Do You Really NEED A New Car?

Can you rely on a used car?

newCar

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

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

Do you even need a car at all?

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

cars

Next I owned:

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

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

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

If a NEW car is a must have…

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

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

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

if you have a car loan:

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

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

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If a USED car will suffice…

There’s a brand new shiny super stocked Dodge.

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

The Little Old Lady From Pasadena.

She drives real fast and she drives real hard,

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

 

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

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

Here are some possible repair costs:

repairs

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

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

Gone Phishing?

Beware of Cyber Scams.

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

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

Not born yesterday.

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

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

You’ve got a friend in Nigeria!

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

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

How do you spell that again?

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

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

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

 Your computer is infected!

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

Your mystery date is waiting.

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

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

Help Yourself!

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

 

selfhelp

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

  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few helpful  proverbs form the Bible:

Proverbs 12:15

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

Proverbs 11:14

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

Proverbs 13:10

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

Proverbs 19:20

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

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

Free to a Good Home!

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

dump2

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

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

The first thing about ‘things’.

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

The second thing about ‘things’.

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

The most important thing about ‘things’.

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

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

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

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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.

backyard

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

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

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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.   

map

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

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

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

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

What’s in your ‘backyard’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

picnic

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

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.     

lasagna

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.

Iwon

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!