Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Giant Anti-Hurricane Wall Around the Gulf of Mexico Would Pay For Itself

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 57 - like a hurricane

As Gulf Coast residents prepare to do battle with yet another tropical menace, a few questions may come to mind. For instance, why in this era of polio vaccines and internet pizza delivery have we not found a way to prevent hurricanes? I mean, they’re just large masses of condensed water vapor with some snazzy visual and sound effects.

Well, it’s not like science hasn’t tried. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, artificial attempts to dissipate hurricanes have included everything from dropping a tarp across the ocean to block evaporation to blowing the things to hell with nukes. Unfortunately, as hurricanes are made by God when He is really really angry, nothing that man has constructed can stand up to them.

Until now.

Instead of attempting to destroy or dissipate a hurricane, we should instead try to block or redirect them to locations nobody cares about. The simplest way to accomplish such a task would be to build a giant wall in the path of the hurricane.

Now I know what you’re thinking: What is Nick smoking today, and where can I get some? But I assure you that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and I think an Anti-Hurricane Wall could help prevent trillions of dollars in property damage, not to mention countless lost lives.

The best place to start testing an Anti-Hurricane wall would likely be the Gulf of Mexico as it’s home to vital oil refineries and lots of people dumb enough to live below sea level. Here’s how an Anti-Hurricane Wall would work in the Gulf:

  1. Build a giant wall between Florida and Mexico. The wall would have holes near the bottom to allow sea traffic and dolphins to travel through it freely.
  2. The wall would be made of tough anti-hurricane materials such as plywood and bungee cords.
  3. When a hurricane reaches the wall, it would run into the wall and would—much like a person or rambunctious kitten impacting a wall—fall down and start crying or something.
  4. Eventually the hurricane would give up and go home or at least to some other country that can’t afford an Anti-Hurricane Wall.

See, isn’t that simple? Of course, building an enormous Anti-Hurricane Wall the size of the Gulf of Mexico would present a few challenges:

  • The wall would need to be about 500 miles long if built from, say, Key Largo, Florida to Cancun, Mexico.
  • The wall would need to be about five miles high as that’s about how high the outer portions of a hurricane tend to reach. Sure, the eye of a hurricane can reach almost twice that height, but if the surrounding part of the storm can’t get by the wall, neither can the eye.
  • Building a 2,500 square mile wall in the middle of the ocean could be quite expensive. Even if we used some 10% off coupons at Home Depot, it would likely cost around, oh, $100 billion for the 70 billion square feet of plywood and other materials needed to build this thing. But considering that Hurricane Katrina did over $80 billion in damage by itself, this thing could pay for itself in a couple of years.
  • Insurance companies could probably be convinced to pay for some or most of the wall as they’d stand to save the most from blocking hurricanes from making landfall.

Of course, there are a few negative consequences to building the Great Wall of the Gulf of Mexico. For example, I don’t think Cuba would see much sunlight ever again, and they might not like that (especially since they’d be on the wrong side of the wall). Plus some people would argue that the only wall we should be building in that region is across the U.S. border with Mexico, though I would argue that hurricanes are at least a little more dangerous than illegal immigrants. Oh, and heaven forbid a hurricane managed to knock down the wall; the ensuing tidal wave would likely wipe out the entire Gulf Coast, but let’s not dwell on the negatives any longer.

Depending on the effectiveness of the Gulf Coast Anti-Hurricane Wall, I would later recommend constructing one off the U.S. East Coast since, well, that’s where I live and I think I deserve giant protective walls as much as any Texan or Louisianian. So start calling your senators and representatives today and ask for Anti-Hurricane Walls before it’s too late. Oh, and let them know that plywood’s on sale at Lowes this week: buy 5,000,000, get 5,000,000 free!

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.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Dealership Wrecked My New Car, and How a Tightwad Reacts

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

going for that stylish no-hubcap look

By Jon, the Master Tightwad

Webster’s certainly doesn’t list the acquisition of brand new cars under the definition for tightwad, so I was walking a tight line when I replaced my 1997 Camry with a 2007 Corolla. I am a lean, mean tightwad machine, so I had to do some heavy rationalizing before I could bring myself to driving off in a new car.

While rationalizing, I never factored the possibility the dealership would wreck my new car into the equation. Before I get into that, consider how this resident tightwad talked himself into buying this car in the first place.

Why Purchasing a Brand New Vehicle Is Thrifty After All

  1. The Camry was approaching 200,000 miles, and I found it awkward to be recognized–by name–at the grocery store by Firestone Guy. A new car would mean fewer trips for repairs. Savings: Time and Money.
  2. A new car is more fuel efficient (especially a Corolla versus a Camry). I went from 23 MPG to 38 MPG, a 65% improvement. Savings (based on driving 400 miles per week; I drive a lot!): almost 7 gallons, or about $20 per week.
  3. I needed to replace the Camry. Do I purchase used, and take a chance on the driving habits of some stranger (suddenly I recall yours truly pulling out of Midway Airport in that white Mustang, and the ensuing four days of sheer speed and adrenaline… so sorry Avis!)?
  4. Note to self: Never, ever buy a car that was once part of a rental fleet.
  5. Free Tires For Life! Yup, I was a sucker. They got me. Their handy little gimmick seemed like a no brainer on TV: buy a new car, never pay for tires.
  6. Free shuttle service if you let us service that new vehicle. Heck, we’ll even pick your car up if you’re nice to us.

Valet pick-up from the office? Sign me up!

Which brings us to The Call: “Hello, Mr. Tightwad, this is Bubba* at Toyota. I’m afraid I have some bad news. On the way to the dealership to service your car, our porter was in an accident. Now don’t worry, he wasn’t hurt. In fact, the damage isn’t all that bad.”

