Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My expert advice to Tim Geithner

Tim, Tim, Tim. You've been throwing around a lot of scary words like "disaster" and "hardship" and you seem a little tense. Don't freak out. I know things are looking pretty dark right now, but I promise, even if you've got to default, you'll get through it. I had my very own economic disaster not too long ago that threatened not only my economic future, but that of Citibank, Chase, my landlord, the electric company, ATT my hairdresser, doctor and dentist and guess what? We're all still here. You're a babe in the woods when it comes to financial hardship, so let me guide you through this.

Tap dancing as fast as you can
First your creditors will start calling. They'll leave a recorded message asking you to get in touch for personal business.

Don't call back.

Try to drag this out for a week or so until the phone calls become so insistent, you spend most of your time cowering in the corner, shaking like a whippet . You may consider throwing yourself from a ladder when the phone rings in the hopes you'll break your spine and be able to sue your creditors for causing the accident. Don't do it, it rarely works.

At one point, you'll realize this can't go on and you finally answer the 10th phone call of the day at 9AM. You'll probably get a recording either asking you to pay by phone or online immediately. Hang up and continue not answering your phone for another two weeks.

Now the phone calls should be coming about every 5 minutes from 6AM to 10PM both at work and at home. The only way you'll find peace is to talk to them. Getting really drunk is the best way to prepare yourself.

Expect to wait on hold for anywhere from a half hour to a millennium before you reach a human. When you do, tell them you mailed the check last week. Blame it on US postal service cutbacks and casually mention you'll talk to President Obama about firing the head of the USPS (a little name dropping never hurt).

Ask them to wait until Friday and if they still haven't received it, you'll cancel it and send them a new one. That buys you another week and a half.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If after this grace period, there's still no resolution on the debt ceiling thing (or they've reached the wrong one as far as you're concerned), start by trying to work something out with your largest creditors. Remember, the Chinese and Japanese Secretaries of the Treasury are just a regular guys like you, trying to do a job. Don't get mad at them. It's not their fault. They've got bills to pay too. They doesn't want to cause a global economic meltdown any more than you do. Weeping often helps.

A show of good faith can sway some creditors. Show them you're doing everything possible to pay them back. If you don't have the $110 trillion minimum payment on the due date, send what you have, even if it's only $100.00.

Offer them some sort of barter deal... you'll do odd jobs like their laundry or gardening at an agreed upon hourly rate, which can be applied to the debt. Get serious and have the Congress and Senate help. It will give them an opportunity to do something meaningful and truly serve their constituents for a change.

Sure you'll all have to work a little harder, do a job below your education and experience, sometimes at little to no compensation. But you've got to be willing to work a little harder in these trying times. Look at it as an internship program that allows you to learn an entirely new skill. Maybe you'll discover your true calling.

If all else fails...
If you're having problems getting your creditors to cooperate. Maybe it's time to engage a credit adviser/debt counselor.

Sure, a lot of these companies are non-profits that employ advisers who haven't even graduated from a reputable university and have never worked for a Fortune 500 company. Don't worry, their advice can't possibly worse than what you're getting now.

Of course, there are some organizations that only exist to exploit human misery (you may be lulled into feeling like you're working with a bank). That's why reading the fine print is all-important. Don't treat the agreement like your income taxes or diligent!

Most of all, remember It's not like it's the end of the world if you're forced to default. Take it from one who knows. As long as you have your health insurance, you have everything.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dead birds -- portent of doom or manna from heaven?

All this talk about the unexplained flocks of dead birds and fish occurring has got me thinking. People seem to be putting a decidedly negative spin on the unexplained event.

Some claim it's a sign of the coming apocalypse. Others theorize these creatures are the canaries in the coal mine and their death is a portent of what will happen to us if we don't take care of the environment. Others are sure it's due to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and other sins like being a democrat. Some scientists speculate it's got to do with a magnetic shift in the poles. Yet another faction goes so far to speculate it has something to do with the BP oil spill! While all these theories are possible, they seem to imply that someone is being punished for something and we're all going to die.

My view is much more optimistic. My hypothesis is that like in the Exodus when Yaweh showered manna on Moses and his followers to help sustain them through the arduous trek through the desert, we are being showered with free food in these rough economic times.

Check out some of the links below to find recipes for anything that might fall from the sky or float ashore. You'll be shouting "hallelujah" in no time.

Wild bird and game recipes

More game recipes

Fish recipes

Blackbird pie recipe

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A few more common-sense tips for the government

Monetize the White House garden
Michelle Obama had the right idea with the White House veggie garden. What she neglected to include was a real cash crop. I suggest marijuana. It’s one of the top selling American produced products in the country and a 35 billion dollar business. Since it’s still not legal, all income is tax-free.

