Life Update – October 2011

OK, it’s time to blow the dust off this blog. Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I wrote a legitimate post. Up until a few months ago, I was working as a college professor at one of the University of Texas campuses. I guess it’s safe to say that life has a way of creating diversions from tasks that I truly enjoy, like writing for this site. Continue reading

The World’s Worst Debtors

(This is a guest article by Alban Guillemot.)

A favorite point of contention with voters the world over is to chastise their governments for their spending and inevitable budget deficits. However, before we start throwing stones at government spending, it is worth taking a look at the glass houses many nations have built around themselves with personal, household debts. Continue reading

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

A few days ago I was walking home from the bus stop after a day at the university. It had been a long day, and I was tired. As I rounded a corner, I heard someone yell at me from behind. Turning to look, I saw a man in his forties walking toward me and waving to catch my attention.

Being someone of generally nice temperament, I stopped walking and allowed the man to catch up to me. Yeah, this was probably my first mistake, but I’m a pretty big guy and not easily intimidated. Plus, I had no idea if his intentions were friendly or hostile. For all I knew, maybe something fell out of my bag and he was retrieving it for me. At worst, I thought, maybe he’s going to try to sell me something.

I was wrong. After a brief formality he launched into a sob story about how he had just moved to town from Nebraska with his wife and mother and how they were completely destitute. Can you spare any money for some food and milk, he asked. Any little bit will help, we’re in dire straits.

It’s not everyday that I run into someone begging for money. I live in a major university town, but the total population is under 100k people. Occasionally we have few homeless people show up in our downtown area, but I’ve lived here for five years, and this was the first time someone solicited me for money far away from downtown. I admit that it caught me off guard. I had braced myself for him to start some kind of sales pitch, but not for this. Maybe he really had a destitute family and was merely trying to find them some food. Though he was unshaven, he certainly wasn’t dressed like a total bum.

Now, I’ve never lived in the heart of a big city, so I’m not cold and insensitive to requests for help from others, but I’m not about to open my wallet to any random guy on the street asking for money. As he unfolded his sob story before me, my mind weighed two options:

  1. Believe his story and try to help.
  2. Walk away.

I thought that if I went with the first option, there was still no way I would open my wallet in front of him and give him money. The possibility for outright theft would be just too great. Instead, the nearest grocery store was only a block or two away, and I thought that maybe we could walk there and I would buy some food and milk for him and his family.

I had almost settled on this option when I noticed it – his breath reeked of alcohol.* At that instant I no longer believed his sob story. More likely he was just a wandering alcoholic – still worthy of pity, but not of a handout.

Immediately, I launched into a story of my own about how I’d love to help him, but I’m just a poor grad student who struggles to pay the bills each month. I had no need to embellish the truth since my current salary is only a mind-blistering 8k a year… until this September, anyway.

He appealed once or twice more for money, but I firmly resisted and wished him luck. He thanked me anyway and wandered off, no doubt in search of a cash infusion from someone else.

Perhaps I should have bought some groceries for him anyway, but if he really needed the food, the least he could do is sober up before asking for help from strangers.

* Just for the record, I’m not opposed to the thought of alcohol. I grew up in the Deep South, and many people I knew considered alcohol evil, an idea I find ridiculous. I thoroughly enjoy a good ale or a bottle of wine occasionally, but it’s only bad if you let it control you. Some people let Diet Coke control them, which I find just as bad.

I suppose I’m a hypocrite, though. Coffee has a pretty solid grip over my emotions in the morning. 🙂

Merry Christmas from Interesting Money!

No matter who you are, where you are, or what your lot is in life, I wish you a heartfelt Merry Christmas from Interesting Money!

My hope is that you are able to devote time to friends, family, and other loved ones this time of year. This past year has been rough financially, and I know that my own meager portfolio is down much more than I care to consider.

Still, none of that is important right now. Happiness is not measured in net worth, but instead, in friendship, love, and memories.

My wife and I are sharing Christmas with only each other this year, since we live quite far from any relatives. That’s our tree in the picture? Like it? It’s our living, economical Christmas tree. 🙂

Yep, there are a few presents under it, all shipped in from the in-laws. Due to our status as poor grad students, my wife and I agreed months ago that we were not buying any presents for each other. Instead, we will likely curl up together on the couch with a blanket and some hot chocolate. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

Best wishes, warm greetings, and Happy Holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving from Interesting Money!

On this Thanksgiving Day, I would like to give thanks to the following:

  • Dollar Savings Direct – for keeping their 4% APY despite the Fed’s slash-and-burn habit.
  • ShareBuilder – for giving me a nice $50 bonus.
  • Jim – (the Bankrupt Man) – for allowing responsible people to make money off of credit cards.
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average – for having four green days in a row. It’s a miracle! My retirement portfolio is still deep underwater, though.
  • General health and happiness – Just being alive is a tremendous gift.
  • My wife – for her extraordinary love and patience while we suffer through this low-income period of our lives.

And of course… to my dear readers! Thank you for the feedback, support, and comments! Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

InterestingMoney.com Goes Mobile!

IM Mobile PreviewEver since I got my MOTO Q through the Sprint SERO plan, I occasionally find myself surfing the web and checking e-mail with it. I’ve since discovered that a lot of websites look TERRIBLE when viewed with a mobile browser. Yes, I’m ashamed to admit, my own website was one of those. 🙂

No longer! Gadget lovers, you can now read my latest entries by pointing your mobile browser to:

http://m.interestingmoney.com (no www)

Don’t have a mobile browser? That’s ok. Go ahead and click that link in a regular browser. You will see a slick demo of exactly how the site appears on a mobile phone. There’s even an illustrious iPhone preview.

For those interested, I set up the mobile version using the free MoFuse service. Essentially, all you have to do to create a mobile version of your own blog is to create an account with them and give them a link to your RSS feed. They handle the rest, including automatic image resizing (no more horizontal scrolling).

MoFuse even has a revenue-sharing program. In exchange for their service, they split your AdMob or Mobile Adsense impressions in a 50/50 ratio. Considering that it only took me about 20 minutes to get my mobile site running, I’m fine with this.

There are a few other similar services available, such as Mippin Maker, but I ultimately went with MoFuse because I liked the resulting layout better. If you have a self-hosted website or blog, I encourage you to create a mobile version, no matter what method (or service) you choose to create it.

By the way, TipsFor.us has a neat article on setting up an automatic Contacts and Calendar sync for Windows Mobile phones using Thunderbird and Google Calendar, all for free. It’s a fairly-intense setup, but it could save you a few hundred dollars if you dislike (or can’t afford) Microsoft Outlook.