Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wait just one second!

As the world rings in the New Year today (it's already 2009 in Australia) or should I say tonight, as most folks will do their best to stay up until midnight to celebrate New Year's Eve, word from the keepers of time inform us that 2008 will last one second longer. That's right, the folks at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich (in Greenwich, England) are saying that we need to add one more second to this year so that time will be correct for our future generations. They say that if we do not add this extra second to the year, then in a thousand years, high noon (when the sun is at it's highest point) would occur at 1 PM. Now for sure, most people will not care or be affected by this action, but it does make you think: these people really have some power. I mean, they are changing the clocks which will effect calendars and timepieces for years and generations to come. Now, as usual, not everyone is in agreement. While the Royal Observatory at Greenwich has controlled the world's time since 1972, some people think it's time to move to the International Atomic Clock system, a supposedly more precise system. But here's the real problem, right now, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is controlled by the English, the Atomic Clock is controlled by the French. The English say they do not want time to be controlled by the French! I wonder what Obama thinks we should do? I say, let the people in 3008 worry about it. I'm just ready for 2009 to begin!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering Richard Wright

After hearing about the passing of Eartha Kitt on Christmas Day (She was known for singing the song, Santa Baby), I thought of another type of lists that are popular at this time of year, Notable Deaths. Now for a death to be "notable", it means that it was usually someone important, famous, or even infamous. Usually celebrities make the list, along with politicians, actors, musicians, athletes, authors, and the like. When perusing the lists from various newspapers across the nation, you'll also find local celebrities who make the list, like TV anchormen or civic types. This year, the death of Paul Newman made just about everyone's list, along with Suzanne Pleshette, Tim Russert, and Tony Snow. Charlton Heston made many lists, along with Heath Ledger. Some are more obscure, like Richard Knerr. Do you remember him? He was the founder of Wham-O, Inc., the maker of the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Slip-n-slide, and Silly String! For me, the most notable death of 2008 was the passing of the legendary keyboardist, Richard Wright, from the rock group Pink Floyd. Not as well known as Roger Waters or David Gilmour, he helped give Pink Floyd their signature sound as the backdrop of synthesizers and organ helped them define progressive rock in the late 60's and 70's. His keyboard contribution on such classics as Echoes and Shine On You Crazy Diamond was masterful, as well as my personal favorite, Dogs. To read more about him and his life, go to the NY Times article at or do your own Google search for Richard Wright. The other thing that I often think of when I read these lists of people who died in the past year is, will I make the list when I die? Will my death be notable? Hopefully we won't have to know the answer for many years to come.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's the final countdown!

Yes, those familiar with the group, Europe (not to be confused with Asia), will recognize these lyrics from their 1986 hit single titled of course, The Final Countdown. I use the line to discuss my blog topic for the day, Top Stories of 2008. This time of year, most newspapers, magazines, local TV news stations and radio programs, discuss their top stories of the year. Most have some national or worldwide interest, many have local topics mixed in. Not to be left out, I want to post my Top Stories of the year that was 2008. I will first list the stories and then add some dialogue for my reason it made the list. As a fan of David Letterman, I will also list the stories in reverse order of importance:

#10. Olympics in China
#9. Blago
#8. Rain
#7. KU
#6. Palin
#5. A-B
#4. Stock Market
#3. Gas
#2. Obama
#1. My Blog

