12/21/2008

Those Pesky Recurring Payments

If you're like me you're looking at tightening your financial "belt" right now and cutting down on some unnecessary or overlooked expenses.

I love gathering information and quite often I'll do a trial offer that is free for X number of days before they begin to charge you. And then there are the monthly recurring fee items or subscriptions that I find I no longer need or want. But quite often it's difficult to find the information to cancel them, or worse yet, there seems to be no contact information to be found.

Recently I've figured out two ways of handling these that allow you to keep control and cancel them easily. One is to use a "virtual" credit card number. Most all credit cards offer them for online purchases. You tell them the vendor and the amount and how long you want the virtual number to be good for. So if you tell them 3 months if the vendor tries to put through a charge after 3 months it will be declined and they will get in touch with you. If you still want it you can give them another virtual number or cancel right then.

The other way is to use PayPal to pay for these items. Normally I'm not a fan of PayPal, but I just had a vendor who would only accept PayPal, so I used it for a recurring payment. I just discovered it is very easy to cancel a recurring transaction with them. So two things I tried out for a couple of months and now don't want to continue with were very easy to cancel.

12/11/2008

End of Year; A Time to Re-Assess

I can't believe that it's the end of 2008 already! This year flew by, and considering all of the melt-downs we were bombarded with I think I'm definitely ready to move on.

The last quarter of the year is a very busy time for a lot of us, not just because of school starting again and the holiday season, but because those of us with businesses have a lot of year-end preparation. Looking at where we stand tax-wise, making certain the books are in order and up-to-date, looking at what is and isn't working and making plans for the coming year.

I own several businesses but the main one is one that my husband and I started over 21 years ago. We've been through bad times and recessions before and we always planned for the worst-case situation because it was our only source of income and we had a baby under a year-old and my 80 year-old mother living with us. No room for making mistakes. And because we were so focused and careful we did well, even in economic bad times.

In this last quarter we realized we hadn't been as focused as we could have been. So out came the sharp pencils and the lengthy conversations between my husband and me and our management team and we found a number of ways to save money, tighten our belts and ways to keep ourselves in front of our customers, at a lower cost than mailing catalogs and flyers.

One of the best ways we keep in contact with our customers now is in a non-commercial way; we're not asking them to buy anything from us, we're just sending cards and postcards to say "hi," and keep our name in front of them. Basic relationship building.

The system we use is easy and reliable. We have regular campaigns where a card goes out to thank them for their business, wish them a happy holiday (all months but June and August have one); a postcard goes out periodically with a picture of our most current catalog on it in case they didn't receive one, etc., etc. The cards are especially good for saying "sorry we goofed" or thanking them for a nice comment about us.

The economy isn't going to turn around quickly, so it's important to stay connected to your customers. And it's important to stay in-touch and connected to friends and family. I don't know of anyone who is not stressing or affected by this economy. I stopped sending holiday cards a couple of years ago because it was too time consuming, but this year I feel compelled to reach out to friends and family and even acquaintances to wish them well and let them know I care. One of the worst things about a bad or sad situation is how lonely it can make you feel.

And I've made a commitment to not just send holiday cards this year, but "thinking of you" cards, birthday and anniversary cards, Valentine's cards, etc. Reaching out and making a connection with a card makes me feel good because I know it will bring a smile to someone...and who knows, maybe it will be the one good moment they have in a crappy day!

The system I use for both our business and also personally is easy to use and much less expensive than buying cards at the store. And it's automated so I can send them with a click of the mouse but they are real cards that are put in good 'ole snail mail. Perfect for some of my older relatives (Grandma!) who don't use the internet, and more personal than a e-mailed greeting. Finding something in your mailbox instead of bills or advertisements is nice.

So join me in making an effort to reach out to the people in your life on a regular basis; life is tough right now and I think we all can use a sense of community that has been lost over the last couple of generations as we as a society became more mobile and more high tech.

If you're interested in the system I use, drop me an e-mail (it does have its place! LOL) at bridgewayconnections@hotmail.com and I'll be happy to tell you more about it.

12/02/2008

Credit Cards Changing Terms and Interest Rates

Watch your mail very carefully for information sent by your credit cards. Not only are many (AMEX, Citibank, Wells Fargo to name a few that I have personal knowledge of) reducing your overall credit limits but they are beginning to aggressively circumvent your use of credit by changing the terms.

I just got a letter from Citibank giving me the right to opt out of new terms on my existing credit card. The interest rate will go from 14% to 24.99% and can go as high as 29.99% for any new purchases after tomorrow. If I don't agree to that change in terms then I can continue with the current rate on the existing balance (as long as I don't miss a payment or am late with a payment) until the end of the card membership year or the expiration date on the card, whichever is later. At that poing the account will be closed, making any balance remaining payable under the new, higher interest rate.

Thankfully I just had a new card issued with an expiration date of mid-2011 - so I have until then to whittle away at the balance. Others may not be so lucky. You could find your card is expiring soon in which case you'll be paying exhorbitant interest rates.

Don't overlook these letters...I have a feeling we'll be seeing lots more of them being sent out.

We're underwater (figuratively), but at least we're dry...Venice is under 5 feet of water!

There are amazing photos posted of Venice under water - over 5 feet of it before it began to recede to knee-deep. One of the comments was that it happened so quickly tourists jumped up on cafe tables to stay dry! Combination of heavy rains and wind pushing sea water into the city.

Having just been there a few weeks ago, and it being one of my absolute favorite cities in the world, it was heartbreaking to see the photos. Shops filled with incredibly beautiful Venice Carnival costumes, Venetian (Murano) glass, and so much else with merchandise floating and being destroyed.

Gives me perspective on a day that has left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the current financial crisis.

http://channels.isp.netscape.com/whatsnew/default.jsp?story=20081202-124...

11/29/2008

Why Can't We Just Enjoy the Holiday We're Celebrating?

The turkey is disappearing fast and suddenly the long weekend is winding down. One child is off to visit her boyfriend's family and the other will be going back to school tomorrow. It's hard to believe that just a short while ago they lived here and I got to see them every day. For those of you with young children, cherish every moment, even the ones that drive you crazy, for they are gone much too fast.

And by tomorrow afternoon quiet will descend on the house once again. Not an uncomfortable quiet, but a lack of "vibrancy" that children, even grown-up ones, bring when they are home. And the day-to-day routine will resume.

In my adult life (i.e., with children) I've always been exhausted by the holidays. And I'm not sure that's just because life is busier with children in it. I feel like I'm being propelled by the media and the advertisers to hurry-up and get ready. I remember my mother lamenting that they were beginning to put Christmas decorations out the day after Thanksgiving...now they are out even before Halloween!

I feel rushed and I resent it; the holidays should be a time to savor and create traditions. When I was a child even Halloween was magical. Now with Christmas decorations already on shelves beside costumes and candy, how can even a child focus on the fun of the holiday at hand? Not just adults are being pushed to thinking about the other holidays fast approaching, but aren't our kids being pushed into the future instead of living in the present?

Our Christmas lights are not going up until December; today I'm still enjoying the holiday we just celebrated.

11/24/2008

Multi-tasking Isn't Really a Benefit Sometimes

I've been incredibly busy lately. All of the traveling I've done since July (I was only home for 4 days that entire month!) has finally ended. But the build-up of mail and projects and now preparing for the Holidays is keeping me just as overloaded.

I'm realizing that I've been taking a shotgun approach to all of the things that need my attention. That fits in with my ADD personality but it's very counter-productive. So I have made my New Year's Resolutions early this year and, in fact, it is just one. "Do one thing at a time." Think about that. We are a society of multi-taskers. And in some ways it is good and allows us to accomplish more. But what I'm finding is that it contributes greatly to the sense of chaos in my own life.

