So why DO so many women support Hillary Clinton?

Oops, Donald Trump has done it again.  He has enraged the women voters by saying that Hillary Clinton “plays the woman card” and suggesting that she would receive less than five percent of the vote were she a man.  Aside from that, we already know from Madeleine Albright that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t vote for Hillary.

Usually, I try to steer clear of political columns, but since frugal, responsible living is so heavily under attack these days, I can’t help myself today.  I just have to pose the question: Why on earth do so many women support Hillary Clinton?  I realize some percentage of persons, male and female, blindly follow the Democratic candidate, without exception or thought – just as some do with the Republican nominee.  But why would any thoughtful, hard-working, responsible, self-reliant person – man or woman – support the divisive, anti-responsibility, pro-entitlement, envy-stoking, hypocritical garbage that comes out of her mouth in the most condescending, pious tone imaginable?  Even if we put aside Hillary’s abject phoniness—from that hideously fake smile to the pandering, screeching voice, to the shifting positions – what is the appeal?  Since a major purpose of this blog is to promote responsible, authentic, no-nonsense living, let’s look at some of her leading rally cries and see if we can debunk this myth that Hillary Clinton is in any respect a good thing for America.

First is Hillary’s promise to finally secure “equal pay for equal work for women.”  How many times has she screeched this promise?  And it sounds so noble, doesn’t it?  Who could be against this concept?  Well, the only problem is that we have had a federal law requiring this very thing for over fifty years.  It’s called, logically enough, the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  Here it is if you don’t believe me.  Here are some of the remarks made by President Kennedy upon signing the legislation:

I AM delighted today to approve the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits arbitrary discrimination against women in the payment of wages. This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organizations unassociated with labor or management, to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job.

Yes, although no one ever calls her on this point, it has been the law of the land for over half of a century: an employer must pay people equally for equal work, regardless of gender. I wonder why Hillary, a lawyer, does not know this, or why she is so eager to promote the myth that such legal protection is non-existent.

Now, granted, the EPA doesn’t mean that every woman must be paid the same as every man in the same position, or vice versa, regardless of job performance or qualifications.  Employers can still pay more for more advanced degrees, more valuable experience, greater business contacts, or other legitimately distinguishing credentials.  Employers can still pay lower performing employees less.  If you have crummy attendance, if you are chronically late to work, if you put out crappy work product, the employer can, and should, pay you less than better performing peers.  But if a woman is paid less than a man for the same work and in the absence of any bona fide business reason, she can sue the employer for the difference in pay and then some.  As a practicing employment law attorney, you can trust me on this one.  In fact, you can contact me; I’ll be happy to represent you.

Now, how about this business of protecting the woman’s “right to choose?”  Let’s first clarify what this classic, liberal red meat phrase refers to.  It’s not, as they like to pretend, the woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant – there’s really not much mystery as to what causes pregnancy, is there?  It is an absolute, guaranteed rule as old as mankind: no sex = no pregnancy.  But what about non-consensual sex, you say?  That’s what the rape and incest exceptions in virtually every conservative candidate’s platform are for.  By the way, it is also a pretty fool proof rule of thumb that a woman can avoid becoming pregnant, even while engaging in sexual activity, so long as she or her mate takes reasonable precautions in the form of birth control.  In short, there are plenty of ways to honor a woman’s choice whether to become pregnant or not without killing off an innocent fetus after the fact.

No, what this right to choose phrase refers to is the woman’s “right” to choose to kill an unborn baby that she has conceived.  According to Hillary Clinton (and her entire party for that matter), a woman must be given the absolute right to abort (i.e., kill) any fetus within her.

Let’s pause here and remember that Democrats tout themselves as the compassionate party, the party that looks out for the helpless and downtrodden, the party that wants every person to be given a fair shot in life.  Is there any more compellingly helpless, vulnerable, and innocently dependent form of life than a fetus?  Should women indeed have a “right” to kill a baby?  Do the rights of this dependent third-party, albeit in the womb, not deserve any consideration at all?  And now let’s just consider how utterly selfish this position is at its very core: “I have an absolute right to determine what happens to my body (for eight or nine months), even if it means killing a third-party individual with an entire life ahead.”  Another way of putting it, made popular by the old bumper sticker, is “Keep your laws off MY body” (and to hell with the helpless baby’s).

