Do You Wanna LYFT?

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

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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.    

Are You Motivated Yet?

Are motivational courses and seminars worth it?

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

We become what we think about.

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

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

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

There is nothing new under the sun.

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

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

Motivation is motivational!

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

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

SNAKE OIL!

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

Everything is online!

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

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

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

Help Yourself!

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

 

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

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

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

Proverbs 11:14

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

Proverbs 13:10

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

Proverbs 19:20

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

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

Free to a Good Home!

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

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

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

The first thing about ‘things’.

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

The second thing about ‘things’.

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

The most important thing about ‘things’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you just want it gone ASAP.

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

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Re-purpose it

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

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

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Recycle it

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

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

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

Avoid the mess

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

Staycation Getaways!

Adventures in your own backyard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in your ‘backyard’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Sorry, Not a Winner!

Don’t fall victim to ‘Get-Rich-Quick Schemes’.

Back when I was in college, I used to work late nights and weekends at a convenience store. You know the type, a small retail business that stocks a range of everyday items such as groceries, snack foods, coffee, soft drinks, tobacco products, newspapers, and magazines. I’d start at 10 pm and would usually be ending my shifts around 7am. Like most c-stores, we also sold lottery tickets, both the ‘instant win’ scratch-off tickets and the computerized state and national mega-million number games.  Time and again, I would see the same people on their way to and from their places of employment. These regular customers would stop by daily to grab a cup of coffee, a pack of cigs, and usually lottery tickets. This was an everyday occurrence.  Often, they would scratch off the instant lottery tickets at side of the counter while sipping their coffee, and if they won a free ticket, they would redeem it for another chance to win.  I can’t tell you how many of the same people day in and day out spend upwards of $5.00 a day on lottery tickets. It was worse when the mega-million jackpots started growing and lotto-fever hit these would-be millionaires. I never once in all the years I worked there, sold someone a million-dollar winning ticket.        

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The one dollar trap.

Part of the allure of lottery tickets is how inexpensive they are. For only a buck you could be a winner! After all, what could you possibly do with that measly dollar? Because of this, it’s very easy to get caught up in the lottery trap.  My mother, and all of my aunts spent tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes chasing the elusive ‘big win’. Not only did they play the lottery, they also played bingo, went to casinos, and gambled. My late grandmother was a book-maker, taking in illegal spots bets. One of my cousins lost $600 at a casino in a single evening last month. My last surviving aunt, who lives in near poverty,  frequently wastes her precious few dollars on lottery tickets, and betting on horse races.  Not a single member of my family ever became wealthy by gambling, and all died penniless.

But the Apostles cast lots in the Bible, so gambling is ok, right?

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD,” (Prov. 16:33)

In the Bible, the casting of lots is mentioned several times.

  • The eleven apostles cast lots to determine who would replace Judas (Acts 1:26).
  • The Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ garments (Matthew 27:35).    
  • God instructed the Israelites to cast lots on several times in the book of Numbers (Numbers 26:55; 33:54; 34:13; 36:2)  
  • The practice of casting lots occurs most often in connection with the division of the land under Joshua (Joshua chapters 14-21)
  • The sailors on Jonah’s ship (Jonah 1:7) also cast lots to determine who had brought God’s wrath upon their ship.

This is NOT the same as gambling. The casting of lots was the ancient equivalent of flipping a coin to make an arbitrary decision.  Another thing you may notice in all of the above references, is that there was no initial up-front investment by the participants to be included.  When you gamble, you have to wager a personal stake of some sort which becomes forfeit if the outcome is not in your favor. I’ve also heard people try to justify gambling by saying that bingo is played in Catholic churches, so it’s okay.  Actually there have been several times over the past seventy years when bingo was banned in churches, and even today it’s rare to see bingo played  outside of a bingo hall or at a private club. It’s not illegal, but that doesn’t make it ‘good’.  Anything which becomes an addiction is bad, and as God has given us free will, we have to decide for ourselves through studying his Word if we are becoming addicted to a particular bad habit.  

All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.   1 Corinthians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  1 Timothy 6:10 King James Version (KJV)

The easy way

Buying a lottery ticket is not against the law. On very rare occasions even I have been caught up in ‘lotto fever’ when the mega-million jackpot hits record highs, and I feel compelled to contribute to the office lotto pool because I don’t want to be the one guy that got left behind should my co-workers win and split the jackpot.  It’s not wrong to want to have a better life. But if you feel that there only way to improve your lot in life is by gambling, then there is something seriously wrong with your way of thinking. Let’s go back to the guys I mentioned who brought daily lottery tickets on their way to work back when I worked at the c-store.  Let’s say they spent $5 a day, five days a week on lottery tickets on average.  I sold some of these guys tickets for years, and they never hit any big jackpot. So let’s assume that instead of wasting $25 a week on lottery tickets, they just put that money in a jar every week for a year. At the end of the year they would have $1300.00.  Now let’s assume they did this every year for twenty five years, never toughing the money, just putting it in the jar, $25 a week, every week for twenty five years. They would have stashed away $32,500! Now suppose instead of just hiding the money away in a jar, they had placed in a brokerage account and invested it in a index fund tracking the S&P 500, (assuming about a 12% interest rate APR ) that investment would have grown to over $100,000!   

