why I don’t talk about real estate investing

Alternative income is a preoccupation of anyone who wants financial freedom – that and saving money. I talk about my ideas for wealth creation on this blog with a great deal of frequency. Part of that is just because that’s what blogs are – a conversation that swirls around particular topics – but part of that is just that I enjoy thinking about wealth creation. I am not terribly good at wealth creation. I am not a multimillionaire or financially free. I am not all that bad at wealth creation, either. Bubelah and I have worked hard to create a financial “kingdom” that keeps costs low, quality of life moderate but pleasant and future growth high.

But one thing you don’t hear me talking about much is investing in real estate. I have three good reasons I don’t like discussing real estate as an investment:

1. I hate the concept of “investing” in a primary residence. Your home is not an investment. It is a HOME, first, second and last. If you make some money on it, fine. If you are one of those people who live in it for two years, fix it up and sell it, fine, although I wonder how long anyone with a family could do that. You can’t buy a home with the same emotionless detachment that you might buy shares of GE. You don’t have to live inside GE, or clean its showers, or paint its walls, or have your kids go to its schools.

2. I don’t know much about real estate, let alone real estate as an “investment”. I have bought exactly one house in my life. I have never sold a house. Like everyone else, Bubelah and I went through a brief breathless hunt for “investment properties” a few years ago and came up empty (fortunately, considering the state of the market now). I read a couple of books, but much like my advice to the Writer’s Coin about financials I’m not foolish enough to think that made me an expert. It did make me enough of an expert to realize that….

3. …in the area where I live the real estate market is brutally competitive. It is expensive – down payments in the NYC area can be more than the entire cost of a house in other parts of America. Zoning and property tax laws are incredibly complicated. Competition is fierce. Gentrification can come out of nowhere. I am sure investing in a medium-sized city like St. Louis, for example, is complicated too but I suspect the rate of flux in the market is somewhat less than in New York.

For these three reasons I’ve tried to stay away from giving much advice on real estate investing as an alternative investment on brip blap. I plan to invest in real estate one day. I would like to own a place I could rent out. I’d like to flip a place. Bubelah and I bought a new construction townhouse and I’ve been through a million little upgrade projects – painting, installing stuff, even putting in crown molding. I know enough to “brighten up a place.” But all of these are future plans, and between now and then I need to put a lot of time into study – something that apparently a lot of people didn’t do over the last few years. I am working hard now at my consulting. Weekends tend to be spent doing “family stuff.” When I am financially independent I do plan on working real estate into my investing portfolio, but for now it’s not in the cards.

(photo credit: elvissa – look at it closely, it tells you everything you need to know about the screwy real estate market)

Odds and ends

  • I’ve updated the picture on one of my most popular posts – 101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds. If you’re curious to see the man behind the mask – so to speak – here’s your chance. When you look at the ‘before’ picture, keep in mind that black is slimming…

so you want to be an international business jet setter…

Here’s an interesting look at my work schedule from about 7 years ago (I dug this up from my journal, which I’ve kept daily for 11 years now).

– evening: Depart from New York, headed to Frankfurt

– morning: Arrive in Frankfurt, go to hotel, shower (European time is morning, but more like 3 am New York time).

– work a 10 hour day, assisted liberally by German jet fuel, er, coffee.

– evening: out late for drinks with colleague from Frankfurt office – beers in Germany – who knew?

– morning, afternoon: meetings with Frankfurt colleagues; separate off-site meeting with consulting team.

– evening: fly to Paris and its lovely airport, lovely late evening traffic, lovely chain-smoking taxi drivers, lovely $500 hotel room with paper-thin walls. Ah, vivre bien!

– morning and afternoon: meetings, meetings, meetings in grim lifeless Paris office – maybe one of the most humorless cities I have ever seen and my least favorite international destination (other than Brussels).

– evening: fly to Istanbul. Without opening my mouth I am mistaken by every single last person I meet as being Russian, not American – despite looking about as American as a blond, blue-eyed freckled guy wearing a Polo shirt and Dockers slacks can look in Istanbul.

– morning: meetings at consultant offices (cramped and uncomfortable but with stunning views of Istanbul)

– afternoon: on-site meetings with local office.

– evening: hit the bars with consultants; any preconceptions about the lack of alcohol in a predominantly Muslim country are quickly swept away.

– lunch meeting, which I discover in Turkey means (a) more food than I have ever seen in my life and (b) work is more or less done for the day.

– work, both at consultant’s offices and in my hotel – which sadly enough feels like a break when I’m still typing out reports at 9pm on a Saturday.

– day off, (i.e. sleep and eat long lunch reading what sports news I can get my hands on in the hotel bar)

– late afternoon: flight to Warsaw. They serve peanuts (I am allergic) and I spend the flight wondering which would be worse, vomiting in the teeny tiny Polish airlines bathroom or passing out in the teeny tiny Polish airlines seat.

– meetings with Warsaw office in the morning – about 17 people around a conference table designed for 10.

– in the afternoon, met with officers from the Moscow office who happen to be in Warsaw (which makes me irritable since it removes any reason for me to go to Moscow within the next few weeks and I love Moscow).