Kids always bring you back to the important stuff. I found myself continuing to type while having a "conversation" with my 22 year old daughter on speakerphone and she called me on it. "You're not listening to me, are you? I can hear you typing!" It reminded me of when she was a very little girl and I would always tell her "people matter, not things." Well one night I was putting her to bed rather late and my favorite TV show was about to come on. I was trying to rush through our "good nights" and she brought me right back to reality with my own words. She looked me in the eye and in her little girl voice she said, "Mommy, people matter, not things." Needless to say I finished our good night routine at leisure.

And the saddest thing about that story is that I had the VCR set-up to record that program. It wasn't that I was going to miss it, I just wanted to see it right then. My priorities got messed up, big time. And that is what happens when I find myself multi-tasking too much. I'm so busy trying to do several things at once that I forget to prioritize.

So starting today I am making a conscious commitment to focusing on one thing at a time. If I find myself multi-tasking I will stop and re-focus. I'll let you know how it goes.

11/21/2008

The Power of a Positive Attitude

I'm always telling our kids, "don't be negative," "keep your thoughts positive." It takes such little effort, but the changes can be dramatic.

I'm always telling our employees that I can "hear" the smile that comes onto their faces when I call and they realize it's me! Our rule is that I want every one of our customers to hear that same voice. Even if you put a phony smile on your face it changes the sound in your voice.

The same with attitude. When you're feeling negative you project that. Haven't you ever walked into a room where two people had been in a disagreement - weren't you able to "feel" the negative vibes?

I always like to use the example of a letter from the IRS - it's just an envelope, just paper inside, but most people getting one will get a physical reaction of some type. A sinking feeling in your stomach, heart beating a little faster, etc. But what if you knew for certain that it held a refund check? A totally different physical response would take place.

So, put on a happy face and see if it doesn't make you feel better...it certainly won't make you feel worse!

11/19/2008

Tax Changes Being Talked About - You Need to Know This

There is a potential bill floating around that would make 401(k) contributions no longer deductible. Are you aware of that? I'll bet many people aren't. But the good news is that they were trying to sneak it through, but enough people heard about it and are now up in arms about it. We may have just dodged a bullet here.

But my point is that if people aren't aware of these types of bills they can be passed without your input to your senators and congresspeople. Staying aware, especially right now, is critical. And so is making your opinion known. I've never been one to step up to the plate on that, myself, so I'm talking to myself here as well! It's easy to send an e-mail or note. They are more "noticed" than a computer generated petition that many good organization provide for you. I'll post a place that you can go on the internet to get the names and e-mail addresses for your representatives at the end of this blog post.

So, onto the other issues coming at us. Doing away with the yearly cap on Social Security contributions, along with a possible 5% additional tax on earned income to fund Social Security. Now you would get $600 PER YEAR of additional Social Security at some point when you retire for that 5% - doesn't sound like a fair deal to me!

And there is also talk about making distributions from an S-Corp and LP subject to self-employment tax.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'd say the "middle class" is going to take the brunt of this. I know several small business owners that would get hammered with self-employment tax on distributions; they already pay taxes on paper earnings, not what they actually take in salary from their businesses. And they're already struggling just to keep the doors open in this economic quagmire.

And is $102,000 (the 2008 wage base on Social Security) really considered "high income" these days? Maybe in rural America, but in most metropolitan areas you can barely live on that as a single person, never mind a family. I just looked up on Wikipedia the number of millionaires (and this is based on individuals with a net worth of at least $1 million in all assets except their "primary residence") and there are over 10 million people in the world who fall into that category! About 3 million in the US - and over 38,000 multi-millionaires in the US (assets of over $30 million).

And that's not the end of what is on the table right now. Popularly called the "iTunes tax," there is already a sales tax on digital downloads required to be paid currently in 27 states and the District of Columbia. But there's been talk for a long time about a Streamlined Sales Tax; that seems to have stalled, but the “Internet Tax” has quietly come up again and Congress seems to have decided to bring it back to the table in order to resolve the issue so as to raise taxes quickly.

Here’s a link to a CNET article on the Internet Tax project:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9919420-7.html

If you want to have a voice in all of these issues, you need to act. Here are the links to how to write to your representatives (put it on your Toolbar so you see it and use it):

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml


11/16/2008

Keeping Balance in Your Life

The last few days I've been thinking about this, and as often happens I read a post by someone on a forum I frequent on this very same topic just this morning.

One of the reasons I've gone a couple of days without making a post is because it's been unseasonably warm here, about 80 degrees. So I cut the chains tying me to my computer and my husband and I took some time for ourselves. Sat in the hot tub in the middle of the day, took a nap, took the dog for a long walk on the beach. Shut down my constantly whirling brain for the majority of the last couple of days.

Am I a little more behind in all that I have to do? Yes, but I'm also feeling less frazzled and more in balance with life again. After all, what am I working so hard for if not ultimately to be able to enjoy life more. But on a day-to-day basis I'm defeating that purpose by not taking time every day to do things that I enjoy. Putting off until tomorrow...we only truly have today, so there needs to be a balance between working towards a goal and enjoying the fleeting moments that we know for certain we have in this life.

Just 6 months ago we lost our 12 year old dog, a beautiful Border Collie that absolutely craved human interaction. She could have cared less about the other dogs at the beach, she was interested in saying hello to their owners! As I would sit typing on my keyboard she would come over and start using her nose to push my arm off of the keyboard. "Hey, give me some attention!" she'd be saying. And all too often I would scold her and tell her I was busy and to lie down. Some days she'd comply, others she would literally push her way up onto my lap, all 50 pounds of her, in about 2 seconds. There was no ignoring her then! I would laugh and give her some attention and then tell her she had to get down.

She fell ill while we where on a trip back east, 3,000 miles away and although we managed to nurse her back from the edge we only got another 2 months with her. And I regret every moment she asked for my attention and I was too "busy" to give it to her.

And yet even with that experience so fresh in my mind I still find it difficult to find the right balance in life. I still find myself putting off until tomorrow. But I'm working on it...you should, too.

11/12/2008

Obama Tax Plan Proposal

Once again my friend, Diane Kennedy, renowned Tax Strategist, has the news hot-off the presses. Read what she has to say about this new tax proposal. It may not pertain to you personally, but it will affect you ultimately, as all tax bills do.

Watch Out For This Pet Project of Obama Tax Plan

Diane Kennedy's picture

Pres-Elect Obama has a pet project. Well, he probably has quite a few, but this one could really impact taxpayers, especially business owners and investors. It’s called the Levin-Coleman-Obama Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act. On the surface, that sounds good. But read on if you EVER plan to live or buy or otherwise do business outside of the US.

This Act starts off by stating that there will now be a presumption of GUILT if any American owns part of or sends money to any company within one of the 34 so-called Tax Haven countries. If hope you noticed that sends money to because just wait until you read who the countries are.

Some you’d expect like the Bahamas and the Caymans. But look at the rest on the list: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Dominica, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guernsey/Sark/ Alderney, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Jersey, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, Samoa ,St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore ,Switzerland, Turks and Caicos, and Vanuatu.

If you make any transfer it will be presumed that the amount transferred is unreported income and you will be taxed, penalized and possibly even found guilty of fraud. It’ll be up to you prove they are wrong. (This is a very tough standard.) Banks and other financial institutes will be required to report any suspicious activity to the IRS.

Failure to follow these rules could mean 150% penalty and up to $1 million per incident in fines.

