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.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Unemployed? Unskilled? Unqualified? Your New Career Awaits!

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You've tried to ignore all the dire job reports, but it's not working. Small businesses keep closing. Large businesses keep outsourcing and replacing people with technology. How will those lost jobs ever come back?

You're starting to think you may have no other choice but to go back to school, work hard and learn some new skills that will be viable in the new economy. That sort of attitude will get you nowhere except the poorhouse. Education and skills are best left to blue collar workers and immigrants.

Fortunately, there's a boom happening here right under your nose (if that's where your TV remote is). If you get on board now, you could be set for life, or at the very least, 15 minutes. Yes, I'm talking about reality TV.

Reality TV is among the few things left besides financial derivatives and high fructose corn syrup that's still being produced and consumed voraciously in the US. To the modern American, reality TV is what the WPA was to the struggling masses in the 30s (without the socialist government intervention).

There are 800 reality shows out there and more going into production every day. One of them is right for you.

Getting that first gig
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Study the casting calls to determine which jobs will meet your immediate needs (ie: cash, free craft services, lodging, a vacation, attention, a nanny, a mini facelift...) I made the mistake of getting addicted to inhalants in order to get a spot on Intervention only to discover they don't pay their addicts (for ethical reasons). Boy, was I bummed! On the bright side, the rehab facility they sent me to is fabulous!!! But I digress.

Once you've narrowed it down ask yourself what you really want to be doing for the next 13 weeks. Do you want to work for Diddy? Lose 500 lbs? Find your soul mate? Get a shot at love? Be Paris Hilton's BFF? Become a REAL Housewife (as opposed to the pretend one you've been all these years) and get some new clothes, a facelift, boobs and a tummy tuck? Breed prolifically? The job of your dreams is out there.

You'll need to make a short video about yourself (and your family if they're a part of the deal). Include a headshot (if you don't have one, your most recent mug shot will do). They may ask you to tweet them your resume.

If you're a woman and don't have massive boobs, don't worry, you can still get cast on a reality show. Heidi Montag started out with nothing, but used The Hills as a platform to acquire all the massive boobs she wanted. As a rule, the only mandatory requirement to get on a reality show is stripper pole experience.

Don't bother applying to MTV if you're over 18 (your IQ, I mean).

Onward and upward
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When you first start a reality show, the hours and competition can be grueling. You may be asked to perform distasteful tasks like eating bugs or sleeping in a bunk bed. Hang in there! Unlike other jobs, it will invariably lead to bigger and better things.

Consider your role an entry level position to some of the best opportunities in America -- from singer/songwriter, to author, to businessperson, to designer, to product endorser to pundit to correspondent to talk show host to basketball player's wife. Heck, Wall Street is even recruiting top execs from Vegas Virgins and Face the Ace (gambling reality shows).

Establish your area of expertise, even if you don't have one. Call yourself "countess" or "doctor," "a businessperson" or "a good mother." If you say something enough times on TV, it will be true.

At the very least, you'll get a book deal. And if a whole book seems like too many words, follow the example of Kim Kardashian who was reportedly paid $10,000 for a single tweet. That's $72 a character, or $357 per five letter word. Without a reality show, she'd be lucky to get $75 for 500 words on "how to shoot a home movie" for Demand Media like everyone else.

Study the trajectory of Kate Gosselin. She has managed her career admirably, starting as a wife and prolific breeder, to Jon and Kate Plus 8, to author (and expert on raising children, to betrayed wife, to Dancing with the Stars, to a correspondent job on the E network. Now she can afford a nanny so she'll never have to spend time with her rugrats again. The woman is a genius!

Become a part of America's cultural lexicon
Entertainment has always provided escape to stressed Americans in times of financial duress. During the last depression, Hollywood transported us with masterpieces and larger than life talent. The entertainment industry is doing it again now, without talent of any size. And just think, one of the principles could be you!

Take a look at how some of those timeless performances are being reinterpreted today:

Unforgettable singing performances

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Amazing dance routines

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Epic love stories

New friends journey together in search of their hearts' desire.

A patriarchal figure struggles to provide a decent life for his girls.

Now, get to work!


Read about real housewives in France.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The banker who shagged us

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If this isn't separated at birth, I don't know what is.

Dr. Evil: Okay then, we hold the world ransom for...
One... Hundred... BILLION DOLLARS!

