Monday, December 31, 2007

A Cure For Sleep: The End of the Economy in Pill Form

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

pajama manufacturers beware! the end is near!

Insomniacs rejoice! Scientists have discovered a hormone that may cure a person’s need for sleep. By 2020, we may very well be able to pop a pill a day instead of laying down for 6-8 hours of shut-eye.

Obviously such a development could have enormous consequences on the human race, but no aspect of society would be more effected than the economy. Our entire financial existence is built around the fact that everyone needs to be unconscious about once a day for one-quarter to one-third of that day, typically at night. The availability of a ten-second replacement for sleep would give everyone a couple thousands extra hours of “awake time” each year.

Let’s look at a best- (or maybe worst) case-scenario where the “sleep cure” pill is readily available, extremely inexpensive, free of side effects, and quickly adopted by just about everyone in the developed word. I predict that the end of sleep would devastate the world-wide economy simply because so much would change so quickly from how it’s been for hundreds of years of modern living.

Here’s a look at what the economy would look like in a sleepless society.

  1. People would work more. Regardless of what you might think you’d do if you had an extra six or eight hours a day, most people would end up using at least some of it to work more at their jobs. In fact, if everyone’s waking hours increased by 25-50%, it might be expected that everyone would work 10-12 hours a day. This might not necessarily mean more income for everyone; retailers might pull in more money, especially with shoppers out and about 24/7, but many other industries would not see a sizable increase in revenue to support wage hikes.
  2. Unemployment would go through the roof. While retailers might need more people to help work a 24/7 economy, other areas might not need as much manpower. If I can get two people to work 12 hours a day, why would I need three people to work 8 hours a day? That third person would be out of a job, which means unemployment in a sleepless world could rise to 33% or more!
  3. Traffic would ease. Thanks to that lovely new unemployment rate and the adoption of the graveyard shift as a much more common work schedule, traffic congestion on the road and in the air would drop considerably for a while. This would translate into even more free time for workers. Other effects of fewer traffic problems: taxes for highway widening projects would decrease, traffic accidents would decline, and middle fingers everywhere would eventually fall off from lack of exercise.
  4. Housing prices would drop through the floor. Part of this would be driven by that high unemployment rate, but another part would be due to the fact that people wouldn’t need to have a place to “live” anymore. Think about it. Virtually every requirement that a home fulfills has been replaced in modern society. We can eat all our meals out, keep in touch with family by cell phone and e-mail, store all our crap electronically (or in our car trunk, or in a storage space)—but we still need a place to sleep. With people able to move 24 hours a day, there’d be no need to return to a home for hours of horizontal unconsciousness. At the very least, a house with four bedrooms would become a house with four “wasted spaces.” Sure, not everyone would want to part with having a shelter of their own; but if even 10% of the population saw going homeless as a great way to save money, the housing market would be obliterated.
  5. Energy use would skyrocket. With people up all night, you better believe more lights would be on. This could end up being the most troublesome consequence of a sleepless society as many cities are already stretching the capacity of their power grids. As a result, while your awake time and energy usage may only rise 50%, you could see your utility bills double, triple, or go even higher.
  6. Food prices would soar. If your body is active for 50% more of the day, it will need 50% more energy to support that activity. And until they have a cure for needing to eat, that means we’d all be eating a new meal around one o’clock each morning. (I hereby officially call it nightmeal™. Now you have to pay me $10 a day to eat it.) Nightmeals would be even bigger than dinner since a third of our energy would need to be replaced by it. I feel sorry for the unemployed housewives (and househusbands) who would have to cook two large meals a day now, but even more concerning would be the toll on our food supply. You could probably expect prices at your local supermarket to increase exponentially as our waking hours increase.
  7. The price of just about everything would jump. When food prices rise, so too do the prices of everything else. This might be counteracted by the severe drop in housing prices, but it’s too soon to tell if the two would balance each other perfectly or not.
  8. Birth rates would decline. Outside of movies, people tend to have sex right before they go to sleep. Without the sleep aspect, people just wouldn’t have as much sex. That means fewer babies would be born—a lot fewer. I’d even go out on a limb and say that a sleepless world would see its population start to decrease as the mortality rate overtakes the birth rate.
  9. Lifespans would shorten. Even if scientists found a way to counteract the effects not sleeping would have on our bodies, we would still live shorter lives on average due to the changes to society that would result. For starters, more energy use means more pollution, and more pollution means more pollution-related illnesses. More work, higher prices, and no sex would all contribute to soaring stress levels, and we all know what that can do to a person. You might be awake 50% more often, but I bet the average human lifespan would drop one-third to compensate.
  10. The mattress industry would be bankrupted, as would many other businesses that make money off of your sleeping habits. We’d have to say good-bye to makers of sleeping pills, stay-awake pills, lingerie and other bedroom clothes, alarm clocks, sleeping masks, and even those dream interpretation books you keep buying at the checkout counter.

