Say Cheese!

Don’t Lose Those ‘Kodak’ Moments!

saycheese

Louis Daguerre produced the first daguerreotype (an early photo process) when he shot an image of the Boulevard du Temple, Paris in 1838. Film cameras didn’t develop until 1888 when Kodak invented his film process. In 1900, the $1.00  Kodak Brownie camera was introduced, and modern photography was born.  For most of the twentieth century, photography was pretty much the same. Cameras may have varied from company to company, some boasting better optics, wider shutter length settings, or built in eclectic flashes, but they all used film. Eastman Kodak pretty much dominated the market, but some swore Fuji Film was more vivid. The drawback of film is that you had to send it out to be developed at a film lab, and  then wait for the prints to arrive in the mail, or at the FotoMat booth, or the drugstore.  If you were willing to invent in a home dark room, and the chemicals needed, you could do it yourself, but most folks were content to leave it to the professionals. The only other alternative was the Polaroid instant camera. Like the early daguerreotype, the Polaroid process produced an instant print that was one of a kind, it had no negative, the print WAS the print, the only existing copy. If you wanted to copy a Polaroid photo, you needed to have the original photographed with a film camera, and of course there was slight loss of quality as this was a copy of a copy.

Today, more pictures are shot in a single year than in all of the last century. Each year over a trillion pictures are taken thanks to smart phones with built-in cameras.

Back in My day…

I have maybe five photographs of my father. My mother didn’t take pictures, she was never a photo bug. There were a few years when she arranged for a professional photographer to come to the house for baby pictures to be taken, or family portraits, but she couldn’t be bothered to buy a simple camera. The few pictures she horded were given her by family and friends, but most of those were lost as we moved like gypsies after she lost her second husband, my stepfather.

After my stepfather Alfred died, my mother had a boyfriend named Bill. In reality, this was a teenage crush that she bumped into many years down the road. He was a shutter bug, and owned a Polaroid Instamatic Camera.  That was the first camera I ever used.

Years later, when I was about 12, my aunt Arleen gave me a Kodak Instamatic. Essentially Kodak had copied the Polaroid Instant Camera and were sued into dropping the new clone from their production line. You were able to buy the film for it for a little while, but eventually it was totally obsolete after the film stock expired and new film wasn’t manufactured.

My second job was working for Olden Camera in NYC, in their computer department. It was then that I purchased my first real 35mm camera, a Nikkon automatic. This point and shot camera was pretty simple to use and lasted many years. Eventually I did get a ‘real’ camera, a Minolta SLR with various lenses and accessories.  It was a lot of weight lugging about that loaded camera bag of accessories, and it was annoying trying to explain all the settings and how to use the camera when I passed it to someone to shoot if the self-timer function was impractical and I wanted to be in the picture. Then disposable cameras came about, and I started using those as everyone knew how to work them.  The point is, from the time I brought my Nikkon in the 80’s, for  nearly twenty years I shot 35mm film.  I have boxes of negative files, and envelopes of prints, as well as photo albums.

For almost the first thirty years of my life, you were limited to film cameras, and the most you could shoot on a roll was 36 exposures. So when you went somewhere and saw something that you wanted to remember forever, you selectively shot one or two photos of it at most, because you had limited shots, and buying film, and getting it processed and printed was expensive.

Nowadays,  most of what we shoot is digital, and we send the pictures we want to share in e-mail or texts.

The sizes of the digital storage media has even changed, with most of the early media obsolete.  Yet, because the photos are digital we are taking more pictures than ever because smart phones  have built in cameras that are getting better with each new model. You still take better pictures with a dedicated digital camera than you do with a smart phone, but  even I will use my phone to take pictures if it’s all I have on me.

Pictures have value. We prize them and treasure them.

A couple of years ago, I lost a SD card with pictures that were not yet copied to my hard drive.  I was packing to return from a trip to the shore, and I think I left it on a table at the hotel. It was never recovered.  If you use a digital camera like I do, back it up frequently if not after every photo shoot. Even if you use your phone to take pictures, copy the data.  Theoretically, smart phones back-up their data to the cloud, but I still don’t trust that. This is why it is vitally important to frequently back-up and copy all your image files. If your electronics suffer a catastrophe, you don’t want to compound the blow by losing your precious ‘Kodak’ moments.  

Pictures, or it ‘never happened’!

Organize your old prints and negatives. A few weeks ago, I was searching for some old vacation photos from 16 years ago, I needed an image, and I could not find either the prints or the negatives. It was very frustrating. It’s probably packed away in a box somewhere in the bottom of the walk-in, but damned if I know where.

  • Frequently copy your media cards.
  • If you have obsolete media, copy the data off the cards while you still have an appropriate reader. Media is useless if you can’t access it.
  • if you have old Polaroid’s or prints, scan them into a digital file.
  • If you have old negatives, invest in a good quality negative scanner and digitize them.

