Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Five Problems That’ll Make You a BILLIONAIRE If You Solve Them

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

If you look at today’s list of billionaires, you’ll see that many of the names got on that list by solving some of the biggest problems mankind ever faced:

Fortunately for you, there are still lots of problems out there in the world that need solving–diseases needing cures, wars needing resolutions, pets needing adorable outfits–and plenty of them are problems that could be solved by ordinary people like you and me. Because of the sheer impact they would have on the world, the solution to any of the following problems would virtually guarantee its inventor a paycheck in excess of a billion dollars.

real estate wasted on parking

Lotless Parking

The Problem: For every new commercial building that goes up, so must a new parking lot go down. And at any given time, more than half of all parking spaces are unoccupied. Parking lots occupy up to 50% of any given commercial property. In short, they can take up more room than the stores themselves.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: If parking lots were no longer needed, there would be trillions of dollars of prime real estate instantly available. A lot of property owners would pay handsomely for any such innovation… and you would charge them triple what they ask… and they would pay it.

My Solution: I have many, but nobody’s really interested in them. Free public transportation would solve the problem nicely. So would auto-piloted cars that return home after dropping you off at your destination. My most viable alternative: sideways parking. Simply roll your car onto a ramp which rotates it 90 degrees for storing while you work or shop. Sure, this wouldn’t eliminate the need for parking lots, but it would cut their size requirements in half.

yes, a cd being shot from a trombone, do not ask me why

Music Everyone Likes

The Problem: Despite the fact that we are all members of the same species with a common ancestry, our ears don’t all like the same kind of music. Lots of people love listening to country music; others would sooner run naked through the streets. Most young people don’t appreciate classical music, but more will when they grow older. Though music is often called the universal language, it sure has a ton of dialects that many people can’t understand.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: Imagine combining the popularity of Britney Spears, The Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Record company executives would cough up a lot of money for a sound that’s universally enjoyable.

My Solution: A rap sung by Garth Brooks set to Beethoven’s Ninth. Something for everyone.

mommy, if you hit rudolph, will christmas be canceled?

Deer-Vehicle Collision Avoidance

The Problem: Deer versus your car, and you both lose. The deer will likely be splattered across a few lanes of traffic, and you might have antlers sticking through your windshield–or worse.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: It seems like a pretty minor problem. We’ve resigned ourselves to living with the occasional wildlife meets SUV incident. But with over a million vehicle-deer rendezvous each year in the U.S. alone, and most repair bills totaling $1,000 or more, figuring out a way to prevent these accidents would make you the idol of car insurance companies worldwide.

My Solution: Cars with deer radar. Self-replicating GPS homing beacons that spread to other deer and to their offspring. Motion-activated headlight laser cannons. Trampolines at deer crossings that would fling them safely to the other side of the road. Your best bet: a combination of all four.

okay, be honest, how many of you just smacked your monitor because you thought an ant was on it?

Portable Everything

The Problem: Get ready for the most insightful statement of the century: stuff is big. And perhaps even more insightful: people like having lots of stuff. Unfortunately for most, they don’t live in a 60-bedroom mansion with room to fit all of that big stuff they like. So anything that allows people to fit more stuff in their limited space is going to encourage them to buy more stuff!

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: Folks spend ba-freaking-jillions of dollars on stuff every year, and they will gladly shell out the cash next year for the same thing they bought a few years ago if it’s smaller. People with perfectly fine desktop computers dish out even more for comparable laptop computers because they are more portable. And those same people with fabulous stereo systems, telephones, map books, and notepads will pay insane amounts of money for a smaller, more portable device with all of those functions.

A few items that could really use some miniaturization and/or portability: cars, furniture, most appliances, and toilets. Definitely toilets.