Ok, let's discuss. At #10, I felt the Olympics were of course a big story in 2008, not only since they come around once every 4 years, but since they were in China, that was a big deal, and of course there were many stories and personalities that came out of the Olympics, but none bigger than Michael Phelps. #9 is a story still unfolding, but was huge here in the midwest where I live and is being felt around the nation. There have always been jokes about corruption in Chicago politics, but it proved to be not so funny as Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was discovered to be selling the empty senate seat (left vacant by Barack Obama) to the highest bidder. What a guy. We won't hear the last of this story for some time. #8, Rain. Well, rain was more than a nuisance this year as most of the midwest was deluged with record amounts of precipitation that caused crop failures, flooding, and people thinking about building their own arks. Here in Missouri the rainfall set a record when it passed 55 inches for the year. #7, KU. As a former KU student and fan of Jayhawk basketball since the Danny Manning era, I was of course very happy that my team won the NCAA Basketball Championship in March of 2008. It was an exciting game that went down to the final minute and proved how important free throw shots really are. This season will be a rebuilding year, but KU has a history unmatched by most schools except perhaps, UCLA and Kentucky. #6, Sarah Palin. When 2008 began, most Americans outside of Alaska did not know who Sarah Palin even was. As the year ends, most Americans have a new found admiration for her, whether they like her politics or not. She certainly made a splash in the presidential elections as she gave Obama a run for his money and has many people thinking she is the future of the Republican party whether she makes her own run for office in 2012 or not. #5, A-B, which if you don't live in St. Louis stands for Anheuser Busch. This year marked the year Anheuser Busch sold out to Inbev, the global brewery giant from Belgium. While most all of their stockholders benefited from premium pricing for their shares, it meant the loss of thousands of local and national jobs, charitable donations, and a change in the face of a national icon in the brewery business. #4, the stock market crash of 2008 will be known as the worst ever year in the markets since 1931, and has devastated portfolios and retirement accounts of millions of families around the world. The credit crisis and failures of several former Wall Street investment banks has promised to change the way people invest and diversify their money for years to come. #3, Gas, and it's related commodity, oil. Nothing is talked about more frequently, and with such passion as gasoline prices. They change every day and is a big factor in most people's budgets, but like the stock market, never have we seen a year like this one, where gas prices rose to over $4.00 per gallon in the summer, only to fall to close to $1 per gallon by year end. It changed the way people drove and the cars they purchased, and has hurt and then helped families budgets like never before. Where gas prices go from here is anyone's guess, since new conflicts in the Middle East and OPEC's supply squeeze has yet to take effect on the market prices. One thing is for sure, people will talk about gas prices next year, too! #2, Obama. When 2008 began, most people were expecting Hilary Clinton to take the Democratic nomination and square off against whoever the Republican party would dare to throw her way. By, August, it was Obama to the rescue, as his platform of change got millions of people excited about the next 4 years. Time will tell, as he has yet to take office, but his followers and detractors agree that he has made some bold moves in selecting his cabinet, and after a year like 2008, just about everyone wants improvement to the economy, the stock market, and global conflicts. And finally, #1, my blog. You might disagree, but for me, my blog was the biggest story of 2008. I can now capture and discuss important and annoying topics of the day, as I dissect the themes
and trends of society. My blog team and followers are growing as I near the end of 2008 and look forward to 2009. By the end of next year I will be a part of the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and will surely be a link on many national media websites. Be sure to make your new year's resolution to join my blog and become a follower. My insights and acumen will brighten your day and make you a more informed American. As we get ready to say goodbye to 2008, share my blog with your friends and family as we welcome 2009, the Year of the Blog!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day?

Today is the day after Christmas. It is a day when kids play with their Christmas presents and parents sleep in and relax, if they are lucky enough to not have to got to work. It's also a day when lots of people return Christmas presents to the stores and exchange them for something else. For still others it has become a day to shop for super discounted items as stores continue to make deals to get rid of their Christmas supplies and overstocked items. For this reason, it is now being called Black Friday #2. But on my calendar it says Boxing Day (Canada). Boxing Day? What is Boxing Day and why is it on my calendar? It also says Kwanzaa on my calendar today, but that is a topic for another day. I did a little research and found out that Boxing Day is celebrated in Great Britain (England), Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It has it's roots going back to the Middle Ages in England and spread to the previously named countries over time. The name derives from the fact that in the early days, servants were required to work on Christmas Day, but were given the next day off. Their employers would give them gift "boxes" on that day (hence, Boxing Day), to thank them for their services. As time went on, people expanded the tradition to include other service people, like doormen, porters, mail carriers, and the like. I think this is possibly where the tradition of giving someone a tip comes from. Tipping is a good idea for a future blog also. Anyway, for whatever reason Boxing Day has continued on as a holiday in these other Anglo-saxon countries besides ours. I'm not sure why this tradition did not make it to America (although tipping sure did). So that begs the question. Why is it on my calendar? Is it because all calendars sold in America are also sold in Canada where they celebrate Boxing Day? Or is it because there are plenty of Canadians who now reside in the United States? I'm not sure. Hey wait a minute...some calendars also say St. Stephen. What's that? Now this is really getting confusing. St. Stephen's Day is also an English holiday marking the day that Saint Stephen was martyred by being stoned to death in Jerusalem in 34 or 35 A.D. This is where we get the line "on the feast of Stephen" from the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslas. If fact, many websites on this topic suggest that St. Stephen's Day was the name of the holiday before it became known as Boxing Day. So there you have it. Well, my kids are begging me to take them shopping for some games for their new DS. Don't know what that is? That's a future blog topic also.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Since I am the owner, president, CFO, editor and writer of this blog, I can say "Merry Christmas" to everyone in the blogosphere! Even if you do not believe in Jesus, or that Jesus is the Son of God, I still say Merry Christmas to you! Peace on earth and good will toward men! As my wife and I were busy wrapping Christmas gifts (and presents from Santa) for our children last night, after they had gone to bed (and we were convinced they were asleep), we noticed that the midnight Christmas mass was being broadcast on TV from the Vatican. Christmas had already come to other parts of the world as we were making our final preparations. We had already been to a Christmas Eve service at our church earlier that evening. As most parents, we were happy that we could provide gifts for our children and watch their anticipation grow each day as we got closer to Christmas. Later on this morning we will watch them open presents and see the happiness that it will bring them knowing that Santa and their parents and grandparents, got them many of the toys and things they had hoped for. As I checked the internet news sites this morning, I noticed one story that made me happy. Christmas was now an official holiday in Iraq...yes, Iraq. People in Iraq can now celebrate Christmas openly. Now that is a good thing! There may not yet be peace in that country, but they are getting closer. Here's to all the many service men and women serving there now, who will not be able to be home for Christmas with their families this year. Joy to the World, the Lord has Come! Merry Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays?