Granted, we can debate abortion until the end of time and probably get nowhere in terms of convincing one another.  The point for now is that this is yet another issue that really falls well short of justifying a vote for one of the most fundamentally dishonest persons to run for high office.  Like it or not, abortion is here to stay.  It will not be outlawed unless the composition of the United States Supreme Court is changed dramatically, something that cannot happen for decades to come.  So why, really, should women feel a need to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton on an issue that has been settled law for over 4 decades at a cost of over 40 million would be infants?

Then we have the larger “war on women” theme.  Closely tied to the above issues, Hillary promotes the notion that only she and her party care about the dignity, respect, and equal protection that women deserve.  It is truly hard to believe that anyone can fall for this claim given her distinguished history of assisting her husband Bill with abusing women for years.  For those too young to know, allow me to relive a bit of history from just the 1990s.  Then President Bill Clinton was required to give deposition testimony — in a sexual harassment case, no less — over his objections and claims of executive privilege.  During the deposition questions arose about his relationship with a former White House intern, one Monica Lewinsky.  Indignantly and emphatically, Bill stated, under oath, that he had never had sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky.  As the matter reached the media, Hillary rushed to Bill’s aid, and told the country that he was simply being victimized by “a vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Shortly after Hillary’s statement, the country learned that Ms. Lewinsky just happened to have retained a blue dress on which Bill Clinton had ejaculated while receiving oral sex from Lewinsky — a woman young enough to be his daughter.  Bill then came clean, so to speak, and calmly and matter-of-factly told the nation: “Indeed I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate.”

One has to wonder why Hillary Clinton would have rushed to his aid in not only denying his guilt, but in blaming it all on a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”  This she said while knowing firsthand that Bill was the biggest over-sexed, philanderer to occupy the White House since JFK — (the other caring Democrat who signed into law the Equal Pay Act, by the way.)  From Gennifer Flowers, to Jaunita Broaddrick, to Paula Jones, the list of Bill Clinton victims is tragically legendary.  And in each case the defense strategy has been to attack the victim.  Hillary, for example, called Lewinsky “a narcissistic loony toon.”  Does this sound like someone who is championing the rights of women?  Which side of the purported war is Hillary on exactly?  And do we really want to return to these disgusting, miry depths?

I don’t.  Let’s face it, the old jokes — e.g., that Clinton did not tell Lewinsky to lie in her deposition, only to “lie in that position;” about Bush opposing the abortion bill while Clinton paid it — just are not funny any more.  The country was a laughing stock for the world during this travesty (remember the Russians calling upon Ms. Lewinsky to help calm our President after he lobbed missiles into Iraq?)  We don’t need to go there again.

So what does this all have to do with frugal living?  It’s fairly simple, really.  Frugal living is all about living responsibly, authentically, honestly.  It’s about integrity and discipline.  It is, quite simply, the polar opposite of everything this woman represents.  But if you really want to see the direct connection, tune in to part two on this subject.

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Secret “Shame” of the American Middle Class?

There’s a good article appearing on today concerning the “secret shame” of the middle class.  Written by Neal Gabler for The Atlantic, it begins by revealing a surprising statistical find by the Federal Reserve Board: that 47% of American consumers would either have to borrow or hawk a possession in order to cover the cost of a $400.00 unexpected emergency.  Surprisingly, the tone of the article was not one of shock or disbelief, but empathy and resignation.  Gabler openly confessed that he, despite his career success as a writer of some five books, hundreds of published articles, and even television appearances, is one of these 47%.

To his credit, Gabler made no excuses.  Instead, his point seemed to be that times are tough, even for the hard-working and well-disciplined.  A real estate market collapse here and staggering college tuition there is enough to bring anyone to the point of financial fragility, he reasons.  While I applaud Gabler for coming out of the financially fragile closet, I disagree with this bleak suggestion that no matter how hard one tries, we are all destined to live in a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.

The reality, you see, is that the majority of Americans are walking a financial tightrope without a safety net because of one bad choice after another.  In reality, the “secret shame” of which the article speaks is just not there at all.  It used to be, mind you, but over the last 20 or so years, there simply is no shame in being financially impotent.  Instead, people with little to no net worth think nothing at all of eating meals out daily, of buying new clothes every season of the year, or of purchasing large SUVs for the single person commute to work each day. No one is encouraged to delay gratification, to work hard and save aggressively as a young adult. Why bother, the reasoning goes.  Life is too short, and if we get in over our heads there is always bankruptcy and government safety nets.

