The work ethic of teens these days


Those of us of the Gen X generation and older often pass judgment on the teens of today with statements like these:

  • They have it so easy.
  • They don’t know what hard work is.
  • Where’s the work ethic?

I’ve been guilty of the same sort of prejudices.

Recently, my teenage daughter turned that all around for me. Less than one week after her 17th birthday, she reported to work for her first job: at 5 a.m. – on a school day! She’s lifeguarding at the neighborhood Y. The pool is outdoors. It’s January. We live in Phoenix. But still, it’s chilly in the morning, and on this morning it happens to be raining.

“Lifeguarding is not work,” some would say. “All they do is stand around and twirl a whistle.”

Having seen the effort she has put into it, I can now contest the previous statement. Lifeguarding is skilled labor at a minimum. Prior to even being granted an interview, she was required to give up two full weekends and two weeknights for the prerequisite training. She now knows every aspect of keeping others safe at the pool: first aid, CPR, dealing with panic, hypothermia and more. She paid a handsome sum out of her own pocket for the training with no hint of being reimbursed. She passed a series of in-class quizzes, plus two water tests, and a grilling of an interview with both her manager and the manager’s manager.

Today was her first day on the job. I was awakened at 4:15 a.m. by the sound of her getting ready. Although she’s pretty self sufficient, I got up to see if she needed any last minute help so she could scoot out the door on time. She was good. She had prepared everything she needed the night before: Clothes for work, clothes for school, her lunch, and gear for swim practice after school.

To say I am proud of her would be an understatement. But, the purpose of this post is not to brag about my daughter, although I could do so all day long. My hope is that you will join me in looking a little deeper into the plight of today’s youth. In many ways, they face far more challenges and obstacles than many of us did when we were growing up. Let’s show them our respect with words of encouragement and gratitude. Thank you!

Read this before you spend another dime on road hazard insurance


I wonder how many people are paying for road hazard insurance unnecessarily. I used to pay the annual fee to a big-name motor club for the promise to help me or my wife out if we had a flat tire, dead battery or needed a tow.

My decision to discontinue the coverage was easy the first time I called for help after being told that it would be over an hour before someone would come to change my flat tire on I-25 in Denver. Ordinarily I would change the tire myself, which is what I ended up doing.

Check with your current auto insurance company before paying someone else for roadside assistance protection.

I enrolled in the plan with my wife in mind, but they covered both of us for the same price so I thought I would try it out. On the day I called for help, my motivation was driven by the fact that my blowout occurred in rush hour traffic in the midst of one of Denver’s famous summer afternoon monsoon gully washers. We discontinued the coverage the next time they sent me a payment due notice.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized I had been wasting my money with the policy anyway. It turns out the full-coverage policy we’ve had with State Farm all these years comes with roadside assistance. I found out about it only recently while scanning my semi-annual premium notice into the computer. I looked into it a little deeper and found that it’s basically the same service I had been paying about $100 a year for once upon a time.

If we ever get locked out of our car, or have a dead battery, or need a tow, we’re covered. You have to call a special toll-free number to take advantage of it but no biggy; we just keyed the number into our cell phones.

Takeaway: Check with your current auto insurance provider to see if they offer roadside assistance. If so, don’t even think about paying another “motor club” for the same service.

Have you heard about the free travel services on Craigslist?


We’re on a tight budget these days but determined to do something fun out of town with the kiddos for Spring Break.  Since we’re new to Phoenix and only a six hour drive from the LA/Hollywood area, my wife and I decided we could work a thrifty road trip into the budget.

Beautiful pic of Santa Monica pier by Dan Adamato
Beautiful pic of Santa Monica pier by Dana Damato (www.danadamato.com).

So we put some dates on the calendar and began to plan. The trouble with searching the web for things to do is that most of the search results include options that cost money. I knew if I could talk to some locals I could find some cheap or free ways to entertain our tween-aged daughters.

Since we don’t know anyone who lives in LA, I posted this plea for help in the “Frugal” message board on Craigslist/LA:

Looking for help from locals. We’re hoping to find a studio tour or filming of some sort to experience that is free or cheap. Any tips?