You can read the details of this Act at http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=269479



11/11/2008

Let's Become a Bank So That We, Too, Can Participate in the Bailout!

Recently I talked here on my blog about credit limits being reduced, first with HELOC's, then credit cards. Well it appears that the media, a little late to the party, are now beginning to report on this.

Some media reports are now saying that there are a couple of criteria that some banks are using. For example, if you live in an area hit hard by real estate value drops, chances are your limits are going to be reduced. You could always have paid all your bills on time, have had the accounts for years and you can still find you credit lines reduced. It also appears that if you’re in a category where others are defaulting you will be affected, regardless of your personal history and payment record...so if the percentage of females age 20 - 29 defaulting on credit cards is going up, if you’re a female age 20 - 29 your credit card limits will be cut.

And think about this. If someone had a credit card with a $15K line with WaMu and also one with a $15K line with Chase the risk would have been distributed. Now that the banks are one and the same I would think the exposure of $30K would make Chase more aggressive about either closing one or at least reducing the credit lines wherever possible; after all, Chase would have qualified the card holder for a $15K line, not a $30K line.

In my personal experience some are just looking at the total credit line and comparing it to the outstanding balance and cutting the credit limit back to that. It's obviously what they did when they cut one of my credit card lines by only $1,240! American Express is really coming down hard with this; they reduced my credit line, and the lines of several people I know.

BTW, maybe American Express' strong-arm approach is because today they just got the OK to be a bank? Different guidelines to meet? http://www.bloomberg.com

From the news story: "New York-based American Express said last month that credit-card holders failed to repay loans in the third quarter at almost twice the rate of a year earlier." And it seems that by becoming a bank "American Express, the largest U.S. credit-card company by purchases, joins securities firms Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley in gaining "increased liquidity support'' as part of a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. American Express said its conversion won't require "significant divestitures.''

So...now we just have to figure out how to become a bank so WE can participate in the $700 billion bailout!

11/09/2008

What Do You Make of This Photo?

Now I'm not a person that usually talks about spirituality, ghosts, after-life, and so on. Like politics I find it to be a subject that I avoid, unless with a very good friend or my husband.

But the friends that we went to Europe with are those kind of close friends that you can discuss these subjects with and the conversations are lively and interesting.

So when the wife told me about "orbs" in photographs it wasn't anything I was familiar with, but interesting. She pointed out several orbs in the photographs we took (on different cameras) in Europe. Most without flash so reflection wasn't an explanation.

But her mom took this photo and sent it to her and we are all wondering. She said she took others within minutes of these, but with no people in them and there were no orbs at all. It was inside, no rain, no water on her lens, etc.

Gotta wonder...

11/08/2008

Staying Accountable to Your Goals

For all of us who need a little help with getting our goals and things we want to accomplish done this website I just discovered is terrific! www.43things.com puts you in contact with others striving towards the same goals you have. I just signed-up and my list is now going to be posted there and here on my Blog to be a constant reminder to me of what I should be doing and to encourage others to stay on-track with their own goals.

I've only posted three, but they are my biggest ones right now:

1) Help others succeed at their goals!
2) Stop procrastinating.
3) Get out of debt.

Now that I'm making myself accountable to the world, I'll occasionally post about my progress (hopefully progress, but probably sometimes lack of progress! LOL ).

So who's going to join me in this?

11/07/2008

Marketing Lessons from Obama - Excellent Analysis

I found a blog post from Web Ink Now that is an absolute read for anyone involved in business. A brilliant analysis of President-elect Obama's campaign and in-fact a blueprint for exceptional marketing.

I took away several important points that will help me in my businesses. Clarity of purpose and my favorite one, "People don't care about products and services, instead they care about themselves and about solving their problems."

Now that is something every business should make anyone involved in marketing read every morning before starting work!

http://www.webinknow.com/2008/11/ten-marketing-lessons-from-the-barack-obama-presidential-campaign.html

11/05/2008

Great Deals For You to Check Out Today!

Well I am happy to say one of my new websites is up and running and getting lots of attention! Check it out for some of the best deals and tips you can find on the internet! www.thisnthatgreatwebsites.com

This is the kind of stuff I love to do...find interesting information and blog about it and find great tips and deals and put them in one place for you to find easily!

My newest website is under construction and when I get it up and running I hope you'll visit. This one is going to be all about how to find out the "secrets" of your competition and use them to your advantage! For existing businesses or someone who is just doing research in order to launch a new business, this site will provide fantastic insights and information to exactly what you need to know.

I can't wait to launch it and get your feedback! Keep an eye out here on my Blog where you'll be the first to know the secrets I'm about to share!

11/04/2008

Our Tax System Explained: Bar Stool Economics

A great election day "pass along" for you!

Our Tax System Explained: Bar Stool Economics

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D. Professor of Economics University of Georgia

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing. The fifth would pay $1. The sixth would pay $3. The seventh would pay $7. The eighth would pay $12. The ninth would pay $18. The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. ‘Since you are all such good customers,’ he said, ‘I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.’ Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.

But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his ‘fair share?’

They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so: The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings). The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings). The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings). The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings). The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings). The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

‘I only got a dollar out of the $20,’declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,’ but he got $10!’

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ exclaimed the fifth man. ‘I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I got’ ‘That’s true!!’ shouted the seventh man. ‘Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!’

‘Wait a minute,’ yelled the first four men in unison. ‘We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!’

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.


11/03/2008

Are You Going to Vote Tomorrow?

I was truly amazed to hear from a young man today that he wasn't planning to vote tomorrow because his vote "doesn't matter" and "nothing's going to change regardless of who gets elected." I'm saddened that there are still people who feel their vote doesn't matter. I have friends who are married and one is a staunch Democrat and one a staunch Republican and they stopped voting a few years ago saying their votes canceled each other out. Doesn't everyone know by now the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college? And what about all of the other issues on the ballot?

Please, VOTE and try to convince anyone who doesn't plan on voting to go with you...every voice counts in every election. Whether you are voting for McCain or Obama the issue is bigger than that. We normally only get just over half the registered voters to cast their ballots in an election. What might change if we got almost 100% of the voters to the polls? I sure would like to find out in my lifetime.

11/02/2008

More on Banks in the Bailout Paying Big Bonuses

I wrote a few days ago about this being on CNN and wondered why it wasn't getting more play (see October 25, 2008 post)...well finally someone in the UK is writing about it.

Here is a snippet...read the full article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/nov/01/royal-bank-scotland-vincent-cable

"Several US politicians have seized on an investigation by the Guardian last month which showed six Wall Street banks - Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers - had set aside
$70bn ... in pay and bonuses for the first nine months of the year. (emphasis is mine)

Five are in line to benefit from a $700bn US taxpayer bail-out. The sixth, Lehman Brothers, has collapsed - though not without securing considerable bonus payouts for staff in the US.

Henry Waxman, chairman of the House oversight committee, wrote to chief executives of America's nine largest banks this week asking them to hand over information about their pay and bonus plans.

In his letter Waxman cites the Guardian report and says: "Some experts have suggested that a significant percentage of [bankers' pay] could come in year-end bonuses and that the size of the bonuses will be significantly enhanced as a result of the infusion of taxpayer funds."

Staff costs at RBS's investment banking division include salaries already paid in the first six months of the year, national insurance and profit-sharing contributions as well as funds earmarked for end-of-year bonuses. The sum set aside is 20% lower than the equivalent figure for the first six months of 2007.

Banking sources privately acknowledge that the sight of these bonus accruals may provoke anger. They concede the industry's pay and bonus regime is under unprecedented strain as it fails to reflect profitability, asset writedowns or share price declines." (Emphasis is mine!)