There really is a better, and more responsible, way.  Despite having reached a level of financial independence from 24 years of frugal living habits, it is still a rare occasion when I, for example, visit a restaurant where the dinner tab for two will exceed $35.00.  I never, ever join the tens of thousands of fellow local residents who happily drop two, three, or four hundred dollars to attend a football or basketball game for 2-3 hours.  I still do not pay people $40.00 to mow my grass or thirty to change my car’s oil.

And yet on those rare occasions when I do visit a restaurant as high priced as an Outback or Longhorn, I am constantly surprised by the length of the wait list.  Once inside, I see families of 4 – 6 just living it up, stuffing their already obese waistlines with $25.00 entrees, drinks, and deserts.  How many of these people, I wonder, could handle a $400.00 emergency?  Probably all of them if they simply ate at home and drove a Nissan Sentra rather than the Chevy Tahoe that sits outside.

The other part of Gabler’s article that bothered me was a gratuitous injection of politics.  He writes that the financial stress of Americans causes us to lash out at innocent targets, such as President Obama.  Really?  I don’t care what side of the political aisle you sit on, there is no disputing that real wages in America have fallen under this administration.  Also beyond dispute is that the concept of fiscal responsibility has been all but destroyed by a federal government that has ratcheted up the national debt to a truly unbelievable 19 TRILLION dollars, all while raising taxes and handing out more and more and more free entitlements, from Obama phones to Obamacare.  The hope of climbing out of debt and building a financial safety cushion takes a mighty beating when we have a federal government that spends like a drunken sailor on shore leave, only to raise taxes on the one-half of Americans who pay them in order to give entitlements to the other half who do not.

The main point, you see, is that responsible choices and discipline are still the keys to financial stability, both at the governmental and personal household levels.



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So What Are Quality Frugal Transportation Choices?

If you read this blog, you already know the importance of thinking it through in order to make a choice that is not only frugal but practical.  When it comes to transportation, for example, we see that motorcycles really do not fit the bill for a variety of reasons.  Yes, if you choose a tiny engine and are willing to operate the machine in the rain, in winter temperatures, in the summer heat, and beside tractor trailers on the highways — and if you are one of the rare persons who can manage to ride a motorcycle responsibly — you will save some money on gas costs.  But you will also simultaneously expose yourself to death and serious bodily injury, while regularly arriving at destinations soaking wet from sweat or rain and spotted with dead bugs.  Not very practical.

Likewise, we see that a bicycle really does not cut it in terms of practical frugal living.  At the other extreme, SUVs and full size pickup trucks are almost always a foolish waste of money, both on the front end purchase price and with the sky high maintenance, insurance, and gasoline costs that will follow.

When thinking it though, we also see that the Toyota Prius, despite its legions of loyal owners, does not make the grade — unless you keep it for many, many years.  Why?  Because the additional upfront purchase costs simply puts you to far in the red at the outset, meaning you will have to accumulate thousands of gallons of gasoline savings in order to make up the difference.

So what are transportation choices that are both frugal and practical?  Before getting to my picks, stop and review the working definition of practical frugal living.  Applying this to transportation, I expect for the choice to be one that is reasonably priced, safe, and economical to use.  It also has to be an option that can be used without undue burden, (e.g., if you will arrive at work sweating like a pig, it doesn’t fit the bill).  The choice also has to be one that will prove practical for the vast majority of your transportation needs.  This too requires thinking it through.  If you justify an SUV purchase because of the three times a year that you visit that off-road mountain cabin, only to find yourself commuting to work, by yourself (or even with one passenger). 250 days a year, you have made a boneheaded decision.  Low maintenance costs are also essential.  This is another reason, by the way, that motorcycles fail to make the cut.  Changing tires and brakes every 8,000 to 10,000 miles has no place in a frugal lifestyle.

