|Husband:||"Would you still love me even if I weren't successful?"|
|Wife:||"Sure I would. I'd miss you, but I'd still love you."|
I know why you're reading this Web page: you want to get rich. You saw the title and you thought that I would divulge some powerful secret that would enable you to achieve wealth beyond your expectations so that you could quit your job or buy a mansion or afford a better spouse. Sorry to disappoint you. If I were in possession of such a secret, do you think I'd still be working 40 hours a week? No way! I'd be too busy drinking my homemade beer and having sex with models. No, not model airplanes. Young, beautiful swimsuit models who would fulfill my every desire so that they could appear in my nudie magazine. Not that they'd find me personally desirable - they'd do it solely to advance their careers. Like I'd care.
So if this Web page won't make you rich, then why read it? I don't know. You voluntarily opened it. I didn't force it on you. With the availability of great works by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare and Drew Carey - all obtainable free from your local library - why do you spend your leisure time reading my babble?
What follows are a bunch of stupid opinions about money, how to get it, what to do with it, and other ideas that I came up with during countless brainstorming sessions in my bathroom.
|Grandson:||"Grandpa, tell me how you got to be a millionaire."|
|Grandfather:||"It was 1932. I was living in poverty. I bought an apple for 5 cents, polished it up, and sold it for a dime. The next day I took that dime, bought two apples for 5 cents apiece, polished them, and sold them for a total of 20 cents. I continued this every day for a week until I had made $1.60."|
|Grandfather:||"Then my rich uncle died and left me 3 million dollars."|
To be born in this great country is a lucky accident, and I know that I am one of those lucky people, because my parents told me that my birth was an ...
Let me start again. You and I have been very fortunate in life's lottery. Look at the countless millions of people who live and who have lived in poverty, oppression, disease and war. We, on the other hand, live sheltered lives of VCRs, minivans, big homes, retirement plans, medical care, and so much food that we throw away more than most other countries eat. We are so pampered that we are able to complain about miniscule things such as high heating bills and getting cut off in traffic. Sometimes I feel kind of guilty and weak because while other people are dying of cholera and kwashiorkor, I allow myself to get perturbed by bad investments. I tell you, I make me sick.
In order to keep up our wealth, large numbers of us work at office jobs. We sometimes become conforming weasels who willingly endure degradation and long hours so that we won't lose our jobs and consequently our modern way of life. Some people try to justify their selfish vocational pursuits by claiming that they aren't just after money. They say that they work for fulfillment, responsibility and a feeling of accomplishment, but often this is bullshit: a lot of them would willingly leave an honest, $25,000-a-year job helping the needy for a $450,000-a-year job as a lawyer who does nothing but get criminals acquitted. What sense of fulfillment or responsibility could anyone with a conscience get from that?
Foreigners know about our wealth and opportunities. This is why many thousands of them immigrate here every year. There are immigration laws designed to keep the influx in check, but many foreigners cross the border illegally. Even when they're caught, all we do is deport them, and then they try again, so that we spend lots of effort and money trying to restrain people, many of who eventually make it in here anyway. And when a female illegal alien gives birth to a baby here, we grant it citizenship and allow the mother to stay. I totally disagree with this policy. I mean, I know it says somewhere, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses", but it doesn't say, "Give us any dysfunctional, defective slob that you can somehow cattle prod onto a wagon." Illegal immigrants are unwelcome here, no matter how young they are. Remember Elian Gonzalez? The media had a field day with him, giving us constant updates about his daily activities: "Elian plays with a teddy bear!" "Elian eats cereal!" "Elian takes a dump!" Those of us with lives got fed up with this sensationalism, and federal agents finally returned the boy to his homeland, much to our relief. The government says that it doesn't want illegal aliens because there's no room. That's not the real reason. The reason the government doesn't want them is that it views them as short, dark, smelly individuals who can't read, write or speak our language and who multiply faster than roaches. If 10,000 Scandinavian women with their tubes tied wanted entrance to the U.S. they'd get it.
Some people who don't have money try to delude themselves that they don't want it. The hippie movement of the 1960s was a good example. People wore tie-dye shirts and flowers and lived in communes and smoked dope and did pretty much everything except work. They proclaimed that corporations were evil. They refused to be part of the mainstream. Then in the 1970s, when the drugs wore off and they realized that their anti-establishment lifestyle had no retirement plan, they ran back to the society they used to criticize and became lawyers, doctors, stockbrokers and accountants in order to pursue the very money they had once rejected. This reformation confirmed what the rest of us knew all along: that we live in an economy and that the only way to obtain anything is to inherit it, earn it, or take it by force. Given that taking things by force will most likely land us in jail and that few of us inherit much, the vast majority of us must work for our property, transportation, food and other commodities. Speaking of inheritance, a few years ago my Uncle Leo died and left me a lot of money. I was very happy. Not because of the money, but because he was a real prick.
The pursuit of money for the purchase of needed and desired items is good to a point, but when taken to extremes leads to greed. Greed isn't confined only to our country, but in the past few years it has been downright applauded here on national television shows such as Greed, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? I think a better title for that last one would have been Which Shallow Moneygrubber Wants to Prostitute Herself by Getting Her Hooks into Some Desperate Guy With Money and Thereby Throw Away Any Chance of Finding True Love? That would about sum it up.
Many people measure their success by the amount of money they make or by the total value of all their physical and monetary assets. But what about happiness? Isn't that the end goal? Isn't that the true measure of success? What good is it to be rich if you aren't happy? The best things in life are not material and do not require a lot of money: love, freedom, mental health, physical health, family, friends, a mountain's beauty, a flower's bouquet, etc. Having more money doesn't necessarily make you any happier. I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't give up my life the way it is now for all the money in the world. Trillions of dollars would not make me the least bit happy if I had to give up my health, family or friends in order to get it. Or if I had to give up beer.
A gorilla goes into a deli and orders a pastrami on rye. "That'll be $8," says the cashier. As the gorilla is paying, the cashier says, "I must say, I've never seen a gorilla in here before." The gorilla replies, "And you never will again at $8 a sandwich."
The little choices we make in our consumerism add up over time and can make a difference in how much wealth we have. For example, there are a number of highly-consumed products that we don't need, and we could save considerable money by doing without them. Items that come to mind are antiperspirants, make-up, air freshener and aftershave. Which reminds me, y'ever see that Brut commercial? It says, "Brut - it smells like a man." I already smell like a man. Who wants to wear aftershave that smells like an armpit?
We don't need candy bars. They are nothing but sugar and fat. Yet they continue to sell well even though they are half the size they used to be and cost ten times as much. Upbeat television commercials show young, thin actors - who normally starve themselves so they'll be trim enough to be eligible for selection in any commercial at all - eating a candy bar and smiling, as though the crap they're eating is the reason they're so good-looking and fit. There's one commercial where a woman says, "Nothing satisfies me like a Snickers bar." I'd hate to see what she does with it.
I devised a foolproof way to save money on dry-cleaning. Instead of paying $2.50 to have your favorite shirt dry-cleaned, donate it to Goodwill. They'll dry-clean and iron it. Then you go and buy it back for 75 cents.
Insurance is very popular. There are all kinds: life insurance, fire insurance, auto insurance. Stay away from life insurance. You pay money betting you'll die. It guarantees that, as long as you live, you'll lose money. That's no way to save. Fire insurance is good if you live in a barn. Even the Amish don't live in barns - they live in actual houses. And when an Amish person's barn burns down, all the neighbors come over to build another one. So much for fire insurance. Auto insurance is necessary; the law makes it so. Even if it weren't required, it'd be a good idea, given the litigious society we live in and the high cost of auto repair. Certain attributes about you can lower your premiums, such as being old, married or female. That's right - old people pay lower insurance premiums, which makes no sense at all since they're the worst drivers. Married people also don't deserve a reduced rate since so many of them are just waiting to die. Females are worse drivers than men, so at first glance it would seem that they should pay higher premiums. However, there's one factor that makes them less of a risk than men: they don't get blow jobs while they're driving.
Single people can save money by staying away from dating services. They are very expensive and not worth the high cost. In fact, the more expensive a dating service is, the less desirable its members are. Let's say it costs $2000 to join. Anyone who has that kind of money to kick around and still can't get laid must be a real loser. I ought to know.
Engaged people can save a shitload on the engagement ring by not heeding the jewelry companies' guilt-provoking claim that when a man buys his fiancée an engagement ring it should cost him two months of his salary. Call me cheap if you want, but there's no way I'm gonna spend $400 on a stupid ring.
Married people can save money on child rearing in a number of ways. For example, UNICEF claims that we can support a child in Zambia for 63 cents a day. So why don't we just send our kids there? Think about it: they'd learn valuable sharecropping skills, get plenty of exercise, spend time outdoors, and avoid being spoiled by modern distractions such as television and medicine. You wouldn't be able to hear them when they cry or whine, and you wouldn't care because you'd be too busy sleeping, pursuing hobbies, boinking and relaxing like you did before you became a parent. (Incidentally, I sponsor a child in a starving country. I sent him a football for his birthday, and a few weeks afterward I got a letter from him saying, "Thanks for the football. It was delicious.")
Don't be fooled by commercials. Their catchy jingles and hyped-up claims ("New and improved, fat-free and delicious, for those days when your hemorrhoids are acting up!") play on your emotions in order to trick you into buying their products. You can save money by buying generic and store brand products, which are often as good as the name brands and cost less. This doesn't apply to every type of product, though. Sometimes the name brands are better, plus the item might be so inexpensive to begin with that you're better off paying a little more for the name brand because you'd save so little by getting the cheaper brand. Toilet paper is a good example. The smaller companies talk about the money you'll save if you buy their brand. At 49¢ for a roll of their brand versus 59¢ for a roll of the name brand, I'll pay a bit more for a better product. I'm not gonna sandpaper my ass to save 10 cents.
One time I actually made money by doing what a commercial told me to do. Remember that old Star Kist commercial? It's the one with Charlie the talking tuna. At the end of the ad he says, "Tell 'em Charlie sent you." Well, one time I was in a supermarket in the Bronx, and I went up to the manager and said, "Charlie sent me." The guy handed me an envelope with $10,000 in it.
We hear a lot of talk about generating wealth from sources like the Stock Market, get-rich-quick schemes, the lottery, game shows and so forth. What I want to know is, whatever happened to saving money? Rather than "waiting for our ship to come in" we can eventually accumulate enough wealth for a house or our retirement simply by putting our extra monthly income in a safe place rather than spending it on yet more furniture or videocassettes.
But where is safe? Well, you could bury your money in a mayonnaise jar under the floor, but this would be a laborious task. The safest place to keep it today is in a bank. Not just any bank. It should be federally insured. All reputable banks have their customers' accounts insured for up to $100,000 by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) which means that if your money were to somehow disappear due to theft, computer glitch or invasion by Canada, you would be reimbursed for the full amount you had in there up to $100,000.
In addition to safeguarding our money, banks pay us interest on it, so that we actually get back more than we put in. This sounds great at first until you realize how little this extra amount is. Banks lend our money to other people for anywhere from 6% (home and car loans) to 18% (credit cards). Meanwhile they only give us a percent or two, and that often requires a minimum balance (e.g. $500); if your account falls below that minimum amount, you might get no interest at all, or they might charge you a monthly maintenance fee. So I've got an idea: why don't we all pull our money out of banks and lend it to each other for a medium interest rate? For example, let's say your neighbor wants to buy a new car and his bank's lending rate is 8%. You lend him the money at, say, 4% interest. This way you get at least twice what you would be getting in the bank, and he pays only half of what his bank would charge him. Yeah, I know, if he doesn't pay back the loan, you're SOL (Shit Out of Luck). That's what hit men are for.
Banks not only cheat us on interest, they also charge penalties for things like bouncing checks. That has always puzzled me: if you don't have enough money in your account to cover a $10 check, how are they going to collect the $29 penalty fee?
Tellers don't exactly inspire me with confidence that banks can be absolutely trusted to handle our money. First of all, whenever I go to my bank, there are five windows and two tellers. It's like the Post Office. Second, tellers are people who couldn't get jobs as bankers, so you know they're not too bright. One time I asked a teller to check my balance. She reached through the window and pushed me.
Taxes are the government's way of extorting money from hard-working Americans in order to fund programs that don't work. We object to having our money stolen while drug dealers make several times our income and don't pay a dime in taxes. Well, here's how to minimize the amount that Uncle Sam takes from you. First, get hold of Form W-4, which allows you to claim a number of exemptions. The more exemptions you claim, the less tax money is withheld from your paychecks. Most people claim anywhere from one to ten exemptions based on whether their spouse works, number of children, size of their mortgage payment, etc. Claim 25 exemptions. This will cause the least amount possible to be deducted from your pay. Then, at the end of the year, when you "rightfully" owe the government a tidy sum in back taxes, don't file a return. "But Ben," you whine, "if I don't file, I'll get caught and prosecuted." Oh come on, you mealy-mouthed jellyfish. What are the odds of that happening? First of all, the IRS (motto: "Screwing you since 1913") is so hopelessly understaffed that it can't even keep up with the biggest tax cheats, let alone come after you. Second, the IRS is a government agency, which means that it is run by lazy, donut-eating morons who could never get jobs in legitimate accounting firms. They don't want the extra work that chasing you would create. They don't want to look at zillions of tax returns either, so they discourage tax filing by making it much too confusing and tedious for the layman. For example, look at this partial list of actual IRS tax forms:
|Form number||Form name|
|CT-1||Employer's Annual Railroad Retirement Tax Return|
|W-8ECI||Certificate of Foreign Person's Claim for Exemption From Withholding on Income Effectively Connected With the Conduct of a Trade or Business in the United States|
|706GS(D-1)||Notification of Distribution From a Generation-Skipping Trust|
|976||Claim for Deficiency Dividends Deductions by a Personal Holding Company, Regulated Investment Company, or Real Estate Investment Trust|
|1118 (Schedule I)||Reduction of Oil and Gas Extraction Taxes|
|3621-A||Computation of Net Operating Loss Deduction for Intervening Years Modifications|
|5712||Election To Be Treated As a Possessions Corporation Under Section 936|
|6197||Gas Guzzler Tax|
|8817||Allocation of Patronage and Nonpatronage Income and Deductions|
|8820||Orphan Drug Credit|
|8857||Request for Innocent Spouse Relief|
|8865 (Schedule K-1)||Partner's Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, etc|
Do you think that the IRS would have created these ridiculous forms if they actually wanted you to file? No way! You see, the IRS is not as big and bad as you've been led to believe. The government drones who work there make it possible for you to avoid the unnecessary tax burden that most people willingly subject themselves to. So save time and money every year by ignoring those stupid tax laws and telling the IRS to go to Hell!
Just don't mention my name as they're hauling you away.
Helium was up. Feathers were down. Paper was stationary. Fluorescent bulbs were dimmed in light trading. Knives were up sharply. Cows steered into a bull market. Pencils lost a few points. Hiking equipment was trailing. Elevators rose, while escalators continued their slow decline. Weights were up in heavy trading. Light switches were off. Mining equipment hit rock bottom. Diapers remained unchanged. Shipping lines stayed at an even keel. The market for raisins dried up. Coca Cola fizzled. Caterpillar inched up a bit. The small computer market crashed. Sun peaked at midday. Balloon prices were inflated. And Charmin touched a new bottom.
The Stock Market is a money game that allows you to gamble on companies regardless of how much profit, if any, they're making. In order to play, you must go through a stockbroker. A stockbroker is basically a money pimp who goes to college to learn Einstein concepts such as "buy low, sell high". The way the Stock Market works is you give a broker money, some of which he keeps and the rest of which he "invests" in a company or companies. He gives you tips on stocks that he says you'd have to be a moron not to invest in, which is odd because he keeps his own money in a mattress. When you invest in his "sure things", they mysteriously lose much of their value while he uses the commission he made off of you to fly to Bermuda. You can also invest through discount Web brokers such as E-Trade and Ameritrade, which charge only a fraction of a regular broker's commission, but by not using a human being you don't get any of his impeccable advice.
After years of researching stocks on the Internet (and as we all know, everything you read on the Internet is reliable), I have come to the conclusion that the Number One force that drives most stock prices is emotion. People read stories about projected earnings, quarterly reports, or merely offhand comments by market analysts (motto: "Giving you bad advice since 1923"), and buy or sell according to how this information makes them feel. If Alan Greenspan says something like, "The current phenomenal rate of growth in the technology sector might slow down a tiny bit between the hours of 10:32 and 10:47 AM today", you can bet that the price of more than 85% of all the technology stocks will drop that day. The market capitalization loss experienced by Microsoft alone would be enough to finance two nuclear submarines, or food for all the starving people in the world for seven years, or one-third of all the dresses worn at the next Oscar night. If a company states in its quarterly report that it beat estimated earnings, people will quickly buy more of its stock and drive the price up. Even companies with negative earnings (i.e. companies operating at a loss) can make their share prices skyrocket by issuing "press releases" that make it look as though they might eventually turn a profit one of these years. A press release is a story that a company will publicize in an attempt to make itself look attractive, kind of like a corporate personal ad. Is everything contained in a company press release true? Let me put it to you this way: No. Of course, they always tack on a disclaimer to cover their ass such as, "This report contains forward-looking statements. Actual results may vary. If you buy our stock and lose your shirt, oh well. Void where prohibited." This protects them in the event that the CEOs get caught taking $5 million in investment money that was supposed to have been spent on proposed projects that they had mentioned in their last press release, and using it to buy limos and hookers.
You might have heard of penny stocks. These are associated with small companies that have yet to prove their efficacy. Although many of them do sell for literally pennies per share, they sometimes cost a few dollars per share. There is a lot of potential in penny stocks, both to gain and to lose money. The main problem with penny stocks is that there are a lot of unscrupulous people who hype them with overly optimistic, misleading, and sometimes downright false claims. These charlatans often buy many shares when the price is very low, and when their propaganda causes other people to buy the stock and drive the price up, they quickly sell their own shares at a hefty profit, causing the price to drop and leaving all the fooled investors with assets that are worth a lot less than what they paid. It is difficult to prosecute them because they can avoid fraud charges by claiming that they really believed the lies they told.
Let's look at an example. In 1997 I heard about a company called Adair Oil & Gas. At the time it was selling at around $1.25 per share. Some investment magazine article claimed that they would probably be selling for $3 to $4 per share by November of 1998. Being a typical opportunist, I bought some. Thereafter it dropped to about $1. I bought some more (to lower my dollar cost average). It dropped further. I bought more. This continued for about two years until I had accumulated 350,000 shares, buying my last block at 5 cents a share. At one point they dropped to 3 cents a share, but they came back and hovered at around 12 to 15 cents for several months. Finally I sold them (at a loss) at 14 cents a share because they weren't moving and I wanted to free up my money to invest in tech stocks, which were doing very well. A few months later Adair got themselves listed on the German Stock Exchange and started hyping supposed projects that were planned in several countries, including the U.S., Colombia and Yemen. A buying frenzy ensued. They went to 50 cents, then $1, and peaked at over $3. My 350,000 shares would have been worth more than $1 million had I held onto them and sold them at the peak, but who (except the propagandists) could have known that a stock, which had floundered for two years, would come back like that? Then one day someone sold a lot of shares, which caused the price to drop by more than half in a matter of minutes. It continued to decline thereafter as investors realized that none of the company's "projects" were coming to fruition, and the price has stayed well below a dollar ever since.
By the way, the above phenomenon, whereby a stock's price jumps soon after you sell it, is called the Ben Principle (because it always seems to happen to me). I'll give you another example. At one time I owned 720 shares of a particular chip-making company's stock with a cost basis of just under $60 per share. After going as high as $158, it fell to about $100 in the summer of 2000 when a series of interest rate hikes caused the Market to take a beating, and stayed around that price for several weeks. I wanted to hold onto it because I knew that it would eventually come back, but I was a few weeks away from closing on a new house and I needed a substantial chunk of money for the down payment and closing costs. I sold the stock, planning to buy it back once I sold my old house and hoping that the share price would remain where it was in the meantime. Well, the very next day it jumped to over $118. The following week it went to $155. The week after that it hit $170. The following month it surpassed $200, effectively more than doubling in value less than two months after I sold it. That house ended up costing me a lot more than its purchase price.
High stock prices can lure or intimidate, but do not be fooled. Some stocks reach hundreds of dollars per share, causing many people to shy away from them because they think that the price can't go any higher. Well, it can. I've seen $400 stocks grow to $500. Conversely, do not let high stock prices impress you. What is important is proportional growth, not absolute numbers. For example, say you have $4000 lying around. Let's look at two possible ways to invest it. Scenario 1: You buy 10 shares of Marriage Counselors Inc. at $400 per share (we'll omit broker commission for simplicity). A week later the price jumps to $500. Everyone talks about this "amazing" stock and marvels at the phenomenal amount that investors are paying for just one share, and you feel good about the profit you made. Scenario 2: You buy 50,000 shares of Hemorrhoids-R-Us at 8 cents per share. A week later the price goes to 27 cents, which doesn't seem nearly as impressive as $500 per share. Now let's compare the two outcomes. The Marriage investment turned your $4000 into $5000 (which is a 25% profit), while the Hemorrhoids investment turned that same $4000 into $13,500 (which is more than triple what you started with). The Hemorrhoids investment was much more profitable because, although its share price of 27 cents is not at all remarkable in an absolute sense, its proportional growth was much greater than that of the Marriage investment. I don't know about anyone else, but given the choice between Hemorrhoids and Marriage, I'd rather have Hemorrhoids.
It is usually safer and wiser to invest in solid companies like General Electric and Wal-Mart than it is to risk your money in small, unsure businesses such as Gwen's Bakery & Massage Parlor. Although there is a chance of making several times your money in a short time in penny stocks or small start-up companies, there is an even greater chance of losing money. Solid companies that have stood the test of time will usually return a profit. Sure, you probably won't double your money every year, but you'll get good, steady growth and/or dividends of, say, 10 or 20 percent annually, which will return several times your investment over the long haul.
Some stocks are cyclical - that is, their prices tend to rise and fall periodically. You can make some good money if this pattern reliably repeats itself: you buy when it hits a trough, sell when it hits a peak, and repeat this process as the price changes. This way, even if the price stays within the same range, you will make steady profits. You need to do some research and look at charts of stocks' past performance in order to determine which ones truly are cyclical. Some stocks might at first glance appear cyclical, but in fact they are not; rather, they are subject to fluctuations according to how their market sector is doing, and this causes their prices to change unpredictably. For example, we've seen the technology sector go in and out of favor several times, with daily roller-coaster rides that have caused share prices of even large technological companies to fluctuate like Oprah's weight. Trying to buy low and sell high with this type of stock is called timing the market, and it is nearly impossible to do. Many people, called day traders, attempt this game, buying and selling stocks every day - perhaps several times a day - in order to make small but frequent profits from per-hour or even per-minute price fluctuations. Don't try this. It is mostly a gamble because no one can predict what will happen on a given day to influence stock prices: unemployment or consumer price index numbers might be released; interest rates might be raised or lowered; Alan Greenspan might eat Corn Flakes instead of Wheaties for breakfast. Any of these events can cause the large investors - who make the greatest impact on share prices - to buy or sell, and they generally get the news before you do so they will execute their trades before you have a chance to use any of your knowledge or intelligence. Even if you could somehow get "in the loop", you would have to quit your job in order to keep constant watch over your investments so you could buy and sell at the right time, plus daily gambling with your nest egg could lead to a nervous breakdown.
Often we hear predictions about the Stock Market made by market analysts, who are pretty much the same as college business professors, the only difference being that college professors at least perform a semi-useful function (i.e. they teach students how to become market analysts). Market analysts, on the other hand, do nothing more than tell us that we're heading into a "bear" market, or a "bull" market, or a "chicken" market, or something of that sort. They pretend to have the ability to foresee market fluctuations by taking data such as unemployment figures, price indexes and the ambient temperature in their office, and plugging them into cretin equations in order to calculate "market retracement levels" or other such nonsense. They publicize their alchemistic predictions via trustworthy sources such as the Internet and Sally Jesse Raphael, and a day or a week later, when things have gone exactly the opposite of what they predicted, they fabricate new equations to explain why it happened. For example, an analyst might predict that the NASDAQ is going to dip by over 100 points on a particular day, due to the inverse effect of rising interest rates and the fact that nearly 50 percent of other market analysts are making the same prediction. However, the NASDAQ instead gains 230 points. In order to save face, he'll pick a mathematical pattern that was noted by some obscure 13th century mathematician, say, Fibonacci, and make up some ridiculous proposition such as, "If we subtract today's NASDAQ low of 3042 from the high of 5078 seen on March 24th, we get 2036, a number we'll call 'Fred'. Now, the natural differential ratio that Fibonacci observed in the spiral of a snail's shell is 61.8%. Its inverse is 38.2%, and if we multiply this number by Fred and add it to the low of 3042, we get 3819, which is exactly what the NASDAQ closed at today. So you see, it was inevitable." I haven't seen such a blatant concoction of quasi-mathematical nonsense since Louis Farrakhan's speech at the Million Man March.
