$1,000 and the American Dream

Two things that caught my interest today and may capture yours.

I have referred to this ongoing story in the past, as it gets posted several times per year on multiple websites, citing multiple surveys and in multiple amounts.

Today, the story of how most Americans cannot come up with $1,000 to cover an emergency made the rounds.  The one that was in my Yahoo! feed was from CNN Money: money.cnn.com/2018/01/18/pf/lack-of-savings-cover-unexpected-expense/index.html.

According to Bankrate.com, its report does not cover scenarios that are unlikely to happen. Over the past year, according to Bankrate, over one-third (34%) of American households have had a major unexpected expense. Half of the time that expense topped $2,500 and more than half that hit that threshold (30%) had an unexpected expense that was over $5,000.

This story, whether the amount is $500, $1,000 or $2,000 drives me crazy.  Without poring over our bank records, I recall having had to spend $2,500 twice, although how unexpected it was remains subject to debate.

Does replacing a central air conditioning unit that is over twenty-five years old and has been cooling our house since before we purchased it in 2001 count as unexpected?  Well, we certainly were not expecting to be forced to replace it during a string of ninety-plus degree days this past August.

Does being forced to obtain a new car after your nineteen-year-old rusted out old Subaru count as an unexpected expense considering that I was planning on replacing it sometime this spring?

What was truly unexpected was our washing machine breaking down, after which we purchased a state-of-the-art deal which jiggles around and determines how much water to use for the load and our old stove breaking down, which we replaced with a $500 or so variety.

Our daughter’s poms team making nationals while she is a freshman is completely unexpected and adds another two grand or so to our expenses next month.

All told, it is a rare month for our typical middle class family that does not entail an “unexpected” expense of $500 or much more.

As the saying goes, expect the unexpected.  I do not know what unexpected expenses 2018 will bring, but I know that there will certainly be several.   You will have some, too, so do not forget to set aside a few dollars here and there so you are ready for when something unexpectedly breaks or a health-related issue comes up.  We had at least one costly and unexpected health-related thing come up in 2017 and I hope and pray that we do not this year.


Another article that I came across that my readers may find interesting is that the advertising industry continues selling us a crock of shit about an American dream that most of us are not living.

www.fastcompany.com/40516540/the-ad-industry-keeps-selling-an-american-dream-that-most-arent-living

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You have seen the ads.  A group of well-groomed, thin and attractive folks drinking beer on the beach.  A young husband wrapping a new luxury vehicle in a bow for Christmas.  A Millennial flying across the world in luxury.

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Do you often drink beer on the beach with a bunch of good-looking couples who gaze longingly at one another while a fire roars?  Did you purchase a new luxury vehicle for Christmas?  Did you fly to the Emirates first class?

I know that some, even quite a few people do.  One of my college roommates does all of the above, and regularly.  But three things about him: (1) like me, he is into his late forties, but he does not have any children;  (2) he puts all of his travels, dining and partying on Facebook every day; and (3) he was indicted by the FCC for his trading practices, so that is not something to be proud of.

But he does travel to the south of France and other exotic locales while I am taking orders from a young, inexperienced and altogether not very good boss in a middling town in the Midwest.  This week he is in Mexico.

But I digress.

Most Americans do not live that type of lifestyle and as the earlier article cited indicates, would have trouble coming up with $1,000 or $2,000 in a pinch.

In the ad industry, brainiac professor Tom O’Guinn from my alma mater states that “the idea of the American Dream, which is what a lot of advertising in the United States is about, is used to affirm our aspirational goals, and that was really true demographically, economically for a long time.”

“It’s not true now. The American Dream is very challenged. We don’t have the upward mobility like we used to. Ads have always overrepresented the rich and under-represented the working class, but they were still pretty resonant with people’s everyday reality. Now, they’re more myth.”

Well, you do not need to be a professor to see that.  All you have to do is watch TV or view ads online for a while, and then take a look at yourself and people that you know.

True, there are those like my former college roommate who do live the lives that include luxury watches, vehicles, international travel and fine dining.  But for every person like him, there are many others who trudge along in the service economy wearing a Seiko like I do or generic watches, driving old clunkers, taking little to no vacations and eating McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Ramen Noodles.

I only mention it because it kind of pisses me off and, as a Middle Class Guy, I also find it fascinating.

 

My Own Decade-and-a-Half Journey

I read blogs, magazine articles, books, trade publications and whatever I can lay my hands on, on a daily basis.  Although I have not written any “what I learned from” posts for a while, I have been reading even more than usual of late as the temperatures hover around zero degrees in the Chicago area for weeks on end.

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Also, I hereby confess to having binge-watched all four seasons of Treme on DVD over the past three or so weeks, often three or four episodes per day.  I just finished watching the episodes yesterday, on MLK Day, as I took my first vacation day of the year and just returned the fourth and final season to the library today.

It is a confession because with one of my resolutions to create more and consume less, it is hard to justify having spent dozens of hours following the trials and travails of this cast of characters set in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, a city that I love despite its high preponderance of violence.  I do not love its violence; I love its food, culture and music and will be heading there with my son for a week during his spring break.

But I digress.

While going through some finance blogs yesterday, I clicked on one, that led me to another that led me to one that a middle aged Middle Class Guy like me would not normally read, www.chiefmomofficer.org.

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I came across a post called Sending Three Boys To College – My Decade Plus Journey about her family’s fourteen years of saving to send her three sons to college.  This is the type of post that I find inspiring, someone who invests with Vanguard, like I have for many years, with the goal of sending her children to college without taking on a massive amount of debt.

In her post, the Chief Mom Officer writes about why she is putting this out there. Like me, for years all she read about saving for college was generic advice. It’s either yet another financial media person talking about how you shouldn’t be bothering to save for college because you’re probably behind on retirement, and how “your kids can get loans for college but you can’t get loans for retirement.” Or how you need to pay off debt and save an emergency fund before you start putting money aside for retirement.

Unlike her, I actually started saving diligently for my two children’s college funds prior to reading all the advice about how it is sacrificing your own retirement to do so.  Also unlike her, I am coming up on a quarter century of working for a public pension system that is actually funded, and I expect to qualify for a decent pension to help support my wife and I in our “golden years.”

It was not until I embarked upon my self-help journey in early 2016 that I consistently came across the advice to Pay Yourself First and made it a priority that I have stuck with over the past two years.  Although it sometimes seems “too little, too late,” I continue sending payments to my wife’s and my Roth IRA accounts every month prior to paying our other mountain of bills.  Our cost of living typically runs from $8,000 to $12,000 any given month, including $2,500 that we send to our son’s private college every month.


On another note, my identity was stolen once again as I received a credit card in the mail today that I never signed up for.  This could be a post or series of them on its own, but the short version is that I received one of the top credit cards with Capital One in the mail today with a very high limit.  High enough to pay for a year of my son’s college on it.

The problem is that I never signed up for it.  I do have two Capital One accounts, one online savings account and another trading account with a few hundred shares of NUGT parked in it.

So who filled out an application for a credit card for me and had it sent to my own house?  I will never know.  I called right away to cancel the card and sincerely hope that one of my readers is not the identity thief.

Anyway, because of that, I am not going to go into great detail into the accounts that I have for my children besides noting that they are through the Illinois Bright Start program, the Vanguard Wellington fund, and the T. Rowe Price college portfolio 2018 (which is finally here) fund.

At some point, I will share in more detail how a Middle Class Guy with a stay-at-home wife with a salary that slowly inched its way up from the thirties to the forties to low six figures over the period of twenty years was able to support his family and save one hundred thousand for each of his two children.  It may be one of the more inspiring tales that I have to tell.

But here is the short version:

I diligently saved for years and years, contributing everything that I could while forgoing many of life’s luxuries like vacations, expensive meals out, iPhones, flat screen TVs, sporting events and concerts.  We still have tube TVs, here in 2018, but we do have more saved for our children’s education than many with superior TVs do.

For years, we did little besides local things that were not very expensive.  True, we traveled to Disney World six freakin’ times over these same years, but there were quite a few years where I socked away every spare dollar that I could find the rest of the year.  I drove clunkers until they could not drive anymore, while millions of Americans with little to no savings drove cars much newer and nicer than mine.

It is not a glamorous story.  Before our accounts were online, I would write paper checks to the Vanguard Wellington fund in equal amounts for each kid, say in the amount of $300 or sometimes $400 or even $500 each, and then walk the checks to the mailbox.  A week or so later, I would receive the statement from Vanguard and would put it in the three-ring binder that I still use after fifteen-plus years of doing this.  Some years later, I started the Bright Start accounts for both children and have automatically contributed to them ever since.  All of our accounts are now online.

There were months when, after all of our bills and expenses, we would have $900 left until our next payday.  On months like that, I might send only $200 to each account, leaving us $500 for the week.  On months when there was $3,000 in the account, I was more comfortable sending $300 or $400 to each account.  On months when there were three paydays or a relative gave us some holiday cash, I would send $500 to each kid’s account.

Over the years of doing this, and as the Wellington fund thrived and paid out dividends, which we reinvested, the accounts continued to grow.

Again, this is not a glamorous or sexy story.  Like the Chief Mom Officer, I wondered how we could save such a huge amount of money for our children.  When my late maternal grandfather, who I was especially close with and who got me started in investing (and recommended the Wellington fund) told me that I should try to save a hundred thousand per kid when I was making about forty-five grand and my wife was staying home with our baby boy (now a college sophomore), I thought he was freakin’ nuts.  I felt like crying, having only a few hundred dollars to our name.

Instead of crying, he staked me out for about two thousand dollars to start our son’s account.  Because this was before 529 accounts were in vogue, I opened a UGMA account with Vanguard, and opened the same type of account for our daughter when she was young.

For years, I kept that high number in mind as a goal but never seriously considered reaching it.  Just sent $300 here, $400 there and $500.  For about four straight years, I automatically contributed $500 to each kid’s Bright Start account on the first of every month.  New month…mortgage gets paid and a cool grand goes out of our account and into our kids’.

You do that for enough years, and add a friendly market since the Recession, and there you have it.  The fifty grand that they each had turned into sixty, then into seventy grand each and continued growing.

I, myself, have only recently eclipsed having $40,000 in my own retirement accounts, and that’s for a forty-seven-year-old.  I know, it is not the sage advice from a financial adviser.

But as the Chief Mom Officer seeks to put her three sons, Nick, Nathan and Alex through college without them accumulating staggering debt, so this Middle Class Guy wants the same for his two high-achieving, super-smart, super nice kids.

Our son certainly appreciates it now, and I can only hope that our daughter will come to appreciate it someday too.