Of course, for any of this to happen, just about everyone would have to hop on board the “no more sleep” bandwagon. So let me pose this question: if you didn’t have to sleep anymore, would you do it anyway? My personal answer is no, I would not sleep if I didn’t have to, and I’d probably spend most of the extra time playing videogames and enjoying my nightmeals.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

How I Scored $1,000 Worth of FREE Food in 2007

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

in case of free food emergency, i carry a full set of kitchen utensils on my person at all times

No sooner did I write that one of my secret financial goals for 2007 was to eat $1,000 worth of free food—which I did—than I started receiving one e-mail after another (at a rate of two a week in the last 24 hours!) asking how I did it. I have to admit I’m a little afraid of giving away the secrets to my complimentary nutritional escapades, for those supplying the free food may learn of my tactics and attempt to combat them. But screw that; here’s how I did it with no purchase or dumpster diving necessary!

The Executive Meeting Leftovers

On the way into the office, swing by the executive meeting rooms. When important people in my company meet with clients, customers, and other highly regarded external personnel, the meeting is usually catered with all sorts of fresh fruit, sandwiches, snacks, and beverages. There are usually at least 30 minutes after the meeting ends before the leftovers are whisked away by the caterer, probably to be discarded. Don’t let that turkey sandwich die in vain! Pick a handful of execs and monitor their calendars for big customer meetings that are likely to be catered. Then swoop in right after the room clears and help yourself to some delicious eats meant for people more important that yourself.

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Around 50 sandwiches, a few dozen bottled drinks, and enough fruit cups to feed all of Vatican City for a day.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $250

Municipal Celebrations

Whenever a town hosts a grand opening party for a park or dedicates a new memorial, there’s often a sweet little shindig that follows. My city has a habit of hosting these gatherings during early or mid-morning hours, so they’re usually lightly trafficked despite being open to the public. This lets me swing by for five minutes, shake the city council members’ hands, and make off with a fistful of hors d’oeuvres. To cash in on free city food, just peruse your local papers for dedications, grand openings, and other city-sponsored events containing the magical R-word: “refreshments.”

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: I’m not sure what half the crap I ate was, but I was usually in a hurry. I think I also accidentally ate the mayor’s daughter’s hamster, but it was yummy (as all food served in cages tends to be).
  • Estimated Retail Value: $75

Gifts From God

Well, almost. I’m convinced that my church spends at least 10% of the money brought in through its weekly collections on refreshments for its parishioners, and I’m also convinced that I eat at least 15% of that food. Whether it’s coffee and donuts after Sunday morning Mass or a boatload of yummies following choir concerts, the Lord giveth most generously unto Nick’s tummy. It’s a good thing gluttony isn’t a sin or I might end up getting excommunicated!

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: 25 donuts, 40 cups of coffee or juice, and a few dozen cookies and cakes.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $50

The Best Part of Volunteering (Other Than Helping People In Need, Of Course)

Next door to our church is a Catholic elementary/middle school where we volunteer a few hours of our time most Fridays helping out with the after-school daycare. It’s great experience for my wife who is studying to become a teacher, and it’s an excellent way for me to unwind after a strenuous work week. Around 4:30pm is snack time for the kiddies, and the adults get to join in the fun too! Sure, I might feel like an eight-year-old munching on a bag of chips while sipping on a Capri Sun, but I won’t complain because it’s free!

