The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

Archive for the ‘lifestyle’ Category

Dancin’ with the Devil…

Posted by Max Finkle 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.

Advertisements

Posted in lifestyle | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in lifestyle | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Everything but the squeal…

Posted by Max Finkle on July 17, 2008

My grandmother told me that one day, when we were talking about her childhood. When they butchered a pig, they used every part of it, everything but the squeal. She grew up in lean times, as everyone in the country did at the time. There was no excess, because oftentimes there wasn’t even enough. So, they had to use everything they had and squeeze the maximum amount they could from it. That applied to everything from foodstuffs to socks.

My father-in-law relates tales of days when, because of rationing for the war, they had no butter. They would get a large block of white plastic-looking stuff and some yellow food coloring at the beginning of the month so they could make their own margerine. No one could drive anywhere because there was no gasoline to be had, nevermind that tires couldn’t be replaced even if you had the money.

An elderly friend once told me how every Sunday after church, one family from the congregation would come to their house for supper, because being farmers, they had enough food to share. I always wondered what the rest of the families in the congregation did on the weeks they weren’t fortunate enough to partake.

Myself, I grew up darning my socks. (That’s fixin’ the holes in my socks with needle and thread, for those who may not be familiar). My mom did it for me when I was younger, but as I grew older I had to fend for myself. Once my dexterity was acute enough to avoid stabbing myself constantly, the needle and thread were presented to me; my mom had enough. There was no guilt, I never worried what the other kids would think, it was a part of growing up. I even sometimes had to patch my winter boots after I wore holes in them. It was my choice to either work the farm with wet feet, or to break out the tire patch kit and fix it myself. I learned to make do.

We grew a huge garden, upwards of an entire acre of food, annually. I hated pulling weeds and picking stones, what with all the bugs, and the dust and the grit. I recall my mother canning and freezing loads of veggies, filling the cabinets and the deep freeze for the colder seasons. We picked wild blackberries, which grew in abundance on our property, and tapped maple trees in the spring. We lived off the land as much as we could.

I got my first chainsaw when I was twelve years old, because my stepfather felt it was time for me to contribute more to our winter heating bill. All we had was wood heat, and when we ran out of wood in the middle of February, as we did more than once, I would have to go out into the woods with my stepfather and fell trees in two feet of snow.

I, and many people I know, have lived in leaner times. To me, no matter how horrible the economy is, or how high gas prices are, I live in a time of prosperity. Everywhere I turn lately there is empowering stories in the news of families who are are stretching their dollars to make ends meet, and living with less. I take it all with a grain of salt, because as tough as the times are currently, they don’t compare to what it could be, or what it has been. I appreciate their efforts, and even draw some inspiration from them, because I have come to realize the excess in my own life, and am learning to scale back.

It makes it easier for me to make the changes necessary to fix my finances when I keep it all in perspective. I’m not living without, I’m not really living with less. I am certainly not hurting, even though I would like to have a 52″ LCD t.v. and a blueray player to go with it. At least I’m eating well, I have a roof over my head, and my family is healthy & loving. I can ask for more, but I am content if I don’t get it.

Posted in lifestyle | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

American Workaholics

Posted by Max Finkle on May 30, 2008

Some time ago I was enjoying a pint at a local watering hole and I happened to meet a couple of Englishmen. I must confess that I truly enjoy listening to the English accent, as being American it’s a rarity to hear it. Conversation took many a turn with cordial discussions of the recent weather, impassioned intercourse about local breweries, vociferous communion regarding recent politics, and inquisitions of occupation. All was cordial and agreeable until the latter subject came up. That was when one of them stated, “You Americans love to work. I don’t understand it. Every American I know just loves working.

That statement was cause for pause. “Americans love to work?” I repeated aghast. What a confounding prospect I thought. Surely this was an opportunity to enlighten them that that generalization was inaccurate. Then I proceeded to reintroduce myself as an American who doesn’t like to work. I was then asked how many hours I work a week. “Well, this week I worked about 60.”

“See! You love to work! At home we work our forty hours and are done with it for the week. Why work more than you have to?”

“Well, I have bills to pay. I make crummy wages, and have to work the extra to make ends meet.” was my reply. “I certainly don’t work so much because I enjoy it!”

That conversation has stuck with me for many years, because it enlightened me to my plight as an indebted American. I’ve had similar interactions with a gentleman from France who had as much disdain for my workaholic reputation I did for his slothful thirty-two hour work week, I dated a Polish woman who echoed the same sentiments, and have been told the same by others of various nationalities.

Growing up on a farm that good ol’ Yankee work ethic was instilled in me at a young age. It’s all I’ve ever known. I grew up working hard because that was what I had to do, them thar’ cows gotta be milked… As I’ve gotten older, I continue to work hard because I still have to, although for other reasons. I don’t have my stepfather standing over me, strap in hand, to motivate me, but another oppressive figure: that of “The Man.” I’m in a quagmire of debt, and to keep a roof over my head and food on the table, I’m obligated to continue working at the same job that I’m not entirely happy with, and again looking for additional work to make ends meet, all because I’ve extended myself beyond my means.

I dream of walking away from it all, in fact I’ve dreamed that for many years. Always I find reasons why I can’t. I have too much debt. I have to pay the rent. I have to buy food. I have to make the car payment… and the list goes on. Recently, my excuse has been that my family costs me so much. Then I sit and steam over the bills, and can’t figure out why my wife had to spend so much this month on this and that.

I’ve come to realize that I love my life, but I hate my lifestyle. I’m in the process of re-evaluating what is important to me, and I’m talking with my wife about what we can do to make those changes that we need to so that we can start truly enjoying our lives. To begin with, she’s going to start working again, and I am looking at finding additional work to supplement our income. Blogging is one of the ideas I thought I could try.

In addition, I’m reading “Your Money or Your Life” and beginning the trek towards Financial Independence. My goal is to prove those Englishmen wrong, and prove to them that not all Americans love to work. And to prove to myself that I can eventually work less and still feel fulfilled.

Posted in lifestyle | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »