Sunday, March 29, 2009

Get a taste of the good life.

Just because you have no cash or valid credit card doesn't condemn you to a steady diet of ramen and potatoes. You can still indulge your taste for organic produce, ethically raised meat and fish, artisanal bread, cheese and chocolate.

No, I’m not advocating dining and dashing (except on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.) Nor am I suggesting we return to the old ways of hunting and foraging for sustainence (a practice frowned upon in urban areas and often referred to as “stealing.”) This may seem counterintuitive, but poor people in the know go to Whole Foods. Not to shop, mind you. They make a meal of the lavish, liberally placed samples.

Sure, there are other places that offer delicious samples, I’ve tried them all. Costco’s may be varied and tasty, but they’re mass produced and of questionable origin. Farmers markets are seasonal, limited to once a week, and hard to get enough for a full meal. Trader Joes' disappoints with limited choices and erratic service and quality --one day the mushroom risotto is ready in it's little cup, steaming and perfectly al dente; the next, you have to wait five minutes for a mediocre chicken biriyani.

For quality and convenience, nothing beats Whole Foods. It’s got everything from meat to fish to fruit to cheese and even vegan offerings. It’s like the antipasto course at Trattoria della Arte in NYC without the art, d├ęcor, aspiring model waiters and bill.

Start at what I call the cocktail and hors d'oeuvres section, which is right past the cash registers. Sip a berry/green tea drink and nibble on salmon salad on crackers while exchanging warm banter with the lady passing out the samples. When sipping from the tiny paper cup, I try to maintain an air of elegance by keeping my pinky extended.

The menu changes often, so it’s always good to peruse the offerings before making a choice. You can’t go wrong with the assiette du fromage, which is offered daily. I also recommend stopping by the prepared food counter and asking for samples of the broccoli, coleslaw and grilled veggies, especially on days when spinach dip just isn’t going to cut it in the roughage department.

Whole Foods is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dress is casual, but shirts and shoes are required. You can dine in, but take out is also available if you remember to line your pockets with plastic bags or get paper plates from the salad bar.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bargain hunting tips for corporate execs.

It's really not fair that we're so outraged at the shopping habits of corporate executives. After all, aren’t we applying our cultural standards on people to whom they're totally alien? Unlike most of us, they've never had to learn how to find a product at a fair and reasonable price. Unscrupulous merchants are taking advantage of their ignorance. Instead of outrage, don't they deserve our compassion and guidance? Let me be the first to extend the olive branch to corporate America with a few hints on how to save millions on basic necessities.
It’s an easy mistake for a cloistered wall street executive to think that installing an $80,000 18th century commode in your office suite is a reasonable, cost-efficient way of dealing with pressing lavatory needs. You probably weren't even aware that there’s a restroom down the hall. Or maybe you were aware, but don’t have a Segueway to transport you.

There are quite a few other options if you really feel you can't conduct business without a toilet in your office. And the prices start at $5.49 (for a pooper scooper and roll of plastic bags). My recommendation is the Excret 4200 at $159.00. It also doubles as a chair, so you can auction off your current $20,000 Louis Quatorze desk chair at Christies.

The total possible savings are $99,994.51. While that may seem like small potatoes to you in the scheme of things, remember, every little bit helps. At the very least you'll be able to take yourself out for a decent lunch.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Stylish alternatives to living on the street.

Just because you’re totally broke doesn’t mean you have to abandon the dream of living somewhere spacious, beautiful, architecturally important and very expensive. I'm talking about living under a bridge.

The right bridge can provide excellent shelter as well as reflect your taste and status. And unlike your current housing set up, a good bridge comes with access to free running water, weekly janitorial service and maintenance, not to mention public transportation virtually right outside your front door. The ubiqutous tollbooths make living under a bridge the closest thing to a gated community you can get for $0/month.

Here are some examples of what's available around the country:

New York City: Pre-war classic.. This 3460 foot granite and steel suspension bridge offers spectacular views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Easy access to the arts, fine scavenging, upscale shoplifting as well as some very nice parks and public spaces. Built in 1883, for 18million dollars (which was nothing to sneeze at back then), the original details are still intact, a little TLC will make it sparkle. Perfect location for Wall Streeters.
Florida: Post modern masterpiece. 29,040 feet of steel and concrete, the sunshine skyway bridge is for those who like their clean spacious design with a little edge. Completed in 1987 this beauty offers classic suspension construction coupled with dramatic details and views of Ft. Lauderdale and Bradenburg. With several golf courses nearby, year around sunshine and easy access to decent healthcare in the Caribbean and Mexico, this is an excellent place to retire.

Northern California: Views, views, views.. no matter where you're standing on this 8981 ft icon of steel and concrete, you'll have a spectacular view (except when the fog rolls in). Designed by Robert Straus in 1937, the Golden Gate bridge is now one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in America. Residents enjoy nature in the nearby Marin County public spaces as well as partake in the lavishly filled dumpsters in the city.

Chesapeake Bay: $200 million marvel of engineering.The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is the bridge equivalent of the Neverland ranch. A massive 89760 feet of steel and concrete, it dips over and under open waters with a complex chain of artificial islands, tunnels and bridges. This 200 million dollar futuristic wonder spans four separate states, convenient for anyone anticipating trouble with the local authorities.

Minnesota: Charming 19th century fixer upper. If you prefer rustic charm to grandeur and don't mind cold winters, this could be the bridge for you. The Archstone Bridge in Minneapolis consists of 2176 feet of native granite and limestone. Converted from a railroad bridge in 1965, 26 well-placed arches add character and warmth. As a pedestrian bridge and historic landmark, it's a great place to panhandle --just think, no more commuting!

