Do You Want Franchise With That?

What’s in a name?

DoYouWantFranchise

Each month hundreds of thousands of new businesses open nationwide in the US. A third of them will go out of business within two years, and only half will last five years. Owning a business is risky, and what you don’t know will hurt you. Many small business fail because the owner failed to take into account some vital piece of information which would have shown that their brilliant plan wasn’t so brilliant after all. It could be anything from foot traffic, to utility costs, to labor utilization. What you don’t know will hurt you, often in the most painful way, at the worst possible of times. Trust me, I know. I’ve been trying to start my own coffee shop now for going on five years, and I have faced setback after setback. Although I have lost thousands of dollars in the process, I have gained valuable insight and protected myself from some truly significant financial pitfalls which would have occurred had I not been as diligent in my research, and hired qualified consultants, and legal and financial advisers first. I’d rather invest a few thousand dollars than suffer a million dollar bankruptcy.  No business is ‘risk free’.  

There are really only three ways to have your own business.

  • Start it from scratch – very risky
  • Buy out an existing business –  risky
  • Buy into a franchise – not AS risky, but still has risk.

“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.” – Ray Kroc

What is a franchise?

A franchise is a business which pays a licensing fee to a parent company in order to sell products under that company’s brand. Usually there are strict guidelines and corporate policies which must be adhered to, which failure to follow will cause the loss of the license, and a possible expensive lawsuit. By franchising, YOU are representing that brand, even though you own the business, the brand and all its intellectual properties belong to the licensing corporation.

There are pros and cons to this.

The pros include selling a known brand, and operating under a proven business model. Everyone knows what the coffee at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts is supposed to taste like, and they are drawn to the familiar industry standard product they know and love. 

The cons are that those same industry standards and products are forced upon you. If you are barely scraping by, and the parent corporation implements a national sales campaign, more often than not you are required to participate. Likewise when chains like McDonald’s offer their McCafé®™ drinks at only $2.00 for any size, every McDonald’s franchise in that geographic area  has to offer that product at that price, even if they are losing money to do so.

When an industry leader announces a new product or sale, other chains scramble to offer a comparable offering. Prior to Starbucks offering cold brew coffee, that was something that you could only get at third wave coffee shops. Now cold brew coffee is everywhere, even at convenience stores.   When Starbucks began selling Pumpkin Spice Lattes earlier than normal this year starting on Labor Day Weekend, Dunkin’ Donuts and other chains quickly followed suit. This meant that the owners of every franchise suddenly had to purchase additional supplies needed for the drinks.

Franchises are not cheap. In most cases you have to pay to build the store to company specs, and buy all of their required equipment as well as pay an upfront fee.  Dunkin’ Donuts franchise fee is $40,000, minimum initial cash required is $250,000 with a net worth at least $500,000. Starbucks doesn’t do franchises, but they will sell you a license to sell their coffees at your cafe for just over $300,000. McDonald’s charges $45,000, requires you to have liquid assets of $750,000 and start-up costs  run  $1-2 Million. One of the cheapest franchises to start is SubWay, which begins at $15,000 with start-up costs ranging from $100,000 to $400,000.

Once you pay to start the franchise, you still have franchise fees on every product you sell for as long as you own the franchise, and IF you decide to sell the franchise, in some cases you will need to pay a franchise transfer fee.   

Can you make money owning a franchise?

Yes, and no. According to a report on food franchising by Franchise Business Review, 51.5 percent of food franchises earn profits of less than $50,000 a year; roughly 7 percent top $250,000, with the average profit for all restaurants coming in at $82,033. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you factor in the initial investment.

Business is business? What a Kroc!

Ray Kroc was a traveling salesman.  He had been a paper cup salesman for Lilly Cup.  After fifteen years, he switched companies and  started selling a 30lb, five-spindle milk shake mixer, The Multimixer for Prince Castle.  There wasn’t a great demand in the food service industry for this device, he was lucky if he could sell one to a restaurant. That was until he received an order in 1954 for eight of the machines placed by a single restaurant in San Bernardino CA. After confirming that the order was not a mistake,  he made a trip out west to see with his own eyes this business that needed eight Multimixers.   The place was a tiny burger joint owned by two brothers, Dick and Mac McDonald. Ray Kroc was so blown away by the way the brothers had re-invented drive-in burger joints that he mortgaged his house and pulled every string he could pull to get the brothers to agree to not only allow him to buy his own franchise, but sell future franchises to perspective buyers.

Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he opened his first McDonald’s franchise. For each future franchise he sold for the brothers, a franchise fee would be charged of 1.9% of sales, .4% would go to the brothers and 1.5% was for Ray. Needless to say Ray Kroc was struggling to keep his head above water before long, and tried to re-negotiate his deal. Dick and Mac refused. Ray had signed a contract and he was legally bound to it. Unfortunately for the two brothers, Ray was a salesman, and they were not. A salesman’s number one job is to convince someone to buy. Ray managed to find a work-around by creating a land acquisition company.  He bought and leased the land that McDonald’s franchisees would need to  build on and charged them rent. As a condition of their lease agreement they had to maintain quality control in their restaurants, or lose their franchise.

He began mass selling franchises, and the money from the land lease agreements made him wealthy. He then paid a hefty fee to the McDonald’s brothers of $2.7 million dollars to break the 1954 contract he had signed, and take ownership of all holdings and intellectual property, including the brand name. The McDonald brothers couldn’t even have their name on their own restaurant. He then opened his 100th store right across the road from the brother’s original store, and drove them out.

History is written by the winners.

The first time I read the Ray Kroc story, it was in his auto-biography GRINDING IT OUT The Making of McDonald’s. From Ray Kroc’s point of view, he was the victim, fighting his way out of a bad deal. I had found the book to be inspirational until I saw the 2016 film THE FOUNDER starring Michael Keaton. This version of the story made Ray Kroc look like the Serpent  in the McDonald brother’s Paradise. He was the epitome of every sleazy, used-car salesman stereotype you can imagine.  There are two sides to every story, your side, their side, and the truth. The point is once you sign a contract for a franchise or a lease agreement, be prepared to stick to the agreement, because unless you have more money and lawyers than the opposition, you will be in hot water quickly. It’s probably best to avoid the situation altogether. As always, I wish you success and happiness.  

GOING CLUBBING?

Membership has its rewards.

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

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

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Loyalty has its rewards.

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

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

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

Membership has its rewards too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two companies  are: BRANDLESS and PUBLIC GOODS.

BRANDLESS https://brandless.com/

Only $36/year after your free trial.

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

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

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

Only $59/year after your free trial.

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

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

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

BIGGER IS BETTER!

More bang for your buck!

bigger is better

Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination – Anon.

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

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

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

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

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

Economy Size

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

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BOGO

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

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Clearance

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

clearence

Brand X

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

Automatic shipments and free shipping

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

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

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

LIVE BOLDLY!

Don’t DREAM it, BE it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To dream the impossible dream,

To fight the unbeatable foe,

To bear with unbearable sorrow,

To run where the brave dare not go.

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

Don’t quit!

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

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

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

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

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

“Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as ever you can.”

― John Wesley

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

As always I wish you success and happiness!

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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!   

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.