From the category archives:

musings

Blind Men And The Elephant - The Story Of A Stimulus Package

by golbguru on February 8, 2009

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
Source

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Source

I don’t think there is a better way to describe the Democratic vs Republican wrangling on the economic stimulus plan.

Although, I am unable to make up my mind as to whether the leaders of this country are simply blind or have monochromatic vision compounded by exceedingly narrow minds.

Anyways,

In the end the Elephant will fall,
But on the way it will crush us all!

(Pardon the little rhyme and pun there)

Do Above Average To Be Treated Above Average

by golbguru on January 11, 2009

This whole hiring-firing thing is too complicated to capture in a small post as this,  but one of the simplest thing I have realized over the last year is this - do something above average if you want to be treated above average - make yourself indispensable - make yourself valuable - do something that makes your peers and bosses remember your face when they compile a list of people who are to be fired (that will be one step towards ensuring that you are not on that list).

As much as organizations want to reduce costs by laying off a bunch of people, they are also aware that they need to be highly efficient when things aren’t as bright as usual - this requires that they NOT layoff their efficient employees (well unless they want to shut down completely .. but that’s a different ball game in itself).

The point is that if you want to be treated as a “special” employee, you have to first ask yourself if you are doing anything “special” for your employer. It’s a very simple thing, but you will be surprised how many people don’t get it. They will come 15 minutes late everyday - spend an hour in the break room everyday - talk about kids and football for about an hour everyday - browse the internet for a couple of hours everyday - leave 15 minutes early everyday - leave an hour earlier on every Friday - and then they will act all surprised and cry foul when they get the pink slip.

Another thing to realize is that most of the bigger corporations hire with some degree of redundancy in mind (especially when the times are good and there is a lot of money flowing around). This means that some of your peers are capable of doing the exact things that you are capable of - now, when it comes to choosing who should stay and who should go, don’t expect to be safe unless you have done something more valuable that your peers.

The message is simple - do average, get average - do special, get special. Don’t just make it a habit, make it a lifestyle.

Financial Crisis: The Theological Aspect

by golbguru on October 13, 2008

Here is an excerpt from an interesting article I read a few days ago:

Says Anthea Butler, an expert in Pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York: “The pastor’s not gonna say, ‘Go down to Wachovia and get a loan,’ but I have heard, ‘Even if you have a poor credit rating, God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you’ll get that house or that car or that apartment.’ ” Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma: “It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, ‘If you give this offering, God will give you a house.’ And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy.” If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.  …

“Narratives of how ‘God blessed me with my first house despite my credit’ were common. Sermons declaring ‘It’s your season to overflow’ supplanted messages of economic sobriety,” and “little attention was paid to … the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM to subsidize cars, clothes and vacations.”

Read the rest of it here.

In addition to Wall Street, it looks like the faith business also needs a little more scrutiny. Apart from that, I am always surprised at how gullible people can be when it comes to being sold out divine rhetoric.

If we keep up with this even God will need a bailout someday!

Finally, God helps those who help themselves, for everybody else there is Mastercard everybody else needs to clearly understand the meaning of the words “deliquency” and “foreclosure”.

John McLane Rescues The US Economy

by golbguru on September 25, 2008

This is not a political blog, but perhaps I am a bit cranky after losing electricity and water for 5 days, so I will let this one slip by.

So here goes:

mclainJOKE1 musings

Image source: http://codenameblogtastica.blogspot.com/

…. he killed a helicopter with a car, and then he walked bare-foot on broken glass, and then he fired a few people, and then he suspended whatever that was going on and proceeded to Capitol Hill to beat the crap out of bad dudes and to rescue the economy.

Oh wait… it’s McClane not McCain you idiot. Oops! it’s probably the uncanny similarity between the looks of Mr. Willis and Mr. McClane Mr. McCain that confused me.

I don’t mean any disrespect, but I had to get this out because I actually had a dream of John McCain hanging “suspended” upside down in New York’s Central Park right above a huge pile of money (that looked like it was about $700 billion). I woke up a little scared and then realized that it’s because I read about David Blaine’s stunt before going to sleep last night - while I was being constantly bombarded by television commentary on McCain’s suspension of his campaign (or whatever - didn’t look much of a campaign anyways) and the $700 billion bailout.