Ripples

Ripples in Our Lives

Think of this as urging you to commence a self-audit this week.  No worries, it should not lead the IRS or any other agency to commence an audit of your life.  This is an audit for you alone.

As Jerry Garcia once sang in one of my all-time favorite tunes, “Ripple,”

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

So regain your focus here for a few minutes if you have lost it in previous sections and ask yourself the following:

Where are you at, right now in your life?  What are you truly doing to better yourself and/or your current situation?  Where on God’s green Earth are you heading?  For another year of treading water and running like a hamster in a wheel, like I have done for so many years?  Or are you focused and determined to better yourself and your life in 2018 and beyond?

If your life is filled with doubts, fears, anxiety and low self-esteem, can and will you replace them with a more positive sense of direction?

As simple as these questions are, they are ones that go through my head at some point or another nearly every single day.  It is rare for me to be content with myself and my family’s place in the world of today for an entire day.  Perhaps when we are together on a too-rare vacation many miles away from our home, my job, my wife’s part-time job, our son’s college and our daughter’s high school and their many obligations can the four of us truly unwind for a few days.

The only way that you and I are going to improve our lots in these lives of ours is to convince ourselves that we are going to make it, and then to take appropriate actions.  If there is one central theme to everything that I have written for my own and your benefit, it is the notion of taking action.  Actions speak louder than words and nobody has ever become successful just by thinking about things and keeping them to themselves.

True, reading, thinking and planning are important aspects to improving our lives.  But unless we follow through on doing things to achieve those measurable goals and aspirations that we have, it is all for naught.  At the end of 2018, and I reiterate that this book is not meant to describe some magical way of reinventing yourself in one short year, you and I both want to be better off than we are today, next week or next month.  As many a wise person has said, if it were easy to accomplish, everyone would do it.

Some days, like today, I would have rather remained in bed.  I would have gladly utilized one of my ninety-four sick days, claiming to feel under the weather.  Part of my own grittiness is that I basically never succumb to that notion, dragging myself to my stressful job day after day, month after month and year after year.  I have certainly had my fair share of failures at work, but I pride myself on coming in every day, confronting not only my own shortcomings but the many shortcomings of the community that employs me in an economic development capacity, and get up every time that I am knocked down.

Every day, week, month and year from here on out I intend to keep paying my dues and making small strides here and there to bring myself closer to achieving my goals.  I urge you to take the same approach.

My own biggest dream among many smaller ones, and one that has just recently taken ahold of me, is to start an e-commerce business.  The prospect of starting one frightens me more than I can say.  I am not tech-savvy, I do not possess the salesmanship gene and I tend to say and write more when less will do.  On the plus side, I do know my own limitations fairly well, I am not averse to hiring out contract help to do things like design work and website design, and I do not mind working at something for hours at night and on weekends and holidays while other people are relaxing, traveling or vegging out in front of the tube.

Without belaboring my own story of coping with anxiety and stress for the latter part of this year, suffice it to say that I received a major kick in the pants this past July which has led to my thinking about and researching the launching of my own business after helping others achieve their own dreams of opening or expanding businesses (although in the brick and mortar world) for the past seventeen years.

Invest in Yourself

I spend so much time, words and money on investing in financial products for my wife’s, children’s, and my own future benefit, but not so much investing in myself.

This New Year, let us you and I spend some quality time with ourselves and discover what is truly important to us within our own hearts.  However hard and unlikely it may be, like me making tens of thousands of dollars from my eBooks or launching a successful e-commerce business, let us adopt and maintain positive attitudes and do not let setbacks discourage us too much.

Look at the opportunities that we have before us to reach our objectives.  While it is true that my own eBooks may never sell like hotcakes, I know that many other people will gain success in that endeavor, so why shouldn’t I?  True, self-improvement books by self-proclaimed experts on the topic are a dime a dozen.  What makes this one different or worthwhile?  I ask myself that same question.  The answer lies in that we are taking this journey together in baby steps in a measurable, actionable manner.  Not just the hopey dreamy stuff but concrete measurable things by the use of numbers.

To invest in yourself, find and do something every single day or at least once per week that brings you one step closer to your goals and then reward yourself for your efforts, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.  Heck, having a handful or readers read this post or purchase it in eBook form is an extremely minor accomplishment.  However, if hundreds or thousands read this over the years and it helps spur some small measure of action and ensuing reward, then I would gauge these past few lunch hours writing this a resounding success.

I am going to strive to practice what I preach.  I have been generally dissatisfied with myself and my lot in life over the past year.  More so since the indignity of being transferred to a new department and young boss who was hired as an intern in our organization eight short years ago.  I could cry in my beer over it or I could use it as motivation for self-betterment.  I am choosing the latter rather than the former and have been working on improving my own mental outlook nearly every day for the past five months.  And that after reading dozens of self-help books over the prior year and a half, taking the advice to heart and sharing it here.  I acknowledge being in the midst of a midlife crisis; however my hope is to emerge from it stronger than ever, in better mental health than ever and poised to succeed over the coming decade and beyond.

I am taking more responsibility for my life, which means making better decisions, improving my attitude and finding the courage to go forward.  Neither I nor anybody else expects you to transform your or my life overnight.  But we can and should both start transforming some of our attitudes right now.

I have previously written of a better version of myself locked within me somewhere.  I have recently opened my eyes wider than they have been opened upon reaching a Prime Age this past November.  Not that I was pleased with myself prior to that, but something about reaching that age with a new thirty-two-year-old boss in a municipal economic development job entirely based on politics and arcane rules made me feel like an utter failure.

I realize that others would gladly trade places with me, but I dwell on those who would not for a million bucks.  I study those people, question them and try to learn what I can from them.  I strive to discover the resources that I have to make my life happier, fuller and more meaningful, but they are not always apparent.  I do not expect to shed 4.7 decades of restrictive conditioning in one short year, but I do expect to be in a better place at the end of 2018 than at the beginning.

It is not all about me me me.  I write this for you you you to think about the things that I write about.  When you begin taking stock of yourself like you are now, you begin to see possibilities in what could be.  Meeting our lives head-on begins when we begin to appreciate and understand our own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  I have completed these SWOT analyses of various sites in my community, but it is quite a different thing to analyze it as it pertains to your own life.

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Source: Pinterest

As the last line in Ripple states, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.”

And I would.

Net Worth (Kind Of)

I had long planned on doing an in-depth analysis and post about my family’s net worth.

The idea came to me when I took a three-day long course in Madison, Wisconsin last May about credit analysis.  For about half of the three days, we pored over case studies with asset and liability statements for companies to determine if they were creditworthy and, if so, how much credit to extend and how to best structure the loan or loans.

The other half of the time, we watched about five hundred PowerPoint slides.

It got me thinking about how, like many people, I did not have a firm grasp of my own assets and liabilities.  Not since we last applied for a mortgage refinance about seven years ago did we have to lay bare our lives as if they were just merely dollar tallies in various accounts.  One of the things that we must do this year is refinance, but that is the subject matter for another post.

For this post’s purposes, I had to look at the good, the bad and the ugly to determine my own middle class family’s net worth in terms of dollars.  Our family’s value is much higher than it is in a financial sense, yet that is the metric that I am most interested in today.

Also, the number that I arrived at tonight using the BankRate.com calculator, $471,000, is misleading due to a number of factors that I will explain.

The main reason that this is misleading in our family’s case is that $172,000 of that, or over 36% of our family’s net worth, is tied up in our children’s college accounts.  As I have mentioned before, I set a goal over ten years ago to save up $100,000 for each of my two children for their college accounts, and have achieved that goal.

Barring a major dip in the markets, which I am by no means ruling out, I have $104,000 combined in our daughter’s two college accounts and another $68,500 in our son’s, who is midway through his sophomore year of college, with us already having laid out nearly forty grand to his school so far.

For the reason that I expect to spend down all of their college funds, and then some, I expect our accounts to be reduced by that $172,000 years from now.

Meanwhile, I continue Paying Ourselves First, meaning contributing to my and my wife’s Roth IRA accounts every month before paying our mountain of bills.  So even though our family’s net worth takes a $2,500 hit every month for our son’s college, I continue investing about $1,000 per month between our daughter’s 529 account and our IRAs.

Also, with the markets hitting new highs on a daily basis, I fully realize that the funds that I invest in, like the Wellington fund, the Primecap fund, the Blue Chip Growth fund and others may not continue to rise or even sustain their current values.

A shock to the markets like the Doom and Gloom pundits predict could wipe out tens of thousands in my family’s net worth, along with billions of dollars from others.

The amount that I have in my own retirement funds ($41,800) and my wife’s ($16,000) needs to be seriously increased.  Only since reading many self-improvement books over the past two years including many by financial gurus like Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, the Rich Dad, Thomas Stanley and David Bach did I make a conscious effort to always pay myself first.

I realize that to sound smarter I would tell you that my wife and I have $172,000 in our retirement accounts and $58,000 in our children’s college accounts, but I very much do not want our children to be saddled with massive amounts of high-interest student debt upon completing college.

My greatest gift to them besides unconditional love and always trying to do whatever I can to help and support them will be allowing them to obtain their undergraduate degrees debt free, the same as my own parents did for me, my sister and my brother.  All three of us went on to obtain postgraduate degrees and had to finance that to various degrees.  My brother borrowed his way through law school, but it has paid off for him in spades so we both consider it money well spent.

I should have a lot more than $10,000 in stocks, but I have taken it in the shorts over the past year-plus on my NUGT shares.  I would have thought those shares would be worth $50,000 or more by now, but like they say, it is not a loss until you sell it for one.

Household items and jewelry are tricky to value.  We do own a few items inherited from my mother-in-law that have some good value.  One thing that we got from her is worth at least $5,000, but I do not want to write about it and we would have no interest in selling it.  Our daughter has claimed it for herself and we hope that she someday owns a home worthy of displaying it.  I am reluctant to purchase an insurance rider for the item because I do not fully trust all those with access to our files at the local State Farm office.  The last thing that I want is for some clerk there to tell her junkie boyfriend about it.

My wife also inherited a valuable ring from her worth more than that, but I did not count that in our “jewelry” line item.  I suppose that we could sell it if things were extremely desperate, but I think that the plan is to give it to one of our children, like the other valuable item we inherited.

Finally, valuing one’s home is not always the easiest thing to do.  Some houses with lots of issues sell for around $220,000 or $230,000 in our humble neighborhood while those with remodeled kitchens and floors go for $250,000 to $270,000.  Fairly low values considering that we live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago but, like I have previously written, we live in a neighborhood on the lower levels of the middle class.  The contractors who fix the houses in the nice neighborhoods live near us.  Clerks, office managers, cable installers, flooring guys and sales reps live in our neighborhood, not the executives and business owners who employ them.