Historic and low-income properties are okay investments for tax credit, but not for growth or income. In fact, you can easily lose money on them. In the late 1980s I invested in two such properties, which over the past 15 years have saved me maybe a few thousand in taxes. However, my original $10,000 investment is still tied up in them, and I cannot get any of it back until the managing companies sell the properties in order to generate revenue. I could have invested that money in the Stock Market and easily doubled it by now. Also annoying is the fact that the companies never send the necessary tax information until late March or early April every year, not that it matters since I don't file anyway.
Beware of investments that sound too good to be true, because they probably are. Around the end of 1995 a friend told me about a "company" called World Network Holdings that was paying 3% per month dividends tax-free. It was one of those shady operations that are run by just a few people and don't report much of their dealings to the authorities, but I figured what the hell, make some easy money. I invested several thousand, and every month I got statements showing me how much I had supposedly earned. They also sent offers to invest in some of their endeavors, one of which was an ostrich farm in Florida. It wasn't the ostriches themselves that I thought a good investment - it was the fact that the company "guaranteed" a 33% return for a 12-month period, regardless of how the ostrich business did. Well, after sending quite a bit of money over the course of a year and a half, the company, which had changed names to ANBT Net and then to American Global Equity Services (AGES), came under investigation for failure to pay investors who had tried to pull out. The mastermind of AGES - a guy by the name of Harry Plott - transferred all the assets overseas (a common tactic that unscrupulous people use in order to shelter their ill-gotten funds from United States authorities) into gold bonds, which he sent to the investors in lieu of money. The bonds supposedly came from a mining company called Mali-Suisse Mining International, which mines in Mali, Africa and has offices in England and Switzerland. Furthermore, our bonds had to be redeemed through First Mercantile Bank in St. Georges, Grenada. Sound fishy? You bet. I called International Directory Assistance, and they had no listings for either Mali-Suisse or First Mercantile. Mr. Plott gave us a phone number and a fax number for First Mercantile, but neither one worked. So the bonds are not worth the paper they were printed on. There is an on-line discussion forum for the AGES investors, and you would not believe the blind faith that some of these ignoramuses have in Mr. Plott. I got on there a few times and pointed out the suspicious nature of the whole deal and how none of us have gotten our money back. Several of the forum members flamed me, accusing me of being negative and trying to incite a riot and jeopardizing their chances of getting their money back (as if they are going to get anything back at all). It is both amazing and sad that people can be this foolish, continuing to believe and even defending the very people who screw them. These idiots will die of old age waiting for their supposed returns, and some of them will lie on their death beds saying, "Harry'll come through..."
The Internet has many on-line investment "games" where you can invest in "virtual" companies and purportedly make money. If your first instinct is that all these games are scams, you're right. Don't even think about joining any on-line investment scheme, because the Internet provides an easy way to swindle people and avoid being caught. Once, to satisfy my curiosity, I tried one called Stock Generation, which is run out of Dominica. I invested in their "Company #11" in which people's money was supposedly doubling every month and a half. Figuring they were full of shit, but interested nonetheless, I sent them a check. So many people were joining the game that the influx of checks and Western Union deposits overwhelmed their local bank and it was taking months for people's deposits to get processed. My check took three and a half months to clear. Anyway, after several months my holdings were (supposedly) worth tens of thousands of dollars. Then they fiddled and diddled such that the value dropped to about $1700. Then they royally screwed me: they further dropped my account's value to a mere 15 cents. Numerous emails brought nothing but automatically-generated responses. But it was really no surprise. What can you expect when you send money off to a foreign Web-based gambling game? They can do anything they want with your money - and they will. The same goes for most "alternative" investment avenues: they are usually run by crooks who prey on your own greed by promising great returns in order to get you to send them your money. They make themselves look like sincere altruists who want nothing more than to make you rich. The truth is that they are out for nothing more than their own personal gain, and they have no qualms about ripping off total strangers like you.
Even brokerage companies can be dishonest. Maybe not the big ones like Merrill-Lynch or Schwab, but some of the small outfits. I can tell you about one that I got screwed by in the early 1990s. One day I got a call from a broker at Hibbard-Brown & Company. I had never heard of them, but these places have ways of finding prospective suckers. The broker told me about "wonderful" opportunities and prospects, so I started investing. I made a small profit on the first thing I bought, but of course that was only a ploy to gain my trust. After that I was losing thousands of dollars in small companies that lost much of their value and in some cases went completely under. The broker would call me at home - sometimes as late as 10:00 PM - and convince me to invest money in yet another loser. Eventually the brokerage was forced to close because it was being prosecuted for illegal activities such as falsely representing companies in which it made a market. The litigators invited me to be part of a class action suit, which of course I accepted, and as far as I know it is still going on. The broker who shafted me went to another brokerage, and even had the audacity to call me (and probably other former victims) to try to get me to continue investing with him. May the fleas of 1000 camels infest his armpits.
By now you're probably saying, "Hey Ben, you're an idiot. You have a college degree, and yet time and time again you have pissed your money away in failed ventures and scams, from foreign Web sites to ostriches. No one in their right mind would take investment advice from you." Well, you're right. I, like many others, have wrongly entrusted my money to dishonest people. But you know what? You're still reading, so apparently you're the idiot.
NOTE: Contrary to what I said at the beginning of this chapter, I do file taxes every year. I'd be stupid not to, as my enormous mortgage payments and numerous capital losses ensure that I always get a huge tax refund that's almost as big as my ego.
Two men are trimming the bushes behind a woman's house. The woman glances out the window to see one of the men do a series of double flips and one-handed cartwheels before disappearing in a thicket. She runs outside and tells the other man, "That was great! Listen, I'm having a Women's Club meeting here tonight, and I'll pay him $20 if he'll come tonight and do that again." The man yells, "Hey Sam, the lady here wants to know if you'll chop off another finger for twenty bucks."
In order to support the kind of lifestyle you want, such as one with indoor plumbing, you need to supply a product or a service that makes you valuable to someone so that this person will compensate you with either the things you want or enough money to buy them. The more valuable your profession, the more you will get paid. You could, for example, work as a cashier at a fast food joint, but it pays very little. Employers dont have to pay much for this sort of labor because its such brain-dead work that almost anyone can do it. This is why a lot of us tend to have very little intellectual respect for a person whose job involves wearing a paper hat. "Blue collar" work, which involves a good deal of physical labor, can be pretty lucrative because not everybody is able to add a second floor to their home or fix their water heater. "White collar" work, especially that which requires a college degree, can pay quite well because of the needed mental capacities that not everyone has. No matter what kind of occupation you choose, income depends merely on supply and demand, not necessarily morality or character. A waitress or a street sweeper who works hard at his or her honest job will never match the income of a businessman who has both the skill and the indifference toward his fellow human being that enable him to sell products using deceptive advertising practices.
The vast majority of work in this country is done by privately-owned businesses. Most workers either own a business or work for someone who does. There are also people who work for federal, state, county and city governments, but since they don't have to show a profit in order to remain in existence, governments can tolerate waste and inefficiency, hence a large percentage of their employees are mediocre, lazy or incompetent drones who can't make it in the private sector. Perhaps I will expand on this concept in a future piece of writing.
In days of yore most people had their own businesses. Blacksmiths, coopers, bakers, cobblers and the like were the backbone of society. Then industry entered the picture. Factories and corporations appeared, each needing hundreds or perhaps thousands of employees to run the machinery. Mom-and-Pop shops went out of business because they couldn't keep up with industrial cost-effectiveness. Eventually there were more people working for someone else than there were running their own businesses. There were also a lot of unemployed people who desperately needed work. This put the supply-demand balance in industry's favor. Corporate executives didn't have to care about anyone's personal problems or unmet needs that might keep them from being able to do their job, because if someone couldn't keep up their frantic pace, the middle managers would find someone else who could. Let's say that a factory worker was supposed to show up at 9:00 AM, but on the way to work one day he fell down a flight of stairs, causing multiple contusions, a broken arm, and a concussion. He'd wake up an hour later, bloody and hurting, but, not wanting to lose his job, he'd painfully make his way to work at 10:00 AM. His boss, looking at the bleeding employee, would be less than sympathetic.
|Boss:||"Why are you late?"|
|Employee:||"I fell down a whole flight of stairs."|
|Boss:||"And this took an hour?"|
Labor laws have since been written to protect the work force, which is good since the trend toward large conglomerates has continued into our white collar era of offices, paper-pushing and computers.
Going into business for yourself would be quite risky because of competition and start-up costs. Lots of people, including me, have no desire to leave the safety of their employer for the cutthroat world of entrepreneurship, because there is a large probability of failure. Corporate executives know this and use it to their advantage: they overwork, underpay and "downsize" their employees because 1) it boosts profits, and 2) they can.
There are plenty of ways to go into business for yourself. No matter which one you choose, it will not be an easy task. You will need to apply for a business license, advertise your wares, keep records of expenses and income, declare net profit/loss on your tax forms, keep inventory somewhere, and possibly maintain a business bank account. Try to work from your home if you can, as this avoids the expense and hassle of renting commercial space. If you want to expand your business by hiring underlings and reaping profits from their labor, then keeping records gets more complicated. More important, you have to be careful how you select employees: if you don't hire the correct percentage of every minority group, including gay female Albanians, you might have to defend yourself against a frivolous lawsuit. If your employees can't work at home, you will have to provide a place for them to work, and this will probably mean commercial space. Not only is this an added expense, it raises the possibility of on-the-job injuries and therefore lawsuits or workman's compensation. These are just some of the reasons that so many of us have absolutely no desire to start our own business.
I remember my first business. I was 7 years old, living in a 1960s suburban home, sheltered from the real world of crime and pollution. I put up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk. I would attract customers by giving people their first glass of lemonade for free. Then I'd charge five dollars for the second glass. Why did they pay so much for the second glass? Because it contained the antidote.
Legitimate businesses include retail sales, repair, dining establishments, lodging, construction, printing, medical services, etc. Stick with these kinds of things. Do not waste your time attempting one of those "get-rich-quick" schemes, because they are anything but what the name implies. These scams are spammed as Internet junk mail, as well as advertised in publications such as Entrepreneur. The ads will say things like, "Make $10,000 per week!!" They require some sort of "entry fee" to get into their business so that you can earn lots of cash like they supposedly are. If these people were really making that kind of money, then why would they have to advertise and take money from you? The truth of the matter is that just about all the money they make comes from the "entry fees" that they collect from naive people who are not yet wise to the ways of scam artists, and they don't make anywhere near $10,000 a week. A classic example is the work-at-home scam called envelope stuffing. The ads claim that you can make, say, $5 for each envelope you stuff. You might imagine that "stuffing" merely involves stuffing some paper into an envelope and mailing it - a very easy way to make five bucks. Ah, if only it were that easy. Of course, if it were that easy, then they would stuff the envelopes and keep the money themselves instead of letting you get paid for it. The way this business actually works is that they sell some useless product for, say, $20. You have to sell this product, "stuff" the paperwork for each order into an envelope and mail it to the company. Then the company pays you $5 and keeps the remaining $15. The problem lies in selling the product: you have to advertise, which takes time, money and effort. Even if you are able to sell some of the company's product, you will probably spend more in advertising than you will receive in revenues.