– morning, fly to Bucharest; spend day at work and evening in local sports bar (befriending Romanian bartender), moving on to a casino (still in the hotel – I am unwilling to attempt Bucharest proper most of the time due to roaming packs of wild dogs and a predatory look in the cabbies’ eyes when they see Americans get in the cab).

– 14 hour day; return to local sports bar where friendly bartender, in the spirit of Romanian-American friendship, provides far too many free glasses of tuica for an American unaccustomed to it.

– take 14 hour flight from Bucharest to New York wishing tuica were not so strong. Plum booze. Argh.

– back at work at corporate headquarters in New York – file expense report, file memos on trip, meet with boss, start planning next trip.

That’s 5 international cities in 10 business days (12 days total). Most of the days tended to include approximately 14 hours worth of “work”. That might mean 4 hours of meetings, 4 hours of email/calls to New York HQ, and 4 hours of report writing either in the office or in the hotel room. I usually took a break for 2-3 hours starting at 7 or 8 for a trip to the hotel bars (which tended to be quite fun, filled with other business travelers and local cheerful bartenders and waitresses), then return to my room for another 2 hours of work before collapsing. I saved the drudge work for those last two hours – updating my assistant on travel plans, filing expense report info, dealing with the non-technical emails, formatting reports (gotta get the TPS just right).

I took a step back from that lifestyle, and as a result here’s my schedule. The hours are long mainly because my client’s about 1.5 hours from my home.

Monday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Tuesday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Wednesday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Thursday: leave for work at 8, home at 7.
Friday: leave for work at 8, home at 5:30 (skip out early).
Weekend: I have worked one Saturday in the last 3 years (and that was at home).

I look back and think that my previous schedule was certainly glamorous from outward appearances. I was the very definition of a jet-setting businessman. I had an American Express Corporate Card and no limits on spending. The horrific demands of traveling (physical, mental and emotional) meant that the company was willing to make every single last creature comfort available, because otherwise people just wouldn’t do it. I didn’t mind so much because I was single (and likely to stay so, with my “2 weeks in New York, 2 weeks overseas” schedule. I never understood how the people who were married with kids tolerated it. Now that I’m married with one child (and another on the way) I couldn’t tolerate it.

So if you’ve ever wondered what a big-shot corporate international travel itinerary looks like, ta-da.

job jumper tip #2: be a discriminating networker

If you read “how to land your dream job” articles, you’ll always hear people touting the benefits of networking. I think too many people see the word “network” and think “I have to stay in touch with every single person I have ever known for the rest of my career.” You can’t do this, you won’t do this and you shouldn’t do this. Networking is an art, not a science. There are no hard and fast rules to networking, because at its core networking is about making and keeping friends. They are work-friends, definitely; these are not the people you’ll be sharing popcorn with on the couch watching Survivor. But they are people who need to believe you are more than just a blood-sucking leech trying to get something from them. If you are a job jumper, you DO need something from them – but you can’t use them once and then discard them. You have to keep that network healthy if you’re going to stay on the jump.

First of all, let’s separate our “network friends” from people who are “just” friends. I have a friend (I’ll call him Ralph) that I met years ago through work. Ralph and I had a good, friendly, joking relationship for a couple of years before we each headed our separate ways. Although we both went into consulting, he moved to another state and started working for a firm doing a very different type of consulting than I do. Although we have no professional overlap since we work in completely separate markets and industries, you might think there is some value in maintaining Ralph as part of my “network” for the precise reason that we ARE so different – you might say he could be my toehold in that market/industry. I say no. I never want to live where he lives, having been there, and he has no interest in coming back to the NYC region (where we worked together). I worked in his industry before and hated it with a passion – I would never go back. Of course our paths might cross again professionally, but the chances are good they won’t. I count him as a friend, but not part of my professional network.

Ralph and I stay friendly by trading an email or two each year, but nothing more. With another former colleague (I’ll call him Karl), I exchange emails once every couple of weeks and call on the phone every month or two. Both of us have helped each other with job searches, ideas, and expanding our networks. He has been a reference for me, and I for him. He is both my friend and a valuable part of my network.

If I tried to keep my interactions spread out widely enough to catch all of my Ralphs, I’d lose some valuable time that I spend connecting with my Karls.

Building a professional network is not simply shooting someone an email invitation to join your LinkedIn connections because you are connected at some remote Nth degree. Being part of a network means the members are interdependent. Everyone has something they can bring to the table. If I keep a person who reported to me years ago in my network, it’s because I might be able to help them by giving them recommendations. If I keep a former manager in my network, it’s so I can recommend current colleagues who might be job-jumping to connect with him. All of these people should be able to do the same for me, too. If someone can’t provide a useful function in the network, they don’t need to be there.

Having a network of 1,000 people through Facebook or LinkedIn or jobster may be an impressive number, but it’s essentially useless. Unless you are more organized than most people, though, you will have a hard time maintaining good, collegial relationships with 1,000 people. You may be able to do it. I suggest you pick one online networking site and stick with it. Don’t try to connect with people on 50 different sites.

