Friday, April 23, 2010

258 Million Dollars

One of the largest US Lottery prizes in history was claimed recently by a man who works in a small convenience store according to MSNBC. I think that it is pretty amazing when you think about it. Chris Shaw is a guy who is working and can really really use the money. I hope he gets his health and kids taken care of and really is able to improve his long term quality of life for him and his family going forward.

Even at a lump sum, the payment is over 120 Million dollars which is quite respectable. I think that many people would be able to make a serious lifestyle change with anything close to even just a million, so 120 million is impressive.

Many people often feel like winning the lottery is like a curse. It is unfortunate but many people lose their lotto winnings. So the best thing to do in these situations is be slow, deliberate, and have a group of advisors who can really help you manage any kind of dramatic new wealth. With a good plan in place, it is far more likely that the money will be used by you, rather than using you!

Unemployment's Unexpected Consequences

As I was browsing the web this week I came across an article that I found quite astounding. The article was online at The Atlantic magazine and dealt with the socio-economic impact of unemployment on neighborhoods and the long tail effects going out ten, twenty, and thirty years.

What I found interesting about the article was the premise. That is, the idea that unemployment was a problem that was rather long-term in nature was something that quite honestly I'd never really given much thought to. However, given how long and deep the downturn has been (e.g. even in the face of an upswing in the stock market, many people still are out of work), it is not hard to believe that there will be some longer term effects.

This article about unemployment takes this concept and really explores it to the depths.

The idea begins with a common example, that men (and people in general) often feel that their job is a major part of their identity. And in a protracted period of unemployment, that can go away. The article cites examples from
The Unemployed Man and His Family, by Mirra Komarovsky

Her research revealed deep psychological wounds. “It is awful to be old and discarded at 40,” said one father. “A man is not a man without work.” Another said plainly, “During the depression I lost something. Maybe you call it self-respect, but in losing it I also lost the respect of my children, and I am afraid I am losing my wife.” Noted one woman of her husband, “I still love him, but he doesn’t seem as ‘big’ a man.”

The article is long and is worth reading as it might give you some insight into the issues around unemployment and may help you realize how important it is to value steady employment (if the current situation wasn't enough motiviation already ;))

Monday, April 19, 2010

Saving on Food Makes for a Financial Feast

So I will admit that over the past several years I have been quite fortunate in the sense that the money was not a huge worry for me; I always knew that I had enough money to buy my next meal. And while I don't think that I am ungrateful for my situation, I definitely think that the availability of food has made me a bit more complacent than I'd like to be.

That said, I decided that I could accomplish some real goals with regard to money if I changed my habits toward food:

1. I want to stop eating out of convenience so much. This will require planning.
2. I want to reduce the amount of food that I waste. A recent trip through my canned goods revealed nearly 20 dollars of completely wasted food. The picture here is just a sample!

3. I want to start eating healthier foods. I think that in the end, this will force me to eat more vegetables which should actually reduce the costs of my lunches (see goal 1).

My plan is not to commit to any specific goals, but simply to try to chew on some basic tactics:

1. Instead of buying chips at lunch, buy a big variety bag of chips and eat one each day. This should save about 50 cents per bag total and also reduce calorie consumption.
2. Instead of eating all lunches out, cut back at least one meal per week to eat in the office with food brought from home.
3. Instead of eating all breakfasts out, begin to bring food/coffee from home to reduce costs.
4. Instead of buying snacks with lunch, buy a package of snacks and bring from home.
5. Similarly, I will attempt to pre-cook/prepare meals at home and bring leftovers to work to reduce wasted food.

Total Cost of Eating at work (Note I work in a populous North Eastern US City):
1.29 snack
6.50 avg. Lunch
3.00 avg Breakfast.

About 10.75 each day for food. Some days less, but this is about the average. And since this is about food, I won't even mention transportation costs. Both categories eat up tons of money and the service is totally consumed! This is insane!