The time, money, and effort you put into preserving your treasured photos will be returned when you can locate and share your Kodak moments. As Always I wish you success and happiness!

At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

treasure

One of my earliest memories of my father involved him giving me a small metal treasure chest filled with old coins. In actuality, this was a just a metal coin bank, but unlike the usually piggy bank shape, this one was shaped like a stereotypical pirate chest one might see in an old movie, or in an illustration from a book on pirates. Although I was quite young at the time, I do remember three things about the incident.

The first thing was that my father originally told me a tall tale about finding the treasure chest buried in the yard by pirates. Not quite the right thing to say to a young impressionable boy with a vivid imagination. My first impulse was to grab a shovel and start trying to dig up the yard in search of more buried pirate booty. Upon realizing his mistake, retrieving the shovel and re-filling the holes in the back yard, my father confessed to making up the whimsical pirate story in jest to have a bit of fun at my expense. A kid will believe anything, they’re too young to know any better.

After a long explanation that pirates like Long John Silver and Blackbeard were not part of the modern world,  the second thing I remember was being delighted that the coins all looked different from contemporary money. I was old enough to know the difference between pennies, nickels, dimes, dimes, quarters, half-dollar, and dollar coins. A lot of the coins were from the 1800’s. This was my father’s coin collection, and he wanted me to have it to encourage an interest in both saving and collecting money. This is something which has stuck with me my whole life. A year or so later, my father died suddenly as a result of kidney failure.

The third thing I remember about the treasure chest of coins was that sometime after the death of first my father, and then my step father, my mother sold the coins to a dealer without my knowledge. It’s not like I looked at them every day, and we had to move quite a bit after she sold the house. Things ‘out of sight’ were always said to be ‘packed away in storage’ until I forgot about them. My mother only understood two things about money, she could spend it, and she never had as much as she’d like.

Bringing home the bacon.   

The origin of the piggy bank is disputed by different sources. Some say  that early coin jars in the middle ages were made of a type of clay called pygg. This word sounded like pig, and an English potter mistakenly created a pig-shaped bank when someone asked for a pygg money jar. There is little evidence to support this widely believed myth.  What is known is that sometime about 1900, the first modern Piggy Banks were sold in the USA, and they cost 25¢. Billed as a new novelty, these early clay banks didn’t have the removable stopper on the bottom of the bank. If you wanted to remove the coins, you had to smash the bank, or kill the pig, so to speak. Even to this day, whenever I empty my coin jar and take a bunch of wrapped coins to the bank, I say to the back teller that I killed the piggy bank.

I never quite understood the charm of a piggy bank, or of giving them to children to teach about saving. A coin jar works much better. It’s my humble opinion that parents who encouraged children to save money in piggy banks did so because young children have a nasty habit of putting everything they can grab into their mouth.  By making a game of putting the penny in the piggy bank, it helped keep the coins out of the mouths of babes. Of course, I may be mistaken, but that’s the nature of opinions.

The next time I became excited about coins and money was 1976, the USA bicentennial.  There was a lot of hoopla concerning our great nation reaching its second century. Tall ships sailed into NYC, there were extra fireworks around the 4th of July, a lot of patriotic symbols on all kinds of novelties could be had. And the money changed.  The  quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins all had a special bicentennial obverse and a double date. Likewise, after a ten year absence, $2 bills were reintroduced with a bicentennial themed back depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I had never seen a $2 bill. My mother was very excited. That was when I suddenly remembered about the long-unseen treasure chest of coins, which I then asked for, only to be told that that was ‘lost in the move’. As a consolation, I was given several specimens of all the new bicentennial money, including several $2 bills. I’ve had a love of $2 bills ever since.  I even have some Canadian $2 bills, both the obsolete paper money and the two loonie or toonie coin. Canada stopped printing $1 and $2 paper money back in 1986. Canadian dollar coins have a loon (a common Canadian waterfowl) on the obverse. They were nicknamed loonies. Some Canadians even started referring to piggy banks as loonie bins. In the late 1980’s Playtoy Industries of Toronto Canada manufactured a Giant Loonie Bank. Sadly, according to a recent news article, Canada says that currency which is no longer being printed will cease to be legal tender in the near future, and will become worthless paper.