A guide to world bridges for impoverished expats is coming soon. Suggestions and recommendations are always appreciated.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The latest "must-have" item.

Perfect for multi-tasking, the potato serves as a vegetable, a complex carb, a useful arts and crafts tool, entertainment, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a source of potassium and other vital vitamins and minerals. Chic-ly packaged in a discreet brown wrapper, the potato is one of the few things left you can buy with spare change or foodstamps that will give you any pleasure. Designer models in red, blue, and gold are also available. Find out more about the potato’s many applications, including recipes and tips.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Taking your life back from creditors.

Say you've been paying Citichaseamexbofa 700.00 a month for the past eight years. Despite the fact that you’ve charged nothing on the card since 1999 and have paid them over twice the original debt, your balance has essentially remained the same.

Say you wake up one morning and decide that in keeping with the new austerity, you’re going to stop wasting your entire unemployment check on the mindless hedonistic pleasure of protecting your precious credit rating (like it’s not shot already). This month, you're going to try eating, and maybe splurge on something crazy like health insurance. So you stop paying your credit card bills.

Now they're calling you 8 to 10 times a day and you're cowering in the corner every time the phone rings because you know they’ll threaten to ruin your life by denying you the dream of homeownership and deeper debt. It’ll go on your record forgodsakes. You’ll be a pariah. Probably even in the afterlife. You're doomed.

Okay....take a deep breath. Take a moment to appreciate the irony. Citichaseamexbofa is on their 3rd bailout with 33% of the money you made when you were making money and you’re begging them not to ruin YOUR credit rating? Time for an attitude re-adjustment.

While your predadators may appear bigger and stronger with their fancy phone banks in Asia to torment you, their position is as precarious as yours. Sure, you may feel like the hunted, but what’s really going on is a waiting game --who will go down first, you or them?

So next time they call, answer the phone. While you’re on hold, use the time to brace yourself with steely reminders that you’re the boss, not them. Try to ignore the fact that they've got you listening to muzak even though they called you.

Keep a clear head. When a human finally comes on, remember they're just doing their job. They have a college degree and the only reason they’re working at a phone bank harassing people is to earn enough money to avoid being harassed themselves.

Once they've listed your payment options, politely but firmly tell them you’re giving them one last chance to make you a FAIR offer. Otherwise, they won’t get a cent and you’ll be referring the case to the Attorney General and Department of Thrift. Suggest that if citichaseamexbofa has been banking on you paying them 10 grand a year for the rest of your life only to pass on the same debt you started with to your successors, maybe you can get a package deal on chapter 11 lawyers.

Keep repeating this to the 29 people you get transferred to (think of it as an audio tour of Asia). After several hours and dozens of repetitions, you’ll finally get someone who will put your ever growing interest rate, penalties and phone calls on hold while they delve into your history and try to find a resolution.

That gives you a couple of days to cash in your remaining assets, get a new identity, and get out of town.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Identifying job opportunities and growth markets in the US.

Crime. Crime offers some of the best job opportunities in the United States at this point in history. Crimes with news value are the most lucrative (stalk a celebrity, shoot someone's wife). Even a misdemeanor can be highly profitable if you choose your crime wisely. Best case scenario, with a little smart publicity, you'll have a book deal and reality show in no time. Worst case scenario, you'll have free room and board for 6 months to life.

Non-profits. Non-profits can be particularly profitable in places like Northern California where wealth, hedonism and guilt still run rampant. It's relatively easy to start a non-profit and assign yourself a hefty salary (much easier than getting unemployment or health insurance). All you need is a mission statement and you're on the way to getting grants and donors. Take special care in crafting a statement that promises to serve yourself without sounding self serving. For example: in my case, instead of stating that my mission is to eat, I put it in a context that makes me the victim of some social crime. Thus, the mission becomes "To feed and clothe women who used to get jobs because they were cute, but now they're not cute any more". Or say your mission is to go buy a villa in Hawaii: your mission statement would be "to provide economic stimulus and cultural exchange with indigenous Americans in remote regions." Congratulations on your new career and avocation!

Religious icons Even in a recession, God-loving people would rather spend money on ridiculously expensive toast, rocks, vegetables, logs, etc with images of Jesus and the blessed virgin on them than feed and clothe their families. Look for these images in everyday items you've got lying around. If you have problems finding them, try a mild hallucinogenic. If you find a holy image on an object you can't sell, like a watermark on your ceiling, an oil stain in your driveway, or a crack in the bridge you sleep under, you might want to consider selling healing tours and pilgrimages. On the downside, pilgrimages and tours won't be the source of a huge windfall or pay off your entire Citicard bill. On the upside, they provide a steady income which is beneficial for those with poor financial planning skills. Selling tours also presents lucrative merchandising opportunities.

Leadership jobs in the GOP If you have absolutely no skills or experience at anything useful and no desire to learn, you might want to consider working for the GOP. They sorely need strategists, front men/women, speechwriters, speechmakers, senate, congress and presidential material and are willing to consider anyone. Salaries are high and perks are lavish, including high visibility, designer wardrobes, free private jet flights and luxury travel to promote peace in the middle east.

Careers in debt collection and repossession are booming . A smart career option anywhere in the country, the Southern states boast the highest salaries in the country. The only drawback is you’ll have to put up with being shot at. Small price to pay for a decent wage.

Become a bankruptcy lawyer. Bankruptcy law is probably the most recession proof career out there. The way the current laws have it, you can’t declare bankruptcy without paying a lawyer $5,000 to file for you. In fact, it may be one of the few industries that won't need to be bailed out in the future. The only catch is, when the economy picks up in a decade or two, you'll probably have to find another career. But by then, you'll have made enough money to retire comfortably (as long as you don't invest it).