Now this is the point where I get that lump in my throat. You know, the “I just swallowed a golf ball” feeling you get when someone tells you something that simply can’t be true. So after picking myself up from the floor (and hurling said Titleist from my throat), reality sinks in. My brand new car, the one I had to talk myself into buying in the first place, isn’t so new anymore.

Now I must admit the dealership has been treating me okay so far. A rental car was delivered to me a couple hours later. Then, two days later, an appraiser calls with the good news: “Mr. Tightwad, I’ve evaluated your vehicle, and the repairs we need to make total $4,061.” Hmmm… now even I didn’t think the car looked that bad. But what to do?

What to do? I started hunting on the Internet. Shouldn’t I get compensation for the stigma of owning a wrecked vehicle? I’m pretty sure Hester Prynne had trouble in the relationship department after being branded with that scarlet letter. What future owner would want to marry my poor Corolla, even if she does look just fine in her elegant silver makeup?

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Two and a Half Weeks Later

I’ve come to accept that I am simply lost in the system. A week ago the insurance company called to let me know the body shop was finished working its magic, and my car was good as new. Great, so when should I pick it up, I ask. Well, that’s not why we’re calling, Mr. Tightwad. Usually, we cut a check directly to the vehicle’s owner, but for your convenience I can send payment directly to the shop. Great service, I’m thinking.

So I did the math in my head.

  • Monday… body shop finishes with Shirley (come on, you know yours has a name, too!).
  • Tuesday… dealership picks up car from body shop. Dealership completes regularly scheduled maintenance. Dealership calls Mr. Tightwad to arrange vehicle swap.
  • Wednesday… Mr. Tightwad turns in rental car, neglecting to fill tank (figuring the least I’m getting out of this is a free tank of gas… are they really going to tell me to go fill it up first after what they put me through?). Mr. Tightwad accepts keys to Shirley, negotiates a generous service credit to account for the diminished value, and sets out to conquer the world.

One Week Later

Instead, Mr. Tightwad continues to drive the Camry. The Camry is nice and all, but there comes a point where one must assume Shirley is MIA. What to do? Fleeting thoughts return of the sexy white Mustang in Chicago. Vroooom Vrooooooooooom. Tightwad realizes he must get his “money’s worth” from the Camry. So, Tightwad uses the Camry to haul old, wet carpet from his house; he tests that “Zero to 60 in __ Seconds” promise; he evaluates the effects of sudden braking pressure on a wet gravel road; he takes… a Road Trip!

I plead the fifth on further details regarding the Camry. Let’s just say the dealership is getting Street Justice from Mr. Tightwad from here on out. Twenty-one hundred miles later, I’ve found a new love (sorry, Shirley!).

Oh, the joys of rental cars!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.17 out of 5)

Jon, the Master Tightwad works in the non-profit software industry by day and hunts for bargains by night. He’s a single guy living in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Insuring Art: Not Just For Millionaires Anymore

Author: Nick
Category: Money

is your art collection adequately insured?

People are often surprised to learn that I’m quite the collector of art. Specifically, I love anime- and fantasy-style artwork. We spent last weekend at an anime convention complete with a live art auction, so naturally I came home with an excellent assortment of new pieces for my collection.

While you won’t be finding any six-figure paintings in my collection, it’s worth enough that I carry extra insurance to cover it. And even though the average piece ran me around $20, there are enough of them that their total combined value is something worth insuring.

You too may have a few pieces of art in your home. Maybe a few prints, a couple pieces of fine pottery, or that big landscape painting you bought at a yard sale for next to nothing. Even if you own just a single piece of art with some sort of value, you’ll want to make sure it’s adequately covered in the event of a loss.

Some Q&A About Art Insurance

remember to insure your sexy stone ladies

Q: Do I need art insurance?

A: Maybe. For smaller, casual collections, your homeowners policy may cover the entire thing in the event of damage, destruction, or theft. Some policies will place a limit on coverage, so you’ll want to obtain a rider on your main policy to cover the extra value of your collection.

Q: How much insurance do I need for my collection?

A: It depends. You’ll need to determine the value of your collection, probably by having it professionally appraised. You may also choose not to insure the entire collection; instead, you could simply cover the more valuable pieces.

Q: How much will art insurance cost?

A: Not much, relatively speaking. You can get $100 of art insurance coverage for about a dime a year. And if this seems like too much money to you, you probably shouldn’t be purchasing expensive art in the first place.

Q: What else do I need to insure my collection?

A: Several items, starting with that professional appraisal from earlier. Some other things you’ll need:

  • An inventory list. You may need a list of specific pieces you wish to insure if you are not insuring your entire collection.
  • Proof of provenance. When you acquire a piece of valuable art, you should be given some sort of certification of its origin. It may be included as part of the original invoice, which you should also keep.
  • Photographs of the artwork. Not only do you need to prove you owned the work, but you must also show the condition it was in before it was damaged or stolen. Sure you spent $1,000 on that fancy portrait, but if you’ve been using it as a TV tray for the last ten years, it’s not worth $1,000 anymore.

Q: I definitely don’t have any art valuable enough to insure.

A: Are you sure about that? Any flea market find or attic artwork could be worth more than you think. Wouldn’t you hate to find out that your beautiful painting that got damaged in a storm was worth $25,000, but your standard homeowners insurance will only cover $1,000 for art? Even a casual collection should be appraised and insured if it turns out to be more valuable than you originally thought.

For more information on insuring artwork, check out “The Fine Art of Insuring Fine Art, Valuables, and Collectibles.” And once you’re ready to get a professional appraisal, consider looking into one of the many
art appraisals organizations.