Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

I’m an old English major. I don’t much like poetry. Go figure.

But this is a whole ‘nother frame of reference. Be warned, this is a bit erotic:
My pal Fran is her coach. Yeah. I didn’t know poets had coachs either.

If you like that one, you’ll find a couple more here:

And if you’re thinking, like I did, “Ah, poetry’s not my thing,” get past it. Click on the link. Trust me.

Urban-Art-Forms-in-Lodz-Poland.-By-Aryz-1

bizarre street art

flying house

Flying Houses

I’m a sucker for a good magic trick. In this one the cards come to life!

1937 negro house

“House in Negro quarter of Rosslyn, Virginia.”

September 1937. Washington, D.C., and the Key Bridge in the background.

shorpy

While those of us here in the North East USA were digging out of a couple of feet of snow, down in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil it was Carnival 2013. And a bit hotter:

Rio 3

Rio 1 Rio 2

cool ads

subway

Subway, 1934 – Lily Furedi

wat-rong-khun-18[9]

Wat Rong Khun

Photo credit

boy with knife

Check out the detail. The boy’s shoelaces, for instance.

photo credit

eat ice cream daily

What better advice than this?

As I mentioned last time, this whole retirement thing has turned out to be a bunch busier than I would have guessed. Or have planned for.  Like a kid dishing out his own ice cream, I’ve heaped far too much stuff into my bowl.  At least for the first part of the year.  Net result?  My planned post for today on Social Security is still under construction.

I am please to report I have passed the various exams and am now fully VITA certified by the IRS in Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Tax Preparation, along with Ethics.  Hmmm.  Seems I can’t have client refunds directed into my personal account after all.  I can’t even put out a tip jar!

This past Tuesday I attended the second of our French classes.  I am reminded as to why I struggled so with it in college. What makes it challenging for me is looking at how the words are spelled and then hearing how they are pronounced. Big difference. Hopefully, with time, it will become more obvious. With Spanish, I can look at a word and be pretty close at guessing the pronunciation. With French, I’ve a lot to learn!

Ordinarily, I save these collections of cool stuff for you for when I slip away for a few weeks or months.  But, why wait?

Let’s start with these…

tree Dancer920.jpg.CROP.article920-large

surreal landscapes

There’s ways of looking and then there are ways of seeing.

giraffes

Who knew giraffes were fighters?

Image

These guys look pretty beat up, right?

Three Princeton students pose after the Freshman, Sophomore snowball fight.

Snow ball fight??  Seems college guys were tougher in….

1893. Princeton, NJ.

Image 1

The only known photograph of an African American Union soldier with his family.

c1863-65

No question, in places like Spain these are hard days.  This brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye:  Here Comes the Sun.

And this guy is just incredible.  Just wait til he goes up the lamp post.

Here’s FemmeFrugality on…..

unicorn mask

….what to do when you have all the money in the world.

Here’s James Altucher on….

spaceship

 ….the Six People You Must Find Today.

and….

leia-with-chain-around-neck

10 Reasons You Have to Quit Your Job This Year

Glenn writes a blog called To Simplify about living and traveling in his van.  Recently he decided to downsize even further.  He picked up an old Vanagon, gutted it and has begun rebuilding it.  His posts on the project have fascinated me.  Maybe you, too:

Vanagon

Simple Living thru Insane Projects

There’s finally some ambition lacking going on over at Lacking Ambition.

lacking ambition

a moment of ambition lacking

Meanwhile, Paula had trouble renting this beautiful house:

rental house

$2700 lesson learned

Mr. Money Mustache presents his annual review of not-so-much money spent:

MMM revealed-134x180

Living the high life on low bucks

101 Centavos tells us what we really already know:

burger

Bacon is way better than New Year’s Resolutions

You’ll find my tale of a vanilla/bacon milkshake in the comments.

My pal Sean is back posting in a big way.  Learn how to…

Go Broke with Self Storage

and

fool-and-courtesan

What We’re Up Against

Finally, if Monday will see you returning to the daily grind, here’s…

Tap-dance-to-work

How to Tap Dance to Work

Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

My plan for 2013

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Life

test-taking

Late last night I finished the IRS certification process for VITA: Tests in Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Ethics.  It was bit easier time around as it is my third year.  Still, travel and other play put me behind the learning curve and the deadline was closing fast.  Our site opens next Tuesday and Thursday night I’ll be putting in my first shift.  From there, it gets easy: most Thursday evenings and Saturdays for about eight hours a week.