The crowd came through in a big way. Here are the responses I received in just the first 48 hours:

  • Craigslist has an event calendar for every city,  click on a day in calendar at left side. http://losangeles.craigslist.org/
  • Google free tv tickets Los Angeles. We saw the Jimmy Kimmel show and Jeopardy. The Science Museum in Exposition Park is free. Natural History Museum is cheap. Ride the Blue Line to Long Beach. Take the Red Line to Union Station, walk to Olvera Street and Chinatown. Red Line also to Hollywood Blvd. Gold Line to Pasadena.
  • Call the Burbank studios to get tickets to Leno.
  • Universal has a theme park tour, but I think it costs.
  • Google free tv tickets Los Angeles. We saw the Jimmy Kimmel show and Jeopardy.
  • The Science Museum in Exposition Park is free.
  • Natural History Museum is cheap.
  • Universal city walk – it’s a few miles north of downtown LA (on the subway too) its free to walk around the stores and browse. the biggest cost is parking. but its about $80 a person to enter Universal City theme park next to it.
  • Drive to Santa Monica beach. You have to see the ocean plus the Santa Monica pier is a boardwalk classic the main cost is finding parking at the end of the 10 freeway.
  • Walk around Hollywood & Vine. See the stars in the sidewalk with Grummans theater handprints, and Kodak theater walk into souvenir stores see all the hucksters on the sidewalks, some impersonating stars.
  • Drive up to Griffith Observatory. That’s where they film lots of movies you’ll have a good view of downtown L.A. and the Hollywood sign nice science museum there too; parts are free.

Thanks, Craigslisters. This oughtta keep us busy!

You want baseball? You can’t handle the baseball!


About this time last year, when I was living in Colorado, I proclaimed to my Facebook friends, “One of these years I’m going to go to Phoenix for a couple weeks and attend as many MLB spring games as I can. Just not this year.”

At the time I had never been to the Phoenix area and we had not yet discussed moving here. (Another post for another time.) That was also before I realized just how much baseball action takes place in Arizona. Every spring thousands of people flock to the Phoenix area for to catch glimpses of their favorite players up close during Major League Baseball Spring Training. It turns out Spring Training is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

In the past five years or so, I have become a fan of the complete game – the players, the stats, the rules (written and unwritten), the coaches, the umps, the fans, the reporters, the stadiums. I love it all – minus paid parking. I study in the off-season by reading biographies, magazines and geeky books like “Watching Baseball Smarter.”

So this year I’m committed to taking in as much baseball in person as I can. Back in January I mapped out what the spring would look like on a calendar. I started with the MLB Spring Training calendar – six or more games per day from the end of February through March. On top of those games, I overlaid the World Baseball Classic, then Arizona State and University of Arizona games, plus a baseball experience like no other.

Photo of vintage base ball game at Warren Field, Bisbee, AZ
Vintage Base Ball Tournament at Warren Field in Bisbee, AZ. Photo courtesy of Friends of Warren Ballpark.

Would you believe the oldest active baseball stadium in the U.S. is also in Arizona? Yes, even older than Boston’s Fenway Park. Had to book a family trip to Bisbee in April. We’ll catch one day of the Copper City Classic Vintage “Base Ball” tournament on Saturday. They play by 1860 rules in old school uniforms and the umps wear beanies and bow ties.

On our way home Sunday, we’ll stop in Tucson to watch the defending national champion (2012) Arizona Wildcats play the Cal Bears – a 2011 College World Series team – in another classic ballpark: Hi Corbett.

I took in my first Spring Training game with my teenage daughter this past Sunday. It was windy and cold and she wanted to leave early. I coaxed and coddled her to stay through six innings. Day two of my 2013 baseball binge is today: day one of the four-day round robin Coca Cola Classic Tournament in Surprise featuring ASU, Arkansas, Gonzaga and Pacific.

As if plotting out all the baseball games going on isn’t challenge enough, I need to work in my full-time job and my part-time role as taxi driver for the kiddos, plus their sporting and school events and the occasional family meal.

I’m not sure how I’ll handle all this baseball but I’m going to give it a try.

What Powerball can teach us about annuities


by @PaulFiarkoski

Dream with me for a minute. Imagine that you woke up this morning and realized that the quick pick numbers on the Powerball ticket you bought at the convenient store the other day matched all six balls in last night’s drawing.

Lump sum or annuity?
Among the many important decisions you’ll have to make is weather you want a lump sum or series of payments over twenty years. If you were to choose the series of payments, you’re opting for what we call in the financial planning world an annuity.

