Thursday, July 30, 2009

Punny Poll #35: Can You Survive on Five-Day-A-Week Mail?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

Last week’s month’s… uh, last year’s (crap, sorry) Punny Poll asked how bad weather had affected your finances. If you can remember back to last year, the entire Midwest of the United States was destroyed by a torriquake, a diabolical combination of a tornado, hurricane, and earthquake formulated by out-of-work meteorologists. But since nobody in the Midwest owns a computer, 55% of you indicated your finances weathered the weather just fine. Nearly 10% indicated your house was underwater, and I’m not talking mortgages here.

Today’s poll (and likely tomorrow’s and next January’s poll at this rate) is inspired by recent talks by the U.S. Postal Service—voted the #1 company we’d be better off without in 2007 by important scientists—that it might switch to five-times-a-week delivery to cut costs. It’s estimated that eliminating one delivery day each week (likely Saturday) could cut the Postal Service’s projected 2010 budget deficit from $6 billion to a mere $3-4 billion. Other cut proposals, such as burning down junk mail factories and using “Santa Claus magic” to make faster deliveries, were rejected as too intelligent.

Personally, I would welcome five-day-a-week delivery as all I get on Saturday are bills. And it’s not like I’m going to pay them until at least Monday anyway. Actually, can we cut out Monday delivery too?

So what’s your take on the proposed cut of Saturday service?

How would cutting Saturday mail delivery affect you?

View Results

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Be Your Own Vending Machine At Work For Fun and Profit

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 53 - vending genie

Long-time readers will know that I have a penchant for eating. In fact, I just finished eating the entire country of Denmark. Okay, perhaps not Denmark, but a much smaller country nobody really cares about. Suffice it to say I like the yummies.

Usually around mid-afternoon at work, I’ll get the craving for a snack. Over the years, I’ve dealt with this craving in a variety of ways, including:

  • Ignoring it. This is what I do about 98% of the time. Part of this is due to my desire not to gain 300 pounds, and part of it is due to my desire not to lose 300 pounds… sterling. Get it? It’s a currency joke. That would have killed at the World Bank. Anyway…
  • Being prepared for it. A couple of years ago, I usually made sure to have a supply of snacks on hand at work for when this craving called. My favorite emergency food supply consisted of a six-gallon tub of assorted snackery including pretzels, cheese puffs, and other stuff with no nutritional value whatsoever. I had to give up this plan, however, as I would sometimes polish off the entire tub in one day if things weren’t going well at work.
  • Giving in to the vending machine. This is probably the worst way to deal with mid-afternoon snack cravings. I’ve only done it a few times in nearly five years and always because my brain and stomach just wouldn’t shut up otherwise. I try to keep my wallet low on cash just so I’m not tempted to go the vending machine route at work.

There’s one more snack-attack counterattack tactic that I’ve been employing for the last couple of years: giving in to the communal snack box. Working in a computer lab environment, the head of the lab often goes out and buys snacks for everyone else who works there, usually asking for a small donation put into a change bucket to cover the cost of the snack. For instance, our current “Lab Daddy” purchases boxes and boxes of packages of pretzel bites and requests a donation of 28 cents each time you take a bag to help cover his costs.

It occurred to me earlier today, while eating my sixth bag of lab pretzels in as many days, that this little enterprise is quite ingenious and perhaps a bit profitable. Where does the profit come in? Consider how the normal computer lab pretzel exchange works:

  1. Choose your snack. Several varieties are available!
  2. Put 28 cents in the Pretzel Fund.
  3. Oh wait, all you have are dollar bills.
  4. The Lab Daddy just saw you take some pretzels. You better put in something or you’ll look like a cheap jerk.
  5. You repeat this each time you go for a bag. The 28-cent requested donation becomes 72 cents of profit for Lab Daddy.

Now I know Lab Daddy isn’t really out to make a profit on this; he’s just being really nice and saving us from having to spend a dollar on the same bag of pretzels in the company vending machine. And despite the “honor system” in place, I’m sure not everyone is putting in their 28 cents per bag. A more sinister person, however, such as yourself, might see this as the perfect opportunity to squeeze a few extra pennies out of your day job. Assuming you have trustworthy co-workers, it just might work too!

