English, which I consider to be a plus because it always irks me when foreign language is forced upon me in my native country by social justice warriors in the name of diversity and inclusiveness. I would never think of living in any country where I didn’t have a firm grasp of the local language. It may be true that the USA has no official national language, but since the country was founded it has been the consensus that it is English.  

The ONLY two possible drawbacks I see are that the new companies might fold, as new business have a high failure rate, and that you can’t sample the goods before you buy them, so you really have to rely upon customer feedback. Most of the reviews I’ve read have been favorable, and I do plan on trying out both companies in the very near future. I always believe in supporting small businesses and  the independent operators. Without customer support, these companies cannot last. Their prices do seem fair, and a smart consumer should be able to seamlessly work these goods into their personal budget plans to both recoup the cost of membership and save money in the process.       

The two companies  are: BRANDLESS and PUBLIC GOODS.

BRANDLESS https://brandless.com/

Only $36/year after your free trial.

BRANDLESS Their mission is to provide better everything, and sell it at a fixed price of just $3. Since every item is $3, be sure to check the size. You’re not going to get a pound of organic coffee anywhere, even at BRADLESS, but ounce per ounce it will be a better deal than Starbucks.

PUBLIC GOODS https://www.publicgoods.com/

Public Goods. They too are attempting to provide healthier alternatives to commercially available products at cost, making as little on the item as possible. It’s a counter-intuitive business strategy that relies upon the sales of the memberships to cover costs. I think it’s an interesting social experiment, but only time will tell if it’s economically viable for a company to operate long term under that business model. I am intrigued enough that I’m willing to gamble on a LIFETIME membership deal, offered through KICKSTARTER  until November 8th 2018.   

Only $59/year after your free trial.

If you want to gamble on the LIFETIME Membership deal like I did yesterday here’s the link for that ‘possible’ money saving offer: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/494595922/public-goods-healthy-wholesome-food-affordable-to

Hopefully, these suggestions will provide money-saving opportunities that you can take advantage of. Always remember that every dollar you can save, and every cost-cutting measure you can find will get you closer to attaining wealth and achieving your dreams. Good luck! As always, I wish you success and happiness!

BIGGER IS BETTER!

More bang for your buck!

bigger is better

Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination – Anon.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”.  As part of my journey to ‘a better me’, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to not only my wealth and knowledge base, but also my health.  After all what’s the point of being wealthy if you’re too sickly to enjoy the fruits of your labor. All of the major self-help gurus stress the importance of a healthy mind and body as being key elements of being a successful person.

Proper nutrition is essential to good health. The problem is good food is expensive. As I previously in last week’s blog, you can grow your own fruits and vegetables at home and preserve them yourself. You’ll have the comfort of knowing that your produce is organic and that you canned them free of artificial chemicals, additives, and preservatives.   But there are just some things that you can’t grow at home. Take bananas for example. More than likely you aren’t going to be growing those in your back yard. I do know of some people who have their own free range chickens producing eggs for them, but that’s out of the question for most of us as well. And who wants to milk a cow to get milk for their coffee? Some things just have to be purchased commercially but  there are ways to trim the fat from your expenses at the same time as you trim it from your waste.

This past year, I went on a very aggressive diet and exercise program. It’s self developed, but the main elements are that I eat healthier and exercise. I’ve been eating a lot of organic foods, cooking healthier dinners from a meal kit service called Hello Fresh. I go to the gym when possible, and I’m a lot more physically active during the summer. Kayaking, and riding my mountain bike are quite fun. I’ve managed to lose 40 lbs. and I’m back to where I was before the bout of depression hit me when the ex-girlfriend left.  Another 30lbs more, and I’ll be back to what I weighed in college.

Fad diets come and go, but every person is different, and every BODY is different.  I found something that works for me, and if it works, don’t fix it! It irks me when people tell me I should be doing something other than what I’m doing because they read something somewhere that said (FILL IN THE BLANK) is better than whatever it is I’m doing.  If they want to try whatever it is they read about, good for them. I’ve my own results to show that what I’m doing is working, and I feel wonderful.