I have all but given up selling our home and “moving up” any time soon, but for the time being, if you want to pay over $250,000 for my house, let me know and I will start packing our stuff.

 

 

Keys To Our Prosperity

Key To Our Own Prosperity

You and I hold the keys to our own prosperity.  To truly realize and accept that notion, we must understand a fact: life has strange ways.
To quote an eighties Depeche Mode song, “Nothing”:
Life is full of surprises.  It advertises…nothing.
If someone took all the money in the world and divided it equally among everybody, it would eventually wind up in the same pockets as it was before it was shared.  There would be successful millionaires and billionaires.  There would be millions of people struggling to make ends meet and living hand to mouth.  Half of the people would toil to achieve and maintain middle class status, as you and I have.
So how can we change the odds or transform from being on the lower end of the economy to the higher end?  Is it even possible?
Most of us struggle with personal growth and self-improvement as it is a challenging lifetime pursuit.  With 2017 in the rear view mirror and 2018 upon us, can things be better than they were before?

Perhaps it remains easier to blame things or circumstances around us than ourselves. Making a transition is hard for anyone to do.  Trust me on this.  I am in the middle of a self-imposed transition right now.  I am not only trying to change my way of thinking about things.  That was the easy part.  I am now trying to implement things.  For one example, I achieved a portion of one of my 2018 resolutions on the first day of the year, self-publishing a self-help eBook called New Year, New You: How to Kick More Ass and Kiss Less of It in 2018.  Pen name M. Bernard Bloom.

You could be the first person to buy it!  Hopefully not the only person to do so.

You and I must to realize that it is not what happens that determine the major parts of our future because what happens is going on for all of us. All of us are faced with hardships, unpleasant tasks and hurdles placed in front of us.  Rather, the key is what we do about it.  To create our own greater success and prosperity, we must begin the process of change by doing something different.

Prosperity is something one attracts rather than pursues.  Instead of going after it, we must first improve upon ourselves and success and wealth will soon follow. We must set goals and resolutions for ourselves are a things that no school, college or university would teach you.  Grit, determination, persistence and learning to make the right choices and seize the right opportunities can be just as or more lucrative than earning straight A’s at your school.

The perspectives and thinking that you adapt shape your life, and when you change your perspective, you can create an immediate shift in your own prosperity, life, job or business. To create success in whatever endeavors you pursue, always look for ways to sharpen your outlook.

Change Ourselves to Change Our Prosperity

Since we cannot rapidly or easily change our circumstances to achieve our ideal of prosperity, we must begin doing things differently with the same conditions.

Chances are, you are going to have the same job, same home and same relationships for a while.  The kind of success that you and I are pursuing does not come to us overnight.  We are not supremely talented and attractive YouTube sensations.  Our hard-earned success will result from a process of first determining where we are at now versus where we would like to be, establishing measurable action steps that we can take to get to where we would like to be, and then doggedly pursuing it over the course of this year and years to come.

I, myself, do not think that I will become fabulously wealthy and successful by the end of 2018.  But I do have a plan and ideas for things that I would like to achieve this year that will help me move further in that direction and I have listed them out in my ’18 Resolutions post.  I consider my list of resolutions to be a decent starting point for my continued self-improvement to be continued for more years after this one.

I realize that we are on a challenging mission, but if we change for the better, everything will change for us. We do not have to alter our outer personalities, but rather our inner natures.  We must not wish for things to get easier because they most certainly will not.  Let us plan for ourselves to become better than we currently are.

If we begin working on ourselves this week in the New Year and making these changes, prosperity will change for us. To have better, we must be better. It is a simple formula and yet many struggle with it. I have struggled with it for many years, myself.

Increase Your Value to Increase Your Prosperity

Prosperity includes many benefits but one often comes out more than others, and it is relative to our finances.  The key to understanding economics is that we all get paid for bringing value to the marketplace, also described as the “real world.”  In my fantasy world, I would earn large amounts through my writing and eventually by speaking.  Sharing my knowledge and creating.  In my real world, I earn a modest amount by assisting businesses, developers and entrepreneurs invest and open businesses for the community that employs me.   It takes time, energy and effort to provide value to this market, and it is a dog-eat-dog world out there.  Survival of the fittest and a YO-YO economy: you’re on your own.

A fascinating psychological prosperity trait which I have read, heard and learned from Jim Rohn, one of the many gurus who has taught me self-improvement, is that it is possible for you to become two or three times as valuable as you now are and make two or three times as much money within the same time.

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This code of belief goes against the mold of what schools teach, or how most of us were raised, and what media depicts to the general public.  They want rule followers, not rule breakers or what I would rather be, a rule maker.

Thus, to build your own prosperity, you must increase your value.  It is that simple. And if you can embrace this concept and apply it to your life, you will improve, develop and ripen a considerable benefit over those who do not or can not.

In my case, my blogging and self-publishing is not doing it for me…yet.  What I dream of doing, study doing, think of doing and eventually will actually do is launch an eCommerce website.  I may just sell a lot of Chinese made crap that I would not want for myself.  But many other people do want it and would purchase it.  I cannot get the article about LDSMan.com out of my mind and would love to achieve just a small sliver of the success that Trevor Chapman has achieved.  Anything to get me out from under the thumb of my new, young, hard-driving, naive and gung-ho Millennial boss.

Wouldn’t we all?

Improve Your Skills to Improve Your Success

Many people do not do much to upgrade their skills or value but rather blame the economy, their job, their boss or the state of their scarcity of income. If somebody is satisfied making minimum wage, then they will always remain at the bottom because it is the value they are bringing into the market place.

What a pitiful way to live! To not grow, change or become more valuable. Why does one person make millions of dollars per year while others make only fifty thousand or less? Well, it is quite simple. That person has become more valuable to the marketplace than the other.

I fully acknowledge that one’s income does not signify one’s total worth in the world. The one who has a lower income might be a good relative, friend, or member of the community which is a different kind of prosperity. However, economically it is a cold, hard fact that if you do not improve your skills to develop your value, your success and prosperity level will remain the same.

That is why wealthy and prosperous people get paid so much.  They have the skills, knowledge and know-how to create value from what they possess.  But there is some good news for us: it has become a more equal playing ground. Nowadays, information is accessible and free almost everywhere. So it is up to you to decide how valuable you want to become, what is your definition of prosperity and how much you want to pay forward to others.

Quite simple, isn’t it?  Well, maybe not so fast.

In Yours Truly’s case, I fully well know that it is my own lack of comfort or even liking of the most modern technologies that is holding me back.  I believe that I have the wherewithal, desire, work ethic and determination to launch, continue and run a successful eCommerce site.  I have the hundreds or few thousand that I am willing to invest in such a venture.

What I do not possess is the comfort with website design, apps or trust in others who I could pay to assist with it.  I would like to do it on my own, and the people who I do trust, my siblings, wife and children, do not have the tech knowledge to help me and my fear of them knowing that I failed at something also holds me back.  Again, the truth due to my flimsy shield of anonymity.

Use Your Keys to Better Prosperity

Do not wait for a raise as it is easier to climb the ladder. To be able to prosper, you must continually discover ways to use your keys to become more valuable. You have to create your own prosperity by sharpening your skills, learning better methods through resources and always striving to better yourself.  Nobody but you and me are planning for your betterment and prosperity unless you are a rising star in a growing company or on the fast-track at your organization.  If that is the case, I am happy for you and you may as well stop reading this post right now.

For the rest of us, if we want or need a greater income, we must earn it by bringing greater value to our places of employment, our business or customers. We have the ability to create greater prosperity and happiness if we understand this step. We can always turn our lives around to increase our wealth.

“Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job, you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself, you’ll make a fortune.” – Jim Rohn

We need to work on ourselves, which is the overall point of Middle Class Guy.  We need to become better versions of ourselves instead of always comparing ourselves to others, like I have done for the past two decades.  How can you and I become more valuable in this wide-open marketplace where either of us could own an online retail outlet by the end of the month?  We can use the keys to our prosperity by improving upon the things that we already know, learning new things beyond our comfort zones and becoming better at everything that we do.

So Here Are a Few Tips to Offer More Value and Increase Your Prosperity

Do something that provides more value for you to change your current income level. Here are a dozen tips to increase your prosperity and bring you value so you can get better than others.

  1. Work harder on yourself than on your job.
  2. Become an expert by choosing a specialized area. Study your trade and learn from others.
  3. Become more efficient by learning how you get done what needs to get done.
  4. Have an awareness of knowing your strong points and what you are best at doing.
  5. Be productive in knowing what and how much you get done to increase prosperity.
  6. Get a vision by having something you see that others do not, like a bigger picture.
  7. Create a mastermind by surrounding yourself with people you can learn from to get more value.  Even if those others are gurus on blogs, in magazines and books.
  8. Forge a good reputation through what others know and think about you.
  9. Become an influence by remembering to be gritty, persistent and getting things done.
  10. Increase your popularity status by understanding how well your colleagues or audience see you.
  11. As my mother often told me, treat others as well as how you want to them to treat you.
  12. Get the right attitude to grow your prosperity by taking care of yourself and others.

If we work harder on ourselves than on our jobs, then there will be no limits to our prosperity and success in whatever we pursue. It is 2018 and time for us to take responsibility for our financial well-being.

So you and I commit now to becoming more valuable and growing our own prosperity.  Remember that we are in control regardless of the external circumstances surrounding us and that the keys are in our hands.

’18 Resolutions

A majority of my posts are related to self-improvement and/or New Year’s resolutions.  How to make SMART goals, how to take baby steps and urging you and myself to actually do rather than just think, talk and write about doing.

So without further ado, the following is my list of 2018 resolutions.  Some are easily measurable, like a number of times or a dollar amount.  Some are not so easily measurable, like creating more and consuming less.

I began working on these over the summer while experiencing a high level of anxiety due to a number of things.

