Gas prices are up. Suck it up or whine?

I've only driven our car, what, twice? Three times maybe? Gas prices don't make my brain burn.

Gas prices are up. Gas prices here in Nova Scotia are among the highest in the country. The (regulated) price at the corner is $1.321 per litre. People are freaking out. One by one, freaking out. But how much can you freak out, and for how long?

Antishay writes about the whining on her blog:

I had a conversation the other day that went something like this:

Friend: OH MY GOD Gas is now $3.71 a gallon!

Me: Oh?

Friend: THAT'S JUST INSANE. I can't afford that.

Me: I don't really look at gas prices.

Friend: I always go to Arco, they're usually $0.05 less.

Me: I don't know... five cents doesn't really add up. My tank holds about 14 gallons, so that's only a savings of $0.70 per gallon. It just doesn't make much of a difference to me. Granted, when we were in high school it was $1.14 per tank, but the day-to-day savings doesn't give me much to celebrate.

Friend: How can you not care? That's like $4 a month!

*sigh* Let me explain. Even if you're buying 5 tanks of gas every month - whew! - is $5 really going to BREAK YOU? Shut up! It's not a life-altering savings. You would be better off figuring out a way to buy only 3 tanks a month than driving around, hunting for the lowest gas price.

I don't know. I am a person of action. I see something I don't like in my life, I change it. I figure out a way around, through, or over the obstacle. I don't like whining, and so this will be the only rant for a while. I just don't UNDERSTAND why the milk costs or the gas costs are the cause of so much angst lately.

If you do the math, it doesn't matter that much! Go out and make an extra $5 a month and you're covered! $5! Come ON! Offer to walk your friends dog for a week and she'll give you $5 (hopefully more) and you'll have all your gas inflation covered for the month.

As a go-getter, I have trouble watching people complain their lives away without doing anything creative to stop the stress at the root.

Nice thoughts. Fixing stuff isn't easy, but whining doesn't usually fix anything.

Movies about money -- good and bad

I watched a pair of movies with 'debt' in the title over the past few days. One I liked, the other I didn't like much.

I expected In Debt We Trust to be an activist movie in the style of, say, Michael Moore or the Super Size Me guy. It was more like the latter, without even as much balance as the former.

Danny Schechter takes on the credit industry from the point of view that people who fall victim to crushing debt are hapless victims of an exploitative monster industry. While I don't disagree that Americans in particular have been buried by sometimes questionable practices of credit companies, I felt the film let the consumers off the hook too easily. Yes, people are sucked in by too-good-to-be-true offers which shouldn't be offered in the first place. Yes, people are sucked under by payday loans. But after all the reading I've been doing lately, the reality that spending less than you make is the key to staying afloat is virtually ignored. The film portrays slow death by debt as a virtual inevitability in American society.

I really did like the spooky prescience of the movie's portrayal of the housing bubble. It was made before the recent credit crunch, but predicted it precisely. It said sub-prime lending was the hot hot thing, but pointed out how ludicrous and ultimately doomed the whole scheme was.

All in all, I'd say pass on In Debt We Trust, unless you get a kick out of reinforcing a victim mentality.

On the other hand, I was angered and entertained by Life and Debt, which I found when I was looking for the other movie. I got the titles all mixed up.

Stephanie Black's film about how the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have affected Jaimaica taught me a lot. Stuff I didn't know about Jamaica, but more importantly, stuff I didn't know about the IMF and World Bank. I had no idea how those bodies worked and what they do to countries.

The movie felt balanced, yet outrageous. It was entirely sympathetic to Jamaica, and unflattering to the IMF. The World Bank and America come off like an evil empire. Sure, that's fashionable here in Canada, but it appeared to be backed up with fact. It has the same "holy sh!t, do Americans know that their country does this?!" impact that Michael Moore's films do, without the sense "oh, come on, dude, you must be kidding" angle that Moore sometimes brings.

If you're itchin' to get mad with a movie about debt, choose Life And Debt over In Debt We Trust.

Spend wisely, gang.

It's journalawesome infotainment!!!

This week's issue of The Coast (Toronto residents -- think Now or Eye) features a cover story about local comedy troupe Picnicface. They're the funny folks behind the iconic video POWERTHIRST. I profiled this video back on June 6, 2007, before knowing who Picnicface was.

Turns out the brains behind this hilarious video that infected the folks at work with catch phrases and puns is from Halifax. We loved the video before we knew they were from here, and of course we love it even more knowing that Picnicface is a home-grown phenomenon.