You can imagine the kind of maverick-ish impact Mr. McClane Mr. McCain is having on me. :)

Anyways, with that out of the way, there is something else I need to say. It has recently come to my attention that some people don’t really know how many zeroes are there in a billion! That calls for a little bit of elaboration on the numbers you might hear in the next few months.

$700 billion = $700,000,000,000

300 million = 300,000,000 (as per Google search, the actual number is close to 301,139,947 - go figure what this number is)

Now, $700,000,000,000/300,000,000 = $2333.33 per person

As per 2006 tax figures, there were 135,660,228 tax returns filed.

Now, $700,000,000,000/135,660,228 = $5159.95 per tax return

Some other numbers to put things into perspective.

For the year 2007, AIG CEO’s (Martin Sullivan) monetary compensation was $13.9 million ($13.9 million = $13,900,000)

Earlier this year, most people I know received economic stimulus payments that ranged between $600 and $1200

Maximize Money? Or Maximize Time? Or Minimize Stress?

by golbguru on September 7, 2008

Since reading some comments on my last post, I had been thinking about what this whole deal with “personal finance” is about; is it about making the most amount of money? or is it about saving the most amount of money? or is it about spending the least amount of money? or is it about reducing stress due to money matters? or is it about this obscure concept called “financial freedom”?

The more I think about it, the less specific I get about possible “correct” answers to that question. In fact, looking back at my life, it seems that at different times, a different answer suited me depending on my financial and personal situation at that time.

What came out of this thought process was the realization that personal finance is not just about “maximizing money” - as I used to think earlier - and like most people probably think about it.

It’s not about maximizing. It’s about optimizing.

Given a financial situation, personal finance is about making the best of that situation. Sometimes it means trying to make as much money as you can, and at other times it means trying to make your money work to make you more efficient by reducing your stress, and at some other times it means that you save every penny to make sure that your children don’t inherit your burden of debt.

There is nothing wrong in trying to “maximize money”, but it is important to realize that, depending on your personal situation, there are costs (in terms of stress and time) associated with trying to do that.

Examples are numerous (but vague and difficult to explain) in this area, but a simple one would be to think of a job in which you are paid overtime. Every extra hour you work might mean that you will become richer than the previous hour, but it does not mean that you would be stress-free - or that you would be able to devote enough time to your family. If you overdo it, it wouldn’t be too hard to make yourself and your family feel miserable even with the extra money you earn.

Working your ass off for a few extra bucks might be a good idea when you are a bachelor with hardly any cares in the world, but if you are a family man, then you might be better off by working a little less in lieu of spending a little more time with your family. Now, just because you gave up that little extra money to spend time with your family or to reduce your stress, it does not mean that you are careless or frivolous with your personal finances. In other words, just because you chase every penny, it does not mean that you are an epitome of financially astute people. :)

In general, for the sake of the betterment of the whole universe and your own self, try optimizing your money instead of maximizing it. It also helps to reevaluate our understanding of “personal finance” in perspective of our changing personal situation and revise our money-chasing efforts accordingly.

Duh!

The Stupid Passport Photo Ripoff

by golbguru on January 14, 2008

I don’t know what to call this passport photo business, so I am just going to stick with “stupid ripoff” for now.

During the weekend, we went into a CVS Pharmacy Photo Center to get some passport/ID photos. We wanted a specific size (as they say “from chin to crown”), so we asked the dude who was attending the photo center whether he can adjust the size. Pat came his reply “No, we just print the standard 2″ by 2″ photo and we can’t adjust any proportions“.

I asked him “But, don’t you have a software where you center the face in the photograph and mark the upper and lower boundaries for the face? All we have to do is to adjust those boundaries and then we can cut the photographs to the size we want - and approximately in the proportion we want“. He didn’t seem too impressed with the knowledge and insisted that he won’t do anything other than the standard 2″ by 2″ without any editing.

So we left the shop, and wondered why the heck they charge $7.99 if they wouldn’t do anything other than click the photograph and print it. Camera rental charges or something? - perhaps they use expensive digital SLRs to get good pictures (wishful thoughts).

