Monday, August 17, 2009

Fat People and Smokers Actually Save You Money on Health Care

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 70 - health care

As our nation stands poised to usher in some sort of health care reform thingy, I can’t help but be reminded of some simple facts:

  • Better health care makes people live longer.
  • People living longer makes the Earth more crowded.
  • The Earth more crowded means even longer lines at the DMV.

So it could be argued that providing health care to people who don’t have it is detrimental to people who do have it. Having grown up on a healthy diet of dystopian sci-fi movies, I was quite looking forward to this problem solving itself, but I guess the unwashed, unhealthy masses have spoken. Fine, poor people, have your fancy doctors and your prescription medications. See if I care.

Okay, so I did care until I found an article from last year that made me change my way of thinking. Apparently those who have lifestyle-inflicted health problems are less taxing on our health care system. Specifically, the article talks about how smokers and those with high-end weight issues (that’s what we’re supposed to call the fatties now, right?) end up costing less money to provide medical care for over the course of their lives versus healthy Joe Lives-to-90. The reason: smokers and the obese die younger and quicker of things like heart attacks and choking on a Big Mac, while the healthy people who stick around longer usually go out slowly due to more costly diseases.

So when your workplace tells you that your health care costs are going up because of people who can’t lay off the cancer sticks and Krispy Kremes, you can let them know that those who choose to indulge in more reckless dietary and, uh, smoketary habits are actually saving you and your company big bucks. And then they roll up those big bucks and try to smoke them or eat them because they’re fatty fat smokeheads.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Working Overtime Killing You Too?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 45 - ninja attack

Japan—that island super-nation that gave us such innovations as karaoke, Super Nintendo, and Ice Cucumber Pepsi—has a bit of a problem. You see, the people in Japan just work too damned hard. Whereas the typical American 40-hour work week consists of 20 hours of coffee breaks, 10 hours of unproductive meetings, 7 hours of sexually harassing your gorgeous secretary, and 3 hours of actual work, the Japanese work week averages 60-70 grueling hours. What happened was, a while back, Japan realized that the only way it was going to overtake the United States (a country with more than twice its population) in areas like technology, education, and pornography was to work roughly 17 times harder. And that’s just what they did then and continue to do to this very day.

Sadly for Japanese workers, working yourself to death has the unfortunate side effect of sometimes actually killing you as one unlucky engineer at Toyota found out recently. The occurrence of overtiming oneself into an early grave has become such a frequent happening in Japan in the last half-century that they’ve even invented a word to describe the phenomenon: karōshi which, roughly translated, means “happy fun hard-working death time.” There have been dozens of well-publicized karōshi deaths in Japan since the phrase was first coined around 1970, though many other cases likely go unreported as companies pay surviving family members quiet settlements. The typical karōshi death is a direct result of a heart attack or stroke caused by sheer overwork.

While 80-hour work weeks aren’t as common on this side of the Pacific, there are nonetheless plenty of Americans who are prime candidates for exiting this life karōshi style. You might know a few people like this yourself. Heck, you might even be someone like this—toiling thanklessly for the good of your employer with little regard for your own self-preservation. If that sounds like you, then there are some steps you might want to start taking right away to help ensure you don’t drop dead from overwork.

  1. Um, stop working so much, eh? If you don’t realize this is the best option, then you’re probably too far down the karōshi path to turn back now. Don’t worry, I’m sure your boss will take good care of your spouse after you’re gone, if you know what I mean.
  2. Get paid more. Believe it or not, knowing that you’re fairly compensated for your job can make it less stressful. If you’ve got plenty of money coming into the household, you won’t have as much to worry about outside of work, which means you’ll be able to pull off a few 80-hour work weeks here and there without dissolving yourself into a puddle of overworked goo.
  3. Get paid overtime. If you already get paid well for your first 40 hours, but you’re working 70 hours a week, then you’re giving away 30 hours of your time for free. Ask your company for overtime pay or work somewhere else that already offers it. You’ll still be working as hard, but you’ll know in the back of your mind that there’s a small reward for your efforts.
  4. Use your vacation time. Another good sign that you’re on the karōshi death spiral is if you have a habit of never using vacation and/or letting vacation time expire without using it. There are very few workplaces that give “too much” vacation time, so you should be using most or all of whatever you’re given.
  5. Change careers. Maybe your current job is too conducive to overwork. You might want to start looking for a job somewhere more relaxed. And if your line of work is such that you’ll be overworked no matter who your employer is, then it may be time to completely change careers to sometime a little less suicidal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go show those Japanese that us American engineers won’t take their 80-hour work weeks lying down! Oh no no no, I’ll be sitting upright in my comfy chair, sipping my coffee… maybe take a long lunch, leave a bit early… take the rest of the week off…

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How I Lost 20 Pounds in Two Months on the Krispy Kreme Donut Diet

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 39 - donuts

You may recall from waaaaay back in the early days of Punny Money that my wife once held a part-time job at a Krispy Kreme, maker of some of the finest donuts in the world. What you probably don’t know is that she only kept the job for two months, in between college semesters. During those two months, I ate about 500 Krispy Kreme donuts of assorted varieties… and I lost 20 pounds doing it. Here’s how it happened.