Powerthirst has clocked more than six million views on YouTube, and another 450-thousand over at Will Ferrell's funnyordie.com.

So, now that you've consumed Powerthirst and it has become a part of your soul, I have something more for you.

Given that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I present this video .... Halifax's News-Talk-Sports radio station News95.7, in the style of Powerthirst!

Please note that this video is not approved, endorsed, sponsored, supported, or acknowledged by News95.7 or its parent company. It is an entirely unofficial tribute that should not be seen to reflect the promotional goals of the actual radio station. It's just up for a laugh or two.

Enjoy.



(Hey, why not give it a nice rating, too? I could use the support.)

Random whatsits of recent weeks

Some notes on stuff that's been doin':

Amanda and I went Thursday to check out the dream homes being given away in the QE2 Lifestyles Lottery. The bigger of the two is ginormously huge. Like, huge huge. Almost-too-big huge. It has room in the basement for further living-space expansion. Either that or you should shoot some epic films down there. And that actually sounds like a good plan. The second home is smaller, but still kinda nice. The consensus seems to be that we'd keep the first one and live in it for a year upon winning, then perhaps sell it. The second one, though, would be a re-sell in order to buy something obnoxiously fantastic in the south end of peninsular Halifax, then renovate the heck out of it and buy me a little car.

I checked out the Music Nova Scotia open mic at The Seahorse last week. It's hosted by my friend and former coworker Laura Simpson (no relation, though her husband's name is Scott Simpson). Laura had been recommending I come check the place out, and seriously consider playing a few songs. Problem for me is that they don't want people playing covers. That's about all I do. So I'll have to get writing some original songs.

While there, I ran into the proprietors of onlinemusicnetwork.ca. I asked how it's even possible that my cover of Cub's "Ticket To Spain" is #3 on their all-time top 100 chart. Google their web site and find out.

I'm working on a heavy-rocking cover of Mika's "Big Girl". His original appeared here earlier via YouTube.

We've been barbequeing again off and on. I love steak. You can't hear how much I love steak through this medium, so ... y'know, think of a food you love that you make crazy noises about, and that's how I feel about steak.

More to come later, I expect! Be well, be happy, be healthy, and be in touch!

Big Ass Superstar: Mastermind

Krystal over at Give Me Back My Five Bucks posted today about the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator. You may have taken the test. I seem to remember doing one in grade 5 (or 7), but I don't recall the designation.

I followed the link on GMBMFB (you can too!) and took the test ... I came up INTJ.

A link to a description of that personality type describes me as a "Mastermind":

Masterminds will adopt ideas only if they are useful, which is to say if they work efficiently toward accomplishing the Mastermind's well-defined goals. Natural leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command of projects or groups, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once in charge, however, Masterminds are the supreme pragmatists, seeing reality as a crucible for refining their strategies for goal-directed action. In a sense, Masterminds approach reality as they would a giant chess board, always seeking strategies that have a high payoff, and always devising contingency plans in case of error or adversity.


Interesting schtuff. Another description is also keen.

What'd you come up as?

---
More detailed breakdown:

INTJ, Strength of the preferences %
Introverted: 33
Intuitive: 62
Thinking: 38
Judging: 22

Congratulations to Amanda!

Amanda got the job!

After two and a half years, she's now officially employed. Not contract, not temp, not term, not fill-in, not casual, but completely and fully employed because *she earned it*. She interviewed, kicked ass and totally did an amazing job. So she bought herself this cake. And the cake ... was ... delicious.

Saving money like a Big Ass Superstar

This is still not a Personal Finance blog, though I'm on a roll with writing about money ... so here's a few notes on how I do my financial thing, with a bit about how 'manda and I work the dough.

Some of this knowledge/wisdom is from watching TV shows like "'Til Debt Do Us Part", and "Maxed Out". Some is from books like The Wealthy Barber. Some is from reading personal finance blogs. And some has been arrived at organically through trial and error. I can assure you that if I'd had this much sense ten years ago, I'd have a lot more wealth now. But, that's what growing up is about, huh?

Budget
Jerry Good taught me in Broadcast Management class that "if you can measure it, you can manage it." And it works the other way, too -- if you can't measure it, you can't expect to manage it. We bought Quicken Cash Manager 2007 more than a year ago, and I never really figured out how to work all the accounts and stuff. But I *did* find the budgeting section, and I love it.

We laid out our regular bills -- groceries, rent, car lease, car insurance, phone, cable/internet, power, bank fees -- and income -- mine and hers. We also considered bills that come up expectedly but not monthly -- cat food, apartment insurance, car registration. We also added some items for entertainment, gifts and dining.

