Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sprint Airlines imposed $45 fee per carry-on.

If you don't travel frequently, you probably don't really care. Skip this post.

As the USA Today reports, Sprint Airlines is proposing a $45 fee per carry on bag. When I used to travel frequently, I made a blog post that spoke about the checked bag fees, that accurately predicted the future.

The purpose of me noting this is more because of the government getting involved and threatening to pass legislation to block this additional fee. Really? Do we need the government to protect us from capitalism and debating issues like this. Good grief - this is seriously misdirected outrage.

Get back to encouraging job growth by offering massive incentives to small businesses to hire people.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Surviving the Recession for Twenty-Somethings (Revisited)

About 11 months ago I made a post about surviving the recession.

Since that time the number of unemployed and underemployeed has skyrocketed - with some people putting the combined un and underemployed rate approaching 20%.

One of the things I touched on briefly was having a re-employement plan. This is a strategy of contacting personal friends, business associates, previous customers and others to let them know you're in the market for a new job.

However, what I'd like to write about now is having a de-employment plan. Here's a checklist of things you'll want to do if you are de-employed not on your terms.

1. Don't sign anything. When you are de-employed, you're under considerable distress. Do not sign any piece of paper explaining reason for your severance and termination unless you understand every single word. You need to be thinking clearly and may be signing away your rights if you're being terminated illegally. You do not need to sign anything the day you're let go.

... except a clause about expense reports. Make sure that your employers agrees to pay the balance of your company related expenses, and get this in writing. It should state, "I will provide my company related expenses within 5 business days and will be reimbursed by (employer) in full. I estimate these expenses to be roughly XXX dollars."

2. File for unemployment. You do this through your state. For some people, they view collecting unemployment as a sign of failure or laziness. THIS IS NOT TRUE. DO NOT BELIEVE THE LIE. These economic times are unprecedented in our generation. Now is not the time to be idealistic or prideful. In Illinois you would visit the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Benefits for people that earn above $42,536 are $385 per week. For earners below that, the amount is 47% of your income. Married people with a dependent spouse earn $459 (58%). One or more children raises the amount to $534 (63.2%).

3a. Know your options with health insurance. If you lose your job, you still have the opportunity to keep your company's existing health insurance - however, you'll need to pay the premiums. Most employeers with good health insurance have costs that are roughly $700-$1,000 a month. Fortunately, the ARRA offers significant support for these payments.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides for premium reductions and additional election opportunities for health benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, commonly called COBRA. Eligible individuals pay only 35 percent of their COBRA premiums and the remaining 65 percent is reimbursed to the coverage provider through a tax credit. The premium reduction applies to periods of health coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009 and lasts for up to nine months for those eligible for COBRA during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009 due to an involuntary termination of employment that occurred during that period.
3b. Get a physical. When you realize the costs of premiums, especially if you're young and healthy, you may wish to forgo health insurance, depending on how much money you have saved and your cash flow situation. Having a physical that says you're healthy will help get you the lowest prices if you need to purchase individual insurance.

Suspend unnecessary expenses. This includes extended cable TV packages, cell phone data / texting packages, tithing, any automatic saving payments. Stop all automatic payments outside of utilities. This is not the time to calculate how long you can last "without changing your lifestyle". You've lost your job - your lifestyle should change. Your expense priorities are now shelter, food (not dining!) and transportation.

5. Don't take a vacation. This is basically a specific version of #4. I've heard of many people who think since they have "time off" it means "I deserve a vacation." You're unemployed! That is not an option.

6. Sharpen your resume. I wrote on this before.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thoughts on Health Care

"No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick."

With the health care debate raging on, I see more and more people making claims like the above.

I don't think that many people would disagree with the initial statement, but the issue is much bigger than life or death. Often the issues at hand are quality of life and length of life. When health care is claimed to be a fundamental right instead of a privilege, then cost must becomes of no consequence. You can't argue against the economic consequences of spending a million dollars to keep a 90 year old woman alive for 10 more hours, just like you can't argue about the consequences to the owners of freeing 200 slaves on their million dollar a year plantation. The issues, if viewed as a right to health care and a right to personal liberty, are above mere dollar and cents consequences.

Where all will agree that if you're 90 years old and can extend your life for 10 hours at the cost of a million dollars, and somebody else will pick up the tab (the government) it's easy to pull the lever and say, "Sure, spend it. Great Grandma is worth it" Even though from a more holistic standpoint this probably isn't a wise choice given a million dollars could feed thousands of starving children elsewhere in the world.

So while we can probably agree that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick, I'm sure some would disagree with what this implies: Everyone should be allowed to live as long as they desire without regard to the use of resources required.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What does taking redundancies mean or being redundant?