UH, YEAH! $70 BILLION in pay and bonuses to the people that caused this financial melt-down?

11/01/2008

Why Starting a Business NOW Makes Good Sense

I've been a business owner for over 30 years now. Back in the late 70's I had a Word Processing business. For those of you too young to understand that concept, stand-alone word processing machines were the "big thing" before personal computers put word processing on everyone's desk. Now this was before spell checking and grammar checks and I had to have every document proof-read by a live person. And it was the world of dot matrix printers...it seems like an eternity ago!

It was hard work and long hours, but it allowed me to be my own boss and chart my own course. I've owned several other businesses over the years and have more than a couple right now including one that does about $5 million in sales. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is I don't have to worry about losing my job(s).

I was just reading an article that was saying right now is probably a good time to start a business, and I'd agree. Maybe not a full-time one if you're employed, but a small business that you can start with little money that will provide you with some additional income; ultimately I'm a big fan of multiple streams of income. It all adds up and it also gives you a sense of security in times of cutbacks; you'll already have something that can generate income if you were to lose your job.

The article can be found in the October 15, 2008 issue of Bottom Line Personal http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/article.html?article_id=46533

And if you're interested in exploring one of the businesses I'm involved with that I highly recommend, visit my website page at www.SendOutCards.com/cardgallery - a business with a product that everyone uses is a "no brainer!"

10/30/2008

Launch of My New Website - Will You Give Me Some Feedback?

Well, after a day and a half of working on it (yes, a very short time!) I have launched a new website that I would love to get feedback on! This is a website that will constantly grow and change with great new promotions, deals, rebate offers, prizes, etc., that I find while I'm browsing the internet. I'm not only an "information-aholic" but a "shop-aholic" (reformed!) that loves to find a great deal! So I'm indulging both by writing this blog and creating my new website that allows me to pass on great offers.

I always pay way less than the retail price on most anything I buy, because I know how to search out the coupons, deals, etc. And I'm on a lot of e-mail lists that notify me of specials, sales and so on that now I can pass on to others. I also love to travel (look at my Europe photos in an earlier post if you haven't already!) and friends are always asking me to help them find the best airfare and hotel deals. I love doing it, and now I can do it on a much broader scale!

If you have a minute, please visit www.thisnthatgreatwebsites.com and give me your comments, good or bad. I'm looking to provide a great source for people like you, so your feedback is very appreciated!

10/29/2008

Customer Service - Does it Exist in Most Companies Anymore?

OK, this is a bit of a rant, but it has a valid point.

As you may know I've been traveling a lot and haven't had a lot of internet access. That's one reason why several years ago I set myself up with a bill paying service. All of my bills that can't be set-up for online retrieval have a mailing address in South Dakota. They scan them and forward to me any items that are non-bill related. So when I travel I never have to worry about a credit card changing my due date, etc. Everything gets paid on the terms I set for each bill, i.e., "in-full," "minimum payment," etc.

But when I got home Monday night I got a huge surprise...a LOC got paid in-full instead of the minimum payment. And worse yet was the timing, because there was enough money in my account to cover it because it was there for mortgage payments. This is a long story that I won't go into detail about, but I was upset and a bit frantic worrying about my mortgage payments bouncing, but even worse a couple of credit cards that I carry large balances on with "3.99% until paid off" would likely bounce and readjust to something more like 25% interest.

It actually wasn't even a bill they paid, but a letter telling me I hadn't paid the full amount (a fluke also due to this bill paying service - they sent them a check last month that the printer obviously ran out of ink while printing and it wasn't fully readable and got returned). I worked with the financial institution that received the overpayment (thank goodness it was a revolving line of credit, not a loan - which would have been paid off and not able to be re-instated) to figure out how to fix it. But I also called the bill paying service because although I didn't think they'd be legally liable (I'm sure the agreement I signed took care of that!) I wanted them to know about a major flaw in their system and be reassured that they'd make sure it couldn't happen again.

I was restrained, but firm. And then they lost me as a customer...their "customer service" person started telling me that they hadn't made a mistake, that the letter that was received (yes, they paid based on a letter, not a bill!) said "balance" and it was computerized and that's what they paid. I lost it at that point when he began arguing with me that they did nothing wrong. I demanded his supervisor, who continued to tell me they did nothing wrong. When I asked for his supervisor they were in a meeting and wouldn't be able to call me until today. Which they did not.

So, what had I wanted or expected from them in my call? Not much. Reassurance that a problem in their system needed to be researched and resolved so it wouldn't happen again, an apology, a credit equal to the fees I was going to be charged, etc. Something. But what I got was nothing close to Customer Service. And so now they've lost my business and I'm going to be going out of my way to tell everyone I know not to do business with PAYTRUST.com - which interestingly is an Intuit company. I would have expected better, much better. You've been warned, spread the word. It's the only way Customer Service in big companies will ever get back to serving the customer.

10/27/2008

What Are the Banks Doing With the Bailout Money?

I'm at the Phoenix airport waiting for my flight home after my seminar and thought I'd comment on some things I've seen about what the banks are doing with the money they got from the $700 Billion Bailout.

I had CNN on in my room the other night and a banner went by indicating how much in bonuses was going to be paid by several of the banks. Huh? Bonuses for messing up? And these were BIG numbers. I searched the internet and couldn't find any more information, even at CNN.

Then last night they were talking about how one of the banks used some of the money to buy another bank (probably one in trouble, right?). The question in my mind is why there were not more caveats attached to the use of the bailout money. I understand that we don't want the government running private banks, but come on, giving banks huge amounts of taxpayer's money and not putting restrictions on what they can use it for (I understand they did limit "golden parachutes," but I'm not sure to what extent) doesn't make sense to me. This was supposed to be for our benefit in some way, wasn't it? If they use the money in ways that don't directly benefit us who's to say the same people who mucked things up won't make poor decisions with this money?

Let me be the first to say I'm not well-read on the provisions in the Bailout Bill, and if someone is able to comment from a more well-read position, please do.

10/26/2008

Do You Need a Website? Try This and Create One in 30 Minutes

When I first wanted to create a website for a new business I was starting I didn't have the money to get someone else to do it for me. So I went looking for software that I could use to do it myself. I looked at a lot of recommendations, but they just seemed more complicated than I needed and I'd have to spend a bunch of time learning the software.

Then I happened upon the software I'm currently using. Its advertising said I could create a site in just 30 minutes...and they were right! I was very surprised at how easy it was. A little learning curve, but it was pretty much "point and shoot." So if you're looking for a great website creation tool give it a try. It's easy and even better, it's very inexpensive as well! Can't get better than easy and inexpensive!

Click on the following and check it out.

Build a Website in 30 minutes. Try Free, Click Here.
I saw a banner go by on the bottom of the screen on CNN a little while ago that floored me. So I tried to find the full story. And, interestingly, I had a difficult time tracking it down. Considering the subject matter I was amazed that it wasn't being talked about on the news.



Saturday, October 25, 2008 7:32 AM EDT

By the Associated Press

NEW YORK — Despite the Wall Street meltdown, the nation's biggest banks are preparing to pay their workers as much as last year or more, including bonuses tied to personal and company performance.

So far this year, nine of the largest U.S. banks, including some that have cut thousands of jobs, have seen total costs for salaries, benefits and bonuses grow by an average of 3 percent from a year ago, according to an Associated Press review.

"Taxpayers have lost their life savings, and now they are being asked to bail out corporations," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said of the AP findings. "It's adding insult to injury to continue to pay outsized bonuses and exorbitant compensation."

