Monday, May 12, 2008

Stop Being Evil With Your Money

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

comic 24 - money vs evil

A lot of people have written in with comments on last week’s article about how the economic stimulus rebate payment schedule is unfairly biased towards sucky people. Reader Erica’s e-mail best summarizes the majority of the comments received:

Nick,

My Social Security Number ends in the digits 17. Does this mean I’m a terrible, evil person?

~Erica

Thanks for writing in, Erica. The answer to your question is pretty simple: you probably aren’t a terrible, evil person right now, but you certainly have the potential to become one. In fact, if left unchecked, the evil in you right now may very well transform you into a minion of Satan by next Thursday.

Erica isn’t the only one who should worry about turning to the Dark Side. You may be familiar with the expression “money is the root of all evil” (the full quotation is “the love of money is the root of all evil”). Well, it’s often true. Think of all the rich people you know who are also rather evil:

  • Drug dealers
  • Terrorist leaders
  • Evil dictators
  • Most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies
  • Politicians
  • Lex Luthor

See? Even moderately wealthy people with net worths below seven figures can be doers of dastardly deeds. Yes, that means even you could be evil with your money.

“But Nick, I don’t want to be evil with my money.”

Fear not, goody two-shoes. You can still save your immortal soul and keep your 401(k) well funded, but it’ll take some extra work to make sure your money doesn’t contribute to sin and wickedness. Here are some dos and don’ts that’ll help you keep your money on the path of righteousness.

  • DO give generously to worthy causes. The Red Cross is a worthy cause. The American Cancer Society is a worthy cause. The National Association for the Advancement of Robot Hookers—not so worthy.
  • DO pay back your debts. You may have read about troubled homeowners walking away from their mortgages as interest rates skyrocket and home values drop. This might be an acceptable alternative if you can no longer afford to pay for your home and you’re on the verge of bankruptcy. But in general, skipping out on your debts isn’t just a poor financial move—it’s also selfish and dishonest.
  • DO good things with your money just for the fun of it. Take a friend who’s been feeling down out to dinner, be a generous uncle or aunt for your less-fortunate nieces and nephews, bring in doughnuts for your co-workers. Money might not necessarily be able to buy yourself happiness, but it’s really easy to buy some smiles for other people for a few bucks.
  • DO give your business to especially ethical companies. If you’re afraid your money is going to companies that make their products with slave labor, or if you think your dollars are funding terrorism or Communism or some other bad “ism,” you’ll want to check out Money and Values, a website that’ll teach you how to be frugal without dooming 6,000 orphans to work in fields just to make you a pair of sneakers.
  • DON’T patronize businesses you know are evil. The diner on Main Street might have the most delicious meatloaf you’ve ever had at a price that’s right, but if that meatloaf is made by the owner’s five-year-old children who work in the kitchen all day instead of going to school while the owner’s other children are off stealing kittens for tomorrow’s batch of meatloaf… yeah, do I even need to finish this point?
  • DON’T waste your fortune on vices. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t ever drink or gamble for fun or whatever, but you shouldn’t be dumping your life savings into those habits either. If you can’t help but spend money on these kinds of things, get some help. Don’t worry, I’ll hang on to your money while you do.
  • DON’T take advantages of those less fortunate. It might be tempting to take that $50 the little old lady next door offers you to fix her dishwasher, but if all you do is replace a two-dollar part in five minutes, you better not take her money.
  • DON’T be a jerk with your money. Yes, you have $8,000. Yes, your friend has $8,000… in debt. No, you don’t need to remind him of these facts every time you see him… unless you’re ready to write him a check.

Now your soul is safe from the stranglehold of Satan, and you’re an even more upstanding member of society than you were yesterday.

And Erica, I was just kidding when I said you might be an evil person. And while I appreciate your follow-up e-mail offering to sell me some drugs, I get everything I need from the guy who runs the diner on Main Street. But thanks anyway.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Top 10 Things You Should Do With Your Tax Refund or Rebate

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 5 - how americans spend their tax refund

It can be very tempting, even for a cheap-skate savings freak like me, to blow that massive tax refund or economic stimulus rebate on stupid crap. Sadly, that’s just what millions of Americans are doing this time of year when those big checks come rolling in from the IRS.