Now, without further ado, here is my completely objective (NOTE: I have received nothing from any of these manufactures) list of vehicles that will serve you well in your quest to live a quality, frugal lifestyle:

The Nissan Sentra: In recent years, Nissan has really upped its game in quality.  My family currently owns a Nissan Sentra (pictured here) and a Nissan Versa, which is the compact line immediately below the Sentra.  Both feature excellent rides and handling.  The Versa is small, but the Sentra is surprisingly roomy inside.  The real surprise is the fuel efficiency.  I now have over 21,000 miles on the car, and my average fuel efficiency for the life of the car is sitting pretty at 38.1.  As I’ve previously written, I am not a big proponent of hypermiling techniques.  I am also not an all highway miles traveler, although perhaps half of my miles have been highway.  As such, this is an average MPG that can be achieved by the average driver.

The key to Nissan’s fuel efficiency is the continuously variable transmission or CVT.  Granted, it takes a little getting used to, but it is just no big deal at all.  The acceleration is still excellent, and once you realize that your transmission is not “slipping” you’ll quickly learn to appreciate its fuel sipping magic.

My only concerns with the current Nissans has been the two recall notices I have received.  One was for a faulty passenger air bag sensor; the latest has been for a small repair to the CVT.  The company deserves kudos for acknowledging these problems and addressing them (free of charge, of course) proactively.  Still, they do create inconvenience, and they give me some concern about overall quality.  But after two years of ownership, I’ve been thoroughly pleased with the first hand driver experience and do recommend the make to fellow frugalists.

The Hyundai Elantra:

As with Nissan, Hyundai has markedly improved the quality of its cars over the past twenty of so years.  Its cars now boast solid reliability, and several models, incl2016 Hyundai Elantra Limited on the Roaduding the Elantra, feature very impressive fuel economy.  Hyundai also stands behind its cars with a five year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, nearly twice that of most manufacturers.  Hyundai also offers many fine options as standard features.

I have owned a Sonata and an Elantra in past years.  I drove the Sonata to over 150,000 miles with no major engine repairs required.  The Elantra was also relatively trouble free and much better on gas.  I was also impressed with the paint on these cars.  After some bad experiences with U.S. makes in the past, I really appreciated how well the paint held up on these cars, even after sustaining dents, dings, and all of those other annoying wear and tear markers of long term ownership.

I only have a few negative thoughts about Hyundai.  First, the batteries in both of my cars really sucked.  The cars came with Hyundai batteries, which died inside of three years each.  My cars also blew through light bulbs very fast, and I was told this is a common problem with the make.  I went through head lamp bulbs and taillights all well inside of 100,000 miles.  They are also very cumbersome to change.

In addition to these relatively small annoyances, my sense is that Hyundai has lost a lot of its competitive marketplace hunger.  Its cars used to be great bargains, but the prices have really moved upward in recent years.  I’m sure this is largely because word has gotten out and sales have increased accordingly.  But for whatever reason, Hyundais are not nearly the terrific buy they once were.

Still, I highly recommend considering the Hyundai Elantra (and Sonata).  For young couples or singles, you also can’t go wrong with the Accent.

The Toyota Corolla:

The fact that the Corolla is the best selling car of all time gives us some hope that the world has not completely lost its collective fiscal mind.  Toyota has sold over 40,000,000 of these cars and for good reason.  It is, and always has been, a wonderfully efficient machine that delivers 28/37 miles per gallon.  Despite taking some hits in recent years with recall problems, Toyota is legendary for its quality, and the Corolla is its poster child of all that is right with a low maintenance, dependable performer.

The first car that I bought out of school was a 1992 Corolla.  I put over 170,000 miles on it without a major repair, and I was still able to sell it ten years later for two thousand dollars.

My only beef with Corolla, and Toyotas generally, is how miserly they are with options.  Toyota seems to like this game of pricing cars cheaply only to jack that base model price up big time for simple options like cruise control.  I also don’t understand why a company so known for reliablity doesn’t step up and match the five year, 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty of Hyundai and Kia.  Chances are that you won’t need it, but that seems all the more reason why Toyota should offer it.

All things considered, however, you can make far worse choices than a Toyota Corolla, which should be plenty for a family of four or fewer.  If you must have something larger, the Toyota Camry is also a great second choice.


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Myth Buster: Is a Bicycle a Practical Transportation Alternative?

