Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How to Cure Obsessive-Compulsive 401(k) Checking

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 62 - retirement party

If you’re like me (you poor, depraved soul) then you’ve been checking your retirement accounts rather obsessively over the last few weeks thanks to headlines like “Dow Drops Below 10,000!” and “Is the Next Great Depression Right Around the Corner?” and “Lindsay Lohan Comes Out of the Closet.”

Some anecdotal evidence is suggesting that many people have lost 5-10% of the values of their retirement accounts in 2008. Others have been even less fortunate; some folks heavily invested in their own companies only to see them go under and take their nest eggs with them.

I’ve been moderately more fortunate than others as my own company’s stock is still in the vicinity of its all-time highs and is countering losses in the other parts of my 401(k). When I checked this morning, I confirmed that I’ve actually netted 13 big dollars on my investments this year. And that brings me to the point of today’s rant discussion: why am I obsessively checking my 401(k)? Is there something I think I can do about it by watching its value decline day by day? Perhaps my subconscious believes that by keeping a close eye on it, I can magically reverse its course.

Well, it’s time for me to come clean: today was the first day I’ve checked my 401(k) balance in over four months, and it’s at nearly the same value as it was four months ago. I realized early on that obsessively checking my 401(k)’s balance every day would only cause me needless worry. After all, I’m at least 35 years from the normal retirement age, and the balance of my 401(k) is relatively small enough that it’s hardly worth worrying about in the long run. If anything, I’ll only cause myself pointless stress checking it during this time of economic turmoil.

Unfortunately just about everyone I know has not been as successful in fending off the “401(k) OCD.” I frequently walk down the hallway at my work and see people logged on to our retirement account management website to check how their money is doing. And many of these are workers that are my age or younger! Even worse, there are those who have shifted most or all of their retirement funds to non-stock assets. If you wanted to sit on the sidelines while the market takes a nosedive, the time to do that was months ago! Now many of them will likely leave their 401(k)s parked in “safe” investments and will miss out on any rebound the market makes in the coming months and years.

Lucky for them and you, there are ways to fight 401(k) OCD. Talk to your doctor about prescription Cialis… oh, wait, that’s for an entirely different problem. Here are some ways you can keep yourself from obsessing over your retirement accounts that have worked for me:

  1. Lock yourself out of your accounts. Call the company which maintains your retirement accounts and change your access passwords. When they ask what you’d like to change them to, say “I don’t care. Pick something and don’t tell me.” Just make sure you have a way to unlock your account a few years down the road.
  2. Stop watching financial news. Call your cable provider and cancel CNN, MSNBC, and everything else that isn’t Cartoon Network and Playboy.
  3. Dump your company’s stock. If you still wanna stick in the stock market at this point, make sure your retirement accounts are diversified. Having 90% of your retirement wealth tied to the success or failure of your company is not diversified—it’s stupified.
  4. Make smarter investments. Perhaps when you first set up your 401(k), your friends told you which investments you should pursue. If your retirement account is down 30% this year, you may want to switch your investments around a bit to include a nicer variety of investments like commodities and foreign stocks. And also find new friends.
  5. Temporarily stop contributing to your accounts. This move probably only makes sense if you’re in the 50+ crowd. If you’re contributing $300 to your 401(k) each week, and your 401(k) in turn loses $3,000 a week, you may want to temporarily halt your contributions and stick your money into conventional savings. But if you’re young and/or your employer matches your contributions, you’ll need to do the math to see if contributing still makes sense.
  6. Mind your debts and cash savings. You’ll feel a lot better about your plummeting retirement account balance if your debt is also plummeting rapidly. Paying off debt quicker is one of the safest investments you can make because you’ll know exactly how much money you’re saving as you do it.
  7. Address the real financial issues in your life. Perhaps your obsessive 401(k) watching is merely a symptom of a much bigger personal fiscal problem. If you’re worried about your retirement funds drying up while you’re buying Mercedes and vacationing in Tahiti, then your priorities may be a little mixed up.

Follow those steps to relieve your retirement account stress and your 401(k) OCD should be cured in no time. And now that you have an extra 5 or 10 minutes a day that you aren’t watching your retirement funds crumble, you can put that time to good use by fortifying your house and stocking up on supplies for the coming Even Greater Depression.

Hmm, saying that probably didn’t do anything to ease anybody’s anxiety. Sorry!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Okay, Fine, I’ll Write About the Damn Financial Bailout

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 61 - united states of china

Today I found the following e-mail in my inbox:

Dear Nick,

How come you haven’t written anything about the horrible injustice that is the $700 BILLION DOLLAR bailout of stupid people? I’d love to see one of your cartoons about this topic too, but I’d also be interested in hearing what you seriously think about the bailout.