Here they are, not in order of ranking, but how they came to mind:

  1. Remain gainfully employed at the same or comparable position in a municipality within a forty minute drive from home.
  2. Invest another five thousand dollars into our daughter’s Bright Start 529 account.  The accompanying goal was going to be to get to the one hundred thousand mark in total savings for her accounts, but as of today we have attained that.  A dip in the market could put us below that number, but as of today she has over $100,000 combined in her two college accounts.
  3. Pay Ourselves First, making investments into my and my wife’s IRA with every paycheck or automatically every month as long as I remain gainfully employed.
  4. Self-publish two high-quality eBooks including a forthcoming book based on New Year resolutions.  Publish an additional two shitty books.  Just crank them out, list them for a buck and see if anyone buys them.  I will not even use my pen name for those two, but a pen name for the pen name.
  5. Cover our son’s college expenses – tuition, room and board, food, private music lessons, books and some spending cash.
  6. Resolve our car situation, which at this point means disposing of my inoperable old Subaru.
  7. Pursue at least one new job, maybe two.  This sounds easy peasy, but I have not seriously pursued more than two new jobs over the past five years or so.  I did not get either one.  The last two that I was offered, I declined.
  8. Be a better husband as measured by my actions rather than words.
  9. Be a better son, visiting my widowed mother at least one day in every month of the year if even only for an hour or two.  Note: she does come to our house nearly every Sunday for dinner and a visit.  I just do not go there.
  10. Take my family up nort to da U.P.  for a vacation.
  11. Visit NOLA with my son in March (already booked).
  12. At least fifty-two good posts.  This will be my final and 180th post of 2017.  Admittedly, out of the 180 I would estimate having made about twenty-five or so good ones.  I want to write far less posts and spend my time on more worthwhile ventures. I want my posts to be more informative and more widely read than my first two hundred or so have been.  Fifty-two is an average of one per week, which should be enough.
  13. I must net minus fifty books.  I aimed for this amount in 2017 and failed miserably.  I cannot and will not fail in moving along fifty more books than I obtain in 2018.
  14. I would truly love to take twenty vacation days, like I accumulate in a year.  I would settle for eighteen, which would be a new record for me.  I must improve upon the fourteen that I am taking in 2017 in my twenty-fifth year of employment.
  15. Have at least one home improvement made.  Not just fixing something broken, but doing something to improve our home like a new kitchen floor, having rooms painted, insulation or one thing that we do need to get fixed – a crack in the foundation.
  16. Unsubscribe from fifty things between my work email and my personal Yahoo! email accounts.
  17. Move along at least one dozen clothing items.  No elaboration.  Either I do donate twelve to the Salvation Army or I do not, but I certainly intend to.
  18. Print at least five hundred photos.  I know that this is an odd resolution and a high number of photos, but I have not printed any photos since before 2010 and have at least 10,000 digital photos between my current phone, our cameras and on CD’s with photos from two prior phones.
  19. Get the cap on my root canal done early in the year.  I gave up on dental improvements in late summer after tapping out my $1,500 in benefits plus paying an additional $900 or so on a root canal.
  20. Three or more beach days.  The last two summers, my daughter and I have ventured to the beach only once.  Pitiful considering that I grew up going a dozen or more times per summer.
  21. Weigh 195 pounds or less when I report fifty-two weeks from now.  This does not seem like much of a goal considering that I have weighed exactly 200 pounds for the better part of the past several years.  That is, up until weighing myself this week.  I suspect that a combination of overeating since Thanksgiving and not walking during my lunch hours has led to me weigh 205 as of this writing.  As with many former weights, I feel that I am currently at an important crux.  A guy nearly six feet tall in his late forties could go either way.  Not that being 195 or even 185 is exactly svelte, but going up over 205 to 210 or 215 is definitely not heading in the right direction.  Like millions of other Americans, I have a goal of losing weight.  I think that I will start tonight by foregoing a beer and doing a few sit-ups and push-ups before going to sleep.
  22. Sell my NUGT shares if I go up by $10,000.  Writing this one feels somewhat foolish as I am currently down about $5,000 or $6,000.  I do not know exactly how much I am down because I do not want to look.  But not long ago, I was up by about $18,000 and woulda coulda and shoulda sold.  I woulda coulda and shoulda repurchased shares when the price plummeted earlier this year after selling for a huge profit.  But alas, I do not know what the stock market is going to do or any particular stock for that matter.  I only know that if and when I go up by five figures next time, I am going to hit the sell button instead of thinking that it is going to continue going up higher.  Boy, could I use that eighteen grand right now!  Had I sold it, I probably would have put a few more grand down and purchased our new Subaru instead of leasing it and would most likely be at Disney World with my family right now.
In late April of 2016, I was up about $18,000 on my NUGT shares.

Now for a few things that are not so easily measured:

  1. Strive to enjoy my life more.  Worry and stress out about things less.  I realize that I cannot be a “I don’t give a f*ck” kind of a guy, but I do not have to worry so much about every little thing including those beyond my control.  Only my wife and I will truly know if I succeed in this somewhat.
  2. Become grittier.  I will measure this with the Grit Scale as conceived by Angela Duckworth and will answer honestly both now and at the end of the year.  I know that my grit score will rise if I succeed in the above twenty more measurable goals.
  3. Do not be afraid to try something new and fail.  I realize that failing is counter-productive to achieving your goals, but when many goals are things that I would do automatically like continue working, going on vacation or getting rid of an inoperable vehicle, you must strive to accomplish some things outside of your comfort zone.  What is not so easy is to start an e-commerce business or hit a specific income goal for my online publishing.  That number is $500 in a month, which would please me enormously at this point in time.

    Image result for $500
    My goal is to make $500 in one month with my online endeavors.
  4. Create more and consume less.  By the end of the year, I would have liked to have created more than one new income stream.  It may be a new website, designing tee-shirts, selling my photos, recording podcasts for sale or delivering packages for Amazon, but I want to create more thoughts, words and income.  I want to consume less hours watching TV, less cookies, less second helpings and less in general.  In my case, less would be more.  I would also write “consume less coffee,” but that would be an automatic failure.

I am striving to forget about unfulfilled promises that I have made to myself in the past.  In 2018 I am going to work on accomplishing these resolutions one day, one week and one month at a time throughout the year.

You and I both have the dreams, talent and desire to fulfill our goals and resolutions.  What we sometimes lack is the commitment when times are tough and things are not going our way.   I certainly did not envision 2017 to have all of the pitfalls and challenges that have been thrown my way and my family’s way.  But I do not just want to keep giving my wife and children the advice that us [our surname]’s always persevere.  I do not want those words to ring hollow.

There is no time like the present to stop waiting for “someday” to arrive.  We need to do things today!  Granted, continuing at a job that I have had for over twelve years as a high-level resolution is hardly Earth shattering.  But considering the precariousness of an economic development position in a community where many elected officials feel things are not progressing makes this a worthwhile goal.  Forget about Middle Class Guy; if I lost my job, we would be among the millions of families struggling to get by day-to-day.

Meanwhile, in 2018, you and I both must try something different. Think outside the box. We need not remain afraid afraid to pick up those bright colored crayons and color outside the lines. Visualize your dreams in whatever way works best for you!

I have shared my goals and resolutions for this coming year.  My hope is that in the list of twenty-one measurables and four not-so-measurables you may find some commonalities between what I hope to accomplish in 2018 and things that you can, too.

 

 

 

December, Disney and Donations

December Again

Despite my All Apologies, But Not Really post that I recently wrote about writing less of the personal diary type of posts and more useful ones that can become part of eBooks in the future, I digress to a purely personal recount of some thoughts on the month so far.

This is late December in 2017.  December is one twelfth of the year.  Thirty-one days out of three hundred and sixty five.

Here we are again, shopping and buying, buying and shopping.  Going to malls, shopping on Amazon, going to Kohl’s, Target, Walgreens and many more retail businesses.  As a solidly middle class American family, we are doing our fair share of shopping at all of the above and then some, pumping thousands of our hard-earned dollars into the U.S. economy.  We even shopped beyond the U.S. border this month, my wife having purchased a mouthpiece for our son that was shipped from London and subject to a small foreign exchange tax on her current credit card bill.

I am also going to take the liberty of combining what could have been several posts into this one, as I am too overwhelmed at the time to recount all the buying, paying for things, grocery shopping, receiving of deliveries, preparing for trips, evil banking and otherwise that this month has brought to our lives so far.  And that does not even count for all the work-related stress that Yours Truly continues encountering.

Should you stop reading here, I understand.  If not, here are some facets of the life of one middle aged Middle Class Guy living in the Midwest during the happiest and most expensive time of the year.

Gift Shopping

Like millions of others, my wife ordered many of our family’s gifts through Amazon.  We purchased CD’s, music books, a fancy Dennis Wick trumpet mute (from London) and other items unknown to me for our son.  For our daughter, we purchased some boots that she wants and something that she wanted more than anything else, an iPhone.  The phone was purchased through TracFone, which we all use and is an SE, one of the older versions.  But it is an iPhone and will allow her to use the same chatting apps that “all her friends” use.  God help us all.

I do not know what my wife got for me, but I know that it is something in a box and I know that I do not want more “stuff.”  I want to get rid of stuff despite my weakness for constantly purchasing used books.  One thing I know that she would not get me is more books.

Image result for most expensive place on earth

As I begin writing this on December 23rd, my wife and son are leaving for the happiest and one of the most expensive places on Earth in two days and then my daughter will be boarding a bus with her marching band cohorts the next morning.

My wife being a Disney nut, I ventured to one of the places that I hate the most on Earth, Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, yesterday after work.  Due to my extreme procrastination, I was forced to drive in horrendous traffic, navigate a parking lot with two major accidents being cleaned up, and then walk around with thousands of others in that God forsaken place.  I freakin’ hate it!

I was not going to leave the Disney store, which was the purpose of my trip, without bearing gifts for my wife.  Long story short, I ended up spending about sixty bucks for what are basically just two tee-shirts.  About three times what I think they are worth and about twenty times the production cost.  But they are cute and she will love them.

Remember, I am a Jewish guy and was not brought up officially celebrating Christmas.  One of my father’s most beloved uncles married a non-Jew and they hosted family Christmas parties while I was growing up, so I did get some things from Santa.

But when it comes to stuffing stockings, I struggled mightily for many years.  I would be shopping for things like perfume, bracelets and things that would cost a small fortune to fill my wife’s stocking, while she put deodorant, cough drops and candy in mine.  Having now been married for over twenty years and a father for over nineteen of them, I have become a pro at stuffing stockings.  I buy things like candy, lip balm, body wash from Bath & Body Works and shit like that for the stockings.  It all costs money including the things that get tossed to the side and never used.

It would be difficult for me to even estimate how much we are spending this December.  We send stuff from Harry & David’s to relatives, we send gift cards to nieces, nephews and friends.  My wife buys expensive chocolate boxes for about a dozen of her subordinates at the school where she supervises lunches.

