Collection or Clutter?

Kitsch me if you can!

collection

Way back in 1994 when Amazon.com  first launched, it billed itself as Earth’s Largest Bookstore, they had a series of TV commercials in which contractors searching for potential warehouse storage sites  were measuring large places up to and including The Great Pyramid of Giza and saying ‘still not big enough’.  Mind you, this was back before Jeff Bezo started selling everything under the Sun.  The point was that if you ‘could’ have everything, where would you put it?

amazon

Several years ago, I took a visit down to Linthicum, Maryland to visit a guy named Thomas Atkinson. Tom has the largest collection of Star Wars toys on the East Coast, it not the entire world. He has more than 14,000 pieces on display in his home.  I saw toys that I dimly remember owing or playing with back in the late 1970’s when Kenner first started selling Star Wars toys in 1978. (Most of my toys went into the trash when my mother got evicted, which happened frequently after my step-father died.)  I also saw rarities and limited edition pieces that were so scarcely produced that owning one was like owing the Holy Grail. It was truly impressive, and to be envied if you are into that sort of thing.

The down side of his massive collection is that practically every square inch of his ground floor rooms are filled floor to ceiling with display counters and stands holding tons of toys. I was honestly afraid to move too quickly and possibly destroy a priceless relic. There’s so much to see that it’s impossible to see it all. Your mind just can’t processes everything you’re seeing.

However, Thomas is doing collecting the ‘right’ way. His collection brings him joy, but is not just a personal treasure trove that he hordes away from prying eyes.   He’s very proud of his unique collection,  referred to as The Star Toys Museum, and is willing to schedule free tours of his Museum during select times and days for small groups. This is the man’s home as well as a museum. A proper museum should house a vast number of displays, and the more to see, the better. Whenever I’ve been to the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History, there were more artifacts on display than I could remember. There were signature pieces that were the crown of the display, but there were other things that you didn’t expect to see, and were surprised. If I was going to have a collection of Star Wars toys, I’d do it just the way Thomas Atkinson has. To schedule a free tour (address available upon request) or to view items from the collection, go to startoysmuseum.org.

STARTOYS

A man’s home is his castle.

My home is NOT a museum, it’s a sanctuary, a fortress of solitude, a place of privacy just for me to get away from the world.  My one bedroom apartment is just big enough for me and all my stuff. I have small collections of various types of things, but nothing so huge that moving about would be a problem. The collection that I’m most proud of is my library. It’s floor to ceiling, and fills an entire wall, with a couple of small stand alone cases on a second wall. Many of the books are signed editions and I’ve collected and read them over many years. A personal library was something I always wanted growing up, and it was something that was usually associated with the wealthy.  Are these books worth anything? Maybe, maybe not. Like most private collections, it’s NOT for sale. I didn’t buy them as investment materials, I brought them for me, because it was something I wanted, and life is too short to have regrets.  Someday after I’ve passed on, maybe they’ll be sold at an estate auction. Or, maybe friends will want a few select books, and the rest will be discarded. Or maybe they all will. Either way, I won’t be around to see it. You may have heard the old adage ‘he who dies with the most toys wins.’  I prefer to say instead ‘he who dies with the most toys, STILL DIES!’  You can’t take it with you when you’re gone.

library

Not all that glitters is gold.

Fanboys (and fangirls) are the most obsessive collectors of  toys, novelties, comic books, you name it. Many of these beloved tchotchkes are worthless, over-priced baubles. How many of these silly trinkets does a man need?  Now I’m NOT saying a person should live a Spartan lifestyle in a mostly empty home with hardly any personal possessions, but all things in moderation. You don’t need to fill every square inch of shelf space with expensive curios, and glitzy baubles. So yes, accessorize your home and put your stamp upon it, but set limits. If it’s something that you really want to own, buy it. Life is too short for regrets.  But, if you absolutely MUST own everything you set eyes upon, prepare to be poor. Most of this stuff does NOT increase in value, and if it does, it’s only during a short collectors frenzy phase. The major fad back in the mid 1990’s was collecting Ty Beanie Babies. Some of the rare ones at the time sold for hundreds of dollars. For a small stuffed animal. By 1999, Ty was all but ready to stop making Beanie Babies. Due to the outcry of a few rabid fans, they restarted the toys.  Most of these are worthless except to a very tiny group of devoted collectors, and most of them have all the Beanie Babies they want, so they’re not buying. Or selling for that matter.                