"Fight on, Goldman Sachs!", Frank Rich, NYT 4/25/10

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax day freebies or murder?

Several fast food companies are offering free food on Tax day. I'm sure some smart marketer told them that it would instill goodwill among their target audience.

For me, it's instilled nausea. I hope Kaiser Permanante is running a tax day promotion.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Champale on a tapwater budget

I don't care how little disposable income you have, sometimes you've got to pamper yourself. Whether it's a little "me time", buying yourself a luxury item, taking a mini-vacation or getting a lap dance in an S&M club, studies show that these occasional indulgences are rejuvenating and can even help with self-esteem.

You don't have to be a Wall Street executive, major sports figure, or a GOP strategist to partake in these blissful moments of pure, luxurious self-indulgence. You'll just have to adjust your definition of luxury a wee bit.


Massage therapy
I learned this trick while taking care of a 21 pound cat named Ralph who gave me the best massage I ever had. If you don't have a cat, borrow one, the bigger the better. Wear something you don't want ruined (a vintage Armani jacket, or cashmere sweater for example), or just drape it over the affected muscle. It's only a matter of time before the cat will start kneading it. If you don't have any good clothing left, a piece of carpet or sofa fabric will also work. If the cat hasn't been declawed, you also get free acupuncture!

Here's another idea taken from the animal world: I've seen cats, dogs, horses and cows do it. Find a solid, well-anchored object that protrudes (ie: a fence post, doorknob, parking meter, mailbox or erect penis) . Lean the muscle or nerve that needs attention onto the object and adjust the pressure as you see fit.

Hot tubbing
There's nothing like a soak in churning hot water to melt away the stress of watching CNN all day. If you're really resourceful, you can create your own jacuzzi out of a dumpster and some garden hoses.

For those who lack engineering skills , I've found that a tub, hot water and a hand beater (or a wisk in a pinch) does the trick. It's also a great work out for the upper arms and pecs. One word of warning: although you may be tempted, do not attempt this with an electric mixer.

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My vacation photos (4/6/10): Me next to a Bernini statue in Rome; me on the beach in Bali; me at Macchu Pichu

To me, there's nothing more restorative than a trip to a new, foreign destination.

Now that I can't even afford the fare to little Italy, Chinatown or Berkeley, I take Google vacations.

Just type in the destination of your choice and within seconds, you're there. Zoom in and it's just like being there without the jet lag, shots, expense, cultural immersion and worries about getting stuck next to Kevin Smith on the flight home.

Yesterday I visited, Macchu Pichu (without the altitude sickness), Bali, and Rome (how I love clicking down those ancient cobbled streets!). I topped it off with a visit to my favorite coffee shop in Amsterdam and still made it home in time for "American Idol."


I don't have to tell you that buying yourself some small luxury item can be a salve to the battered soul of the working warrior. For some people it's shoes, for others it's electronic gadgets, for me it was lipstick. But non-working warriors need balm too.

I was fortunate in that I was able to see my crisis coming and scale back slowly, sparing me the pain of going cold turkey and the shock and indignity of downsizing too fast.

My financial meltdown in lipstick

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From left to right: cle de peau $60; Guerlain Rouge G $45; Chanel $30; NARS $22; mac $14; Revlon $8; Wetnwild $1; cherry Chapstick $.69; a flattering shade of lollipop $.20; wild berries free

By studying the timeline above, you'll see how you can make the transition from Chanel Raspberry Crush to crushed wild raspberries painlessly. Find the shade of berry that's right for you.

The same principle can be applied to any type of product. Gadget freaks might start with an iPad and work their way down to another groundbreaking invention (in its time), the paperclip. Similarly, a shoe lover can go from Prada Gladiator Sandals, to Michael Kors to Steve Madden to Aerosoles to Keds to Old Navy flip flops to the drawstring from a Hefty Cinch Sak wrapped around the ankles and legs.

For some people, all it takes is a nice cocktail, joint or little pill to take the edge off and feel like all is right with the world. But even these mental vacations have gotten pricey.

If you're lucky enough to have terrible vision like I do, I've found that removing my glasses or contacts has the same effect as two cocktails or one joint without the calories or munchies. This is also a great time to look in the mirror.

If you have perfect vision, borrow or steal glasses from someone with terrible vision. Do not attempt to drive or read the instructions on heavy machinery while under the influence.

Some people have reported that hyperventilating and getting up too quickly also works.


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