There are a lot of dietary supplements that I take during the course of a day. Many of them are quite pricey, but just as you have to spend money to make money, you need to spend money on better nutrition.  The good news is, many of these items do have long shelf lives, so you can take advantage of sales, economy packs, bogos, and clearance specials each of which will stretch your hard earned dollars and give you more bang for your buck.  Stocking up and buying in bulk will drastically reduce the cost per serving, save on shipping, and prevent the accidental impulse buy when you go to the store for one item and leave with a dozen.

Economy Size

If you know for a fact that you will definitely use a product, often buying the larger size will save you money on the cost per servings.  A  single 60 serving  can will always cost less than two 30 serving cans, UNLESS the smaller size is on sale. Always pay attention to the cost per unit.

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BOGO

The infamous BOGO or ‘Buy One, Get One’ sales will allow you to double the amount purchased and reduce the cost per unit. Taking advantage of these will allow you stock up. You can also try a different flavor, but if you buy it, use it. Waste not, want not.

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Clearance

If you see an item you use (or something similar that’s equal in quality) on clearance, buy it! Always check the ‘best by’ date to be certain that you can use the item before the expiry date. Certain supplements lose their potency with age, so if it’s been sitting on a shelf for months, the bargain might not be much of a bargain. Every item is different, some will be just fine, so do your homework. It’s very easy to check, just whip out your smart phone and  Google information on the products and how long they’ll keep.

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Brand X

Brand loyalty means that sometimes you’re paying for the name on the box, and not what’s in it. There are many generic or store brands that are every bit as good as national brand names. Often, these items will be sitting side by side on the self with the competing product. They will have similar packaging, and will probably have some statement on the label telling you to compare the ingredients. Some of these products are just as good if not better than the name brand, and will save you pennies on the dollar.

Automatic shipments and free shipping

Many of the health places like GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe have automatic subscription services you can sign up for which will offer a discount on the supplements, and offer free shipping if you order a certain amount. The beauty of these automatic subscriptions is that you never run out accidentally of your favorite vitamin, or go to the store and discover they’re temporarily out of stock. Also, these services occasionally include bonus trial sample items for free, so you can try new products that you might also enjoy.

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Of course there are always sales going on, so it always pays to shop around at competitor sites. I was at GNC and the sales associate told me that they’ll price match an identical item offered on AMAZON which they happened to stock as well. Some of these brick-and-mortar stores are really having to fight for your business because online retailers are stealing their customers, so they are occasionally willing to make a deal.      

Following these all of these tips might mean you’ll eventually need to buy both a smaller belt, and a larger wallet. As always, I wish you success and happiness!

LIVE BOLDLY!

Don’t DREAM it, BE it!

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Almost a year ago, on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:58 AM I launched my blog.

My first article was The 52 Week Challenge, and the purpose of that first post was to serve as both an introduction, and as a source of encouragement. Every Labor Day Weekend I enjoy a fun-filled vacation at the shore in Ocean City MD. It’s my ‘happy place’. If you followed the advice of that first post, by saving away just $25 every week, then you too should have been able to afford a fantastic getaway vacation to a destination of your choice. This year I spent even more days at the shore going down every weekend in August. I jet skied and even parasailed for the first time. I had a blast being 800 feet in the air, strapped to a parachute, while being towed by a speedboat.  

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I was not always as wealthy as I am today, but I did not get to where I am by accident. I helped myself by reading self-help books and studying the habits of highly successful people. The knowledge I gained helped me grow as an individual and I’ve changed for the better as a result.

For years, I tried imparting the wealth building tips and tricks to friends and family, but sadly many of them ignored my well-meaning advice. I want everyone to be happy and successful. Now, through the magic of the world wide web, my blog posts have been read by people in 48 countries around the world. Hopefully each and every person who visited this past year found some useful and encouraging tidbit they could utilize in their own personal journey.

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Climb every mountain 
Ford every stream 
Follow every rainbow 
‘Till you find your dream…

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” Song from the  1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music.