A popular website that touts the virtues of simple and frugal living is Mr. Money Mustache. The site shares the philosophy of a thirty-something (maybe forty or so now) computer engineer who retired young and now lives the good life from his Colorado home with his wife and young son. It is a popular site with younger adults, in part because it leads masses of young people to believe that they can, and in fact will, retire in just a short number of years by following some lifestyle changes to reduce spending and consumption habits. Younger adults also like the blogger’s pithy writing style, which makes liberal, cutesy use of occasional profanity that the young readers seem to particularly enjoy.

Although I am frequently alarmed by the unrealistic career planning decisions that many of the readers seem to have made (more on that in a later post), I generally have enjoyed the blogger’s posts. I agree with Mr. Money Mustache (or MMM) on many of his suggestions, and I too like the general simple living philosophy that he espouses.

But one theme that he constantly preaches that I just can’t understand is the use of bicycles for transportation. Basically, MMM suggests that everyone should move to a close commuting distance from the work place, buy a good, used bicycle, and ride it everywhere except for the occasional road trip. MMM touts the health benefits and the money savings that come from putting calories to work in lieu of spending big money on gas, maintenance, and insurance costs. He suggests that most errands – even grocery shopping – can be accomplished with the bike and a connected baby carrier.   You can even transport appliances with a bicycle and a trailer!  He even blows off the safety concerns of biking on major roadways, going so far as to call biking the safest means of transportation. Even weather, he says, is no problem as a dedicated “Mustachian” will find ways to bike to work even in the snow. Just bike, MMM says, and you are well on your way to financial freedom.

I have to admit, he makes it sound appealing. Saving money and promoting good health really does sound like a no-brainer, win-win, doesn’t it?

Well, keep in mind, the purpose of this blog is to promote practical frugal living. And I hate to break it to you, but bicycling everywhere is about as far from practical as attempting to live off of roadside berries.

Let’s start with this idea of biking to work. MMM feels anyone in pretty much any occupation can do this. Well, I’m an attorney working in the southeastern United States. Even though we generally dress in business casual attire on days when we have no office guests or out of office appointments, we still expect for our employees to come to work reasonably clean and free of odor. I think most office work places have a similar expectation. For half of the year, if I were to bike to work eight miles, I would arrive fairly soaked in perspiration, which is really not acceptable.

So, to be fair, I once started a thread on MMM’s message board to ask what people do about this issue. You wouldn’t believe some of the responses. One person explained that he keeps a week’s worth of fresh clothes in his office. When he arrives each day, he visits the bathroom, sponges himself off, changes clothes, and apparently stores the soiled garments somewhere in the office before taking them home. Another suggested that I could probably find a local gym or health club that would be happy to allow me to shower and change there. Really? Yes, I’m sure I could use a downtown gym’s facilities to shower and change each day – if I pay the $49/month membership fee. And that would kind of spoil the whole money saving idea, wouldn’t it? As for the first suggestion, I’ve never really managed to accomplish a thorough cleaning by sponging off select body parts before a sink, and I sure don’t relish the idea of trying this technique out in a law firm. Once I start sweating heavily during a workout, it also takes quite a while for my body to cool down in general. In other words, even after a shower, I usually find myself continuing to sweat for several minutes until the blood pressure and body temperature are fully back to normal. I really would prefer to just arrive faster, cleaner, and better rested.

Then there’s the whole issue of time.  Does it ever occur to these folks that they are throwing a good hour of so of additional time into biking to work and bathing and changing afterwards?  Is there any consideration given to the nuisance and value of time factors?

At any rate, when you find yourself making suggestions like these to justify an idea like biking to work, it is a pretty good indication that the idea is not practical. And bicycling everywhere certainly is not.

Of course we have not even begun to look at some of the more serious problems like biking home in the rain, sleet, and snow. Lots of fun there. Work is not always predictable either, and I’m not sure what I would do when I receive the call from a client who asks me to meet him that same day. I’m sure the client would understand if I said, “Sure, just given me an hour to bike down there, and pay no mind to the fact that I will be sweating like a pig.” The client or customer will also appreciate having to drive any time the two of you go somewhere together.

As for safety, I don’t know what utopia MMM lives in, but my community has had multiple cases of bicyclists injured or killed by drivers.  Just a ten second google search found this article on a Navy Seal killed yesterday on a bike.  Here’s another story of a bicyclist killed from the last day.  Oh what the heck, here’s one more biker fatality from just the last day.  And another.

