Monday, November 19, 2007

Five Companies I Don’t Actually Hate With a Burning Passion (i.e. I Like Them!)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

You’d think that with all of the negative comments I make about various evil, horrible corporations, there’s not a company on Earth that hasn’t earned my relentless ire. Not true! You only think that because I never say good things about the businesses I actually like. Well, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks to the following super-corporations for smothering orphans and burning kittens working hard to make my life a little easier and more enjoyable.

Amazon.com

oh, my gold box is featuring an army of dwarves for twenty bucks

Thanks to Amazon.com, my Christmas shopping will take about 90 minutes this year, and roughly 80 of those minutes will be spent deciding what to get people. That’s because Amazon.com sells everything. Literally. If I want a pink necklace, I go to Amazon.com. If I need a book about animal figures I can carve out of apples in my hands within 48 hours, I go to Amazon.com. If I want a Mexican hooker who juggles deli meats while singing Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits… you get the idea. Five years and dozens of orders later, I’ve never had a problem with the Big A. (Ooh, and my hooker’s estimated shipping date is tomorrow!)

Safeway

and they even let you have sex on the produce shelves late at night

Growing up, my family bounced back and forth between various supermarkets, sometimes making two or three trips a week to different grocers to score the best deals on quality yummies for our tummies. Now that I’m a successful undercover agent for the National Agency of Robot Spy Librarians, I don’t have time to browse prices at multiple stores. That’s why I shop Safeway… or rather Safeway’s online ordering and home delivery service. In my area, Safeway has the best prices on average, their quality is superior, and their internet storefront is like a porn site for food.

Target

perhaps if walmart had a giant bullseye for a logo, more people would aim to shop there

Target is Walmart with three notable exceptions:

  • Target doesn’t try to sell every damn thing on the planet and do a miserable job at it.
  • Target’s prices are a bit higher so it can pay its slave laborers slightly better.
  • Target doesn’t cause me instant depression or make me want to cut myself the second I walk through its doors.

The main reason I like Target enough for it to make it on this list is that it’s as good of a shopping experience as you can get when you need pajamas, batteries, and Rice Krispies in a single store.

Nintendo

nintendo is japanese for sony can kiss my butt

You need an explanation here? Nobody hates Nintendo. Even the Sony executives are playing the Nintendo Wii up in their offices right now. In fact, I’m going to go play with my Wii, Gameboy, DS, and Gamecube all right now at the same time instead of putting a fifth item on this list.

Nevermind. Heroes is on, so I’ll finish this during the commercials.

T-Mobile

they sure have come a long way since they changed their name from t-stationary

At one time or another, I’ve been a customer of nearly every major wireless communications providers. The fact that I’ve switched so many times should serve as evidence that I’ve had problems with at least some of those providers. But for the first time in nearly a decade, I’m finally happy (enough) with a company who makes those magical far-talking boxes: T-Mobile. At least in my area, their reception is like a breath of fresh radio waves, and their To Go service is the cheapest pay-as-you-go package there is and perfect for someone like me who uses his phone 20 minutes some months and 200 the next.

What are your favorite companies? What makes them better than others?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Stuff Worth Reading, Because "Lazy" Is the New "Active"

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

talk to the paw, because the dog aint listening

As cold weather grips the nation in its cold, weathery grip, it’s time for another trip around the internet for some more fabulous personal finance advice that I didn’t write. But do you feel that? That… thick feeling in the air, sort of like molasses on a sloth. Yup, the Winter Blues have infected some of your favorite money minds and turned them into lazy puddles of goo. Let’s check out some of its victims and see if there’s anything we can do to give them a jump-start.

  1. The Blues’s first victim: A Penny Closer who ponders which jobs her family should do themselves and which should be outsourced to professionals. Not DIYing your sprinkler system? Lazy!
  2. Aww, Cash Money Life never had a chance. First he says you should buy a used car and then he goes out and buys himself a new one. That’s like telling people to buy a cheap pink turtle and then splurging on the pricey green ones.
  3. Clever Dude dreams of one day winning the lottery, perhaps so he can become a full-time lazy person and pay gorgeous women to fan him and feed him grapes. Sorry Dude, but simple math says you’ll probably have to settle for ceiling fans and your wife’s cooking forever.
  4. It seems the Blues’s victims aren’t limited to personal finance writers, as Advanced Personal Finance shows us—a lazy U.S. government could delay your tax refund next year.
  5. I’ve Paid For This Twice Already fights off the Blues by hopping in the car for a leisurely and frugal drive. Gas may cost you your first-born, but it’s still cheaper than a movie ticket!
  6. The Digerati Life helps you fight the laziness of easy loans that can cause you trouble later. Perhaps Digerati and Paid Twice can form a superhero team to fight the Winter Blues together. Somebody get them some tight spandex costumes on the double!
  7. And finally, we discover the source of all the laziness on the entire internet! Lazy Man and Money is the culprit, but he arranges a plea agreement by confessing to how money laziness got him into debt. Wait a minute… I’ve Paid For This Twice Already wrote the article!!! I bow before you, King of All Things Lazy.

