Monday, January 15, 2007

Advance Your Career Through Heavy Drinking

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

booze your way to success?

The Setting: An after-work social gathering with plenty of free alcohol.

The Problem: You’re in front of managers, vice presidents, and many other people who can help make or break your career.

The Solution: Demonstrate your drive and ambition by out-drinking every last one of them.

You heard me.

One of the many benefits of being in my company’s fast-track leadership program is that there’s no shortage of social events at which alcohol is served. And every so often, that alcohol is provided free of charge and in seemingly endless supply. I just returned home from such an event, and I’m 100% serious about the solution proposed above.

I made this realization after mingling with a couple of co-workers. One isn’t much older than me; she works hard and knows her stuff, and I definitely look up to her. We’ll call her Sarah. The other is one of the most senior technical people in the whole company–not management, but she can definitely help advance one’s career. She’s one of the smartest women on the whole planet; and while she’s usually quite serious, she’s also very friendly once you get to know her. We’ll call her Julia.

So I’m talking with Sarah and Julia toward the end of the event. We all have our mandatory wine glasses in hand. Sarah is obviously drunk, but she’s still contributing to the conversation. Julia does most of the talking, offering bits of wisdom for us, the younger generation of engineers. Some of the things Julia says are insightful beyond words, while others are a bit confusing. I offer responses to Julia where I can, but much of the dialogue is between Julia and Sarah. Julia seems really impressed with some of Sarah’s comments despite the fact that Sarah can barely stand up straight.

I was confused as to why Julia seemed so tolerant of Sarah’s inebriated state. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that Julia, technical leader and company heroine on many occasions, was also totally sloshed.

That’s when it hit me: if your manager or superior is hitting the sauce hard, then you should be too. You’ll fit in better, you’ll be less socially inhibited around intimidating people, and you might even leave a good impression on someone who’s too drunk to notice that you’re even drunker.

I only had one glass of white zin, so I won’t be expecting a promotion anytime soon.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This Make$ Me Laugh: Boston Gal’s Mom Says Water Is For Pansies, Gives Vodka to Flowers

Author: Nick
Category: Money

boston gal make$ me laugh

This week’s laugh$ come courtesy of Boston Gal–or rather, her mom. See, Boston Mom seems to think that a shot of Vodka is just the right ingredient for fluffy, fragrant Narcissus bulbs. Unwilling to part with even an ounce of her precious Stoli, Boston Gal takes to the internet to dispel this myth.

proof that alcohol is good for flowers... 100 proof, that is

Turns out her mom was right.

Well, once again I have not followed my Mother’s advice. So, for now, the bulbs are sober.

Lesson learned: always listen to your mother when she tells you to empty your liquor cabinet into your garden. Except when she’s already emptied her own liquor cabinet into herself. In that case, listen to me who says you should e-mail me all your booze.

Seen a personal finance article that left you in stitches? Send it in to Punny Money so the rest of us can laugh, too!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Adventures in First-Time Homebuying #7: How to Make An Offer They Don’t Refuse

Author: Nick
Category: Money

the next day, somebody woke up with that piggy bank in his bed

All the pieces are starting to come together now. You’ve secured the financing, and your real estate agent has shown you some fabulous homes. Once you’ve picked one out that’s just right for you, it’s time to put on your best poker face and grab that house for as little of your money as possible.

If you took my advice and obtained the services of a real estate agent (it probably won’t cost you a dime!), he or she will help you determine an amount to offer the sellers for their property. But in case you’re going it alone, or you want to do your own research, you’ll want to keep in mind the following when writing all those zeroes.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Making An Offer on Real Estate

  • For how much have other comparable homes sold? This should be the #1 factor in helping you make your offer. Look at nearby homes of similar size and adjust accordingly for anything your property of interest has extra or lacks. The best “comps” are those that have sold in the last few months.
  • What else is for sale in the neighborhood? If three out of ten homes on the block are for sale, for example, the extra competition in your immediate line of sight puts extra pressure on the seller. The opposite is also true; houses in rarely-available neighborhoods can go quickly and at high prices.
  • How’s the market? A buyers’ market enables you to throw out offers that would normally make sellers laugh at you. “Who’s laughing now, seller? Here’s 50 bucks… now gimme your house!”
  • How badly do you want this house? Will your spouse nag you for years if you let this one slip between your fingers? Just don’t let personal feelings push you into offering a ridiculous sum.
  • How badly do you think other people want this house? If you had to shove your way into the open house, and you spotted people carrying large briefcases full of money, you might be in for a bit of competition. Price to win, but don’t be afraid to lose. There are other houses, of course.
  • Is the seller looking to sell quickly? See below for more details on this.
  • What’s the list price? I don’t know why they bother putting prices up with real estate listings. Sometimes sellers purposely price very low, while others price high to start and drop later if needed. You’ll have to guess which one of these your sellers are doing and see through to the real price they have in mind.