You don't have to own your own business (and thank goodness for that). You can work for someone else, thus keeping your life simple by getting an agreed-upon commission and/or wage for your work and leaving all the record keeping, hiring, advertising, etc to your employer. As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, some professions pay better than others. My advice is to find something that you enjoy doing. Money is good, but enjoyment of life is more important. If you drag yourself every weekday morning to a job that pays well but that you hate, you will not be happy; the big house, the large-screen television, the SUV, and all the other nice possessions that you can afford because of your salary will not compensate you for the misery you will have to endure in order to get them. It would be much better for you to live in a modest home with limited material wealth and wake up each day feeling good and looking forward to, rather than dreading, the day ahead. If you enjoy mopping floors or scooping ice cream, then by golly do that. Some people might look down on you for not doing something more "professional", but so what? They are not important people in your life. Many of them are quite unhappy in their well-paying careers, and perhaps they make fun of you because on some level they are envious that you are happier than they are despite the fact that you earn less than half their salary.
You might want a government job. Oh sure, we like to jest that government employees are idiots - and they are - but the fact remains that governments are necessary for keeping order, hence so are their employees. Most government jobs are the same as those that you find in private industry: secretaries, programmers, managers, etc. The main difference is that employees in the private sector are required to work.
One form of government employment is politics. This requires the ability to lie. If you're currently a lawyer, then it will be very easy for you to become a politician. In fact, a large percentage of politicians were at one time lawyers. Big surprise there. In order to gain public favor, you will need something called party affiliation. This simply means associating yourself with one of the existing political parties and promising to do things consistent with that party's values, although this is meaningless since you won't keep a single promise anyway - your efforts will be pretty much the same as politicians in other parties, namely finagling money and power for yourself by striking deals with other slimeballs and gaining donations from idiots who believe your empty promises. There are many parties to choose from, but only two have enough members to make joining them worth your while: the Democratic party and the Republican party. Let's look at each briefly.
You can say what you want about the Democratic party (motto: "Expounding empty platitudes since 1786"). You can say that they are gay, atheistic, flag-burning, dope-smoking, Communist adulterers who hate anything that exposes them for the frauds that they are. You can say that their favoritism of the lazy and the incompetent in the name of equality has lowered standards and destroyed the work ethic. You can say that their throwing our hard-earned tax dollars at problems has only created yet more misery. And you know what? You'd be right. But joining this party would make people believe that you're compassionate, that you won't screw them the way all other politicians before you - including the Democratic ones - have done. Democratic party affiliation enabled President Bill Clinton to do drugs, dodge the draft, cheat on Hillary, lie about all of it, and remain in office. It also enabled Senator Ted Kennedy to commit vehicular manslaughter and get away with it. By the way, the Democrats are considering changing their emblem from a jackass to a condom because, like a Democrat, a condom is dispensable, stands for inflation, halts production, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives one a false sense of security while being screwed.
The Republican party (motto: "Fighting for your right to shoot people") exists at the other end of the political spectrum, except for the fact that its members are out to screw you just as badly as the Democrats are. Republicans tend to be stodgy, paranoid, closed-minded, gun-owning, God-fearing, pro-military homophobes who like to keep things the way they were in their fathers' generation. Joining this party would make the public view you as a rich, greedy racist, but that image won't hurt you in the least since so many people are Republicans and many of them will always vote the party line even if the Democratic opponent is Elvis.
So you see that even if you are the most hypocritical, dishonest scuzzball your hometown has ever seen, you can succeed in politics. In fact, your criminal demeanor will make you even more likely to succeed than any of your neighbors. As long as you put on a suit and wave a major party banner, ignorant citizens will vote you into office so you can collect years or perhaps decades of large salaries and graft while riding around in your Lexus and having sex with prostitutes. If you're lucky, you'll eventually rise to a position in Congress (the way fat rises to the top of chicken soup) where you can use your power to do helpful things for society such as allowing corporations to pollute the environment and keeping the minimum wage down. You know, it's a good thing that we keep giving Congress pay raises - otherwise the money would go to those undeserving teachers and firefighters.
A church and a synagogue want to raise some money, so they decide to hold a tennis match between the best tennis player from each of the two religions. The priest of the church wants to win, so he calls Jimmy Connors and asks him to come to his church and become a priest. Connors accepts. The day before the match, Connors is being interviewed by the press. One of the reporters says, "Well, Father Connors, it looks like you should win this match easily." Connors replies, "I don't know. I hear that Rabbi McEnroe is pretty good."
Companies selling everything from cosmetics to vacation packages put together all sorts of advertisements designed to make their product or service appear much more fun, healthful, tasty or dependable than it really is. They bombard newspapers, magazines and television with smiling actors, professional photography, and/or celebrities who look right at the camera and lie to you about how great they think the product is, as though they have ever used it.
Which brings us to a surefire way to make a lot of money through advertising: become a professional athlete. Okay, there might be a few small obstacles in your way, such as you have neither the genetics nor the time to build the necessary skills, speed and strength, but these can be easily overcome by quitting your job and taking steroids. Okay, once you reach professional status, you are in a position to make lots of money. No, I don't mean the measly six- or seven-figure salary you'll receive for playing your sport; I'm referring to the commercials you can do for Nike or Oldsmobile or Sprint that will net you enough cash to start your own country. For instance, in 1999, Tiger Woods made 40 million dollars from endorsements -- more than four times what he made playing golf. You don't even need any acting abilities. I remember a commercial for a soft drink (which shall remain nameless because they're all pretty much the same). The company used a popular professional baseball player (who shall also remain nameless, and for the same reason) to grab people's attention. It was obvious that this guy could not speak in complete sentences. They showed his face and had him hold a can of the product while music played and unknown, small-time actors danced around him. At the end of the commercial he, with obvious difficulty, managed to pronounce the name of the product (probably on the 11th take). Even though the appearance of the known person has nothing to do with the drink's flavor or nutrition, people are nevertheless more inclined to buy it because they saw him endorse it. This is just one example of how a lot of people are blithering idiots and how you can cash in on it.
Another way to use the media to your advantage is to become a reporter. Many people's lives are so empty that they use the news as a companion and/or entertainment, rather than as a mere source of information. They also read National Enquirer, Globe, Star, and other trash publications that slander people in every issue. You can use the misery of the masses to help you develop a successful career by doing speculative reports that spread rumors and thereby catch the interest of the contemptible public who will grasp at anything in order to add excitement to their pathetic lives. The Number One concept to remember is that most people, possibly including you, are shallow, ignorant fools. They will always prefer a juicy tragic story to anything positive. Therefore, whenever you're reporting about anyone, especially a public figure, always make up vicious lies, no matter how honest or innocent the person in question is. This is a perfect opportunity to use your imagination to fabricate stories about their integrity and/or sexual orientation. Think of the sensationalism, the hysteria, the selfish benefit to your twisted career! So what if you ruined the reputation of a benevolent person who does not deserve to have their name dragged through the mud? You got a few minutes of the public's attention and a $50 bonus!
So you have some spare cash. Now what? The warm fuzzy feeling you get from knowing you have money to burn lasts only a short while. Eventually it will have to be used for something in order to bring you enjoyment.
There are different attitudes about money. Some people are very tight with it, spending as little as possible and keeping most of it in reserve in case of emergency or for later use or as an emotional pacifier. Losing some of it upsets them as though it were life itself. Other people live for the moment, spending money as soon as they get it, often living paycheck to paycheck and having no reserves with which to buy a house or cover an emergency root canal. Either end of the spectrum can be unpleasant. The key to spending in such a way as to maximize happiness is to stay away from extremes, to spend wisely, to neither hoard nor squander.
Life is expensive. But it doesn't end there. Death is expensive too. Go price cemetery plots, headstones, caskets and embalming, and you won't believe what they charge you to dispose of a carcass. Why is it so expensive? Because people in the "death industry" prey upon us when we are at our weakest. Funeral directors love it when you walk in all upset about the death of a family member, because you are too distraught to think clearly and you can be guilted into paying more than you should for anyone's final expenses. For example, there's the casket. Any material that can hold a human body for a few days will suffice. You could use a very large Tupperware container or cardboard box. Hell, you could wrap the body in a tarp for that matter. But there would be little profit in that. Agents of death want you to buy elaborate oak, mahogany or copper caskets that cost thousands of dollars apiece. There are cheaper models made out of pine, but they discourage such "welfare coffins" by making you think that anyone who wouldn't spend a sizable portion of their retirement money on a casket must not have loved the deceased very much. Many people have bought into this idea that a lot of money must be spent on a pretty casket, and they actually feel offended if you skimp on it, as though it's somehow an insult to the deceased. ("How dare you bury Fred in a pine box! What kind of cheap, insensitive bastard are you?") The nicer casket is merely for show, so the folks at the funeral have something pretty to look at - it in no way reflects the feelings you have for the person who passed away. Another rationale that funeral directors give for a more expensive casket is that the higher-priced materials preserve the body longer, as though that will do anyone any good. What, it'll take longer for the body to decompose? Fine, then it'll suffer longer. Then they try to add extras in order to suck more lifeblood out of you. Did you know that you can buy a warranty for a casket? For just a few hundred bucks more, they'll guarantee that the casket will remain intact for 50, 75, even 100 years (the longer the warranty, the more you pay). Okay, assuming for a moment that prolonging the decomposition of the box is the least bit desirable, how would you know whether it remained intact for the life of the warranty? Who is going to dig it up every year to check? They also sell casket liners as another way of supposedly preserving the body while taking more money from you. Then there are soft, pillowy pads that you can buy to rest your deceased relative on for his "eternal comfort" in the coffin. Am I the only one who realizes that the person is dead, that he is not conscious, and that you could throw him on a compost heap and it wouldn't matter? The funeral racket thrives because people don't want to face death. They hold onto the ludicrous idea that the lifeless carcass that used to be their kin must be treated as though it were still alive. Which brings us to another form of expense: embalming. The cadaver's blood is drained and replaced with a fluid that slows decomposition. The corpse is then dressed in "burial clothes", its hair is combed and make-up is applied so that people can view it at the funeral home and say, "Doesn't Fred look nice?" What a crock of shit. When I die, I don't want anyone going through the trouble of providing a typical funeral with an ornate casket and a service where everyone feels obligated to remain quiet. I want people to party and dance around my mortal coil and say things like "Ben was a great guy" and "He sure owed me a lot of money."
Anyway, let's return to life. One very popular way to spend money is to eat at restaurants. We have many types of cuisine to choose from: Chinese, French, Italian, Kosher, Indian, Mexican, and grease shacks like diners and McDonald's. There are all levels of quality, and of course price ranges to match. You wouldn't believe the prices at some eating establishments. You practically have to take out a second mortgage to eat there. A piece of steak can be $45; a potato is $6 extra. If you want lobster, you have to sell a kidney. If you bring your family or even just a date there, get ready to blow an entire paycheck on valet parking, food, beverages, dessert, coffee and gratuity. Also the $950 in citations you'll receive in the mail because, during your meal, the valet attendant took your vehicle for a joyride and committed nineteen traffic light violations in a Red Light Camera district.
Some folks buy art. I don't even know where to begin ridiculing this. They spend hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars on sculptures of animals or naked people, or abstract paintings that just dare you to figure out what they're supposed to be. I don't know what goes on inside artists' heads, but it absolutely floors me that other human beings actually pay money for their distorted works of abstraction. Only a few artists make good money, and this is as it should be. The term "starving artist" is very appropriate. In fact, any sentence containing the latter word should be required, by law, to contain the former. I've been to art galleries that display nothing but primitive mixtures of paint which look like they were donated by a local elementary school's second grade class. Folks wander through the halls and look pensively at this refrigerator material, perhaps trying to deduce what the artists are saying. Meanwhile the "art" looks back and mocks them. If you were to put your ear right up to a painting and listen very carefully, you'd hear it say, "Hey, loser - get a life! This world is full of beautiful mountains, forests and beaches, and yet here you are, looking at random patterns that some charlatan has successfully pawned off as art! You have chopped liver for brains!" Probably the greatest tragedy about art galleries is that they are a colossal waste of space. Every city has large art galleries, and it is my contention that these buildings could be better put to use as homeless shelters, breweries or brothels.