The easy way to became rich is not by gambling. The easy way to achieve wealth is to do it slowly over time, cutting all unnecessary expenses, and by making wise investments.  As always, I wish you happiness and success!  

 

What’s for Dinner?

The importance of cooking at home and meal planning.

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You may have taken notice that obesity and diabetes have been on the rise in the USA over the past few decades. One of the principal reasons for this is due to overly processed foods laden with high-fructose-corn-syrup, salt, fillers,  transfats, and preservatives. Traditional home cooking started moving to the ‘back burner’ in 1954 when Swanson Foods began promoting it’s ‘T.V. Dinners’ to tired housewives as an easy alternative. Just pop it in the oven and 30-45 minutes later dinner is served right on a disposable aluminum dinner tray. No fuss, no mess.  Decades later with the introduction of the home microwave, these ready prepped pre-packaged dinners  were re-designed with plastic containers for microwave use.

Add to this, changing gender roles during the 1960’s (a side effect of  its so-called Sexual Revolution), kids cereals with secret toy surprises, fast-food restaurants, and cheap junk food and we’ve created a generation that knows zero about home cooking. I remember an incident within the past five years when a friend was making a omelet for her boyfriend and  ‘googled’ instructions which were totally off base. Fortunately I was around to save the day. It just blew my mind that a thirty-something had never made an omelet. She was equally surprised that I, a GUY, knew how to cook. She does make an awesome baked mac-and-cheese however, so I’ll let her slide.   

My mother was a ‘talented’ cook. I say that because she was the only person I knew who could burn water.  Imagine my surprise the first time I discovered that scrambled eggs were NOT supposed to be black and crunchy. Once when I was driving cross-country with a friend, he asked if we could stop at the next restaurant. I agreed. When I drove right past the next diner without stopping, he said “Why didn’t we stop?” I asked him if he noticed the sign that read “FOOD JUST LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE” and told him I was doing him a favor.

Knowledge is power!

There is NOTHING un-manly about cooking. The finest restaurant chefs around the world are predominantly men. My favorite celebrity chef is Gordon Ramsey. I don’t tend to watch many cooking shows because I don’t eat animals, and many of the cooking shows demonstrate recipes that are not vegetarian friendly.    

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So yes, there was a great need for me to learn how to cook at an early age.  My first cook book was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I was in college, and furnishing my first apartment, so I made sure to have everything I needed for the kitchen, including a how-to book. Real men READ the instructions before they attempt the project, and cooking is no different. It’s just knowledge, technique, and mastering the skills.  The internet was still in its infancy,  so googling anything was not an option. Add to the fact that that I became a vegetarian in college, and suddenly I had to learn stuff about cooking that was NOT in Better Homes.  I remember the first time I make my own soy milk. What a mess.  

You get what you pay for!

As you probably know, eating out is expensive. Cooking at home is cheaper, and can be healthier for you IF you learn to cook healthy meals.  You can also save money by planning menus for the week, and eliminating waste from spoilage.  You may be tempted to save money by buying cheap groceries. Avoid this mistake, or you are risking your health. So what if you can purchase packages of Raman noodles for  only 13 cents each ,  and you figure you could eat three square meals a day of Raman noodles for an entire year for just $142.65. Do you want  to eat the same thing every meal for a year? I sure as hell don’t.  Such monotony is not only unhealthy, it’s a little bit insane. And have you ever read the ingredients on a bag of Raman noodles? They contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum industry byproduct. They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat.  If this is the only thing you can afford to eat, I feel sorry for you. You may have saved money, but you’re ruining your health in the process.

Try to plan meals using fresh healthy ingredients. Have a supply of non-perishable kitchen supplies like olive oil, flour, spices, baking soda, etc. Just as long as it’s stuff you need and use. Honey lasts forever! And only use 100% pure maple syrup, throw away that Log Cabin pancake syrup it’s bad for you. Buy whole spices and grind them as you need them, they will keep longer. You can even set up a window box of herb plants to harvest your own basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, or rosemary to add fresh herbs to your cooking.  Canned foods can be healthy IF they are organic, and contain a few preservatives as possible. Alternately you can learn home canning and can your own healthier foods.  I have canned my own jars of the hottest hot peppers known to man because the store brought hot peppers were not hot enough for me. Plus because they only use vinegar and kosher salt as the preservatives, they are much better than what you buy in the store. I have also made my own ketchup, with NO corn syrup or chemicals, just a  couple of healthy ingredients.

Although some ‘doomsday preppers’ may recommend having a year’s supply of food in your larder, I think this is excessive. I recommend no more than three months supply of most non-perishables, unless it’s something hard to come by, like the hot peppers I pick in the field myself once a year for my home-canned jars of super-hot peppers, or the awesome handmade Pepper Jam I buy from  Jacky’s Jams and Jellies at the Annual Bowers Chilie Pepper Festival

Next, based on your family size, look up healthy meal recipes that suit your tastes on the internet.  Plan out the recipes for the week based on how long the fresh ingredients will keep.  Remember, organic fruits and vegetables have shorter shelf-lives because they are free from pesticides and chemicals.  After you’ve arranged the meals for the week, create a shopping list of all the ingredients necessary. Double check the recipes to ensure that you have everything you need on the list. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of cooking a meal and suddenly realizing you’re all out of Pride Of Szeged Hungarian Sweet Paprika Seasoning Spice! By having a rotation of meals, you will never be bored eating the ‘same-old, same-old’. Remember to include special meals for birthdays and holidays in your planning. For example, for Christmas each year I make a vegetarian version of the traditional Christmas Lasagna that my late aunt Arleen always made each Christmas when I was a young boy. There was also another special baked pasta dish that she made me on my birthday, a baked spaghetti pie which I loved growing up, which I have likewise adapted to my vegetarian lifestyle.     

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Take your shopping list with you to the grocery store, and avoid impulse buying. Stores routinely place items they are  promoting in the entryway, on isle end-caps, and near checkout lanes to encourage you to buy sale items you really don’t need. These will destroy your budget. Stick to your list. If-and-only-if you see an incredible buy on something that you regularly use and need, and you can justify the purchase, or even double-down with a money-saving coupon, then grab that extra item. Beyond that ‘shopping emergency’, STICK TO YOUR LIST! If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. You do not want to be the person who went into a store for one quick item, yet departed an hour later with a filled cart.     

No good at planning meals, try a meal kit service!

Two months ago, I decided to try Hello Fresh. It’s a meal kit delivery service. They have no contract, you can cancel the service any time prior to the weekly ship cut-off time. I had a coupon and figured I would try it for a month. They had a vegetarian plan, (not vegan) that offered three weekly meals designed for two persons. I live alone, but this just meant that I could cook three times a week, and save half for leftovers so I was able to stretch my dinners to almost the entire week. The greatest thing about the meals are that everything is provided (except salt, pepper, cooking oil, or butter, things which should be in stock in every kitchen all the time, so no worries there).  All the meals come with color photo recipe cards and step-by-step instructions. They are pretty easy for anyone with basic cooking skills and a modest kitchen.  Each meal takes about a half-hour or so to make, typically runs from 500-700 calories per serving, and most (but not all) of the ingredients are organic, non-GMO.  Let me tell you, I have been cooking things like asparagus, artichoke hearts, farro, couscous, avocado,  arugula, zucchini, etc. These are items I would never have freely purchased at a store. And yet, because I know I can eat them, they have been shipped to me and I am committed to trying new foods.  Let me tell you, my meals have never been as varied and flavorful. There has been nothing I have received which I have tried and did not love.  Although Hello Fresh is not marketed as a weight loss plan, because the servings are always less than 800 calories at the most, and all healthy ingredients, I have been losing weight.   Some of my friends have claimed that $59.95 a week is expensive, but as I’ve said I did have a $30 off coupon that first week. I’ve also managed to win an online Hello Fresh photo contest  which got me a discount on two weeks of meals.

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I have a promo code which gives each new  user  $40 off their first week, while at the same time  gets me a discount as well for referring them.  Plus, by not needing to shop for all the ingredients, I’m saving time  so it’s so worth it. I’ve loved cooking these meals so much that I’ve been buying professional cookware, knives, and chef tools for my kitchen.  Plus I feel great, and feeling good about yourself is a cornerstone of happiness.  If you would  like to try Hello Fresh and live in the USA, you can get $40 off  your first purchase by using my exclusive promo code EXPRESSOM . If you live in Canada or the UK, I’m not sure if it works for Hello Fresh CA or UK, but if it does work, please let me know so that I may pass that information on.  If you’re committed to cooking and eating new foods, as well as feeling great, I urge you to give Hello Fresh a try. As always, I wish you happiness and success!