Retirement is not working out like I planned.  Somehow I expected a bunch more downtime.  I like downtime.  Nursing a cup of coffee.  Wondering what, if anything, to do next.

When I was working my jobs tended to be all-consuming.  It wasn’t them, it was me.  It’s just the way I approached them.  Little time for much else.  I was never good with balance.  That might explain my short attention span with them and why I stepped away for months, sometimes years at a time.  The need/desire to do that is why F-you money has always been so important.

But the nice thing about having a job was that it was just one thing.  Now, in retirement, there is a seemingly endless stream of cool stuff to take on.  Maybe not endless, but enough that I find myself thinking “Opps.  I forgot about that one.”  Spanish is a good example.

Like many, I took Spanish in high school.  Learned a handful of words that I used on my occasional travels to Mexico, Venezuela and Spain over the years.  But when we spent the summer of ’11 in Ecuador I decided to get serious.  We engaged a tutor and made some real progress.  Since then a focus on travel to mostly Spanish-speaking countries has gotten me to the point I can carry on basic conversations badly.

Sitting on my desk is a terrific book, Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish. A few hours a week with it would do wonders in moving my skills forward.  But between trips, I never think to touch it.

When I launched this blog a year and a half ago, I had never read one.  Barely knew what they were.  Now I follow several.  Many, if not most, seem to provide their readers with a year-end review post followed by another on their plans for the coming months.  The thinking seems to be, going public helps to keep one on track.  Makes sense to me, and readers seem to like reading this stuff.  I know I do.

With that in mind, here’s how I plan to spend 2013:

languages

1.  Working on languages.  Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to be multi-lingual.  I’ve always admired and envied those who are.  But I made a critical mistake in high school and convinced myself I lacked the talent. Making up for lost time now.  As mentioned above, I’ve made some sound progress on Spanish.  That will continue this year, and Mrs. jlcollinsnh and I have signed up for French classes.  Our first was last Tuesday evening and this will be our Tuesday evenings for the next couple of months. It was great fun.  Engaging teacher and interesting fellow students.  Our daughter is now fluent in French.  It will be nice to share with her and helpful if we make it back to France one of these days.  It certainly gives us a reason to return to Quebec later this Spring.  If nothing else I’ll finally learn how to pronounce the names of French wines.  I already know how to drink them.

2. VITA.  As already mentioned, I’m volunteering as an income tax preparer in our local community.  This commitment runs until (surprise!) April 15th.

calvin-writing

3. This blog needs work.  In addition to writing posts, I have been convinced that I need to seriously consider moving it to another platform.  Seems ads already appear on it, I just never see them or any revenue from them. While a labor of love, this is a bunch of labor none-the-less.  I’d like both more control and more benefit from it. But this is going to be a tough nut.  Not only do I have no relevant knowledge on how to make it happen, I have no interest in the process.  But, I do have friends!

monk writing

4. The book.  Since the beginning I’ve wanted to morph the financial posts here into book form.  One of the reasons for the blog has been to provide the motivation to write. The material is mostly done, but there is still quite a bit of organizational work and rewriting needed to make it what I want it to be.  Plus I need to decide and explore how to publish it.  As with these posts themselves, the book will be what I want my daughter to know about money and investing.  If others find it helpful and of interest so much the better.

Arasha

Arasha Resort, Ecuador

5.  The Ecuador Retreat.  I’ve alluded to this in a few earlier posts.  Too much so for at least one commentator, but I’m really pumped about it.  The speakers are in place, the resort booked, the excursions arranged, the plans laid and the website just about finished.  Very shortly I’ll be publishing a post with the details. Maybe come September we’ll be hanging out in Ecuador together.

divide-slide-06

6.  Off-road motorcycle training.  As regular readers know, I ride a motorbike.  Recently one of my riding buddies has been luring me further and further off-road and into the dirt.  It is great fun, but I have zero skills for the task and motorbike riding is not something you want to do without some skills.  So this March I’m headed out to California to have these guys spend a couple of days teaching me.  Afterward, we’re going to head out into the Mojave Desert for a couple more days to see if I learned anything.  I’ve signed up for the Intro course and the Base Camp Alpha ride starting March 22nd.  I think they’ve still got a spot or two open if you want to come. Should be an absolute blast!