For many people this has not been a happy year. Lots of people have lost their job or at least had their hours cut or their pay cut, still others have lost their homes to foreclosure or have had to delay the purchase of a new home because they couldn't sell their current one; and on and on. But I just read a story about a woman in Florida who has apparently lost her job because she would not say "Happy Holidays" when she answered the phone. What has this world come to? Now that I work for a large, national company that employs over thousands of people, I had to go through something called "diversity training" when I first started working for them. This was part of a full week of instruction for new employees of the firm, and it was mandatory. In it, we learned to respect all of our fellow co-workers and to be careful of what we say and do around them because they might not share our same beliefs, morals, and sexual orientation. It was designed not as much to prevent hurting a co-worker's feelings as much as it was to show that the employer had provided training on these topics to thwart legal action from sexual harassment suits and the ACLU. But what bothers me more about not being able to forward funny e-mails, and telling jokes in the office, is this whole "Happy Holidays" thing. Now think about it. Obviously not everyone celebrates Christmas, most notably the Atheists. But unless you work for Walgreen's, just about everyone I know takes Christmas day off, even the Atheists. Now, I would not be offended if a Jewish person wished me a Happy Hanukkah, or if an African-American wished me a Happy Kwanzaa. I love holidays and wish we had more of them. I have always been a big proponent of Boxing Day and I have always gone out of my way to wish people a Super-fantastic Groundhog Day! So what's the big deal about saying Merry Christmas? After all, it is a National holiday! If I say to someone, Merry Christmas, I am wishing them a wonderful day off to celebrate with their friends and families, in their own family traditions. Even though it is a Christian holy day that is marked as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am not saying that if you don't believe in Jesus you are going to Hell (future blog topic)! So relax. It still says Christmas on my calendar, so I will say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays! If you don't agree, well, air your grievances. There's Festivus for the rest of us!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Madoff about money!

Yesterday I commented about the fact that since pretty much everyone has lost money in the stock and bond markets this year, they really aren't blaming anyone in particular since it is such a widespread event. It's part of the herd mentality; do what everyone else does because if everyone else is doing it then I should too. This is why people buy at the top and sell at the bottom of the market cycles. Exactly the opposite of what they really should be doing. Most of my clients and those I read about in investment articles are avoiding the stock market right now because this year has been so terrible. But is that what they should be doing? If you have new money to invest, shouldn't you be putting it into the stock market and taking advantage of some great values and opportunities? Well, that depends. If you are in your 20's, 30's and even 40's, yes. But if you are in your 50's and 60's, you have to be more careful. A 30 to 40% decline in your portfolio will take a long time to make up. If you lost 50% of your account value, it will take a 100% return just to break even! But there is one person that people are blaming now for their losses, at least those rich folks and other unfortunate organizations that had money "invested" with one, Bernard L. Madoff. Mr. Madoff is a Wall Street tycoon who ran a popular hedge fund that appealed to the wealthy, the elite, the very well-to-do, and the erudite. We now know that he was basically running a "Ponzi" scheme, where the new money coming in from the last investors is used to pay the returns and distributions of the first investors. It worked well until this year's market crash caused more people that normal to request money back and there wasn't enough to go around. Apparently, Mr. Madoff was very clever and had duped the SEC and everyone who cared to read his fund's annual reports on investment performance and expenses. I would have liked to seen one of his prospectuses. Now most everyone should know that the market does not go up every single year. There are good years and bad, bull markets and bear markets, market gains and market corrections. But Mr. Madoff showed his clients reasonable gains of 8, 9, 10, and 11% returns EVERY single year! No one questioned his performance, they just keep giving him more money. Instead of looking for relative performance, they looked at absolute performance and now many of these once well off people have lost a big chunk of their fortunes. $50 Billion dollars has vanished into thin air! Have none of these people ever heard of diversification? Now they have learned a very painful and expensive lesson: if it's sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Monday, December 22, 2008

I lost how much?

