money

The Insanity of Black Friday

I saw on the news where folks were already camping out for some of the Black Friday sales – on Sunday, a solid five days before the sales start.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

These people are giving up hours and days of their lives, choosing to camp outside a store – many times in cold weather – all for the sake of saving money?  I’m no economist*, but it just doesn’t seem worth it.

*Seriously, I’m not.  In college, my major required me to take a basic Econ course.  I was so bad at it that I got to take it twice.  That is one of the many reasons I was lucky to marry a “numbers girl” who loves financial stuff. 

Without her, I’m likely retiring to the comfort of a cardboard box while trying to sell my kidneys on Craigslist.  There’s a reason this site isn’t FeitCanFixFinances, people.

You can find all sorts of calculations (both simple and complex) to determine what an hour of your time is worth.  A very simplistic (and therefore, easy for me to use) version can be found here, and goes like this:

  1. Take your annual salary/wages.
  2. Divide that number by 2000 (50 working weeks at 40 hours per week)
  3. Divide that number in half (taxes, Social Security, etc)
  4. The result is a rough estimate of what your time is worth per hour.

For somebody making $50,000 a year, an hour your time is worth approximately $12.50.  At $30,000 a year, it’s around $7.50.  A minimum wage worker’s time is worth $4.50 an hour.

So for those fools who are spending 100+ hours in line for Black Friday deals, you may be saving $400 on that new TV or computer, but you are almost definitely losing money overall (not to mention free time, a holiday with family, personal comfort and warmth, and likely your sanity) sitting outside Wal-Mart.

Good job!

Thought of the Day – 11/4/2014 – You Get What They Paid For

If I paid $50,000 for the opportunity to get hired as a minimum wage cashier at McDonald’s, you’d either think I was a moron or I had some shady plan in place to make my money back.

Yet, we don’t think anything of candidates who spend tens of thousands of dollars for an office that pays $12,000, plus per diem (Nebraska legislature) or millions for an office that pays $174,000 (U.S. House and Senate).

So are we electing morons or are these elected officials recouping their losses?

I approve this message

Baby Draft

Recently, I caught wind of a website that raised some controversy.

A couple in Florida wants to adopt.  In order to help defray some of the costs associated with the adoption, they set up a fundraising website where friends, family, and others could donate.

So far, no big deal.  Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and PledgeMusic have become common ways for people to fund businesses and other projects.  Expanding into adoption fundraising is a logical extension for many of these sites.

But here is the difference:  in order to stand out / have fun / generate buzz, this Florida couple set up a hook.  When you donate on their YouCaring crowdfunding page, you get to specify your favorite NFL team.  The parents vowed to raise their child as a fan of the team with the most donation dollars.  They called their site the “2014 Baby Draft” and even created an intro video.

This is where I need to divulge a very big disclaimer:

I never saw the actual site or the intro video.  By the time I heard about this story, the negative backlash had caused the couple to take down the fundraiser.  I did find this article which tells more about the original idea.

An image from the original Baby Draft crowdfunding site

An image from the original Baby Draft crowdfunding site

What type of negative backlash did they encounter?  Again, I’m not 100% sure as I hit the tail end of this.  My guess is the “Baby Draft” name rubbed people the wrong way as it doesn’t really articulate the premise of selecting a rooting interest for the child.  I can see where some folks may have thought the parents were going to draft a baby in the manner that NFL teams draft players – through extensive evaluation, workouts, and analysis – when adoption just doesn’t work that way.  Again, that is my speculation.

As for me?  I probably should be more outraged by it – and maybe I would be if I had watched the video – but I have a hard time getting worked up by this.

Is a “baby draft” in bad taste?  Maybe.  Is it a good idea to place any parenting decision in the hands of an Internet vote?  Typically, no.  Should you question a parent who would truly “sell” his child’s rooting interests to the highest bidder?  Possibly.

But consider the other side…

Is adoption expensive?  Absolutely.  The parents who set up the site estimated their costs at $45,000.  While that’s above the national average for an agency-assisted adoption of a U.S. born infant, it’s easy to see that number if they are adopting internationally.

Is it easy to get grants or loans for adoption?  No.  Certainly, there are many adoption grants out there, but when you get past the ones with strict faith-based restrictions (i.e. married heterosexual Christian families) you are competing with hundreds of other families for the same limited pool of grant funds that may not be paid when you need the money.  Adoption loans are even tougher to find and obtain.

Do most employers offer adoption benefits to help defray costs or provide the necessary time away?  Some do, but they are few and far between.

Do prospective adoptive parents need to be creative with how they raise funds?  Definitely.  You’ll see all types of fundraisers, benefits, and sales.  One blog that I follow has a future adoptive mom decorating cakes to help raise funds.  It’s a cool idea (and she makes beautiful cakes) but it’s hard to imagine raising tens of thousands of dollars in this manner.