Banks will decide what to pay out in bonuses in the coming months. Just because they've been accruing money for incentive pay doesn't mean they will pay it out in full.

But some banks are setting aside large amounts. At Citigroup, which has cut 23,000 jobs this year amid the crisis, pay expenses for the first nine months of this year came to $25.9 billion, 4 percent more than the same period last year.

Even if what the bank has shelled out in severance pay and other costs related to the job cuts are subtracted, overall pay is only slightly lower this year.

Typically, about 60 percent of Wall Street pay goes to salary and benefits, while about 40 percent goes to end-of-the-year cash and stock bonuses that hinge on performance, both for the individual and the company, said Brad Hintz, a securities industry analyst at Sanford Bernstein and a former chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers.

This should be the year where that structure is tested. The financial crisis, brought about by mountains of bad mortgage-related assets, caused banks to falter or fail and lending to dry up and prompted Congress to pass a $700 billion bailout package. As part of that, government is pouring $125 billion through stock purchases into the nine large financial companies cited in AP's review of compensation.

Besides Citigroup, those include Bank of New York Mellon, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo & Co., and State Street. Another $125 billion will be made available to other banks.

Those taking cash from Uncle Sam must follow guidelines limiting executive pay, including a ban on golden parachutes for departing executives. No restrictions are placed on across-the-board pay.

IndyMac Bank and BofA are Modifying Mortgage Payments - Can It Help You?

I read an article on CNN Online that talks about the mortgage modifications that IndyMac and BofA are doing - if you have a mortgage with either you should read the article, you may be able to get help on your mortgage payment. Here is a portion of the article; read the full article at http://money.cnn.com/2008/10/24/real_estate/indymac_solution/index.htm?postversion=2008102416

One failed bank gets the housing fix right
When the FDIC seized mortgage giant IndyMac it was one of the biggest bank failures ever. Now the troubled lender just may lead us out of the housing mess.

By Amanda Gengler, Money Magazine writer

"Under IndyMac's program, the lender modifies a loan so that the borrower's new mortgage payment, including insurance and taxes, eats up no more than 38% of their pre-tax income. This percentage, known as a debt to income ratio, topped 50% for some loans during the boom.

To achieve this lower payment, IndyMac can lower the interest rate, extend the life of the loan to, say, 30 or 40 years, defer some principal to the final years of the loan, or a use a combination of these strategies.

IndyMac is also trying to simplify the process for borrowers. It is overnighting loan forms to eligible customers with a signature required upon receipt. "It doesn't show up with your regular mail, coupons and junk mail, because the key is getting the consumer to open it," said FDIC spokesman David Barr.

The papers clearly spell out a borrower's new loan terms, including the interest rate and monthly payments over the life of the loan. The borrower simply signs and returns the documents with the first lower monthly payment.
B of A follows suit

Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) launched a similarly systematic program earlier in October. That program, scheduled to start in December, came as part of a settlement with state attorney general offices that sued Countrywide, which B of A recently acquired, for predatory lending practices. It's expected to help 400,000 troubled borrowers and is actually slightly more aggressive than IndyMac's plan.

B of A will use a 34% debt-to-income ratio to calculate the affordable monthly payment for its customers, and may also write down the principal balance of some negative amortizing loans. IndyMac will not forgive debt, but instead will add principal to the final years of a loan if necessary.

Additionally, IndyMac's program is now being applied to many delinquent loans owned by Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500), Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and other investors, Bair said in her testimony Thursday."

10/24/2008

How Amazing the Synergy of a Group Can Be

For the past two days I have had the privilege of being at a seminar with an incredible group of people who in that short time have come together and forged friendships, shared experiences and knowledge and will have learned more than we could have imagined from both the speakers and each other. That is the synergy of a group of like-minded people who came together as strangers and will leave as friends sharing common goals and ready to help each other in reaching them.

I have been at seminars before where the speakers were great and the information useful but the dynamics of this group has gone beyond the norm. It makes me wonder what the catalyst is in creating the quick bond between people; is it the current economic crisis which makes us all feel more connected? Whatever it is it is energizing to be here, listening, sharing, talking, learning.

Certainly the people here are the type who see the glass half-full,not half-empty. Regardless of the state of the economy they are upbeat, positive in outlook and not letting the situation or the news sidetrack them from forging ahead with new ideas and plans for starting or improving a business. They are people who will not just survive the current economic situation, but actually move ahead with new plans and new endeavors.

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."
Thomas Jefferson

10/21/2008

Some Photos From My Trip

I took about 400 photos, but these are just a few of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them!
















10/20/2008

The Current Economic Situation is Crazy - But Another A.A. Milne Quote to Help Us Keep Balanced

“Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Christopher Robin to Pooh” - A.A. Milne

I'm thinking that it's time to read more "Winnie the Pooh" these days! When the news swings like a crazy pendulum and you don't know where all of this economic craziness is headed you need to listen to Christopher Robin's wisdom.

I was happy to be away from most news during the first two weeks of October. When I returned and started reading about what had been happening I was appalled. Our news media created a frenzy of fear and near panic, and although there are serious problems now and ahead of us, how much unnecessary stress and angst was caused by excessive "news."

So the next time you feel anxious about the economy or anything in your life, take a deep breath and remember Christopher Robin's advice to Pooh.

A Quote for Today's Economic Times - From an Unusual Source!

From Winnie the Pooh

“It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.

"So it is."

"And freezing."

"Is it?"

"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately.”


A. A. Milne

Are Any of You Runners, Joggers, or Have "Bad Knees"?

I've always had "bad knees" - jogging was never a possibility for me. That is until I found these great shoes that actually have springs in them! I got the "trainers" not the running shoes, but for the first time in my adult life I can now jog without it bothering my knees!

The "runners" were actually "Banned in Boston" - yeah, the Boston Marathon banned them for giving runners an unfair advantage. Don't know how it settled out, but the maker loves to use that for advertising purposes!

They have running shoes, trainers and walkers. Don't laugh at the source I found them at - I get lots of catalogs 'cause I'm a mail order/catalog buyer (I hate shopping at the stores):
Spira Racer
Spira Trainer
Spira Walker

Credit Card Offer - Reduce Your Balance and Get a Reward

I got an interesting offer in the mail the other day from one of my credit cards. This is one that had already reduced my credit line down to just what I owed a few weeks ago. I had taken advantage of a previous offer to get a low interest rate if I transferred other balances to it. Since it was pretty max'd out it the credit line only went down $1,240 - strange number, huh? Basically the computer looked at what I owed and added enough for the next interest accumulation and that became my new credit line. I figured that if I pay-off any more of it they would probably reduce my credit line even further. So that that card has been getting the minimum payment, until the special interest rate offer expires.

The new offer from them is interesting...for the next 4 months they will match 20% of the amount over the minimum payment I make, up to $550. Sounds good, but the catch is that they will temporarily suspend the ability to charge on the account and at the end of the 4 months they will reduce the credit line by what I paid over the minimum plus the 20% they give me.

In my opinion this is a more reasonable way to get people to pay down their credit balances - give them a financial incentive and tell them up-front that they will also be lowering their available credit line. The other way, just lowering credit lines arbitrarily, leaves people without credit they may have been counting on to pay college tuition, etc. And many, like me, will quickly max out their available credit with a cash advance in order to make certain that money is available for upcoming expenses or "buffer money" for those unanticipated expenses.

For example this past spring our beloved dog unexpectedly collapsed while we were 3,000 miles away and was diagnosed with a very aggressive blood vessel cancer; they didn't expect her to survive the night. We put several thousand dollars on our credit card for transfusions, surgery, etc. in order to buy (literally) time for us to return home and spend a few weeks with her before she passed. For us, not having had that credit available would have been tragic emotionally.