We all have dreams of a better life and a prosperous future. These things don’t happen by accident and rarely are they handed to us. We need to work hard and plan if we want to be successful in our endeavors. Sometimes, this means long shifts at the day job. But if you’re working to have just enough to cover your bills, your dreams will disappear in a cloud of smoke. I’ve known people who toiled away at dead-end jobs, or who took meaningless ‘promotions’ that were paid little more than their underlings, but were filled with nightmare time demands and far more responsibilities.  I’ve had co-workers who died young from fatal heart attacks due to stress. My own father died at 57, never living to see retirement. Life is too short to be miserable.  If you’ve worked at the mall, or waited tables for years because ‘you like it’, or ‘it’s easy work’, then the only thing you’ve accomplished is to help someone else fulfill their dream.

It amazes me when I hear people advocating for a higher minimum wage because they can’t live on minimum wage. Minimum wage was never intended to be a ‘living wage’. I do understand that sometimes it’s hard to find a better paying job. When I was in college, I worked three different minimum wage jobs each week. I applied for my current job five times, and went to eleven interviews before I was hired, as a temp! The entire time I spent working multiple minimum wage jobs, I was doing little more than working or sleeping, but the point is that all the while I was also seeking the better paying job and actively pursuing it.  I never considered staying at any of my low paying jobs longer than necessary than to establish my credentials and prove that I was deserving of better jobs with higher salaries.  I also never gave up striving to improve myself.

You need to examine your life, as well as your financial situation. It’s the quality of the time you spend living your life vs. the quantity of time needed at work to reach your goals. A minimum wage job will not cut it.  The purpose of a minimum wage job is to provide training to a new employee, establish a work history, show responsibility, and prove dependability.  No employer will retain or promote a new employee who constantly displays irresponsible behavior, or a lack of dependability. If you have a history of quitting jobs, finding employment will also be challenging. No one is going to hire someone who is going to quit shortly after being hired. Your reputation is important.

Your attitude and charisma will open almost as many doors as who and what you know.

For several years now, I’ve been trying to establish a coffee shop. I’ve done a lot of research and leg work on the subject  as I’ve been building my resources. There have been several false starts. I’ve scouted more than a half dozen potential locations, and met with several potential allies. Three years ago, I received a phone call from the owner of a property I was actively and aggressively attempting to lease. I believed that this location in downtown Reading PA was a prime location as it was located near a movie theater, a community college, and a art gallery, as well as a block away from the bus terminal.
After several phone messages to the number on the leasing sign went unanswered, I crafted a courteous and well-worded business letter, which I mailed to the property owner, along with my business card and a very nice stainless steel coffee mug bearing my cafe logo.

Two days later, I received a personal phone call from billionaire department store tycoon Al Boscov. That ten-minute phone call was the most uplifting and empowering message I have ever received.

Mr. Boscov told me that he was impressed by all I had accomplished thus far, and that he was very proud of me. I can’t tell you what it meant to me to hear those words from such a successful businessman. Even thinking about it today brings tears to my eyes. It was like hearing the words of validation and praise I longed to hear from my father, had he lived long enough to see the man I grew up to become.   Words have power, and you can change the course of a person’s entire life when you give them encouragement and guidance at a crucial juncture.  Although I THOUGHT that the location was ideal, Mr. Boscov gave me several reasons why it was not as great a location as I believed it was. If a billionaire philanthropist tells you a location is not good, you listen. He saved me from a potential bad investment which I was too inexperienced to see. Before he ended the call, he told me that if he found a prime location in the city that he thought was suitable for a cafe, I would be the first person he called. I was on cloud nine for months after that phone call.  Sadly, last year Mr. Boscov passed away from cancer on Feb. 10th, 2017 at the age of 87.  Although I never met the man in person, I will never forget his kind grandfatherly voice, or the wonderful words he said.

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To dream the impossible dream,

To fight the unbeatable foe,

To bear with unbearable sorrow,

To run where the brave dare not go.

“The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” Song Andy Williams from the musical Man of La Mancha.

Don’t quit!

Life is not a destination, it’s a journey. As you travel down the road of life, you will meet many people who will try to discourage you, or dissuade you from pursuing your dreams. Just as it is important to examine your life, it is equally important to examine their lives. Always consider the source. Never take advice from people who are less successful than yourself. You’ll encounter many a wise guy or know-it-all who is filled with anecdotes, but has little results to show to back up their stories. That’s why I studied the habits of highly successful people and learned from their examples.  Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the easier it is to see through charlatans and phony pundits.

Always keep in mind that the hopes and dreams of these detractors and naysayers died long ago.