For the most part, bicyclists, especially when on the road during rush hour, are viewed as major nuisances by drivers. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of impatient drivers out there. Besides that, bicyclists bring a lot of hate upon themselves as they demand that the rules of the road apply to them – but only when convenient for the biker. Have you ever noticed how a bicyclist demands that he be treated as an equal motorist until he approaches an intersection? Then, suddenly, it is perfectly acceptable to move into the gutter to squeeze by stopped cars (including drivers who just moments earlier stressed through the process of getting around the bike in the first place), to run through red lights, to ride on the sidewalk and crosswalks, etc. Excuse the rant here, but the point is that bicyclists are not above road rage, (which they often incite), road hazards, and serious accidents.

Speaking from experience, I tried MMM’s idea by biking to my gym in the evenings. Just this two mile ride through city traffic was pretty scary, as cars zipped by me in the dark, sometimes barely clearing me. Dodging potholes and other road hazards was also a lot of fun. I quickly determined that this idea ain’t what it’s cranked up to be.

As for personal errands, if MMM is able to pile his groceries into a baby carrier, congratulations and God bless. For me, the thought of loading a gallon of milk, eggs, bread, canned goods, fresh fruit and meats, and other perishables in there, then pulling the load up and down hills to home is, in a word, nuts.

Then we come to the question of just how long do you really think you could tolerate this mode of transportation? Yes, a healthy young adult can bike a lot. But, trust me here, as you enter the late forties and fifties, changes occur to the body. In fact, the more active your lifestyle has been, the more wear and tear you will find surfacing to the joints. It will be interesting to see whether MMM and his disciples are still biking to and from the grocery store at age 55 when arthritis is coming into full bloom.

My suggestion is this: use a bicycle for exercise if you like (but, please, be responsible when doing so – no riding around in body tights, three feet into the travel lane, just far enough to obstruct traffic and piss off scores of motorists). But if you think a bike can largely eliminate your need for a car in day to day life, you need to think again.

And if you try this “lifestyle,” make sure your life insurance policy is up to date.

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Do it Yourself? Know Your Limitations First.

Here is another one of those “no brainer” ideas for saving money: do it yourself.  More than a long heralded principle of frugal living, “DIY” has become quite the vogue fad in the 21st Century.  With the advent of home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s and the popularity of home fix-it programs, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.  We even have shows like Flip or Flop feeding the notion that there is money to be made by simply buying old structures, renovating  them, and selling them for huge profits.

We men are particularly vulnerable to DIY urges, as the belief that any man worth his salt has an inherent ability to use tools and fix things seems to run in our DNA.  The problem is this is a myth.  And as someone who speaks from experience, believe me, you can easily come out in the red — both in terms of money and time — if you embark on a DIY project without the necessary, skills or know-how.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for doing the work yourself and saving the money of outside help provided you know what you are doing.  This again is largely a problem for men, as our male pride constantly prevents us from acknowledging our inabilities and shortcomings.  So let’s learn from one of the great macho icons, Clint Eastwood, and realize once and for all that “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I’ll give you a classic example.  I’ve tried a few times now to change headlight bulbs on my cars.  The first time went OK, but still harder than I expected.  The last two — both Hyundai cars, by the way — were nightmares.  For some reason, attempting to remove those damn lens covers and working my way around the various clamps and other impediments proved to be a nearly impossible task for this layman.  I sweated my way through it, but eventually could only get the bulb in half-way, without securing and aiming it properly.  So in the end I had to take the car down to a service station and have a mechanic finish the job.  The end result was that I pretty well ruined an evening, scratched up my forearm, and STILL ended up forking over twenty-five dollars, plus the cost of the bulb.

Now, wouldn’t it have been a lot better, from a quality of life standpoint, to have just paid the mechanic to do it in the first place?

Sadly, this is not just an isolated example for me.  Other times I have embarked upon do it yourself projects, only to find myself capitulating after a few hours of tortuous frustration.  The worst examples are those occasions when I get about three quarters of the way through before finally hitting a hurdle that I can’t clear.  The result is that I end up paying someone to do the job after all.  And, sorry, but there are no price discounts when the serviceman has to come out to the house to finish the job you have partially done.

Even if you do have the ability to do a given project yourself, consider your efficiency.  After all, it really makes little sense sweating and cursing for an hour or two through a project that you could pay someone thirty bucks to do in ten minutes. Time really is money, and many of us have a tendency to under estimate the value of personal time.