When the movie Guardians of The Galaxy came out in 2014, a co-worker gave me a Funco Rocket Raccoon POP! figure for Christmas. It’s cool, but nothing I’d ever buy for myself, let alone collect. It’s sitting on top of my desk collecting dust.  (Thanks Tony)

poprr

I have a friend named Dave. He has more than 400 of these Funco POP! figures. He thinks they are really cool looking and is trying to get the whole set. There are nearly a thousand varieties of these toys, all numbered by issue, and they range in price from $6 to $15 from what Dave’s told me. Some of them are quite rare and do sell for hundreds of dollars online to obsessed collectors.  Let that sink in for a moment. Hundreds of dollars for a vinyl doll that you can never take out of the box for fear of it no longer being in mint condition.  So for argument sake, I’ll assume that Dave has EXACTLY 400 POP!s and that he paid $7.50 for each of them. That works out to $3000. For toys. That you can’t even play with. But they make Dave happy  and to each his own, but Funco POP!s don’t grab me.   I’m happy with my one and only POP! which I received as a gift.   I can think of a lot of better things to spend $3000 on, like a fantastic vacation, or a used car.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 KJV

The Bible tells us we should  not store our treasures here on Earth. Yeah, when I was younger I wasted a lot of money collecting worthless junk, some of which I still have.  But as I got older, I grew wiser and started using my money for more important things.  Looking back upon the toys of our youth may evoke memories of a simpler time, or a better place. In the end, things are just things and are a part of our past, not our future. It’s not good to live in the past, but there’s nothing wrong with looking back upon it from time to time to see how far we’ve progressed. We are all here on this Earth for a limited time. People and experiences are much more valuable then trinkets which have only nostalgic or sentimental value. Oh don’t get me wrong, on rare occasion from time to time I still buy some silly thing in a fit of whimsy.  Just look at my gnomes in the kitchen. As Always I wish you success and happiness!

gnomes

It’s The LEASED You Can Do!

Why own when you can rent?

leased

It often amazes me when I see a privately owned RV sitting parked in storage on the owners driveway. Most of these so-called motor-homes cost between $100,000 and $300,000 and yet, day in and day out this Recreational Vehicle sits parked, unmoving.  Back in 2006, the late actor and comedian Robin Williams starred in a movie called RV. RV was a marginally funny, mostly forgettable comedy about a dad who tries to bond with his family by renting an RV for a cross country camping trip. Just about everything that you’d expect to go wrong does.  The film does illustrate a couple of points:

  •  Just about anything can be rented or leased.
  • If you’re going to do something infrequently, or only once, renting is better.
  • There are fewer problems with renting then owning. *

Everyone is different.

We all have different skill sets, different wants, and different needs. Our circumstances and situations may have great impact on our choices, but we still have a choice.

Growing up I wanted to get married, buy a house and have a family. None of these things happened. My reason for wanting a house was directly influenced by my desire to get married and have a family. I still can decide to buy a house if I really wanted to, but it doesn’t make sense to me in my current single lifestyle. Houses are liabilities. If you own a house, you are responsible for any and all maintenance or repairs that are needed to keep the house in good condition. So for quite some time now, I’ve been living in a rental apartment which I lease annually. The upkeep and maintenance are all included. When the water heater went out, the property manager replaced it. When the fridge died, I was given a new one. When the dryer stopped working, it was repaired. When the toilet was clogged last Saturday night, the super snaked it.  As long as I pay my rent and don’t intentionally violate the terms of my lease  living here is problem free.  Plus I don’t have to mow a lawn or shovel snow in the winter.

This past week, we’ve experienced heavy rains almost daily. This morning my co-worker told me he awoke to discover his basement was flooded. He’s got quite a mess to clean up and probable flood damage. I live on the third floor. I don’t have a basement to flood. 

In all the years that I’ve rented my apartment, had I been putting my money towards a mortgage on a house instead, I MIGHT have fully paid off the house by now, but every issue that happened to my apartment likewise, could have happened to my hypothetical house had I gone that route. I know people who have lost their houses because something serious happened and they couldn’t swing the upkeep, or they fell behind on their mortgage. Trust me, I made the right decision. My apartment is just the right size for all my stuff, and me.

home 

Two summer activities I enjoy are kayaking and jet skiing.