Maybe the Baby Draft family was misguided, their intention / motivation was not clearly stated, or they should have used a phrase other than “Baby Draft”, but I can certainly emphasize with their plight.  Our three adoptions were not cheap.  Very not cheap*.  We were able to do it with a combination of strict budgeting by my financially gifted wife, generous loans from my mom, and our good friends at Visa.  And even with all of that, we’re still getting our financial legs back under us 10 months later.

*So not cheap that I can barely afford good grammatical composition for my sentences.

But adoptive parents – present and future – know that despite all of the costs, fees, and expenses, the end result is priceless.

Thought of the Day – 08/11/2013 – Money for Naked Ladies

Did the Barenaked Ladies ever earn a million dollars?  Given their long careers and success, I’m guessing they did.  So assuming they have made at least a million bucks, did they buy all of the things they said they would get (such as a nice chesterfield, pre-wrapped sausages, a Garfunkel, or a green dress*)?

*But not a real green dress, that’s cruel.

I truly hope they did.  And not just because they’d be hypocrites for not doing the things they said they’d do from the very song that helped them earn a good chunk of their money – but seriously, why tell me you’re going to buy a monkey if you’re not going to do it, unless maybe your lease doesn’t allow pets.

Stack O'Money!

No, I hope they are enjoying fancy Dijon ketchups and such, because those of us who are not millionaires expect those of you with money to do the things we cannot – enjoy the finer things that your hard work (or your cheesy pop song) helped earn.

Besides, haven’t you always wanted a monkey?

My Two Cents: Making Sense Out of Cents

I’m rolling out a new semi-regular* feature:  My two cents.  Essentially, it will be a way for me to quickly give my opinion or take on a topic currently in the public discussion – or anything else I feel like chiming in on – but without doing a lot of set up or bothering to tie things up in a nice bow.

*Semi-regular = whenever I feel like it; until I get bored with the concept and stop doing it.

two cents pennies

 

First up:  The cents sign.

My initial thought was to title this as “My 2 (cents)” using the common symbol for cents – a lowercase “c” with a vertical line through it.  But I have absolutely no idea how to type that.  My keyboard has 115 keys, containing a combination of 83 different letters, numbers, and symbols.  But nowhere do I see the cents symbol.  I know that I can type it, (probably using some obscure combination of Shift with maybe an Alt or Ctrl), but without consulting Google, I have no idea what it takes.

Sure, there are ways around it.  You often see people refer to an opinion as their “$0.02” or “.02” but that just isn’t as easy for my simple brain to decipher.  What are you trying to say?  Two dollars?  Two hundredths?  Wouldn’t it be much easier if there was a commonly known symbol to represent cents?  Oh yeah, there is.

Or maybe the cents symbol isn’t so common after all.

So what happened to the cents sign?  Has inflation gotten so bad that almost nothing costs less than a dollar?  Who decided that the cents sign would not have a spot on computer keyboards?  How lowly do you have to be to get edged out by the caret (^) and the vertical line (|)?  It’s sad.  It makes no sense*.

*C’mon, did you think I could get through this without using a cents/sense pun?  Please.

Do they even bother teaching the cents symbol to kids anymore?  Or would a teenager be more likely to read Egyptian hieroglyphics than understand what a c with a slash through it means?

Add the cent sign to the growing list of things that make me feel old.

In case you were curious, you can type a cents symbol by simply(?) typing 0162 on the number pad while holding down the Alt key.  Like such: ¢

Assuming that publishing that symbol doesn’t blow up the internet, I’ll change the title going forward.

Weaving Old Hickory

Author’s note:  This post is part of a WordPress Daily Writing Prompt, about weaving an object or symbol through three unrelated stories.

Don’t worry if this isn’t your cup of tea – there is another snarky Rejects list coming soon!

*   *   *

“Happy birthday, Andrew!”

Andy opened up the blue envelope and pulled out the birthday card his Grandpa had purchased.  He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes when he saw Snoopy staring at him from the front of the card.  Snoopy was for kids.  Andy was 13 now.  Practically grown up, in his mind.  Besides, Grandpa meant well.

Andy opened the card and found the jackpot:  a twenty.  “I’d much rather stare at President Jackson than Snoopy,” Andy thought to himself.  Andy lifted up the twenty for the room to see and thanked Grandpa for the gift.

As he held the twenty dollar bill, he was struck by the crispness, the rigidity of it.  This was a brand new bill.  Andy pictured Grandpa waiting in line at the bank, his gold Buick parked right next to the drive-thru lanes, asking for the newest twenty they had.