Phew! I feel less lazy already. Well, I’m off to take a six-hour nap, but I’ll be back next week with more exciting personal finance articles you can use, like 10 Ways to Save Money on Your Kitten’s Lobotomy and Make a Fortune Selling Used Condoms to Circus Clowns.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Employers: Save Money By Giving Workers Free Flu Shots So They Don’t Get Sick and Die

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

dear boss, please give me a flu shot or i will throw up on you

If you run a business with even a handful of employees, it makes financial sense for you to give all of your employees on-site, free flu shots. That’s what I figured out today as I sat in a conference room getting my free flu shot paid for by my employer.

What am I talking about this time? Consider the following statistics about influenza:

  • Each year, 36,000 people die from the flu in the U.S.
  • More than 200,000 people are admitted to the hospital due to flu symptoms.
  • Depending on the severity of the flu season, anywhere from five to 20% of Americans get the flu each year.

People dying and ending up in the hospital is certainly a horrible thing, but you don’t even need to look that far to see the consequences the flu can have on your business. If 20% of your employees are getting sick each winter, they’ll quickly rack up those sick days. Those sick days can have a heavy impact on your company’s bottom line.

Let’s do the math using some fairly conservative numbers. Say you run a company with 100 employees, and the average fully-loaded employee cost is $25/hour. Now say it’s a particularly mild flu season and just 10% of your work force (10 employees) gets the flu, and each one calls out sick only two days (8 hours/day × 2 days = 16 sick hours/employee) as a result because you’re a mean boss and they don’t want to get fired for using too many sick days (jerk). Finally, let’s peg the cost of a flu shot at $25 per person.

  • Cost of flu: 10 employees × 16 hours × $25/hour = $4,000
  • Cost of flu shots: 100 employees × $25 = $2,500

Now if one of those employees should end up hospitalized, you could find your company paying a lot more for health insurance the next year. And heaven forbid one of those employees dies, the price of employee life insurance will spike, not to mention the cost of hiring a replacement. Free flu shots would more than pay for themselves should either of those events transpire.

Sure, some workers get free flu shots through their insurance anyway, but many more have to cough up a co-pay or simply pay the full cost themselves. Add to that the inconvenience of driving to a doctor’s office or flu clinic, and many people just won’t spend the time and money to protect themselves from the flu. But if those flu shots are free and just down the hall, those workers are far more likely to get themselves inoculated.

Employees, tell your boss you want a free flu shot. You could even print out this article and place it on his or her desk with big red circles and drawings of little stick figures throwing up. If that doesn’t do the trick, then your boss is a schmo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free Stuff From Charities: It’s All a Mind Game

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

i trade you large money bills for small flowers

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you today to request your assistance in [feeding the homeless / rescuing the rainforest / saving the endangered African spotted owl]. We desperately need your help to overcome this problem. We hope you can find it in your heart and your wallet to give generously to this worthy cause.

Enclosed with this letter you will find some [customized address labels / holiday greeting cards / money-saving coupons] as a thank you for your generosity. Even if you can only give [$5 / $20 / $27,000], it will go a long way toward helping those poor [homeless / rainforests / birds].

Sincerely,
Some Charity

Look familiar? You’ve probably gotten these kinds of solicitations in the mail many times—charities looking to guilt you into coughing up a donation. Sometimes they enclose a “free token of their appreciation” like those ubiquitous address label sheets, all in an attempt to pry a few dollars out of you. And perhaps you’ve given in to these “desperate pleas” and sent a couple of bucks to charities like the National Foundation for the Association of Agencies. If so, then I’m afraid I must inform you that you were fooled by one of the oldest psychology tricks in the book.

It’s a simple tactic, and charities have been using it for decades to “con” you out of your cash. Here’s how it works:

  1. Charity gives you something of nominal value for free.
  2. Charity doesn’t make it easy for you to refuse or return the gift.
  3. Your mind may trigger the irresistible urge to return the favor.
  4. You return the favor many times over with a gift far more valuable than theirs.

At least that’s how the charity wants it to work. And guess what: it does.

Okay, so maybe you’re not in the group of folks who send money to every charity that “gifts” you with address labels and greeting cards. But plenty of other people do it—more than enough to make it heavily profitable for these charities to send out labels and cards and all sorts of other crap to every mailbox in America.