6a.  Motorcycle mechanics.  As with languages, a long time ago I convinced myself I had neither the temperament or the talent for such dark arts.  Maybe that’s still true.  Maybe not.  But this year, I’ll find out.  When I put my bike to sleep for the winter I found a carburetor float bowl leaking.  Ordinarily, I’d just cart it over to the dealer for some professional attention.  This time my pal and neighbor Tom is going to teach me how to deal with it. I met him last year when he came puttering past on his old ’48 Harley while I was walking the dog. Of course, I flagged him down. Tom’s hobby is restoring old bikes and he’s got some beauties.  More importantly, he’s got the skills and fully outfitted garage to keep them running.  All I need now is a relatively clear day and ice-free roads to get my bike over there.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics

the league of extraordinary gentlemen

7.  Cleveland.  We used to live in Cleveland and I’ve still got a soft spot for the place and quite a few friends out that way.  Last year I spent a week visiting and had a grand time.  I intend to make it happen again. My pal Dennis recently emailed me to suggest the time has come for “the league of extraordinary gentlemen to convene” again. Yep, that’s us! As you can see, ego will not be in short supply.

house on an island

8.  Sell the house.  Word is the housing market around these parts has improved so we’re going to take another run at selling the house.  We’ve tried unsuccessfully a couple of times over the last few years.  When our daughter was young the house and the school system it is in made sense.  Now, not so much.  The first thing is to give it a thorough scrubbing.  We started last weekend and it should eat up a couple more between now and March 1st when we plan to list it.  Of course we’ll also have to spend some time interviewing realtors.  Our last realtor told us if she couldn’t sell the place we shouldn’t re-list with her.  We’re taking her at her word.  It will be on the market from March thru May.  If it doesn’t sell by then, we’ll set it aside until Fall because….

luggage old style

9.  We’ll be living abroad for the summer again this year.  We haven’t decided where – and that will take some time and effort – but as before we’ll be renting an apartment somewhere and exploring from that base.  I’m inclined to head back to Latin America for more Spanish practice.  But with the Euro dropping against the dollar, Europe is becoming attractive and potentially affordable as well.  Plus we have that French thing going on…..

10.  Credit cards and frequent flyer miles.  We use reward cards and travel on our frequent flyer miles.   This is not something I’ll much enjoy, but I think with a bit more effort we might find more benefit to be had.  File this under: I really should get around to it.

11.  Cell phone and cable plans.  Ditto what I said about cards and miles.

harrisville-new-hampshire--new-england-fall-landscape-white-steeple-jon-holiday

Harrisville, New Hampshire

Painting by Jon Holiday

12.  Come autumn we have the most beautiful time of year here in New Hampshire.  The trees burst into color, the air is crisp and the sun (mostly) shines.  Last year I spent a good part of it in Ecuador.  While that was a wonderful time, it left me scratching my head as to why I’d leave at the best possible time to stay.  It’s a good time to be here, watch the leaves change and ride motorbikes.  This year I’ll be sticking around come Fall. Nursing a cup of coffee.  Wondering what, if anything, to do next.

VITA, income taxes and the IRS

Posted: January 11, 2013 in business, Life, Money

IRS

I wasn’t planning to do it again this year, but in the end I signed up.  If I had been planning better, the work for my re-certification would be mostly done by now.  But I’ve yet to begin.  Too much traveling and playing.  I knew this of course.  It is the reason I wasn’t planning to re-up.  But the new guy running our local program reached out, assured me there would still be time when I returned from Europe.  Assured me the need was critical.  He didn’t assure me that the IRS would be any less rigorous in its demands.  We both know better than that.  Still, this past Tuesday evening I showed up for the first orientation meeting and met everybody else.  They are all further along than I.

Assuming I catch up, once again I’ll be working with our regional VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program preparing tax returns for our local poor and immigrant population.  It will be my third season.  It is gratifying work, even if the training ahead in the next couple of weeks is daunting.

 VITA_IncomeTaxAssistance_logo_w150

The work, and the training the IRS requires for certification, has given me an inside look. What virtually every volunteer agrees on is, the tax code is far too complex.

The tax code is complex precisely because it provides goodies for everyone.

The rich (and the thrifty but not so rich) get the favorable treatment of capital gains, dividends and tax-free municipal bonds. Not to mention the specific tax breaks for specific industries. This being the reason our corporate tax rate at 30% is one of the highest in the world but the effective corporate tax rate is only 12%, one of the very lowest.

The middle class get deductions for IRAs, 401ks, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, children and dependents.

