Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Punny Money Guide For First-Time Visitors

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

which came first, the website or the visitor?

For a while I’ve been meaning to write a first-time visitors guide for Punny Money, so I decided that yesterday would be the perfect opportunity to do that. But then I got distracted by a squirrel, so I didn’t get to it until today.

Behold the Punny Money First-Time Visitors Guide. Now all you clueless newbies will have a starting point on your journey to financial salvation.

You’ll also notice that there are a couple of newer buttons at the top-right of the site. One links to the First-Time Visitors Guide while the other is simply a collection of some of the best articles at Punny Money. I’ll probably clean that list up a bit in the future, but it’s there for now if anyone’s interested in checking out some of my finest achievements.

And remember, if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see discussed on Punny Money, you can drop me a line anytime. Come on, give me any idea and watch me turn it into the best that amateur comedic internet financial journalism has to offer.

Oh, and to the people who’ve written in wondering where Part 3 of the Saving Gas Grand Financial Experiment is, it’ll be done soon. Right now, it’s in post-production, a French term meaning “as soon as I find my camera and get the video files from it, I can get the darn thing online.” Trust me, it’ll be well worth the wait.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Great Investing Tip: Put Your Money Into BARRELS

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

BARLS 30.21 UP 1.75

You, my friend, are about to become a very rich man. And if you’re not a man but always wanted to be one, you’ll soon be able to afford it thanks to the fabulous investment tip I’m about to give you.

lookit all the colored paper

Come closer.

A little closer.

Yeah, right there.

Ready? Okay. Here I go.

You’re going to get in your car, drive to your bank, go up to your bank teller, take out all of your money, and invest in… BARRELS!!!

spinach and barrels--cornerstones of democracy

Yes, that’s right. I said barrels. They come in all shapes (well, barrel-shaped) and sizes (um, big… and I guess really big), and they’re made from things like wood, metal, or some eerie combination of metallic wood. No matter what they look like, barrels are just as vital to our economy as oil, gold, and uninfected bags of spinach.

Barrels: Nature’s Gift to Mankind

Think about all the different things we need barrels for in our lives. If you think hard enough, you’ll discover that we use barrels for exactly 719 different purposes, five of which are:

why are monkeys in barrels of monkeys red

  • Wine barrels
  • Rain barrels
  • Barrels of monkeys
  • “Roll out the barrel”
  • Lock, stock, and barrel

But there’s one thing barrels are most commonly associated with–oil. Did you know that the world uses 30 billion barrels of oil each year? If you stacked 30 billion barrels on top of each other, you would form a chain of barrels that extends all the way to Barreltonia, the mythical home planet of the barrels. You don’t need a calculator to tell you that there’s an awful lot of that “B” word floating around.

boobies spelled out on an upside-down calculator

No, not that “B” word. Barrels!

Why Your Portfolio Needs More Barrels

I know what you’re thinking: barrels haven’t been used to transport oil in decades. Instead, it all gets shipped around in oil tankers and trucks. But consider this: are not tanker ships simply giant barrels of the sea? And correct me if I’m wrong, but oil trucks sure do look like big barrels with wheels (which may also be barrels themselves).

Consider the recent surge in oil prices that sent a barrel of oil skyrocketing to nearly $80. Was it the cost of oil that sent it that high? Surely not; there’s tons of the stuff all over the world! No, my fellow investkateers, I submit to you that the price of a barrel of oil climbed so high because of the cost of barrels.

And if you don’t believe me, consider this graph from the National Barrelogical Institute which shows historic barrel prices:

historic barrel prices, 1200 BC - 2006 AD

And if that’s not enough to motivate you to turn your barrels of cash into barrels of barrels, then check out this lovely footage taken at this year’s International Barrel Traders Conference:

OMG BARRELS INVEST INVEST INVEST

(Note that this article is meant to relay financial information, not provide financial advice. Should you invest in barrels and lose tons and tons of money, don’t go blaming me. And don’t expect to sue me and get any money back because all of my cash is tied up in barrels, too.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Adventures in First-Time Homebuying #6: The Hunt for a Real Estate Agent, Part 2

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

no, this is how to find a real estate agent, not a talent agent

Now that you know what a real estate agent is, why you need one, and how they get paid, it’s time to find one! But not just any old real estate agent will do for you. Oh no; you want somebody who’s going to work for you, help you find the home of your dreams, and get you into that house for as little cash as possible.