So, even if I can cut this back by about 1/2 on average each week, that should save 20-25 dollars per week. And over a full year of 48 weeks, that could be 1200 dollars without changing habits all that much. It may not seem like much, but when many of the other key items have been done, and guaranteed returns are hard to find for investments, 1200 dollars to me seems like a feast!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Need a Prom Dress? Chew Gum!

I just picked up this story on the net tonight and I thought it was really worth sharing because this is really innovative, I think. Go here to read more about the Gum Wrapper Prom Dress. I think the story is very cool and timely with Prom right around the corner for some students.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cheap Eats: Quick Corn Chowder

One thing that I have really begun to focus on lately is the idea of saving more money with regard to cooking costs. I have a whole separate post related to money saving food tips.

As I suggest in the recent food article saving money on food can often be about finding tasty recipesthat are cheap and quick to prepare since those are the main barriers to good healthy and cheap eating.

One such example is a recipe that my mother taught me when I was little and I still cook it today: Quick Corn Chowder

1. Mince a small white onion and combine with 1 1/2 TBSP of butter in a medium sized sauce pan.
2. Keep onions on medium heat for about 5 minutes stirring frequently so they do not burn.
3. Combine a can of pre-sliced or pre-diced whole potatoes and two cans of sweet cream corn.
4. Optionally, if you want more corn, you can combine another can or half-can of whole kernal corn.
5. Fill one of the empty cream corn cans with milk halfway, and swish around to get the extra and pour it into the pot.
6. The other can should be filled about halfway with water and swished and combined.
7. Cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes stirring frequently or until corn is desired consistency.

Makes 3-4 bowls.

This is a great meal for under 5 dollars to feed 2 people, especially when served as a lunch (great for Football games!) with a side of bread and butter.

iPhone packs huge value

More than I had expected, my iPhone is becoming a bit of an entertainment device. When you think about it really this kind of makes sense because there are more applications for the iPhone everyday. But what shocks me is that as an entertainment device, the iPhone packs quite a bit of value for someone like me who is committing several hours a day on public transit.

Even when I get to work I am able to use the iPhone for music and I find that to be perfectly acceptable since the additional drain on the battery is mild and it has not really resulted in any additional charging. I also continue to use my existing ipod for any longer term music listening.

More than the music, the applications are a huge value! One example is a recent game I bought: Monopoly. This game cost three dollars on the iTunes store and then I have replayed it tens of times and I own it forever. If I can manage to find several games like this, the amount of value I derive from the iPhone is then quite high. And that doesn't include the other uses like phone calls, text messaging, and even updating my blog!

I will be the first to admit that I balked at the cost initially of the iPhone and if I didn't have a job, it would not make sense. But after considering the value, I think the iPhone is well priced. If you're in the market for a new cell phone, give the iPhone a try. I think you'll find it far superior to most other phones out there with a lot more versatility.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The High cost of Healthcare: Solution Search

The cost of healthcare are out of control. And there is not much that can be done about it. Now that the new plan has been passed we have added millions to the pool of people being covered and the reality is that we have not improved the facilities. Instead we are decreasing payments to the the providers by the government. It is an expensive proposition that's for sure. 

People are concerned about the dollars and cents. I am too. But I am concerned about the long tail effects of deliberately forcing doctors and phamacies to operate below profit margins. Even the ideas that government can force corporations to take less profit if they happen to be insurance companies is a dangerous idea I think. 

Put simply: do you have a 401k? Then you probably know that you likely own one or more of these companies. And if you want to retire, you need good returns from these stocks. 

Compensation and bonuses should be limited to some degree though. The SEC has some control here. Also we should be seriously considering tort reform and real improvements to the system like determining whether or not we have enough providers available in the right locations to discourage ER visits. 

All of these are ideas that should be looked at to reduce the real cost of healthcare which comes as the tail grows long. What alternatives do you propose?