Going to the movies has become a not-so-cheap undertaking. We've all had older people tell us how they used to be able to see a movie for a dollar, or a quarter, but remember that back then the most high-tech movies featured spaceships that were nothing more than paper plates and fishing line. Nowadays there are cutting-edge computer-generated special effects, realistic make-up, spectacular cinematography and breast implants that have greatly increased the cost of making a movie. Theaters have upgraded too, with multi-speaker "surround sound" and stadium seating. Guess who pays for all of this. That's right: you. The average adult ticket price is over $7 for an evening show, and even kids can cost $5. Plus it costs $4.50 for eighteen cents worth of popcorn. A family can spend more on a movie than on dinner. It's gotten to the point where the middle class actually has to factor going to the movies into their budget. For example:
|Child:||"Dad, can we go see Honey I Shrunk the Dog?"|
|Father:||"Sure we can. You just can't go to college."|
Is it any wonder that a lot of folks forgo the theater and rent something instead? Think about it: a $3 rental for a family of four works out to 75 cents apiece. You eat reasonably-priced food during the movie. Only one person has to drive to the video store and wait in line. No strangers make noise or sit in front of you. You can pause the movie for bathroom breaks. You can rewind for lines you missed or scenes you'd like to see again. You can watch the whole movie twice in a row. You can borrow a friend's VCR and make a copy of the movie to keep. (But that would be illegal. Note that I am not advocating this behavior - I'm merely reporting what some people have done. Not me of course...)
Don't be tricked into seeing a movie just because of the previews. In order to entice viewers, a "trailer" is made which contains most of the good parts. This is what you see on television promos, so you get hit with a lot of action or comedy in just 30 seconds. It overwhelms you and piques your interest because you figure that if just half a minute was that good, then the movie must be phenomenal. Well, it isn't. The ad you saw contained just about everything you'd care to see, condensed into a very short time span. When you go see the actual movie, all that excitement will be spread out over the course of two hours, resulting in a less exciting experience than you had hoped for.
Clothing is pretty popular. In fact, it's a legal requirement that you cover up certain parts of your body in public. Clothing is functional: it keeps you warm and protects you from cuts, scrapes and sunburn. I have found that the best clothing is the cheapest: T-shirts, shorts and sweats, which are comfortable and functional. I didn't pay a cent for half my wardrobe - most of it is stuff that people threw away or bought for me, and T-shirts that I was given for working at beer festivals. Most people, on the other hand, feel compelled to go out of their way to pay good money for "fashionable" clothing, much of which is less comfortable and less functional than cheaper items. Furthermore, since nice clothes cost more, people are more worried about staining or tearing them and have a greater negative reaction when they do. I'm not going to criticize the emotional weakness of those who conform to fashion - I already did that in chapter 21 of Religion, Philosophy, and Other Crap - but I would like to at least attempt to shed some light on the fashion illusion so that you can understand my point of view and realize that I'm not simply rebelling for the sake of rebelling. Sometimes, when a customer is clothes shopping, a store employee will tell her, "This is what they're wearing this year." Is that so? Who is this "they" to which the employee is referring? How many other people are walking around wearing this particular kind of apparel? Before this clothing item was concocted, it didn't exist, so no one was wearing it. Who was the first person to buy and wear it? How did the fashion industry get this person to buy it? They certainly couldn't have truthfully said, "This is what they're wearing this year", because nobody was wearing it. Well, nobody outside the fashion industry, that is. In order to drum up business, fashion designers are constantly holding pageants wherein they hire anorexic models to parade around in the latest outfits, most of which are laughable configurations of silk, leather and other materials wrapped around the models' shoulders, breasts and/or hips in an attempt to appear sleek, sexy, stylish or "sassy". These women are clothed more for a science fiction movie than a public appearance. Some of them look like prostitutes, only with less clothing. Pictures of these "fashion statements" appear as full-page magazine ads, and some corporations go to the expense of running commercials on television that show their models strutting around with expressionless faces that seem to say, "Look at me. No woman will ever be as beautiful as I am. No man will ever have me." Wise people won't be fooled by this display, because they'll recognize it as the bullshit that it is. However, the hype does convince some people that the apparel they're looking at is "in" and that if they wear it then others will think more highly of them. So they go out and buy the ridiculously-overpriced clothing in the belief that lots of "with it" people (who they've never seen but who they assume are "out there") are wearing the same sort of thing. They willingly enslave themselves to fashion for the uncreative safety that comes with conformity.
I don't know why I pick on fashion so much. After all, people buy more expensive and less practical models of other types of commodities for the sake of conformity or making an impression. For example, automobiles. Why does a rich person buy a Rolls Royce? Does it handle or accelerate exceptionally well? Does it fit in normal-sized parking spaces? And how about Lamborghinis? Does it make sense to drive a car that can go 180 miles per hour when the speed limit is 55? Some say that when a man buys a sports car he's just trying to pick up women, that his new toy is just a $90,000 penis extender. I don't know, maybe I'm just rationalizing that I don't want these items because I can't afford them. Maybe if I were to become rich I would drive around in a Rolls while smoking Cuban cigars and wearing a halter top that I saw in a Ralph Lauren commercial. As it is, the cost of my vehicles has gone up with my income. My first car was a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass that had been sitting in my father's back yard growing moss. He had it towed out and fixed up just enough to get it running, and gave it to me as a college graduation present in 1984. I loved that car. It was big and roomy and comfortable, and too old and ugly to be a target for thieves. It had rust holes clear through the body, which I covered with bumper stickers. In fact, I took the idea to the extreme, covering everything but the roof with about 250 different bumper stickers and gluing a "Mohawk" carpet strip to the roof. I especially liked riding in the hot weather, the windows rolled down, shirt off, drinking nonalcoholic beer and tossing the cans in the back seat. People were always staring at my artwork, smiling, laughing and making comments at stoplights. It was a sad day when I sold the Olds for a mere $200 and replaced it with a $6000 used Volvo because my father insisted that it was "such a good deal". He did not live to see what an expensive, problematic vehicle that Swedish money sucker turned out to be. It finally died on the highway, late at night in January of 1994, leaving me stranded in 15-degree weather. I subsequently bought my first new car: a $10,000 Nissan Sentra, the smallest car I have ever owned, in which I was fortunate never to have been in an accident because it would probably have offered about as much protection as a cardboard box. Now I own a $26,000 minivan, complete with removable seats and dual sliding doors, in which I transport a wife and two kids with the windows up and the A/C on in hot weather. Oh God, somebody please kill me.
Hobbies are a good way to nurture your creativity. You can make pottery, sew quilts, brew beer or wine, keep a garden, dance, or play an instrument. Most hobbies are not too expensive - they require only certain materials, clothing and/or tools. There tends to be an inverse relationship between creativity and cost. That is, the less creative the hobby, the more expensive it is. Take boating for example: it is nothing more than riding about on water. The only thing about boating that is even remotely creative is thinking up a name to paint on the stern (e.g. "Buoyfriend"). Boaters tend to be the sort of folks who aren't satisfied merely annoying us on land with their big and noisy pickup trucks; they have to rule the water too, burning ungodly amounts of fuel and polluting the environment in the process. They pay a lot of money for this testosterone boost. A boat can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If it's kept on land, a trailer is needed to haul it around; if it's kept in water, docking fees must be paid. Gas mileage is very poor, resulting in fairly high energy costs. It needs repairs and cleaning. The upkeep can be so expensive that one can't afford to use his own boat. A guy two doors down from where I used to live owns a boat that has been sitting in the same place in the street since I moved there in 1993. He'll occasionally start it up, or sit in it and talk to neighbors, but the only time the damn thing gets wet is when it rains.
Sports are like hobbies in that you burn creative energy and express yourself. Some sports are relatively inexpensive, such as soccer, wrestling and basketball. However, some sports are expensive because they require costly equipment, travel, and/or the use of special facilities, e.g. equestrian, golf and skiing. I played some golf in my youth (because my father forced me to) and it didn't seem cost-effective. First of all, it wasn't very cardiovascular exercise. Second, although a hobby should relieve stress, golf often created it: many players would swear and/or throw clubs when they made a bad shot. And finally, the greens fees and lost balls made it an expensive way to spend a hot, sweaty, stressful day. I stopped playing golf when I was a teenager, and I have played exactly once in the past 20 years. Why would I want to take a ball, hit it, curse it and chase after it? I already do that to my kids.
Computers get faster and more spacious every year. Why do average consumers feel the need to have the biggest and fastest? All they do for the most part is send jokes and occasional images of cartoons or naked women to each other. Even if they do need speed (for example, when they download porn), the limiting factor is often their modem, not their processor. And how many images do people need to store? Anyone who stores 50 gigs of stuff is never going to look at 95% of it ever again. It's like when someone has thousands of books on his bookshelves. Sure, he might have read each book once, but does he then have to store every single one of them in his home? I mean, how many of them will he ever open again? Anyway, if you already have a decent computer, it will serve your personal needs quite well until it dies, no matter how high-tech the rest of the world gets. My advice is to not allow yourself to get sucked into the "bigger + faster = better" mindset. Save your money for more important things, like maybe three extra beer fridges.
One very expensive commodity is an in-ground swimming pool. I've never understood why anyone would pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a huge hole dug in their yard, and then go through the trouble of periodically cleaning it and dumping chemicals in it. It'd be way cheaper and much less hassle to simply pay a few hundred dollars a year to join a community pool. Of course, if you do that, you have to abide by their rules. One time when I was swimming at my community pool, the lifeguard told me to leave merely because I peed in it. I said, "A lot of people pee in the pool." He said, "Not from the diving board."
I bought one of those fake rocks that you hide your house key under. I think it's a waste. All it does is make a big lump under the doormat.
You've probably heard people say, "Buy a house - you need the tax break." This is sheer lunacy. First of all, if you buy a house, it should be because you want one, not merely to get some money back from the IRS. Second, the only reason you get a tax break is that you pay mortgage interest. You must pay about three dollars in interest for every dollar you'll see in the form of a tax break. So it's no "break" at all.
Let's say you're paying $800 per month in rent. During a wild party that you're throwing because you're only renting and you don't care how badly the place gets trashed, one of your moron friends says, "Hey Bob," (which shows what a moron he is because your name isn't Bob), "you should buy a house. You need the tax break." Like an idiot you listen to him, and the following week you decide to look for your own home.
So where do you look? Newspapers, magazines and the Internet are littered with real estate ads. They are very similar to personal ads in that they use several abbreviations and a plethora of superlatives in order to make their wares appear more attractive than they really are. First let's learn what some of the different abbreviations mean.
Now let's look at the meanings of those great-sounding phrases.
|Willing to sacrifice||For sale|
|Transferred, must sell||For sale|
|Wooded||Tree in front of house|
|Landscaped||Has a bush on the lawn|
|Beautifully landscaped||Two bushes out front and one on the side|
|Secluded||Out in the boondocks|
|30 mins from downtown||Out beyond the boondocks|
|Upgraded||We put a TV antenna on the roof|
|Intimate||Snow White might fit, but five of the dwarfs would have to find their own place|
|Unique city home||Used to be a warehouse|
|Stable structure||Still is a warehouse|
|One of a kind||Ugly as sin|
|Upper bracket||If you have to ask...|
|2½ bath||Includes the birdbath out back|
|Detached garage||Became detached during the last hurricane|
Beware of ads that do not state a price. If they don't tell you how much money they want, then you cannot afford what they're selling. For example:
|Landscaped, secluded, exclusive, 8 BR, 5 BA colonial. Stable structure. Kit, ldry, 2 c ga, DR, fncd yd, I gta mv cz I gt 3 kds n collg & a hsbd n jl. Affordable*.|
* If you're the Sultan of Brunei
Before continuing we need to learn a new term. Listing a property means adding it to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is a database of property that is for sale.
Most for-sale places are listed by a real estate agent (also referred to as a property whore); while some places are "for sale by owner", which simply means that the owner (seller) is not using a real estate agent. If a seller gets his property listed, he greatly increases his chance of finding a buyer since all agents have access to the MLS, which means that thousands of them can make the property known to potential buyers. He pays a sales commission when the place is sold, usually about 6 percent of the purchase price of the property (3 percent for the agent who listed it and 3 percent for the agent who actually found the buyer). Sellers who don't get their property listed save the commission but also have a tougher time selling the place. This usually doesn't save the buyer (you) any money because it doesn't affect the price of the home (unless difficulty selling it causes the owner to reduce the price). On the up side, the absence of an agent means that there is no pushy salesperson trying to convince you to buy so that she can get her commission - you deal directly with the owner.
