The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

It’s all about ME!!!

Posted by Jeremy on September 9, 2008

Yep. It is. It is all about me. Everything around me. Everything I do. It’s all about me.
I’ve come to realize that either I’m on a self-centered ego trip, or I’ve become enlightened to a very important aspect of living an enjoyable life.

Hmm.

I’ve been involved in a lot of introspection lately regarding my own personal happiness. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it all starts with me. I spent much of the last few months hating my job, being frustrated at home, being upset about my personal finances, and generally not really liking my lot in life. And it showed. I realize now that I was pretty miserable to be around. Fortunately, I’ve had an incredible turnaround lately in how I feel about just about everything, from my job to my family life.

We all think we know what actually makes us happy. It always seems to be something that is just a little out of reach. Whether it’s financial, relationships, or work, we become unhappy because we can’t reach our goals. What does it take? Money? Time? Other resources? What is the magic bullet that’s going to help you realize your goals? Now what can you do about it? Take each item and break it down, list just one thing you can do to make a difference for you.

Your work. Find yourself sucked into the latest griping session at the water cooler? I do constantly. Someone always has a legitimate gripe about something. Listen to them long enough and you realize that you have legitimate gripes, too. Then everyone is griping. I try to catch myself when I start, and try to look at issues from another perspective. Am I really upset about this issue, or did I get caught up in the pack mentality?
The favorite target of course is our manager. “She’s doesn’t know what happens here in the trenches, her open door policy is a joke, she puts all these ridiculous demands on us, blah, blah, blah.” I admit, I’ve been known to hop on the soapbox myself in the past. Then I thought about it. Middle management? I wouldn’t want that job; you just can’t please anybody. The folks under you are always unhappy, the folks over you are always unhappy. You lose no matter what you try to do. It’s her job to institute stupid policies that make more work for us. New policies always to seem to be cropping up at work. I work in healthcare, and policies are in place for a reason, in particular, those regarding client safety. If a new policy was instituted because people aren’t doing a particular aspect of their job correctly, and it’s having a negative effect on the company, what could we have to done to make the situation better? I realized it starts with me.

Your children. There are certainly days when I feel like my kids are going to be my undoing. They don’t like this, they want that, they’re being complete PITAs. What’s the solution? Send ‘em to their room? Turn the television on? Whatever, just get them out of your hair, right? Then you don’t have to deal with the hassle. Or, are they acting out for a reason? Perhaps they’re tired of television, or maybe they just need you.
Instead of blowing your stack, try to find joy in every interaction with your children. Trust me, I know it’s not easy. But kids are keen little beings, and can tell when mom or dad’s frustrated. I’m not even close to perfecting this one, but I try every day. I hate changing dirty diapers, and I gripe to my daughter every time I have to change one. But, I laugh with her every time I have to change one, as well. “Pee-yoo!!! Yuck!!! You stink! You need to learn to go on the potty!” I declare loudly in funny voices each time I have to change her. She lays still for me, singing out “Pee-yoo,” while she giggles with me.
Finding joy in all things parenting is arguably the greatest gift you can give your children, because it reinforces your unconditional love for them. Love them unconditionally, and they will know it, and carry it with them no matter where they go in life. I realized that the way my children’s act starts with me.

Your marriage. For some time most of my communications with my wife consisted of bickering. I was becoming unhappy at home, because everything was a struggle. Then I decided to actually listen to my wife. What did she want? Really all she wanted was me. For me to talk with her, to spend time with her, to snuggle and give her a foot rub.
We get so caught up in ourselves, and what we want, we tend to forget what our spouses want. First and foremost, your spouse wants to be loved. Show her that you love her. Forget about what you want for now, and really show her that you love her. Don’t run off and buy her a trinket, give her a kiss and head to the links. Spend time with her. Just her. Can’t get your head into it? Remember the reasons why you got married. Build from there. Get past your hangups, because they are, after all, your hangups. Love her for who she is, not what you wish she was.
Is something truly intolerable in your marriage? Communicate. Don’t blame. That bears repeating. Don’t blame. Blaming someone simply causes them to put their fightin’ gloves on, and poise themselves to defend at all costs. If you’re going to blame, blame yourself. If you take time to show your spouse that you are not perfect either, she may be more willing to listen to you when you have honest concerns at home. Then discuss the issue of concern rationally. I realized that when I wasn’t happy with my wife’s behavior, I had to stop and look at my own behavior first.

Your finances. You’ve read it a thousand times before. The latte factor. Too much house. Big car payment. All those reasons are of your own making. What can you do today to be happy with your financial state? Go ahead and make excuses for why you can’t do anything about your money situation. See how well your situation improves. Take responsibility, make the changes needed to spend less than you earn, and watch the balances swing to your favor. Follow the advice in some of those personal finance books you’ve read. Act on it. I realized that it’s not the Man holding me down, but me.