A better way to spend your time may be to focus on a smaller network but with sincere, useful interactions on a frequent basis. When you meet someone and want to draw them in to your network, help them – without even the least hint of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Put yourself out there to help them. Make them want to join your network instead of trying to force yourself into their network. Help them connect with someone who might make a good employee, or a contractor who could help them get over a tricky problem, or even give them a link to a useful website they might not have heard of before. You will be amazed at how much people appreciate the effort even if they don’t take advantage of the offer.

There is an important principle at work here. I am sure you might look back at my friends Ralph and Karl and say that Ralph might someday be in a position to help someone I know get a job in his market. That may be so. But this is a case where the Pareto Principle has to be applied: I need to spend 80% of my effort on the 20% of my network that has the best chance of being useful TO ME and only spend 20% on the other 80% of my network, including my “work friends.” Karl is worth 80% of my effort, since he’s in the 20% of my network that can (and has, and does, and will in the future) help me with job-jumping. Ralph just isn’t. He’s still my friend, and I’ll stay in touch – but there’s no need to include him in my “core” networking group. If I have to make a choice between communicating with Karl or Ralph, I’ll pick Karl. Priorities have to be set.

Make an effort to identify the people in your network who you can help and who can help you. Eliminate the rest from your active professional network. I realize that sounds mercenary, but we’re talking about your career, which probably has at least some mercenary aspect to it. Unless you are doing it solely for “love of the game,” of course, but most of us work at our careers at least partially for the money. Make a point to reach out to your network. Find ways to help them. Don’t discard people who can’t help you today – or who you can’t help – but don’t spend time connecting with your Ralphs at the expense of your Karls.


The single best networking book I’ve ever read is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Keith Ferrazzi has an easy, conversational writing style, some unconventional ideas about how to succeed in networking, and most importantly he’s done it all. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about the “art of networking.”

One of my favorite authors is Penelope Trunk. Her book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is an invaluable resource for understanding what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace. She also has a well-written blog that always has an unusual, thought-provoking take on career (and life) management.

The sites I mentioned are great for networking, although some are better than others. LinkedIn and Facebook get a nod simply because of their reach, but jobster and jibberjobber have some interesting features.

Check out the rest of the job jumper tips:

(photo credit: stanrandom)

credit card debt is not pandemic

You might think that America is being crippled by consumer debt. It is not.

“The majority of U.S. households have no credit card debt. About a quarter have no credit cards, and an additional 30 percent of households pay off their balances every month. (Source: Federal Reserve)”

I certainly do not want to minimize the nastiness of the credit card companies or belittle the discipline it takes to get out of debt once you’re in it. Interest is a double-edged sword. If you are earning interest, it’s amazing, but if you’re paying it then it seems like an insurmountable challenge sometimes, I’m sure.

Amidst all the calls for personal finance education (which I have made) and the sermons telling people to regulate their spending and manage their money better (guilty), an awful lot of Americans spend less than they earn and manage their money adequately.

Why do I say only “adequately,” then? Statistics show many Americans have no debt but also have little – if any – savings. In 2005-2006, the US savings rate dipped into negative territory for the first time since the Great Depression. More people are using home equity as a way to finance credit card debt – in other words, if you “consolidate” your credit card debt with a home equity loan, you technically have no credit card debt. That is not the same thing as having no non-mortgage debt, and in fact is far more dangerous. I also suspect, although I have no statistics to support this, that many Americans would have credit card debt if they were forced to obtain health insurance, but they’ve chosen short-term financial health by taking chances with their long-term financial health. Instead of going into debt, they choose to go uninsured. It’s a mistake (and one of the two most pressing problems the presidential candidates will natter on about but probably fail to fix once he (or she) is elected).

Despite all of these alarming statistics, Americans are not being crippled by consumer debt. They are being crippled by a culture of short-term thinking – “it’s my money and I want it NOW!” It is not that difficult to avoid this thinking if you haven’t already been trapped – but the advertisements that inundate us daily make it hard to learn in the first place.

1. Enter into no debt. None. Ever. Don’t even get a mortgage unless you can pay for it. Spend only what you have. Is that insane advice? I have enough money to pay off my mortgage tomorrow. I choose not to, because I’d rather invest my money in the market and leave my very low interest rate mortgage alone. My hope is that if I could average a 10% return on investments and I have a 5% mortgage that I’ll come out ahead, rather than if I dumped all of my investment money into my mortgage. That is our only debt, and we do debate finishing it off sometimes – but we always come back to the fact that we have a very low fixed interest rate and it just doesn’t make sense. But auto loans? Credit card debt? No way.

2. Pay yourself first, so you have even less to spend. I am a disciplined spender and saver and even _I_ need to pay myself first. I forget how much of my paycheck disappears before I even see it into my 401K, and that’s a good thing. Even the smartest, most disciplined saver – which I would not claim to be – is better off without temptation. It’s the same reason I don’t keep Doritos in the house for guests. I know I would eat them if they were around, so it’s easier to keep my house free of crispy-and-tasty-but-artificial-and-fattening snacks.

3. Insure yourself adequately (health, life, property, car, etc.) so that you never have to break rules 1 or 2. If you don’t have insurance, your best intentions may be for nothing. Even a quick visit to the hospital in our part of the country can set you back thousands. That’s plural.