Oh, and in case you ever find yourself on the other side of this delicious scheme, here are a few strategies to help make sure you’re not putting extra pennies in your Lab Daddy’s pockets:

  • Use exact change, or take more than one. For pretzels that run 28 cents a bag, either put in a quarter and three pennies, or take three bags and hide the other two for later.
  • Announce your intentions. If Lab Daddy is watching your pretzel pickup, and you only have large bills, toss one into the donation bucket in plain sight and say something like “That should cover me for the next X bags.”
  • Bring your own snacks. This way, you know you’re paying 28 cents a bag for your pretzels. Just don’t forget them at home, and don’t go through them faster than you would the communal stash.
  • Open a competing snack shack. Beat Lab Daddy at his own game by starting your own vending service. If necessary, price below your cost to start and you’ll drive Lab Daddy out of business. Of course, if you ever need Lab Daddy’s help with your work, expect him to change your account passwords and delete your files at random.

A word of caution before starting a communal snackateria at your workplace: Be sure to keep it on the down-low. Otherwise you might risk people from other departments sneaking through for a freebie. Or you might earn the ire of your workplace’s vending contractors who could see you as stealing their business; don’t blame me if you leave work late one evening only to be blocked in by 12 Coca-Cola machines.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Alcohol at the Office: Exciting Innovation or Inviting Intoxication?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 27 - drinking at work

As a stockholder of Google Inc. (I own three whole shares), I occasionally get e-mails and letters regarding all sorts of fun Google investor news. Lately a lot of that news has been “our shares are plummeting, you should have sold at $700.” One item in particular I recently read on the Google Investor Relations page caught my eye:

Consumption of alcohol is not banned at our offices, but use good judgment and never drink in a way that leads to impaired performance or inappropriate behavior, endangers the safety of others or violates the law.

My first thought upon reading this was “sweeeeeet.” So were my second through seventeenth thoughts. Eventually, after fighting very hard to resist the temptation to submit my resume immediately, I considered the implications of allowing alcohol consumption at work. First there are the obvious benefits:

  • Alcohol can make co-workers easier to deal with. Oh man, I can think of a dozen people where I work that are fifty times more mellow and easier to work with when they’ve had a drink or five.
  • Alcohol inspires creativity. If you don’t believe me, just keep in mind that the following things were invented by drunk people: electricity, computers, the internet, and reality television. Just make sure you’re not too drunk that you can’t remember your great ideas or at least write them down for later.
  • Alcohol can benefit worker productivity. Allowing personnel to drink at work gives them one less reason to want to go home, so they’ll be more than happy to put in the longer hours today’s work environment demands.
  • Alcohol helps with the Monday Blues. After drinking your weekend away, the last thing you probably want to do is go to work Monday morning. But if you can bring your friends Heineken and Captain Morgan with you, Mondays won’t be quite so bad after all.
  • At least it’s not drugs. Employees who can drink at work will be far less likely to sneak out for a quick “smoke” break, and I ain’t talkin’ ’bout cigarettes. And while some people might argue that alcohol is a drug, I would argue that those people should shut the hell up and have a drink.

Of course, there are also some drawbacks to allowing employees to drink while working.

  • Alcohol can impair judgment. “Should we buy out our competitor for $100 million when it’s only worth $5 million? No! That would be stupid! [Five drinks later.] Yes! That would be awesome!”
  • Alcohol makes people tired and/or slow. While alcohol might keep your workers happier and working longer, they might spend some of those hours re-reading the same paragraph 47 times or sleeping under their desks. Counteract this unfortunate side effect of alcohol by blaring extremely loud heavy metal throughout your office building.
  • Drunk people sometimes fight more. This one sort of speaks for itself, so I’ll also note that a policy allowing alcohol at work is not compatible with policies allowing guns and knives at work. One or the other, people!
  • Alcohol can inspire all sorts of bad behavior. If your workplace already suffers from numerous sexual harassment or ethnic discrimination complaints, letting workers drink might not improve things.
  • Other people might look down on your business if everyone’s drinking all of the time. Then again, Google seems not to mind if its workers get sloshed on the clock and it has at least 70 billion users worldwide.