Beyond that, though, we guesstimated how much a couple of vacations might cost ... and factored in a little overhead for emergencies and saving.

Quicken and a calculator broke the regularly expected expenses + savings + vacation + misc into a monthly chunk that would take care of the here and now, plus save for the future. It's those little changes that make the difference between treading water, swimming, sailing and navigating. We're no financial Copernicuseses yet, but we're well ahead of many who just hope there's money left at the end of the month.

Combine and conquer
Our incomes are different. Not a whole lot different anymore -- Amanda, a few years into her career, is about on par with me, nearly a decade and a half into mine -- but a little different. We figured out who's making what percentage of the combined household income. I think it came out to 52 vs. 48%. We applied those figures to the monthly household budget and figured out how much each of us would transfer to the shared chequing account. So, each payday, I put $x into the pot, and on her payday, Amanda puts $x-a bit into the pot. Our nut is covered, and whatever's left is ours to oversee individually.

Routine and automation
Until Amanda converted me to online banking, I paid all my bills by taking them to the bank machine, stuffing them in envelopes and putting them through the magic slot.

Now all the regular payees are set up in the online banking. As soon as a bill comes in from cable, phone, power ("hydro" to you in Ontario), it gets opened, paid, marked "paid", and filed in Scott's handy-dandy file-o-matic in the dungeon. We don't wait for a specific day to pay the bills -- the money's always there, so the peeps get their money.

Every payday, it's the same thing with our respective contributions to the household pot. We have it set up for an instant transfer, and kaboom, the household money is refreshed.

The only thing we write a cheque for is rent.

Several bills are set up for automatic payment -- car lease and car insurance are pulled out directly. And once a month, a lump sum gets transferred out of the pot and into our shared savings account, as a combination emergency fund/vacation fund. My life insurance also gets pulled directly from my main account.

Having the right accounts
Some may see this as overkill, but I have several accounts, all with the same bank, and Amanda has a set of her own as well:

  • "Our" chequing
  • "Our" savings
  • My daily account
  • My 'stash'
  • My e-saving account
  • Plus assorted credit cards and a bank line of credit

They each serve a purpose. Both "our" chequing and my daily account, IIRC, have unlimited or very-high-number-of free Interac transactions. That way I don't have to carry much cash. I think the monthly fee is $12. My e-saving account is a high-interest, online-only account for accumulating cash on the side. I can transfer in and out free of charge, and there's no monthly fee, but if I do something thoughtless and pay a bill straight out of the e-saving, I get nicked for $5 a shot. So, if my daily account is low, I just transfer over and pay away. The 'stash' account has been empty ever since I set up the e-saving. I just never got around to closing it.

Other Stuff I Do
I also have an automagic transfer of $50/pay from my daily account to my e-saving. It doesn't stay long, mind you, 'cuz I've been spending it faster than saving it. Hm.

I take part in the company's share purchase plan. As I see it, it's a helluva deal. The company matches 25% of my contributions in the first year, 33% in the second, and 50% thereafter. I can contribute 1-10% of my gross income, with after-tax dollars, each payday. The shares are purchased once a month at market value. I should've signed up for this years ago. I could be rich by now. But I only got on board last year. I'm pouring the maximum I can in -- 10%. It means my take-home pay has been cut noticeably, but with the company's share prices down recently, and the company kicking in 25% on top of what I put in, it's still a great deal. Really, where are you going to get a guaranteed 25% return on investment? 33%? 50%?! I think it's a great offer, and I'm going to stay in it as long as I can afford to.

I try keep my RRSP maxed out. I didn't contribute for a long time. But some inheritance money came my way, and I put it into the RRSP. I reinvested the resultant tax refund and kept going. Not too many years ago, I reached the limit. I'm sketchy on the math, but my 'pension adjustment' on my T4 is keeping my RRSP contribution limit stupidly low. I'm hoping that means my company pension plan is kicking ass. As it stands, my tax refund comes pretty close to topping up the RRSP limit.

My investments are not interesting. The bulk of my RRSP money is in what I'm told is a stable money-market fund, with the aim of using it toward a home down payment through that nifty first-time-buyer plan. The rest is in a balanced growth fund that is not growing very fast.