Accept responsibility for yourself. Your actions. Your feelings. Your choices. If you choose to be unhappy, then you sure will be. If you make the choice to be happy, and stop blaming everything around you for your unhappiness, you can roll yourself out of the doldrums, and start enjoying life. Find joy in everything you do. Even when what you really want to do is smash that rotten computer at work, smile and know that there is a purpose to what you are doing.

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Dancin’ with the Devil…

Posted by Jeremy on September 6, 2008

I happened to be engaged in a rare activity today, viewing a little television, and my interest was piqued by a commercial advertising easy cash loans. On the surface, it sounds pretty decent: a no-nonsense loan, requiring no collateral besides employment, with easy repayment terms. However, the devil is in the details. If you can read faster than the fine print is flashed at the end of the spot, you find that the average finance rate for a typical $2600 loan is a reasonable 99.25%, (no, not a typo, thank you) with an origination fee of $75. Repayment terms are over a 40 month period.

If you don’t mind kicking over $6500 in interest and fees over three years, it’s not a bad deal!

That set me to wondering what else one could do to get out of a jam in a pinch. I realize, that with such agreeable terms as 99.25%, there’s not really any need to look further. But, just for the sake of argument, I decided to take a look at what other sources are out there for a reasonable person in need of cash. Here’s what I came up with.

Sell stuff. If you look around there are opportunities to sell things everywhere you look. Some ideas?
illegal contraband. The mark up on illegal contraband is generally very high, and as an aggressive salesperson, the returns can be quite good. Play your cards right, and inventory won’t cost you a cent either.
your body. No matter your body type, there is someone out there willing to throw their good cash at it. The investment on your part is minimal, and the rewards can be great.
your neighbor’s car. This has multiple rewards, in that you get the cash you need, and you no longer have to endure the neighbor dwelling on how great the car is at your emotional expense.

Find free money. There are a number of places to look, and if you’re creative enough, opportunities abound. While starting with the couch cushions is all well and good, unless you’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, it’s a safe bet that it was no roll of $100 bills falling out of your pocket. Some other ideas come to mind, though:
start a corporation. The possibilities here are endless. From exploiting tax loopholes, to setting up shell companies to hide losses, qualifying for government grants for R&D, and enjoying the perks of being a corporate CEO, you can use that ,Inc. status to generate mountains of green!
acquire a loan from the local convenience store. They’ll never know it’s you if you work it just right, and he’s certainly not going to question the authenticity of your instrument of persuasion. The beauty of this loan is that you never have to pay it back if you don’t want to.
– likewise, acquire a loan from the bank. Credit score be damned, with the right persuasion, any banker will hand over that much needed cash to get you out of your pinch. Though unconventional, the money is green. If free money doesn’t sit well with you, then perhaps:

Get a more conventional loan. Concerned about your credit score? It’s a safe bet that your local mob boss is not. No messy paperwork, no waiting, and the terms will be laid out for you. However, if you don’t understand the terms, you will be laid out. It’s advisable to avoid these loans if there is a chance that repayment will be a problem.

Start a side business. There is loads of money to be made for someone with the entreprenueral spirit. Examples include:
Establish yourself as a handyman, and sell your skills door to door. The elderly are particularly gracious contributors, and will pay to have almost nothing done. They are quite trusting, too, and will accept you into their homes, with few if any, questions.
Start a cross country moving company. Undercut the competition to get business, and then explain to the homeowner that the estimate was too low, that in order for their valuables to arrive, more money must be forthcoming. More often then not, they are agreeable to the new terms, as it’s not unreasonable for them to want their stuff to arrive unharmed.
Become a financial logistics coordinator. There are displaced princes, and other rightful rulers ousted from power in foreign lands all over the globe. Assist them in organizing the collection of the funds solicited by email from sympathetic people all over the world. Help them keep things organized as they attempt to wrest power back from those who’ve booted them from their rightful positions, so that they may pay back, with interest, all the generous souls who loaned them the money to make their coup possible.

If you’re desperate for cash, a 99.25% interest rate is just the ticket. While I tend to take those commercials with a grain of salt, because although I’ve mismanaged my funds in the past, I realize that easy money is never easy in the long run. You will pay for the easy part somehow, such as some sort of outrageous repayment terms. But it occurred to me that I’ve seen that commercial quite a few times recently as I pass through the living room while someone else is glued to the tube.

