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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Give kids good financial start

My buddy at Wachovia in Scottsdale periodically sends me newsletters with financial advice. The following may affect you if you have kids and are concerned about their financial future. Hopefully they will listen to you and your advice. This stuff makes sense:

It's a common goal — to live a better life than your parents. While you may be able to say you accomplished that goal, how likely is it that your children will be able to say the same thing? To help them with that pursuit, make sure to teach them these important financial lessons:

Graduate from college. Even if your children are interested in pursuing careers that don't require a college education, encourage them to obtain a college degree first. It is much easier to go to college straight out of high school before getting married or taking on other responsibilities. And financially, college graduates have higher earnings on average than nongraduates.

Live well within their means. As your children start lives of their own, help them make some fundamental decisions about how to live. Before your children decide where to live or what kind of car to drive, help them prepare a budget to see how much they can really afford for those items and still have money for saving.

Utilize all retirement vehicles available. As soon as they become eligible, your children should start contributing to a 401 (k) plan at work. If their employer doesn't offer a 401 (k) plan, teach your children the benefits of individual retirement accounts (IRAs), both traditional deductible and Roth. The importance of saving for retirement at a young age can't be stressed enough.

Use debt sparingly. If your children take on too much debt early in life, they can spend the rest of their lives struggling to get out of debt. Stress to your children that it is best to use credit cards only if they can pay the balances in full every month. You enhance your credit and can earn points toward cash with certain cards. Other debt, like car loans and mortgages, should only be taken on after a careful analysis of whether your children can afford the payments and whether the purchase fits their financial goals.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I support John McCain

I am voting for John McCain for President of the United States.

I’m not a political expert, but I have opinions, and after watching the debates and hearing the speeches, here are the main points in my reasoning:

1. Experience: McCain, in Congress since 1982 and a war hero. Obama, Senator for 4 years, most of which spent campaigning for presidency.

2. The need for split authority in Washington. We may be seeing a Democratic majority in both houses. With a Democratic president, that party would have control of all issues.

3. Obama’s statement about "spreading the wealth" through higher taxes rather than encouragement to citizens to set higher goals to increase tax revenue. He states that "A strong government hand is needed to assure that wealth is distributed more equitably." That’s scary and reeks of socialism. Why should someone who has worked hard to attain wealth have to split it with those who don’t make use of their opportunities? How about educating various groups as to the impracticality of having ten kids rather than supporting them through government assistance?

4. Obama would like to have a global poverty tax which would tax Americans billions to help eradicate poverty in other parts of the world. You know, those places that love us so much. The administration of the funds would be through the U. N. of all places. Does that sound a bit like socialism?

5. Obama has been weak on energy. McCain led the way for more drilling and nuclear energy while Obama gave reluctant support for drilling only after he saw that voters favored it.

6. Obama’s relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He attended his church for twenty years as Wright referred to white people as "the devil" and said that HIV was created in Washington to wipe out "people of color." Obama has distanced himself from Wright during his candidacy but why not sooner?

I have nothing personal against Barack Obama, I think he means well. However, as a lifetime Republican I find it difficult to pull the handle for Democratic candidates as they usually endorse stronger national government control of our lives. I think part of being a successful American is "going for it" on your own by showing the initiative for self support, making logical and common sense financial and social decisions, and not depending on the government to support you.

"Spreading the wealth" from the rich to the poor by government is not the answer. It takes away man’s natural competitive desires to make something of him/herself and reduces them to a weaker dependent level. By voting for John McCain you will reduce government interference in your lives and reduce the effectiveness of Democratic leaders in what could possibly be a Democratically controlled Congress.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The misery of the migraine

One Friday morning in 1977 I was making my weekly call on my largest account in Kansas City when I suddenly started seeing jagged lines in front of me as I tried to read a stock status report. I had been drinking a lot of coffee that morning and the first thing I wondered was, did the large amount of coffee trigger this sensation?

Fortunately, the lines cleared up within 10 to 15 minutes but I was still concerned as to what had caused the temporary problem. I looked up the symptoms in a medical book which explained that I had probably experienced a minor migraine headache.