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: 40 completely unhealthy snacks, 40 Capri Suns. Sometimes I get extras when kids bribe me with theirs to do their math homework.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $50

The Out-of-Town Work Conference

I had the pleasure of being shipped to Colorado this past summer for a leadership conference. Because there’s nothing to do in the mountains of Colorado in August, I spent a lot of my free time there packing away some extra calories at the company-paid breakfasts, lunches, dinners, between-meal snacks, and the occasional between-snack snacks (I kid you not!). The food was not that great, but the price certainly was. I put on so much weight that week that I had to pay an overweight luggage surcharge for my thighs on the return flight.

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Rather than put the whole list here, I’ll just summarize it with the estimated calorie count for the five days of the conference: 23,000. Yes, that’s almost 5,000 calories a day, or 250% of the recommended daily intake.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $200

Open Houses

A great way to kill time when you’re bored is to check out open houses for everything from real estate to pre-schools to banks and more. Sure, I might not have the money to buy your house, and I might not have the children to put in your school, and I’ve got enough freaking bank accounts already, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying your assortment of tasty treats. Of course, you’ll want to supply fake contact information or you’ll end up on everyone’s mailing lists. I’m sure real estate agents around the county are wondering why “Ima Bigeater” has been in attendance at virtually every open house this year.

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: More cookies, donuts, carrot sticks and sodas than you’d think a person could possibly fit in an oversized trenchcoat.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $150

The Office Christmas Party

If you work for a big corporation like I do, and you get a lavish holiday party every year, then you could easily put a huge dent in your free food goal in one night. Load up on cocktail shrimp, other seafood, expensive meats, exotic foreign dishes and, of course, enough booze to kill a baby elephant.

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: Everything’s a blur after the first three or four glasses of wine.
  • Estimated Retail Value: I am told it was at least $200 in food and drink.

Miscellaneous Adventures…

…including but not limited to free samples at stores and restaurants, office lunches to which I was actually invited, and office lunches to which I was not officially invited.

  • Nick’s 2007 Free Food Tally: A little of this, a little of that.
  • Estimated Retail Value: $50

Total Free Food For 2007: $1,025 …and there are still four days left in the year!

As you can see, many of your free food opportunities will come at work. So while you’re keeping one eye on the computer monitor, you should use the other to follow the catering cart as it makes its way down the hall. For a better idea of where I snatched up those free snacks, check out this map of all my free food sightings at work. Every time I grabbed a free bite, I put a small red dot on the map.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Year-End Goal Review and Goals for 2008

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

this new year, i resolve to use relevant alternate text for my images... pssh yeah right

Way back in January, you may recall that I shared with all of you my financial goals for 2007. I’m happy to say that I met all three of them as well as several other goals that I did not publicly disclose, either because I wasn’t sure I would meet them or because I’m just making them up right now.

Here’s a look at my personal finance goals for 2007 and my degree of success meeting each of them.