In the end, doing it yourself can be a great way to save money, but as with any strategy in frugal living, you have to think it through — preferably before wasting an evening and self-inflicting wounds.

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Does a Used Car Really Save?

Buy a used car and save tons of money.  How many times have you heard it?  It’s one of the top five suggestions on any “how to save money” article.  It has become part and parcel of the frugalist mindset, so much so that we now scoff at the poor, misguided souls who still buy new at the dealership.

But does a used car really save you money in the end?  The answer is nothing more than an uninspiring, “Maybe, under some circumstances.”

But usually it won’t.

I personally find used car savings the exception rather than the rule if, as I steadily preach, you think it through.

First, let’s start with the savings on price.  Conventional wisdom is that by merely buying used you will save 20 – 40 percent on the purchase price.  That can be true, no doubt, but as with everything you give up something for that price savings.  There’s not a seller on the planet who will give you savings of that magnitude unless the car has suffered a similar diminution in value.  Usually, it is pretty apparent by simply looking at the odometer reading.  The next time you find yourself attracted to a used car price that is at or near half the cost of the same model new, just look at the odometer, and you will probably find the catch there.  Chances are you will find that the car has a good 80,000 to 100,000 miles on it.  This, of course, means that you are very close to buying that car’s next major mechanical failure.  It may be an air compressor, a solenoid, an alternator, a timing belt and water pump — who knows?  But you can rest assured that you are 80,000 miles closer to a $500 – $1,200 repair tab, and probably several of them.

Remember too how many normal wear and tear items might be staring you in the face.  Unless the tires and brakes have just been changed, you will probably be replacing them in the next six months, as opposed to waiting two to three years before incurring that cost on a new car.

I also am willing to pay a bit more for peace of mind.  With a car, that comes in the form of warranty coverage.  If you buy a new Hyundai of Kia, you are buying yourself five years and 60,000 miles of bumper to bumper warranty coverage.  If you buy a used model with anything beyond 60,000 miles, you get no warranty at all.  With most other makes, you get zero warranty protection if you buy a car with a mere 36,000 miles on it.

Of course, you also have no idea how well the used car has been maintained by its prior owner — unless you are buying from a very close friend or from the very rare person who keeps full, accurate service records on file.  Now just think about how many times you have been too busy to change your oil at the necessary intervals and how many times you have done downright stupid things with your car that won’t show to the potential buyer.  Call me a pessimist, but I am less than confident in the diligence of the average car owner, and there is of course a reason why that owner is looking to sell the car in the first place.

But what if you buy a lightly used car, one still well within the manufacturer’s warranty?  That is a great idea if you can still accomplish significant cost savings.  The problem is that is very seldom the case.  Just look at a random example.  Let’s say you live in Atlanta and are in the market for a Toyota Corolla, a sound choice for the aspiring frugalist.  A quick review of Atlanta Toyota‘s website shows us a 2014 Corolla LE with less than 21,000 miles priced at $15,180.  The same dealership offers a new 2015 Corolla LE for $15,739, with other new models ranging into the $16,400 range.  Does the used car price sound like such a good deal?   Not to me.

Many will argue that better savings can be obtained by purchasing used from a private party seller.  But that option also is overrated.  With free, online access to Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds, any seller can easily determine the retail value of his vehicle, and just a quick browsing of Craigslist makes that clear enough.  It is also much more difficult to find a lightly used car for sale from individual sellers.  Again, check out Craigslist and what you will find is a plethora of cars with heavy miles.

In my opinion, the only practical used car option is a lightly used model, still within manufacturer’s warranty that is, for some reason, priced significantly lower than the new model alternative.  About the only time you will find this option is with a close out model or one that has been sitting on a dealer’s lot for a long time.  Dealers will reduce prices on models with “dust” on them.  Otherwise, you will find a better overall deal with a carefully negotiated new car deal and all the warranty and peace of mind benefits that come with it.