The bill was so new and perfect it almost felt fake.  Andy grinned slightly as he pictured Grandpa puttering around the back room of his apartment, counterfeiting twenties.  The perfect crime.  Who would suspect an 84-year-old man?

“What are you going to buy, Andrew my boy?” Grandpa asked.  “Something good, I hope.”

Andy thought about it.  He was going to meet his buddies at the mall later today, and there was a good chance President Jackson would not be coming home.

“Beats me, Grandpa.  But I’ll put it to good use.  Thanks again!”

*   *   *

Rachel wriggled free of the cramped dance floor and into the relatively peaceful bathroom.  You could still hear the house electronica, although it was muffled; the raw, thumping bass was the primary noise.

Rachel let out a relaxing sigh and sat down in an empty stall.  As she peed, she had the sort of epiphanies that seem to only come while on the toilet.

Her life was like this club – chaotic, packed, almost unbearably noisy, and far too expensive, but at same time fun, exciting, and full of people she knew – or would like to know.  She knew that there would be a time where she could no longer stand to go this club and wondered if there would be a time where she could longer stand her life.

Oy, that was depressing.  Rachel shook her head violently to clear out the dark thoughts and opened her small clutch purse.  No new messages on her iPhone.  “I’m like this club,” she thought, “No one will miss us when we’re gone.”

She laid the iPhone on her thigh and pulled the baggie from her purse.  She placed a small line of coke on the phone’s glass face and moved it around with her credit card.  She grabbed a twenty from her purse, rolled it into a tight tube and snorted the coke deep into her body.

As she left the bathroom, the wall of noise, bodies, and sweat hitting her like a ton of bricks, she spied her friends at a table in the corner.  Rachel headed to the bar, twenty in her hand, to buy some shots.  Before they drank the cheap vodka, they toasted with their favorite expression:  “YOLO, bitches!”

*   *   *

As far as class projects went, this one was at least somewhat interesting.  They were to use five pieces of paper money and enter their serial numbers on the Where’s George? website.

Jack was game for this.  Their Economics teacher had told them that you could track the movements of money – dollar bills mostly – as they were used to buy and sell goods, bouncing across the country through businesses, banks, and consumers.  Jack was hopeful that his bills had some good history – or at least some funny comments.

He opened his brown leather wallet.  He only found four one dollar bills.  He plugged their serial numbers into the site and clicked Continue.

Each time, his pulse quickened a little bit, he wanted something interesting, something unique, to feel more connected to the world outside of Waxhas County.

Jack still remembered the times in elementary school when released balloons, always with a note to call or write when they were found.  Jack dreamt of his balloons soaring across the sky, flying farther than everybody else’s, and being found by a famous celebrity who would not only write a letter, but would come of Jack’s town and shake hands with him in front of the whole school.

But Jack’s balloons did not have that destiny.  Only one was ever returned, and it was fished off of an electric line three blocks from school.  The power company raised a big stink and they stopped letting balloons go after that.

Four times Jack entered the serial number, hoping for excitement.  Four times he got next to nothing – a couple of random trips through the local Fed Reserve.  Jack was bummed.  What a stupid assignment.

Jack asked his dad if he could get the serial number of a dollar bill for a project.  Dad only had a wrinkled and worn twenty, and suggested he use that instead.

Jack entered the numbers and clicked Continue.  Out of habit, his adrenaline shot up, even as he mentally prepared himself for another letdown.

As the screen refreshed, Jack’s eyes lit up…

Great Moments in Customer Service

My debit card has some issues.  As you can see, the card has cracked and is breaking apart*

*NOTE – this likely has more to do with how the card sits in my wallet (and how much I sit on it) than it does with the card’s rate of usage.

Here is the frustrating part:  I used this card at my bank with it in this condition – handing it to a teller so they could process my transaction.

Twice.

Neither time did the teller say something like “Yikes, your card is falling apart.  Let me order a new one for you.”  Instead, they simply processed the transaction – the split is just above the magnetic strip, so the card still works.  Then they handed my card back to me, completed the transaction, and sent me on my way.

I’m loyal to my bank.  I have had the same primary checking account since the 1980s.  Of course, over that time, my bank has changed ownership (at least) twice, changed names three times, and has service charged me for anything and everything.  Is this the final straw that sends me to another financial institution?

Probably not.

Changing banks is a tremendous hassle – switching direct deposits, automatic withdrawals, bill payments, getting new checks, new debit cards, and so much more.  And for what?  In the hopes of improved service, a slightly better branch location, or a quarter of a percentage point of interest?

No thank you.  I’ll put up with a lot of disinterested service from my bank to avoid the inconvenience of switching – especially since our increasingly paperless society means I don’t see them that often anymore.

Unfortunately, I think my bank knows this too.

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