Scott, you bring up a good point—I tend not to write about politics and so-called “important issues” very much. That’s because topics like the financial bailout (whose proper name is the Kick Taxpayers In The Balls Act of 2008) get covered on every other news site, blog, and cocktail napkin in the country, so I figured everyone wouldn’t mind reading about something more refreshing for a change, like ketchup theft and workplace drinking games.

But fine, I give up. I’ll give you all my two cents on the financial bailout. In short, it sucks. In long, it suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. In fact, it sucks so much that, for the first time in history, I actually wrote to my Congressional representatives and told them not to vote for it if they still want my vote in November.

What exactly about the financial bailout plan has earned my boundless ire? Well, by default, I tend to oppose any federal legislation that would spend $700 billion on anything. You can spend a mere $85 billion to bail out an insurance giant and I might not bat an eye. And you might be able to get away with spending $500 billion on a war nobody likes anymore. But $700 billion dollars is where I draw the freaking line.

See? There’s the line, and I just drew it.

So why do I have such a problem with the government spending $700 billion dollars on what essentially amounts to a blank check to the financial industry to continue being a bunch of retarded monkeys? Well, for one, consider exactly what else could be done with that much money. $700 billion dollars can buy a lot of things, such as:

  • A check made out to me in the amount of $700 billion dollars.
  • $700 billion in cash in a suitcase for me.
  • 15 minutes alone with Hayden Panettiere to do anything I want.
  • Portugal.

The other problem I have with this bailout—and likely the only thing I’m going to say in this entire VERY SERIOUS ARTICLE that makes any sense—is that it doesn’t help the people who need help the most. No no, I’m not talking about homeowners struggling to keep their houses. I’m talking about midget helicopter policemen. Nowhere in the entire text of the bailout bill is any reference whatsoever made to midget helicopter policemen. In fact, at second glance, a whole lot of other people aren’t being helped by this bill, including:

  • You.
  • Me.
  • Us.
  • Everyone we know.

Indeed, unless you know someone who works in the financial industry or who somehow benefits from the merciless death of the U.S. dollar (e.g. terrorists—and I hope you don’t know any of those), chances are that you can’t think of a single person who’d benefit from a bailout bill whose text does not include the line “The Federal government will write a check to each American in the amount of $5,000” and instead says (and this is a direct quote from a paraphrase of someone I heard talking about the bill) “Neener, neener. Thanks for the bailout, chumps. Love, Wall Street.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox which is really just a regular cardboard box because I’m too poor to afford a soapbox thanks to the economy. And hopefully this will teach you all never to request that I talk seriously on any serious subject ever again. Seriously.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

8 Financial Problems Neither Major Presidential Candidate Will Solve

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 56 - presidential speeches

Whether you’re a fan of the young guy and the old guy or the really old guy and the mildly-attractive girl, there’s little denying that this coming presidential election will bring about either a great deal of change or a great deal of everything staying the same and getting worse, likely both. Both major candidates have outlined how their administrations would tackle the big problems facing our economy, and each has fully convinced me that if we elect “the other guy” that our nation will suffer from a nationwide financial collapse not seen since that tower of one-dollar bills I was constructing fell over when the air conditioning turned on.

Or maybe things won’t be that bad. It’s really too soon to tell. But what it’s not too soon to tell is that a great deal of money-related dilemmas will go unaddressed regardless of who we elect. Here now are some of those issues in no particular order.

