Monday, April 28, 2008

Lettering Shortage May Help Thwart $4 Gas

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 18 - gas recipe

San Francisco, CA—Some U.S. cities may be only days away from hitting historic average gas prices. In California, where the average price of a gallon of gas is a country-leading $3.90, consumers are feeling the pinch every time they fill up their tanks. But it’s not a shortage of refined petroleum that has gas station owners in San Francisco worried.

“I’m out of fours,” says Bill Jacobson, owner of Jacobson’s Gas ‘n’ Carry on Route 1 near Golden Gate Park. The signs along the road next to his service station tell the story of just how high gas prices are in the area: $3.97 for regular unleaded, $4.11 for mid-grade, and $4.23 for premium. “Them’s the only fours I got.”

A recent shortage of gas price billboard lettering—those large plastic numbers that gas station attendants are now changing as often as three or four times a week—is about to have a big impact on gas prices nationwide. Due to supply-chain problems and higher shipping and manufacturing costs, makers of the plastic numbers aren’t able to keep up with the recent demand from service stations for certain digits, particularly the number “4” which may soon be as ubiquitous on gas station signs as “1” was during the 1990s.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” mulls Jacobson. “I just found out I’ve gotta raise my prices four cents starting with Wednesday’s shipment, but I can’t do that.” He points to a pile of plastic numbers over in the corner of his storage room. There are plenty of most numbers, especially “1”s, but the number “4” is noticeably missing. Most sign kits like Jacobson’s date back to the 1980s and were only issued with two of each number above three. That’s because sign makers didn’t anticipate prices ever reaching the four-dollar mark—at least not for a century or two.

“We just can’t keep up with the demand,” says Nancy McMann of Industrial Signs, Inc. “We used to sell maybe 1,000 individual fours a year. Now we have back orders for 100,000.” McMann continues by explaining that the complexity of the shape of the number four means that they normally only print gas station fours using a special and expensive sign-making machine two or three days a year. “We’ve got the four machine going twenty-four-seven now, but we just can’t get them out the door fast enough.”

McMann isn’t complaining though; the huge demand for fours has allowed her company to charge much higher prices for the numbers. Whereas the typical individually-sold gas price number goes for $20, Industrial Signs, Inc. has been charging over $700 for each of its fours. And gas station owners are paying up; on eBay, used fours have been selling at auction for as high as $1,500 a pop.

First Gas Theft, Now Gas Price Theft

In some cities, rising fuel costs have prompted a few fed-up consumers to turn fugitive. Nationwide, the rate of gasoline theft has nearly tripled since 2006, but a new type of crime has recently started striking service stations.

“Last week, I had to chase after some punks who were making off with my fours.” Jim Ferguson, owner of several gas stations along Route 101 in San Francisco, recalls his run-in with a group of price sign bandits. “I made the mistake of selling gas at $3.44 a gallon. I realize now I was asking to be a victim.”

Stealing the fours has become somewhat of a rebellious act in underground circles dedicated to fighting high gas prices. Websites like and have started popping up in recent weeks, inviting users to showcase pictures of themselves posing with stolen gas station fours.

“I can’t afford to replace the fours if they’re stolen,” says Ferguson, who pursued his sign thieves down Route 101 at 11 o’clock at night. A police report filed by Ferguson says the crooks finally dropped the stolen signs after being chased by Ferguson for nearly 20 minutes. “Insurance will only cover the price I paid for those letters—about $7 each back in 1990.”

Other gas stations along Route 101 haven’t been so lucky. At least a dozen four-sign thefts have been reported in the area since the start of April. Most were taken during the brief period of three dollar forty-something cent gas prices earlier in the month. The surge of sign thefts prompted most gas stations to jump to $3.50 gasoline ahead of price increases solely to keep their fours safe.

LED Sign Sales Skyrocketing

Thanks to the four shortage and the recent rash of sign thefts, sales of LED (light-emitting diode) gas price signs have jumped in the first quarter of 2008.

McMann’s Industrial Signs, Inc. also makes the LED signs. She states that orders for the easy-to-maintain, all-electronic signs are backlogged through 2009. And for many gas station operators who have resisted the change from manual, plastic lettering signs to LED billboards due to the expense of the high-tech signs, the cost of replacement fours may finally push them to make the switch.

Ferguson ordered several of the signs for his stations back in January, but they won’t be installed until at least June due to high demand for the signs and a lack of skilled installers.

“I’ll just have to hold out with the handful of fours I have on hand until then.” Ferguson holds up two of the coveted plastic fours. “Once the new electronic signs are in place, I’ll sell these fours to help pay for them new signs.”

Five Dollar Gas Soon???