Ever since then, I have had "migraines with aura" many times if I overindulge on regular coffee, chocolate, Coca-Cola or any product that contains a reasonable amount of caffeine. The aura usually lasts 10-15 minutes and sometimes I am left with a headache that can be relieved with aspirin.

The few migraines I get are considered mild and affect about 20% of migraine sufferers. They are not a hindrance. Unfortunately, there is another class of migraine that is very severe: the migraine without aura. Migraine without aura may be caused by stress and is the most prevalent type of migraine. It may occur on one or both sides of the head and tiredness or mood changes may be experienced the day before the headache. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light often accompany migraine without aura.

I have had people with this condition tell me the pain and suffering involved is incredible and can even become disabling. Patients are advised to lie down in a dark room and take proper medicine for the condition. These migraines can last one to several days and can become recurring. Be thankful if you have never experienced the condition.

According to Dr. Seymour Diamond of the National Headache Foundation, about 10% of the population of the USA, about 30 million people, suffer from some type of migraine. Dr. Diamond recommends seeing a doctor if you have headaches severe enough to interfere with regular activities, especially if they are getting progressively worse.

The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has a division that deals with migraines that is supposed to be very effective.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Online banking makes sense

Banking online is a treat that I never thought would exist in my lifetime. Do you do it? If not, you are missing a time saving, accurate, economical, and handy way to bank, especially when it comes to paying bills.

I used to dread the monthly bills. Utilities, credit cards, doctors, and whatever else all required sitting down with my calculator, a book of stamps, envelopes, return address stickers, and my checkbook to go through the boring rote activity of paying all these people.

When online banking came along, I must have been the first in line to use it. Now I can pay ten bills in one minute. It used to take about half an hour. Plus, I save 42 cents postage on each bill and don’t have to travel to the mailbox. Also, unlike having hard copy bills floating through the mail for three days, there is no paper trail when you bank online.

It’s a sweet deal but there are a few things to be careful about: According to Ron Burley of AARP always check the amounts and payees before hitting "send" (I have Bank of America and if you make a mistake, you can change it.). Beware of automated payments. Unless it is a regular mortgage payment or car payment, don’t allow deductions from your account. Check later to be sure transactions were processed correctly (I look at my account daily, it only takes a minute.). Never give out pins, passwords, or account numbers by phone or email. Also, be sure the "lock" icon is on your bank’s site to ensure extra security.

No, I am not doing a commercial for Bank of America, Chase, or anyone else. I am sold on online banking and I want every one to know how easy it is. Look at it as a service to you from me as a "thank you" for going online and reading and commenting on my blogs for the last few years.

Now....if I can get everyone to start charging everything on a credit card and paying it off monthly while accumulating points towards cash, I will have accomplished my goals.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Over 50 and going back to work?

Heaven forbid that I would ever have to go back to work. I don’t include writing newspaper stories as work because I enjoy that and I have even been paid for my efforts occasionally. I’m talking about having to go back to work full time because of loss on investments or some other tragedy evolving from a bad economy. However, if I did have to put my selling shoes back on and face the current youth oriented brave new world, I would have a few strategies up my sleeve.

Probably any agency would tell you that there is a bias today against workers in their 50s and older. If that pertains to you, as it does me, we better be ready to compete. The first thing I would do is check my appearance. I ditched my 1980s suits a long time ago but I wouldn’t wear them now anyway. Old fashioned clothes project the wrong image. I would invest in a new wardrobe with conservative colored suits. Shirts would be white and light blue with conservative ties and well shined shoes, probably nice loafers. I always took pride in looking professional and would continue that thought.

I would keep my hair in a conservative cut and if I wore glasses, I would have a nice stylish pair, preferably not the ones that turn dark in the sun. I would never wear any political or religious accessories like lapel pins.

Probably the most important thing for the over 50 job seeker would be to catch up on the technological part of business. I’m pretty good with a computer and own a cell phone. I’ve never sent a text message, but I guess I could do that too, it looks simple enough. If you aren’t proficient in these skills and others, get that way ASAP. A good appearance AND up to date knowledge will go a long way in Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Hopefully, this is all academic and I will be able to continue in my tee shirt and shorts existence for a while longer. But, if worse comes to worse, I have my strategy for returning to the workplace. And, if I do return, I hope I won’t be required to use a Bluetooth. Those of you who know me know what I think of those!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thanks Mom and Dad!