So here, in order of preference from highest to lowest, is a list of methods you can use to help you locate the real estate agent that’s right for you.

  • Ask someone you know. If you know anyone who has recently bought a house, ask them who their agent was and how their purchasing experience went. Make note of agents who your friends or family may say are “good,” but hold out for one that somebody absolutely raves about. And if you’re asking a friend, make sure they’re not related to the agent since anybody will recommend their real estate agent brother no matter how terrible an agent he is.
  • Ask your lender. You may not know your lender very well, but it beats asking a stranger for a recommendation. Lucky for you, there are some laws in place to prevent lenders from profiting on referrals to real estate agents, and lenders generally won’t send you to someone who’s not good at what they do. After all, your lender only gets paid once you find and buy a property.
  • Walk into a real estate brokerage. Take a trip to your local RE/MAX, Century 21, or other brokerage and you’ll be paired with an agent who will help you locate your new home. Of course, unless you find one of their agents on your own, you’re at the mercy of the brokerage. Hopefully they’ll give you somebody who isn’t right out of real estate school.
  • Use the internet. You’ll have no trouble finding plenty of eager agents online, but most agent listing sites won’t carry a big flashing “I’m a Lousy Realtor!” logo next to the crummy ones. If you decide to take your e-chances, I recommend looking through the real estate agent reviews at Homethinking to help you make your decision.
  • Pick up a phone book. Start with AAA Real Estate and make your way to Zazzy Realtors. Phone book listings can’t tell you much, but they can give you a decent pool of agents from which to start your search.

You may have noticed that this list is similar to the one we saw earlier for finding a mortgage lender. That’s not by accident. Both your lender and real estate agent are members of the holy trinity of homebuying (with your settlement agent being the third), and finding the best ones are both vital to your happiness and the happiness of your wallet.

In Part 3, we’ll go over some questions you’ll want to ask your prospective real estate agent and what you can expect next once you select an agent.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Punny Poll #14: Your Lifetime Videogame Expenditures?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

remember your roots... and how much those roots cost

Lucky poll #13 asked readers to share their holiday gift-purchasing schedules. The vote was split almost evenly four ways between pre-November, early- to mid-November, post-Thanksgiving, and last-minute shoppers. Seriously, I’m hoping to get all my Christmas shopping done before the end of this month. Maybe I’ll just get everyone the greatest gift ever–a Nintendo Wii.

Speaking of videogames, there’s been a lot of talk lately about all the next-generation videogame consoles. Microsoft hit the market early with the Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 are both expected to show up in stores in the next few months. I imagine there are a few game-playing readers out there, and those of you who do dabble in videogaming know that it can be a very expensive hobby. With systems costing $250 or more and games as high as $60, a regular player can spend a fortune putting together a good-sized game library.

That brings us to this week’s poll question which asks you to estimate your total lifetime videogaming bill. Consoles, portables, games, controllers, memory cards–all of it. And for you older kids out there, don’t forget to include all those quarters you pumped into Ms. Pac-Man.
[Read more…]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Grate Carear Tip: Lern How 2 Rite

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

okay, please tell me you know how to write something other than a question mark

People often (i.e. twice so far) ask me what sort of skills they should focus on developing to be successful in their careers. It doesn’t matter if that person is a software engineer, teacher, fire fighter, or professional air hockey player; my answer is always the same: “Learn how to write well.”

A survey by the Associated Press revealed that writing is considered the most valued skill by company executives. The survey also noted that companies believe 80% of their employees lacked the necessary writing skills to do their jobs.

The sad truth is that, unless you’re in an industry where the primary job responsibility is writing in English, you likely work with a lot of people who are terrible writers. Heck, you’re probably not that great of a writer yourself. (My apologies if you are.)

There is probably no line of business where this is more true than the computer industry. Day in and day out, I receive e-mails and read reports that are so poorly written you’d suspect they were composed by newcomers to the English language. No, they’re not newcomers at all, I’m afraid.

Here’s an e-mail that arrived in my inbox a few days ago.