In the end, the decision on whether or not to allow alcohol in the workplace should be made on a case-by-case basis and only after careful consideration of numerous factors including but not limited to employee diversity, workplace safety, and worker productivity. And if your place of business decides that openly allowing you to bring a six-pack to your cubicle for lunch isn’t a good idea, you can just pre-mix your booze and sneak it past security in a soft drink bottle like everyone else you work with already does.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lemonade Stand Monopolies Made Easy

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 12 - lemonade stand

Teaching your children proper money management skills at an early age is very important. Without being exposed to good financial habits at a young age, children can grow up to be reckless, greedy, or possibly even Federal Reserve Chairman. One of the best ways to give your children some experience with money is by helping them operate a small business. Unlike your typical kid-sized jobs like delivering newspapers or working for H&R Block, helping them run their own small business is a much better way to introduce your children to a wide variety of adult financial topics—everything from supply and demand to price gouging. It’s also a terrific method for bringing in a few extra bucks for yourself—I mean, your kids and their college funds.

One great small business that any set of kids can run almost entirely by themselves is a lemonade stand. Yes, the most cliché of all child-run money-makers is still one of the best. That’s because it’s a microcosm of the entire U.S. economy in one 2′-by-4′ wooden stand. For a startup investment of just a couple hundred dollars, your kids can experience all of the trials and tribulations of real grown-up finances—paying the bills, making ends meet, and mercilessly crushing the competition.

Of course, as with any business, it’s a lot easier to make more money if you’re the only lemonade stand on the block. So when the Joneses across the street read this post and decide to help their kids start their own stand to compete with yours, you’re going to have to take them down fast. Here are some tips that I stole from those brats three doors down for cornering the market in lemonade stands.

  1. Advertising is key. If you live in the dreaded cul-de-sac or some other area without a lot of vehicular or pedestrian traffic, you’re going to have to find other ways to get the word out about your fine lemonade establishment. Flyers posted on telephone poles may work, but don’t stop there! Target any place that may see lots of hot, sweaty people such as home improvement stores, gyms, and the romance section of your local bookstore.
  2. Cut down your expenses. Have you seen the price of lemons lately? Not to mention sugar, water, cups… You’ll have to be creative to earn a good profit in the lemonade business, and the best way to do that is to minimize your expenses. For example, go for paper cups over plastic. And instead of fresh lemons, use lemon cough drops.
  3. Hire attractive workers. I hate to break it to you, but your children could stand some improvement in the looks area. So while you’re stuffing away that hard-earned lemonade money to pay for their plastic surgeries, consider borrowing better-looking kids from family or friends. Adorable little girls in cute dresses covered in bows are sure to melt the hearts of anyone passing by your stand enough to score a slew of sales.
  4. Price competitively. If little Bobby and Jane next door are selling their lemonade for 20 cents a cup, your kids can sell it for 15 cents—even if it means taking a loss in the beginning. When Bobby and Jane don’t sell a single cup and run home crying to Mommy, your kids will be free to jack up their price 700 percent.
  5. Offer a rewards program. Encourage repeat customers by setting up a rewards structure for frequent buyers. Punch cards that give clients a free drink for every five or six purchases will keep them coming back every day. Just be careful of that creepy guy down the street coming back twelve times a day to your kids’ lemonade stand; he’s not there for the rewards program, that’s for sure.
  6. Don’t be afraid to play dirty. If your kids’ lemonade stand just can’t compete with the others in the area, then it’s time to pull out the big guns. After all, big guns are useful for scaring away other people’s children from their lemonade stands so your kids can sell their inferior product for twice the market price.
  7. Find a way to stand out. Anyone can run a lemonade stand, but you can help yours “stand” out by offering additional services you won’t find at your typical beverage vendor. How about a lemonade and leg-waxing stand? Or a lemonade and iPod repair stand. The possibilities are endless, and soon so will be your profits!