The availability of credit in our society provides for flexibility; yes, it has gotten out of control and some people have used it to live beyond their means, but the random reduction of credit lines without any reason (late payments, etc.) puts more of a strain on people that are managing their credit. And in many cases it will have a backlash when people who have been paying down debt begin to save that money instead and pay only minimum payments so that they retain their ability to respond to unforseen needs.

10/19/2008

Employees and Employers - What Are The Issues?

Ok, so it it just us, or are all business owners experiencing problems with employees?

We have always operated our business on the basis of treating our employees the way we would like to be treated; after all, we were employees of someone else a long time ago.

We have always had a policy of “you have a life,” meaning if you need to take time off to go to your kid’s school, great, just make sure you’re work is covered by someone else - we don’t want you to work overtime; it means we are understaffed - we want you to enjoy coming to work, not dread it.

While we were active in the business on a daily basis it worked great! The majority of our employees have been with us 10-18 years. At one point I joked that we needed to hire a “token” young person in order to get our health insurance rates down! And that is my issue…it seems that the younger people take advantage of our policies; don’t understand the incredible flexibility we offer. We never fired anyone; we worked with them. Seems these days that attitude is passe. We’ve fired at least three people in the last year (all new hires) for taking advantage of our flexible policies and just blatant disregard of basic business policies (not calling in when you had to take time off unexpectedly, using a company laptop during work hours to download photos and songs, etc.).

Some of it I take direct responsibility for - my former part-time assistant had been padding her hours for almost 4 years - to the tune of 50 - 75% more than was realistic. I never reviewed her timecard (hand created) I just assumed she would be honest.

Other things we've grappled with time and time again over the years are experiences with employees just up and leaving, including never calling and leaving us frantic thinking they were ill or injured, etc. I think that's a universal experience for anyone who's been in business any amount of time, no matter how "good" you are to your employees.

We have always tried to treat our employees exceptionally well, remembering what it was like to be an employee, not an employer. The old Golden Rule concept. And sometimes that has come back to bite us; but my husband, who is the more accepting of life's frustrations always says, "let it go...don't let it drag you down to their level." "What goes around comes around" is something he would say to me when I'd be upset about being taken advantage of...and his other favorite saying is "always err on the side of generosity, you'll never be in the wrong." I guess that goes for generosity of spirit as well as monetarily.

When I argued with him once about it "not being right" he quietly pointed out that the difference between how he looks at life and how I do is that he never expects it to be "right," or "fair" and therefore he doesn't let the negative things get to him and is pleasantly surprised when things go well. It's actually a much more reasonable approach and I have tried to emulate it. When I succeed at it I find I am much less stressed and when I fall back into my old ways I end up harboring tension and negativity, neither of which is good for one, or one's subconscious mind (remember the quotes, you are your thoughts and you become what you think).

Does it change how we treat current employees when we've been "burned " in the past? Yes and no. We still try to err on the side of generosity and remember the Golden Rule, but we have learned to temper it with reality and know that some people will always take advantage and not respond in kind. So we look at what is best for the business first and foremost now, and then at what we can afford to realistically do for our employees, whether it be a monetary issue or time-off, etc.

10/18/2008

Friends All Over the World

When our kids were very young we were just starting our business and they had to go to daycare before they were even one year-old. As they got a little older and began school I felt badly that their summers would be spent in that type of environment. I found a wonderful program that provided European girls the opportunity to come to the U.S. during 10 weeks of the summer and be Au Pairs for American families.

Each summer we had a new person...first from Belfast, Northern Ireland then Poland, England, Sweden and Croatia. We adults got to learn a lot about their home countries and the environments they grew up in and our kids got great care, in their own home, and learned that no matter where someone lived or how they sounded, they were all just the same as us.

On our 2 weeks in Europe we got to visit our Croatian Au Pair, now living in Venice (just a 3-hour drive from Zagreb, Croatia, her hometown). And she had just had a baby! What deja vu! Our daughter is now almost the same age she was when she came to us that summer twelve years ago!

We've kept in touch with the others and gotten invitations to weddings, photos of their kids and cards keeping us up-to-date with what was happening in their lives. But actually being able to visit with someone is the best.

We've also made friends with hoteliers and restaurant owners during our travels and it is always so much fun to see them again and to be greeted as not guests, but family in another country.

My husband and kids were hesitant at first when I planned our first family trip to Europe. They were afraid of not being able to communicate with people. But with a phrase book and memorizing the phrases in their languages for "I'm sorry, I don't speak XXXX," please and thank-you got us through with no major problems as we traveled around.

But it was embarrassing to only know English; almost everyone spoke at least some English and often very fluent English. At one point we stopped at a restaurant in the countryside and no one spoke more than a word or two of English. The waiter tried speaking to us in his native French, then Italian and Spanish. We made ourselves understood, but it was obvious he was shaking his head at the fact that he could communicate in 3 languages and we could only speak ours.

Maybe it's just the close proximity of countries in Europe that speak different languages, but I think its more that we don't put enough emphasis on being bi-lingual or even multi-lingual. Our Au Pair living in Venice spoke 5 languages fluently when she was in her early 20's; she's now up to 8 and working on yet another! Now she may be the exception, but it also allows her to go almost anywhere - and she has, often times staying on after her vacation and working, as she did upon visiting the Canary Islands a few years ago. Language allows for a very flexible, fluid lifestyle.

10/17/2008

A Hedge Fund Manager Quits - Read His "Goodbye" Letter

I am back from my two weeks in Europe and ready to jump back into my daily blog posts. Today I found this very interesting "Goodbye" letter from a Hedge Fund manager on CNBC and definitely it is an interesting read:

Hedge Fund Manager: Goodbye ... And Think Pot
By Matthew Malone, Portfolio.com | 17 Oct 2008 | 12:48 PM ET

From the Scorched Earth Files:

Andrew Lahde, manager of a small California hedge fund, Lahde Capital, burst into the spotlight last year after his one-year-old fund returned 866 percent betting against the subprime collapse.

Last month, he did the unthinkable -- he shut things down, claiming dealing with his bank counterparties had become too risky. Today, Lahde passed along his "goodbye" letter, a rollicking missive on everything from greed to economic philosophy. Enjoy:

Today I write not to gloat. Given the pain that nearly everyone is experiencing, that would be entirely inappropriate. Nor am I writing to make further predictions, as most of my forecasts in previous letters have unfolded or are in the process of unfolding. Instead, I am writing to say goodbye.

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, "What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it." I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

There are far too many people for me to sincerely thank for my success. However, I do not want to sound like a Hollywood actor accepting an award. The money was reward enough. Furthermore, the endless list those deserving thanks know who they are.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? They will all be forgotten in fifty years anyway. Steve Balmer, Steven Cohen, and Larry Ellison will all be forgotten. I do not understand the legacy thing. Nearly everyone will be forgotten. Give up on leaving your mark. Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

So this is it. With all due respect, I am dropping out. Please do not expect any type of reply to emails or voicemails within normal time frames or at all. Andy Springer and his company will be handling the dissolution of the fund. And don't worry about my employees, they were always employed by Mr. Springer's company and only one (who has been well-rewarded) will lose his job.

I have no interest in any deals in which anyone would like me to participate. I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life -- where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management -- with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunct institutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government.

Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man's interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft's near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken.