This year is one of those years that come around hopefully only once in your lifetime. A year when 30 to 50% of your investment portfolio is lost to the market. For young and middle age investors, these losses can and will be made up over time, but it's still depressing and disheartening to see your balances dwindle down to levels not seen in 5 years or so. For retirees and pre-retirees, this has been an awful year, as the losses mean less money in your retirement accounts for future years. It could mean less money to live on in for the next few years. For some it may mean they may need to go back to work, work longer, or find a part-time job to supplement their lower projected income. For many folks it means they will have to save more and save longer before they can think about retiring. Curiously, no one seems to be blaming anyone in particular for this problem. Because it is such a widespread event that has affected virtually everyone in the world to some degree, no one is pointing their finger at anyone person, company, strategy, or technique for this market crash. To be sure there are reasons to point to for our current predicament: the subprime mortgage fiasco, too little oversight on Wall Street, too much debt and too much credit for people who really had no business borrowing money in the first place, questionable gov't intervention, the list goes on and on. As a financial advisor, I had no one, not one client call me and blame me for their investment losses. While I try to make sure that my clients understand the risks and rewards of investing, and have a proper expectation of returns on investment, I think that people understand that this has been a strange and cruel year to which no one has been able to escape losses. Since everyone has lost money in this market, I should expect to have lost some money too. This has been the perfect storm of bad markets. Traditional asset management suggests that when stocks under perform, bonds perform well and viceversa. This year not only have stocks performed badly, but so has bonds and even cash. While the Federal Reserve has tried to stimulate the economy by lowering interest rates, they have cut rates to the point where CD's and money market accounts are earning less than 3% for most people, hardly the type of return people need for their long term savings. There is one man that people are now blaming for losses in their accounts, if they were unlucky enough to have invest money with him: Bernard L. Madoff. He lost it all! Now that's a bad way to end the year. I'll have more to say about him tomorrow...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who's to blame?

I had to have a difficult conversation with a participant in my client's 401(k) plan the other day. He came to me wanting to withdraw some money from his retirement plan to help pay for some bills that he was behind on. I explained to him that he could not just decide to withdraw money from this type of an account just because he was behind on some bills. He said to me, "well it's my money isn't it?" I said, yes it was, but it was for his retirement, not an emergency savings account, and the rules of the plan do not allow for withdrawals or loans unless you have a true financial hardship. What plan administrators consider a financial hardship are things like paying for medical bills not covered by your insurance, college expenses for a family member, funeral expenses for a family member, a new home purchase, or the real help prevent a bank from foreclosing on your home. He had none of these situations. In fact, he already had a loan out from a previous home purchase a year or two earlier. His problem was, as he described it, was that he was one or two months behind in bills, including his electric bill, behind on his truck payment, and he didn't want to get in further trouble. He was in a catch-22 that more and more people are finding themselves in today. Growing financial burdens due in part by not saving for a rainy day. Now for this person, it's pouring! To be sure, some of his problems are not entirely his own. He is a mechanic and his income has gone down due to the current recession we are in, because he has less work these days. He gets paid for fixing cars and when he has less customers, he makes less money. I told him that the only thing he could do was stop making contributions to his 401(k) plan until his income and debt situation improved. I'm already doing that he said. Well, you will have to find other ways to save money by cutting expenses I said. By now he was beginning to get agitated and exclaimed that nobody cares, nobody wants to help him, and it's not his fault! I told him that I was sorry for his predicament but there wasn't much I could do for him. I did feel sorry for him, but as he left the room I thought to myself, why didn't he have an emergency savings account? Why didn't he set more money aside when business was good? Why did he buy a new truck instead of a used one? How much money does he spend on non-essentials? Does he have cable TV? How much does he spend a month on his cell phone bill? How much does he spend on cigarettes? The recession is hitting home for many people these days and they can't just wait for the government to bail them out. People have to take responsibility for their actions and/or inactions. You really can't blame anyone but yourself for poor planning. Like one comedian likes to say, you can't fix stupid!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Conc fee?

Well, I am half-way home on my trip from Savannah to St. Louis. I am in Atlanta waiting for my connecting flight, which I recently found out was delayed 15 minutes due to the arriving flight from Birmingham being behind schedule. Once again I had to pay a $15 fee to check my bag on the flight. That got me thinking about all these nuisance fees. I noticed when I checked out of the hotel this morning that besides the room charges and sales tax, there was something called a city lodging fee of $1 and a bed occupancy tax (which is a fee) of $6.90. So for 2 nights, I paid an extra $16 in fees just to stay in the hotel. Thank goodness they had a free breakfast! Could you imagine if they charged a fee for that? No one would take it. When I dropped off my rental car at the airport and looked over the receipt, I noticed some more fees: a vehicle license fee ($1.86), a CFC fee ($3.00), and something called a Conc rec fee ($5.41). So that's 10 more dollars in fees! A Conc rec fee? What on earth is that? It's a good thing I had time to refuel the car before I dropped it off or I would have had a refueling fee on top of that. Now most people expect to pay sales taxes on things, but all these extra fees are really irritating. Why can't these businesses just wrap all the fees into the price that's quoted? Well, we live in a time when everyone wants transparency. On the one hand, it's nice to know who else is benefiting from my business transactions, but the number of fees just add up to a bunch of nonsense. This same thing happens on cell phone bills, cable bills, telephone bills, and just about everything else we consume, use, or purchase. Many of my clients wonder where all their money goes each month, and now I have the answer: nuisance fees! There was one more fee I found out about before I left the hotel. A parking ticket! That's another $10 fee!