4. Stop thinking short-term. Now, I do exactly the opposite. I see the whole twisted tangled web of possible future consequences every time I think of doing anything, and thinking about it make me very risk-averse. I would rather minimize potential loss than maximize potential gain. This trait does serve me well financially, though. Too many people don’t understand that for EVERY action there is a consequence. You cannot have action without consequences. Try to consider what the results of your actions are.

The first point is critical. Obviously once you have consumer debt you’ve got a deep hole to dig out of, and many times people incur this debt before they have the “ah-hah” moment that tells them they made a mistake. I understand completely how this works – I did the same thing with my health, ballooning up to 300+ pounds before getting healthy again. The biggest trick with so many of the temptations in life – overspending, overeating, nicotine addiction, drug addiction, you name it – is not to get started in the first place. Easy to say, I know, but harder to do.

(photo by banoootah_qtr)

Odds and ends: At least for today there are 500 subscribers to brip blap! While there’s no real significance to 500 – as compared to 499 or 501, for example – it’s a nice milestone to hit, psychologically. 100,000 visitors is a milestone looming on the horizon as well. Thanks to everyone – you are a great group of readers who make doing this worthwhile!

are you ready to own a company?


Have you ever dreamed of owning a business? I’m not sure it’s the fantasy of little Johnny or Susie swinging on the tire in the backyard. “Firefighter? Doctor? Professional wrestler? Naahh… I wanna own a company that produces widgets and sells them to knickknack factories!” Unlikely, unless you were the kind of kid that got pushed around at dodgeball time.

As an adult, have your dreams changed? Mine have – the one with the Muppets flinging knives in my direction haven’t been back in years. And I don’t dream of being a professional wrestler anymore (more or less). But I do dream of owning businesses. Lots of them. I am a part owner, for example, of one of the largest banks in the world. By part owner, I mean fractions of a smidgeon of a percent, but I am an owner of the business. They send me a nice little check for my share of the profits four times a year, too.

You may hear people say they buy Apple because of its great products. That makes no sense to me. Atari made a pretty cool product when I was in 4th grade. In fact, with the exception of the Intellivision I would argue Atari was the perfect kids’ toy (at the time). However, the company couldn’t KEEP producing fantastic products and managed to disappear off the face of the earth until some new company bought their logo to slap on their videogames.
Great products mean nothing to me as an owner. I want Benjamins in my chubby little fist. If my company sells a doodad that Gisele Bundchen sports as an accessory, great – but if I sell each one at a loss and have no plan to create the next cool doodad when she moves on to sporting a rabbit foot or whatever, I’m not happy. I would rather sell widgets at a profit than iDoohickeys at a loss.

And that, of course, is what makes Apple such an interesting company. They sell cool junk AND make a nice little bit of dosh doing it. Don’t forget that about 10 years ago Apple was practically dead. But like John Travolta, they reinvented themselves and became the hot new guy on the block…again. Great products had a lot to do with that, but making good money off those great products was what saved the company.

So when you think about buying a stock, don’t look at the products they sell, or how they are priced compared to competitors. You have to look at boring, detailed facts: do they have growth plans? Will they be made irrelevant by changes in the market? If you owned this company, would you be happy seeing your product everywhere but making nothing off of it (in which case I would call you a Bad Owner)? Find a company that has a long track record of growth – of returning excess cash to its owners or investing it in new product development. Do you want your CEO to be making $400 million a year if the company is tanking? Hm. Are you happy owning a company with more debt than assets? Hm.

If you take a step back and think about owning a company – as opposed to owning an abstract idea like a “stock share” or an “investment” – then you’re ready to buy stocks. If you are still thinking of buying eWhangaDoodle at 34 and getting out at 42 – then you’re still better off buying chips at Bellagio.

(all props to foundphotoslj on the image)

how to invest – here, at the end of all things

“I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee… here at the end of all things” -Frodo Baggins


If you are not familiar with the Lord of the Rings, in this scene Frodo is woefully clinging to Samwise on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. He is speaking – in a woeful, heartfelt manner – of the recent US stock market meltdown. We are, truly, at the end of all things. Within days I expect the streets to be ruled by mobs and the only “sure thing” investments will be canned foods and shotguns. It will be like “28 Days Later” with crazed 401(k) holders playing the parts of flesh-eating zombies. We will all be Teenage Girl #3 walking through a dark corridor at night while the subprime boogeyman lurks in the shadows. Drusilla lurks.

To be honest, I don’t believe any of that will happen. My portfolio has taken a brutal beating, no doubt. The frenetic contortions by the US government to intervene in the “free markets” are embarrassing. But a market turndown like this one only serves to reemphasize what works and what doesn’t. If you have a steady, non-emotional investing plan that you refuse to deviate from you will do just fine. If you suddenly take the strategy that was “working so well” during the upswing and chuck it in favor of putting your money in a savings account, you will miss out on the upswing. Do you think the Patriots are benching Tom Brady in the Super Bowl after a bad game in the AFC championship?

