Monday, April 24, 2006

Which Costs More: Your Child or Your House?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,


Our friend Stacie, who is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition consultant, pointed me to some USDA data regarding the various expenses of raising a child. You can read all the scary details for yourself at this site…

Expenditures on Children by Families

…but I’ll summarize some of the more interesting facts here.

  • Last year, the average American child cost $10,000-11,000 for food, housing, transportation, clothing, health and child care, education, and all other expenses. Below-average income families spent $8,000 a year per child, while above-average income families dished out over $15,000 for each of theirs.
  • The most expensive cost category for children was housing; it typically equaled a third of the total annual cost of a child.
  • The least expensive cost category was clothing. It’s worth noting, however, that clothing costs climbed higher for older children than any other category; a typical 12-year-old’s clothes cost double that of a 2-year-old.
  • Child care, education, and housing were the only costs to go down as a child got older. All other cost categories were higher for teenagers than for younger children.
  • Surprisingly, if you take into account the total annual costs for a child, teenagers were only $1,000 more expensive than younger children.

And for all those aspiring parents out there, keep this in mind regarding the total cost of raising a child: If you have a baby today, you will spend over $250,000 on him or her by the time he or she turns 18 in the year 2024. Considering the national median housing price is sitting around $210,000 right now, each of your children is likely to cost more than the price of your house to take care of… and that’s without putting a single penny toward college!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why Are You Not Using Only Solar Power?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

solar panel Happy Earth Day, everyone! Why aren’t you out planting a tree instead of burning energy looking at the internet? For shame!

I’m just kidding, of course. But to help make up for your lack of Earth Day spirit, you can ask yourself a simple question: Why am I not sucking all the energy I can out of that big yellow ball in the sky we call the Sun?

That’s a very good question, informed reader; I’m glad you asked it. Just why is there not a solar panel on top of every home in America providing all the power we need to run our TVs, dishwashers, and pinball machines? The answer is simple but threefold:
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Friday, April 21, 2006

Not the Time to Jump the Tech Job Ship

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

Chances are that, if you’re not in college yourself right now, you know someone who is. If that’s the case, you’ll want to pay special attention to this article because it could help you or your college friends make some critical decisions about their future careers.

There’s been a lot of uncertainty about the number and quality of technology jobs that will be around in a few years for those entering college now. Much of this doubt is surrounded by economic and political factors, but the big cause for concern has been the huge exodus of U.S. tech jobs to foreign countries. For this reason alone, a lot of college students I’ve talked to have reconsidered their major–shifting from computer science and engineering to biology, chemistry, or one of the many non-science fields.

Before you or someone you know makes a similar switch, consider these three facts regarding the future of the American technology job market:

  1. Nearly 20% of workers in the technology industry are currently eligible for retirement.
  2. Every year, visual and performing arts graduates outnumber those receiving engineering BAs.
  3. Not all American technology jobs can be outsourced, and very few that can be actually are.

These facts are taken from a Wall Street journal commentary by Bob Stevens, President and CEO of technology and defense powerhouse Lockheed Martin. The article is mostly a lament on the sorry state of science education in grades K-12, but Stevens says several things that point to the idea that there will indeed be a severe shortage of technology workers in the years to come…

One in every three of Lockheed’s employees is over 50. To sustain our talent base, we’re hiring 14,000 people a year. In two years, we’re going to need 29,000 new hires; in three years, 44,000. If this trend continues, over the next decade we will need 142,000. … Yet Department of Education data suggests U.S. colleges and universities are only producing about 62,000 engineering BAs a year… and that figure hasn’t grown in a decade.

Where I work, we’ve been seeing a tremendous push to hire new talent (even those with no previous experience at all!) and to move existing employees into leadership positions far sooner than they normally would be. But all the hiring and training in the world won’t prevent the inevitable–the U.S. will experience a major crisis when the pool of tech employees dries up. While it’s too soon to forecast the result of such an event, Bob Stevens anticipates it will lead to problems like national security shortfalls, slow economic growth, and maybe even a sudden halt to the sweeping technological advances of the past century.