I guess it all depends on how you were raised and the mentality of the era in which you were brought up. I look at the people going "belly up" these days with the bad economy and my first thought is about how easy it would have been for them to avoid such travail if they employed some common sense. I wonder if common sense is even part of their vocabulary.

My parents were in their mid to late thirties when I was born and I used to lament the fact that they were older and a bit less vibrant than the parents of my friends. As time passed, I changed my mind as I realized they instilled some old fashioned values in me that have lasted a lifetime.

For example, I was taught never to let impulse take the place of good sense. I think of that these days when I see the foreclosures happening around me on homes in supposedly upscale north Scottsdale. Young families have gotten into unmanageable loans on homes and cars and are losing it all. When I was their age, I would never have considered the debt burden they have assumed. I was married five years before I thought of buying a home. When I did buy in the early 1970s, I had a payment of $220 per month on a 30 year loan. Before we signed up for that kind of debt, my wife and I put a lot of pencils to paper to be sure we could handle it. We also did something that seems unheard of these days: We SAVED our money to apply a nice down payment on our house.

Today, we are inundated by ads on TV and the newspaper to "Buy now, no money down, no interest payments until 2010!" Then there are the ads for the suckers who got overextended on credit cards to go to a service where they will "cut your credit card payment in half and get those pesky creditors off your back." Guess what? There will still be a payday on that stuff. The 70s may have been the "me generation" but today is the "I have to have it NOW generation" and many are paying the price for bad credit decisions on silly material items.

It doesn’t seem fair. I have always used common sense in my financial dealings but because others haven’t and lenders have been foolish, I now have to pay the price for their mistakes by having my investments drop in value. However, I do have an ace in the hole. My house, cars, and everything I own are long ago paid for. I will never be involved in a foreclosure and I thank my parents for teaching me the value of living within my means.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thieves are smarter than you are

Recently there have been a lot of thefts from parked cars in lots belonging to health clubs and in areas near soccer fields, parks and other recreation areas. This follows a rash of incidents within the locker rooms of the clubs.

Some thieves are stupid and do things like walk in front of security cameras during burglaries. Those crooks usually have short careers. Then, there are the guys who rob locker rooms. According to AARP Bulletin, they can do pretty well if they are careful and not too greedy. If they steal just one or two credit cards from someone’s locker, they can easily use the two hour window before the cards are noticed missing to buy a lot of goods such as electronics. Usually, after two hours have elapsed the person robbed notices the missing cards and has them canceled. By then, the damage is done.

Because of locker room theft, many people are now locking their valuables in the glove compartments within their cars in the parking lot. That is dumb. There must be a thieves newsletter or grapevine because most of them know already this is happening. Or, maybe they have figured out that since the lockers are empty of valuables, maybe they are in the victim’s cars. A skilled thief can easily bust into a car and get the goodies out of the glove box.

Recently in Denver, a theft ring was busted that had stolen credit cards from cars of 500 victims. They had purchased more than $400,000 worth of stuff with the cards. The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is not immune and some similar cases there have been reported.

What can you do? The obvious thing is to not leave valuables in your car. That’s elementary and it’s hard to believe anyone wouldn’t figure it out. If you get new credit cards write "ask for I.D."on the back instead of writing your signature. Also, why not leave credit cards and/or other valuables at home? Or, if possible, carry them with you to the activity.

Remember, successful crooks are smart in the stealing business. You aren’t, so try to use some common sense and don’t leave you valuables laying around for these guys to take.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The games kids played

Migrant kids playing marbles in Texas in 1942. There seems to be a lot of interest in the game. (Rothstein)

I wonder if any kids still play the games that kids played once upon a time. The kids I see these days have cell phones in their hands continuously checking for and sending messages. At the same time they are listening to music on their iPods. I have seen kids crossing the street 3 or 4 in a group and they all are doing this. I guess they are friends but do they ever actually speak to each other with all that equipment dominating their time?