Turn out the goddamn lights

I know how pretty all your buildings and monuments look when they’re lit up at night, but you’re in no position to be burning hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of electricity a month for purely cosmetic reasons. Turn off the lights when you’re not working for your constituents. That should reduce consumption to virtually nothing.

Legislative cutbacks and eliminating deadwood

Just as many of our successful corporations have slashed their staff in half and doubled the workload to maintain profitability, the Senate and Congress should do the same. Just by cutting back to one Senator per state you’ll be saving 20 million a year in salaries, perks and benefits. Of course, that may mean the remaining Senator will have to put in a full day’s work occasionally, so make sure you keep the healthiest one. You can make extra money by leasing out the ousted Senators’ offices.

Rent out spare rooms in the white house

If the renewal on the Bush tax cuts go through and you can't find a buyer for the White House, consider doing what many struggling Americans do and rent out spare rooms. Who doesn't want to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom? With the services included, you can demand five star hotel prices, even if the guests have to share a bathroom with the President.

Granted, some of the savings realized here will seem like a drop in the bucket against such a humongous deficit. But remember, a billion here and a billion there can really add up.


Economic indicators suggest this is a great time to read my blog about being broke in Europe

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hey government, I'm talking to you!

Admittedly, I've been a little myopic, focusing exclusively on the personal financial struggles of working class Americans like me.

I figured that with the millions of dollars worth of highly paid economic advisors you employ, you'd be able to handle the national recovery without my guidance. Boy, was I wrong.

While the majority of Americans have sacrificed retirement accounts, homes, electricity and protein in the name of fiscal responsibility, you guys are running up our national credit card like you're Real Housewives.

I won't bother retreading old ideas like eliminating tax cuts for the rich, pulling out of a war or two, or bringing health care costs in alignment with the rest of the world because those are no-brainers which will never pass the Senate and Congress.

My suggestions are simple, non-partisan and have been successfully employed by the majority of Americans regardless of race, religion or political persuasion. Now it's your turn.

Entertainment and events
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I know we have an image to keep up as a superpower, but I'm sorry, but you're going to have to cut back on state dinners and other costly social events here and abroad. You just can't afford it.

For example: while that lavish state dinner for Prime Minister Singh last year was a delightful diversion from all the trouble and strife in the world for 300 leading citizens of the US and India, it was a ridiculous indulgence in this day and age. Fortunately, modern technology has really made most of that expensive pomp unnecessary.

Next time, invite the Prime Minister and a select 300 people from the arts, politics and sciences to join you in a delicious dinner of Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala ($3.29 in the frozen food aisle) over Skype. It will save the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars that could go towards cutting the deficit. Since it's a special occasion, I'm sure the taxpayers won't begrudge you some Trader Joe's mango chutney for $2.39 a jar as long as you use what's left over at the Pentagon Christmas party.

If you feel that a face-to-face gathering is crucial to diplomacy, make the dinner pot-luck and use your iPod for entertainment. The same principle can be applied to all summits, conferences, meetings and speeches. YouTube and Skype are free. Use them.

Impulse purchases
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Back when I thought I had money, my weakness was cashmere sweaters, whereas yours appears to be advanced weaponry.

Before you spend yet another 30 billion on the latest state of the art Global Hawk killer drone that's almost exactly like the last one you bought, ask yourself this: Do I really need that drone? Will I be any more effective against my enemies with it? Will anyone but me notice the difference? Will it be passé in two weeks? Once the novelty wears off, will it just sit in a hangar gathering dust or lie abandoned in some Pakistan field?

I know you think it's the end of the world if you don't get that drone. You probably believe that without it, you'll become less attractive to your allies, be forced to postpone your withdrawal date and you'll end up a lonely, insecure, ineffectual, bitter, forgotten old woma...I mean, country. But you probably thought the same thing about the last killer drone you just had to have.

If after two months, the drone is still gnawing at you and you still believe the free republic can't survive without it, chances are you'll be able to find it on eBay for half price.

Generating revenue
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You may be out of cash and low on credit (until you raise the limit again), but look around you. You have a lot of items you've accumulated over the years that you can sell.

Do you really need that gas guzzling Air Force One? Can you live without that 500 million dollar fleet of jets you bought last year to transport the legislative branch comfortably to far flung fiscal responsibility conferences and climate summits?

If you don't plan to move into them, sell them. I can think of any number of Wall Street executives who'd pay top dollar for a real Air Force One or congressional jet. Unlike the rest of us, they can afford to pay the gasoline, operation and maintenance costs.