But for those of you out who aren’t content with merely saving that four-figure tax refund for the future, there are several less idiotic ways you can spend that money and derive both an immediate satisfaction payoff and long-term benefits. Here’s a look at some of those ways, starting with the most least stupidest.

  1. Save it anyway, dingus. Okay, I’ll make a deal with you. Even though this is supposed to be a list of smart ways to spend tax refunds, I’m still gonna top the list with saving it. But on the flip side, everything else on the list will be pure spending. So this item includes every possible way to save your money including long-term savings, retirement savings, emergency savings, investing, paying down debt, and sticking it under your mattress.
  2. Start a home-based business. If you’ve been itching to start a part-time business in that empty room upstairs but the only thing keeping you from doing it is the startup cost, devoting some of your tax return to getting it going can pay off big down the road.
  3. Make money-saving home improvements. Switching to new, energy-efficient windows is a smart home improvement that can pay for itself over time. Having your toilet bronzed—not so smart.
  4. Fix your car. Bad idea: using your tax refund to buy a new car you can’t afford. Good idea: using your tax refund to fix your existing car so you don’t have to buy a new one for a while.
  5. Get cultured. Grab yourself some tickets to a Broadway show, a symphony, or something else entertaining and sophisticated. Or make the trek to Burning Man. Totally your call.
  6. Invest in your health. There are a variety of small purchases you can make that won’t necessarily exhaust your whole refund but will help your body and mind in the long run. For example, if you sleep on a bed of straw, upgrade to a decent mattress. Or if your jagged teeth are digging into your brain, go to the dentist. Or if your last vacation was that weekend you spent in jail in Vegas, go on a mini-getaway to a nearby destination to recharge your internal batteries.
  7. After much consideration, purchase entertainment equipment with long-lasting appeal. This does not necessarily mean to rush out the door and buy the first giant TV you see. Nor does it mean to buy a 12-speaker, surround-sound, sub-woofing, flux-capacitator sound system. It does, however, mean to buy a Nintendo Wii because it is awesome and everyone should have one, even homeless people. Which leads me to the next item…
  8. Give it away. Handing a chunk of your refund or rebate to a worthy charity will not only help someone who might not be getting a refund this year, but it’ll also make you feel really good. And don’t forget to take the tax deduction on next year’s return.
  9. Stock the cupboards. Over the course of a few weeks, keep an eye out for incredible bargains at your local supermarket—sales that are designed to draw you into the store to get you to buy other stuff. Then go buy only those bargains… in enormous quantities. Cereal 10 for $10? Buy 100 boxes! Steak for $2 a pound? Buy the cow! You’ll save money as well as time you won’t have to spend looking for deals on those items for a while. Just make sure your family can consume what you buy before it goes bad.
  10. And for the eternally single folks out there who, through no fault of their own (*cough*incredible-unattractiveness*cough*), have not found the right person for them, I have just two words: Russian brides. This works for the ladies too; simply request one of the “strong, big-boned” types.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are You What You Wanted to Be When You Grew Up?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

construction-working doc-tographer!

“When I grow up, I wanna be a firefighter,” says one kid. He ends up becoming a test pilot for the Air Force.

“I wanna be a doctor,” says another. She goes on to become a real estate agent.

“And I wanna be a sugardaddy.” He goes on to be President of the United States.

When you were growing up, you undoubtedly dreamt of what career you’d have one day. I was no exception, though I changed my mind about my future profession at least once a week. Here’s an abbreviated list of all my various career aspirations in roughly chronological order, starting at about age five.

  • Doctor (age 5)
  • Teacher (age 5)
  • “Businessman” (age 6)
  • U.S. President (age 6, for all of about three minutes)
  • Explorer (age 7)
  • Astronaut (age 8)
  • Captain of the Starship Enterprise (age 9)
  • Teacher, again (age 10)
  • Archaeologist (age 10)
  • Astronomer (age 11)
  • Artist (age 12)
  • Writer (age 12)
  • Lawyer (age 13)
  • Biologist (age 13)
  • Writer, again (age 14)
  • Physicist (age 15)
  • Mathematician (age 15)
  • Photographer for Playboy (age 16—yes, I’m serious)
  • Physicist, again (age 16)
  • Mathematician, again (age 17)

You can see the wide spectrum of career choices I explored before ultimately discarding all of them and becoming a computer science major and eventually a software/systems engineer. So what happened that caused me to give up my dreams of writing, exploring the cosmos, or taking pictures of naked women?