It is usually to your benefit to ask a property whore -- I mean, an agent -- to help you find a home. First of all, it costs you nothing: the seller still pays the commission. Second, your agent will work hard for you because her incentive is that if she leads you to a place that you end up buying, then she gets a several-thousand-dollar commission. Third, she has access to the MLS, and if you give her your desired parameters such as type of home (single family, townhouse, condominium), price range, geographical location and minimum land acreage, she merely has to type them in, and within minutes you have the addresses of all the places that might be a good match (of course, this information is available on the Web and anyone with eyes and hands can find it, which just goes to show that a real estate agent doesn't have to be particularly bright). She will then, if you wish, drive you to each one so you can look at them. Even if you try to find a home without the aid of an agent, you might end up having to deal with one anyway because listed homes are almost always shown by agents, not by the sellers (after all, agents should have to do something to earn their money). Every place you visit will be "just perfect for you" and "a great deal", because your agent has only "your best interests" in mind and doesn't care one bit about her "commission". If she is aware of "problems" such as "leaky pipes" or "structural damage", she will "forget" to tell you. The most common form of diversion is to point to some minute flaw, say, a three-inch strip of wallpaper that has barely started to separate from the wall, apologize profusely about it and promise to get it "repaired" (as though it will require anything more than Elmer's glue). The intent is to make it appear as though she wouldn't even think about selling you a home with real problems, since she is so caring and responsible as to reveal and fix even the tiniest imperfection.
Before going further I'd like to mention inspections. When a home is sold, it is standard practice that inspectors check it for termites, structural damage, etc, so that the buyer doesn't get stuck with problems that he didn't bargain for. The thing is, very few problems can be detected because inspections are merely visual. No normal inspector cuts through walls to look at every individual stud or tears shingles off the roof to look for water damage or digs up the yard to check for termite tunnels. All that happens is that some guy walks through the place and says, "Looks okay to me." I know from experience. When I bought my first house, a "professional" certified it to be termite-free, and just over a month after moving in I had a termite tunnel inside my bedroom, right there on the wall like modern art and growing upward a few inches per day like a young tree. There's no way the termites could have infiltrated that quickly unless they had already been in the foundation when the "inspection" was done.
Okay, so you've found a place you'd like to buy. Let's say it costs $225,000. (Obviously it will be more or less than that. Hopefully less.) All you have to do is write a check for -- what's that? You don't have that kind of money lying around? Well, you're gonna have to go to a lending institution (usually a bank) and get a loan. In order to do this, you have to "qualify". That is, you must have enough income and a good enough credit history to be approved for the size loan you'll need for the kind of home you want. For example, if you're a Mafia kingpin, you can easily borrow enough money for a large mansion with a swimming pool and servants. (Then again, a Mafia kingpin will have enough cash to buy just about any place outright, so qualifying for a loan is not an issue for him.) However, if you're like the other 99.999 percent of the population, you'll have to settle for something less. For example, a middle class couple can usually afford a fairly nice, moderate-sized home in a decent neighborhood; a less well-to-do family might only be able to afford a small, one-bedroom place in a neighborhood where the number of vehicles that are burned out, dismantled or up on blocks is greater than the number that actually work. Anyway, the lender will ask you to fill out some forms, during which you will reveal personal information such as any outstanding debts, place of employment, salary, and the ages of your children (in case the lender has to keep one of them for collateral). You tell the people at the lending institution how much you want to borrow, and if your income and credit history make you qualify, they agree to lend it to you provided that you pay them back with interest. Since most banks that lend money are paying 1 or 2 percent interest on checking accounts, it would be fair and reasonable for them to charge about that amount for loans. Ha! That's a good one! You'll be lucky to get a loan for under 6%. Not only that, they often charge something called "points" right up front. A point is one percent of the loan amount, payable as an added fee at the time the loan is given. You might have to pay half a point, a point or two, or perhaps none at all. The word "point" usually refers to something good (as in, "The soccer player scored a point"), but not in this case. Lenders use this benevolent-sounding word in order to distract you from the fact that they're taking money from you. Why do lenders charge points? Because they can! You need a loan and they've got you over a barrel, so grab the K-Y because you're gonna need it.
When it comes time to sign all the papers necessary to transfer ownership of the property (called settlement or closing), you are required to pay something called "closing costs". These are thousands of dollars in fees that lawyers, inspectors, the county and the state all receive merely because ownership of a piece of property changes. Nothing is produced (since the home already exists), and yet people come out of the woodwork to take money from you for things like title searches, appraisal fees, inspection fees, taxes, etc. (If the seller uses an agent, he gets reamed even worse than the buyer because of the 6-percent sales commission.) Often the buyer and seller agree to split the closing costs, and this forms a temporary bond of common hatred toward all the moneygrubbers who have no business sticking their noses into what should be a private transaction wherein the buyer gives the seller the agreed-upon price and the seller hands the buyer the keys.
Now let's compare the finances of buying property to renting. You can, if you wish, pay a percentage of the property's value as a down payment. Let's assume that you pay $25,000 down on your $225,000 home (this assumes that you have 25 grand to spend) in addition to about $5,000 in closing costs and/or points. Therefore you will need a $200,000 loan. Assuming that you get an interest rate of 6% and a 30-year mortgage, your monthly payments will be about $1200. At the beginning, $1000 of that monthly payment will be interest, and only $200 will go toward principal (the portion that diminishes the loan balance). As time goes by, a smaller percentage will be needed for interest and a higher percentage will go toward principal, but it will be more than 18 years before the latter exceeds the former. The $1000 per month interest is deductible if you itemize deductions, which will result in about $280 of it coming back to you in federal tax break, so that your net monthly cost is $1200 - $280 = $920. If you live in a state that lets you deduct mortgage interest, you'll get roughly another $60 back in state/local tax break, making your net cost $860 per month. So not only have you spent about $30,000 in down payment, closing costs and/or points (money that you could have used to buy a new car if you were still renting), it's costing you more per month than the $800 you used to pay in rent. And this doesn't even take into consideration extra expenses such as fire insurance, incidental repairs and yearly property taxes - things that your landlord used to pay. Furthermore, your monthly mortgage expense will actually increase because as the portion of your monthly payment that is interest diminishes, you will have that much less to write off on your taxes.
If owning a home costs more than renting, then why do so many people buy? One reason is equity. Equity is the portion of the property value which is yours. Using our example, for the first two years you would build up an average of about $210 equity (principal) per month, meaning that if you were to sell the property after two years for the same price you paid for it, you would get back your down payment plus about $210 X 24 months = $5040. The rest of the money you get from the buyer would go to the lending bank in order to pay off the remaining balance of your loan. You and/or the buyer would also pay closing costs. Unless you can sell your home for substantially more than you paid for it, selling it within just a few years of buying it is usually unprofitable because closing costs, loan points and/or sales commission will cost you more than the amount you gain in equity during that time.
Another reason that people own rather than rent is that it's nice to have a place of your own, where you can make it the way you want it and not have some landlord getting on your case about the beer cans strewn in the yard or the satanic message written on your living room wall in blood. Being a homeowner can thus give you peace of mind. However, if you plan to sell it someday, do not fret about how what you do to it will affect the resale value, because if you do then you will never have the peace of mind that should accompany owning your own place; rather, you'll worry about decreasing its resale value every time you hammer a nail into a wall.
Our above example uses a 30-year mortgage, but there are other mortgage terms. The two most popular are 15-year and 30-year. My uncommon sense has always told me that if you pay off your loan in 15 years, you'll save a bundle of money over a 30-year mortgage. Numerous sources claim otherwise, saying that although you will pay more in the long run for a 30-year mortgage, it frees up some of your money (since your monthly payments are lower) to invest in other things and come out ahead overall. Well, they're right, but only if the free money you invest earns more than the mortgage interest rate.
Let's take a concrete example. Using the same numbers as above, we'll assume a $200,000 loan at 6% interest starting in the year 2003. A 15-year mortgage would have monthly payments of $1687, whereas for a 30-year mortgage the monthly payments would be $1200. (For the purpose of simplicity, we are disregarding any tax break.)
Now let's look at what you could do with your remaining money over a 30-year period. After the 15-year mortgage has been paid off in 2018, you can invest $1687 per month (the amount you used to pay in monthly mortgage payments) for the next 15 years. At a bank interest of 2%, you would have about $354,000 in the year 2033. As for the 30-year mortgage, the $1200 monthly payment frees up $487 ($1687 minus $1200) per month for investing for 30 years starting in 2003. At 2% bank interest, you'd have about $240,000 in the year 2033. So with the 30-year mortgage, you'd be $114,000 ($354,000 minus $240,000) poorer.
But, as I mentioned, a 30-year mortgage can be more lucrative if you invest your remaining money in something that beats your mortgage rate. For example, investing $1687 per month for 15 years at 12% after paying off the 15-year loan would yield about $851,000. The 30-year loan allows you to invest $487 per month for 30 years at 12%, and that would grow to about $1,720,000 which would make you $869,000 ($1,720,000 minus $851,000) richer.
Understand all this? No? Well, don't worry - it doesn't matter, because the best way to save money on a house is not to get caught up in interest rates and loan terms, but to buy a place that is within your budget. A $150,000 house is much more affordable than a $300,000 house even if you pay a little more interest on the former. The thing that makes most people "house poor" is that they stretch their budget to the limit. That is, they buy the absolutely most expensive house they can afford, so they have to live on a tight budget in order to be able to pay the mortgage, utilities and property taxes. A lot of people simply refuse to live comfortably within their means: they must have 4 bedrooms, or a garage, or 3000 square feet of living space, even if it means that they have to eat dog food. If they would just purchase a less expensive home, they would be able to afford family dinner at a restaurant a few times a month. In some cases, cutting down on the amount of land rather than house size can save a good deal of money. I can't understand people who buy several acres of bulldozed land - it gives them a huge lawn that takes hours on a riding mower to cut. A half-acre yard is plenty big for having cookouts and for kids and pets to play in; anything more than that is just an unnecessary expense and a nuisance to keep manicured. Furthermore, the demand for oversized lawns is killing our precious trees. However, people don't seem to care. As long as they can enjoy the luxury of satellite television and video games, they don't concern themselves with the state of the environment. This attitude is very prevalent. For example, Rush Limbaugh has said, "The most beautiful thing about a tree is what you do with it after you cut it down." Yeah, there's a public figure we can be proud of.
Selling your home is a pain in the ass. First of all, you have to "pretty it up" in order to make it look attractive to buyers. Dirty walls, old carpeting or a musty smell can turn off prospects. Usually it is best to spackle all the holes and paint the walls, replace old or worn carpeting, caulk the tub if necessary, and give the place a good cleaning. A few hundred dollars (or a few thousand if new carpeting is needed) and a lot of elbow grease can make all the difference between selling your house in a few weeks and waiting several months for a buyer, or between getting your asking price and settling for several thousand less.
After you've made the place look great, you have to make it known to people who are in the market to buy a house. Most sellers go through a real estate agent and get their house listed. (You cannot do this yourself. Only people in the real estate business are allowed to list a house in the MLS. What a fucking racket.) This maximizes exposure (millions of people can search the MLS), but also generally costs 6 percent of the property's value. For those of you who went to public school, here's a simple example which will illustrate just how much this can cost. Let's say you sell your house for $250,000. That means that you will pay (0.06 X $250,000) = $15,000 in sales commission. Is this acceptable to you? I didn't think so.
Another option is to attract potential buyers yourself by advertising in places such as the local newspaper, Pennysaver or the Internet. It might also help to post a big "For Sale By Owner" sign in front of your home with your phone number on it and an "info tube" underneath with printed information about the property. Then the calls will start coming in. Unfortunately several of them will be from real estate agents. They know damn well that you want nothing to do with them - that's why you're advertising your home yourself - and yet they will still call you. Why? Because they're shameless vultures that descend upon hard-working citizens who just want to sell their property without incurring a lot of expense. Many people in the real estate business are one step below car salesmen (at least car salesmen wait for you to come to them before they rip you off), and deserve the same amount of ridicule and contempt. They will approach you in hopes that you will do the very thing you are trying to avoid, i.e. pay them lots of money to help you sell your property, which involves very little work on their part since merely typing the information into a computer gets the house listed in the MLS. Then the listing agent can make an easy 3 percent of your property's value when some other agent sells it. All agents know that their competitors are vying for your business, so many of them will lie to you in order to trick you into selecting them as your agent. For example, they'll claim to be the "Number One agent in the area." Oh really? In what area? Their cubicle? They can't all be Number One in the same county or city. Sounds to me like they're full of Number Two.