Powerball ticket
Suppose you win the Powerball lottery. You’ll need to decide whether you want the jackpot as a lump sum or series of payments – or an annuity.

Now you know what an annuity is in it’s simplest form. Unfortunately, the insurance industry has added so many bells and whistles to annuity products that they’re far from simple.

When I used to teach my financial consultant trainees about annuities, I always found it helped them understand the concept better if we put them into categories. Most annuity products can be categorized as either a fixed annuity or variable annuity and again as immediate or deferred.

Fixed or variable
A fixed annuity means that it accrues interest at a minimum guaranteed rate. The interest paid is generated by underlying investments in bonds or other securities that pay interest and the eventual return of principal. Since annuities are also insurance products, fixed annuities are typically guaranteed to pay a minimum rate plus additional earnings (or dividends) on top of the guaranteed amount.

On the other hand, a variable annuity offers no guaranteed rate. Instead, the return generated by a variable annuity depends on the performance of underlying investments – usually publicly traded stocks and other non-interest bearing securities. Variable annuities can even lose principal in the event of a drop in the stock market.

Immediate or deferred
Most annuities can also be classified as either immediate or deferred, a reference to when the payments (to you) begin. As the name implies, an immediate annuity will begin payments right away. That could be in a month, a quarter or even a year from the contract date, depending on when you request your first payment. Deferred annuities often don’t begin to pay out for several years. During that time, you can typically increase the size of the annuity principal by contributing more premiums to it.

To summarize, you could have a fixed annuity that’s immediate or deferred. Likewise, a variable annuity can be either immediate or deferred.

The connection to Powerball
Okay, so how does this lesson about annuities tie in with Powerball? Remember, if you ever win the Powerball lottery one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is whether you want to receive your winnings as a lump sum or annuity – a series of payments.

You don’t need me to tell you that your chances of getting hit by lightning in this life are better than matching all six Powerball numbers. However, anyone can purchase an annuity contract. If you have a sizable lump sum from insurance proceeds, the sale of property or a business or what have you, you can convert that money into a series of payments with an immediate annuity. In many cases you can even roll all, or a portion of, your retirement account into an annuity. (Be sure to educate yourself on potential tax consequences if you consider this move.)

Suppose you don’t have a large sum of money. You can purchase a deferred annuity with a smaller sum of money and add to it over the years to build up your own annuity “jackpot.”

How I reduced my debt burden with an auto equity loan


by @PaulFiarkoski

In December 2012 I called my credit union to ask about consolidating a loan we have elsewhere with a loan I already have at the credit union. The solution they offered surprised me: A cash out auto loan, whereby I send them the title for the truck I recently paid off and they loan me up to the blue book value at a very low interest rate.

autopawn image
Image property of autopawnamerica.com

Making a move like this is counter to the general advice offered by Dave Ramsey, whose wisdom my wife and I have been relying on in our pursuit of financial peace by eliminating all our debt. What I would tell Dave is that I’m not taking on more debt; I’m just changing the interest rate and to whom I’m repaying the loan. Besides, by having the loan with my credit union I can be “gazelle intense” in paying it off since I’m reminded of the debt every time I sign in to online banking and I can make extra payments with a couple mouse clicks. Truthfully, this is my real intent.

At first I was uncomfortable with giving my truck title back to the credit union since I had never heard of a loan like this. I wondered how it’s any different than an auto pawn business. In retrospect, it’s probably no different; however, the interest rate is much better than I could get with a pawn broker and I do have a lot more trust in my credit union.

Why is it that we always think the worst? “If I miss a payment, they can repossess my truck,” that voice in my head told me.

“You haven’t missed a payment on any loan for over ten years dummy; your truck won’t be repossessed,” the glass half-full voice responded.

I followed the voice of reason. As a result, I was able to borrow the same amount of money I owed on my other loan but at a much lower interest rate. The other loan was 18% interest and would have taken me another four years to pay off. The rate on my new loan is only 2.5%. The monthly payment is about five dollars more per month and if I make only the minimum payments each month, the loan will be paid off a year earlier. However, my wife and I are committed is to making double payments and paying the loan off completely by the end of 2013.

Provided we continue to be blessed with steady income and no big unforeseen expenses, I’ll have the title for my truck back in a year and we’ll be that much closer to our goal of being debt-free. Works for me!