Why is this airing so frequently? Duh. Because someone out there is desperate enough to actually fall for the pitch. I’m betting, since it’s broadcast on a national network, that lots of desperate folks are falling for it. While it’s easy for me to dismiss it, knowing there is a monster in the closet, some people are gullible enough to believe that the services offered are just the ticket they need to get out of a jam.

While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it does highlight other ways of generating cash in a pinch. Just be careful you don’t get pinched. Of course, a good offense is a good defense, and properly managing your money in the first place is the best way of ensuring that you are prepared for unexpected issues that may lay in wait, and you have a better chance of avoiding more unscrupulous avenues of revenue generation.

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A little update

Posted by Jeremy on August 25, 2008

I’m pretty new at this whole blogging thing, and I’m still learning just the basics about the whole deal. I’m still in the knucklehead phase, that is, I still make frequent silly errors, like linking the wrong email address to my drop me a line link… That has been corrected, as far as I can tell. My apologies to anyone who’s tried to contact me through the old link.

I’ve updated my feed subscription link, as well. If you’ve already subscribed, please consider re-subscribing with the new link. Since this whole affair so new to me, I would like to know if folks are continuing to read, even via feed readers, as I certainly hope so, and the new link allows me to track the number of subscribers, versus the number of page views, which doesn’t reflect the folks who read through their favorite feed reader.

Please consider bearing with me as I learn the ropes, and check in frequently to see how things fare. I hope all is well with everyone who has stuck with me so far, and here’s to a long and friendly relationship!

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You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…

Posted by Jeremy on August 25, 2008

My wife and I have discovered how difficult it is to get out of debt, especially since I’ve become so determined to make it happen in our lives. I guess I’ve always known that it’s hard to get out of debt, mainly because I’ve never been able to, but I’d never identified what it was about it that was so rough.
It’s not easy to give up those things; old habits, comforts and such that you have made a part of your life. It’s hard to give up the morning stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, or to stop buying that “last” pack of cigarettes. I have successfully given many of those vices up, but I still have the occasional lingering one that I truly have difficulty shaking.

I’m far from perfect in reducing those expenditures, in fact, one of my true vices until recently was instant lottery tickets. The lottery is the primary reason I seldom carry actual cash in my pocket. The lure of the allure of winning is too great for me. The money starts to burn a hole in my pocket, and I’ve got to get it out. The solution, I found, was to reduce the amount of cash I carry because I can’t use my debit or credit cards to make those purchases. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s against state law, or if it’s the retailer’s prerogative, but it’s generally not allowed as far as I know. And that’s OK by me.

I never actually tallied up my losses associated with the lottery, but in retrospect, I’m betting (ha!) that I spent upwards of $150-200 a month at my peak of lottery addiction. That’s in the neighborhood of $2000 a year I was spending on lottery alone. That would have covered the cost of my first computer. Or an entire year’s worth of car payments. Multiply that by a few years and there’s half a year’s salary. In years past I was making between $15-20,000 annually. When you figure my net salary was $10-15,000 then, that’s a lot of cabbage I couldn’t really afford to shell out.

Again, I never actually ran a tally, but I do know that with the exception of one year when I had a string of good luck and probably broke even, I lost at least 100% of everything I “invested”. I can only imagine how much money I’d have accrued by now had I invested in a mutual, or index fund, or fully funded a 401K with matching from my employer with that money. I do know that had I spent responsibly, I wouldn’t be in such dire financial straits as I am now!

I have only recently eliminated lottery from my life, and I am able to better manage that concern since I have properly identified the issue, and established a means to avoid the habit. For a while I was spending about $5 a week on it, grabbing an instant ticket when I filled the car, because I figured “I deserved it.” And I also figured that paltry sum wasn’t having that much impact on my wallet. Then I realized the error in that frame of mind, and have decided that I deserve to feel more secure in my finances by using that $20 a month towards something more worthwhile.

I still can’t help but love the idea of winning big, and coasting the rest of my life in financial bliss, but I’ve dumped several thousand dollars into the lottery over the last 15-20 years or so, and still have nothing to show for it but a big pile of crushing debt. There is something a lot more comforting in knowing that I am now in the process of truly winning big, simply by trying so hard to eliminate debt from my life, using a formula of proven success, and with a lot better odds in my favor.

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Howdy, folks!

Posted by Jeremy on August 22, 2008

Just wanted to extend a warm welcome to new readers who have dropped by after reading my article at Being Frugal, and a public, hearty thank you to Lynnae for posting my article! Don’t be afraid to poke around, perhaps you might find something of interest.
If you see something you like, please let me know in the comments, or drop me an email via the link at the top right corner of the page. If you see something you don’t like, well, tough. Just kidding, please let me know as well, via the same routes.
Thank you for stopping by!

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