Anyways, we then visited a Walgreen’s Photo Center and again got the same story. Next, we again tried a CVS - a different one this time - just to see if one of these “Kodak Certified” dudes could get our photographs the way we wanted. But we met with the same disappointment at this location too.

Finally, we surrendered and asked the CVS guy to click passport sized photos for one of us. We confirmed the price and he said $7.99 for two copies - additional copies will cost extra.

We decided to try it out with two copies to start with.

While we waited for the photos to print out, I saw (with my own eyes) that the photographs were printed on a 4″ x 6″ photo paper - and there were 6 copies on it. Then the dude coolly cut away 4 copies, disposed them, and handed us the remaining two copies.

WTF!?

Man, does CVS implement this type of idiotic business at all it’s photo centers?

Plus, the photos he printed didn’t look sharp at all - pretty sure it was some crappy point-and-shoot camera that didn’t do a very good job of focusing. When we pointed that out, he was like “Oh really? don’t worry all photos printed here look like that and no one ever came back because a photo was not accepted“. Wow! that’s an awesome argument to complement a crappy service. :)

What’s wrong with these photo centers. Why should a passport photo - clicked by a mediocre digital camera - without any studio-type lighting arrangements - without any professional photographers, cost $7.99?

Just to be sure that I am on the right side of statistics, we checked out another CVS Photo Center and two Walgreens Photo Centers - and got similar less-than-average-quality pictures, overpriced at $7.99 for two copies - topped with a totally unprofessional approach towards clicking good photographs.

Eventually, we gave up on these photo centers and decided to make our own pictures. Bought a 2 yard long white cloth (for background) from Walmart for $2, used our digital camera, adjusted the brightness and contrast in Photoshop, used this free service that lets you size your photos according to your requirements, and printed them again at Walmart (through their online photo service).

Total cost for 32 excellent passport/ID photographs: $2 for the white cloth and about $1 for photo printing = $3 (took a little bit of time with the Photoshop editing, but we were absolutely happy with the end result).

Down with $7.99 for two crappy photos!

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Ah Ha! The Value Of An Asset Is Better Appreciated When You Lose It

by golbguru on December 10, 2007

This is rather obvious, but not much appreciated in day-to-day life, so I thought of giving it a shout-out.

Over the last couple of months, I have been in the process of eagerly seeking a change in my current graduate student lifestyle. A part of this change, would come in the form of a real-life job in an industry. Those who have been following this blog since the beginning are probably aware of the fact that I have been studying towards my PhD - and wasn’t all too happy about the way things have been going for a long time. Finally, sometime in the last couple of months, I bought an artificial backbone from Dogbert at an enormous price ( ;) ) and that has given me the necessary courage to create my own destiny instead of relying on some general-purpose ignorant idiots. Looking for a job at this juncture is probably going to cost me my PhD degree, but I think I can live in peace even without those three alphabets.

Anyways, after I conveyed my thoughts to my superiors, it has been really interesting to observe a change in their attitude towards me. My time and knowledge of certain things (which were utterly disregarded till this point) have now suddenly become top priorities for some folks. People are now really listening to what I want to say and I am hearing a few good words about the work that I have done so far. [Either that, or it's just like people are obligated to say good things about you when you are gone (cough*eulogy*cough). :)]. All in all, it’s almost exactly opposite of what has been going on so far and it sure feels good - although it’s too late for any amends at this point.

It’s probably human nature to take certain things for granted - till those certain things become hard to come by. This happens to the best of us when it comes to money, character, relationships, and other important assets. Unfortunately, the value of such assets is almost always appreciated only near the breaking point - when you are about to lose an asset, or have just lost it and when it’s too late to regret.

In this spirit, let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate our hidden assets (whatever they may be) - let’s do it right now … before it’s too late.

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The Sandwiched Generation

by golbguru on November 22, 2007

A few days ago, CBS Evening News ran an article titled “Caregivers Rise to the Challenge” which featured some families that were struggling to keep up with taking care of their aged parents (in terms of time and money). Here is an excerpt from the article:

Winchell’s family may be America’s new norm. An estimated 34 million Americans care for loved ones age 50 and over. A just-released healthcare study of a thousand caregivers finds half of them are spending more than 10 percent of their income on it. One in three used some of their savings to cover costs. Just like the Winchells.