But for young people beginning college (or for the young at heart who know it’s never too late to start over), the tech job crisis will mean more job offers for higher salaries in a wide variety of interesting positions. So don’t let the sole reason you or someone you know leave an engineering major be fear of unemployment.

That said, Bob Stevens brings up another good point:

A major study ranked us 24 out of 29 countries in terms of 15-year-olds’ ability to apply math skills.

While this doesn’t mean that American college students can’t still pick up the skills they need to be successful in their math- or science-related careers, it does mean that they might not have as much of an interest in such careers. I totally understand that, and I don’t want people giving up their dreams of being a photographer or historian just because there will be a lot of jobs in engineering. For that reason, I typically encourage new college students to follow this formula for finding the major that best suits them:

  1. Unless you’re absolutely certain that a science or technology field is perfect for you and you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, enter college as a liberal arts major that most closely matches your area of interest (English, history, art, etc.).
  2. If you enjoy your major, stick with it, work hard, and get your degree as soon as you can. Finding a job may be difficult, but at least you’ll really enjoy what you do.
  3. If some time goes by and you don’t like your major, and if you’re starting to think that a science or technology major might be more your thing, only then should you make the switch.

The reason I advocate starting with a non-science major is because most people will end up graduating in a non-science field, and more people end up switching from a science major to a non-science one than vice versa. Making the switch from a science major to a non-science one usually means restarting the four-year clock for the typical college student, but non-science majors who switch to science can usually apply their earned liberal arts credits to general degree requirements.

It might seem counterintuitive to try to grow the tech job pool by encouraging more liberal arts majors, but following this strategy will help ensure that tech graduates are truly interested in their fields and not always wondering if they made the right career decision. Still, if you’re 14 years old and building Beowulf computer clusters in your parents’ basement, then don’t let me stop you from completing your computer science degree in three years, because I’ll be the first person to say that we need folks like you badly!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Writing A Complaint Letter to a "Seed"y Company

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

tomato Last weekend, my wife and I planted a few food-bearing plants on our patio. We decided to start with just seeds in pots of dirt to see if we have green thumbs or if we’re just kidding ourselves.

We had no trouble planting the seeds for radishes, chives, and basil, but when we opened the package of tomato seeds, we noticed something rather odd: them tomater seeds done gone missin’ on us! I figured I might have opened the package incorrectly and the seeds spilled somewhere on the patio, but we didn’t see anything. It even occurred to me that I hadn’t recalled hearing the tomato seed package rattle like the others had.

So it looks like the folks at American Seed robbed us of our seed money… all ten cents of it. Yup, the little packages had just enough seeds for container planting, so they only set us back a dime each. Still, I had spent ten cents on a purchase and received nothing but an empty pouch for my troubles. And I was really looking forward to homemade tomato and cheese sandwiches. (Yes, with store-bought bread and cheese, but with the tomatoes of my blood and sweat!)

I’m left with a few options, none of which seems particularly satisfying…

  1. Forget about the tomato seeds. I probably won’t do this. Even though we’re talking just ten cents, it’s the principle. (I’ve been ending way too many conversations with “it’s the principle” lately. Maybe I should stop being so principled.)
  2. Go back to the store. The main problem here is that the store isn’t nearby and we usually go there only once a month. Making a separate trip just for this would be the most expensive proposition, what with gas prices being $2.79 $3.09 $8.43 Gas station, stop changing the price for thirty seconds, will ya?
  3. Write a letter of complaint directly to the company. I’ll likely end up writing a letter to American Seed and ask for my money back or, even better, for replacement seeds. While it would cost 39 cents plus a few cents worth of paper and envelope just to request a refund or replacement worth a dime, I’ll feel good about myself for not letting a company get away with selling me a defective product.

So what would you do? Write off the loss and buy more seeds? Threaten to take your ten-cent seed purchases elsewhere? Or just hide inside for the summer so the bees don’t get you?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Nineteenth Festival of Frugality

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

Good morning, Earth! Is everyone having a lovely week so far? I know I am! I bet you would be too if you were hosting the magnificent travelling internet spectacle known as the Festival of Frugality. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that I promised one heck of a show once a carnival rolled into Punny Country. So get on your feet and prepare… for the ultimate… carnival… experience…
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