Lastly, while I still have an audience, I would like to bring attention to an alternative food and energy source. You won't see it included in BP's, "Feel good. We are working on sustainable solutions," television commercials, nor is it mentioned in ADM's similar commercials. But hemp has been used for at least 5,000 years for cloth and food, as well as just about everything that is produced from petroleum products. Hemp is not marijuana and vice versa. Hemp is the male plant and it grows like a weed, hence the slang term. The original American flag was made of hemp fiber and our Constitution was printed on paper made of hemp. It was used as recently as World War II by the U.S. Government, and then promptly made illegal after the war was won. At a time when rhetoric is flying about becoming more self-sufficient in terms of energy, why is it illegal to grow this plant in this country?

Ah, the female. The evil female plant -- marijuana. It gets you high, it makes you laugh, it does not produce a hangover. Unlike alcohol, it does not result in bar fights or wife beating. So, why is this innocuous plant illegal? Is it a gateway drug? No, that would be alcohol, which is so heavily advertised in this country. My only conclusion as to why it is illegal, is that Corporate America, which owns Congress, would rather sell you Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax and other additive drugs, than allow you to grow a plant in your home without some of the profits going into their coffers. This policy is ludicrous. It has surely contributed to our dependency on foreign energy sources. Our policies have other countries literally laughing at our stupidity, most notably Canada, as well as several European nations (both Eastern and Western). You would not know this by paying attention to U.S. media sources though, as they tend not to elaborate on who is laughing at the United States this week. Please people, let's stop the rhetoric and start thinking about how we can truly become self-sufficient.

With that I say good-bye and good luck.

All the best,

Andrew Lahde

10/12/2008

In Italy...Food, Wine and Conversation

Sorry for the lack of daily posts, but I'm traveling in France and Italy and after a day of sightseeing, food and wine I fall into bed and am asleep before my head hits the pillow! But today we slept in a bit so I have a little energy left!

When we were in Florence we had dinner at a restaurant we have been to many times before. The first time was in the summer of 2002 when it seemed no one was traveling, especially Americans. So the manager of the restaurant spent time talking with us and we found out quite a bit about him. And our teenage son found an internet cafe right next door so we spent time drinking wine and talking to our new friend every day.

We went back the next summer and he greeted us as old friends, and the summer of 2004 found us visiting with him again. By now we were "family" and we heard about his recent marriage and laughed and talked over a long dinner. Until this year we haven't been in Florence again - but after a very slight pause when we approached him he broke into a big smile and welcomed us back again, this time with our friends. But he asked about the children and remembered what we had talked about four years ago. Friendship truly does last regardless of how much time passes.

So in our conversation at dinner the other night he expressed an interest in our upcoming Presidential election. And then he made a comment that we didn't quite understand, "Politics, it's all just pasta." He laughed and said "You know, spaghetti with red sauce, spaghetti with clams, spaghetti with meat sauce...it's still just pasta!"

10/03/2008

Economies Are Similar All Around The World

As you may know, I am in France right now and trying to adjust to a French keyboard! So this may be a short post as I am typing at about half my normal rate.

But to the point of the post...it is definitely slower here this year. Not as many people. And a change made at the start of this year is definitely making a difference. Smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants. Now smoking is part of the French culture. Sitting and eating a meal, then lingering over your coffee or wine while smoking is just how it was always done. But now there are less people in the cafes and restaurants...and according to the waiters it is not just the economy but the ban on smoking that is keeping people away.

So not just the economy is hurting the cafes and restaurants, but a change in law. And to make it even worse people have actually walked out on their bills when they say they are going outside to have a smoke.

Ripples throughout the economy based on a law affecting the culture. Travel is so interesting, not just for the sites you see but what goes on at a local level.

9/30/2008

"Think and Grow Rich" - Thoughts Relevant for Today

On the Forum that I frequent we have a "book of the month" that we read and comment on. This past month it was Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich."

One of the main themes is that your thoughts are things. Many people have said this in one way or another over the years but going back to the source is interesting. It helps to remind me that we have been through tough times before and gotten through them, and the idea that what we think becomes our reality (obviously to some extent) has always resonated with me.

I remember reading somewhere (sorry I can't give credit - I just don't remember the source) about how people react to seeing an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service. The majority of people would react negatively, with dread. But what if the letter was to tell you you had overpaid your taxes and had a refund coming? The envelope itself, nor the return address gave you any clue as to the content, but the "thought" that it was bad news would be enough to create a negative feeling, maybe even a physical reaction of a quickened heartbeat, in most people.

Our subconscious mind really does control our knee-jerk reactions to things. Yesterday we had a record drop in the stock market, today it went back up substantially. In tough times when the "talking heads" have nothing but doom and gloom to impart maybe it's time to turn the TV off and read something uplifting and insightful. It just might help you keep perspective.

9/29/2008

What Exactly Does "Fortunate" Mean?

I was in San Diego last week filming a video interview and had the opportunity to spend time with a young man, not quite 18 yet, who is "going places" in life. He's already started a non-profit organization, raises money for it, has spoken before large groups of high school students, and on and on. This young guy is charismatic, well-spoken, humorous and engaging - a real pleasure to spend time with.

I found myself thinking about him on the long ride home and the word "fortunate" came to mind. And then my mind screeched to a halt...I had just associated the word "fortunate" to a young person who was left at a Mexican hospital at birth, lived in Mexican foster homes and orphanages all his young life and was subjected to the most horrendous abuses that you can imagine, all before the age of 14 when he was finally adopted by my friends and brought to the U.S.

And yet "fortunate" seemed an appropriate word because he kept his humanity and his love of life through what would have derailed the majority of kids faced with the life he found himself living. Now he is surrounded by parents and people who love him and are helping him reach his full potential in life. That's fortunate. He has faced some of the worst life can dish out and he's come out on top. That's fortunate. He has an ability to look at life from the perspective of "what's the worst that can happen...certainly not anything worse than I have already experienced" which is incredibly freeing. That's fortunate.

Please take a minute and go to his website, www.Thundermission.com - his charity's Mission Statement is "Changing the World One Child @ a Time" and his personal mantra is "Why Change One Life When You Can Change Two?"

You just may be able to someday say, "I knew him when..."

9/27/2008

Senate Sends Big Banking Bill to the President

So on one hand they're talking about a $700 billion dollar bailout of the financial sector and at the same time they're sending a huge spending bill to the President to sign so that the government doesn't have to shut down come Tuesday. Here's the link:
http://channels.isp.netscape.com/news/story.jsp?flok=FF-APO-1333&idq=/ff/story/0001%2F20080928%2F0046667640.htm&sc=1333&floc=NI-ne1

I just can't comprehend the amounts of money that are being thrown around. And the article ends with some huge dollars of special interest monies being included.

Where's the outrage? Why aren't our elected officials realizing that this just can't keep going on.

9/26/2008

Why Do I Feel Like We're at Odds With Our Roots?

My husband has an uncanny way of being right, even when he's being annoying! Now he's not right about everything all the time, but he looks at the world in a very different way than I do.

He didn't understand the stock market crazy days...to him the fundamentals just didn't support what was going on. Same with the real estate boom...he kept saying to me it just can't keep going like it is.

So now he is saying too many people are making money from nothing, i.e., affiliate marketing on the internet, etc., where people are making money on referring people to other people who actually have a product to sell. He just shakes his head and says it doesn't make any sense. You work for money, you don't just shuffle things around and make money off of someone else's product, it just doesn't make sense.

And interestingly I know someone who makes a lot of money doing that, but he admits that it's short-lived. As soon as they figure out they can do it for themselves he's shut off and he has to go and recreate the model elsewhere.