How to Spot Eager Sellers

We spotted eager sellers right away and priced accordingly. Here’s how you can save thousands on a home by spotting sellers who need your money now.

he obviously did not see the movie

  • Moving truck in the driveway. If only it were always this easy. Sometimes you’ll luck out and walk into an already-packed house, or the seller’s agent will hint that they’re looking to sell quickly. The bad news is that other prospective buyers will also be clued in to this information, so it might not help you that much.
  • Sale contingencies. Requests for rent-back (a period of time after the property becomes yours when the sellers remain on the property and pay you rent) or other sale-related contingencies might hint at the seller’s future plans.
  • How’s the market? If it’s a buyer’s market, the sellers may have little trouble locating a new home. Now they just need to ditch their old one, and that’s where you come in to help them… and yourself!
  • Condition of the house. A home with numerous problems might indicate sellers who want to have nothing further to do with it.
  • Ask the neighbors. See if the sellers have any enemies in the neighborhood who know that, for example, they’re leaving the country in three weeks. Just be sure to thank them appropriately when you move in so you don’t get similar treatment when you’re ready to sell.
  • Nuances in the disclosures. This is where we caught our sellers. One page of their house’s disclosures was dated months before the house went on the market–a sure sign that they were waiting to sell until they had a contract on a new home. We spotted this right away and submitted an offer that our agent said would’ve been beaten easily if they had more time to wait.

What’s In An Offer?

I hope you’re not the type who hates paperwork because here comes a million more pages just for you! It might seem overwhelming, but almost all of it falls into one of these categories:

  • A whole lot of lawyer talk. You’d think you were buying a child with all the legal mumbo jumbo in the papers you fill out to submit an offer. Don’t worry; most states have a standard template for real estate offers, and your agent will fill it out for you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still read it…
  • Contingencies. You’ll probably want to add contingencies for the house to pass inspection and a search on its title history. Also add one for your mortgage approval in case something goes wrong and you can’t secure the loan after all.
  • Extras you want/don’t want. The seller probably listed all the items in the house they’re leaving behind (appliances, fixtures, etc.), but if something not listed catches your eye, you’re allowed to ask for it to be included. You can also ask for unwanted items to be removed, like that “decorative” pile of bees listed as a “free honey source.”
  • Deadlines. Some pertain to you–how long you have to secure financing, perform inspections, etc. Others pertain to the sellers, including the deadline for them to respond to your offer. If a deadline passes, the other party can break the contract without penalty. So do stuff on time!
  • Dollar signs. First and foremost, there’s the price you’re willing to pay.
    You might also ask the sellers to throw in some cash to help with closing costs.

Offer Submitted. Now What?

somebody needs to read this guide again

Your agent will fax the offer to their agent. Their agent must present them with all offers submitted, even if the offer is stupid (i.e. “will trade cat for house”). The sellers will mull the offer over and get back to you, hopefully before the deadline. A few things might happen.

  • Your offer will be ignored. WTF? Ignore my offer? I kill you! I KIIIIIILL YOU. Okay, maybe it got lost in the fax machine. Or maybe it really really sucked. Try again if you dare.
  • Your offer will be accepted. Aw yeah! Barring any legal hurdles or unmet contingencies, you’ll soon be a proud homeowner.
  • You’ll receive a counter-offer. The sellers want something more from you–probably more money, but they might want to tack on contingencies or ask you to waive some of yours. Consider their counter-offer and either accept it, reject it, or counter it.
  • Your offer will be rejected. Your offer sucked hard, and the owners want you to know it. In fact, it was so bad that they didn’t even present a counter-offer! Submit a second offer if you like, but be prepared to cough up some extra pocket change.

Don’t freak out over rejected offers. You can always submit another, and there are other houses out there. You’re bound to have an offer accepted eventually, and that’s when things get really interesting…

Monday, January 8, 2007

Top 5 Professions With Unprofessional Websites (Local Examples Included!)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

excuse me... is this the internets?

In this day and age, everybody has a website. You have a website, I have a website… even your mom probably has a website. Whether it’s just a page on Myspace or a professionally-designed web masterpiece, nearly everyone has some sort of presence on the internet.

This internet presence is especially important for businesses which often rely on their website to provide information to first-time customers. In many cases, a website is the first contact a customer has with a person or business. Thus, the website serves as a first impression–a handshake between a professional and the outside world.

Unfortunately for some, that first impression is a bad one because their websites are at the lower end of the internet food chain. Poor design, lack of information, and low search engine visibility plague the websites of many small business owners and professionals, but a few stand out as being infamous for having less than impressive cyber showings.