  • I realized I wanted a well-paying job. After being relatively poor during childhood, I decided that whatever job I had would pay well enough that my family would have a nice home and a secure financial future. Being a writer or teacher would have been great, but I’d have a harder time keeping food on the table.
  • I saw the demand in the computer field. While I spent most of my high school years wanting to be a physicist, the job prospects in that field were greatly diminishing since there hasn’t been much new in physics in the last 50 years.
  • I started to warm up to computers. I didn’t have my own computer until my teenage years, but once I did, it was hard to keep me off of it. While I did use it to further my writing and science interests, I quickly discovered that I simply enjoyed clacking away on that keyboard more than anything.
  • I grew up. Fast. Various personal events required that I go from age 12 to age 24 almost overnight. My dreams of “fantasy” jobs like astronaut and President were left behind, but I’m not really sad about that.
  • I lived near a great technology university. This sealed the deal. I got paid to go there and get my computer science degree, and I lived just 15 minutes away.

I like what I do now, though I’m not sure it’s something I plan to do for the rest of my professional life. I may eventually decide to become a teacher or a writer, but I’ll just save those aspirations for a mid-life crisis.

Did you become what you wanted to be when you grew up? If so, are you happy with your decision? If not, what happened?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Laying Down Ground Rules Before Entering Into A Roommate Situation

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

uh, some other good rules for your shared apartment, i think

If you’ve ever roomed in a college dormitory, you probably know what it’s like having a roommate. And depending on how things turned out with that roommate, you may either thoroughly enjoy having roomies, or you absolutely despise sharing space with random people.

Maybe you’re one of those folks who loves sharing a place with a couple of friends. But before you enter into any roommate situation, it’s important to lay down some ground rules to help govern the financial and social aspects of having multiple unrelated individuals living under the same roof. So before you ask your best friend from high school to take that empty bedroom in your apartment, consider implementing some of the following basic household laws to help the shared living situation be a smooth and murder-free experience for all.

Finances

  • Spell out rent and bill agreements in writing. While many roomie rules can go unwritten, you definitely need confirmation on paper from all parties regarding when their share of rent is due, to whom and how it will be paid, and how utility bills will be divided by each roommate.
  • Agree on consequences for missing financial obligations. It’s not just enough to get roommates to agree to pay their bills; they must also know what will happen to them if they don’t. I find that threats of Jell-O all over one’s bed is usually enough to compel on-time rent payments… unless they’re into that sort of thing.

Shared Rooms

  • Make shared and unshared rooms painfully obvious. Living rooms and kitchens are generally understood to be common areas shared by all roommates. Your closet, on the other hand, should only be shared by you and yourself. Make sure your other roommates understand this so you don’t come home one day to a wardrobe full of your roomie’s jammies.
  • Consider bathroom time limits. This step isn’t needed for most male-only homes, but if you’re in an all-women or coed roommate situation where each person doesn’t have his or her own bathroom, you’ll definitely want to set some reasonable time limits (or even schedules) for bathroom usage.

Shared Supplies

  • Agree on what to share and what to keep separate. If your roommate needs to eat 12 pounds of food daily, you may want to clearly distinguish your groceries from his. In fact, keeping consumables separate will just make life easier for you and all of your roommates. Good things to share: plates, small appliances, maybe laundry supplies (as long as you alternate who purchases them), and furniture. Bad things to share: boyfriends and girlfriends (unless you’re into that sort of thing), underwear (unless you’re into that sort of thing), and toothbrushes (unless you’re… eww, nevermind).
  • Determine how shared consumables will be replenished. When sharing things like food or laundry supplies, it should be decided who will replace those items when they’re gone. Alternating shopping responsibilities is a good method for this, so long as each roommate contributes roughly the same amount of money to each shopping trip. If you’re bringing home filet mignon and your two roomies only provide ramen noodles, you might want to reconsider the food-sharing situation.