If you were investing 10% of your pay in your 401(k) each month – keep doing it. You will be buying into your funds at bargain rates. If you were investing in index funds before, keep doing it. If you were aiming for dividend-paying stocks before the downturn, don’t assume they will all disappear. If you were using an investing newsletter, stick with it. Don’t shriek and run for the exits, because that’s a sure way to get trampled.

Many investors probably expect that this is a “time for bargains” – a veritable white sale here at the end of all things. Yes and no. If you think you can buy just any old stock now and it will zoom back up, remember the dot-com crash: some of those companies are gone for good. But in good markets and bad there are always bargains to be found. Of course there is panicky selling going on; in bull markets there is panicky buying going on, too. Careful study and strategic investment are always going to yield the best results.

I own index funds. I will keep owning index funds. They are doing really badly right now. How badly? I lost more in a few days than I make in 3 months. However, I will keep buying at the same steady pace I did when times were flush. I haven’t changed my 401(k) contribution percentage, I haven’t decided not to contribute to my Roth IRA, and Bubelah and I have not suddenly cashed out our brokerage accounts and invested it in gold futures.

Full disclosure: I did make one purchase of a bank stock recently, which is not part of my usual investment plan. But I had studied it in depth a year ago – I know the financial services industry pretty well – and told myself “if it ever hits the laughably low price of $X I have to buy it.” Well, it hit it, I bought it. But again, that was strategic thinking; I have a core group of companies I follow closely and given the right opportunities (and spare cash) I might buy them too. But I am not rushing out to buy them just because I think they are “on sale.” I set a buy price a long time ago and knew the time was right (for me). There are other bank stocks I follow where I look at the current prices and shudder to think anyone might be buying in EVEN with these low stock prices. So it’s not just random investing.

Simple steps: keep being frugal. Keep your head up at your job, or your business, because that’s your greatest asset. Keep paying down debt. Don’t incur any new debt. Keep adding to an emergency fund until you have enough to pay 6 months or more of expenses. And don’t start buying or selling stocks or funds or any other investments unless it’s part of your overall investing strategy.

(image props to jillconway )

job jumper tip #1: create a WIDD file


A neighbor commented to Bubelah that she visited a career coach to help concoct a resume after being laid off. She worked for a major financial institution that decided to layoff thousands of workers after some poor decisions by senior management (who, of course, did not lay themselves off).

Having worked for this company for her entire career, she had never prepared a resume again after being hired 15 years ago. I was shocked to hear this. My experience has been radically different. I have worked in four different cities and two countries for five different companies. For two of those companies, I made major changes in the department I worked for, necessitating a whole new interview process. As a consultant now, I “interview” for a new client on average once every six months. I do nothing but polish up my resume.

So as a confirmed job jumper myself, I decided to devote the next few Wednesdays to advice for the “job jumper” – someone who willingly jumps from position to position (I’m shifting the link roundups to Fridays). You don’t even need to change companies. My definition of a jumper is someone who needs to interview before working in a position, either internally or externally. How is this different from a job hopper? A job hopper implies (to me, at least) a more casual, laid back approach – just switching jobs for the sake of switching. A job jumper is making a definitive, forceful push for a reason.

These tips will be useful for anyone who is considering a change in their current “job” – even if they are self-employed. My intention is to make each tip simple, as well, because I have come across a lot of dense career advice. Advice you can’t easily use is the worst kind of brain clutter.


Tip 1: Keep a “what I done did” (WIDD) document.

I have a Word document that started out as a Word 2.0 file back in the mid-90s. I think the first time I saved it, it went on a floppy disk. The old school, 5 1/4 inch floppies that were really floppy. This document – I call it my WIDD file – has been a lifesaver over the years. I work in a “project” style job (except for one year in corporate financial reporting). A “project-centric” job means that I have projects that begin and end – I don’t do the same thing month after month. I go to Client XYZ, perform consulting/auditing/accounting/etc., give them a report and move on. Sometimes this takes months and months. Sometimes I do it in one or two days. At one point I managed eight different projects running concurrently (with a staff of 25). The point is that in 15 years I have probably averaged 50+ projects per year.

I kept a written record of what I did at all of them.

This is critical for a jumper. You need to keep a record of what you actually did, not what your duties were. This is different than keeping a resume. When I jump to a new position, I don’t list every project I managed. I do, however, hunt through my WIDD file to see if I can find a skill or experience that is relevant to the position I want to get. I could never keep all of this information in my head, or in a resume. If I keep it in a file that’s easy to search, I can quickly and easily tailor my “bare bones” chronological resume to highlight some clever “hit points.”

You don’t have to keep a long description. Do make sure you hit the high points. For my audit work, I might highlight which parts of their financial statements I personally audited, or difficult accounting issues I had to decide with the client. Two or three bullets usually suffice.

Try and keep a WIDD file. It takes one or two minutes per week to update and the next time you need to prepare a resume, you’ll be able to highlight specific, relevant experience rather than giving a potential employer the same dull, drab resume with generic skills that you give everyone else.

Check out the rest of the job jumper tips:

a cautionary tale about organic and natural things

teacup One day last week I learned a valuable lesson: just because something is “natural” or “organic” does not mean it is good for you. To the contrary, it can be dangerous in the extreme.