Editor's Note

Today I will be traveling back to St. Louis from Savannah, Georgia, where I have spent the past couple days on a business trip. Hopefully, my trip back will be uneventful, unlike the trip here. I will update my blog along the way, as I make observations that may be noteworthy. It's very foggy here this morning, so I hope that does not affect my flight out to Atlanta. One thing's for sure. It's much warmer here than it is in St. Louis, where the morning's temp was 22 degrees!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hurry up and wait...

Yesterday, I spent most of the day traveling across country, as I left for a two day business trip on the east coast. I consider myself a seasoned traveler as I have grown up flying and have many great memories from my youth of time spent with my family visiting countries in the Far East and Europe. Even now, while I'm not a "regular" business traveler, I do make several trips a year for business and recreation purposes. I can remember when flying used to be fun. Spreading out in big seats on the plane and getting treated by the stewardesses (they were not called flight attendants back then) to drinks and food. And when I say food, I mean a meal, like dinner. Chicken and rice with vegetables, or something else that would equal something you might get at a decent diner. Yesterday, after navigating the lines at the self-serve check-in desk to get my boarding pass and pay $15 to check my bag, I went through the security area before heading to my gate. Here is where you have to take off your shoes and coat, remove the laptop from your carry on bag, and place any valuables and metal items in a tray so it can be run through a scanner. The airlines tell you to show up at the airport 1 and a half to 2 hours before your flight, so you can have time to do all this and not risk missing your plane. The trouble is with weather delays and the airlines deciding to condense flights to maximum capacity to squeeze every possible dime from well paying ticket holders, you inevitably end up waiting...and waiting for the flight to arrive, deplane, and board. My flight out was a half hour late leaving which meant that I would have only 30 minutes to make my connecting flight in Atlanta. Once I arrived in Atlanta and deplaned, I found out that my next flight was now leaving 2 hours later than planned! Well, I guess I wasn't going to miss that flight. I decided to pass the time by grabbing a bite to eat since I had missed lunch and was thrown a small bag of peanuts on the previous flight. I had a turkey sandwich which although was good, was not $9 good (I'm not sure what's more expensive, airport food or ballpark food). I watched a little TV with the sound turned off (I really don't like reading captions) and checked my messages and e-mail. My next flight was shorter in length, and lucky for me, since I was sitting next to a 300 pound man and felt like I was being squished into the side of the plane. I finally made it to my destination, got my luggage and rental car and drove to my hotel. It was one that I had been to before. Check in went smooth, they had my reservation. The only problem was, when I went to my room, and opened the door, I discovered that the room was already occupied, by a man lounging in bed! I bolted back to the front desk to explain the problem to the clerk, who said, "I wonder how that happened?" That's what I wanted to know! She quickly gave me a new key to a different room where I changed shirts and decided to head out to a walk. What a day. I need a drink!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow Day!

Today is the first day of the season that the schools have closed due to the weather. Now living in Missouri, we experience all 4 seasons and usually feel the extremes that each season can bring. It is possible for temperatures in the winter to dip to zero degrees and in the summer reach 100! Throw in wind chill and humidity to the mix and it can get pretty miserable in winter and summer. But how do "they" decide it's a snow day and close the schools? I've been told that principals and superintendents actually get up early in the mornings and drive the roads in their school districts to determine if conditions would be hazardous to the safety of children riding in school buses. Today's "weather event" was some freezing rain and sleet overnight that caused the roads in the surrounding area to be glazed over. No snow accumulation. No broken tree limbs from ice damage. No power outages. Is it just me or has the schools gotten soft over the years? The only times I remember getting a snow day when I was growing up, was if there was 6 or more inches of snow on the ground! Now it seems if we get a half inch they will close the schools. And how do they relay this information? In my day, you woke up and turned on the TV to see if your school was closed. This morning I was woken from a deep sleep by the phone ringing (at 5:30 AM!) and an automated message informing me and my wife that schools would be closed today. Needless to say, I couldn't go back to sleep and I finally got up at 6 AM to get some coffee and watch the morning news report. So now the kids will be home today. Of course they were happy. My oldest did seem a little disappointed when he realized that he didn't "need" to do his homework last night. Well, unlike school kids, grownups still have to work. My boss didn't call me up with a snow day today. And for stay at home moms, this makes for an even busier day than normal with extra children to look after. Hmm, this will be a reality check for the kids some day. Well, time to go check the road conditions for real!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Would you like to donate a dollar?