Mutes, iPhones, Disney trips, chocolate, overpriced tee-shirts, shopping at Whole Foods, Target, Kohl’s, Ulta, Sally Beauty Supply.  Seeing the new Star Wars movie at AMC.  Eating at Lou Malnati’s, Chipotle, Corner Bakery, Panera, Jersey Mike’s, Noodles & Company, two independent Italian restaurants and a steakhouse that I treated my son to after picking him up on the last day of his semester adds up…a lot.

Taking our van in to Jiffy Lube, purchasing gasoline, paying utilities and still paying for our daughter’s braces (that were removed this week) adds up to even more.

Making our monthly $2,488 payment to our son’s college and making our first $267 monthly lease payment on our new Subaru (about $500 in its first insurance payment due on the 30th) adds up.

All in all, I expect for well over ten grand to leave our checking account once again this month, and that is before my wife and two children embark on their December Disney adventures next week.  I have $500 in cash set aside to hand to my wife, who will most likely pay for their meals and trinkets by scanning her wristband, and another $120 or $150 in cash for my daughter, whose meals will mostly be covered by this trip and I also gave her a prepaid Visa card with $220 loaded onto it.

This one grand in cash will be split up in four uneven ways in a few days.

Not to ignore myself, I have my last fifty dollar bill out of fifty-seven that I had a few months ago, set aside for my own dining pleasure for the three nights that my wife and son will be in Florida.  I have been looking forward to getting Popeye’s fried chicken for ten months.  Pitiful, I know.

Image result for bacardi gold

My favorite purchase of this month?  A 750 ml bottle of Bicardi gold rum that I bought at Walgreens while shopping for stocking stuffers and have been mixing with egg nog for the past several nights.  Another thing that I never had growing up that I have learned to love over the past twenty-plus years.

I actually slept better last night after having about two shots worth of rum, taking a long, hot bath while reading a mind-numbing book and slathering Biofreeze all over my bad ankle.  It did not hurt that I had the next four days off and could take my mind off of work for a while.

Disney

As I have previously mentioned, the Walt Disney Company is going to get thousands of our family’s dollars this December.

Last month, I read an interesting article called Why Middle Class Workers Can’t Really Afford Disney World Anymore by Megan Elliott on CheatSheet.com, a website that I frequently read.

Elliott describes ten reasons including the stagnancy of middle class wages, the high expenses of raising kids and the sky-high prices of Disney World.  All valid points, yet here are three decidedly middle class people venturing there next week.  Not to mention that I have taken my wife and kids there six times, all six times staying on grounds at either Port Orleans French Quarter or Port Orleans Riverside, a decidedly middle class resort.

Of course, I am not going this year and that is because of some of the very same reasons listed in the article.  I do not feel comfortable taking the time off of work right now, but more importantly is the issue of the additional cost of my airplane ticket, lodging and dining, which would go beyond what we can spend at this time.  Truthfully, our son going already puts it beyond what we can afford right now, but he really needs to get out of Dodge for a bit and into some sunshine.

In case you did not know or have not gone there, Disney World is crazy and unapologetically expensive.  A not-so-great burger there is about $15 and the crappiest pizza you can get costs more than Lou Malnati’s does by our house.

I used to bring about a thousand dollars in cash with us to go there for six days, and would burn through most of that and then some on meals, snacks, treats, Mickey ears and random stuff.  But we did have many great times there, and I would not have traded those six trips (well, maybe one of them) for the five grand per trip that it always cost us.

At least my wife and son are staying at a budget resort, Pop Century, which itself is about $220 per night just for the lodging due to the high demand for next week.  The park hopper tickets for them for four days was about $850 and the round-trip air fare was similar.

I wish that I was going too, but I will be holding down the fort, eating what I want to eat, watching what I want to watch and spending some quality time with my baby, our little sweet doggy girl.

Whole Paycheck

I begin this post shortly after returning from Whole Foods, where my son and I shopped for fixings for tonight’s dinner.

Besides sending us a generous monetary gift for Christmas, my father-in-law sent us a sizable Omaha Steaks package.  It is one of the bigger ones, since it contains pork loin chops, chicken, apple tartlets, potatoes and a dozen burgers in addition to four filet mignons.

Our aspiring chef/musician is going to prepare a Greek-style chicken and I am going to prepare a side dish tonight with all the ingredients beyond the chicken purchased at Whole Foods.

I made the orzo with spinach and feta. My son made the Greek chicken and put the goat cheese on the bread.

I have gone years in the past without setting foot in this grocery store.  Why should I purchase the same broccoli that I buy at our local produce store at ninety-nine cents per pound for three times the cost?  What does it really mean by claiming to be organic?

As the sole member of the family that I grew up in that does not do most of our shopping at Whole Paycheck, I always thought those who shop there to be snobbish and a little superior to those of us who shop more moderately.  And I still do.  The people there today were even pushier than at the stores we normally frequent and many of the young uppity moms there did exude an air of superiority, feeling full of themselves for buying organics for their uppity boyfriends, husbands, babies and themselves.  My son and I did not feel that way, but were happy to go there today for what we both call a “field trip.”

We spent about $80, including me spending $10 for one pound of mixed berries.

Our haul from Whole Paycheck Market today.

I was going to do a long explanation of why it is that I now shop at Whole Foods once or twice per month.  It is definitely not due to making more money and feeling like we have become members of the upper middle class because we most definitely have not.

Suffice it to say that when our son volunteers to prepare a dinner that we would not normally have and better ingredients are needed than what may be available at other grocery stores, I find myself shelling out a few more bucks than necessary to procure said items.

Today, our son bought two types of goat cheese, some feta cheese and orzo, oregano, rosemary, thyme and spinach.  Everything that could be organic is.  I bought some fresh bread, veggies, fruit and organic chocolate chip cookie mix that our daughter will make tonight.

One thing that is for sure is that none of us will starve this holiday season, which I realize is a blessing despite my always wanting to rise both professionally and economically in the world and feeling like a failure for not having done so.

Instead, I choose to think how lucky we are to be able to send our daughter on her Disney World and Tampa band trip and for my wife and son to be able to travel along, too.  I think how blessed we are to have a home, a wonderful dog, loving relatives and money to pay for our son’s college and be able to purchase ingredients for tonight’s dinner at Whole Paycheck Market.

Image result for Whole Paycheck

Evil Banking

Both last year and this year I made $200 from the most evil bank.

Last month, I cashed out $14,200 out of the $15,200 that I had on deposit with them.  I parked fifteen grand in the Evil Bank in July so as to gain a $200 bonus for my daughter’s usage on her Disney trip.  I have since used that bonus to purchase a OneVanilla prepaid Visa card for her.  I will also be giving her another hundred or so in cash for the trip.

The Evil Bank charged me eight friggin’ bucks to create a cashier’s check for the amount that I withdrew, leaving me with a balance of $992.  When I complained to the teller about the $8 charge, he told me to be grateful for the $200 bonus.  I told him the truth, that I would not have opened that account otherwise but what I wanted to say to him would have been far cruder than that.  Score one for biting my tongue.

If you can see in the above clipping of my current accounts with the Evil Bank, I now have a third account with them besides the $992 in savings and my long-time credit card.

After spending several hours testing, talking and negotiating for a new Subaru to lease last month, I applied for financing through Subaru credit.  Of course, Subaru is a car company and not a bank.  Thus, when I put the $3,166 down and applied for lease credit, it goes through the Evil Bank.

When I went to make my first payment at subarumotorsfinance.com, I was redirected to the Evil Bank and forced to open an online account.  I agreed to receive my savings account statements and my auto lease statements via email, but opted to still receive paper bills for my credit card.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps it is because I want one less email per month, but I realize that I should not only switch to a credit card that gives me points or miles, but I should receive my statements online.

Since I finally relented and signed up for online banking with the largest bank in America, I obtained my credit report as they have been mailing and emailing for me to do.

My score is a respectable 786.  Ironic since I have made hundreds of thousands worth of payments over many years and never late.  Why is it that my wife’s remains over 800 when she earns a small percentage of what I do and I pay all her bills?  It is largely because she has multiple credit accounts, charges a lot, and I pay it off every month.  When I clicked on the explanation of factors that lowered my score, only having three credit accounts (mortgage, credit card and now the Subaru account) was a factor.

On another banking note, my mother sent us a very generous check for Hanukkah this year.  I wanted to deposit it at the ATM today before our field trip to Whole Paycheck, but the friggin’ idiot women in front of me could not seem to make heads or tails out of that modern technology.  Rather than wait a few extra minutes losing my cool, I made the deposit at the counter.

My mother always makes a point to mention Hanukkah.  I have been wished a Merry Christmas about fifty times this week, which I accept graciously, thanking the person and wishing him and her a Merry One as well.  If you wish my mother a Merry Christmas, she will always reply “Happy Hanukkah.”  I love her for it, but sometimes it is a bit much.

I mention this because she wrote Happy Hanukkah on the check, which I appreciate.  I appreciated it less today when the young lady of Arab descent bank teller stared at the check for a minute before depositing it and then felt the need to exclaim what a generous Hanukkah gift I got.  So there I am feeling a little guiltier than I should and like we played a small part in promoting the misconception that Jews are wealthy.

I will admit that the check was for two thousand dollars, which may equal or surpass the teller’s take home pay for a paycheck or two.  However, that amount is a far cry from the generosity that others have received of their parents, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or otherwise.  My best friend is Irish Catholic and was deeded a $700,000 house by his mother.

This was the first time that my mother gave us such a large monetary gift for the holidays and I was taken aback when I saw it.  I thanked her profusely and told her that she should not have.  Her reply was that she only wishes that it could have been more.

My point, if there is one, is that I would have preferred to use the ATM so as not to have a young woman in a hijab telling her friends and family that some rich Jew deposited a two thousand dollar gift check and did not even acknowledge her comment that it was a generous gift.

A most generous gift it was, but it was none of her fucking business if my mother gives me two dollars or two million dollars.

One more point on it.  For years and years, if I received an unexpected check or payment for services rendered, I would come up with a strategy on how to invest parts of it in things like my children’s 529 accounts or my or my wife’s Roth IRAs or pay down our mortgage a bit.

What I am doing with it is what my mother wrote on the note accompanying it.  I am using it to make our December a little more happier.  That it will do, taking some of the bite out of paying for trips to Whole Foods and Disney World.  The unexpected gift will help us overspend what we take in by two thousand less this December.

I generally lament the loss of human jobs to robots, artificial intelligence and apps, but perhaps I would not have minded so much if my bank had an extra ATM today instead of that teller.

Donations

I acknowledge that my family’s holiday season is better than most, not just because of the extra unexpected two thousand dollars and trips to Florida.

As I write this, my daughter is making cookies from an organic cookie mix that I purchased today.  Music is playing on the Sonos while our son practices his trumpet upstairs in his room.