A little background: for a long time, I had high blood pressure. I was on Lisinopril for a while, and eventually I managed to get it under control through changes in my diet, exercising and learning how to control my temper (which has always been extremely bad). When I was running frequently and eating a more-or-less vegetarian diet, I managed to get it well under normal. With a slump in my diet and exercise over the last couple of years – which started out as simply a slowing-down of my heavy workout schedule and recently has turned into an honest-to-God slump – it crept back up a bit, but not too much. At my most recent checkup, it was (after a few readings) 130/85, 128/87, etc. Not great, but certainly nothing to get worried about.

Last week I started feeling crummy and decided to check my blood pressure while waiting at the pharmacy. Boom! My blood pressure had shot WAY up, to 150/100. That’s a desperately high number. Subsequent readings didn’t get much better although some of that is probably thanks to the fact that I got nervous. Very nervous.

So I tried to analyze what I had done in the last 2 months that made it shoot up so far. I’m not exercising as much as I should, but I still do a lot of walking and climbing stairs during my commute. I was eating nothing but raw fruits and vegetables for breakfast and lunch several days a week (occasionally I would have an omelet for breakfast) and maintaining my lifestyle otherwise. I hadn’t taken up snorting glue or anything like that.

So for a couple of headachey days I wondered what was going on while I tried to analyze what had changed. After some real serious consideration I realized a few bad mistakes I had made.

  1. The salad bar at work had added jalapenos. I knew they were pickled (are they cooked? I don’t know) and I love spicy food. I was pouring them on like they were shredded carrots. They are not. I was eating a good fistful of jalapeno slices on my salad every day.
  2. Over the holidays I took a week off and overate, drank a lot of hard liquor – which I seldom do anymore – and didn’t stir much from the house.
  3. I was sleeping a lot less from being busy late in the evenings with the blog.
  4. For some reason, I have felt a lot more internal stress over the last few weeks. It’s probably due to feeling behind on my “global” to-do list. I have big plans for some projects but I don’t feel I’m making enough progress on them.

However, the real problem still eluded me, because these are the types of things which would ramp up blood pressure over time, not overnight. Then I remembered that I was drinking a new kind of organic tea. It tasted wonderful and packed almost as much punch as coffee – sometimes even more. It was flavored with fennel, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves and pepper, but the primary ingredient was St. John’s Wort. I thought “maybe there’s something about that tea”?


Some brief research on the Internet showed me I was right, but this line was the kicker:

There is a risk of hypertension if it is taken with food that contains the natural chemical tyramine, found in beer on tap, red wine, liquors, aged meat and cheese, yeast extract, and soy sauces (link).

I drink two glasses of wine every evening. Over the last couple of weeks, I had something with all of those ingredients. We at aged meat and cheese in abundance over the holidays. We had stuff with soy sauce. I had beer on tap, and red wine. Yeast extract? Probably in something I ate. As I sat there with a headache going down this list, I thought “uh-oh.”

So after reading this article and several others, I quit drinking the St. John’s Wort tea and I can already feel my hypertension fading away. I quit adding jalapenos and I am sleeping and relaxing a bit more, but the main change has been dumping the tea. I plan to go check my blood pressure soon, but I feel much better already. I am back to eating plain salads and drinking white tea and water.

I am not trying to dissuade anyone from taking St. John’s Wort (which can be very helpful for people suffering from depression, for example – although I am not a doctor and you should verify that with someone who is). I just hope that nobody has to discover the hard way like I did that just because something is “organic” automatically means it is “good for you.” I will approach other herbal teas, for example, with a great deal more caution in the future.

(photo credit: australian_overanalyzer)

The Carnival of Peer-to-Peer Lending: 2nd edition

Welcome to the January 20, 2008 edition of carnival of peer-to-peer lending. Peer-to-peer lending is a new but growing area for people looking for alternative investments. I’ve just recently started lending at Prosper, and I’m excited to keep learning more about lending AND borrowing in the peer-to-peer world. Thanks for visiting, and let’s get started!


Amanda presents Me vs. Debt: Hey Prosper Lenders! Question from a Borrower… posted at Me Vs. Debt, saying, “Just wondering what the general consensus might be on refinancing a good borrower with not so good credit. I’m well aware that most lenders steer clear of low rating borrowers, but what if they had a good payment history? ”

RateLadder presents Maximize the Chance of Funding Your Listing with Not-So-Obvious Tips posted at Prosper Blog: Prosper, the online marketplace for people-to-people lending, with a few interesting and not so obvious tips. RateLadder also presents Prosper Vintage Curve Update — 1/1/2008 posted at Rate Ladder where he presents some updated vintage curves.

Pinyo presents My Second P2P Loan On Prosper posted at Moolanomy. After making his second loan, Pinyo has a few more thoughts on lending at Prosper. He also inspired an interesting debate in the comments to his post on the ethics of lending through p2p sites.

Tom presents Fynanz to tackle peer to peer student loan niche posted at Prosper Lending Review, saying, “Fynanz is a new peer to peer lending start-up that will focus on the student loan market. This is an interview with Chirag Chaman the CEO and founder.”