Nick’s 2007 Financial Goal Performance Review

  1. Double our liquid savings. I guess this depends on your definition of “liquid.” And also of “double.” If we can take liquid to include the equivalent 9.36% 7-month CD in which most of our money is sitting right now, then we’re good there. And if double includes the fact that I have money in 58 bank accounts so there’s no way I’m adding them all up right now to figure out how much we have, then we’re good with that too. Goal Status: Probably 100% complete
  2. Separate personal and business finances. This year was a stellar year for Punny LLC. It was also the first year for Punny LLC, so I guess you could also say it was the suckiest year so far. Thanks to advertising revenue, we made enough money to rescue seven pot-bellied pigs and free them into the wilds of the Sahara Desert. There is now a sharp dividing line between all personal and business money, and there is also a clear split between the personalities of Normal Nick and Personal Finance Nick. Normal Nick is boring yet handsome, while Personal Finance Nick is totally whacked out of his gourd. Goal Status: 115% complete!!!
  3. Become 100% richer. With less than a week remaining in 2007, we are still about $1,500 shy of meeting this goal. The good news is that I get one more paycheck this year, and all of the bills for the month are paid, but that still won’t be enough to hit the $1,500 mark. That’s why I’m afraid that I must convert Punny Money to a pay-per-view site for the remainder of 2007. If you are reading this, please send me $50. If you do not, you are stealing the internet. Thank you. Goal Status: Hell yeah!
  4. Secret Goal #1: Make six figures. I don’t have anywhere near a six-figure salary for my day job, but I have worked an awful lot of overtime this year. When added to the side business income (but not including interest or investment income), it looks like that last paycheck of the year will just throw me over the $100k gross level. Of course, when you take out taxes, living expenses, extortion payments, and the cost of supporting my ceramic rooster collecting habit, there’s just not that much left. Goal Status: Completed by the skin of my teeth!
  5. Secret Goal #2: Eat $1,000 worth of free food. One day I’ll have to share my obsession with and tips for hunting down free food. While you won’t find me hiding in the lines at the local soup kitchen, you might spot me swooping in for a free muffin left over from an executive meeting down the hall or eating six pounds of pulled pork at the company picnic. Oh, and for comparison purposes, a quick look in Quicken reveals that we only spent a little over $1,000 on groceries for the year for both of us (though we also spent the same amount dining out). Goal Status: Done and delicious!
  6. Secret Goal #3: Resist the urge to buy new technology. No iPhones or HD-DVD players for me! (Bought the Nintendo Wii in 2006, so it doesn’t count for this year.) While we could have afforded these things, they really wouldn’t have done much to increase the quality of our lives. I hate cell phones as it is, and we don’t even have an HD television to justify spending $200+ on a player. That said, I think we’ll have several high-tech purchases coming up in 2008. Goal Status: Low-def but definitely done!

Six for six! That means I also met my goal of being amazing! I guess I need to make 2008’s goals much harder.

Nick’s Goals for 2008

  1. Stop working so much. Yes, this probably means I won’t have enough overtime pay to hit the $100k figure again in 2008, but I really don’t want to do another 3,000-hour work year again next year. That’s not including time spent on side businesses which I’d like to actually do more of in 2008. So hopefully that means I’ll get back to writing five times a week for Punny Money since I know that’s all you greedy people care about (which is great!).
  2. Cut recurring expenses by 5%. We’re already lean on expenses as it is, so 5% may be difficult to pull off.
  3. Buy more videogames. Yes, you read that right. I only bought five or six games in 2007. This is compared to an average of 20 or 30 in previous years. While I won’t necessarily enjoy spending the money, buying them means I have more free time to actually play them which is sort of the real goal here.
  4. Double side business income. My girls probably won’t like me taking a bigger cut of their action, but… oh, uh, not that side business. Uh… carry on!
  5. Plan more extensively for the future. Right now, I have our finances on track to support a retirement for both of us by 60 or sooner, college for up to two kids, and funding for my attempt at constructing the world’s largest tower of pennies. While all of this is pretty automatic assuming I continue funding our retirement financial vehicles, I’d like to have a better idea of where we will be financially in 5, 10, 15, and 20 years and what we need to do to get there.

Don’t forget to review your own goals for 2007, and be sure to set some nice ones for yourself in the coming year. I have a feeling 2008 will be a powerhouse financial year for everyone. Either that, or the country’s economy will melt down and we’ll all be lining up for free food at the soup kitchen. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Punny Poll #28: How Do You Pronounce "Punny?"

Author: Nick
Category: Money

the actual punny money business card

Not surprisingly, the results of the last Punny Poll indicate that nearly two-thirds of you are financially irresponsible. Taking a look at the people around me, that fraction sounds about right. That is to say, it sounds accurate; there’s nothing “right” about being a moron with your money. Whenever possible, be a moron with someone else’s money. Of those few who have achieved financial responsibility, most did so between the ages of 19 and 25.

You’ll have to forgive the non-financial nature of the next poll, but it’s something that’s come up in conversation a lot lately. More and more people I know in real life are finding out about this website, so I’ve been handing out lots of business cards I had made featuring the name of the site (see above). Fully half the people who take a “Punny Money” business card in hand squint at it for a minute before finally saying, “Oh, PYOO-nee Money?” as in “the amount of money you have is tiny?” I assure you that is probably the case, so do not ask me for money. But that has nothing to do with this week’s poll question which asks how you pronounce the name of this here place on the internet.

