At Face Value!

Even a penny is a treasure!

treasure

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

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

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

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

Bringing home the bacon.   

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

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

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

looniebin2

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

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

“Loose Change” AKA “Penny Song”

Lyrics by Andrew Peterson

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

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

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

I can’t pick myself up off the ground,

Well I’ve been face down and pushed aside.

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

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

Cause I ain’t worth a dime.

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

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

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

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

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

The reason I was born.

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

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

Skipped and flipped and flattened wide, Spun around

And thrown away and left alone to lie

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

I could up and roll away, never be ignored

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

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

The reason I was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like all the gold a king and queen could measure

You see even a penny is a treasure

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

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

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

Collection or Clutter?

Kitsch me if you can!

collection

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

amazon

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

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

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

STARTOYS

A man’s home is his castle.

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

library

Not all that glitters is gold.

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

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

poprr

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

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

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

gnomes

It’s The LEASED You Can Do!

Why own when you can rent?

leased

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

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

Everyone is different.

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

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

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

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

home 

Two summer activities I enjoy are kayaking and jet skiing.

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

freny

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

jet

Just about anything you can buy can usually be rented.

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

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

cherry

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

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

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

Making sense of cents.

cents

If you’ve ever heard the saying “Penny for your thoughts”, and thought a penny was such a paltry sum, consider that when the saying was first coined in the 1500’s, a penny was a pretty fair amount.  

I do a lot of walking during my day job. About five to seven miles. Not a day goes by that I don’t find at least one penny discarded in the street. Although there are some who superstitiously believe that a penny face down is  bad luck, I disagree. A penny found is a penny earned and the only luck a person has is the luck they make for themselves. I also use these found pennies as a reminder to say a quick prayer thanking God for all I have. 

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a young boy, there was still a few years when you could go to the corner Spanish Grocery store and buy penny candies. I remember one of the last times I lived in that neighborhood when I walked into store with a dollar and asked for one hundred Big Bols, which Patricia dutifully counted out of the candy jar, and then handed over in a paper bag. I felt like I was the richest boy in Queens NY.  Big Bol was a cheap wrapped penny candy that was sort of a gum drop with a hard candy shell. Honestly I can’t even remember what they tasted like it was so long ago, but if pressed I’d say guava. Sadly, those days are long gone.

bigbol

A penny doesn’t buy much these days.  You can still stumble upon an online deal for a one cent item with free shipping, but most places simply dispense with the penny all together, or change shipping. Last week, I found a website that offered TOTALLY FREE (including shipping) 300 printed business cards. The back of the card advertises the company and reads FREE by 4OVER4.COM This is a loss leader and an advertisement at the same time, because they can write off the promotional item as a business expense and get free advertising, all while creating good customer relations with potential new clients . Quite ingenious.

Despite the fact that pennies don’t go as far as they used to and are often discarded, Americans still love our pennies and resist efforts to eliminate the coin. Our neighbors to the North abolished their penny in 2012. The Canadian penny coin was produced from 1858 until May 2012. Distribution by the Royal Canadian Mint ceased as of February 4th 2013. From 1982 until 1996, the shape of the penny was 12-sided rather than round. In 1997, the penny’s composition changed to 98.4 per cent zinc, with the rest copper plating. Since 2000, its composition has been 94 per cent steel.  Whenever I stumble upon a Canadian penny, it gets saved now in my ‘Canadian Penny Jar’.  I also save US Wheat cents and earlier, and I do have a few British large cents.

Production of the US penny coin has been continuous since 1793. Prior to 1856 pennies were produced in the large cent coin. There are not many of these in existence today because  many of these early coins were melted down as the copper was more valuable than the coin.  The US penny was made of mostly copper prior to 1982 when the mint switched production to the cheaper 97.5% zinc plated with copper coins still in use today. The US penny has been the same size since 1856 as it is today, but there have been some ‘cosmetic’ changes.

The two precursors of the modern Lincoln penny were the Flying Eagle (1856-1858) and the Indian Head (1859-1909) I once found an Indian Head Penny discarded in the ‘Need a Penny?’ tray at a Rutter’s convenience store in York PA when I stopped for gas. I couldn’t believe my good fortune at discovering the more-than-a-hundred-year-old coin sitting in the dish right on top, unnoticed by everyone except me!

indian

Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States. Considered the Last Casualty of the American Civil War, Lincoln was the first Republican president. He commanded the Union Army in its victory over the South in the bloodiest war the US ever fought in. The victory ended slavery in the USA, preserved the Union, and Lincoln is recognized as the greatest president of the nineteenth century.

In 1909 to commemorate the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the US Mint replaced the  five decade old Indian Head cent with the Lincoln Wheat penny designed by Victor D. Brenner. A few early coins were produced with the designer’s initials VDB on the face of the coin. The front of the coin has the current profile of Lincoln, the obverse had two stalks of wheat, and read ONE CENT.   During WWII when copper was needed for the war effort, the 1943 steel cent was produced. Likewise I once found one of these wartime Steel cents discarded in the  ‘Need a Penny?’ Dish at a 7-11 convenience store in Reading PA.  The clueless clerk was rambling on about a person being dishonest and painting a penny silver in order to ‘pass it off as a dime’.  I nodded sympathetically while replaced the offending penny with a modern one, then left the shop with a huge smile on my face.

In 1959, on the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the Wheat on the obverse was replaced with the Lincoln Memorial for the next fifty years.

wheat

To commemorate the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the mint issued pennies with four different designs on the obverse depicting scenes from the life of  Abraham Lincoln.

2009

Since 2010, the reverse side of the penny has sported the Union Shield.

shield

Yes, the US penny is a very common coin, but Abraham Lincoln was a very uncommon man. It’s quite fitting that even the poorest person in our great country can easily posses a coin bearing the likeness of this great man. As always, I wish you success and happiness!  

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.