My husband's not a big fan of the internet overall...but when he talks about something not making sense I do (finally!) take notice. He has been right more often than he's been wrong. So he's given me more to think about. Some will tell you the internet makes everything possible, there is no limit. But then I think about my friend who keeps having to recreate his model and I wonder how many times he really can do that.

A day's wage for a day's work. "Any necessary work that pays an honest wage carries its own honor and dignity." -- W. Kelly Griffith

Comments anyone?


I Don't Care What Your Political Affiliation Is, This Article Should Anger You

I don't want to get into politics here, but there's a difference in my mind between politics and just plain government officials, regardless of party, not doing right. This article shows the worst of our elected officials, in my mind anyway.

The friend that posted the link that I'm providing below titled her comment "Pork, the other white meat."

http://councilfor.cagw.org/site/News2?abbr=CCAGW_&page=NewsArticle&id=11608

What's Wrong With This? WaMu New CEO Gets $20 Million for 17 Days Work

I can't find words to comment on this I am so blown away. Read for yourself:

WaMu Gives New CEO Mega Payout as Bank Fails

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nice work — if you can get fired from it.

That's just what one Alan H. Fishman might have thought when he woke up Friday morning.

Fishman was the new chief executive officer for Washingon Mutual — WaMu — the nation's largest savings and loan, which was taken over Thursday night by federal bank regulators and quickly dumped in a fire sale to JPMorgan Chase for the Wal-Mart-like price of $1.9 billion.

But don't cry for Fishman, who reportedly was sky-high — literally — last night, on a flight from New York to Seattle, when WaMu collapsed. Even though he's only been on the job for less than three weeks, he's bailing out with parachute worth close to $20 million, according to an executive compensation analysis conducted for the New York Times by James F. Reda Associates.

That's right, $20 million for 17 days on the job ... and his company failed.

Fishman, who formerly was chairman of Meridian Capital Group, apparently was much coveted by WaMu, which was counting on him to lead the failing thrift out of mortgage troubles that pushed the bank to a $3.3 billion second-quarter loss.

According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, WaMu threw a $7.5 million bonus at Fishman when it hired him on Sept. 8, and guaranteed him an immediate cash severence of $11.6 million — both of which he gets to keep.

He also was eligible for annual bonuses of up to 365 percent of his annual base pay — set at $1 million — to go with millions of shares of company stock.

Fishman does lose out on a big bonus that would have kicked in had he remained on the job through 2009.

Documents show WaMu was going to pay their new boss $8 million to simply not screw up and get fired — all negotiated as the Seattle-based banking giant's loses climbed to an estimated $20 billion.



Do you have a Debit Card for your checking account with a Visa/MC logo? A Warning to Heed!

Late yesterday afternoon I called my bank to alert them that I would be traveling soon to Europe (always do this with cards you're taking on a vacation, BTW) so I wouldn't run into any issues.

But this time with all of the reductions of credit going on I decided I couldn't risk finding out that a credit card I took with me reduced my credit line and left me hanging. So I also told them I'd be taking my debit card.

This is where the "ah ha" came in. The rep asked if I had a secondary checking account that I wanted to make the primary account for my debit card while I was traveling. Huh? Then he explained that if I lost the card it couldn't be used as a debit card without the PIN # but it could be used as a charge card and potentially wipe out my checking account. My bank set me up with another checking account on the phone and made the existing card link to that account as the primary account. I'll get another debit card for it in the mail, and I can always change the primary account back to my regular checking account. But why would I?

Now I don't know about you, but I'd never thought about that and no one at the bank ever brought it up, they just sent me a new debit card a long time ago that now also had the Visa emblem on it.

So a word to the wise - check your debit card and if it has a MC/Visa emblem talk to your bank about it. As far as I'm concerned it isn't just an issue for traveling overseas it's a serious issue, period. You can lose your debit card just as easily as a credit card. And think about this in closing...it's YOUR money that would disappear, not the bank's. Would there be any recourse or protection as with a credit card? My guess is a resounding NO.

9/25/2008

Close-up of the Damage to My Friend's Galveston Beachhouse




A few days ago I posted the before and after satellite photos of Galveston, TX. Just now my friend got a photo of her house taken from a helicopter. Take note that nothing has been cleared away in the area and there "was" a house almost twice as big as hers about 3 feet to the left of the house in the photo. It's amazing anything of hers was left.

Cash for Points - Check Your Options!

Not long ago I remembered that American Express used to allow you to exchange Membership Rewards Points into cash. So I investigated and although they don't give you "cash" you can turn them into American Express Travelers Cheques that you can use anywhere. You really have to look to find it - just keep looking for "more rewards."

I checked all the other cards I accumulate points on and what do you know several of them allowed you to exchange points for cash...a real, honest to goodness check. I had enough points spread out over several cards that allowed me to get over $1,000.00 - yes, you read that right!

So if you need a little extra cash start looking at the Rewards Programs you have with your credit cards and look at ALL the options. You may have a nice surprise waiting for you!

9/24/2008

How Much Money Do You Need to Save to Make Something Worthwhile?

Would you walk away from a $20 bill laying on the street? How about $50? $100? You may be able to save that and more in your business each and every month if you accept credit cards. Find out more NOW.

One of my newest passions is the rip-off's in credit card processing. Most businesses, no matter how small, are pretty well resigned to the need to accept credit cards. Our main business has been accepting them for 19 years and I've had lots of experience with a variety of different merchant service providers.

Then a few months ago a friend had a major problem with her provider and blogged about it. Since I check our rates every couple of years I realized I hadn't done that in a while and started checking around. And because of her issue I really did research this time, not just shop rates.

What I found was amazing. The vast majority of providers charge "junk fees" every month that just add to their profit. Do you have a "statement fee" or a "customer service fee" on your statement? Those are pure profit centers for the provider. I actually have a list of about a dozen junk fees that commonly charged. And did you know that even a merchant provider can request a copy of a charge slip...it's called a "retrieval" and yes, they charge you a fee for it. So less than honest merchant service providers will often pad their profit in a month by issuing retrieval requests for no reason except to add to their profit that month.

I delved deep into this and finally found my current Merchant Service Provider. No statement fees, no batch closing fees, etc., just a great rate with a business that is honest and straightforward.

I'm actually doing a video interview later today on this subject. But my question to you is how much money do you need to save in order to make you sit up and take notice? If someone said they'd save you $20 a month each and every month would it be "worth" it to you to take action? What about $50 a month? $100? $300?

This is money you are currently spending that would stay in your pocket. You don't have to do anything, sell anything, buy anything...it's just saved money. And yet I know people who just don't take the action necessary to do it. And this is not just about credit card processing, but changing a vendor for a better price, canceling a service you really don't use, doing something different, anything, that would save you money. At what point does keeping more of your money make you take action?

The Economy - Where Are We Headed?

If you've been reading my Blog you know I've been sounding the alarm about HELOC's being reduced or taken away and more recently credit card companies reducing credit lines arbitrarily whether you have a good payment history or not. And the amount of money that you make has absolutely nothing to do with the reductions in credit. As I said before, if you've been hit with this situation, check your FICO score because it will, most likely, take a hit as the "credit utilization" portion (a big one in the scoring) could go from 30% to 100% utilization, as it did for a friend.

The other day CNN reported on this situation, specifically with American Express admiting that they were reducing all credit lines. And today a friend just told me she was watching Suze Orman this morning and she was talking about this, also. She went so far as to say we are going back to a cash and carry society, that credit will be a thing of the past. I wonder how MC and VISA feel about that comment considering they just went public a short while ago and she's talking about their billlion dollar businesses disappearing!

So how will this all play out in the economy? Anyone with a crystal ball?