Because they were not successful, they don’t want you to be successful. Because they are poor, they don’t want you to be rich.  You’re smarter and better than them, and they are just jealous. Don’t let these emotional vampires suck the hope and dreams out of your life.

You will also encounter many false starts and set-backs as you pursue your dreams, but the important thing is to persevere! Don’t quit! Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Sometimes the end of one opportunity is the beginning of another. As I mentioned previously, I’ve scouted a half dozen possible cafe locations which all fell though, including one that was 99% a sure thing until someone threw a monkey wrench into the deal.  I’ve lost some money in the process, but it’s only money. You’ve got to spend money to make money and the knowledge I gained in the process provided me valuable insight.  My coffee shop dream is on hold at the moment while I regroup and rethink how next to proceed. I have not given up and continue to build up my cash reserves in preparation.   

As for the immediate future, I plan to edit, collate, and adapt the past 52 weeks of blog posts into an e-book. Not many people read blogs, but there are people who will download an e-book into their tablet to read,  especially if it’s inexpensive, so I might be able to reach a broader audience with my message.  If you’ve been reading http://www.InstantCoffeeWisdom.com from the start, then you’ll have read 100% of what the potential e-book will contain. Sales of the e-book will hopefully add a second revenue stream towards eventually opening That  Coffee Place.  I’m not sure what other financial topics to cover in the coming weeks, I’ve covered everything I’m familiar with, and I’m running out of ideas.  I’d love to hear any suggestions on money topics you’d like my opinion on.

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley

We will not be young forever, nor will we live forever. Enjoy your youth and take advantage of as many exciting and fun opportunities as life presents. Collect memories, not things. Go places, try new things, meet new people and leave your mark on life. Be the best person you can be, and treat everyone with fairness and kindness, even the ones who don’t deserve it. You could be the bright light that leads that person from their dark place.     Make the world a better place when you leave it than it was when  you entered it. Experience in person all the great things that life has to offer, don’t live vicariously through others, or waste your life addicted to your electronics. Take pictures and record your adventures!  There’s so much more to see of life when you don’t waste your time staring down at your smart phone   constantly texting, tweeting, or playing game apps.

As always I wish you success and happiness!

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What’s a Bargain for You???

How much time are you willing to invest searching for deals?

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When I was a still a young boy living back in my hometown of Woodhaven NY,  Woolworth’s was the king of ‘five and dime’ department stores. We didn’t have the internet or World Wide Web in the 1970’s, it didn’t exist.  Walmart was not the powerhouse it is today, and was unknown. I think the first time I ever heard of it was when I was in college and the late Paul Harvey raved about Walmart on his radio program.

The nearest Woolworth department store from Woodhaven was in Jamaica NY, about 5 miles away, and a twenty-minute bus ride on the Q-56 bus. You could also take the J Train and get off at Sutphin Boulevard. Either way, you had to wait for the train or bus, each way, and pay carfare.

In Woodhaven, there was a small town, two-store department store chain called Lewis’ of Woodhaven. It was started in 1933 by Louis Lewis. When he died, he left his two stores to his two sons Larry and Julius.  They in turn passed the stores onto their sons Jeff and his cousin Robert . Sadly the chain finally closed its doors shortly after Christmas of 2003. For me, it was another tragic loss of my childhood as the wonderful hometown I remembered slowly died one location at time.

When my aunt Arleen was still alive, she would often say, “Woolworth’s will have it on sale a little cheaper, but Lewis’ has it too, and we save time and carfare.” The point I’m trying to make is, we brought stuff locally.  If you had to invest time and money hunting down bargains, often you were penny wise and dollar foolish. It was always better to buy local, and support small business.

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far – Lyics from the song Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles    

The Internet is killing brick and mortar stores.

With the rise of e-commerce, traditional brick-and-mortar stores are finding it harder and harder to stay in business. Each year, more and more of the stores and chains we remember from our youth disappear, replaced by just a wisp of memory in the mists of our minds.  There are many problems that arise from the convenience of online shopping. As stores vanish, you lose the natural competition for sales, the variety of goods and services, and the proximity of locations of these stores to your home.  So you go back to the internet, pay shipping, wait a few days and maybe get the item as you thought you understood from its description, and a picture or two.  Had there been a local store you could have shopped at, you might have had it that very day, and supported a local business for about the same amount of money when you consider the cost of shipping.