My Solution: You know those little sponge toys where you add water and it grows from a tiny pill-shaped nothing to a humongous two-inch-tall dinosaur of terror? Yes, that’s my solution for all of these.

once you have a religion, sell lots of metal trinkets in the gift shop

Universally Accepted Religion

The Problem: For thousands of years, religion has been the driving force for nearly every major world event. From wars to literature to what we name our children, religion’s influence on the evolution of humanity has been enormous. Unfortunately a lot of bad things have happened in the name of religious differences–horrible atrocities that show just how cruel human beings can really be.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: If everyone believed in the same religion, all of these wars fought and atrocities committed because of differences in beliefs wouldn’t happen. In essence, the “inventor” of such a religion would usher in a new era of peace for mankind never before seen. As much money as all these war-mongering religions bring in, imagine how much cash would pile into the collection baskets of your world-peace-bringing religion.

My Solution: You might take exception to the idea that any one person could “invent” a religion, but that’s exactly how all of today’s major religions came into existence. Whether or not you believe in the God or gods those religions worship, the religion itself was created by the people who decided to do the worshiping. Perhaps a universally accepted religion wouldn’t be one in the traditional sense with an omnipotent being at the top of the food chain; rather, it would embody the principals of humanity that make us, for the most part, good people.

The Catholic in me says, “Let’s all just follow Jesus,” but the scientist in me says, “Office Space is a great movie.” Yeah, good luck solving this problem.

Let’s face it: you’re not going to find a clean and renewable fuel supply or reverse global warming all by yourself. But the above problems can likely be solved by a single person–any person–with a great idea and the courage and motivation to realize it. (Hopefully billions of dollars is a good enough motivation.)

And if you happen to read this and end up solving one of these problems, please consider sending me a check for a million dollars so I can solve my biggest problem: not having a million dollars.

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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ditch Your Ancient Car and Get $3,000 Towards a New One

Author: Nick
Category: Money

trade me in for that gorgeous new chevy avea you have your eye on

…at least in parts of Texas, starting later this year.

Some lucky Texans driving cars from before 1996 will be able to trade in their clunkers for vouchers good for $3,000 off a new or late-model used vehicle priced up to $25,000 (or a $3,500 voucher for a hybrid vehicle).

The reasoning behind the move to pull older cars off the road is that advances in fuel injection and computer technology have improved today’s vehicles to the point that they’re 10-30 times less polluting than ones from the mid-1990s and before.

If you’re a Texan making under the $61,000 maximum annual income, but your beater car is just a little too new to met the program guidelines, you can still take advantage of (i.e. scam) this program to help you save some serious cash on a new ride. Here’s how:

  1. Buy a pre-1996 vehicle that passes state inspection for as little money as possible. Expect to spend no more than $1,000 on this–maybe even as low as $500.
  2. Trade it to the junkyard for your $3,000 voucher.
  3. Sell your beater.
  4. Apply the voucher and sale money to a new car purchase.
  5. Hop in your brand new Hyundai Accent or Kia Rio for little or no money out of your pocket, partly thanks to the taxpayers of Texas.

Kudos to Texas for acting to clean up the air, but if you want to do the job a lot cheaper, I know a few guys in the city who can make all those jalopies “go away” for just a few hundred a piece.

UPDATE: The program is now live. Apply for your voucher here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Totally Free Public Transportation: You’d Have to Be Stupid to Think It Wouldn’t Work

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

would you ride it more if it transformed into optimus prime?

Until a few years ago, I didn’t really use public transportation. That’s because there was only one bus line near where I lived, and it only went to Downtown Murderville Baltimore. Now that I live in a suburb of Washington, DC, public transportation is plentiful, practical, and fairly cheap. I can get to pretty much anywhere I need to go in the DC Metro area meeting all of the following criteria:

  • Walking less than 15 minutes.
  • In a total transit time of under 2 hours.
  • For under $5.

But you know what? That’s not freaking good enough. Using public transportation, I should be able to get to anywhere in the DC Metro area meeting these criteria:

  • Walking less than 5 minutes (for all those people for whom walking is an issue).
  • In a total transit time of under 1 hour (because I could drive there in that time).
  • For free.