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Message to President Obama: There is No Free Lunch

Well, we just endured another nauseating, divisive, pie-in-sky, head-in-the-sand speech from Barack Obama.  Also known as the President’s State of the Union speech, Obama regaled his Democratic constituents with promises of yet new waves of big government tax and spend policies — like the very ones that have crippled American business, stagnated the economy, and left panhandlers still standing on the intersections of every city six long years since Obama’s first inauguration.  He has called for new taxes on the wealthy so that he can better spread the wealth to others.  In addition to the free healthcare and free cell phones that he doled out in his first term,  Obama now proposes to magically bestow free college educations and expanded child care benefits, the better to multiply the nation’s 18 TRILLION dollar debt.  And let’s throw in mandatory paid sick leave days while we’re at it.

Here is the message that Obama and his cronies just can’t seem to understand: there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Someone, at some time, must pay for these things.  Otherwise, you find yourself staring at a national debt several trillion dollars higher than the one you yourself blasted as unethical and unpatriotic six years earlier.  You see, Mr. President, college educations don’t come free, no matter how much we may want them to be.  They have to be paid for by someone.  The same is true for those cell phones and that health care you are “giving” away.  And by the way, even those nice new tax increases you are calling for would never come close to covering the tab.  As Margaret Thatcher once remarked, there is a central problem with socialism — eventually you run out of other people’s money.

But the most maddening aspect of this speech is the utter phoniness of it.  How can any responsible, intelligent person watch Obama’s fellow Democrats sit there and jump with applause for these insane promises, as if these new entitlement promises will save them from the yokes of poverty and despair?  Do people not realize that those Democrats are some of the wealthiest Americans whom Obama constantly blasts?  Like Nancy Pelosi and Mark Warner with their staggering, nine figure net worths?  Or Secretary John Kerry with his? Such a shame that Herb Kohl and Jay Rockefeller were no longer in the audience with their nine figure wealth.  Nonetheless, the list of obscenely wealthy Democrats who tout the “rich need to pay their fair share” mantra remains seemingly endless.

So here’s a practical idea: why don’t these multi millionaires step up to the plate, lead by example, and volunteer to forego those $174,000.00 salaries they take home?  Really, does a multi millionaire need that additional money anyway?  If they are truly so concerned about the plight of the less fortunate and outraged by the rich not paying their fair share, why not volunteer their services and live off of the paltry multi million dollar investment income that they receive annually (along with the lavish allowances, health care  (free of the Obamacare beauracracy, by the way), astounding “retirement” packages, and other benefits they will still enjoy)?  Come on you principled Congress folk, you want to give back to society; you want to help the less fortunate; you want to be good, altruistic “public servants.”  Go ahead and do it free of pay, like Ross Perot volunteered to do when he ran for President.

By now, you are probably thinking that I am one of those wealthy Americans who would be directly affected by the new tax increases Obama proposes.  I’m not.  Actually, I don’t come anywhere close.  I know, the prevailing wisdom is that I therefore should not care.  “Why do you care, you won’t have to pay it?” is the question I often hear.  Well, I care because I know that more and more spending by a government that is already $18 trillion dollars in debt is a bad thing; it is unsustainable.  I care because I look beyond the short-term and care about what happens to my children.  I care because I know that feeding this frightening tidal wave of entitlement demands is the last thing our country needs.  And I care because I truly hate this politics of division that Obama himself promised to change yet constantly takes to new heights.  It frankly pisses me off, in fact.

I also care because I believe people should be permitted to set their priorities, make wise choices, work hard, and spend their money on their own families and the causes they believe in rather than on the special interest groups that jump on the populist bandwagon.  I also believe every person should be permitted to spend and invest their hard-earned income as they wish without having political prostitutes stoke class envy and buy votes by promising to take that money and redistribute it.  I believe in working hard, living frugally, saving and investing, and providing for my family, rather than for the 50 million Americans who receive food stamps.

If you have followed and read this blog, you already know the importance of living frugally.  Rather than seek the mythical free lunch, you have perfected the art of frugal brown bag lunches.  You pay your own way while mastering cost reduction strategies such as aggressive coupon use and frequent shopper discount cards.  You monitor your vehicle’s tire pressure and avoid impractical gas-guzzling SUVs.  You seek to minimize insurance costs by dropping unnecessary coverages rather than force people to purchase insurance coverages they neither want nor need.  You know how embarrassed responsible Americans are by the nation’s irresponsible burgeoning debt and entitlement mentality.  You have, in short, perfected the liberating frugal mindset.

We need to tout the virtues of responsible, frugal living and self-reliance.  This runaway freight train of entitlement spending and class envy will get us nowhere good.

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