Peer-Lend presents Prosper Lending: Interest Rate & Bidding Guidance posted at Peer-Lend.com. Peer-Lend says Prosper has recently done something wonderful for current and future Prosper Lenders. But I bet you don’t know what it is – or, if you do, why it’s so unbelievably important. If you don’t know what’s being talked about, you should read this article. Peer-Lend also submitted Gaming the Lending Club 5% Bonus Promotion. If you have some capital and you’re interested in making a little extra money off Lending Club’s new promotion, this article has a clever idea for “gaming” your 5% into (up to) $20,000!

Wiseclerk presents P2P lending trends to expect in 2008 posted at P2P-Banking.com. If you’re wondering what to expect in the world of peer-to-peer lending in the year ahead, here are a few predictions.

Brett presents Lending Club Statistics: Rejecting Most Loan Applications posted at Personal Loan Portfolio. This statistic really surprised me: only 11.2% of all loans submitted to Lending Club were approved for listing. I’m not sure if that’s just due to Lending Club being new in the market, but it is unexpected.

What is Peer to Peer Lending? posted at Money Smart Life. A great primer for anyone new to the world of peer-to-peer lending.

The Dough Roller presents How I Overcame My Fear of Lending Money on Prosper.com posted at The Dough Roller. If you just finished reading Money Smart Life’s introduction and now you’re wondering about how to get over your initial anxiousness at entering this new arena, this post will help you in addressing your fear of lending money through Prosper and other P2P lending sites.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of peer-to-peer lending using this carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

can wealth be fair?

Can citizens in western societies strive for wealth at the same time society tries to be ‘fair’? Let me give you a few situations, and in each case think whether society is being ‘fair.’

  • A college graduate, well-educated about personal finance and the economy, decides to burn through everything they earn right now, saying “Why save for later? I’ll have fun now and hell with consequences.” Should society be responsible for his medical care and living expenses when he is 70 and can no longer work or care for himself adequately?
  • A child is born with 50 different health problems (heart, congenital diseases, you name it). The cost of keeping that child alive is monumental, exceeding even the most generous insurance benefits. The cost of keeping that child alive cripple not only the family but put a strain on the local doctors, etc. who effectively donate their time to treat her. What if the cost of keeping that child alive until she’s 25 will be astronomical, and that cost could immunize or treat hundreds or thousands of children who need it? What obligation does society have to help this child at the expense of others?
  • Taxes on earned income in America (wages, etc.) are significantly higher for the middle class than for someone in the lower class (more than 40 percent of the US population pays no income taxes. That seems fair. However, someone who lives off earnings from investments may pay 15% or less on their earnings, significantly less than a middle-class married couple. Is it fair that the middle class pays a disproportionate share? And would it be fair to tax the rich more, but not tax the poor more?

Those are just a few examples of how a wealth-building society can be unfair. You have your own reactions to the scenarios above. Here are mine:

  • I detest this attitude. His attitude will take money out of my pocket when he is older. But in western society, particularly in the US, the care and treatment of the elderly is often left to the state. Should we have means testing for the elderly? “You didn’t get a decent job with good health insurance and keep your health up in your younger years, so to hell with you now that you’re old and have heart trouble? Live on the street because you didn’t save up?” As much as we might growl that in a moment of anger, I doubt anyone is prepared to see senior citizens sleeping on the streets.
  • I knew a child like this. She was a lovely, happy and intelligent child who suffered from an incurable genetic condition that meant her chances of living to be a teenager – much less an adult – were minimal. I knew her years and years ago and I have no idea what happened to her. The logical line to take would be to say “no, society has to follow the principles of the herd and Darwin and leave the hindmost” or “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” but unless you a serial killer, devoid of emotion, it is impossible to meet children like her and not imagine society moving heaven and earth to care for her. Even if the chances of her living to be an adult are slim, she deserves her chance at whatever life she can have. My higher insurance premiums that may have resulted from that? Please.
  • I am routinely infuriated by taxes. I am, however, not an adherent to the “no taxes” philosophy; a society that provides public services like police, postal services, libraries and a military has to raise revenues. They may not be spent wisely, but I can’t throw out the $800 screwdrivers with the public libraries – there will be good and bad. But I do realize that the unfairness in the system – the loopholes, the weak taxation on rich people – may not benefit me now but it will when I am financially free. I plan to be one of the people living off my investments, earning no wage income and avoiding my fair share of taxes. So if I want to build wealth, why should I rail against this system? I intend for it to benefit me in the end. So I throw myself into battle against my 1040 again this year, struggling forward in anticipation of crossing the financial finish line. If I finish it – against the relatively daunting odds, considering I have no singing talent, ball-shooting ability or parents named Hilton – will I become a “raise my taxes to even things out activist”? Er, no.

