Some Thoughts on the Utter Hell of Air Travel – with a particular shout-out to Delta

If you do not believe in hell, you have little experience with air travel.  Unfortunately, I have such experience, lots of it.  I know painfully, horribly well the cycle of disappointment, frustration, anger, and extreme physical and mental exhaustion that is the stuff of air travel.

My most recent trip with Delta Airlines (January 10 — Flight 5100 from Atlanta to Vermont, in case you wonder), is a perfect example.  As my first packed-to-the-gills flight arrived in to the Atlanta airport under clear skies and weather, I received a text notification that Flight 5100 had been delayed from its scheduled 7:30pm departure time to 8:45pm.  There was no explanation given.  No worries, I thought.  That will give me some extra time to get dinner and to walk off some steps on the ol’ Fit Bit.

Then, as I waited at the gate for the boarding calls to begin, I received another text message informing me that the departure time was being pushed back, again, to 9:20pm.  Again, no explanation was even attempted.  At this point, I am getting more than a little annoyed knowing that I still have a fairly long flight ahead of me and a need for sleep before the important business that was necessitating the trip in the first place.  But what could I do?  Nothing, other than sit back in that same uncomfortable airport chair and hunker down for my second hour of wait time.

I did ask the gate attendants what the problem was.  There was conflicting information, but a common theme was that there was initially an unspecified “equipment issue” that necessitated bringing in a different plane from an airport in North Carolina.  I found it hard to believe that Atlanta-based Delta did not already have a spare plane or two available at the Hartsfield-Jackson airport, but so they said.

Then came the real kicker.  The new plane had arrived some time ago (Asheville to Atlanta is a pretty fast flight, after all), but Delta was now having to search for pilots to fly us.  It was another head scratcher.  After all, didn’t a pilot fly the plane into Atlanta?  What happened to him?  And what, by the way, happened to the pilots who were scheduled to fly us in the first place?  The agents couldn’t answer that question.  (One of them did, to her credit, admit to me that she was embarrassed by what she saw unfolding.)

So I sat down, more than a little angry now.  Eyes weary, back and rump sore, and knowing I had more time to kill, I tried to make it constructive by calling Delta’s customer service number to lodge a complaint.  Bad idea.  After dancing my way through the various prompts and options, I finally received a recorded voice telling me that I would have to wait an estimated 45 minutes to one hour thirteen minutes before my call could be taken.  I guess there were other complaints being made; call it a hunch.

Next, at 9:15pm, I received my next text message advising — you got it — of another delay, with a new estimated departure time of 10pm.  At this point I was just about to let loose, but, finally, a pleasant surprise was announced as pilots were found and we were shoehorned on to the plane before 10pm after all!  The bad news was that the replacement plane was a smaller “jet,” one too small for the originally promised job.  It necessitated soliciting “volunteers,” folks who would agree to postpone their trip in exchange for some goody like a price break on a future flight.  What a deal!  Just wave the white flag, give up on this flight once and for all, and you will get to go through it all again later!  And even with those volunteer adjustments, the plane was still packed, with far too little room to hold even the supposed allowance of one bag and one carry on item.

To top it all off, as I ducked my head and stumbled down this sardine can of a plane, what did I see (and hear) right across the aisle but a screaming baby — one far too young to be on a plane, let alone at that hour, (but, then again, the parents had no idea the flight would just be starting at this hour.)

I am still simmering over that night of hell.  Last night, in fact, I made use of Delta’s website to submit the complaint that I could not get through on the phone.   I typed up my frustrations and sent them on.  I then received a nice auto-reply that thanked me for the message and advised that letters and emails are answered in the order received and that responses rarely take more than 30 days.  Wow – way to go Delta!  Only 30 days to respond to a complaint.  That’s service you can be proud of.

The above is just my latest experience, mind you.  It is hardly unusual.  More often than not there is at least one unanticipated delay, and the planes are ALWAYS, without exception or reprieve, booked solid and far too small for the task.  Granted, I am 6’4″ in height, taller than average, but hardly rare in size.  The rarity of men over six feet pretty much passed with the turn of the twentieth century, you know.  Nonetheless, I now expect to walk down the aisle with my head ducked and to have to sit with one leg in the aisle as passers-by bang into my shoulder with their bags and butts.  My only alternatives are to contort my body into a sideways fetal position or to piss off the person in front of me by stuffing my knees into the back of his seat.  But the multi-billion dollar airlines have no choice, you see.  They have to squeeze every dollar of profit out of every flight.  What is it to them if they stuff you into absurdly cramped quarters, leaving you in hours of physical discomfort and with the need for chiropractic adjustments for the next six weeks, as long as they net an additional fifty bucks profit on the flight?

As a veteran, litigation attorney by trade, I endure my share of difficult and unpleasant professional duties.  But NOTHING is as consistently painful to me as flying.  Nothing.  Put me in a heated deposition, a week long trial before a jerk judge, anything — just spare me the torture of a flight.