The tortoise and the hare had a race. The hare knew that he was much faster than the tortoise. He ran ahead and, thinking he was a cinch to win, took a nap. Eventually the tortoise passed him while he was sleeping and won the race.
Same story. However, when the hare wakes up and realizes that he has lost, he files a lawsuit against the tortoise, claiming that the tortoise took unfair advantage of him. He gains an interview with 60 Minutes and tells the nation that he has been denied his right to get ahead regardless of how he lives his life. This sparks a deluge of anti-tortoise protests. The hare eventually wins his frivolous case because his lawyer, Johnny Cochran, does such a good job feigning outrage. The tortoise is unable to come up with the $5 million settlement, and the government forces him to give up his shell as partial payment. The hare and his wife move out of their hole in the ground and into the shell, but they soon outgrow it because they multiply like rabbits.
This country offers many ways to make money. Unfortunately not all of them involve hard work or wise investing; many are illegal and/or immoral.
One easy way to make money is to steal it. This method has been successfully used by well-known figures such as Jesse James, Bonnie & Clyde, and the IRS. Why spend 40 to 80 hours per week breaking your back for some CEO who gets rich off your sweat and underpays you for your efforts? I'll tell you why: because theft is illegal. A life of crime will put you on easy street for a while, but you might eventually get caught, fined and/or put in jail. Even if you don't get caught, do you want to live your life concerned that at any moment the cops might come to your door to arrest you? Wouldn't you rather be able to live and walk the streets with peace of mind? By remaining an honest, law-abiding citizen, you will never have to hide from anyone. Unless you get married.
Crime seems to pay more than ever because criminals are treated as though they deserve the same rights as those of us who obey the law. Not only do they get released with short sentences or probation, they are actually allowed to sue the people they rob. Numerous personal injury cases have been won by burglars who injured themselves in the process of breaking into people's homes, for example, falling through a victim's skylight. The "rationale" used by judges and lawyers is that when you install a skylight, it is an "assumed risk". What I want to know is, what do they call walking on someone's roof? Isn't that an assumed risk? Isn't it universally known that you have no business walking on anyone's roof without their permission?
Statistics show that the vast majority of theft - and crime in general - is committed by men. Perhaps this planet would be a better place if men did not exist. Imagine a world without men: no guns, no violence, and lots of happy fat women. Sure, the proportion of bad drivers would increase, but people would not react with road rage. Certain things would never have been invented, such as football and the remote control, but no one would miss them. Every home would have curtains. Stocks such as Nestlé and Hershey would skyrocket. Home Economics would become a college major. People would communicate more. There would be no military, and the entire planet would live together in pe-
I've strayed from the subject. Let's look at a few other immoral and illegal ways of obtaining material wealth.
We live in the most litigious society in the world. It seems that everyone will sue anyone if there's a fast buck to be made, with no regard for fairness or decency. People stupidly hurt themselves and then sue companies as though it's the manufacturers' fault. One case involved a man who placed a ladder in a pile of dogshit and injured himself when he climbed it and it slipped. He won his case on the grounds that the company did not put a warning on its product ("WARNING: Do not place this ladder in dog poop!"). Whatever happened to common sense? Remember that? For those of you who might have forgotten, common sense is the ancient belief that you control your own life and that you don't do stupid things that will hurt you. You can hurt yourself with a pillow if you're careless enough. Why does our legal system insist on shifting people's inherent responsibilities elsewhere? I know that lawyers do it for the money (usually 30 to 40 percent of a client's settlement amount), but how about jurors? Is there any economic incentive on their part? If not, then I'd like to know what they're smoking when they make their judgments.
Bankruptcy is a liberal democratic fabrication designed to allow deadbeats to legally avoid paying their debts. The way it works is you borrow a lot of money or buy expensive dinners and luxury vacations on credit, sign an agreement to pay back your creditors, and then say, "Fuck you." Thousands of people have grabbed this opportunity, running up very high credit card debts and then filing for bankruptcy. This is why credit card interest rates are so high - you and I end up paying off other people's debts. One of the very few debts you cannot get out of is taxes. An obvious question, then, would be: If you can't get off the hook from the IRS, then why can you stiff almost everyone else? There's no good reason. Bankruptcy laws weren't written with fairness in mind. Gone are the days of responsibility, living within your means, and debtor's prison. Abundant wealth has caused a lot of people to expect -- no, demand -- that they be able to have nice clothing, cable television, a car or two, air conditioning and other modern amenities whether or not they can afford them. They see other people living a certain lifestyle and they think that they are entitled to the same. Those other people earn their conveniences and creature comforts. If you can't afford something, then do without it.
If you're an Al Gore fan you might be thinking, "That's easy for you to say, Ben. You live in a house with carpeting and beer fridges. What about people who can't afford such luxury? Should they have to suffer with fast food, rent-controlled housing, and black-and-white TV merely because they have menial jobs or don't work?" Yes, Einstein, that's exactly what I'm saying. Even people who are "poor" by our standards live better than most people around the world. Millions of foreigners have to walk for miles to obtain water from a puddle, or live on a diet consisting of fewer than ten different foods, or sleep in tents, or suffer from physical ailments without medicine. Americans on welfare and in many prisons live better than that. So don't try to guilt us hard-working folks into feeling sorry for or giving money to people who don't pull their weight in our society. We already do that with Congress.
A man has lost most of his money at Las Vegas, and he's driving home feeling depressed. God speaks to him, saying, "Go back to Las Vegas." He figures this is a good omen, so he drives back to Las Vegas at 100 mph. God says, "Go into the Sands Hotel." He goes into the Sands Hotel. God says, "Take out a $3000 cash advance on your credit card." He gets the cash advance. God says, "Go to the roulette table and put $3000 on number 23." He bets the $3000 on number 23. Number 8 comes up and he loses. God says, "Shit!"
Some people say that they don't gamble, simply because they don't bet on horses or roll dice. The truth is that we all gamble. If you invest in the Stock Market, you gamble. If you buy a house, you gamble. If you drive a car, you gamble. If you get married, you gamble. We risk our health, our lives, our money and our property with every choice we make, and this danger spices up our otherwise humdrum existence so that all of us, with the possible exception of certified public accountants, live interesting lives.
A lot of people bet on horses. The way it works is you go to a horse track and look at a racing form, which contains vital statistics about each horse such as past performance, age, gender, breed, color, height, weight and salary. After absorbing this information in order to figure out who should win (called handicapping), you bet on the one with the cutest name (e.g. "Future Glue"). You then watch the race from the grandstand, which is defined as "a large, paved, smelly area filled with about a thousand fat, smoking lowlifes who spend their kids' college money at the track and whose lungs are so full of tar that their laugh is indistinguishable from an electric paint stripper". The horses run around an elliptical-shaped track. Each one carries a jockey, which is a person about the size of Gary Coleman who causes your horse to lose. Occasionally your horse might cross the finish line first, but when this happens one of the other jockeys will claim "foul". When that happens, officials review an instant replay of the race, where super-slow motion reveals that the jockey on your horse hit the 2nd place jockey over the head with a tire iron, so your horse is disqualified and your ticket is rendered more worthless than Billy Carter.
My dad used to take me to dog races. Dog racing is, in my opinion, more exciting and fun than horse racing, mainly because dogs come out of the starting gate faster than horses and they invariably knock each other over. They chase an artificial rabbit around the track, not because they're stupid, but because they're so starved beforehand that even plastic looks appetizing (the same reason people go to Denny's).
The odds on a dog or a horse are determined by the money that's bet. A favorite is one that a lot of people think will win, while a long shot is just the opposite. For example, a favorite might have 2-1 odds, meaning that if it wins, you win twice the amount you bet; while a long shot might have 10-1 or 20-1 odds, which can enable you to win many times your money. If you're a really good handicapper you can make money because you predict winners better than most other people. If you're just an average handicapper then you will lose in the long run because although you'll pick some winners, the odds are geared to keep about 20 percent of all the money that's bet. For example, if $1 is bet on a particular horse for every $10 that's bet, then the odds on that horse should be 9-1. However, the racetrack computer will adjust the odds down to 7-1, so that for every dollar bet on this winning horse, $8 will be paid out ($7 plus the $1 bet) rather than $10. So if you were to bet $2 each on 10 races ($20 total) and pick one winner that had the aforementioned odds, then although you should rightfully get back $20 ($18 for 9-1 odds, plus the $2 bet) and thereby break even, you will in fact get back only $16 ($14 for 7-1 odds, plus the $2 bet) and thereby lose $4 overall ($4 is 20 percent of $20).
You can bet on sporting events through either legal or illegal channels, and if you do I suggest using legal channels. It's bad enough to lose money or go into debt; it would be even worse to have large, burly men come to your home and break your legs.
Who hasn't at one time or another been dazzled by the glitter of a casino? The lights, the bells, the shiny metal - it mollifies us like a bunch of chromosomally-deficient hominids. People spend wads of cash and max out their credit cards in the usually mistaken belief that they'll end up with more than they started with. The odds in every single game are stacked against them - which is one reason that casinos make literally billions of dollars every year - and yet gamblers think that they can somehow beat the Law of Averages.
Casino gambling should be viewed as a form of entertainment, not as a source of income. The thrills, the excitement, the free drinks, the feeling of doom and despair after you've lost all your money - that's entertainment! If it's not entertaining, then why do it? If all you want to do is gamble, then just invest in stocks - it'll save you a lot of time. Why travel to Atlantic City or Las Vegas and waste all that time throwing your money away on unwinnable games? Just blow it all at once on some unsuccessful start-up company so you can at least spend your time doing things with more redeeming value (such as drinking). But if you insist on congregating with a bunch of other losers (I'm referring to a casino, not church), I will provide you with a brief explanation of a few of the activities you'll find there.
Roulette is a simple game in which a ball drops into a spinning wheel that has 38 equally sized pockets, numbered 0, 00, and 1 through 36. 0 and 00 are green, and of the remaining numbers, half are red and half are black. You can bet on any single number, a combination of numbers, a color, odd or even. The most widely misunderstood truth about roulette odds is that no matter which way you bet, your payoff odds are exactly the same: about 47.4%. I won't bore you by examining each individual bet; just take my word for it. Some people spread their chips out on several numbers in the mistaken notion that this increases their chances of winning because they have so many numbers covered. What they fail to realize is that even when they win on one number, they have lost on so many other numbers that it cancels out their winnings. What a bunch of morons.
Blackjack is one of the few casino games where you can actually affect results by thinking; with most games you have absolutely no control over the outcome. In blackjack, players and the dealer receive cards until they reach a score of 21, or close to it, without going over ("busting"). Players receive cards ("hits") until they opt not to receive any more ("stand"), while the dealer must take a card when he has 16 or less and stand when he has 17 or more. Each player plays against the dealer, not the other players. Whoever comes closer to 21 without going over wins that hand. While you are playing, one of the dealer's cards is shown (the "up" card) and the other is hidden (the "hole" card). I wrote a long, detailed analysis of blackjack, complete with explanations of card values, probabilities of receiving certain cards, whether to hit or stand depending on your total so far and the value of the dealer's "up" card, when to "double down" or "split", etc. Then I read it. When I woke up I realized that this information would probably bore you to tears. Anyway, since the odds are against you no matter how "smart" you play, my calculations are absolutely worthless. Playing blackjack can be entertaining though. One time I was playing, and some guy next to me kept trying to give me advice. He'd say things like, "You can't stand on 13!" as if he were an expert. Meanwhile he was losing his shirt.