I do not want to be or even seem greedy.  Despite being in line for more gifts tomorrow, in my mind I want less possessions and more traveling, experiences and time with family and friends.

I was more charitable than ever in 2017, and want to be even more so next year.

Besides donating a car to the American Cancer Society, I sent some money to Lurie Chidren’s Hospital, where my son was sent to and hospitalized about four years ago and where they treat ill children and their families like royalty during highly stressful times.

Image result for ronald mcdonald house chicago

I donate to Ronald McDonald House every year.  When I did not know where to stay in downtown Chicago and was overwhelmed, stressed and extremely tired, I was given what would be the one of the nicest hotel rooms in the City at Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Hospital.  At the end of my four night stay, they asked for a $40 payment, which they explained is minimal but makes people feel like they are contributing something.  I volunteered to pay extra, and have sent money every year since.

If you do not take anything more out of this post, study this chart which changed the way I donate extra goods.  For years, I donated our excess clothes and other household items to Goodwill thinking that it was a charitable donation.  Of course, I would peruse the book section and clothes and often leave with my finds.

Imagine my surprise learning that Goodwill is basically a store whose inventory is comprised of donated goods.  They only put about eight percent to charitable use.  I will never donate another item to Goodwill again.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Salvation Army is the opposite, only using seven percent for administrative costs with ninety-three percent going to charitable use.  So the boxes of items that I conservatively valued at $50 including a men’s winter coat in nearly new condition, boots that our daughter outgrew and many other things that I was going to drop off at the Goodwill store near our house did not go there.  I drove about twenty minutes away to a nearby community to drop them off at Goodwill on Friday the 15th before picking my son up at his dormitory following his last final exam of the semester.  As I previously wrote, we celebrated with a lunch at a nearby steakhouse.

This December, as this middle class family spends ten or twelve or whatever amount of thousands on travel, food, education, entertainment, bills and gifts, I hope that someone can buy and use the gently used winter coat that we donated.  Truthfully, I am not sure why we donated it but my son must have bought a new one and my wife put it in the donation box.

We are but one of millions of middle class American families doing our best to get along and enjoy this last month of the year.

 

 

 

 

Basically Still a B Student

I was a straight-A student.

Well, allow me to qualify that.  From kindergarten through eighth grade I was an A student.

I experienced my first B and then my first C in a semester during my freshman year of high school.  I had an asshole teacher for World History who I still despise over thirty years later.

I went all the way through high school, undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and then worked my way through graduate school on a part-time basis over the course of four years at night while serving as a Probation Officer as detailed in my one published eBook.

I do not write that to detail how educated I am, but to stress that the teacher that I had for freshman year of high school history was the meanest son of a bitch that I ever had as a teacher in over twenty years of classes.

I am not dishing on him due to receiving my first sub-A grades, but that did not help.  I had never had a teacher write “Wrong!” “Horrible!” and “Did you even listen or read it?!” in all red letters on nearly every paper that I wrote.

Now I admit to being no Hemingway or Shakespeare, but believe me, my papers did not merit grades like F-minuses with red letter diatribes on them.  Not to mention how he spoke to me and my friend and treated us.  Also by the way, my best friend at the time and a classmate in that class was an extremely dark-skinned African American named Michael P. who was also from the south side of the tracks in our town.

It was not until many years later that I realized that he did not like us partially for my friend’s dark skin and from the working class grammar school and junior high that we attended.  As they say, hindsight is 20/20.  My former friend who I have not seen in twenty years is a firefighter in Chicago and I am an economic development professional for a middling town in the northwest suburbs.  The vast majority of the other students in that honors class went on to bigger and better things than we did including Ivy League schools, high government positions and executive positions in high-technology firms.  Several started their own successful businesses.

Anyway, that was my first taste of not being loved by all of my teachers and of easily obtaining an A in every class.  I went on to more B’s that year including in Spanish.

For the remainder of my high school career, I mostly got B’s, with a smattering of A’s mixed in.  I will not speak about the D’s that I got in my final semester after committing to attending the UW and suffering from a major case of a senior slump.

Not to overstate my lesser grades.  I graduated with a GPA in the 3.8 range, aided by taking mostly honors and two Advanced Placement courses senior year (AP English and Calculus).  Being the generally smart dude that I am, I nearly aced the ACT and SAT when it came to math (33 and 740), slightly better than on the English and Science portions.

I was admitted into Kenyon College, but did not go.  I was rejected from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where my Black buddy got in despite a lower GPA and lower test scores than I had.  Those were the glory days of Affirmative Action, and boy did he gloat over getting in through that policy while I did not.

I was wait-listed at Grinnell College largely due to my so-called guidance counselor never sending my transcript.  There was no Internet in those days and we had to rely on the least competent people in the educational system to send things via snail mail back then.  When I inquired as to why I was wait-listed, the admissions counselor detailed not having received all of the documents on time and encouraged me to keep checking on my status.  Not being the type of middle class teenager who would abide by a wait list, I told her that I was no longer interested.

I ended up attending my “fallback” school which today is fairly selective and extremely expensive in comparison to what it was at the end of the eighties.

Without detailing the many struggles, exploits, heartbreaks, raptures and loves of my undergraduate experience, suffice it to say that I got more B’s than A’s in my undergraduate year, with a smattering of C’s and D’s to boot.   My undergraduate GPA was about 2.8, which is amazing considering that I was on the verge of being kicked out prior to meeting my wife at the end of sophomore year.

Graduate school, which I referenced earlier and worked my way through from 1994 to 1998 was a different story.  I had a steady dose of the “real world” day in and day out in a difficult depressing job and I also helped pay my own way toward the end of it since both my younger sister at Northwestern and younger brother at Oberlin were taking up the bulk of our parent’s income at the time.

I got straight A’s once again in graduate school with the exception of my half-assed independent project, in which I wrote a scathing analysis of the probation department where I toiled at the time.


A Middle Aged B Student

My current grades are administered by myself and based upon my list of resolutions made early this year in a post entitled New Years Resolutions Suck.

The list was as follows, with my final grades for the year:

1. Remain gainfully employed at my current position or a comparable or better position within a half-hour drive from home.  A

2. Be a great father, husband, son, brother, uncle, nephew, co-worker and employee.  C

3. Set a new personal record for vacation days.  As much as I would like to resolve to take 20 or more vacation days, I would settle for taking 18, which I never have in 23+ years of full-time employment.  I would like for these 18 days to include a week in Da U.P. and would like to take my wife and son to Disney World next December to see our daughter march down Main Street U.S.A. with her high school marching band.  F

4. (Comfortably) wear my size 36 waist shorts purchased from Menard’s this past summer.  B

5. Fix at least one major item on our house or make an improvement that would make my wife happy.  D

6. Write a lot of blog posts, final number to be determined.  Since I may commence work on two or even three very good book ideas that exist in my head and in my ideas notebook, I may scrap the blog altogether to begin working on those.  A

7. Filter out at least fifty of the books piled up in our house.  As you may have read in an earlier post, I am using the Middle Class Guy blog to write about books that I have read, so that I feel more comfortable donating them instead of holding on to them forever and ever.  F-minus

8. Make some dough besides my day job.  I wrote a 600 or so page book that I posted on Amazon about six or seven years ago.  It does not have a cover, it is not well edited, and I have not accessed that account for years despite their frequent emails to me to modify the format.  Some day, I will post about the book, which I think is very good, but it does not look good enough on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s website to attract more than one or two buyers per month, which nets me about $3 to $5 bucks per month. I have told my wife that I would like to break it up into two 300-page books or, better yet, three 200-pagers with separate covers and to format them correctly, maybe even get them professionally edited and invest a little to help make that project that I worked on for years sell-able.    D                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              9. I would also like to add Google AdSense or Yahoo! ads to this site, so I could make a few bucks showing ads for my many hours of writing, although I do enjoy doing this.  I know that I am not the only solidly Middle Class Guy who could greatly benefit from making some extra money, but I am certainly solidly in that category.                                                                                   

10. Resolve our car situation.  We need a new family car with air conditioning and without constant problems, like our lemon of a Chrysler Town & Country minivan.  I currently own and alternate driving two old cars, a trusty 1998 Subaru and a problematic 2001 Nissan.  I know, these are not cars befitting someone with a professional job and high aspirations, but I choose to spend money on items besides cars, although I have sunk thousands into keeping these three cars on the road.  B

Without boring you and me with great detail, I have remained gainfully employed and expect to remain so for the coming months.  I have been a better-than-average husband, son, brother, son, nephew and father in many ways and not in others.  I could do much better and very much want to next year.

I would have taken more vacation days had I not been transferred to a new department and boss this past July. However, with Friday, December 29th scheduled as a vacation day, that will be my fourteenth and final vacation day of this year, four short of what I expected and six short of the twenty that I wanted to take.  We never made it to the U.P. and I will be staying behind next week as my wife and both children journey to Disney World.  I am a failed vacationer in 2017.

I did comfortably wear my size 36 shorts from Menards throughout most of the summer, but my cookie consumption has been catching up with me.  I can still wear them, although not comfortably.

I give myself a D instead of an F on home improvements because we had our gutters repaired over the summer.  We were also forced to replace our central air unit, our stove and our washing machine this year, but none of those were planned and anything that I would categorize as a home improvement.  I still need to take care of some of those, although in my case it is hiring and paying contractors to do the work.

I did write a lot of blog posts, probably too many.  With two more following this, it will be 180 for the year.  Next year, my resolution is going to be writing less posts, but more valuable and better written ones.  Practice makes perfect!

Pardon my French, but I royally fucked up my goal of netting fifty less books than I started the year with.  I had already surpassed that number by July first, but then fell off the wagon.  I have since stopped keeping track due to my shame in doing so poorly on this.  I have probably purchased thirty more books than I have moved along in the past three months and that is being conservative.  It might be more than forty.  I give myself an F-minus on that one, much like my freshman year history teacher would have.

Altogether, I am earning about a thousand dollars on eBook sales this year.  Better than in past years, but a mere fraction of the kind of money that I expected to make this year via eBooks and blogging.  It is not a difference making amount, but is helping with some spending cash for my family’s trip to the Sunshine State next week.  I previously broke The Probation Officer up into three books, but those sold zero copies during several weeks and I returned to having it for sale as one long book.

I gave myself a D rather than another F on adding AdSense.  I successfully added it earlier in the year, but then WordPress “deprecated” the plugin and I have not succeeded in adding it again.  Pardon my French again, but fuck it!  I do not give a shit and will be repackaging my better posts (not this one) into eBooks.