Other Ways I/we Save

  • Pack a lunch. I take a lunch to work. A wrap, two or three fruits, yogurt.
  • Take your coffee. Amanda brews up a pot of Tim's at home and takes it to work in a Thermos. Easily saving several dollars a week.
  • Grocery shop once a week. We check the flyer, sketch out some meals for the week, make a list, and hit the store one time. Amanda gets most of the credit here, as I'm not holding up my end of the bargain when it comes to meal selection and preparation. If something is an especially good deal -- let's say a ham for less than half price -- we'll buy it, chop it up into three pieces, freeze it, and use it later. Hint for leftovers: affix a label indicating what's inside and when it was made.
  • Walk, bike or take the bus. I help pay for the car, but I don't drive it. Amanda has to drive for work, so she does, which lets her earn money, so ... it all makes sense. Me, I can take the bus to work, and I usually walk home.
  • I don't buy clothes. Not a recommended strategy, 'cuz I really *should* buy some clothes.
  • Make do with what we've got. I'd love to have HDTV. But to do that, I'd have to get an HDTV. And digital cable. And HD service. And a digital cable HD PVR box, 'cuz my home theatre PC is fantastic for standard-def TV, but won't do HD as I understand the current technology. It's just not worth it right now. Regular TV is okay for now.
  • Delay, delay, delay. If you don't need it absolutely immediately, put it off. Then put it off again. And again. Do this often enough and you might forget you needed it. You might realize you can do without it. Or at least you'll have enough time to research the hell out of whatever you're planning to buy.
  • Research the hell out of whatever you're planning to buy. I've moved from 'careless' to 'cheap' to 'frugal'. I think I used to waste money. Then I think I used to buy the cheapest stuff I could find -- think Dollar Store or Bi-Way. Now I don't mind paying for something I want, but I want to make sure I'm not going to regret my purchase. It's about value, not price. There's a sign downtown that says something like "the regret of poor quality outlasts the joy of a bargain" .. something more eloquent, I'm sure.
  • Buy used or refurbished. I think Kijiji and eBay are great. And I recently bought a refurbished JVC camcorder from TigerDirect.ca for about $150.
  • Be a late adopter. Brand-new technology gadgets are often buggy in version 1, and also pricey. Wait a while and you'll get a bug-fixed version for less money. Need an example? Consider the ipod.
  • I rent, not buy. Yeah, there's a whole debate about this on PF blogs. In theory, the money I'm not spending on home repairs, property taxes, mortgage interest and whatnot is being channeled toward other things. I don't know how much that's really doing.
  • Have a partner. Buying for two, cooking for two, splitting the rent in two ... it can save you a bundle. Plus there's someone to keep you warm at night.
  • Buy generic. I don't buy a lot of stuff, but if I can save a few bucks by getting the store-brand Psyllium Fibre Capsules over buying Metamucil, I'll do it.
  • Be smart about ATMs. Don't hop from machine to machine. If you have the money in your account and you have the right account, go Interac at point-of-purchase. If you absolutely need cash, get some at your bank's ATM. Paying an extra $3 ($1.50 for the machine, $1.50 to your bank) to get $20 is almost as foolish as getting on the payday loan cycle.
  • Use credit cards as convenience. The bank is willing to loan you money interest-free for a month if you promise to pay it off on time. That, my friends, is a good deal. Break the deal and you pay dearly.
  • If you can't afford it, don't buy it. Save for it if you really want it. It'll give you more time to find a good bargain.

Where I "Waste" Money

  • Cigarettes. No defense here. I'll save enough to buy a big-screen TV every year when I quit. Soon. I promise. Hell, the 5k run is a month away.
  • Energy drinks and chocolate milk. I buy one of each almost every day at work. I suppose I could save a little by buying a case of energy drinks and a case of chocolate milk.
  • Lottery tickets. The odd scratch ticket every few months doesn't worry me, but I've been playing the dream-home lotteries in Halifax for the past year, at $200-$250 a shot. I haven't won the house ..... yet.

Where I Could Do Better

  • RRSP. I bet I could get a better mix in my portfolio. When this year's tax refund comes in, I plan on putting a chunk in an index fund or two, then making smaller biweekly contributions to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging.
  • Outside investments. I have a bit of money floating around in my e-savings account that could be working harder for me. Since my RRSP is usually maxed out, I ought to find some kind of investment vehicle that'd put that cash to work. Then I could throw a few extra bucks at it when little snowflakes of cash come my way from outside work, selling on ebay, etc.
  • Selling old stuff. I threw out *so much* stuff that was ebayable when I moved from Toronto to Halifax. There's unliquidated capital sitting at my parents' place in Stratford in the form of vintage TransFormers and unknown other collectibles.
  • Life Insurance. My eyes glaze over when I read about life insurance. But I've read enough to suspect that I have the wrong kind of life insurance. The experts I've read suggest the whole-life plan that acts like an investment vehicle doesn't perform as well as getting cheap term insurance each year and investing the difference in an actual investment.

That's all that comes to mind right now. Any other hints?

Kudos to Philips on the Bodygroom

My much-blogged-about Philips Bodygroom broke.

The on/off button became permanently indented and wouldn't turn on/off. Bah!

A quick internet search told me that I wasn't the only one with this problem. I called Philips and found that my unit (the Bodygroom) was still under the two-year warranty. They emailed me a UPS shipping slip and I had it out in the courier within a day or so.

I don't know how long it took, 'cuz UPS dropped it off at the rental office downstairs and nobody ever called, but they sent me back a brand new one. Yup, a brand new retail boxed Bodygroom. And it could be my imagination, but this one seems even sharper than the last one.

I have not noticed any change to the button mechanism, so there's a chance this one could fail like the last one ... and I don't know if this machine earns me a fresh two-year warranty ... but I think it's great that they'd take care of me like this.

This is probably the best warranty-related customer service I can ever remember receiving from any company having to do with anything. Ever.

Thanks, Philips!

Weird for having no debt? Not so much.

I just did my latest round of net worth entries over at networthiq. Although my cash reserves are a little down after the recent trip to Cuba, my stocks continue to accumulate (contributions plus a recent rise in RCI.B mean 26.6% more just in the past month) ...

... and my credit cards are all paid off. In fact, one's overpaid by $66, 'cuz we had to get a refund for one of the Cuba excursions.

All in all, I'm all assets and no liabilities. Again. As usual. I have no debt.

Is that so strange?

Squawkfox wonders the same thing on her Personal Finance blog:

I must be weird. I don't have lines of credit, maxed-out credit cards, and most of my paycheck goes directly into savings. I do have nice things though. I purchased new furniture this year, I participate in an expensive sport, and I have a stunning diamond ring. So why am I worth six-figures while others shuffle debt?
Do I have a lucrative job? Nope. I make an average salary for my age group, according to the November 2007 issue of MoneySense Magazine.
Did I win the lottery or inherit buckets of money? Nope. I've never played the lottery, and my family is alive and well. Although I have been promised a pretty set of china tea cups from my grandmother.
Did I play the stock market and strike it rich on a flashy investment? Nope. I've invested small portions of money slowly over time. I invest in index funds and ETFs. I'm pretty boring about investing, actually.
Do I own a house, condo, or other real estate? Nope. I am a renter and have been renting for well over a decade.

Wonder how it can happen? Check out her entry. It makes a lot of sense.

Having no debt is a nice feeling. I'm sure it'll be a nice feeling to have a house, too, but for now, having no lingering financial obligations is pretty sweet. I don't feel like my life is lacking in luxury. I don't feel like I'm missing out. I'm getting a kick out of seeing my personal net worth climb, as our combined savings grows and our combined chequing account stays floating without overdraft.

Is it weird? Am I weird? I've never shied away from such a label, but in this case, I think it's something to be proud of, instead of resigned to.

The People's Picasso of Havana

We heard about guys like this before going on our tour, but I still ended up shelling out 4 CUC for two quick-and-dirty caricatures of Amanda and I. Here they are, plus a shot of the guy who did 'em. I don't think they look anything like us, really.






One more Chris Andrews video, before he was Punch

The funeral for Chris "Punch" Andrews is today in Newmarket. I'm sorry I can't be there.

Thanks to those who replied to my previous post about Chris. I've heard from some people I haven't seen in more than 15 years.

Here's one more video from the BigAss archives. Judging by a shot from the end that shows an old Standard Broadcast News terminal, I think this was shot on September 30, 1991.

It shows Chris op'ing a Blue Jays game (on the Telemedia sports network!) at Energy 1480 (CKAN-AM) in Newmarket. It's also a short tour of the radio station. If you knew Chris, you'll appreciate the short bits of him in the tape. If you're just curious about what radio stations were like before computers, then you'll see that, too.

Keep an eye out for cart machines (YouTube video quality is too poor to read the labels), reel-to-reel machines, record players, old clocks, clunky headphones, ashtrays, the wooden weather station, giant PCs, and a small collection of compact discs.


All the best ... be good to each other.

Today was my last day at work, and I'm okay with that

Today marks a weird spot on the calendar for me. It’s one of those landmarks that really doesn’t mean anything, other than to illustrate the...