The only messages kids of my generation got were when our parents told us we BETTER do this or that chore around the house before we think of doing anything else. It didn’t take a cell phone to get the point across. I wonder if kids even do chores at home anymore. They seem way too busy handling their calls and downloading more music into the iPod. Besides, if their parents give them too much of a hard time, they can always have their lawyer get in touch with the parents concerning child cruelty.

Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to the kids of today but they are definitely a different group. I don’t see many on the school grounds or the streets playing the games of the past. In fact, as we have discussed in this space before, "tag" is a game of the past since the dreaded PC crowd took over. I imagine the kids are in their homes playing TV games or "X Box," whatever that is.

Just talking about the kids’ games of the past whets my desire for a good game of house ball, hide and seek, marbles, mumbly-peg, jacks, running bases, jump rope, or maybe some kick the can. The girls seemed especially adept at hopscotch.

Those were all great games that required very little equipment or expense. Some of them, like jumping rope, were the reason for kids being so thin in those days. You jump your mom’s clothesline for a while and you will know what burning calories is all about. Not too many calories disappear sitting in front of the TV. (For those who don't know the term "clothesline," leave a comment and I will explain.)

Kids had a great time with those games and no electronics or computers were necessary. I have seen a photo of kids playing marbles in the middle of a dirt Scottsdale Road in 1910. Imagine: kids playing outside, getting healthy, and actually having fun doing it. And, those kids had names like Harold, George, and Henry. I wonder if the Zacharys, Sawyers, and Tiffanys of today have ever heard of those names.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

This week's McCain-Obama debate

I watched the McCain-Obama debate this week and once again was disappointed. It wasn’t because of the candidates because I think they would be capable of better interaction if there were better moderators and less time constraints. This time we had Tom Brokaw, late of the NBC Nightly News. Tom is 68 now and seems set in his ways as to how a debate should be run. He asked the usual questions that we have heard numerous times about the economy and foreign policy with something about health care thrown in. I was hoping for something about gun control or maybe gay marriage. Immigration is a white hot item especially in Arizona. How about that?

The whole thing seemed so scripted that they could have used actors to portray McCain and Obama. Brokaw was constantly checking his watch as the dreaded red, yellow, and green lights kept prompting the candidates to time their answers to fit the time frame. To make matters worse, at the end when the candidates met to shake hands, they were scolded by Brokaw to please move aside so he could read the TelePrompter!

Please don’t think that I am ganging up on Brokaw. I was a fan of his for many years and thought he usually did a good job at NBC. It’s just that he is not a good debate moderator when he lobs rhetorical questions at the candidates and checks his watch every minute. It’s not entirely his fault, he has a boss too. The same goes for Jim Lehrer of PBS. He’s a good newsman but does he really need to tell the candidates to "look at each other."?

I think the networks need to cut back on the stodginess of the debates and have a wide open time frame. If a good discussion gets under way, let the guys go at it. If it goes past the 6 to 8 time slot, fine. We will happily wait an extra hour for "Boston Legal" to watch a lively debate. After all, the networks delay programming to finish NFL games that go long.

Also, we need better moderators. Brokaw and Lehrer are too boring. If they weren’t dead, I would nominate Sam Kinison and George Carlin. Those guys would keep everyone awake! Since they are unavailable, how about Jon Stewart or David Letterman?

Of course I jest. But, wouldn’t it be fun to see the debates loosen up? Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen. It might delay the latest Taco Bell commercial.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Remembering Woolworth's

Knowing my interest in all things historical, reader Don sent to me a copy of a Woolworth’s lunch counter menu from the early 1950s. Many of you are now thinking, "Woolworth’s"? What is Woolworth’s?

From 1879 until 1997, Woolworth’s was as common as Wal-Mart is today. They were known as a "5 and dime" store as their products were of low cost. If you needed a thimble, a spool of thread, a cheap toy, penny candy, or a pair of socks, Woolworth’s was the place to buy those items along with thousands of others.

There was hardly a town in America that didn’t have a Woolworth’s store. Eventually as the chain grew, they started putting lunch counters in them. The counter within the store in Greensboro, North Carolina became famous on February 1,1960 when four Black students sat down in an attempt to desegregate the store. They failed but the incident became famous in the civil rights movement of the time.

