1-2-3 Retirement Savings (and a bunch of tips)

  1. Save as much as you can, preferable 15% of your income, in a IRA. Roth IRA, preferably. If you can save this much then you’ll also learn to be frugal in other areas, so when you do retire you’ll know how to make the money go even farther!
  2. Start as soon as you can. Anyone with earned income is eligible to fund an IRA. If you are a parent with working kids you might want to gift them money equal to their earned income into an IRA. Interest + time is the key.
  3. Keep is simple, and cheap. Most investment professionals talk about beating the market but almost never do, plus they have high expenses. If you invest in a cheap index fund like the Vanguard S&P fund then you don’t have to try and beat the market because you’ll own the market, and the fees are negligible. Here are some free bonus tips!
  4. One house, one spouse. Divorce is expensive. Sometimes it’s worth it, but it’s expensive.
  5. Pay yourself first and don’t fund your kids college at the expense of your retirement.
  6. You don’t own stuff, stuff owns you. Everything you purchase takes space and must be fed, insured, or maintained in addition to taking money out of your pocket. Don’t worry about keeping up with the neighbors, instead make considered purchases and buy the appropriate quality. Sometimes a cheap tool will do if you will only use it once or twice but other times it’s worth paying more if you will get lots of use out of it. Often used is the best buy. For example, a new Rainbow vacuum cleaner costs about $2500 with sales tax, but I recently bought a used one that works great for $140. I’d never pay that kind of money for a vacuum cleaner, even a great one like the Rainbow, but if a previous owner is offering that kind of discount then I’m all over it!
  7. Minimize your collection of monthly fees. They’re unavoidable sometimes, like cell phone bills or internet, but the NetFlix, Spotify, Hulu, cable tv and other fees quickly add up. A few hundred dollars of monthly fees multiply out to a few thousand per year.
  8. Avoid interest as much as possible, especially credit card interest.
  9. Always pay your bills on time. It’s easy to schedule payments with electronic banking., Pay 4-5 days before the due date so you won’t get hit by fees when the payment “doesn’t go through” in time.
  10. Learn to cook. Don’t eat out so much. Learn to love leftovers and pack your own lunch.
  11. Ready money is a friend. Savings can mean saving up for something or saving money until the right deal comes along. Be patient. If you wait long enough you’ll often find a great deal on things you’ve been saving for.
  12. Buy a car that’s a few years old, you might get an almost new for about half price. Let someone else take the depreciation hit.
  13. Don’t try to time the market. It’s tempting to pull out of your investments after the market takes a nosedive, but that’s the absolute worst time to do so! The best time is right before the nosedive, but only owners of certified crystal balls can do that. If you pull out when the market crashes then you lock in your losses and miss the benefit of the market’s comeback.
  14. Hot stocks are usually in the news after they’ve had a big run. Investing in today’s market darling can lead to mediocre results.
  15. After you’ve saved, and paid the bills, enjoy what’s left. Being smart with your money doesn’t mean never enjoying it. Being frugal and getting great deals is fun, being a cheapskate isn’t. Use some of your wealth to bless others who truly need and will appreciate it.

In a nutshell, save as much as you can, save as long as you can, and keep it as simple (and cheap) as you can. It doesn’t hurt to earn as much as you can. Remember to enjoy life, and your money, as much as you can!

Do It Till You Can Do It!

Here’s one of my favorite practice tips. Basically the tip is that you get ten match sticks (I use pennies) and work on a section of music you’re having difficulty with.  When you play it perfectly you slide a matchstick over to start a new pile. Play it perfectly a second time and you move another match stick. Repeat until you have ten match sticks in the pile. If you mess up you start over. It can be really hard but it really works, too.

Here’s the link to the original tip. http://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7560

I’m skeptical as to the truth of this story, mostly because I don’t think match sticks were commonly available “way back then”, but either way it’s still a great tip!

Morning Star

Yesterday my mother, sisters and I went to Charlotte, NC, to visit my cousin Margaret. On the way down mom asked if we could sing “Morning Star” for Margaret, a song which is traditionally sung to conclude Christmas Eve services in the Moravian Church. I think this is the first time we’ve all sung together. Mom started us off with the first verse, followed by Elizabeth, Rachel and myself. I think we really nailed the “terrified child voice” that you often get in the traditional service, as the lead parts are normally sung by young children!

Ok, it was pretty rough, but we hadn’t rehearsed at all.

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This is a picture of Margaret and me. We love her so much!

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Here is Margaret with her husband, Max.

Uber Education

I’ve been an Uber driver for a few months now. My initial excitement faded after putting 5000 miles on my new-used car in the first month, so I’ve slowed down quite a bit, only “Ubering” when I can add it onto my daily routine or when it’s very busy. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Uber, the company, is much more interested in making money for themselves than for enriching their drivers. With their 25% cut and “safe driver fee” their take is 53% of the minimum fair and on average takes a 35% chunk of the fare.

People almost never tip. This may be because Uber pushes the myth that tips are included and refuses to add a tipping feature to the app. Even business travelers generally do not tip,. I don’t think I’ve ever had a trip that involved someone being picked up or taken to the airport.

People are generally pretty nice. You do meet some nice and interesting people. It really helps you see that people are all pretty much the same no matter what race, sex, orientation, age, etc. We all have a lot more in common then we have differences.

Uber needs to start paying you to drive TO the pickup location. In my area it’s very common for a pickup to be 10 minutes or more away. You are not being paid for this time, but you are still paying for gas and wear-and-tear on your vehicle. One of the worst trips I ever took was when I drop way out into the country to pick up a woman in a very fancy house. She kept me waiting for about 5 minutes before coming out and then only went about a a mile and a half, so I probably made $2 for this 30-minute waste of my time. A tip would’ve gone a long way towards making me feel better about this.

Keeping the Uber driver waiting is one of the worst infractions, and there’s no excuse. The app lets passengers know when the car is getting close and when it arrives. I’ve never left before a passenger arrived, but I’ve come close.

Uber frequently sends the driver a less than accurate pickup location. The app will happily estimate your location but the addresses can leave you miles away from the pickup location. This is a worst case scenario, but it’s common to be a hundred yards or more away, or to be routed on a road that provides no access to where the customer actually is! I’ve been burned more than once and now I usually send a text to the passenger asking where I’m picking them up, which has saved a lot of frustration, aggravation, and wasted time.

Colleges and bar patrons are your bread and butter. The fares may not be huge, but being in the right location at the right time can keep you busy!

Uber plays some strange games with “Surge Pricing” Surge pricing is when Uber adds a multiplier to the regular fee because drivers are currently in short supply in that area, meaning the ride costs more for the passenger and pays better for the drivers. Surge pricing shows up on the maps of the Uber apps. I can’t count the number of times when the app showed that I was right in the middle of an area with surge pricing but did not get a call for a ride. I suspect Uber is trying to trick drivers to more towards an area, but have no proof of this.

People orderrides and then cancel. A lot. It is normal to get 1-2 cancellations per day. Sometimes people cancel immediately but it seems that it’s often after you’ve adjusted your course, turned around and gotten on the highway, etc. The worst is when you’re almost at the destination and then they cancel. Argh!

My worst fear is that someone will throw up in my car, which (knock on wood) hasn’t happened. I’m also worried about someone spilling something or stinking up my car. Most people actually smell pretty good. The exception tends to be mechanics, several of whom I’ve picked up, that can have a pretty strong oil/gas smell on them.

No calls? You can use the Uber app to see how many other cars are in your area. Maybe you just need to move.

Not getting calls for pickups? Head home, that always seems to end the dry spell!