One of the great benefits of working at Krispy Kreme is that, every day you go in to work, you’re allowed to bring home a dozen free donuts. (Correction from my wife: that’s the only great benefit of working for Krispy Kreme, unless you consider smelling like donuts constantly no matter how much you clean yourself a benefit.) It only took a few days of the smell of glaze and toppings to turn my wife off the donuts forever, but she still happily brought home a dozen for me each day she worked.

At first, my wife only worked a couple of days a week at Krispy Kreme. But as her manager realized her superior skills over the other workers—i.e. speaking more than two words of English, and not constantly trying to rob the cash register—she was asked to work nearly full time. That means she could bring home a dozen donuts five days a week for free. I could have just asked her not to bring home the donuts, but I pretty much never refuse free food. So she brought home around 60 donuts a week… and I ate them all.

It wasn’t just the regular glazed donuts, either. While the policy varies from one Krispy Kreme location to the next, my wife was allowed to take home any of the more expensive donuts with toppings and frosting and other yummy things. My favorites were any of the donuts with sprinkles, especially the orange and black Halloween ones (which were still served well into December there). According to the Krispy Kreme nutritional information (PDF), each sprinkled donut comes with about 270 calories, 12 grams of fat, and some other numbers that would give any decent dietitian a heart attack just reading them. And yes, I ate 12 of those five days a week.

So how in the name of chocolate glazed crullers did I lose 20 pounds eating 60 donuts a week? Well, it’s really quite simple:

  • I have an active metabolism. I generally eat around 3,000 calories a day anyway, and I’m a relatively healthy weight for a person my age and height. I’ve had several doctors look at me and say I’m perfectly healthy, so I guess it’s sort of like having a superpower (though I’d gladly trade it in for x-ray vision).
  • If you eat 12 Krispy Kreme donuts, you don’t feel like eating anything else for at least 24 hours. Here’s the key to the Krispy Kreme Diet that can make it work for anyone. If you’ve ever had more than a couple of them at the same time, you’d know that multiple Krispy Kreme donuts can really fill your tummy… and then some. After eating my dozen a day, I didn’t want to look at food again… until the next batch of donuts came home.

In the end, it’s probably for the best that my wife left Krispy Kreme after only a couple of months. I’m not sure how much longer I would have lasted without vegetables, protein, and arteries full of blood instead of glaze. I will admit that I do sometimes still long for my daily dozen, and my wife has caught me once or twice sneaking a sniff of her old work uniform that still has a hint of that donutty aroma on it.

Oh, and I should probably mention that I’m not a licensed anything, and if you try to duplicate this diet on your own, you will probably die before you get to the third day. Then again, if any of you emo cut-yourself-all-day MySpace losers out there wants to end it all with some style and flair, I could think of worse ways to go that drowning your vital organs in a bucket of warm, delicious Krispy Kreminess.

I’m just saying…

Monday, June 23, 2008

EMS Fees May Scare Sick Into Skipping Life-Saving Treatment

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 38 - ambulance

In an era where getting from Point A to Point B is costing more and more with each passing year, it can be reassuring to know that if you get hit by a bus and need to go to the hospital, you won’t have to pony up $4 a gallon to pay for the gas the ambulance uses to get you there. At least, it used to be reassuring.

Unfortunately for all you accident-prone and sickly individuals out there, your next ambulance trip may feel more like a taxi ride thanks to many politicians’ sudden realization that there was something they weren’t taxing. All over the country, many counties and jurisdictions are writing legislation to charge fees for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Currently, most EMS operations get their money indirectly from taxpayers, from hospitals, or from voluntary fundraising. Under the new legislation, various fees may be charged to patients who make use of EMS. Some of the proposed fees include:

  • A basic transport fee. Need an ambulance to cart your bloody body to the nearest hospital? That’ll be $300. Or maybe $800. Or maybe more!
  • A mileage surcharge. In one county, the EMS fee proposal calls for a $7.50 per mile charge in addition to the basic transport fee. Heaven forbid you live more than a few miles from the nearest emergency room.
  • An initial response fee. Not content to charge the sick and injured for the ride, some places will charge you just for getting checked out by paramedics on the scene, even if you don’t need a trip to the hospital.
  • Charges for services provided. If the paramedics use some gauze and staples to reattach your limb en route to the ER, they’ll charge you for those items and anything else they use to keep you in one piece.

The EMS fees have some very obvious benefits. For one, it is good for EMS to have money so they can afford to keep you from dying. It would suck if the next time you called for an ambulance, they told you: “I’m sorry. Our ambulance got repossessed. We’ll have a rickshaw out to you in 30 minutes.” With tax money and hospital payments fluctuating constantly, direct billing may be the best option to ensure EMS operations can stay afloat.