How do you pronounce PUNNY?

View Results

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 Ways to Make It Look a Lot More Like Christmas For Just $12 Total

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

maybe if you had more than one ornament, it would feel more like christmas

You know the song It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas made famous by Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, and other people who we only listen to in December? If you haven’t been reciting the tune yourself this year, you’re certainly not alone. Despite Christmas being less than a week away, I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Sure, my gift shopping is done and the Christmas Chia Pet has been decorated, but it simply doesn’t feel like Christmas for some reason.

Now, I’m sure I could make it feel like Christmas in a flash with the help of a few thousand dollars, a couple trips to my local electronics superstore, and a lap dance from a stripper in a Santa outfit. But this is Punny Money, so I have to find the cheapest way possible to do absolutely everything. So please join me on my tightwadded journey as I attempt to make it feel like Christmas for under $20 in 10 easy steps.

  1. Drive around looking at lights. I know some people are so obsessed with decorating their homes with Christmas light displays that they’ll actually say you’re “stealing” from them by not decorating your own house. Considering how much time and money it takes to actually decorate a house with lights, I’ll let everyone else do it while I grinch myself some free scenery. Cost: $2 for gas.
  2. Various cheap and free Christmas events. Most large cities have plenty of free Christmas events going on this time of year, including concerts, lighting displays, and waterskiing Santas. In the D.C. area, check out The D.C. Traveler’s holiday guide for some free holiday fun. Cost: zero, though some premium events charge a fee.
  3. Go to church. Even you non-God-fearing people may enjoy the music and pageantry of religious services around the holidays. Some churches also have free choir concerts this time of year. Warning: you may feel guilted into donating and/or repenting your sins. Cost: zero assuming you hide in the confessional when the collection baskets appear.
  4. Classic holiday movie marathon. Make a quick trip to the local video store (or just turn on the TV) for favorites like White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Cost: under $5.
  5. Other people’s Christmas parties. You could throw your own holiday party for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 worth of food and decorations. Or you could be socially savvy and get yourself invited to lots of other parties. The bigger the party, the easier it will be for you to get lost in the “too cheap to bring the host a gift” group. Cost: zero for scrooges or maybe $10-20 if you’re nice instead of naughty.
  6. Volunteer your time for the needy. Like I said, you’re not the only one having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. There are lots of homeless, hungry people out there who don’t even have a calendar to tell them Christmas is coming. Consider donating a few hours at a local charitable organization to make the holidays a little brighter for those less fortunate than yourself. Cost: nothing but your time.
  7. Make cookies. As a child, me and my family would make no less than 500 cookies each Christmas. I think not doing this anymore is the main reason it hasn’t felt like Christmas for years. You don’t need to crank out so many of them, but taking the Christmas cookie cutters to a wad of dough is cheap and tasty fun for the whole family. Cost: $10 for ingredients, plus $5 for postage because you’re going to send me some, right? Please?
  8. Write letters to family. No, not e-mails. Letters. You know, those things all of the sitcom families seem to write each other every year that get them into trouble for approximately 24 minutes. Tell of your personal and family accomplishments over the last year, reach out to rarely-seen relatives, or just brag about how you’re so much better with finances than the rest of your family because you read Punny Money. Cost: about $5 should cover the costs for letters to a dozen family members and friends.
  9. Sing Christmas carols to your neighbors. But only if you can carry a tune. Just make sure you stay away from Hairy Mel’s house at the end of the street because he’ll probably throw beer bottles at you and call you “Christmas queers.” Cost: zero, assuming you know the words.
  10. Lots of Christmas sex. It’s free, it’s fun, it keeps you warm during the winter, and it better be with your lawfully wedded spouse or Jesus is going to come flying out of Mary and kick your butt on December 25th. Cost: -$10 for utility savings.

There we go! I just put the “ho ho ho” back into my ho-ho-holidays, and I still have plenty of cash left over to buy every one of my readers a Nintendo Wii! Oh wait, the stores are still out of stock. Nevermind then. I guess you’ll just have to do with a hearty Merry Christmas from me to you! (Cost: absolutely nothing.)