A kayak retails for between $179 and $900+ depending on make and model. I go kayaking less than a dozen times a year, mostly during July and August. I COULD easily buy one. Instead, I usually rent then when I want one. The usual rental cost is about $40 for a two hour rental, which is about as long as I enjoy doing it for. The great part is that I don’t have to store it, or lug it around. When I’m done, I just return it. No problem. Yes, buying a kayak could pay for itself in two or three summers, but supposed it got damaged or needed to be replaced? It’s much more important to me to avoid the hassle. Peace of mind is priceless!

freny

A new Sea Doo Wave Runner Jet Ski runs between $5,500 and $15,000 depending on the model and accessories. I can rent one for $100 per hour. I may go jet skiing only once or twice each summer. I live over a hundred miles away from the coast. It makes no sense to me to spend that kind of money based up my current living situation.

jet

Just about anything you can buy can usually be rented.

When I was best man at a friend’s wedding, I rented a tux for the day. Some women spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a wedding dress they will only ever wear ONCE. This never made sense to me. Just like a tux can be rented, some bridal boutiques do rent out wedding dresses.  I don’t care how pretty the dress is, the important part of the wedding is the marriage, not the dress. If the point of getting married is to start a new life together, wouldn’t it be better to put that money to better use then to waste it on a dress for one day? The main points of conflict in relationships are financially based. Why would  you sabotage a new life with a boatload of debt?  Trust me on this ladies, debt-free is the new dowry.  I avoid women with financial issues like I avoid the plague.  If you can’t handle money, you couldn’t handle me.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

cherry

Just because anything under the sun can be rented doesn’t always mean you should rent it. I’ve never operated a back hoe, driven a bulldozer, operated a cherry-picker, or driven a truck larger than a two-ton delivery truck.  If you don’t know what you are doing, you can seriously hurt yourself or wreck the equipment.  Always make use that anything you rent either falls within your current skill set, or comes with instructions. I was nervous the first time I went kayaking.  Before I ever got near the water, I was given basic instructions,  helpful hints, and I asked a lot of questions. My first time jet skiing, I sat through a 30 minute class and took a boating safety test, followed by basic instructions and helpful hints. I also signed a liability sheet agreeing that should I fail to follow all the guidelines I would be accountable for any damage to the wave runner up to and including a full replacement of the vehicle.

You CAN lease a new car instead of buying one, but in my case, leasing doesn’t make sense. I drive too far and too often, and car leases have mileage restrictions.  I have to own my cars. Which brings us back to everyone being different. Only you can decide what is best for you. Sometimes a lease is better than buying, other times, not so much. Always read a lease agreement before you sign it because more often than not, breaking a lease has serious financial penalties.  As always I wish you success and happiness!   

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 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.

20180714_111728_Burst01

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!

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.

dump2

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.

dum6

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.

dum3

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. 

dum5

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.

dum4

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.  

dum1

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. 

Staycation Getaways!

Adventures in your own backyard.

backyard

Now that summer has arrived and the weather is warm and sunny, it’s getting harder and harder to be at my day job working, because I spend a lot of time day dreaming about being off anywhere else and enjoying myself. Most people usually take just one summer vacation between Memorial Day and Labor Day which mark the unofficial beginning and end of the summer vacation season in the USA.  I used to go away every Memorial Day weekend, but I gave that activity up years ago for two reasons: One–trim the budget, and Two–It was no longer ‘fun’ doing what I was going that weekend each year.

I still go away EVERY Labor Day Weekend to Ocean City MD, for a grand 5 day vacation at a great hotel located right on the beach.  It’s my most expensive trip of the year, and I budget for it and save up using the 52 Week Challenge savings method.  Aside from that, my summer activities are confined to day trips on weekends,  like renting a kayak on the lake at nearby French Creek State Park.

IMG_3659

I live in Lancaster county, located in south central Pennsylvania.  For size comparison, Pennsylvania is roughly the same square miles in area as the entire country of England. Not the biggest state, but a sizable land.  Fortunately for me, I own my own car, and where I live places me within 160 miles of five different states. In roughly three hours or less (depending on traffic) I can reach parts of Delaware, Maryland,  New Jersey, New York, and of course a sizable chunk of Pennsylvania.  My only barriers are any toll roads, and the cost of a tank of gas. My Hyundai can get between 350 and 400 miles on a full tank depending on travel conditions.  In my circumstance, this location affords me a plethora of nearby State Parks, lakes, mountains, rivers, forests, and beaches that can be explored in three hours drive or less in almost any direction I choose, many less than 100 miles from my home.   

map

100 miles is about 161 kilometers. It’s been joked that the difference between Europeans and Americans is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance.