  • Doctor. They make 80 bazillion dollars a year, and yet most physicians’ websites look like they were designed by their eight-year-olds. Then again, with the high cost of malpractice insurance, maybe an eight-year-old webmaster is all they can afford. While my own doctor’s website isn’t that bad (except when it’s broken on occasion), it could use a bit of search engine optimization because it’s ridiculously hard to find in Google search results.
  • Restaurateur. National restaurant chains have some of the flashiest websites around; but when it comes to your local eatery, you’ll be lucky if it even has a website. All too often I’ll do a search for a restaurant’s site and only come up with newspaper reviews or directory listings. All I ask is for an online menu so I know what’s cookin’ and for how much. A web designer could make a serious killing in my city alone just bringing its many small restaurants into the 21st century. The Thai restaurant across the street has an excellent website with useful information that is easy to navigate, but I can’t say the same for the Japanese restaurant next door whose website hasn’t been updated in four years.
  • Teacher. My wife is studying to become a teacher, so I’ll make sure she has the best darn website on the whole playground. That shouldn’t be hard considering the local competition.
  • Clergy. Here’s our church’s website. It’s fairly well-designed if you can look past the giant picture of our pastor. You can check out our old parish’s website for some “just added” pictures of Easter 2004!
  • Blogger. Say it ain’t so! Sadly, most providers of quality internet content couldn’t HTML their way out of a paper bag. But that’s okay because there are plenty of pre-made templates out there so that even your grandmother can blog about her yarn collection. If you look hard enough, though, you’ll find a couple bloggers who really know how to design a website.

Comment below and share your local websites that could use some professional polish. Then learn HTML and charge them $1,000 to do the job!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Top Five Companies We’d Be Better Off Without, #1: The U.S. Postal Service

Author: Nick
Category: Money

flyyy like an eagle... into a brick wall

Who would’ve guessed that the #1 company we’d be better off without is a government-owned corporation? (Okay, you can put your hands down now.)

Worse than any monopoly in United States history–yes, worse than Microsoft, Standard Oil, or even Major League Baseball–is this behemoth delivery service which will forever elude antitrust laws because it has the blessings of the federal government.

And why shouldn’t it? After all, think of everything the Postal Service does for us:

  • Delivers a letter anywhere in the country for under 40 cents. That figure will probably be out of date by the time I post this article, but USPS can do amazing things for dirt cheap.
  • Brings communication from the outside world to your door almost everyday. Heck, most people don’t want to see you even once a week, and these guys stop by six times that!
  • Puts up with your crappy handwriting. There are two people in the world who can read my handwriting: the first-grade teacher who taught it to me… and the United States Postal Service. It’s a miracle my hand-addressed envelopes make it to the right state, let alone street.
  • Provides employment for the mentally ill. Ha ha ha, just kidding on this one. Still, USPS is the third-largest employer in the country.

I must be out of my mind to nominate our beloved Postal Service as the top company we’d be better off without.

But don’t worry, I have my reasons. And now… let them be known to the world!

  • USPS has a total monopoly on non-urgent first-class mail. Wanna send a letter to your grandma in Some Town, Wisconsin, telling her how you aced your Differential Equations exam? It’s gotta go through the United States Postal Service. Absolutely nobody else is allowed to deliver standard first-class mail except those men (and women) in blue. Well, blue-gray.
  • Only USPS can touch your mailbox. Ever wonder why UPS will leave a tiny package on the ground even in a torrential downpour rather than stick in it the safety of your mailbox? That’s because the law says your mailbox is off-limits to all but the Postal Service. The penalty for breaking that law? Death by firing squad. Ha ha ha, just kidding again. I love postal worker jokes.
  • By law, potential competitors must charge at least $3 to send urgent letters. So even if FedEx wanted to charge you a buck to send your mail overnight, it couldn’t.
  • The reasons for the USPS monopoly are anti-capitalistic. All of us Americans pay 39 cents to deliver a letter from one point in the U.S. to another. But why should we pay the same to mail a letter to the other side of town as we do to send one to Middle of Nowhere, Montana? If the majority of your mail is paying local bills or sending letters within your state, and unless you live in some out-of-the-way area where your nearest neighbor is three miles away, it probably costs a few pennies for USPS to send each letter. You pay more to cover the cases when someone in Mountaintop, Colorado, wants to send a letter to his cousin Cletus in No Paved Roads, Alabama. An end to the Postal Service monopoly could cut the median American family’s yearly mailing costs in half or better.
  • USPS answers obsoletion with price increases instead of innovation. As e-mail quickly replaces first class mail as the standard form of written communication, and with other carriers doing a better job on urgent mail, USPS finds itself faced with eventual obsoletion. But rather than downsize its operations or look for ways to innovate and become competitive again, the Postal Service simply raises rates every so often to put a heavy tax on those letters you still need to send on occasion. If the business of sending mail were deregulated, competition would force companies to find new ways of doing business before passing on the extra costs to its customers. At this rate, you may only need to send one letter every year in 2030, but USPS will probably charge you $86 to do it!

Don’t forget to check out the other articles in the Top Companies We’d Be Better Off Without series:

Now it’s your turn! Comment here if you agree or disagree with any of these choices or their order. Alternately, you could send me a letter with your thoughts, but don’t be surprised if it “disappears” at your local monopoly–er, post office.