Bill Jacobson isn’t as lucky. He can’t afford the LED signs, even after considering the money he could make selling his used sign numbers. He says he may be faced with difficult decisions if his fours are stolen by price vigilantes.

“If my prices are at four and a quarter and someone makes off with the four, I may have to skip right to five dollars.” Jacobson shrugs and adds, “I’ve got plenty of fives.”

Such drastic measures may not be necessary in other cities where gas station operators can replace missing or stolen fours with temporary measures like numbers scrawled on cardboard. Unfortunately for San Franciscan gas vendors, a law dating back to the 1960s designed to prevent “the uglification of our fair city” prohibits adjustable lettering on commercial signs from being replaced with anything other than matching letters. Thus, number thieves trying to fight rising prices may see their efforts backfire as service stations are forced to substitute fives in place of fours.

Ferguson already has a plan for when his fours are, as he puts it, “inevitably stolen in the next few weeks. I’ll raise my prices to five dollars but give away dollar-off coupons on the corner. People will think they’re getting a bargain.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

CONSUMER WARNING: Everything Recalled

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

this alt text has been recalled

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in cooperation with every company in the world, announced today that everything has been recalled. Consumers should stop using everything immediately.

Name of Product: Everything (a.k.a. Anything, All Things, All of the Stuff Around You, Your Pile of Crap)

Units: Approximately 500 quadrillion.

Manufacturer: Every company ever.

Hazard: Everything has the potential to catch fire, impale, explode, spin violently, break apart, melt, dissolve, emit lethal radiation, inject poison, cause an apocalypse, induce labor, jettison antimatter, evoke feelings of remorse, alter the fabric of the space-time continuum, or turn into zombies which could lead to injury, burns, dismemberment, disembodiment, seizures, brain damage, extreme fatigue, acid indigestion, and death.

Incidents/Injuries: Reports have been received detailing massive casualties, horrific disfigurations, painful lacerations, and moderate weight gain. More than 30 billion people have been injured or killed through the use of everything since the beginning of history.

Description: This recall involves everything, including your car, your plasma television, and that sandwich you are eating right now.

Sold at: Every store ever.

Manufactured in: Every country, but mostly China.

Remedy: Consumers should immediately stop using everything, curl up in a tiny ball, and repeat to themselves that everything is going to be all right, everything is going to be all right, even though it isn’t.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The 20 Dumbest Personal Finance Questions of All Time

Author: Nick
Category: Money

even a toy monkey knows the answers to these questions

Ah, spring. The birds are chirping, the grass is growing, and the TV networks are trying out new reality programming. Since it premiered a few weeks ago, I’ve found myself strangely addicted to FOX’s latest game show, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?. A person more sophisticated than me might recognize the hidden message within the show–that most adults today are products of our moron factory public school system. Me, I just like seeing grown-ups struggle on questions like “If the radius of a circle is 2 inches, what is its diameter?”

If there’s one subject area where today’s American adult population is sorely lacking in knowledge, it’s astrophysics. But if there were two subject areas, the other would definitely be personal finance. Don’t worry; it’s probably not your fault. After all, they don’t teach things like budgeting, using credit cards, or starting retirement plans in most schools.

As a result, I often read or hear the same stupid questions about personal finance repeated endlessly–basic questions to which we should all know the answers. Here are some of the most inane personal finance questions I’ve ever run across. Chances are you’ve heard some of them before… or even asked one or two of them yourself.