  1. Lazy people make more money than me. Neither the Republican nor Democratic candidate has outlined plans for rectifying the horrible monetary atrocity that is Joe Stevens (name changed to protect the real idiot, Scott Phillips). You see, Joe works three offices over in a similar role to mine. He started at the job the same month I did. Yet Joe makes 20% more money despite only doing half the work I do because he’s as dumb as a brick. More important than gender-equal pay should be intelligence-equal pay—all the smart people get paid a lot more than the stupid ones.
  2. Candy store child beggars. Every time I go to the candy store now, there’s always some little punk kid in there who comes up to me asking for a dollar. Since I rarely carry any cash, I can usually honestly say “Go f*** yourself, punk” without feeling like a jerk. But the real question is this: Why don’t these kids have a dollar for candy? Our candy industry must be in tremendous peril if kids don’t have candy dollars. Either major financial subsidies for chocolate farmers are needed, or the government must consider issuing “candy grants” so that these kids can get their freaking gumballs and lemon drops.
  3. A tiny sandwich at college costs $7. My wife recently transferred schools and was horrified to find that a quick-serve sandwich that she could make for about 50 cents at home was on the school cafeteria’s menu for $6.99. That’s almost seven dollars! And that’s almost 10 dollars! Whoever is elected to lead this country must take a firm stand against profit-hungry universities and tell them “Dammit, don’t be chargin’ no 50 bucks for no two pieces of bread with a slice of baloney!”
  4. American cars still suck. The new President needs to tell American automakers to stop sucking, perhaps by issuing an executive order to Ford that it must make every car as awesome-looking and well-equipped as the Batmobile.
  5. People are still retarded with their money. Despite the recent and ongoing recession scare, most Americans haven’t learned a thing about financial responsibility. I propose that the next President increase the income tax to 90% and use the money to buy people the things they really need first—affordable housing, a college education, and a car that isn’t a Mercedes when you’re only making $15,000 a year. And yes, I’m advocating Super-Big Government at this point because most of the country has proven that it’s as responsible with its money as a five-year-old in a toy store.
  6. Deal or No Deal is still around. Presidential veto, executive order, secret assassination—something to get this piece of crap game show off my television. Seriously, why are people so fascinated with this show? It’s just a guessing game with large dollar signs. And speaking of television…
  7. Yet another year without a new Star Trek TV series. By my estimates, each month that the world goes by without a new Star Trek television series being produced, our nation is losing upwards of $500 trillion dollars in generated revenue. Our new President must command Paramount to produce a new Star Trek series. Oh, and make sure former Trek producer Rick Berman gets sent to Guantanamo Bay or something so he can’t screw this one up too.
  8. Rampant prostitute inflation. While the U.S. inflation rate is hovering somewhere between 3% and 5%, several important staples are skyrocketing in price at 20-50% per year—things like gas, milk, and especially hookers! My buddy said that the same whore who used to charge just $100 an hour just upped her prices to $150 an hour last week. That’s a 50% increase right there! The Federal government must do something quickly to help ensure that the rich and poor alike have equal access to street walkers, or our nation may fall into another Great Unsexed Depression.

I urge you to e-mail both major candidates and insist that their economic plans be revised to address these burning issues, lest their prophecies of financial turmoil if we elect “the other guy” should come true!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Those Economic Stimulus Checks Worked, Proved Americans Dumb As Ever With “Free” Money

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 54 - mail thief

Think back to the olden days of May and June 2008 when all anyone could talk about were those blasted economic stimulus rebates. The general consensus at the time was, yes please give us money, but don’t expect it to help the economy one bit. That’s because everyone feared that the U.S. population would suddenly grow a collective brain cell and decide to save and invest their money rather than go out and spend it on giant TVs and Nintendo Wii systems.

Fortunately, us U.S. Americans proved to be just as stupid as ever with sudden influxes of cash, and the economic stimulus package seems to have worked exactly as it was planned: the economy grew by 3.3% in the second quarter of the year, pretty much putting a nail in the coffin of recession fears. It seems people really did blow their stimulus checks on skydiving lessons and Hannah Montana concert tickets, once again fueling my fears that any wacky crap I write here seems to come horribly true.

So what’s next for the economy? Is this the “all clear” signal we’ve been waiting for? Can banks go back to giving out $800,000 mortgages to Wal-Mart cashiers? Should you start direct depositing your paycheck at your local shopping mall again? The answer to these questions is a resounding… prossably, a word I just invented meaning both probably and possibly. That 3.3% figure may very well be a fluke, the eye of the hurricane that may soon leave the U.S. economy under 12 feet of water and I.O.U.’s to other countries. Or it might truly be an indication that the worst is behind us.

Either way, there’s little hope at this point that people have learned from their financial mistakes of the last decade or so, so I fully expect this economic crisis will continue to repeat itself every 10 or 15 years. Of course, if you really want to be one of those people who learns from their mistakes, then please make sure you’re walking away from this chapter of American history with the following notes on your cheat sheet:

  1. Don’t spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need. If you’re ever tempted to max out your credit cards with a shopping spree at your favorite clothier, please consider wearing the clothes you already own instead. Or just go naked, but only if you’re an attractive woman.
  2. You can’t afford that house. You know that huge house you want over there? Yes, that one I’m pointing at right now. You can’t afford the mortgage payments on it. Don’t ask me how I know; I just know. You can afford that house over there. Yes, the one next door to the crap factory.
  3. You need to save some money. Remember a few months ago when everyone was losing their jobs and lining up for unemployment and soup kitchens and living under freeway on-ramps? If you don’t, consider yourself lucky. The next time a financial crisis rears its ugly head, if you don’t have a cash cushion tucked away somewhere, you might be one missed paycheck away from being out on the streets.
  4. You can’t rely on the government to bail you out every time. There are likely a lot of people for whom those stimulus checks were the only thing keeping them from utter financial turmoil… at least for now. Don’t expect Congress or the President or the Tooth Fairy to save your broke ass every time your bank account is getting empty. Instead, learn to secure your own financial future, and assume for all practical purposes that the government isn’t even there at all—well, except when it wants its tax money.
  5. You need to stop listening to what everyone else is saying about the economy and start looking at your own economy. Employment could be as high as 20%, but if you’re in a high-demand job making good money, investing wisely and spending cautiously, you’ll likely be able to weather even the worst of nationwide financial disasters.