looniebin2

This takes us back to collecting coins and money in general. For the most part, money is the one collectible item that always retains its face value.  The USA considers all US currency to be legal tender. If you take a 1937 ‘Mercury Dime’ to your bank, you can deposit it into your account as 10¢. Once a bank gets a hold of old money, it takes it out of circulation never to be seen again. If you took it to a coin collector instead, you’d get more than face value. The silver content alone is worth more than a dime.  To collectors, the condition of the money and its rarity give added value beyond that of the face value. I save all kinds of old money. Some of it is for sentimental reasons, like my $2 bills. Others like my Indian Head pennies are rare. Some coins I have paid slightly above face value to get an entire set in ‘uncirculated’ condition. To collectors, uncirculated coins and collector proof sets command high value. The US Mint sells these collector proof sets for way above face value. The 2018 proof set has ten coins all bearing the ‘S’ mint mark from San Francisco with a frosted, sculptured foreground set against a mirror-like field. You get the five America the Beautiful Quarters, the Native American $1 coin, Kennedy Half-dollar, Roosevelt dime, Jefferson nickel, and Lincoln penny.  Face value, it adds up to $2.91. The US Mint sells it for $27.95 +S/h.   To me, it’s not worth the extra $25.04 for super-shiny, uncirculated coins. Some people buy these  proof sets every year for their children and grandchildren.  I’m not saying that they won’t increase in value among collectors, just that they only are worth face value if you spend them.  I can’t tell you the exact number of times some teenager came in to the convenience store I worked at back in the day with a horde of old coins. In my mind, I just knew that someone had raided grandpa’s coin collection, but the money was legal tender, and I was simply speculating on how it was obtained.  I would buy out the rare monies once they left, replacing the antiquities with contemporary counterparts from my wallet.   

I’m probably never going to cash in my coin and paper money collection, but it is a comfort to know that if something terrible were to happen, I could at least spend it for face value even if I couldn’t locate another interested collector willing to obtain the collection for a premium.     

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

I’d give you all of me to know what you were thinking

And if I had one wish I’d wish I wasn’t sinking here

Drowning in this well, oh can’t you tell?

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

Well you know I’d rather just turn tail and run

than lie here in the sun and watch you pass me by

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah)

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

I’ve been around since 1964, in banks and bottom drawers

And on railroad ties. I’ve been passed around and cast aside

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

But If only I could stand up straight, I wouldn’t have to lie and wait,

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

I’ve got a feeling that I’m something more

than just a piece of copper ore, turning green and looking for

The reason I was born.

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

But I heard about a penny found, lying underneath the couch

By a woman who was kneeling down, looking for some change.

Then the woman danced around and called her friends all over town

Told them what was lost is found, it’s another penny saved.

And so I find that all this time beneath the surface I could shine

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

(yeah yeah, oh yeah) Yeah, yeah (yeah yeah) na na na na na

The 1987 movie Throw Mama From The Train stars Danny DeVito  and Billy Chrystal as Owen and Larry. Middle-aged Owen lives at home with his overbearing mother. He seems like he might be a little slow.  Larry is his writing teacher at the adult continuing education program he attends. There’s a scene that is genuinely emotionally touching  when Owen wants to show Larry his coin collection. Larry doesn’t want to see the coins, but Owen makes him feel bad when he says he’s never shown them to anyone before.  Owen slowly pulls out coins saying “This one is a nickel. And this is one is also a nickel. And here’s a quarter, and another quarter, and a penny.” Larry is annoyed at this, as the coins are all seemingly contemporary currency, and not worth anything more than face value. Owen then proceeds to explain how each coin is special to him because they were the change his Dad gave him during various father-son trips.  It’s a collection of coins from change his dad gave him, and that’s where their value lies.

Although the original coin collection my father gave to me is long gone, the special memory of the gift remains. Like any successful person who faces a setback, I started over, and in time I slowly began to amass a new collection of coins.  As my financial situation improved, I started adding things like old paper money, silver certificates, foreign coins, uncirculated coins, you name it. At face value, my collection is worth thousands. To a collector, it’s worth even more. As far as I’m concerned, it’s priceless, and not for sale. Someday, I too hope to pass my collection to my son, when I finally have a  son. Hopefully he will be able to keep it longer than I did my father’s. In either case, you can’t take it with you when you go, and a good man provides for his children, and his children’s children. Money is nice to have, but the memories we make with our loved ones are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. As always, I wish you success and happiness!   

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!   

Do You Wanna LYFT?

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

lyft

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

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

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

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

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

 Document Requirements

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

Vehicle Requirements

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

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

The Passenger from Hell

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

 Where am I?

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

 The Tax Man

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

 I made HOW much?

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

 This breaks down to:

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

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

Do You Really NEED A New Car?

Can you rely on a used car?

newCar

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

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

Do you even need a car at all?

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

cars

Next I owned:

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

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

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

If a NEW car is a must have…

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

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

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

if you have a car loan:

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

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

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If a USED car will suffice…

There’s a brand new shiny super stocked Dodge.

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

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard,

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

 

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

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

Here are some possible repair costs:

repairs

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

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

Gone Phishing?

Beware of Cyber Scams.

gone phishing

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

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

Not born yesterday.

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

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

You’ve got a friend in Nigeria!

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

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

How do you spell that again?

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

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

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

 Your computer is infected!

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

Your mystery date is waiting.

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

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

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!