There was a Woolworth’s in downtown Phoenix that became a popular place for workers in the area to eat lunch. That store also had Pima Indian women sitting on the sidewalk in front selling little beaded knick knacks.

By 1997, after some failures in the retail business like their discount Woolco stores, plus a decline in the 5 and dime business, Woolworth’s closed their doors. A lot of you who are of a certain age will remember those stores and the distinctive smell they had. I referred to it as "that dime store smell." I also remember most of the stores having creaking wooden floors.

Enlarge the above menu and check the prices. Don’t you wish you could eat out that cheap today?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Cycles and re-cycles

A 1952 audience is watching a 3D movie of the day in this photo from Life Magazine.

Somebody once said "There is nothing new under the sun." That may not be entirely true but in many ways it is. Take a look through history and you will see that many styles, occurrences, and trends are repeated through the years. Not many items are "one and out" anymore, it seems to be about cycles.. Even the horse and buggy may make an encore performance in light of the current energy problems.

I saw an ad on television the other night for the latest Hollywood mind numbing violence movie and one of the features of that production is that it will be in 3D. They were touting 3D as some magical special effect. The producers must be too young to remember the 3D movies of the early ‘50s like "House of Wax" and "Bwana Devil." If you are old enough I’m sure you remember the special glasses we had to wear to get the 3D effect. By the way, that fad didn’t last, those glasses were a pain. Good luck with the new version, guys.

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s saw the emergence of bell bottom trousers. They quickly went the way of Woodstock but they sure made a comeback in recent years. I guess the designer figured that enough years had passed to regurgitate an old style to a new generation born after 1970. I think it is brilliant, just file the style and do it again a few years later. It saves a lot of time when one doesn’t have to be innovative.

How about wide and narrow men’s ties? Women’s hemlines? Sideburns? Long hair? Short hair? Mustaches? One I haven’t seen make it through the cycle is the ladies’ "Marcel" wave hairdo of the 1920s but fear not, I probably just gave someone an idea.

One of the most expensive and wasteful items to go through a cycle is the old fashioned streetcar technology of the 19th century which evolved into gasoline and diesel buses and is now making a return as "light rail." Light rail is a waste of money that will cost the taxpayers of cities like Phoenix millions in subsidies but just try and tell that to the geniuses who decided to install it.

We all know only too well about the cycles in the economy. Then there are the remakes of popular songs from years ago that become popular all over again through the cover version. The same with movie remakes. If it worked 20 years ago, surely it will work again, or will it? The guys who tried to remake "Psycho" found out the hard way that remakes aren’t a guarantee of success. Ann Heche is no Janet Leigh.

Maybe there is nothing new under the sun after all.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Stoneman Military Road in Arizona

The remains of the Stoneman road run from lower right to upper left in photo.

The Stoneman Military Road is an important part of Arizona history. I’ve done a blog and column in the Scottsdale Republic about the road within the last year, so you may have at least some remembrance of this important lifeline that ran between Fort McDowell near Fountain Hills and Fort Whipple in Prescott during the era of 1870 until 1890.

In the Carefree, Cave Creek, and north Scottsdale area, there are still a few traces of the old, long ago abandoned trail that at one time was a vital supply line. Between Windmill Road and Stagecoach Pass, you can walk the ruts of the old road over to Cave Creek Road. That’s fascinating to me since I love the history of this area.

I bring this up because recently the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak helped the residents of the area derail a California developer who wanted to re-zone a 20 acre area at Windmill Road and Stagecoach Pass. The land was designated for four 5 acre lots which the developer wanted to change to 13 lots. After his plans were refused, he decide to stay with the original zoning of one home per 5 acres.

Because of COPP and local residents, this area will retain the rural lifestyle that is preferred. Also, the area where the Stoneman Military Road once ran in the 19th century, will be less disturbed and another out of state developer who tried to come to town and make a quick buck, will be rebuffed.

COPP reiterates that if you live in Scottsdale, you have your choice of a variety of lifestyles. There are golf communities, urban living downtown, areas with great views, and large horse properties. Saving the few 5 acre zoned areas is important to the northern area of town. And, for me, saving any trace of the Stoneman Road is vital to the remembrance of that important 19th century route to Prescott.