Adding to the pain and outrage is the fact that the airlines do not care, at all.  They do not give one iota of a damn.  The whole game, you see, is fixed for them.  The moment you walk through that airport security zone, you enter the Twilight Zone.  You leave fairness and accountability on the other side.  The airline has booked your money, and it will fly you at whatever time on whatever plane it wishes.  If the pilots want to take an extended dinner break, yap on the phone, flirt with the stewardesses, or pleasure themselves in the pilots’ lounge, so be it.  If the ground crew wants to watch the second half of a basketball game before throwing the cargo into the hull, they shall.  You will sit there in your gate/holding area, like the herded animal that you are, and wait.  Sure, you can go to one of the restaurants and try to drown your sorrow in a beer — just expect to pay a price twice the going rate since you are a captive with no access to free markets.  Pay the airport profiteers or just sit there in your state of learned helplessness.  Try doing anything more about it and you will get an hour or so wait on the phone or an automated reply telling you to wait for your email response some time in the next month.

Why should they care, really?  You have precious few options, and they all, quite frankly, suck.  What am I to do next time?  Choose USAir?  I stopped using them when I was forced to check a small bag because of this carrier’s pathetically undersized plane size only to have the contents stolen.

Well, we need to do something about it, and that’s what my next several posts will be about.  Tune in as I provide more details of what these evil companies known as air carriers are doing and what you can — and should — do about it.

Posted in Consumer Alert | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Target – No Place for Bananas and a Larger Lesson in Frugal Living

20160515_154427I’m usually a big fan of Target, and I go there often for groceries.  Like most people, I prefer to knock out all grocery shopping at once since it is one of those tasks I really dislike.  As such, I’ve always found myself tempted to pick up my weekly supply of bananas while there.

This convenience temptation in turn leads one to rationale the price – currently weighing in at .29 a banana.  That’s right, .29 per banana, not a pound.  I’ve always wondered how that corresponded to a price per pound but was too lazy to find out.  Until recently that is.  The other day I needed to pick up just a few while in the grocery store for other reasons.  So I made a point of selecting two good size bananas and saving the receipt.  It showed the total price as forty-two cents.  Even with my limited math skills I was able to quickly figure this one out: Target’s price for bananas, uhm, shall we say bites.  If I had made this same purchase there, I would have dropped another sixteen cents, or a whopping thirty-eight percent more.  And that’s with the comparative grocery store being Harris Teeter, a southeastern chain not exactly known for bargain prices.

So what’s the larger lesson here?  You just can’t assume that discounters like Target or Walmart are the best places to buy all items.   As I’ve preached repeatedly before, you really do have to think it through, and sometimes that takes some pretty simple effort.

Posted in Shopping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Why DO so many women support Hillary Clinton? (Part II)

Last week I posed the question why would a thoughtful, responsible woman support Hillary Clinton.   Aside from the patent phoniness about her, the endless list of head-shaking lies, her red herring platforms, and the sordid, humiliating history that she and her husband have already put the country through, perhaps the biggest problem with her for any self-respecting frugalist is her insistence on marginalizing achievement, stoking class envy, and touting that oh so favorite liberal line that the “rich” are selfish folk who just do not pay their fair share in taxes.

Any adult who has worked hard to accomplish a financial stability should feel a definite rise in blood pressure every time this hypocritical crook (or any of her other multi-millionaire party buds) fall back to this well-worn Democratic talking point.  Before we get to the absurdity of Hillary Clinton resorting to this class envy tactic, let us, as before, take on the dearth of logic to the entire premise.

Start by explaining this to me: Why is it considered by the liberals “selfish” for a person to work hard, delay gratification, save and invest responsibly, and wish to keep most of his or her earnings in order to provide for his or her family; but it is not selfish for a person to wish/demand that the government take the money from others and simply give it to him or her?  Can anyone answer that for me?

Why is it selfish to wish to keep the money one has worked hard to earn, but unselfish for one-half of the country to pay absolutely no federal income taxes, while complaining that the rich do not pay their fair share?  Why, really, is it selfish for a hard-working American to labor for years in an effort to create a safety net for his or her own family, but unselfish for others to demand that the government provide that safety net by heavily taxing others?  Why is it selfish for a person to put in twenty plus years of hard work in part to sock away money for his or her children’s college educations, but unselfish for others to save nothing and to demand that the government provide “free education,” once again, at the expense of the tax payers?

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point.  The notion that it is “selfish” to work hard to succeed, to save and invest responsibly, to live frugally, and to expect to be able to use one’s own income to provide for a family is another logically bankrupt premise that any thinking person should not only dismiss, but resent.  And to pander to the jealousy of those who, through poor personal choices, failed to plan, work, and save similarly is just wrong on so many levels.

Ben Franklin aptly predicted: “Once the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic.”  How frighteningly prescient was this statement as our country plods blithely ahead to a twenty TRILLION dollar debt?

Hillary Clinton, you see, wants to encourage anything but responsible, frugal living.  After all, frugal, responsible, self-reliant people have no dependence on the government, no jealousy of others, no Pavlovian tendency to mindlessly vote for whatever candidate promises to give more and more free stuff to them.  Far worse, the Clinton machine, just like the Obama one we have endured, wants chiefly to vilify achievement so as to stoke class envy and turn out the vote of the masses of people who wish to vote themselves food stamps, cell phones, health coverage, college educations.

So why indeed would a responsible, thoughtful person vote for such a person?  We can only hope that people will ponder and circulate this question before November.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

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 and/or her mate take reasonable and simple 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;” that President Bush opposed the abortion bill while President Clinton paid it; that Bush the elder’s closest brush with death was when he was shot down over the Pacific in WWII, while Bill’s was the night Hillary came home early — 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.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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.



Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

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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