Nonetheless, the drawbacks of charging for EMS may far outweigh the benefits:

  • The poor and uninsured may suffer. While some jurisdictions are including caveats to their EMS fee legislation granting waivers for financial hardship, other places will happily tax the impoverished and elderly just as much as they charge celebrities who O.D. on crack.
  • Insurance companies may be unfairly targeted. A few cities say they’ll only charge EMS fees to insurance companies, waiving the fee entirely for the uninsured. As little sympathy as most have for fat-cat insurance companies, is it really fair only to go after insurance providers for fees?
  • People may forgo necessary medical treatment. Rather than pay $1,000 or more just for an ambulance trip, some sick or injured may skip the EMS ride or find alternative transportation that isn’t meant for emergency transit. Even if only insured people get the charge, some may not understand this and worry that they’ll be on the hook for the fee if their insurance company doesn’t pony up.
  • Insurance rates will go up. Some cities are touting their EMS fee plans as having “no cost to residents” if they only bill insurance companies. But not so fast! Who pays the premiums to insurance companies? You do! And when your insurer starts getting socked with EMS fees, they’ll pass the cost right on to you, the customers.

Personally, I’m conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing all taxes based on the services people use when logistically feasible (e.g. if you send your kids to private school, you don’t pay taxes to send others’ children to public schools). On the other hand, poor people are more likely to need more assistance from EMS, and I don’t think it’s morally correct to burden them with these costs. Even limiting the charges to insurance companies still poses ethical dilemmas.

Maybe our best bet is to commercialize EMS services. When you call for an ambulance, you get to pick your service provider. Some providers will be cheaper than others, while higher-end providers will offer ambulance rides with a touch of luxury—sequined gurneys, relaxing music, and really hot nurses. And if your ambulance ride doesn’t get there in 30 minutes or less, your ride to the morgue is free!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How to Super-Size Your Boobies on the Cheap

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

message from alan, the picture-finding giraffe

Being a man, I can’t say that I have as much experience with the extra dimensions of a woman’s chest as, say, an actual woman might have. That said, I’ve been a big fan of boobies for many years, except for that brief period in elementary school when girls were yucky. Also known as breasts—though that sounds more like something that’s on my grocery list to buy in the poultry section—boobies have been mesmerizing men and some women for thousands of years, ever since man first invented foreplay.

As with anything entertaining, like a blockbuster Hollywood film or a pile of hundred-dollar bills, bigger is often considered better when it comes to boobies. While the exact reason for this concept is not fully understood, it is generally accepted that both men and women consider larger boobs to be a sign of sexual superiority. This may date back to the practice of cavewomen fighting for their preferred mating partner by wailing on each other with their ample, prehistoric breasts. Even though this practice has been largely discontinued today, many modern-day woman put great emphasis on their bust line, placing it in their hierarchy of importance somewhere between grocery shopping and kicking my butt for writing this article.

For evidence to support my statements, I need only point to the booming breast enlargement industry which last year grossed over $58 billion just from parental graduation gifts. Hopefully you’ll agree that spending that much money on bigger boobies is, at the very least, not particularly frugal. What’s worse is that the gap between the upper and lower income classes is directly proportionate to the size of the average woman’s breasts. As the graph below shows, a woman making less than $50,000 a year just can’t afford the boobies necessary to attract a man who makes $50 million a year.

average breast size by income, courtesy of the american boobilogical institute

Fortunately for all you ladies out there looking to augment your womanly protrusions, I’m about to show you how enlarging your bust does not require you to bust your bank account. Here are some frugal tips that may help take you from a microscopic double-A to a back-breaking D or F for pennies on the silicone dollar.

  1. Find smaller-chested women and always stand next to them. As everyone knows, men are not good at “eyeballing” measurement estimates. If there’s no ruler around, we’ll try to guess the length of something by comparing it to other nearby objects. This also works with breast sizes. If you’re a B-cup and you’re surrounded by AA-cups, we’ll think you’re a C-cup or higher.
  2. Choose the right stuff. Everyone knows the old “stuff your bra full of tissues” trick, but you just don’t get the right texture from something like that. From my own personal experience, I’ve found that sponge cake or densely-packed cotton candy not only gives one a more natural look and feel, but it also provides a handy mid-afternoon snack. (Just be sure to nibble evenly from each one.)
  3. Try some herbal alternatives. You’ve probably never heard of this stuff, but herbal remedies like fenugreek, saw palmetto, and fennel may help make your run to the dictionary to look them up a bouncier one.
  4. Augment your boobies’ muscles. While no exercises exist that’ll give you bigger boobs, you can lift what you have and create the illusion of a larger line-up with certain exercises that will enlarge the pectoral muscles directly underneath your chest. Here are some great exercises for your boob muscles.
  5. Breast massage. Assuming the multiple Japanese animation series that have mentioned it aren’t lying to me, massaging your breasts (called “nyuu-nyuu” in Japan) somehow makes them grow faster. This is something you could do with a friend to help make it less tedious and boring. I don’t know the scientific basis for this, but the Japanese must know what they’re talking about since they typically have such… small… breasts… wait a second.

DISCLAIMER: Nick is not a physician, professional finance-type person, or a woman. Do all of the above at your own risk. Especially the last one. Do lots of that one at your own risk.