The solution to those first two points is pretty straightforward: increase the number and/or frequency of bus routes. But what gives me the right to ride a bus or subway for less than it costs to operate it? Before you insist that I’m trying to bankrupt my local public transit authorities, consider the chain of benefits free public transportation would bring:

  • Free transportation means more riders. Obviously one of the primary goals of any public transit system should be increasing its ridership. Some cities have tried free public transportation days before, typically on hot days as a way to combat pollution, and each such day showed a marked increase in people taking advantage of buses, trolleys, ferries, shuttles, and subways.
  • More riders means fewer drivers. Hopefully you passed second-grade math so you can understand the following sentence: if more people are riding buses, then fewer people will be driving cars.
  • Fewer drivers means a lot of good things. Consider the following sublist of benefits to having fewer drivers on the road:

    • Less pollution → less you dying
    • Fewer traffic accidents → less you dying
    • Less traffic → less you ripping your hair out
    • Less aggressive driving → less you dying and killing people
    • Less reliance on foreign oil → fewer wars
    • Lower gas prices → less your wallet dying
    • Lower road maintenance costs
    • Lower transportation-related taxes → more money for you to buy my book (ETA: 2017)
    • No more stupid car chase TV shows

To summarize, free universal public transportation could bring about economic harmony, better health, and world peace.

Just one problem: how are we gonna pay for it? Buses and trains and the fuel to run them still cost money. And if that money isn’t coming from paid fares, we’ll need to dream up some new ideas to fund our free public transportation systems:

  • Commercial sponsorship. There are a few ways to get businesses to foot the bill for a free public transportation system. The first involves letting retailers “pay” for the privilege of having bus lines placed closer to them. The second, perhaps more obvious way, is simply expanding advertising options on public transit vehicles and routes so that the revenue would completely fund the operating costs. The third consists of creating a “Transportation Mafia” to go around and “accept donations” from businesses that enjoy “buses not driving through their storefronts.”
  • New tolls on private automobiles. So you want to enter our city in your own car instead of by bus, subway, or conga line? That’ll be $20. Or you could park outside the city for free and use our free public transit system to get wherever you need to go.
  • New taxes. Tax car sales, tax parking, tax gasoline–just tax everything that makes cars a better option than public transportation until it’s no longer the cheaper option.
  • No funding! Here’s a not-so-obvious solution that might work: don’t fund the free public transportation programs with new money. Instead, take money from programs that won’t need it as much when people shift from driving to riding. Road maintenance, traffic regulation, motor vehicle department operations, oil company subsidies–this is all money that could go toward paying for a totally free public transit system for you and me.

Free public transportation would, almost overnight, solve many of our financial, social, environmental, and political issues. And it’s not a new idea either; just look at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Commerce, California, and parts of Calgary, Canada, just to name a few.

And for those of you still on the fence about this, just ask yourself a simple question: What Would Jesus Ride? I think you’ll find that the answer to that is free public transportation, Amen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Punny Poll #11: Cost of Car vs. Homeowners/Renters Insurance

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

why must cars cost more to insure than houses

The results were mixed in last week’s Punny Poll which asked you about any financial crises you may have faced in your lifetime. More than a third said they had been through one or two minor money crises, but roughly the same numbers claimed each of major, several, or no big fiscal fixes during their lives.

While obtaining quotes on homeowners insurance for our new home today, it occurred to me that it will cost us less to insure our multi-hundred-thousand-dollar home than it does to insure our $17,000 automobile. I guess I can see why–you’re probably going to have more automotive than homeowner claims, and you’re far more likely to crash into someone with your car than with your house. As it turns out, our car will cost a bit more than twice as much to insure as our house.

This week’s poll seeks to determine how your yearly car insurance premium compares to the cost of your homeowners or renters insurance.
[Read more…]