The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

Archive for August, 2008

A little update

Posted by Max Finkle 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 Max Finkle 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 Max Finkle 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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Now that’s music to my ears!

Posted by Max Finkle on August 20, 2008

I read a lot of personal finance blogs, get tons of great ideas, and free advice, all for the price of a big donut. I really like most of what I read, and oftentimes I follow up on some of the suggestions, like utilizing the library. I hadn’t been to one in years. Kinda forgot they were there, ya know?

Recently it occurred to me that as an avid music fan, no one seems to talk about how to obtain free music. With the Napster heyday long over, and the RIAA stretching the boundries of the Constitution in pursuit of illegal downloaders, what is rabid music fan supposed to do besides listen to the radio? I love listening to music, and I don’t like the idea of obtaining it illegally.

Over the air radio has it’s place, but I generally can’t stand the offerings. I like to have complete control of my listening material, and don’t like being force-fed the tripe that passes for music nowadays. To top it off, I have little tolerance for all of the marketing that goes along with listening to the radio.

Enter the digital age! The Internet has changed the way many of us listen to music, especially with the introduction of ITunes and other pay-for music download services. Even Napster is a pay-for use service now, with a subscription model, verses a pay for ownership model. As long as you subscribe to the service, you are welcome to listen to most of the music. Stop paying, lose the right to listen. I’ve read that music companies are trying to encourage that model, because it gives them perpetual earnings, instead of one-time purchase money. Their goal is to keep listeners’ wallets open.

The alternative, for those of us who like to buck the system, and do it legally, is to seek out free sources. Fortunately for us, they abound, and the offerings run the gamut from popular music to the obscure. Lets take a look at some of the available goodies out there.

The local library. Yep, for those of you who haven’t been to one recently, many of those archaic archival institutions crept up on us and entered the musical foray years ago. My local library only recently opened, and has little to offer, but the next city over has an extensive collection of CD’s just begging to introduce me to artists and genres that I’ve been overlooking my whole life. The bonus to library CD’s is that I don’t have to worry about the clutter of ownership, or being stuck owning a terrible CD that I shelled out good money for. Additional bonus: if I like it, I can borrow it again any time I want.

Friends & neighbors. What better way to relate to someone than through music? I’ve been introduced to some great and even some not so great music by friends willing to lend a CD to me. Borrowing CD’s can be risky, though, so if you don’t plan to return them, or if you’re concerned that a friend may not return yours it’s not worth losing a friendship over. Rule of thumb, if you’re not willing to risk losing a treasured disc, don’t lend it out.

Internet radio. Live365.com, Shoutcast, AOL, Pandora.com. are all free Internet radio, where you can customize your stations to your heart’s content. I’ve toyed with a few of them, and a quick Google search will net you all the links you can stand. All seem pretty easy to sign on to and set up. Unfortunately for me, they still don’t give me the control I like over what I listen to, and I’m generally subject to adverts, which I can ignore onscreen, but can’t avoid when they are slipped into the playlist by the vendor. Granted the advertisements are less intrusive than over the air radio, but I’m picky, what can I say?

Individual band Websites. For all of their blustering during the early days of file sharing, Metallica, of all bands, offers free music for download directly from their Website. Hunt around and you can find many others that do so as well. The Allman Brothers Band hosts a forum, and topics include trading live recordings of the band. Oftentimes, music traders will allow you to send them blank CD’s and they will send them back to you with music. All for the cost of blanks discs and return postage.

Live music trading communities. Etree.org is arguably the most popular of the music trading Websites out there. No copyrighted material is allowed, but the scope of music you can obtain for free from traders is mind boggling. None of the material is for sale, so if someone asks for money in exchange for the music, they are illegally bootlegging for profit. Trading with no intent to profit is the only way to get the goods from here. Learn proper trading etiquette and you can net obscene amounts of music. Some music is also linked to:

The Live Music Archive. Archive.org has one of the largest collections of free music anywhere, and it keeps getting larger on a daily basis. They host the largest publicly available collection of live Grateful Dead recordings and all are available to listen to whenever you wish. That collection alone could keep you busy for the foreseable future, nevermind the hundreds of other bands from all different genres that make their music available free there as well. All the recordings are from live performances, so if you seek perfection in your listening, you won’t find it there. The collection is extensive, and it’s easy to get lost there, so be careful!

Bittorrent. Careful with this one. There are sources of illegal file sharing out there if you’re so inclined, and then some, like Lossless Legs, and Dime a Dozen, offer material that falls into the gray areas of copyright laws. While material is available there often without the express consent of the artists, the music is not technically copyrighted because they are most often live recordings or radio broadcasts. The communities are self policing, and when copyrighted material shows up, the site owners ban the files. They also take pains to prevent music from being available from artists who’ve expressly stated to the site owners that they don’t condone the free trade of their recordings. Most artists seem okay with the fact that the community does a spectacular job protecting copyrighted music.
If you’re not comfortable toeing the line, etree.org also hosts bittorrents only of bands that expressly approve of the electronic transfer of their live recordings and otherwise non-copyrighted works. Unfortunately, that greatly reduces the choices of bands and genres, but at least it’s all legal with no hitches.

There are loads of other venues to get your paws on great music for free, if you desire. Just be cautious. With so much of it out there, it’s easy to forget that there is life beyond great tunes. Enjoy what you find before you seek out more, as the quest for free music is as addictive as a good beat.

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