Everyone knows the word vacation, and it means different things to different individuals. In the UK and parts of Europe, I’ve often heard them use the term holiday instead of vacation, but in the USA holidays refer to specific days like Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Christmas, etc. It is fitting to call a vacation a holiday in a way, as a holiday is a day for celebration when many people are allowed to stay away from work or school, and often a vacation serves the same function. A trip to get away from all the stress, drama, and toil of day-to-day life. A few years ago, some brilliant mind in an advertising office somewhere coined the catchy portmanteau  ‘staycation’ by combining the words STAY and VACATION. It sounds much better than saying ‘taking time off’, ‘getting me-time’ or ‘day-tripping’. I have embraced the staycation as a legitimate excuse to getaway without really going away.

One of the perks of my day job is that my Sunday off plus a rotating day-off schedule means that every seven weeks I automatically get a three day weekend as our work week schedules begin on Saturday and end on Friday. Two of these always fall during the summer. I also have the maximum number of vacation days and sick days you can attain in my position due to my seniority, though I reserve  my vacation days for specific events, and sick days are really meant to be used for serious illness and are frowned upon by upper management when used for mental health days, blue Mondays, or any form of sickness because they really don’t want you to use sick days at all, as if that makes any sense.

So yes, I am fortunate and can take time off to enjoy summer.  I hope that everyone who reads my blog on a regular basis understands that with careful budgeting, prior proper planning, and a minimum amount of travel expense, they too can enjoy both summer vacations and staycations.

What’s in your ‘backyard’?

Assuming you have your own car, or can carpool with a friend:

  • A simple Google search for beaches, or state parks nearby can give you several ideas for low cost or even free places near you to swim, hike, camp, or picnic. All you have to do is be able to get there, which means having a car and the money for gas and tolls.
  • If you are stuck for ideas on what to do with your free time, you can check out value deals for day trips and activities at LivingSocial.Com LivingSocial is an online marketplace that allows its registered users to buy and share things to do in their geographic area.
  • If you enjoy meeting new people, you can always find new groups and clubs to join at MeetUp.com 
  • If you’re into tours,  museums, historic places or various other ideas for day trips, you can check out TripAdvisor.com  for nearby attractions.

If you don’t own a car, or can’t drive:

A lack of personal transportation will significantly limit your ability to explore many of the aforementioned activities, but it doesn’t make them altogether impossible. Always remember, when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be true. If there’s a will, there’s a way. In New York City for example, it IS possible to go to the beach, botanical gardens, museums etc.,  all by bus or subway. That was how I got to go to the beach at Coney Island growing up. 

There are Bus Tour companies that offer many inexpensive  day and even weekend trips to many locations that leave from the Bus Stations in most major metropolitan areas.  It costs me less to take a bus round trip from nearby Reading PA to Queens NY then it does for me to drive the 169 miles to my Aunt’s home due to the cost of gas and tolls, BUT I’m then limited to the quirks of the NYC bus and subway system to get around, or taxis and Ubers/Lyfts so it’s quite restricting.

I’ve taken enjoyable bus trips to Washington D.C many times to see the monuments and museums in my Nation’s Capital. Come to think of it, I should do that again, it’s been a while. The last time I went to D.C. was for a Pro Life March in 2006. That particular trip was free and charted by local churches, but it was a cold January day, and I was very limited in what I was able to do because of the weather, time, and activity constraints. But FREE is FREE, and I got to show support for my beliefs with like-minded Christians.   

  • Pro– You don’t have to drive to and from  your destination, that’s the Bus Drivers job.
  • Pro– You can sleep on the bus if you’re tired, just don’t miss your stop.
  • Con–You are limited to what you do by the arrival and departure times of the tour bus, and if you see an interesting detour on the way to your destination, you can’t pull over and explore it. (I once discovered an Elephant Museum driving on 30W instead of taking my usual PA Turnpike on the way to Ohio two years ago.)     

 

eleph

And of course there’s always biking or waking, or even picnicking in local parks or your own back yard.

picnic

The point is summer only lasts so long, and everyone can find something enjoyable to fit their budget IF they stop making excuses and truly apply themselves.   As always, I wish you happiness and success!