Today I want to talk about another disturbing pattern I've noticed lately among retailers. Now we've all seen the Salvation Army bell ringers outside the grocery stores and department stores, collecting money during the Christmas season. This is something that they have been doing for years and I have memories of giving some change to them when I was a kid. One thing I have noticed that is different lately is how early they begin setting up their kettles. I spotted by first bell ringer this year on the day after Halloween! Yes, November first. And I would be willing to bet that they will not go away until well after New Year's day. But that's not my beef today. Twice in the past week, when I have checked out of a store and was waiting to swipe my credit card in the card reader (this is a future blog topic), I was asked by the cashier if I would like to donate a dollar to some charity, I forget which one. Now I am not a scrooge, I give lots of money to churches, charities, and non-profit organizations, but why does Toys R US or my Mobil "On the Run" convenience store have to ask me if I want to donate to a charity? Isn't that my business? Or why doesn't the charity have their own people in the store asking the same question? Sure one dollar is not a lot, but if you get hit up for a dollar at ten stores a week, that could translate to $50 during the holiday season! $90 if you're on the Salvation Army schedule. The reason why they do it, is because it works. I did give a dollar to Toys R US when I purchased my kids Christmas gifts. What's an extra dollar on a $200 bill? But when I made a $10 purchase at the gas station, I respectfully declined. Not today I said...maybe next time. I knew there would be dozens of more times that this same thing will happen before the end of the year. I'm glad I let my wife do most of the shopping. I wonder what she would do? I better have a talk with her.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Ads

For most people, this is a wonderful time of year. People are generally in good spirits, as they look forward with anticipation to the holidays and spending extra time with family and friends. Houses get decorated with lights and Christmas displays. Shopping for gifts can be fun as long as you can find what you are looking for, and especially if it's on sale! Some people are hard to shop for. This may be a future blog topic. Kids, for the most part, are pretty easy to shop for, because they tend to be easy to please. Of course, this time of year does bring it's challenges: bad weather, cranky people, inexperienced clerks and cashiers, long lines, avoiding bell ringers, and bad Christmas ads.
One thing I've noticed lately, and it is becoming a trend, is Christmas ads on the radio, that are disguised as a popular Christmas song. Take the 12 Days of Christmas for example. I recently heard an ad, which replaced the normal 12 gifts, with 12 things that you could buy at their store. And another one had 12 types of service that their company offered. Yes, more than one business is using this technique. This just ruins the song for me. Now I have always enjoyed the Great White North version of the 12 Days of Christmas, from SCTV's Bob and Doug Mackenzie, that is a classic. But it is a parody. Like some of the stuff Weird Al Yankovic does. But this is blatant commercialism at it's worst. When I hear bad radio ads or see bad TV commercials, it doesn't make me want to shop their store, it makes me want to avoid them. It makes me think that today's advertising executives have no original ideas anymore. Whatever happened to the people that created new jingles? Is this a dying art? Time to find my Dean Martin Christmas CD and turn off the radio altogether. Wonder what Christmas at the Governor's mansion in Springfield, Illinois will be like this year?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Tooth Fairy

Our second oldest son is 6 years old, the age when he will start to lose some of his baby teeth. He has not lost one yet, but we know that before long, he will inform us of his first wiggling tooth. We have gone through this already with our oldest son, who is now 8 1/2. Here is the dilemma for parents: how much does the Tooth Fairy leave for a tooth? Now when I was a kid growing up, we got 50 cents, not 2 quarters, but a fifty cent piece. When it was time for our son to place his first tooth under his pillow, I had a conference with my wife, and we decided that one dollar would be appropriate. Of course, the next day, he was excited to find out that the Tooth Fairy had indeed stopped by and exchanged his tooth for a folded one dollar bill. Imagine our surprise when he informed us that a friend in his class received $5 for his first tooth! Five dollars! Now we had a problem. We told our son that there must be different kinds of tooth fairies. We tried to redirect his attention to the fact that he received a crisp, one dollar bill, for which he basically had to do no work for. Just pull the tooth out of his mouth, and put that sucker under his pillow before he goes to bed and presto-chango, a $1 bill in the morning. And he had more teeth coming! One time we learned another way that children think differently about money. I found out that I did not have a dollar bill in my wallet, and my wife did not have one in her purse. I placed 4 quarters under the pillow and the next morning our son seemed a little disappointed that he got 4 quarters instead of a dollar bill. I explained to him that 4 quarters was the same amount of money as a one dollar bill, but that didn't really help. A dollar bill was better he said. Paper money trumps coins, parents! I did a little research and found out that the average amount that a tooth fairy brings is now $2.64, so there are other parents giving out $5 bills and moving the amount up. We have stuck with the $1 bounty in our household. We have 5 kids so, even at $1, this tooth fairy thing could add up over the years. Now, we have to address this St. Nick issue...another friend of our child claimed that St. Nick brought him a video game! What the heck? Our kids had to split a piece of chocolate 4 ways!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Writer's block