Caveat emptor! –Latin for Let the Buyer Beware

I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t great deals online, there are. But you really can’t judge quality from a picture and a few words of description.  I read a story about a poor soul who lived in a foreign country. He read a 5-star review of a book on Amazon called Why Socialism Works by Harrison Lievesley. Rave review after rave review. The book costs about ten bucks. So this guy in Turkey though this must be a very  interesting book, and paid very high foreign shipping for a book that is just a gag. Every page is printed with “It doesn’t”.  

It is really not a good joke to have a book with emty pages just saying “it doesnt”. Price of book may be 8 dollars but it costed almost to 25 dollars to get it in Turkey. I am very frustirated with this cold joke –Kahraman Gürcanon February 22, 2018

I feel very badly for Mr.  Kahraman Gürcanon, I feel his frustration. If there had been a local store he could have picked up this book, held it in his hands and saw what it really was, he probably would have laughed at the joke and put it back on the shelf.  He got stung by too-good-to-be-true advertising. It happens. Occasionally, you get something really shoddy, BUT if you know what to look for, you can find amazing deals.

But all the best deals are online!

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Recently, I rediscovered the joy of cooking. As a result, I ordered new cookware, and a new set of chief knives.  The best knife in my kitchen was a used, like-new Chicago Cutlery 10″ chef knife. This blade is razor sharp, and finding it discarded at an apartment complex cost me nothing. I picked it up and put it in my truck, because I was afraid some child would come across it. Although I usually dispose of such things, this was a really good knife and throwing it in the dumpster seemed like such a waste. Seeing and feeling the quality of the knife really was instrumental in choosing to purchase a set of the knives.  Sadly, they are made in China, but they are really great quality knives for the price and eventually I did find a fantastic deal online at Amazon,  (but I wasn’t really actively searching for it). I did do a quick price check, saw that it was indeed a steal, and had free shipping to boot, so that cinched the decision.  I have the 30 day free trial for Prime, so I’m getting free shipping right now. But paying for ‘free-shipping’ is only a deal if you buy often which I do not! Impulse buying is a great way to go broke fast.  There is a difference between needing and wanting, and just because you want something doesn’t always mean you need it, or can even  afford it. In such cases of wants, I save the item to my ‘wish list’ and check periodically for a price reduction or sale. Delayed gratification is the best way to hang on to your hard-earned cash.  As Ben Franklin supposedly said, “The best way to double your money is to fold it in two and put it back in your wallet!”

Consider three things when purchasing an item:

  • Cost– The price of the item is never the full cost. Are you supporting local commerce, or foreign? Is it a quality item, or a cheap knock-off? Was it made by well paid workers, or in a sweatshop? Are you going to use it just ONCE, or are you going to use it very often? Will it last? Does it have to be brand new, or will used be acceptable? 
  • Shipping – Does the price of the item justify the shipping fee? If you’re paying an annual fee to get ‘free-shipping’ is it really ‘free-shipping’?
  • Time– Is it worth the wait, or do you need it right now? How much time are you spending hunting for that bargain?  

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but is often true.” – Mr. Spock from Star Trek, season 2, episode 1 (“Amok Time,” 1968)

Comparison is the enemy of contentment.

Do you really need something just because your friend or neighbor owns one?  I’ve only ever brought one TV in my entire life thus far. When I got my first apartment, I furnished it with EVERYTHING I needed or wanted. A TV was a MUST for a twenty-year-old.  I threw that old set out years ago, but I never brought another.  First off, I don’t nearly waste as much time in from of the ‘boob-tube’ as I used to. Anything I ‘need’ to see, I can always watch online somewhere using my laptop. The image is good enough for me. Yet I have friends who are on their 5th or 6th set, because TVs keep changing. The flat screens are getting bigger and bigger, HD is switching to 4D, curved screens, more hook-ups, better sound and resolution. Lower prices! Big sales! Act now!! I guess that’s great if you want to spend your entire life sitting in front of a screen living vicariously, but there is a whole wide world outside your window, and maybe it’s time to cut the cord. As always, I wish you happiness and success!