Regarding our car situation, I finally had my old Nissan towed away and donated it to the American Cancer Society.  As part of a future post about charity, donations and giving, I received the minimum $500 donation receipt for this.  Last month, my trusty and rusty old 1998 Subaru broke down and I leased a new one that same day.  Now I drive a suburban mama minivan, not that I am complaining.  The old Subaru is completely inoperable and sitting in front of our house waiting to be donated or scrapped.  Thus, I cannot fully report that our car situation has been completely resolved yet.  But the Nissan is gone and we have a great new 2018 Outback with many bells and whistles.


I have been working on my 2018 resolutions for months, including an eBook that I have been working on putting together and should have launched already or later this week.

I actually have most of the above goals, only this coming year I am going to add some measurements.  Instead of saying “be a better husband or son,” I will quantify it a bit, like taking my wife out and making love to her a certain amount of times and visiting my mother at least once per month.  Not just reporting that I am a good husband or son because my wife or mother say that I am.

I do not want to keep preaching to make SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and then not do so myself.  I recognize that it would be very hypocritical of me to self-publish eBooks urging others to do that if I do not do so as well.

Wanting to improve ourselves and our lots in life in a New Year is not anything new or Earth-shattering or groundbreaking.  But what would be new or groundbreaking for many of us would be to actually achieve our goals.

I once again repeat the system of doing so by taking baby steps.  I do not expect to go from $1,000 to $100,000 in income from eBooks within a year, but I certainly would be disappointed not to exceed this year’s total.  I do not expect to turn young ladies’ heads with my svelte physique at the beach next year, but it sure would be nice to be less embarrassed by my middle aged Dad body.  I do not expect to become a sex machine, but I know that my wife would appreciate me increasing the times when I feel in the mood.  These are measurable things.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and I do not expect my own or your self-improvement to come easily.  But like the quarterly statements that I receive from my investments, and you should be receiving from yours, I intend to report on my status on a quarterly basis for at least the next year.

I will unveil my list near the end of the year and I suspect that you will find many commonalities between what it is that I want and hope to achieve in the coming year and those things that are on your own.

The Problem With My Name

Part of starting a blog, website or online business is getting the name right.

MiddleClassGuy.com is not the greatest name, I know.  I had contemplated starting a blog for at least four years prior to doing so on 9/11 of 2016, fifteen months and 221 posts ago.

I had written of it briefly in my first post, What’s In a Name?  Just as I was ready to call it MiddleClassMan, a name that I had hedged about for weeks, someone else purchased the domain name.  As of today, the site remains undeveloped.  The reason for my hesitance was the way one would read and pronounce it.

MiddleClassMan.com is taken but for sale.

Because you cannot have spaces between words on a domain, I did not want people to interpret the “ClassMan” aspect of it as in “underclassman” or “upperclassman.”  I wanted the “Class” and “Man” to stand on their own.

After explaining my dilemma to my wife, she suggested “MiddleClassGuy” and I jumped on it.  Hence the name of the blog you are reading.  I am, in fact, an extremely middle class guy, also middle aged and a resident of the Midwest.  I do recognize that “MiddleAgedMiddleClassMidwestGuy.com” is an even worse handle than the one that I use.

Oh well, I paid for three years of web hosting and it is unlikely that I will want to extend it after September of 2019, twenty-one months from now.  Prior to that time, I plan on downloading all my posts to a USB drive for improvement and future use.


Anyhow, the current problem with my name does not pertain to the name that was given to me by my parents in November of 1970 or MiddleClassGuy.com.

My current problem is with what my future e-commerce site will be named.  Also, since I plan on writing about it extensively in future posts, I am going to use the term e-commerce rather than eCommerce or E-Commerce, two other iterations of the word that I have read.  Don’t like it?  Argue with Mirriam-Webster.

As I wrote, my e-commerce site does not yet exist.  I may only sell one scarf on it and it may be to my own mother, but I know that it will exist at some point in time.  I could sell more than that because if I told my brother about it, he would order a thousand dollars worth of stuff just to be nice.  That’s only a half joke; he probably would.

I recognize that one of my problems is that I often overthink things.  Other more aggressive would-be entrepreneurs would just snap up a domain name and either start designing the site themselves or hiring someone to do it for them.  I may go that route, but I am a skeptic by nature and would not be very comfortable hiring someone who I do not really know or trust to design it for me.  Plus, that is an expense that I may not be ready to incur.

However, as I have often written, my middle class family of four typically “spends” ten grand or more per month simply sustaining our lifestyle.  It is not all “spending,” since I typically invest a thousand dollars or more per month and about a quarter of the ten grand goes to our son’s college for tuition, room and board.

So if I do spend a thousand bucks developing a website for e-commerce, and then it becomes a major flop, I suppose that I could write it off and get over it.  One of my preliminary resolutions for 2018 is to fail at something, so an e-commerce site may be it.  Allow me to elaborate.  I do not really want to fail, but I have been so conservative and risk-averse for so many years that my hesitancy or unwillingness to take a risk has had the result of me never having reaped a financial reward or started my own business even though, like millions of others, I feel a strong desire to do so and to ultimately be my own boss.

Many of the books that I have read extol the virtue of trying something that you may fail at and cite the past failures of those who have gone to achieve greatness.  Not that I have never failed, I just have not failed at anything highly risky or considered big.  I have played it safe for the most part, which has resulted in my long tenure in local government although even that is becoming stressful, difficult and not without risk.

Image result for NUGT

The riskiest financial thing that I have done over the past several years is purchased over a thousand shares of NUGT, a triple-leveraged gold miner stock that has me down over seven thousand dollars as we speak.

Last year, I sold some shares for a seven thousand dollar gain.  Not so much since then.  Had I just invested all that cash into developing and cultivating an e-commerce site, I may have ended up on a path to wealth today.  Woulda Coulda Shoulda…


The bee in my bonnet started with reading dozens of “how I made it rich” articles on the CNBC and Business Insider sites.  I read tales of how people made millions by reselling discount goods purchased from closeout shelves of discount retailers, how people made big money creating classes on teachable.com and Udemy.com, how a woman made big money by selling tee-shirts that she created, how bloggers made big money packaging blog posts into eBooks (like I am currently doing) and on and on.

The one that struck me hardest was about the 33-year-old guy who started LDSMan.com made a million bucks reselling cheap crap made in China via his e-commerce site.  I would bet that a million other people had the same thought of “I should do that,” but how many would actually try to?  I intend to try, but on a much smaller scale and not right away.  As I wrote, I am painstakingly methodical, perhaps too methodical, and I want to learn the “hows” of doing something like that before taking a giant leap into failure.

Which leads to the problem with my name.

I do not wish to repeat the mistake that I have made and learned from with the name “Middle Class Guy.”  First and foremost, the name would turn off anyone from the fairer sex.  I sure would not look at a website with the name “girl,” “woman” or “gal” in it.  Also, people are more interested in more upscale things than reading about the long-term struggles of a guy trying to make it in this life.  There are millions of words in the English language that would pique one’s interest more than “middle class.”  After all, this site is not a political campaign.

So what kind of names am I contemplating?  Let me share some thoughts.

Taken Names

The first few names that came to my mind were plays on the word “seller.”  I thought that Buyer’s Celler would be good, but found that it is already taken.  I like the name Discount Celler too, but found it to be available at a steep premium price of $1,995, or about $1,900 more than I am willing to pay.  The third one that I checked on, Discount Den, already exists, as does the name Bargain Basement.  Oh for my first four.

BuyersCellar.com is already taken.
You could purchase the domain name Discount Cellar for $1,995.

Others that I thought of in my own head and then found to be already taken include Savvy.com.

A One-Word Name

Most of the biggest and best-known businesses have a one-word name that says it all: Apple, Google, Uber, Amazon, Target, Kohl’s or Walmart.  As hard as I thought about this, I could not come up with a single word that exemplifies what I envision the site to be.  Being the old-school kind of middle aged guy that I am, I may just sit down with a dictionary over the next few days and page through it looking for words that could evoke some type of reaction among the online shopping public.

Not a Mart

Speaking of Walmart, I have considered some type of mart.  After all, as K-Mart continues to sink into the abyss, couldn’t a new online retailer find some small percentage of sales with a similar name?  There is an H-Mart grocery store in our area and Walmart is the biggest retailer in the world, still outpacing Amazon by a wide margin.  I just checked, and the online “Mart” with my first initial already exists.  EMart is already a huge Chinese e-commerce site.  Marts are out.

Thrifty

I have checked on a bunch of names, and Thrifty may end up being part of the name.  Not that I am the thriftiest person around and neither is my wife.  But that does not mean that I could not own and operate a website with the word in its name.

Image result for thrifty

While writing this, I recalled and looked up that the name on its own is yet another car rental agency.  Come to think of it, I have rented a car with them before many years ago.

 

Not a Long, Truthful Name

What do you think of the name “Cheap Crap and Junk Made in China and resold for a modest profit”?

I do not think it is so good, either.

Speaking of Profit

Thinking about making a modest profit caused me to think of another play on words.  As of today, Sunday, December 17th, 2017, the domain name “Modest Prophet” is still available.

I love the name, but it lends itself more to another type of website besides e-commerce.  I am not entirely certain whether it would best fit a religious or psychobabble site, but it is not a name that I would go to to purchase a knock-off smartwatch.

Speaking of Smart

As consumers, Americans love the word “smart” in what they buy.  Do you have a smartphone?  A smartwatch?  Smart appliances?  A smart home?

Folks, these things are not smart.  They are Internet-enabled.  They are programmable and can be controlled remotely or programmed.  Your kid is smart.  You are smart.  Your thermostat is programmable or remotely controlled.

Nevertheless, I am contemplating “smart” in the name.  People like to buy “smart” things and think that means that they, too, are smart.

While writing this, I thought of combining “Smart” with the word “Mart.”  Apparently, I am smart to think of this, but not as smart as whoever owns this domain and is selling it for $747,500, or more than the net worth of my family three times over.

Not American

I was born in a hospital about thirty miles away from where I write this in my den, grew up in the same town where I was born, and have never traveled outside of the U.S.  My parents did take us to the Bahamas once, but we did not have passports at the time.  Other than that, I have spent my time in the continental United States with two trips to Puerto Rico.

I am an American by birth, as is my wife.  Both of my parents and all four of my grandparents were born in Chicago.  All eight of my great-grandparents were Jewish immigrants.  As I recently learned, most of them escaped persecution in Lithuania around the turn of the century but, unfortunately, many of them did not survive.