The poor also get exemptions for children and dependents, along with the child tax credit and earned income tax credit. Tax credits are especially beneficial things.  Most deductions reduce your tax liability only to the extent you have a tax liability.  Then they become worthless.  Tax credits can provide refund dollars in excess of taxes withheld and beyond any tax liability.  That is, if you owe $500 in taxes and have a $1000 tax credit, not only is your tax liability wiped out, the government will give you the remaining $500.  The take away here is, even if you are sure you don’t owe any tax it can be worth it to file.

I use the term ‘goodies’ above in this sense:

The core reason for income taxes is to raise revenue to operate the government and it’s services.  But congress was quick to realize that once in place the federal income tax could also be used as a tool for social engineering. This is done by providing incentives in the form of deductions for certain behaviors.

    • You want more people to have kids? Child tax credits and exemptions.
    • You want more people to own homes and the social stability that provides? Deductible mortgage interest & RE taxes.
    • You want people to invest and grow the economy? Preferred rates on dividends and capital gains.
    • You want people to give to charity? Charitable deductions.

These incentives, what I call goodies, are not about keeping your own money. They are not about raising revenue. They are about doling it out to those who behave in a “proper” way.

In the world of VITA volunteers I hear little talk about the tax system being “unfair” but lots of conversation about it being far too complex. Indeed, as I prepare returns for folks I frequently ponder how insane it is to expect the average taxpayer to wade thru it.  I guess that’s why the IRS support VITA programs.

Most all volunteers (regardless of political leanings), myself included, favor some version of a simpler, flatter tax that sweeps away deductions in favor of lower rates. Don’t hold your breath, and even if it were to happen it won’t last. Congress would promptly begin creating new goodies to influence social behaviors, reward supporters and to garner influence.

Of course PAID tax preparers like our complex system just fine.  I feel about them much the same as I do about Financial Advisors.  Better to learn to do your own taxes or seek out the free help offered by your local VITA.  Volunteers are well-trained, each return is double checked and the work is respected by the IRS.  Oh, and it’s free.

It may surprise you, but I also give high marks to the IRS:

  • The training they provide is excellent.
  • The focus of this training is accuracy.
  • The IRS is not out to screw anybody, indeed a regular refrain is our obligation as preparers to seek out every deduction, credit and benefit to which the taxpayer has a legal right.
  • They have done an excellent job in taking a nightmare tax code and reducing it to a series of simple forms that actually make sense.   At least after some training.
  • They are very focused on weeding out tax cheats. Since cheats are taking money out of the pockets of all their fellow taxpayers, including me, this is as it should be.
  • and for those of us warped enough to enjoy playing with taxes, it’s fun!

vita uncle sam

If this kind of work appeals to you I’d encourage you to check into it.  As our site leader used to say, if nothing else it will give you some great insights and stories.  But be aware, sometimes there is not a lot in the way of appreciation from your clients. I’ve had people bitch at me throughout the entire process. That’s tough to take at any time.  But when you are providing a free service it is especially grating. I conclude that one of the reasons some, certainly not all but some, people are poor is a lack of basic social graces.  Dealing with it is good Zen practice.

That said, I’ve also had many very appreciative clients.  Knowing you’ve helped someone with what might have otherwise been an overwhelming task and spared them from the clutches of store-front paid tax preparers is a great feeling.

The work has also given me a greater insight into and sympathy with the working poor.  The sheer industriousness of some of our clients is inspirational.  Their stories, both spoken and as revealed in their taxes, are compelling. After a time, it’s not hard to tell who is on their way out of poverty and who will be spending their life mired in it.

Of course, the training also provides insights into my own taxes and possible strategies.  Since I’m now retired, I can enjoy what Mr. Money Mustache has called “the lovely low taxes of early retirement.”  Let’s take a look.

Over the years Mrs. jlcollinsnh and I have built up a nice stash in our retirement accounts.  As we all know, these accounts are not tax-free, they are tax deferred.  Big difference.  And the IRS requires that we begin withdrawals and paying taxes on them once we turn age 70.  We could just wait, but tax rates are low now.  We’d like to get these accounts shifted in to Roth IRAs at the lowest cost possible.  Roths earn tax-free, withdrawals are tax-free and they can be passed to heirs tax free.  A pretty good deal.