Well, it has happened. After 25 blogs, I find myself in front of the computer with no ideas today. Nothing to write about. I do not think that it is a coincidence that today is Monday either. Funny how weekends can zap your precious brain resources and mental capacity for original ideas. So if this is your first time to my blog, please take the time to check out some of my other postings. I will use my downtime today to think of some ideas for blogs this week. Better yet, if you have an idea, send it to me at and I will put it on my future blog list. This is like one of those, slow news days. Congress is going to bail out the Big 3 Carmakers...we knew that would happen. Oil and gas prices continue to go down...this is really getting interesting. Could gas dip below $1 per gallon again? My bet is no, but then again, I did not think I would see $1.49 gas again either. Here's one blog idea: What's the deal with St. Nick? Do you give your kids candy in their shoes and stockings on Dec. 6th? Is this another "fake" holiday invented by dentists? OK, come back tomorrow for a new and improved blog!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happiness is contagious

A new study from Britain is out and making the rounds on news sites around the world. The conclusion, happiness is contagious! This seems to be obvious. If you are around people who are happy, you should find yourself to be generally happy also. Their happiness rubs off on you. What's interesting about this latest study, is that the happiness that rubs off on you, may not be just from your friend, but from your friend's friend. That is, there is a rippling effect, a six degrees of happiness, so to speak, that spreads the happiness around. In a way, they are saying that you can pay your happiness forward, to use another analogy. What's good about this finding is that it can help us stay happy, even when we are surrounded by unhappy people for a short time. Think about it. We choose our friends and most of our acquaintances. If we are happy, we would generally expect to surround ourselves with other happy people. But we cannot choose our family, and depending on the size of the business or office we work in, we cannot choose the people we work with (unless you are the one doing the hiring). We can choose the church we attend, but not the other people that attend there also, although once we become members or regular attenders, we can choose the people within that church, that we want to hang around with, and they will tend to be those that are like or similar to us (in most cases). So if you have some family members that are not pleasant to be around, or find yourself working with a bunch of jerks, you can still maintain your happiness because you have friend's who are happy and your friends have friends who are happy! I guess the question is, and this may become another future study: do UNhappy people like or want to surround themselves around other unhappy people? Stay tuned. Question? Who pays for these studies? People who are happy or unhappy?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cell phone etiquette

Today's blog is kind of a public service announcement for all cell phone users. No, I am not going to comment on the hazards of talking on cell phones while driving. I actually still do that, as I live in a state where this kind of activity is still not against the law. I have considered purchasing a bluetooth, but have resisted so far because I don't like the way it makes you look like you have a beetle attached to your head. One time we had an A/C repairman come to our house to work on our outdoor air conditioning unit, and when he came inside to write up his work ticket, my wife noticed that he had this strange device attached to his ear. After he left, she commented that she felt sorry for him because he had a hearing disability. That's when I said, "that was not a hearing aid, it was a bluetooth!" No what I want to address today is when to actually talk on a cell phone, no matter if it's a bluetooth, a flip phone, a walkie-talkie, a Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or anything else. Nowadays, no one is impressed if you have a cell phone. My neighbor's 7th grade girl has a cell phone for crying out loud. Now I realize that keeping in touch with your friends, family and business associates is important, and that's the beauty of cell phones, you can stay in touch very easily, and can always be reached. But here's my gripe: when you are in a public place, like a store or a restaurant, just let the call go to voice mail and call them back in the privacy of your car or take it outside. Nobody wants to hear your business! I have heard cell phones going off in church, on airplanes, and even in bathrooms! And the crazy thing is, people take these calls! Just yesterday, I called a colleague about a mutual client we are working with, and he took my call, and I immediately noticed that it sounded like he was in a tin can. I thought maybe he was in a stairwell or a hallway that echoed. We talked briefly about the case, and then he interrupted, "Scott,...can I call you back? I'm in the bathroom." THE BATHROOM? Why on earth did you answer the phone if you are in a stall, in the bathroom, I thought to myself? There are some places that you should NEVER answer the phone, and the bathroom is one of them. So here is my plea for cell phone users: Do yourself and everyone else a favor, please do not take that cell phone call if you are in the bathroom, and especially, a public bathroom. For the love of God, this creeps me out! I had to go for a drive and clear my head...oh yeah, and listen to my voice mails.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Silver Lining