Craps is a game where two 6-sided dice are rolled. If you get a 7 or 11 on the first roll (called the "come out" roll), you win. If you get a 2, 3 or 12 ("craps") on the first roll, you lose. Any other value rolled (4,5,6,8,9,10) becomes your "point", and you then keep tossing the dice until you roll either your point (in which case you win) or 7 (in which case you lose). If someone else is rolling, you can bet either "pass" (which means that you think he will win) or "don't pass" (which means that you think he will lose). These are called "line" bets. All line bets pay even money. As with blackjack, I wrote a long, detailed analysis of craps, with probabilities of rolling certain numbers, explanations of all the different "side" bets, the odds of winning or losing any type of bet, etc, and it was just too long-winded to keep most human beings' attention, so in the interest of making it as painless as possible to get through this Web page, I'll be brief: your best odds in craps are on the line bets; stay away from side bets. In fact, the odds of winning a line bet (about 49.3%) are the best odds you will find in any casino game.
Slot machines are ingenious devices designed to fool idiots into thinking that they're getting a fair deal. The way a slot machine works is you sit in front of it holding a large plastic cup filled with coins. You insert your money into the slot at a rate that equals the growth of the national debt, and pull a handle which makes several wheels inside the machine spin. Each wheel has pictures of various items such as oranges, lemons and Pokémon characters, and if certain combinations come up when the wheels stop spinning, you win certain amounts of money. Most of the time you lose (gee, there's a surprise). Every so often, just when you begin to think that maybe this isn't such a great game after all, a few coins spill out - not nearly enough to reimburse you for all that you've lost so far, but enough to keep you interested and hopeful. Some slot machines lure gamblers by promising a chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars. That much cash can't fit in a slot machine, so if someone wins, the machine makes a lot of noise and a casino employee, called a "pit boss", comes running out, apprehends the winner and leads him to a back room where angry, underpaid employees beat him senseless. No, really, the casino owner writes the winner a check and politely tells the recipient never to return or else the security guards will break his thumbs. But don't worry, because the chance of winning one of those huge jackpots is roughly equivalent to the chance that I will become a famous author. Playing slots has to be the most mind-numbing of all casino games. The typical slot player will sit there for hours, pumping in coins and pulling the handle in order to get some coins back, like a lab rat hitting a lever in order to get food pellets, and eventually leave when the coin cup is empty. Hey, wasn't that fun?
A woman wins a big jackpot on a slot machine. As the siren is sounding, but before the pit boss reaches the lucky winner, a haggard man approaches her and says, "I don't mean to disturb you during your big moment, but my wife is sick and needs an operation. Could you see your way clear to giving me $5,000 of your winnings?" The woman says, "Well, it's all well and good for you to say that, and if it's true then I sympathize, but how do I know you're not going to turn around and just gamble it away?" The man responds, "Oh, I have plenty of gambling money."
There are several games where numbers are picked randomly and you buy a ticket with some numbers on it and hope that they are selected. As a rule these are bad bets because you only get paid about half of what the odds against you are. For example, in a "Pick 4" game, where a 4-digit number is drawn, you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of picking the correct number because there are 10,000 possible combinations (0000 through 9999). However, the prize for winning on a $1 bet is normally much less than $10,000 (it's more like $5000 or $6000). Plus, since the state gaming commission has you on record as winning, you have to pay a substantial portion of that back in taxes. Of course, if you lose money gambling, you are not allowed to write it off in order to get a partial refund. Just one more reason to hate the IRS.
Lotteries are games of chance in which you choose several numbers out of many possible, the lottery authority randomly picks some numbers, and you rip up your losing ticket. It's that simple. Usually half the money that is bet goes into the "jackpot", and the other half is kept by the government to be used for things like knocking down trees and paving roads to homes that you can't afford. When someone wins (not you), he gets the money in the jackpot, and if there are several winners they split it. If there are no winners on a particular game, the money is added to the next game's jackpot. Many states have their own lottery games, such as Lotto and Megabucks. There are also interstate games such as Powerball where people from many states play and thereby create very large jackpots, sometimes as high as several hundred million dollars. When are you getting a true-odds payout? When the jackpot equals or exceeds the odds of winning. For example, in a game where 6 numbers are chosen at random from 49 numbers, the odds of you matching all 6 in a single game are 1 in 13,983,816. Therefore the jackpot must be at least 13,983,816 times the cost of playing a single game in order for the payout odds to be worth the bet. In reality it would have to be much greater than that because you would get taxed on your winnings. So if you play any lottery-type game, wait for the jackpot to climb to a nice big number before you play. As if you'll ever win.
Keno is a lottery-type game where a computer randomly selects 20 numbers from the range 1 to 80. You can choose up to 10 numbers (called "spots") in that range, and your winnings are based upon how many selected numbers you match. As with any lottery, the payout odds are geared to keep a substantial portion of the money that is bet. In the case of Keno this portion is anywhere from about 38 to 50 percent. Therefore most people who play Keno lose in the long run. I did some math and figured out that you will get your best odds on the 3-spot game and your worst odds on the 1-spot game. I'll spare you a lengthy explanation of my calculation method, which I don't think would interest you anyway because it involved an abacus and a six-pack.
Raffles and sweepstakes are very similar to lotteries, except that the chances of winning are based on the number of tickets sold rather than fixed odds. For example, if there are 2 million entrants in a sweepstakes and you buy one ticket, your chances of winning are one in 2 million; whereas if you play a typical lottery, you have a snowball's chance in Hell. Whether you should buy a ticket depends on the value of the prize relative to the odds of winning. For instance, if a ticket costs a dollar and there are 2 million entrants, then the prize value (after taxes) had better be at least $2 million. Which reminds me, you know those sweepstakes that businesses such as Publisher's Clearinghouse use in order to get you to buy magazines? Legally they have to give you an opportunity to win whether or not you buy anything, but they get around this by making it more difficult for non-buyers to enter. For example:
Return your subscription order and your sweepstakes entry number in the envelope provided. If you do not order, then write "PUBLISHER'S CLEARINGHOUSE SWEEPSTAKES", in Arabic, on a 3x5 card, along with your name, address, phone number, and Babe Ruth's high school batting average. Soak the card in a weak solution of three parts ammonia, two parts bleach, and one part Yoo-Hoo. To dry, grasp it in your left hand and shake it up and down vigorously while repeating "Owha tafoo liam!" Then place the card in a periwinkle rice paper envelope and mail to: Jenkins Shredder Corp. 1 Black Hole Boulevard Battle Creek, MI Your entry has as much chance of winning as the entries of people who placed orders. For all you know.
A man gets hired as a toothbrush salesman. On his first day he sells 1000 toothbrushes. His boss is astounded and asks him how he did it. The man replies, "I set up a cracker and dip stand at the airport and put up a sign that said, 'Free dip'. People would eat it and say, 'This dip tastes like shit.' I'd say, 'It is. You want to buy a toothbrush?' "
Many businesses do not create products - they merely buy goods from a manufacturer or a distributor, jack up the prices from what they paid (wholesale) to higher ones (retail), and sell them to hapless consumers like you and me. All retail stores, from Saks Fifth Avenue to "dollar" stores, stay in business by buying wholesale, selling retail, and keeping the difference. Which reminds me, you ever see those annoying ads for car dealerships that claim to be selling cars below dealer cost? Who do they think they're kidding? "Yes, we lose money on every car we sell, but we make it up in volume." Do they think we're stupid enough to believe that they can sell merchandise for less than what they paid and somehow stay in business? Maybe they're implying that they're elaborate money-laundering operations that only sell cars as a front. The truth is that the "invoice" price they show you is purely fabricated. Whatever the price is, they certainly paid less than that. This is why you can haggle with them. For example:
|Salesman:||"You can have this car - for which this invoice clearly shows that we paid $23,835 - for only $17,231."|
|You:||"That's nice. How about I give you $16,000 for it?"|
|Salesman:||"$16,000?! Are you out of your mind? I'm already losing my shirt on this vehicle! What do I look like to you?"|
|You:||"A pathetic shell of a man who covers up his flabby physique with a suit, lies to people every waking moment of his life, and tries to fill his loveless existence with booze and cigarettes. In fact, the more I think about you, the more I despise you. My offer has dropped to $15,000."|
Buying and selling does not have to take place in a retail establishment. For example, private collectors and dealers trade memorabilia such as baseball cards, coins and stamps all the time. The idea is that if you hold onto an item long enough, its value goes up and someone will buy it from you for more than what you paid. It's all based on a precarious supply-demand system: the only thing that makes an item's "value" increase is the belief that its "value" will continue to increase. If people were to stop believing this, then an item's "value" would decrease. What is this belief based on? The belief that other people will keep believing it. You see the circular logic, the tenuous nature of the whole thing? It's like religion.
A pyramid scheme is a system that gets a lot of people to give money to a few. In order to be legal, a pyramid scheme must involve the sale of a product; any pyramid in which people merely exchange money is illegal. A person profits from his "downline", which consists of all the people he gets to join and all the people who join under them. For example, let's say a guy named Al starts a pyramid. He gets Bob and Cal to join. Bob gets his friends Dave and Eric to join, and Cal recruits Fred and Greg. The pyramid would look like this:
+----- Al -----+ | | | | +-- Bob --+ +-- Cal --+ | | | | | | | | Dave Eric Fred Greg
Bob makes money from Dave's and Eric's sales, Cal profits from Fred's and Greg's sales, and Al benefits from everyone. As you can see, the higher up the "food chain" you are, the more you can make. Companies such as Amway and Herbalife are set up this way, although they refer to their structure as "multi-level marketing" because the word "pyramid" has gotten such a bad name. Pyramid schemes are designed to make lots of money, but unfortunately the only people who make lots of money are the few who can get a lot of people to come in under them, while the peons at the bottom make very little if anything. People have to pay some sort of "entry fee" or buy a "starter kit" in order to join, and these fees are distributed to everyone in their "upline". A lot of people have entered this sort of thing, and the vast majority of them end up selling maybe a few products - mostly to themselves, a few friends and family - and never make back the amount they initially laid out.
In illegal pyramids, people merely pay to enter and their money gets distributed to everyone in their upline. Like memorabilia trading, the "value" of the venture is all based on belief: people enter only if they believe that they can get other people to enter. Since no product is sold, recruiting other members is the only way to make any money. The thing is, if no product is sold, then why enter an existing pyramid? Why not start one of your own? Using our above pyramid as an example, let's say Dave pays $500 to enter, which Bob and Al split because they are his upline. When Dave recruits people, he will keep a portion of their entry fees and give the rest to Bob and Al. Well, why doesn't Dave just start a pyramid of his own? He'll save the $500 entry fee, plus he'll keep a higher portion of the money paid by everyone in his downline. The only good thing about joining an existing pyramid is the "personal" factor: people are much more likely to join if they can go to a meeting attended by many people who have already joined, because this gives it an air of legitimacy.
Here's another way to make some easy cash: marry a rich person, divorce him/her, and sue for enough alimony to make you independently wealthy. I remember about thirty years ago one of Johnny Carson's ex-wives got an alimony settlement of $75,000 per week (that's more than ten thousand bucks a day, folks). Why? Because our legal system allows this sort of lunacy. It would have been way cheaper for Mr. Carson to have her killed (not that I am for a minute suggesting that anyone do this). This kind of case is always taken by greedy lawyers who see a chance to make exorbitant fees by sticking it to some poor sap who married the wrong person and just happens to have a lot of money. When they die, these lawyers will go to neither Heaven nor Hell because they have no souls. How could this woman - or any human being - possibly spend $10,000 a day? Did she live in a gigantic estate that cost millions of dollars a year to maintain? If she did, then why did the court believe that anyone has the right to live that kind of lifestyle at her ex-husband's expense? If she didn't own an expensive piece of property, then what else could possibly cost that much? With that kind of money I could fly to Bermuda (in my private jet), have sex with five prostitutes, drink a bottle of Jack Daniels, play two rounds of golf, take a private tennis lesson, get a massage, eat three lobsters, fly home and go to the opera every single day, and still be able to afford a Mercedes, a yacht, a large house with a pool, and a mistress (as if I'd need one).
Ben is a pauper who barely makes ends meet. He, his wife, two kids and two dogs used to live in squalor in a small, one-bathroom hovel in a redneck suburb of Baltimore. One time the Salvation Army came to his house to pick up a donation, and they mistakenly took the wrong stuff. Then he bought a more expensive house and a minivan which have put him in debt up to his ears. His poverty started in his childhood. If he hadn't been born a boy, he'd have had nothing to play with. He is able to put crap like this on the Web because somehow he managed to afford a computer, although it's up on blocks. If you drive through his neighborhood, his house is the one with the toilet paper drying on the clothesline.