Fairness is an overused (and misused) word. There is no fairness in a free, capitalist society, nor – when you stop to consider it – does anyone want COMPLETE fairness. Inequalities in the system are what allow wealth to be built, or care to be given to the exceptional, or even to allow for the occasional idiot. A fair society would not allow elderly poverty, but it would not allow for financial freedom, either. It would not have plastic surgery for starlets, but it would also not have medical treatment for children dying of expensive incurable diseases. A fair society would increase the burden of taxation on everyone. Human society being what it is, the concept of fairness will always remain just that – a concept. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

like money falling from the sky

In 1986 I was living in (then) West Germany as an exchange student. I was lucky enough to get a visa to visit (then) communist East Berlin with my German and American classmates. Exchange rules were very strict, and the amount of money (and type of currency) you were allowed to change were very tightly controlled. I changed a fair amount of Deutschmarks, not knowing how much I would need for a day trip. We had to return to West Berlin each night – presumably for security or because 16-year olds posed a threat to the regime.

mayakovsky moscow

So after paying the equivalent of $1.50 for a massive lunch and buying the few souvenirs we could find (I never did locate any good t-shirts with the logo “I went to a Warsaw Pact country and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) I was left with a fair pile of change. Because of the currency exchange rules, it couldn’t be changed BACK into West German currency, so as we boarded the train our chaperone came around and told us we’d better not be holding any currency, because we’d get in trouble with the border guards. Since I had already endured one frightening yell-down from the East German guards while crossing back into West Berlin because of my (apparently banned) souvenirs, I decided to comply.

We hurriedly bought Fanta and assorted snacks but still had some change left. We then noticed that there was a throng of people shouting and gesturing at us on the end of the platform, yelling at the train. We noticed a shower of glittering coins flying out of the windows ahead of us. Assuming this was the thing to do, we chucked our coins out the window, too.

This was the first intimation I had, despite East Berlin’s immaculate, clean and very pleasant appearance that communism’s rosy presentation of economic stability might be a false front. Today, it also gives me pause when I reflect on the fate of one of the world’s mightiest, and shortest-lived, empires.

When I first returned from Russia I was invited to give a lecture on the Russian economy at a local university. At the time I was considered somewhat of an “expert” (please take careful note of the quotation marks) on the accounting theory surrounding foreign currency translation – particularly regarding the ruble – and the difficulty in making a true “translation” of Russian accounting information into Western accounting standards. For this class of beginning accounting students, I started with an anecdote: imagine if you walked into your local McDonald’s today and bought a Big Mac for $3. Your salary might be, say, $40,000 per year.

Now imagine you walk into that local McDonald’s a year later and a Big Mac now costs $200, but your company upped your salary to salary has gone up to $2.6 million per year to keep pace with hyperinflation. You can still manage a Big Mac. Two months later your salary is still $2.6 million – the company’s not going to readjust monthly, only annually – but hyperinflation continues apace. Now a Big Mac costs $25,000. It has become an impossible luxury, almost 1% of your gross salary. That’s as if it cost $400 when you were making $40,000 per year. And your savings? Your lifetime savings of $2 million are now barely enough to pay for 80 Big Macs.

Does that sound ridiculous? Yes, but that’s exactly what happened in Russia in the early 90s. Prices changed daily, even hourly. Savings effectively disappeared. With private ownership of land impossible, all net worth other than STUFF disappeared. A good TV was a better investment than a savings account. A freezer could preserve more value than a bank. Banks were offering 100% interest rates or more and it wasn’t a good deal.

That can never happen in America, could it? Chances are it won’t. But if you think about it, the conditions that created hyperinflation are possible in the US. Don’t believe me? Imagine another oil embargo. How much will your food cost if the trucks that deliver it have to pay $12 per gallon for gas? What if a terrorist attack in a US port causes the US borders to be closed? Many of the fruits and vegetables in your local supermarket this time of year are imported from Latin or South America. How much will a tomato cost if the borders close? What happens if major institutions like Citigroup start collapsing? Do you think it’s impossible for the US to attack Mexico to gain access to its oil? I know you are picturing me wearing a tin foil hat, but bear with me.

This is the worst possible case. For the record, I don’t believe it will happen. But then I remember my friends in Russia, who grew up during the last years of the Soviet Union. When they were children the twin cancers of a bloated, inefficient and incompetent central government and a disastrous, expensive foreign war were eating away at the core of their nation. The Soviet Union was a country so powerful in the late 1960s that the United States felt it had to fight wars all over the globe, not to stop but just to slow its spread. The “evil empire” had gone from a backwards agrarian dictatorship to the second-most advanced military and technological power in human history in two generations; there was no reason for the average Soviet citizen to doubt that rate of advancement could last forever. They heard it on the news – calming words from the central government that it could avert a depression. The total collapse of their country in less than a decade caught every single person in the former Soviet Union (and in the world) by surprise. I don’t think even the most optimistic anti-Communist hoped for this in their fevered dreams. Today only the most rabid anti-American would hope for a collapse of the world’s largest economy, but for the first time in my life I think it is imaginable. I hope history will not repeat itself, but that hope has been futile since history began.

When I think of my friends in Russia and their hoarding of US dollars under mattresses and their almost complete and utter distrust of every single financial institution, I also remember that odd sensation in East Berlin in 1986. I remember throwing money out of the window, almost seeing it melt into nothing as it flew through the air. I hope I never see that again, but I particularly hope I never see it in my own country.

(this post was inspired by a comment I left at plonkee money; photo credit by me)