Since we’re married we file as “Married Filing Jointly,” the most attractive filing status.  (The government rewards marriage. See above.)  This means we can have income of up to $70,700 and still be in only the 15% tax bracket.  But it gets better:

  • $70,700 income
  • $11,900 standard deduction
  • $11,400 exemptions.  ($3800 x 3 for the two of us and our child.)
  • $94,000 total.

This means we can have up to 94k in income and still pay only a 15% marginal tax rate.  So here’s what we do:

Take my wife’s income (she still works) and add our taxable interest and dividends.  Subtract that total from 94k.  Shift that remaining amount from regular IRAs into our Roths.  Pay only 15%.  That’s a deal I can live with.  Plus I understand our government can use the money right now.

Serving with VITA helps my community and it helps me.  I’ll be challenged, learning and having fun doing this again this year.  Looking forward to it.  Just wish I had the re-certification behind me!

Addendum:

We like clear and simple around here. My pal femmefrugality just put up a post that gives the clearest and simplest explanation of the Earned Income Credit I’ve yet to read:  The Earned Income Credit: Why it’s not cool to hate on poor people

The EIC is one many of our VITA clients qualify for, as they are for the most part the working poor. It is designed to encourage people to take virtually any job they can rather than reverting to welfare. I’ve seen it make a huge percentage difference in the annual income of folks who need it most.

But, of course, people being people there are those who will try to game the system. A few years back our local VITA site uncovered this scam:

As FF points out in her post the EIC benefit increases based on the number of children claimed as dependents, but the maximum is three. A local minister gathered his flock together. Those people with more than three children “loaned” the extras to those with fewer children. Everybody got the maximum EIC. Very clever. Very illegal.

 

Back in the day Louis Rukeyser hosted a PBS program called Wall Street Week each Friday evening.  It was an end of the week ritual watching it for me.

Rukeyser

Louis Rukeyser

He’d open with a commentary on the follies and foibles of the previous market week and then turn to a rotating panel of three Wall Street gurus for their take.  Two of my favorites were Abby Joseph Cohen, a relentless Bull, and Marty Zweig, who was always relentlessly and deeply “worried about this market.”

Each guest was impeccably credentialled and Rukeyser made it a point to deftly schedule those who would each week present opposing views as to the market’s condition and direction.  Sometimes one would even prove right.

His commentaries, questions and comments were always delivered with a wink, a smile and with great good humor. Tragically, he passed away in 2006 and the current generation of investors is left without his insights and wisdom.

The key thing his program and its parade of guests taught me is that, at any given time, some expert is predicting any possible future that could conceivably happen.  Since all bases are covered, someone is bound to be right.  When they are, their good luck will be interpreted as wisdom and insight.  If their prediction happened to be dramatic enough, it could also lead to fame and fortune.

Every January Rukeyser would have each of his guests predict the market’s high, low and ending point for the year.  I forget his exact line, but after the predictions were in he’d say something like, “…with the understanding that even these experts could be wrong, there you have it.”  And he’d wink into the camera.

Come the following December he’d salute those who’d come closest and chide the goats.

In that spirit, here are my market predictions for the S&P (which incidentally closed 2012 up around 13% at 1426) in 2013:

High:  1825

Low:  1312

Dec 31, 2013 close: 1754

Clearly, I’m very bullish.  Here’s why:

Since the Spring of 2009 we have been on a slow, grinding climb back from the brink.  Corporations have cut expenses to the bone and accumulated formidable amounts of cash.  Balance sheets are exceptionally clean.  I expect the pace of recovery to begin to accelerate and as the market senses that stock price will continue to build on the 13%+ increase they posted in 2012.  But most importantly, the news, gurus and commentators are filled all with gloom.

Now, don’t take any of this too seriously.  My crystal ball is just as cloudy as everybody else’s. I’m certainly not changing my investment allocation and strategy based on this and you shouldn’t either.  As Mr. Rukeyser would gleefully point out, even I can be wrong.  As I’d point out, I most often am.  We’ll see come next New Year’s Eve.

If you want to join me in this silliness, post your high, low and close predictions in the comments below and come year end we’ll, in the best Rukeyser fashion, honor those closest and jeer those most far off.

Even if I turn out to be spot on, it won’t get me interviewed on MSNBC.  Not dramatic enough.  But then, that’s not my ambition.  If it is yours, however, here’s how:

Step 1: Make a prediction for a huge short-term swing. Up or down doesn’t matter.  But down is easier and might get you more play if you’re right.
Step 2: Document the time and date you made it.
Step 3: When it doesn’t happen wait a bit.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 1-3 until one day you’re right.
Step 5: Issue Press Release: Market Plunges!!!, just as (insert your name here) recently predicted.
Step 6: Clear your schedule for media interviews.
Step 7: Send me my 15% agent’s fee of your new-found wealth.

Be sure not to issue your press release until events prove you right.

Oh, and keep in mind that once your Guru status is established you’ll be expected to be able to repeat it.  For months, maybe years, everything you say will be noted.  Each misstep will be gleefully documented until you slip from view humiliated and discredited.  But also rich if you’ve played your moment in the sun well.

Here are 14 Spectacularly wrong predictions that should serve to keep us all humble.

2013 new year

May this New Year bring you Health, Wealth and Happiness!

That’s both a Wish and a Prediction I truly hope I got right!

Addendum:  Per Smedley’s suggestion in his comment below, we now have a prize for winning the Rukeyser Memorial Market Prediction Contest 2013.  The chance to have a guest post right here telling us how and why you’re so smart!

Remember you need to predict the S&P: High, Low and Close for the year in you’re comment below.  Then somebody is going to have to remind me about this in December.  :)

Well, gee.  It’s been almost a month since my return from Ecuador.  No wonder I’m restless.  Fortunately, we have our daughter to visit in France.  She’s there for her junior year at University.   I told her when she left, “Don’t plan on coming home.  We’ll come to you.”  And a promise (threat?) is a promise.

We’ll have five days with her in Paris and five more in Valencia.  Can’t wait.  Back shortly after the New Year.

As always, I’ve been collecting some groovy stuff for you in the meantime, starting with this cool talk on the Origins of Life and this Gorilla encounter.  Talk about a memorable trip for that guy!

Looking to have some holiday fun?  Got some sheep, sheep dogs and Christmas lights?  Here’s how.

Train graveyard, Bolivia.  Been here.

Here’s a cool review of graveyards for planes, tanks, ships, submarines, trains, anchors, taxis and even phone booths.  I’ve actually been this past summer to the train graveyard in Bolivia.  It lies on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the great salt flats.

April 1937. “Old man on the street in Shawneetown, Illinois.”

 Medium-format nitrate negative by Russell Lee.

One of a great series of North American Indian photos by Edward Curtis

I know people who could learn a bit of etiquette from these Dogs Dining.  Yeah?  You too?

Copenhagen Flash Mob.  Cool music.

Ever since the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s, oil and oil supplies have cast  an outsized shadow over our economic and politic thinking.  I’ve long been suspect of this.  While clearly western economies still need oil, oil producers need to sell it every bit as much, maybe more.  If you are interested in a counterpoint to all the hand-wringing prose that is mostly written on this subject, this article is a breath of fresh air:

oil_in_water-timsackton

The Great Oil Fallacy

It written by John Quiggin a professor of economics at the University of Queensland, Australia and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland.  He is also the author of Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.

I’ve never been one for gardening and my rare attempts ended in disaster.  Still, if you are, this post by 101C will bring a smile to your face.  It is so well written, it did even to mine.

My pal Shilpan did a fine post on the Gone Fishin’ Portfolio and then kindly invited me to do something of a mini-post of my own in his comments section.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when it comes to dispensing advice on how to live below your means.  For me it has always been like breathing.  You just do it. Still, I realize it is an issue many wrestle with and, after all, you can hardly follow my advice on what to do with your excess capital until you can arrange your life in such a fashion as to have excess capital.  So, courtesy of Young, Cheap, Living here are 10 Tips for living on Less Than 25k per Year.

little girl fishing

Maybe things were better in the good old days….

Ever wondered about the scale of the universe?  Say, how does a T-Rex compare to a hydrogen atom?  Or how does Rhode Island compare to Neutron Star?  (Hint:  RI is bigger.  I didn’t know that.  Did you know that??)  Seriously entertaining.  Cool music, too:

This Sliding Scale takes you from Quantum Foam to the entire Observable Universe

Before you head out to wander about the other planets in our own Solar System, you might take a moment to brush up on the inhabitants you’ll find when you get there:

life-on-mercury_700x943

 Survey of Life Forms from the other planets and moons in our solar system.

Some pretty weird stuff here too on our own little planet:

cool street art

Cool Street Art

Sergey Gusev is a painter working in St. Petersburg, Russia.  He does masterful portraits like this one:

Gusev portrait

He also does landscapes and still life and I used two to illustrate my post:  stocks-part-xiii-withdrawal-rates-how-much-can-i-spend-anyway.  But what’s really neat is this video he just put up.  In it we get to watch over his shoulder as a painting comes together.