Guests

  • Schedule guests in advance. Make it clear to roommates that everyone (including yourself) must schedule overnight houseguests making use of spare bedrooms or couches in advance. This way, you avoid situations where Roommate A invites Mom and Dad to visit while Roommate B is entertaining two Swedish exchange students and oh here comes Roommate C with the entire lineup of the 1997 San Francisco 49ers.
  • Define “guests.” Simply read the following statement to your roommates on Day One: “If they stay for up to 48 hours, they are guests. If they stay later, they are rent payers.”

Sexual Tension

  • Ties on the door? Agree on how to handle those special overnight friends. In the best of roomie situations, you won’t need to do anything differently because you already knock before entering your roommate’s bedroom. Make it clear that do-not-disturb signs on the front door of the whole apartment are not valid because you live there too.
  • For those lonely and desperate nights… If you’re in the situation of living with members of the sex to which you are attracted, there could be periods of time where neither of you is meeting his or her sexual quota (i.e. “not getting any”). You may be tempted to turn to each other to temporarily satisfy your hormonal urges like they do on TV sometimes. Just remember that you have to keep living with that person afterwards, so consider scheduling future rendezvous with that roommate for your mutual convenience what that will do for your rooming situation.

Other Rules

  • Don’t just assume house rules are understood by example. If you want to live by an “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” rule, bring it up verbally with your roommates first before demonstrating it.
  • Make communication easy. Avoid those “oh, I told you about that three days ago” incidents by having a central communication hub in your shared home. A large whiteboard by the front entrance works great.
  • Spell out chores and responsibilities. You can also use that communications whiteboard to assign household chores. It’s best to rotate them each week so you don’t get a roommate who want to shove your head in the toilet they clean every single week.

What else would you consider to be an important ground rule roommates should establish?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Five Easy Ways to Never Be Poor Again

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

easy ways to break the cycle of poverty

I used to be poor.

I mean, not starving-on-the-streets poor, but more like are-we-going-to-pay-all-the-bills-this-month poor. Our checking account balance never exceeded three digits, and every dime of income my family made was already ear-marked for rent, food, or bills. It would have been very easy for myself and my family to incur a lot of debt while I was growing up, but we managed to eak out a humble existence and keep ourselves out of the red.

Now that I’m starting my own family and handling all of the financial aspects that go along with it, I’m realizing there are some simple things my family could have done better while I was growing up to move us closer toward middle-class living.

  1. Complete college. Getting a college education is the #1 way to break the cycle of poverty, and it’s something neither of my parents completed. While it’s commonly known that college graduates earn far more than those who just completed high school, few people know that the average income of non-college graduates is dropping every year. So do whatever it takes to get that degree–night or weekend school, community college, work study (and you should be able to do it without student loans).
  2. Own your home. I’ll make this brief. Renters are throwing their money away. Stop paying someone else’s mortgage and start paying your own. Turn that roof over your head into an investment instead of an expense and you’ll be on the road to a better life in no time.
  3. own your home... but not this one

  4. Put whatever money you can in savings. Put $100 a month in a 5% APY savings account and you’ll have over $15,000 in just 10 years. Do it for 20 years and you’ll have over $40,000. Invest in stocks and you’ll likely earn even more.
  5. Wait to have children. If you are barely supporting yourself, you do not want to bring a child into the world to share your meager lifestyle. Do the first three things on this list, and once you’re in a financially stable situation with an optimistic long-term outlook, then start having kids. And if you’re poor and already have kids, don’t have more. And yes, that means stop having sex because that’s where babies come from. The only pleasure you should be getting is through hard work, study, and watching your savings account balance grow.
  6. Swallow your pride. This is one thing my family did right. If you’re trying to start a better life for your family but the expenses of living on your own are keeping you from making any progress, there’s nothing wrong with moving back home with your parents (if they’ll have you). Even if you contribute to their rent or mortgage, it’ll still be much less expensive than paying it all yourself, and you’ll have a couple of years to build or rebuild your financial well-being. Just don’t fall into the trap of staying at home forever; keep working hard, get that degree, and save money.

If you ever find yourself living somewhere between starvation and subsistence, you’re probably not doing at least one of these things. Once you start doing all five–and if I can do it, anyone can–chances are you’ll never be poor again.