Consider all the memorials, art and historical artifacts just taking up space (and requiring maintenance) in DC and the Smithsonian. See what you can get for them at Sotheby's or hold a sale. I imagine there are several Saudi princes who'd love to have a little monument from the US to put in their garden or the original constitution for their library.

I know some of these items will be difficult to part with and have sentimental value, but look at it this way: if you don't sell it, China will own it soon anyways.

If you're a hoarder and can't bring yourself to sell your memorabilia, there is another option: sell ad space on the monuments. The demographics are great with 15 million visitor viewings annually, plus repeated exposure by DC denizens and in the media. It's a great way to get the funds you need to maintain your property until the economy improves.

Credit and debt

If you have any leverage left whatsoever, now's the time to use it.

Call China and try to work something out. Like my negotiations with Citibank, it may take weeks to get someone who speaks English on the phone (keep your cell phone charger handy). But if you hang in there with good old-fashioned American determination, there's a 20% chance that sooner or later you'll get someone who can help. If you and China fail to work out a more equitable arrangement, try consolidating your debt with Japan or the Saudis for a lower rate.

At the very least, you're going to have to rethink those loans you've been making to banks and big business. As is, you're paying China more interest on the money you're borrowing to loan to the banks than they're paying you in interest. Now, I don't have the economic chops of Tim Geithner, or even a college degree, but that just seems like really stupid financial policy. Unless you work for the banks, of course.

I suggest you raise the interest rate to a reasonable 29.9% plus substantial fees and penalties for not stimulating the economy. At that rate, taxpayers will be celebrating and getting huge bonuses in no time.

See more of my common-sense financial tips for the government.


Economic indicators suggest this is a good time to read my blog about being broke in Europe.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can you afford a job in this economy?

As the "Summer of Recovery" draws to a close and labor day soon approaches, it's time to discuss what to do when after months and months of chronic unemployment (often referred to as "laziness"), someone actually responds to one of the 2,000 applications you've submitted over the past few months.

You may jump at the opportunity, thinking that a job will help you dig out of the hole you're in and restore a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Maybe you'll even be able to buy yourself something nice, like a steak dinner and some ant traps.

Not so fast, Kimosabbe. Remember, economic realities have changed since you were last employed. In order to preserve the incomes of CEOs, shareholders and top executives, salaries have been slashed, workloads have increased and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. We know that taking a job will stimulate the economy. What you need to determine before embarking on the interview process is whether or not the job in question will stimulate yours.

The phone interview
Since the phone interview is usually conducted by an intern or low level recruiter who has no idea what the job entails, this is no time to worry about proving you're qualified. This is your opportunity to determine whether continuing the interview process is worth your while, financially speaking.

Ask the important questions. Does the job pay? Where are they located? Do they have free parking? If they don't have free parking, do they validate? Do they offer health benefits? What products worth stealing do they stock in the company kitchen Is it locked (you may be able to recoup the cost of the interview in food and office supplies). Do they give free tampons in the restrooms? And of course, what's the salary and what perks are included?

If the job listing is for a "senior" position, make sure to clarify whether they mean they're looking for someone with extensive experience or some who is a senior in college. I can tell you from experience that one clarification can save you hours in drive time and a small fortune in gasoline, tolls and parking tickets.

Always ask how many interviews it's likely to take to get the job. Many large successful companies require 15 interviews and samples of bodily fluids before hiring someone. If you don't live within walking distance, the process can cost you an entire month's worth of unemployment checks. If they can't provide any guarantees that you'll be hired, you may be better off staying home and watching "General Hospital." It won't cost you anything and at least you get medical experience for your resume.

The cost of an office interview
You'll have to present yourself in the best possible light which means you'll have to do something with your hair, enhance your wardrobe, or at the very least launder your tee shirt and sweatpants. Flip flops won't cut it, not even your dressy ones from Old Navy. You might also need to purchase a few personal hygiene products and have the water turned back on so you can bathe.

The good news is, you won't have to repair your teeth as chiclets make excellent temporary crowns (just don't accept beverages during your interview, which can be tempting because they're usually free).

Then of course, there's transportation which can cost you anywhere from $1.00 to $60.23 (gas, toll and parking, not including tickets for traffic violations). If you're up for a production job, the cost goes up significantly unless the airlines are running fare sales to China and Southeast Asia.

Estimating the salary to expense ratio
You may think that any salary is better than no salary, but that's not always the case. Remember, once you're employed, your expenses go up. The question you have to ask yourself is whether given the expenses incurred by working will be greater or less than the income you'll be taking home. In other words, will the job help dig you out of the hole, or put you farther in it?