Despite being a third generation Chicagoan by birth, I will not use American in the name.  I am a genuinely patriotic person, so much so that I have beefs with many other countries.  Not to the extent that Trump does, but my wife and kids are tired of hearing me rail against other countries that I was going to write about, but think it better not to here and now.  I do not want to alienate more readers than I already have.

Because I wish to make my modest profits by selling goods made in other countries for cheap, I recognize it to be disingenuous to use the name American and depict the flag or other patriotic icons while reselling things made by quasi-slave labor in the Orient and elsewhere.

Not Highfalutin

In the past weeks, through my many subscriptions, I have read about retailers like Warby Parker, Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton and other names that evoke high end products for the well-to-do.

Image result for warby parker

Again, as I contemplate reselling cheap crap made in China, I am not going to use a made up name that would appeal to a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or other shopper of substantial means.

Like my blog and like my life, I want to appeal to the middle class.  MiddleClassMart.com is available, but like the blog name, I do not think that limiting the appeal to middle class shoppers and further pushing class warfare, so to speak, would be a good move.  Don’t you agree?

One thing that I know is that it will not be a highfalutin e-commerce site selling hundred dollar scarves to rich women.  At least not to start.

Not Fair Trade and Not Main Street

The products that I will sell would most likely be the opposite of fair trade.  I do support fair trade and I occasionally shop at a fair trade store in a neighboring community, but when it comes to the goods that I intend to sell, I probably do not even want to know who or in what conditions they are made.

Like LDSMan.com uses, I have been studying items on sale at both Alibaba.com and Aliexpress.com.  Neither make mention of who makes the things.  I have also been studying my Hong Kong Trade Development Council yearbook extensively and suspect that those items are also made in less than stellar conditions by workers who earn a small fraction of what Americans would.

The HKTDC is so good at tracking who looks at their goods online that I have now been receiving emails from their producers regularly, without ever having entered any of my information in a website.

I cannot even read the last one that I received hourse after browsing their goods, although I know that Google would gladly translate it for me.

Do you know what this says?:

If I had to hazard a guess, I think that the email includes an offer similar to what I would make to my own customers in the future to purchase something now at a discount.  I understand the English part of it noting that I could pay them via the Hong Kong-based version of PayPal called WeChat.

As much as I like working with small mom-and-pop businesses in my professional work as a municipal economic development professional, I again acknowledge that the items to be sold are neither American and definitely not from a cute Main Street U.S.A. shop although I think that the “Main Street” name with design that evokes Main Street hometown shops would help sell things.

Imagine a logo with an old-fashioned trustworthy looking shopkeeper on a site with a name like “Main Street Mart,” “Main Street Shop” or “Main Street Market.”

I would sell stuff made in Hong Kong and mainland China at a modest profit and pay the vendors through WeChat and ship it through epackets, which, believe it or not, often allow you to ship as few as one item for free from China, although it does take about two weeks to receive.

Like I wrote, I have been doing my homework.

I Love Fridays

Like many hard-working Americans, I hate Mondays but I love Fridays.

There is a chain of stores that I hate called Tuesday Morning.  I have browsed in one four or five times and have even purchased some items, but my overall impression of it is that it is largely comprised of the kind of items that failed to sell at a garage sale.  It’s a bunch of crap, even more so than what I would want to sell online.  But it does have a day of the week in its name.

TGIF is both an expression that millions of people, myself included, have uttered on Fridays at the workplace as well as a middling chain restaurant.

Both businesses do okay despite having a day of the week in its name.  People shop at Tuesday Morning on Saturdays, just as people eat at TGIF on Wednesdays.

Since I do work full-time and may not actually have the hours and hours that running a successful online e-commerce business would take, I have contemplated a name with Friday in the name with the insinuation that deals are to be had every Friday.  Perhaps I should use Saturday or Sunday, since the site would likely take more work later in the week in preparation for sales to peak on the day of the week in the name.

Sure, you could buy the stuff on a Wednesday morning at 3:30 a.m. while I am sleeping.  After all, the entire point is to earn some money while I sleep.  But instead of updating the goods for sale all seven days of the week, I could tweak it throughout the week in anticipation of “new deals” being made available on Fridays.

Of course, operating such a site would require me to take many Fridays off, which I am okay with, or otherwise have an iPad, laptop or “smart” phone to check on the site throughout the day if I do, in fact, use my favorite day of the week in the name.

I am okay with only selling a few things six days per week and then selling thousands of dollars worth of stuff on a Friday or over the weekend in a “today only” or “this weekend only” type of sale.  Heck, my wife and daughter are shopping at Kohl’s as I write this with one of those 30% off coupons good for “a few days only.”

A Trader?

Everyone loves Trader Joe’s.  Trader Vic’s is a restaurant/bar, whose website is down as of today.

“Trader Dan’s” has a nice ring to it but is taken.  TraderSam’s, like the fictional retailer in the Disney Jungle Cruise area, is already taken by a wholesaler of tea products.  The Trader name with my own real first name is available and may end up being the winner.

I am not yet ready to divulge my true identity, but creating an e-commerce site bearing my name would certainly do the trick.  If it ultimately becomes as successful as it would in my dream scenario, I would not mind my name being associated with it in public.  It would have to be, anyway, as I file documents registering the domain name and creating the LLC documents and accounts to handle the buying and selling of products.

The only thing that I do not like about the “Trader” handle is that it implies trading of some sort.  True, Trader Joe’s, Trader Vic’s, Trader Dan’s and Trader Sam’s simply trade their wares for your currency.  But I still wonder if a “Trader” website selling stuff made in Hong Kong, China and elsewhere throughout the world would make it in today’s hyper-competitive online retailing world.

Any thoughts or comments, including those of the usual “you’re an f—ing idiot” variety are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

How I Am Collecting Over $5,000 in Unearned Income This Month

Now that I got your attention…

If you were looking for a get rich quick scheme or a story about how something that I make or wrote went viral, you might as well stop reading this now and read something about the Kardashians or what Trump tweeted instead.

I would like to collect over $5,000 in unearned income per month with an e-commerce site, but that is a dream of mine and something that remains in the careful planning stage for now.

It is not so much that I, myself, am collecting over five grand in unearned income this month, but my family is through my long years of hard work and steady investing that I have made on their behalf, as well as my own.

Even though I am a thoroughly Middle Class Guy, it is true that just over five grand in dividends and capital gains are being paid out to our accounts.  The biggest of these payments, from the Vanguard Wellington fund and from the Vanguard Primecap fund, are being made to accounts in our daughter’s name and my wife’s name.

The dividends and capital gains paid into my Roth IRA account, comprised roughly equally by the T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth fund and the T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation fund, were paid to the accounts today.  Keeping in mind that the share prices were reduced by the same amounts that were paid out in these accounts, the account balances actually dropped today as the share price dropped.  Together, I collected $1,540 in dividends and capital gains in my account today.  Later this month, the GNMA fund that I have used as a “savings account” for the past five or so years will make its monthly dividend payment.

My wife holds 255 shares of the Vanguard Primecap fund, originally funded by an $8,000 or so investment urged and largely funded by my late grandfather about seventeen years ago.  Through a combination of increased share price and several years of reinvesting dividend payments, the original investment has grown into over $34,000, with a $1,485 payment due us by the end of the year.

I set up and have made all the contributions to my wife’s Roth IRA, held entirely in the Vanguard 500 Index fund.  It does not show a capital gain for this year, but we anticipate a quarterly dividend this month, so that should add another hundred bucks or thereabouts.

The biggest dividend and capital gain payment will be made to my daughter’s Wellington fund account.  I obsessively sent $200 here, $300 there and sometimes $500 at a time to each of my children’s Wellington accounts for years.  I did this before and then in addition to their Illinois Bright Start accounts.  I have since cashed out my son’s Wellington account due to tax purposes during his junior year of high school.  I rolled those funds into the T. Rowe Price College 2018 fund, which I have used to pay for his second and recently-completed third semester of college.

Like the Primecap fund, through a combination of reinvesting dividends and capital gains for the last twelve years coupled with increases in share price, the $26,500 that I had sent to our daughter’s Wellington fund is now worth over twice that amount.  Due to the amount in her account, it has been transferred to the investor share class, and her 762 shares multiplied by a scheduled distribution of $2.79 per share will result in $2,125 being paid to this account in the form of additional shares later this month.

Five years ago when I fancied myself a stock picker and watched the Money Madman every night, I began following Annaly Capital Management after he excitedly rated it a Buy! Buy! Buy! several times within weeks.  So buy and then buy Annaly again I did, and enjoyed collecting healthy dividends quarterly as the stock sailed along.

Somehow, I continued holding it in the hopes that it would return to the $16 or so per share that I spent on it, even after it wallowed around $10 per share for a number of years.  I mention it because I am still waiting for it to return to $16 per share and it may never do so.  However, I continue to collect $60, or thirty cents per share, in dividends every quarter for the past several years.  It is not a lot, but it adds another $240 to our income every year and someday it will rise again.

NLY 12.24 0.08 0.66% 200 16.105                 -792.98      -24.47%         2,448.00  
03/05/2012 12.24 0.08 0.66% 100 16.50 8.00 -435.99      -26.26%         1,224.00 
03/28/2012 12.24 0.08 0.66% 100 15.71 8.00 -356.99      -22.58%         1,224.00 

Having been forced to view my E-Trade account for the first time in months (it is painful for me to look at and I generally choose to ignore it), I see that I remain about $800 or 24.5% down on Annaly, having purchased one hundred shares on March 5th of 2012 at $16.50 per share, then another lot of one hundred on the 28th of that month at $15.71 per.

The good news is that I have collected over $800 in dividends from it in the past five years and nine months.

So there you have it.  I did not make a great stock pick.  I did not buy even one share of Bitcoin although I certainly researched it quite a bit this past July when it traded around $2,500 per coin or about $15,000 less than what it trades for now.  Needless to say, I would much rather have purchased four bitcoins instead of the triple-leveraged gold miner fund that I was sending money to at the time.  A ten grand investment made this past July would be worth over sixty-eight thousand today, but I am sure that I would have already sold it for less than that.  Oh well, woulda coulda and shoulda.  I did not understand the mania for bitcoins this past summer and I understand it even less now.  When it flames out, you don’t want to be among the last ones who bought into this thing.

No, me and my family are collecting a grand total of five thousand dollars worth of dividends and capital gains based upon years and years of steady investing in solidly-run mutual funds with T. Rowe Price and Vanguard.

I issue the disclaimer that the funds that we hold may go down in flames like Bitcoin in the future on their own or as part of a Recession.  But when I add up all the payments this month, I am almost pleased at what I have picked.