Most people who know me were surprised when I launched this blog.  They know me as a very private person.  To this day still I am not on any of the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and the like.  Not saying they’re bad, just saying I’ve never been comfortable with the loss of privacy.  And yes, I realize with this blog that game is already over.  Still, watching this mind reader at work didn’t help.

There’s this guy named Glenn who plays the Sax and wanders around the country living in his van.  He’s been blogging about it these past few years and, like anyone who chooses their own path, he’s gotten his share of flack from those Mr. Money Mustache so compellingly calls “Complainypants.”  Now Glenn has come across someone even he can look down upon:

canoe_guy

A guy living in a canoe in Boston Harbor.

Glenn’s satiric complainypants take on this guy had me at  “Just look at that picture again – the imperious grasp on the oar, that holier-than-thou orange life preserver…”

A new friend, JD Roth, recently reminded me of what is very likely the most influential book, on me anyway, I’ve ever read:

How I found freedom

To new friends and old.  To those who have found freedom and those still in pursuit.  Have a wonderful holiday and here’s to a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year!

fiscal cliff

You can’t turn on the TV or radio or pick up a newspaper these days without being confronted with scary talk about the Fiscal Cliff and the doom that awaits us should we hurdle over it into the abyss.

This is (mostly) a financial blog.  I intentionally avoid politics, primarily because that subject turns so ugly so quickly.  So I thought long and hard about whether to broach this subject.  It treads dangerously close to the political line where I simply do not want to be.  Yet, this Cliff business does have financial ramifications.  So, here goes….

Are we really going to go over this Fiscal Cliff?

Yep.

Will going over the Fiscal Cliff be the disaster we’ve been lead to believe?

Depends on how you view our nation’s (the USA for my international readers) debt and deficit.  The greater these problems are in your mind, the better going over the Cliff will be.

How can going over the Fiscal Cliff be a good thing?

Well, you need to understand the two things that will happen.  One, the Bush-era tax cuts will be allowed to expire.  That means a tax increase for everybody and more revenue for the government.  Two, dramatic across the board spending cuts will automatically take effect.  This will lower government spending.  Both these things will happen on a scale unlikely to be accepted by either party thru negotiation.  This great scale of increased taxes and reduced spending will have the greatest possible impact on reducing our debt/deficit.

Gee, that sounds great!  What’s the problem?

That depends on who you are.  If you benefit from a program that gets cut, you probably won’t like it.  When you have to pay more taxes, you won’t like that either.  Oh, and some economists think the combination of reduced spending and increased taxes could trigger a recession.

But our politicians will reach an agreement and save the day, right?

Could happen.  But my bet is we’re going over.

But why?

Because to reach an agreement would mean both sides will have to take something, tax cuts or spending programs, away from their constituents.  That’s something no politician likes to do and few have the stomach for it.  Plus, both sides win by letting us go over.

Both sides win?  How’s that?

These are smart people.  Both sides know that we need to cut spending and increase taxes.  Both happen when we go over the Cliff.  When we do both sides can blame the other for not coming to an agreement to avoid it.  Plus, then they can get back to doing what they really like to do.

Doing what they like to do?  What’s that?

Why giving stuff to their constituents, of course.

Ah, OK.  How’s that work?

Think of it this way:  Going over the Fiscal Cliff is essentially hitting the big Reset Button.  Taxes spike up and spending programs across the board get slashed.  Both happen more dramatically than anyone really wants or needs.  So now the politicians can get to work restoring the favored tax cuts and spending programs that have the broadest support.  In the process, they get to look like heros.

Now I get it…

Right.  Instead having to explain why they raised your taxes or cut a program that provided jobs in your city, they can tout how they cut taxes and increased spending on those critical programs we all love.

Wait!  Doesn’t that get us right back where we started?

Not immediately and not if they’re smart about it.  This will be a great opportunity to leave those tax increases and program cuts everybody really wanted in the dust without having to take any responsibility for them.

Wow.  These guys really got lucky the way this is going to work out.

Lucky? Maybe not so much.  Remember, these are the same folks who designed and created the Fiscal Cliff in the first place.

Warning:  As always I encourage and welcome your comments.  But anything remotely touching on partisan politics, either side, will be deleted.  This is not the place.