I read a bizarre article [Borderline SFW] about a company in Britain whose employes all showed up nude to improve office morale and get past inhibitions. Seems a little extreme to me.

However, this was a Britainism (British English) that I didn't understand:
David Taylor, a business psychologist, told workers at design and marketing onebestway, in Newcastle upon Tyne, that a Naked Friday idea would boost their team spirit.

He was called in to help the firm after six staff members were forced into taking redundancies at the start of the credit crunch.

"Taking redundancies" is equivalent to American "down sizing" or "being laid off".

There's an article here that talks about British fears of being "redundant."

Because I'm not cultured and no google search term came up with adequate results, I thought I'd blog about it to blatantly gain some hits off of Google with key terms since the article is pretty widely published and I can't be the only person that needed clarification.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

WAMP Forbidden You don't have permission to access /phpmyadmin/ on this server.

If you're like me and just downloaded the newest copy of WAMP, you'll see a problem that drove me nuts. I got a notice that said:


You don't have permission to access /phpmyadmin/ on this server.

When you see something like this, you realize that it could be a million things, and since I'm more of a hack then a web developer, I freaked out.

A lot of help forums suggested that you modify the alias information so that you allow access from localhost, like Mine already had that setup, by default.

I was scratching my head over and over and couldn't figure out the root cause of all of this. Strangely, the SqLite manager was working just fine. This was so weird.

Then I went back and realized that the problem was that my C:\wamp\alias\phpmyadmin.conf file was just pointing to the wrong directory: it pointed to MySQL version phpmyadmin3.1.3 instead of phpmyadmin3.1.3.1. Ugh. WAMP team fail.

Check the directory and version number!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Scary Insurance Companies

Policy Amount Annual Premium Sum of 5 Years Premiums Implied Odds of Payout Calculated Likelihood of Dying in 5 years
$ 700,000 $ 420 $ 2,100 0.30% 1 in 333

Isn't this math basically correct?
What sort of margins do life insurance companies get?
How much goes to the agents, annually?


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Housing Market Perspective Update

With a child on the way in less than two months, there's been a constant itch to think about buying a home. Renting, has a stigma in American culture as being wasteful. However, in this economy, I continue to disagree that it's a great time to be a first time homeowner.

There's a lot of factors in play that make taking the home ownership plunge sound appealing. There's the $8,000 housing gift if you purchase a home (which can be used as a down payment, much to my dismay.) There's all time historic low interest rates, around 5%. Most noted, however, are all the "deals" that abound in a market. With home prices in DuPage County down 23% from their peak, it would appear that now is the time to buy!

However, I would argue that now is not the time to buy unless you are very certain you will own your property for at least five years, and definitely not the time to buy if you are looking for the best price. I repeat: We are not at the bottom of housing prices.

I have basically three reasons why I'm not buying:

1. The economy is not at the bottom. Major companies who announced layoffs in the past 6-12 months have not completed these layoffs. For those that have, many of these workers were high wage earners that received excellent severance packages and are still able to pay their mortgage. With the April 2009 unemployment rate at 8.9%, and having it increase every month, it's safe to say that foreclosures will continue to rise until this rate decreases to historical norms. This is more than one year off. Hence, I can safely choose to sign one year leases and continue to rent and not put my money into a depreciating asset. I already own two large depreciating assets, our cars. No need to add more to the list.

2. Even if the recession ended today, the housing inventory is still historically too high. With 9.8 months of inventory which took nearly two years to rise from 6.5 to 10.5 months, I don't think that we're going to see a swift turnaround. As homeowners become more desperate to sell, prices will continue downward.

What I've only seen briefly mentioned (You hear it here first!) is a recently published survey from Zillow that states 31% of homeowners would be somewhat likely, likely, or very likely to put their home up for sale if they saw signs of a real estate market turnaround in the next 12 months!

With roughly 75 million homes in the U.S. per the somewhat outdated 2000 census, this means that 75 x .31 = 23 million homes could be put for sale when the housing market "turns around". Compare this to the fact that 17 million homes where sold in the year 2006, 2007 and 2008 combined! This implies we could have up to four years of shadow inventory. The high inventory will continue downward housing prices.

3. As municipalities try to make ends meet with their budget, we can expect property taxes to increase significantly within the next several years, possibly dramatically changing the expected payments of a home. This risk and the ability to negotiate rent, compared with the complete inability to negotiate taxes, makes this another significant risk to purchasing a home today.

With all that said, I'll have to take a pass on the pulling the trigger on this one, and I advise my friends the same.