When asked if they had any savings put away for their own retirement, Stacy Winchell said, “No and I don’t foresee that at this point in time that there will be any retirement.”

…. But without her own financial cushion, it might be her own children who have to be there for her, when the time comes.

People who are struggling to maintain their own financial well being, in addition to looking after their parents and their kids, are what I call the “sandwiched generation”.

Notice the sort-of-treadmill effect in the above example? Stacy doesn’t have anything saved for her retirement - which effectively means that her children will probably have to spend their savings towards her post-retirement well being - which very likely means that they will probably have less for themselves in future. It’s an interesting cycle (played out all too well in most developing countries) - one which will not come to an end unless one of the generations takes the additional pains of providing for their parents as well as their kids.

A few months ago, Jonathan @ My Money Blog voiced concerns along these lines - which effectively summarized the classic dilemma that the sandwiched generation faces:

But what if they do run into issues, for whatever reason? I know that I’d step in to help for sure. For one, I know that my parents regularly give my grandparents money. I don’t know how much or how often, it could be just spending money, but I know they do send something. I guess this is what some people call the “sandwich” problem. Young families have their own retirement worries on one side, their kid’s education in the middle, and their parents’ needs on the other side.

Do you worry about your parents’ retirement plans? Should a child ask their parents about such details or get involved? How does one incorporate this into their own financial plan?

Check out the comments below Jonathan’s post to get a feel of how some people are addressing the issue.

I guess we would all ask these questions to ourselves at some point of time - whether our parents are in a good financial position or not. With what intensity you ponder over these question probably depends on your culture, temperament, and your personal relations with your parents, but most of you will think about this for sure.

I am probably among the fortunate young (in a relative sense) people who may not have to worry too much about the post-retirement financial concerns of their parents. My dad and mom voluntarily retired when they were 49 and 46 years old, respectively. They planned their finances very well (although we barely made “middle-class” in the kind of society we lived in) and are probably set for the rest of their lives.

Although, it’s reassuring to know that my parents are taking good care of their money, I am still keeping some part of my income earmarked for them - in case of unanticipated health care issues in future. Plus, we (me and my wife) are slowly acknowledging (and preparing for) the fact that, in future, our careers and/or lifestyle decisions may be affected by our willingness to be caregivers for our parents - if and when the need arises. This is, of course, in addition to working towards our own financial well being - so that our children won’t have to worry about our financial stability after we retire.

As for health issues, there isn’t much we can do right now - except to make sure that we maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle and to that our health care costs are not our children’s burden. As for our children (when we have them), we are not yet sure how much financial help they would need - for now, saving for their education is our only concern. It all boils down to saying that when we save about 25% of our income, part of those savings are earmarked for kids and parents.

Another thought to take home from this discussion is to acknowledge that your financial and physical health not only affects you, but also a generation before you and a couple of generations after you. If you get into trouble (in terms of health or money), whether out of sheer obligation or out of willingness, people who care about you are generally bound to come to your aid (unless you have been a total ass all your life) - and although they may not admit it, it will cause them and their family some discomfort. As such, it is up to you to make sure that they don’t suffer because you didn’t plan your finances well when you had a chance, or because you never cared about your health. :)

Do you belong to the sandwiched generation? How are you dealing with it?

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Testimonial Bullshit

by golbguru on November 19, 2007

testimonial-bsOne of these days I am going to throw up on watching/reading testimonials from “real people”. I haven’t really understood the fundamental purpose of these testimonials. Do they really impress people into buying shady stuff? Are people really so dumb uninformed that they easily get suckered into emptying their pockets after hearing testimonials from “real people”? Do they really believe that a $50 booklet will make them $100,000 a month? or that a $59 bottle of pills will reduce their weight by 30 pounds in a month?

I don’t know how you all deal with testimonials, but for me, all links/pages/advertisements with “testimonials” are basically off-limits. There is no valuable information ever in such testimonials. Mostly it is simply fake text/speech for the purpose of self-glorification, or paid content produced by “actors” or “writers” - who don’t have anything to do with the product. I would never make a purchasing decision based on such testimonials.