Here’s another example you might recall from the late 1900s: airport Hare Krishnas. If you flew frequently, you’ve probably seen these groups of bald religious dudes in orange robes soliciting donations from weary travelers. Some of them would give away flowers, seemingly as an innocent gesture of generosity or perhaps as a religious practice. In reality, they were giving you something of little value in hope of triggering that psychological urge to return the favor with even just a dollar or two. And since frequent airplane travelers are typically of above-average wealth, they more often received fives, tens, and twenties. The Hare Krishnas raked it in, all for just the cost of a few bunches of flowers.

So what do I do when I get a free gift from a charity? If it’s useful, I’ll keep it. If it isn’t, it goes in the trash. Do I feel bad about keeping these gifts without sending in a contribution? Not one bit, and I’ll tell you why:

  • It’s all a clever ploy. Charities know what they’re doing by sending you these free items. They know all about how the mind works, and they’re really hoping to trick it into entering automatic generosity mode. If all they wanted to do was give you a gift, they could do that without enclosing a return envelope!
  • Most gift-giving charities are horribly inefficient. Whether by accident or by design, most of the charities who resort to this sort of bribery to solicit donations are just not that charitable. Too high of a percentage of your contributions will go toward employee salaries and administrative costs. I save my money for charities I know will use almost every dime to directly help those who need it.
  • If they don’t get the message, that’s their fault. There are charities to which I have never donated a penny, and yet they send me a fresh batch of address labels every year or so like clockwork. You would think they’d save repeat gifts for those who give in return, but they don’t. It’s just another sign of how poorly some of these mail-gift charities are run.

My advice to you: pick your own charities, and give to them like crazy. Do your research first to ensure they’re using your money wisely and that it’s truly going toward a worthy cause.

My advice to these mind-tricking, gift-bribing charities: Drop a 52″ plasma HDTV in the mail. Then we’ll talk.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are You What You Wanted to Be When You Grew Up?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

construction-working doc-tographer!

“When I grow up, I wanna be a firefighter,” says one kid. He ends up becoming a test pilot for the Air Force.

“I wanna be a doctor,” says another. She goes on to become a real estate agent.

“And I wanna be a sugardaddy.” He goes on to be President of the United States.

When you were growing up, you undoubtedly dreamt of what career you’d have one day. I was no exception, though I changed my mind about my future profession at least once a week. Here’s an abbreviated list of all my various career aspirations in roughly chronological order, starting at about age five.

  • Doctor (age 5)
  • Teacher (age 5)
  • “Businessman” (age 6)
  • U.S. President (age 6, for all of about three minutes)
  • Explorer (age 7)
  • Astronaut (age 8)
  • Captain of the Starship Enterprise (age 9)
  • Teacher, again (age 10)
  • Archaeologist (age 10)
  • Astronomer (age 11)
  • Artist (age 12)
  • Writer (age 12)
  • Lawyer (age 13)
  • Biologist (age 13)
  • Writer, again (age 14)
  • Physicist (age 15)
  • Mathematician (age 15)
  • Photographer for Playboy (age 16—yes, I’m serious)
  • Physicist, again (age 16)
  • Mathematician, again (age 17)

You can see the wide spectrum of career choices I explored before ultimately discarding all of them and becoming a computer science major and eventually a software/systems engineer. So what happened that caused me to give up my dreams of writing, exploring the cosmos, or taking pictures of naked women?

  • I realized I wanted a well-paying job. After being relatively poor during childhood, I decided that whatever job I had would pay well enough that my family would have a nice home and a secure financial future. Being a writer or teacher would have been great, but I’d have a harder time keeping food on the table.
  • I saw the demand in the computer field. While I spent most of my high school years wanting to be a physicist, the job prospects in that field were greatly diminishing since there hasn’t been much new in physics in the last 50 years.
  • I started to warm up to computers. I didn’t have my own computer until my teenage years, but once I did, it was hard to keep me off of it. While I did use it to further my writing and science interests, I quickly discovered that I simply enjoyed clacking away on that keyboard more than anything.
  • I grew up. Fast. Various personal events required that I go from age 12 to age 24 almost overnight. My dreams of “fantasy” jobs like astronaut and President were left behind, but I’m not really sad about that.
  • I lived near a great technology university. This sealed the deal. I got paid to go there and get my computer science degree, and I lived just 15 minutes away.

I like what I do now, though I’m not sure it’s something I plan to do for the rest of my professional life. I may eventually decide to become a teacher or a writer, but I’ll just save those aspirations for a mid-life crisis.

Did you become what you wanted to be when you grew up? If so, are you happy with your decision? If not, what happened?