Stay tuned to see what the third quarter of 2008 brings for the economy. And since my prognostications of late seem to come eerily true, I’d like to forecast that July through September will see ridiculous financial growth brought on by me winning every major lottery jackpot in the nation and then spending all of the winnings on constructing the world’s tallest and longest sandwich extending across the entire length of the Mojave Desert (a.k.a. the country’s largest sandwich toaster).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why The Heck Do We Keep Watching the Olympics?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 50 - tiebreaker

It just doesn’t make sense. I’m not really a big sports fan at all. I mean, I’ll watch the occasional baseball or football game, and about the only sports I play are on a Nintendo Wii. So why have I logged over 20 hours of Olympic watching in the last 10 days?

An even better question: why are the rest of you watching so many Olympic events with me? The rest of the year, I bet 75% of you run out of the room screaming at the sight of a sporting event on your television. And I know that virtually all of you would never dream of spending even 10 minutes watching sports like rowing or synchronized diving or rhythmic gymnastics if they didn’t have the word “Olympic” prepended to their names.

And the sporting events that Americans actually watch outside of the Olympics? They’re barely mentioned at the Summer Games. Baseball is just an afterthought as the American team is composed of minor-league wannabes filling in for major leaguers who wouldn’t dare leave their teams for weeks or even months in the middle of real American baseball season. Basketball gets some decent Olympic coverage—but America stopped caring about professional basketball about 15 years ago. And football? Yeah, that’s what the rest of the world calls soccer, so don’t expect to see touchdowns and two-point conversions at any Olympics on this planet.

So if we don’t watch fencing and beach volleyball and table tennis the other 1446 days of every four years, why are we suddenly glued to our TV tubes for two straight weeks to watch these bizarre sports, most of which America sucks at? I’ll tell you why (and finally tie this article into something money-related, lest I waste my once-a-year off-topic permit): the Olympics are an escape from the financial woes of our everyday lives.

Most people will probably admit that the Olympics provide a nice diversion from normalcy. After all, the Summer Games only happen every four years, so the Olympics are something special—not just some ho-hum boring annual event. But notice that I said the Olympics provide an escape specifically from financial woes. How am I drawing such a conclusion? Well, how else do you explain why we watch 16-year-old girls in skin-tight outfits swinging around on bars and dancing on balance beams only once every four years? Am I still not making sense? Okay, let’s look at it this way:

  • The Olympic games are the most expensive sporting spectacles ever. Putting together a venue for the Olympic games is an expensive proposition. It’s estimated that China spent 12 yuan (approximately $293 gazillion U.S. dollars) to put together the Beijing games. Poor people like us, for some crazy reason, enjoy watching countries spend a ton of money on temporary things. In a few more days, nobody’s going to give a damn about the Beijing Water Cube or Bird’s Nest or Ping Pong Castle. Maybe we just feel good knowing that we use our personal money for more practical things like inflatable furniture and high-definition mailboxes.
  • Most Olympic athletes are, and forever shall be, poorer than us. Except for the gold-medal winners of the big sports who are pretty much guaranteed cushy endorsement deals, 99% of the athletes you see at the Olympic games are dirt poor. Heck, most of the American Olympians are probably making less money than your typical four-year degree-holder. So yes, that guy from Botswana can run 100 meters while you’re still saying “100 meters,” but at least you have food on your table every night.
  • Gold medals are shiny. Forget that many of these Olympic sports have National and World Championships that also award gold medals to top finishers. There’s something about the phrase “Olympic gold” that consistently pulls in those TV viewers. Perhaps if we awarded big hunks of precious metals to doctors, police officers, and sanitation workers, people might start caring about them a little more.
  • The Olympics are a free vacation away from garbage TV programs. While technically the Olympics are reality television, it’s leaps and bounds above the other reality television NBC has to offer (except American Gladiators which is awesome so shut up). Sure, we could do something crazy like turn off the TV and go outside, but why would we want to do that when we can get over 400 different Olympic events beamed halfway across the universe into our living rooms for cheap or free.
  • If you don’t watch the Olympics, you’re a Communist. The U.S. has so successfully commercialized the 2008 Beijing Olympic games—despite the fact that they’re being held in the most Communist country left today—that not tuning in and watching the Nike and United Airlines commercials would be like giving away your constitutional right to sit on your ass and watch other people exercise competitively. The Chinese are already trouncing us in the gold medal standings; you don’t want them to come over here and force their economic growth and prosperity on us, do you?

Essentially the Olympics become much less about the sport and far more about the spectacle—the super-expensive, gold-plated, sponsor-supported spectacle. I don’t know about you, but my wallet feels a little bit heavier just watching a few rounds of women’s floor exercises… well, at least until I start shelling out for assorted Shawn Johnson merchandise.