Here are a few examples of some dubious testimonials that qualified for this rant. :)

  • Ever heard of the “crazy fox” home business advertisements on TV? The whole premise of the advertisement doesn’t go down well with me. Isn’t “fox” considered a symbol for cunningness - with a definite negative connotation? Remember “cunning as a fox” or “sly as a fox”? And yet people believe an animated fox when it talks about how to make hundreds of thousands of dollars by working from home?

A good part of this foxy advertisement consists of testimonials from people who claim to have made a ton of money by following the fox’s advice. Watch these actors/liars in the video - especially how they enunciate the numbers and fake happiness:

[youtube]_JoWB3zaPjM[/youtube]

Feed readers click here for the video.
Now, isn’t that some real furry piece of crap. :)

  • Another noteworthy source of testimonial BS comes from well-built males and females (sometimes, with names phonetically similar to well-known actors/actresses) who swear that various parts of their bodies were shaped exclusively by various expensive exercising machines. At times, these “real” testimonials are also accompanied by morphed (almost certainly) and/or digitally remastered “before-after” photographs.

bodybuilding testimonials

  • Next, here is an example of some brash touting of “real” testimonials on www.therichpom.com:

Make Money Online - REAL Testimonials

Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before. Make money online using the Internet, Work from Home etc. It’s all a big scam isn’t it, just like this website?

DON’T THINK SO!

See below - don’t take my word for it. These are real people who have had the balls to buy my product and they have successfully made money online.

I don’t know what kind of balls one needs to tolerate such brash marketing and, and on top of that, believe in some lame testimonials like this one:

“My wife told me I’d been stupid to spend eighty bucks on some Internet ‘get rich quick program’. I told her it was a long-term thing, but even I was surprised when we had earned our rent money in the first month alone. I’m now into my third month and I have quit my job. In a word - thanks”

Quit job in the third month! Wow.. that’s awesome - and I think the dude said that in the same breath as he said “long-term thing“. I guess it’s no wonder then if stupid websites that carry such testimonials are still making money.

  • Here is another money making “self-testimonial” from a rather shady website ( www.thousanddollarprofits.com ):

“That’s Me, Sitting Outside Of My Home In Hawaii. Keep In Mind I Haven’t Always Made Over $35,000 Per Week, From My Home… Not So Long Ago I Was Working As A Construction Laborer, Drowning In The Corporate Rat-Race, And Struggling To Pay My Bills. Since My Breakthrough With The ‘Reverse Funnel System’, I Now Make More Money In One Week Than I Used To In A Year - And You Could Too. I’ll Prove It…”

“I am absolutely convinced that my proven System, will create massive wealth for virtually anyone regardless of your background, education, or even your current level of income… I’m going to Prove it!”

That’s right, I have never heard of a “construction laborer” drowning in a “corporate rat race“. :) Plus, one just has to wonder why these folks, who make $35,000 a week, create and run some low-grade, down right dubious and cheap websites.

  • Here is one that claims weight loss by listening to an audio cassette ( www.hypnosisdownloads.com ):

“I have just started educating myself on hypnosis. I downloaded ‘ Weight Loss Motivation‘ and then recorded it on a cassette and have listened to it for about 3 weeks now. I have lost 12 pounds but more importantly I notice that the choices I have been making are a lot smarter. Thank you!!”

“I would you recommend this download to anyone looking to take back control of their life!!”

If only weight loss was this simple - sit in traffic for 2 hours every day and just listen to an audio cassette many times over! Better still, I would love to see something like “Get Rich Motivation” - I will listen to it for three weeks and then claim to be richer! I will probably find something like that if I look hard enough. Sounds like the right kind of product for folks who believe in Dogbert-ism.

  • Now, here is one that beats them all by a comfortable margin in terms of absolute testimonial bullshit - and it comes from www.mattersofsize.com. No prizes for guessing the subject matter under consideration:

“I Now Have 8.5 Inches!”
“You’re absolutely one of my heroes. Your inventiveness, sensitivity, and strength are inspirational, as is your progress. Thank you for giving me the 8.5” I have always dreamed of. I joined 3 other programs with no luck. I started at 6” and I tried everything from pills and weights to pumps and potions and nothing worked. After working with you over the past year my dreams have finally come true. This site was the best move you could have made. Now the world will have access to what I have had been spoiled with.”