Most people have heard the term "a silver lining" at least once in their lives (probably many times for most). It is usually meant to sooth people during a time of difficulty, by letting them know that there is something comforting or beneficial that can be derived or learned even when something bad happens. The phrase was first coined by John Milton in his 1634 classic poem "Comus", when he said, "Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud Turn forth her silver lining on the night?". Apparently it was picked up by the local media of the day and has been passed on as a proverb ever since. Yesterday, I talked about the apparent mixed messages that people seem to be getting these days from the media. On one hand we hear that we are in the midst of a severe, global recession, which is obvious from the stock market declines and financial crisis that we find ourselves in as we near the end of 2008. On the other hand, we are told that it is a great time to buy stocks and just about any big ticket item, from TV's to cars, to new homes, because of the opportunities left behind from the downturn of our current economic cycle. So are we to save and conserve and hoard our resources, or are we to spend and invest and spread our wealth? The answer is, each person must make their own decision. The problem with magazine articles, newspaper columns and TV interviews with so-called "experts", is that the advice that they give does not and can not apply to everyone. Some people have had a bad year, they lost their jobs or had their hours cut; but others have seen business improve and have had record sales! The silver lining in all this is that many people are taking a serious look at how they do spend their money, and are cutting back on unnecessary expenditures. They are evaluating their needs from their wants and making adjustments. Some people are saving more, most are spending less. These are both good things and healthy habits. Sometimes it takes difficult circumstances to force someone to take a hard look at their future prospects and make adjustments that are needed to ensure the possibility of your goals to be attained. Don't give up whatever you do! We have to make long term decisions in a short term world. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, the turtle won the race, not the hare.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It's Official!

Yes, we are officially in a recession! This was confirmed to us by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) yesterday. I know I feel better. Trouble is, it didn't make the stock market feel better as the markets lost 7-9% depending on which index you prefer to follow. Now was this really unexpected news that the stock markets received yesterday, or was the decline due more to sellers taking profits from a 5 day run up? I would think the later. So how are most "main street" Americans taking the news? By heading to their favorite shopping center and outlet mall and getting deals on their Christmas gift purchases. Yes, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that "Black Friday" sales were up 7.2% from a year ago! The "average" shopper spent nearly $375! Wow, that's a lot of cash for someone who should be buckling down and watching every penny they spend. As I mentioned in my November 13th blog (Recession, what recession?), there seem to be lines everywhere when you go out to restaurants and stores, as people I see anyway, either haven't been affected by the recession, or have chosen to ignore it. It's been said that a recession is when someone you know loses their job; a depression is when YOU lose your job! So, if you or your neighbor have not lost your jobs, then we must not be in a recession! Let get out there and charge more stuff on our credit cards. There are too many good deals to pass up. Let's buy some more stocks, Warren Buffet says it's time to buy. Go get that new TV, the digital age of television begins in less than 3 months! It's not so bad, gasoline prices are still going down and President Obama will help get this economy back on track! There's more bailout and stimulus money to print at the Treasury! I need to go to Starbucks and get me a $4 cup of coffee!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyber Monday

As I perused the online news articles of the day this morning, two words kept jumping out at me: Cyber Monday. What is Cyber Monday? It sounded vaguely familiar to me, but reminded me more of some bogus, made up "holiday" like "Grandparents Day" or "Sweetheart Day", you know, days the Card companies, like Hallmark, came up with to get you to buy more greeting cards. The worst offender is "Bosses Day"...who wants to buy a card for their boss? Anyway, I did a little research and found out that Cyber Monday was, in fact, a made up day. This one started in 2005 and was the idea of Scott Silverman, the head of the website. His research concluded that online retailers were noticing a significant increase in online shopping the Monday after Black Friday (another made up day). The theory is that people are still in shopping mode and they can't help themselves from shopping, even while they are at work. Now there are newspaper articles telling people how they can do their online shopping at work and avoid the boss while doing so. Trouble is, most companies, like mine, have alerted the IT Dept to block all online shopping websites. If you try to go to one, you will be greeted with the message, ACCESS DENIED, and in smaller print, if access to this website is necessary, please send a message to the IT Dept stating your reason why (or something to that effect). So if you really want to shop online on "Cyber Monday", you need to go to work late, leave work early, or take your laptop (if you have one) to the local Starbucks or Panara Bread store, where you can shop without the big brother IT Dept watching you. Not me, I'm just trying to get in the mood for Kwanzaa!