personal finance Archive

Spring Cleaning

Posted March 23, 2011 By Steve

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.” — Samuel Ullman

Spring
Now that it’s spring, at least astronomically, many people’s thought turn to spring cleaning. Traditionally that’s meant tidying up the house, getting rid of all the things that accumulated during the winter when it was too cold to spend much time outside, and taking advantage of the newly returned warmth to finally clean out the car. (Those of you with kids know exactly what I mean.)

I think this spring I need to go a step further. I think this year I need a thorough spring cleaning of my brain. Lately I’ve felt bogged down by a life filled with many things to do but without a lot to show for it in terms of reaching my goals. In fact it’s a bit worse than that, sometimes I’m not even sure what my goals are anymore. Just getting to the next paycheck without having a negative bank balance isn’t enough, but that seems to be where too much of my thought every month is going. I’m too young to let things like that make me feel old.

So I’m going to think about what it is that I’m doing, and what I really might want to do instead and start finding better ways of making that happen. Everything is on the table — my approach to school, the contracts I go after, everything. It’s not that everything in my life is bad, far from it. And I do enjoy most of what I do. But increasingly, I have a rudderless feeling, like these things don’t actually add to much of a destination, and with only so many years on this earth, it’s not okay to feel like they’re being… well, not wasted, exactly, but not maximized either.

Going back and rereading this, I see that it seems a bit jumbled. But I think I’ll leave it that way and post it anyway. I expect that in future posts what I’m trying to say will be a bit clearer. Besides, jumbled is a bit how my brain feels. See? A spring cleaning is definitely in order.

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Save Your Pennies

Posted January 18, 2011 By Steve

“If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.” — Steven Wright

1937 penny obverse
Recently I posted on using gold and silver as money, and got some interesting commentary in return from Mark Herpel, editor of DGC Magazine. One of the resources he suggested referred to the use not of gold or silver, but of copper as a trading commodity, as it included a bit from a group that was planning to produce copper rounds for that purpose.

It made me think that while gold and silver get the limelight, copper too has a long history as a circulating commodity in coinage. And that reminded me of the humble penny, a coin which was 95% copper until 1982, but debased to be mostly zinc in that year because it started to cost more than one cent to manufacture a penny coin.

If you look through your spare change, however, you’ll see that a significant percentage of pennies in circulation today are still from before the Reagan Debasement. And these pennies are worth a lot more than their face value. There are about 155 pennies in a pound, meaning a face value of about $1.55. But the current price of copper is nearly three times that at $4.40 per pound!

Now, like many people, I’m not in a position to buy gold or even silver rounds and sock them away. But like anyone else, I get pennies in change. Sure, you’re not supposed to melt them down for their metal content, but might it still be worth it to sort out the ones from before 1982, roll them up, and set them aside? If inflation really goes haywire as some expect, it might not be the worst idea to take a few minutes a day to save your pennies — the real ones, anyway.

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Using Gold As Money: Just Do It!

Posted January 8, 2011 By Steve

“An almost hysterical antagonism toward the gold standard is one issue which unites statists of all persuasions. They seem to sense… that gold and economic freedom are inseparable.” — Alan Greenspan


gold coins

The Washington Post is reporting that conservative state legislator Bob Marshall is proposing the Virginia government study the feasibility of minting gold and silver coins to be used as money in the event that hyperinflation renders the U.S dollar unusable. Rather than address the proposal itself, the response to this from the left has been ridicule Marshall for wanting to bring back the Confederacy.

Now, I realize that Southern whites are the last remaining group in America against whom it’s still culturally acceptable to be bigoted, but this is not a proposal for the South to rise again, and I think most of its better-educated detractors know it. It ought to be enough to damn Marshall’s proposal for the flaws it actually has, which are (1) it’s not constitutional, as Article I, Section 8 assigns the federal government the exclusive authority to coin money, (2) it’s unlikely to pass in the General Assembly, and (3) if one government is debasing its currency it’s a little foolish to trust a different government not to do the same thing.

The real solution for those who want to use gold and silver as money is to use the Nike maneuver — just do it. You don’t need to wait for some government to tell you it’s okay. If you own a store, list your prices both in dollars and in ounces of silver. If you’re a customer, offer a silver round and see what the store owner says. It wouldn’t be that hard for someone enterprising to set up an online directory of businesses that participate. If there really is enough interest, those people can have their own sound money economy just like that. It’s the sort of thing I’ve always thought I might do using simply web technologies like PHP and MySQL if I can find the time. And with “quantitative easing” and related euphemisms for running the printing presses to churn out more money coming out of Washington, maybe sooner would be better than later.

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Hunting For Scholarships

Posted December 19, 2010 By Steve

“Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” — Woody Allen

money, gold coins, and a stock chart
Unless you’re in one of the vanishing set of countries where they’re publicly provided, one of the biggest problems with getting a degree is paying for it. My doctorate will be no exception. The University of Memphis is a state university, and like most state universities it has different tuition rates depending on whether one is from that state or not. I’m definitely not, in fact despite the fact that it borders my home state of Virginia, the only time I think I’ve ever been in Tennessee was about a dozen years ago when I drove from Northern Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona.

While rates for those out of state are very high, fortunately the University of Memphis is also part of the trend among public institutions to offer in state rates (or something close) to those who are only taking online courses. In fact, because of this, my experience with them is likely to be less expensive than it would have been to attend a local university.

Of course, that’s a long way from it being free. Distance learning graduate students don’t have the same assistantship opportunities that those attending full time on campus do, which means my primary avenue to fund my continuing education is to take out student loans. While that will certainly cover everything, I’m well aware that a loan is something that must eventually be repaid with interest, so I’ve also been on the lookout for scholarships. It seems there really aren’t that many out there for part time adult learners. Most of what I’ve found on various scholarship search sites are lottery-style “scholarships” that are from companies that seem primarily interested in developing a list of prospective students that they can repackage and sell to for-profit and other marketing-driven schools.

But I’ve entered those lotteries anyway — why not? And I’m staying on the lookout for scholarships for which I may be qualified. I’ve seen that there are a number out there for those in the dissertation phase of their programs, and I’ll be sure to go after those once I get to that point. But in the meantime, well, suggestions are definitely welcome!

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