Nick–

Can yuo look in to the problem Seatle with they’re [NAME of SUPER-SECRET COMPUTER SYSTEM OMITTED]. There saying its do to [NAME OF STUPID PERSON WHO BROKE OUR SYSTEM (AGAIN) OMITTED].

I fixed Seattle’s problem, but I might need to order a new monitor to replace the one I’ve been smacking my head against over e-mails like these.

Why Cant i Rite Good?

before attempting to write, make sure you are not a dog because dogs cannot write

So why do basic English spelling and grammar skills elude so many of our professionals? Is it something in the water at work? Is the English language just too hard to use? The real answers are simple but nonetheless shocking.

  • Schools don’t teach it. Sure, your child might pick up a bit of sentence structure here and proper punctuation there, but the state of English language education in our school systems today is pitiful.
  • Parents don’t expect it. Yes, I’m one of those people who likes to partly blame parents for the failure of our education system. Typically, without some intervening force (like tutoring or after-school programs), a child will never surpass the writing skills of his or her parents. Multiply this by several generations and you’ll see that writing in America has entered a downward spiral.
  • Jobs don’t require it. How can your boss ask you to be a good writer when he or she isn’t one herself? For all I know, the person who sent me the e-mail above may be a literary genius in his manager’s eyes.
  • The internet sure doesn’t help. I suspect 30% of teen-aged computer users have never once pressed the SHIFT key. And punctuation? I won’t even go there.

Learning How to Write Well

fix your writing with these tips

“Nick, I’m afraid I might be one of these people who can’t write well. What can I do to fix this?”

While there’s no quick fix that’ll make you a sensational writer overnight, there are some steps you can take to gradually improve your writing ability–at least to the level a mature adult should possess.

  • Write for fun. As is the case with many other skills, practice is the best way to improve your writing. You’ll also find that you learn best when you’re having fun at the same time. So if you can find something you enjoy writing about, try to set aside some time everyday to whip out a pen and paper or keyboard and screen. Starting a blog is also a great way to exercise your writing skills.
  • Read for fun. Learn by example. Pick up a book or magazine and just read. Pay attention to how writers structure their thoughts. Also closely examine their use of punctuation so you’ll know the rules of using semicolons and em-dashes for yourself.
  • Take an adult writing/communication course. Some larger workplaces will have classes geared toward developing effective communication and writing skills. If yours doesn’t have one, consider taking a writing improvement course at a community college.
  • Learn a foreign language. No, I’m not saying you should abandon English and start fresh with a new language. It can be hard for adults to pick up grammar rules that go against the way they currently write. But learning grammar becomes a bit easier when it’s taught in the context of a foreign language course. Most of what I know about English grammar was taught in my high school French classes.
  • Write with your kids. Hopefully you’re already reading to your kids. Now how about writing with them? Encourage proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar in their e-mails and instant messaging. Look over their written homework and suggest changes that will enhance the quality of their writing. This might not directly help your own writing skills, but it’ll reverse that downward spiral of writing in America I mentioned earlier.

Writing–The Communication Technique That Separates Us From Dolphins

good swimmers, bad writers

What if all you do is write in computer code all day, sending out the occasional report or e-mail? Why should you care if your writing is any better than that of an 11-year-old? Hopefully these reasons will convince you that the written English language is worth salvaging.

  • Good writing saves time. E-mails and documents that are well-written are easier to read and understand. You can save people (including yourself!) some serious time if you communicate your thoughts precisely the first time you write them. Otherwise, they’ll keep coming back to you for clarification.
  • People will think more of you if you write well. Top-notch writing is a sign of people who are well educated, serious about their careers, and always striving to improve themselves. You’ll come off as more persuasive if what you’re saying is written in understandable English.
  • Excellent writers stand out. Comparing samples written by good and bad writers is like setting night against day. If you have two potential employees of otherwise equal skill, good writing could make all the difference between who gets the spot and who will have to keep writing cover letters for job applications.
  • Writing is a permanent judge of your character. Unlike conversations which people start to forget as soon as they happen, your writing can be read over again and again. Make sure that anything written you give people ensures they’re taking away a true representation of your best work.

See, writing well is important! I’d even go as far as saying that good writing can make you more friends, more money, and better in bed. Well, maybe not that last one… unless you’re writing love letters. So yeah, good writing leads to great sex!