Case in point: after doing the math, a friend discovered that the only way he could afford to take a recent job offer was if he kept his unemployment benefits. Sadly, he made the discovery after investing approximately $52.00 and four hours on his first (and last) interview.

Here's a list of some of the expenses you're likely to incur as an employed person:

  • Transportation/gas/tolls parking: Multiply the cost of transportation to the job interview by 300.

  • Wardrobe: You'll need new clothes. Not just any clothes. Clothes that are nicer than everyone elses' (but made in America). Otherwise, how will you get ahead?
    Don't forget you'll also need new underwear and some nice kneepads.

  • Electricity, gas and water: Now that you're working, being able to bathe and use your electronic devices is critical (although not at the same time).

  • Communications: It will be important that your boss can reach you at any time of day or night from every one of his/her offshore vacation villas. You're going to have to restore your service, buy a new iphone G4 (yours is a first generation, which is soooooo 2008). Buy a plan with a large data storage. Don't forget to add the price of a two year contract.

    Once you're back on the grid, the calls from old debtors will soon return. You may need to hire a lawyer.

  • Childcare/dogwalking/gardening/housecleaning: Now that you're working you're going to have to pay someone to take care of these tasks. You won't have time. You may even have to pay tuition for private school since the public school down the street is closing due to lack of funds.

  • Beauty and Grooming:
    Unless you're under 35, this can get costly. In order to succeed in the current business climate, you'll have to look young. It will be all the more difficult since you're working 18 hours a day and not sleeping well. Also remember than now that you're short on time, you'll need to pay professionals to do things like dye your hair, give you facials inject botox , perform plastic surgery and fill meeting rooms with smoke and bad lighting. This can take thousands of dollars off your gross monthly income. Even if you're under 35, you still may need botox to mask the look of disgust and contempt you feel in company meetings (consider it a business deduction since it's crucial to keeping your job).

    If you've been using chiclets for teeth in the interview process, you'll have to do something more permanent. Check your dentist for potential costs. Make sure you're sitting down.

  • Fast food: Now that you're working, you need to keep your energy up, but who has time to cook? Fast food can add up. And while most of those meals are pretty crappy, the good news is since you'll probably be eating while in front of a computer trying to meet some ridiculous deadline, you'll probably be too stressed and distracted to taste them. Your consumption of 3.00 vente half skim lattes and energy drinks will also increase substantially, especially if you don't have a prescription for Adderall.

  • Healthcare: Even if it's included in the benefits, it's going to cost you. Whereas when you weren't working, you were relatively healthy, you'll find yourself a lot more sickly when employed. Stress, exhaustion, poor eating habits will force you to spend your entire deductible on tests trying to figure out what's wrong with you (stress, exhaustion, poor eating habits). Expect your anti-depressant dosage to go up.

    • Taxes Unless you're making 300,000+, at least 30% of your income will go to taxes and insurance. That means whatever the given salary is, 30% of it will be stimulating the economy. At least you'll be getting a lot of bang for your buck. You'll be paying for wars, the salaries of your elected representatives and mindless bureaucrats, the company formerly known as Blackwater, Afghan and Iraqi warlords, Halliburton, interest on our debt to China, bridges to nowhere and the next election cycle.

      For jobs that pay over300,000 a year, only subtract .1% (the price of a good accountant). Try to get one of those jobs.

      Once you're back in the system, the government will also demand back taxes from the $12,000 you earned over the past three years. Prepare to shell out for an accountant and lawyer. You'd be wise to factor in the possibility of future salary garnishments as well.

  • Bank fees Now that your bank account is active again, they'll be charging you all sorts of fees. Since you no longer have time to go over your statements with a fine tooth comb and spend time getting bounced around from phone bank to phone bank to rectify the errors, you can expect to lose a substantial amount here.

  • Incidentals There are always surprise extra expenses that come with every endeavor. For example, a friend who has been working for the past two months has already incurred repair costs for accidentally driving her car through the garage door at 4AM on her way to work. Another had to invest in a new iPhone after stabbing his to death when an important business call was dropped for the 18th time. Be prepared with a cushion for these unexpected events

If after crunching the numbers, you decide that economic circumstances make it impossible to pursue the job at this juncture, don't feel bad. Sure, some people will call you lazy, or irresponsible or selfish for not doing your part to help the economy recover because it's not in your best financial interest. Others will call you a savvy businessperson.


Economic indicators suggest that this might be a good time to read my blog about being broke in France.