Somebody please kill me already!

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Crossing Generations: Being Grateful For What We Have And Some Reflections On The Future

by golbguru on October 1, 2007

It all started with these lines from the movie Rush Hour, which we watched over this weekend for the umpteenth time:

Carter: …My daddy once saved five crackheads from a burnin’ building, by himself.
Lee: My daddy once caught a bullet with his bare hand.

One thing led to another and we (me and my wife) eventually got to discussing how our respective parents struggled through adverse financial conditions, and yet managed to make the most of their lives.

Here are a few interesting features (although, not as exciting as catching bullets with bare hands) about my parents’ lives that briefly came under discussion:

  • My dad and his siblings walked to school on tar roads without any footwear to protect their feet. I often thought that this story was blown to legendary proportions until I visited the village where he lived when he was young, and saw quite a few school children walking on hot roads without any footwear (and this was in 2005!). He got his first flip-flops when he was in 7th grade and didn’t have proper *shoes* till 3 years later.
  • Mom was a bit luckier - she had access to footwear when she was a kid (she grew up in an urban area); but, she spent about 18 years of her life sharing a small single room (about 400 sq. ft) with 8 other family members. “Privacy” was an unheard concept among the middle class at the time - even now, it’s not a very popular concept. :)
  • Both of them had to give up their education at some point of time in order to work towards earning income, so that they can lend a helping hand towards educating their respective younger siblings.
  • After they were married, their life together started in a small rented apartment which didn’t even have plumbing facilities for the first 4 of the 8 years that they spent there. Drinking water had to be brought from a well that was about 200 feet away from the apartment.
  • They couldn’t afford a car until after retirement [it did help that a public transport system was in place and they didn't really need one].
  • Luxuries like refrigerator, washing machine, television, telephone, etc. came very late in their adult lives (long after I was born; check my TV story here). They still don’t have an air conditioner at their home - though it does get pretty hot in summer. For them, it’s not really a big deal because most other middle class families around them don’t have air conditioners either (astute readers will have realized by now that I am not talking about the US here).

In fact, in the part of the world where my parents grew up (and in their time frame), such financial hardships were a norm. Many people of my generation (although, not all), who were brought up in middle class families in that part of the world, would have similar stories to share about their parents.

Sometimes, when I think of all this and compare it with how we are living our lives right now - with all the educational and financial opportunities available to us, with most of the *comforts* in life one could ask for, without having to worry about how we will survive till the next paycheck, without having to worry about how we will be able to provide for our younger siblings, and stuff like that - I can’t help but feel extremely grateful for how life has treated us so far. We may not be among the wealthiest people in the world, but whatever we are getting out of our life at present is a whole lot more than what was even remotely possible for our parents.

It’s truly humbling to look back and think of how much the efforts and sacrifices (mostly sacrifices) of our parents have contributed to where we are at present. Of course, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of our own decisions and choices towards getting us to our present situation - but, it’s with the full understanding that those decisions and choices couldn’t have been very effective without a solid foundation and unconditional support that was provided to us early on by our parents - in spite of all the financial adversities they were facing in their lives.

In between such sentimental thoughts, I often slip in the future - yeah.. many years in the future - and wonder what kind of comments our would-be kids will have about our evolving financial situation. As things stand now, I am sure they won’t have anything to write about how their parents rose through “financial hardships” and stuff .. so, I don’t know if I will hear about any “grateful” type of feelings … the only thing I am hoping for, is to not see/hear statements like:

  • My old man had everything but he blew it away and couldn’t save anything for my college.
  • My old man had everything but he still got into huge debt.
  • My old man was miserable and greedy, he had money on his mind all the time - never had enough time for family.
  • Etc., etc., :)

~$$~

Interestingly, in spite of the tough financial conditions early on, my dad and mom retired at the ages of 49 years and 46 years, respectively. More about this sometime later.

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