The 20 Dumbest Personal Finance Questions… and 20 Awesome Answers

  1. Why can’t I ever seem to save any money?
    Answer: (I usually just point to the person’s vast collection of ceramic roosters.)
  2. Why should I pay off my credit card in full each month when I can just pay the minimum balance?
    Answer: You shouldn’t. By the way, thanks for funding my credit card rewards and sign-up bonuses.
  3. How should I invest my money?
    Answer: Take a trip to Vegas; put it all on black.
  4. I have two loans: one small one at 5% and one large one at 21%. Which one should I pay off first? The small one, right?
    Answer: Only people who are bad at math pay off lower interest rates first.
  5. Why should I bother going to college?
    Answer: If you have to ask that question, then you need college more than most people.
  6. Will I have enough money to retire?
    Answer: If you have to ask that question, then you won’t.
  7. Somebody told me about a great opportunity to make lots of money. Is it a scam?
    Answer: Yes. I’m the only one who’s allowed to tell you about marvelous money-making schemes.
  8. Hey, can you lend me X dollars?
    Answer: Can I hold your first-born child as collateral?
  9. I’m really trying to impress my new girlfriend. Got any ideas for a great cheap date?
    Answer: Taco Bell and a monster truck rally should do the trick.
  10. How will doing ____ affect my credit score?
    Answer: I’m not sure, but I bet IT’S OVER NINE THOUSAND!!!
  11. How much is my house worth?
    Answer: You’ll find out when you sell it. Or I’ll give you 50 bucks for it right now.
  12. Why can’t I get a loan when I don’t have a job?
    Answer: And you’re going to pay back that loan how?
  13. Extended warranty? How can I lose???
  14. How much money should I spent on _____?
    Answer: Probably a lot less than you’re planning to spend.
  15. Can I avoid paying taxes on interest by stashing my money in a foreign bank account?
    Answer: Shh! Keep this a secret or all the domestic banks will go broke!
  16. If I don’t pay this bill, will anything bad happen to me?
    Answer: Of course not. All companies are gentle and loving, so they won’t care if a few people don’t pay their bills. They certainly won’t turn your account over to a collections agency and ruin your credit. So toss that bill in the trash and don’t give it a second thought!
  17. Are there any jobs where I can work from home and make over $100,000 a year?
    Answer: Yes, but you must be really hot, uninhibited, and have a webcam.
  18. I read that the economy is heading toward recession/depression/ annihilation. Is this true?
    Answer: My crystal ball says yes. Better sell all your stocks and load up on canned food and bottled water.
  19. How much money do I need before I can start investing?
    Answer: Exactly $100. InvestorLand won’t even let you in the door without a Benjamin in your pocket.
  20. Why do hookers cost so much?
    Answer: It’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There just aren’t enough to go around.

Just in case you need genuine answers to these dumb questions, A Penny Saved… is working on real answers to the 20 dumbest personal finance questions of all time.

And Some Really Dumb Questions From Viewers Like You!

  1. (From anon) Can I go to jail if I don’t pay off my loan?
    Answer: Not anymore. The jails are too full of real criminals like terrorists, murderers, and professional football players.
    Answer: Only if your debt is to the IRS.
    Answer: This is American, sonny. We don’t jail our debtors; we just let them starve to death on the streets.
  2. (From UKMoneyPot) Can we put a value on X?
    Answer: I’ll tell you the same thing I told my high school algebra teacher: X always has a value of 7 and I don’t care if your teacher’s edition says otherwise!
  3. (From Money and Such) Should I invest all my money in penny stocks based on a hot tip I just got in my e-mail?
    Answer: Of course! But you have to act fast. Think of how many people get those e-mails–probably 100 billion people! If just 1% of those people decide to purchase the stock, its price will sky-rocket in no time for sure! Buy at 80 cents around lunchtime and it’ll be 80 dollars by dinner! Tons of people do this every day to get rich quick. This helps explain why people without computers are often homeless. You’re probably the only dummy with a computer who hasn’t done it yet.
  4. (From plonkee money) I’m 54 and I haven’t got a retirement fund, how many cruises will I be able to take
    when I take early retirement next year?

    Answer: It depends on your cruise’s destination. If you’re thinking Jamaica, probably zero. If you’re thinking paddleboat ride at an amusement park, you might squeeze in a few of those before you’re broke.

Do you have an even more dumberer personal finance question? Ask it here and I’ll give you a free silly answer!

By the way, the answer is 4 inches. The diameter of a circle equals twice the radius. But you knew that already, right?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

This Make$ Me Laugh: Finances Are So Easy A 12-Year-Old Could Do It!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

you have got to be KIDding me

This morning, there were approximately 12,581 people like me–people who think their real-life experiences with money qualify them enough to give you advice about finances from their corner of the internet.

Time to bump the counter up to 12,582 for this dude.

You may have already heard of 12-year-old personal finance writer Paris Spence-Lang from John Chow dot Com. This pre-teen pencil pusher, who doesn’t need things like “experience” or “a driver’s license” to talk about money, has sparked a storm of e-gossip with astounding financial insight such as:

  • “…when you’re talking to a bank about a mortgage and you’re not sure whether or not you’re getting the best rate, ask them what they’re best rate is…”
  • How to win at Monopoly: “…remember: never not spend money.”
  • And some advice for all of us 12-year-olds: “If you can get a good cabernet for 150 dollars each, try to buy at least 100 bottles.”

The name of Paris’s blog might also ring a bell to long-time Punny Money readers. That’s right, it’s the same name of my original personal finance website. Except mine has an extra space in it. Apparently spaces between words aren’t “in” with kids these days.

By now I’m sure you’re ready to fire your grown-up financial advisor and hand your portfolio over to Mr. Spence-Lang. But before you do that, don’t forget that I’m 24 years old which means my advice must be exactly twice as good as his!

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!