Following these simple tips will help your children learn just how the adult world of money really works. Just be sure to share the responsibility of managing the lemonade stand with your children so they can find out for themselves just how stressful and aggravating it can be to have to manage their own finances. They’ll either become the most financially responsible kids on the block… or they’ll be too scared to ever move out of your house.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Get Paid Hundreds of Dollars Just to Interview For Jobs

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , free donuts every Friday.

Hopefully you’re like me and are able to resist throwing yourself at all of the web startups du jour that keep popping up all over the place. A couple of years ago it was MySpace that drove all of the kiddies to hurl themselves like lemmings at a cliff. Now you’ve got websites with names like Fwurgle, Choopsey, and Hobnobble promising to do something to improve people’s lives when really all they’re doing is complicating them even further in order to make a quick buck.

So when I first heard about NotchUp a few months ago, I totally passed it off as another internet startup that would make a bang for a few days, maybe rake in a few dollars for its creators, and then make way for the next one-hit e-wonder. But then NotchUp resurfaced a couple of weeks ago, still alive, still promising to make people’s lives better, and (almost) ready to open for business.

So what is this NotchUp I keep talking about? Well, it’s a lot of things. On the surface, NotchUp is a service that connects prospective employees with businesses looking to hire. In other words, NotchUp is a headhunter—someone paid to help companies find good workers. If this were all NotchUp were, it would already be out of the picture because the world has more than enough headhunters already.

Where NotchUp distinguishes itself from your everyday headhunter is that 1) you don’t pay them a penny; the company looking to hire you does; 2) NotchUp passes on some (likely most) of the money it gets from prospective employers to you, the job candidate; and 3) you don’t even need to be hired by the company to get your money. In short, NotchUp helps you get paid to interview for jobs. And not just a few pennies per interview either. NotchUp claims that qualified candidates could demand in the neighborhood of $500 per interview.

At this point you probably just quit your sub-$30,000 a year job after doing the math that you could make your entire annual salary in a few months with just 60 job interviews at $500 apiece. If so, you may want to start interviewing for real because there’s a few things you should know about NotchUp:

  • They haven’t really started operating yet. Yes, you can sign up for a NotchUp account today, but nobody’s getting paid for interviews quite yet.
  • There’s a lot of competition. NotchUp recently hit all of the big social networking sites, so they’re probably already in the six figures for membership numbers. That said, I would expect that fully 90% of NotchUp’s current enrollment would be lucky to pass an interview for the position of 2nd Dishwasher Assistant. So if you have high-demand skills, there’s still hope for you.
  • Nobody really knows how it’ll turn out. NotchUp may or may not already be in talks with prospective employers and interviewers, but its claims of “$500+ per interview” are really just conjecture at this point. Maybe a few high-demand positions could fetch that much when NotchUp first launches, but I would expect the actual returns to fall a good bit short.
  • It’s just asking to be abused. When all you have to do to get paid is interview for the job, you’re opening up the possibility of people who become professional job interviewees—folks who sign up for interviews left and right while knowing full well they’re not really looking for a new job. If the abuse is bad enough, it could be the undoing of NotchUp.
  • Your current boss might see you. While NotchUp appears to have some rudimentary filtering techniques designed to help you hide your NotchUp profile from unwanted attention (say, from your current employer), they may be easy to get around. So unless you think your boss will buy into your explanation that you’re “just interviewing for jobs for fun and profit,” beware that potentially anyone could see your profile and assume you’re looking for new work.

Right now, NotchUp has a lot of promise but not much more than hype and resumes to show for its efforts so far. But if you’re okay with putting yourself out there on the internet, then you’ve got nothing to lose by signing up with NotchUp for free and seeing where it goes.

Oh, and while anyone can sign up for NotchUp, if you get referred by an existing member, you don’t have to wait for your application to be reviewed and possibly rejected. So if you want an invite, send me an e-mail. Note that I do get a 10% bonus for interviews completed by people I refer, so I especially encourage top-level astronaut baseball players who will fetch $50,000 per interview to ask me for an invite.