“Rewards” credit cards are scams

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 03/18/2015 by Fox

When I was young, people lived from paycheck to paycheck. Today, it seems like they live from credit card payment to credit card payment.
~Robert Kiyosaki

I know I’ve said it before (and I say it a lot more often in person), but “rebate” or “rewards” credit cards are scams. Not in the overt sense, but in more subtle ways.

One is the simple fact that it costs retailers to run cards. The more people who use cards, the more clout credit card companies have to set pricing for card readers. I work for a company that doesn’t regularly deal with the general public, and we don’t have a card reader. I had someone try to pay for something in our shop and get pissy with me because we didn’t have a card reader. Fuck you, too, dude. He was an old guy, which surprised me. Cash or check, the old fashioned way.

The more cards get used, the more retailers pay to accept payments, the more prices for goods rise to compensate. You will pay for those airline miles, one way or another. So will I, and everyone else.

The other way is more direct. I was recently offered a credit card that supposedly would “help reduce [my] mortgage principal balance by making everyday net purchases.”

Let me tell you internets, that’s actually kind of tempting. Then, being a tightwad and not a fool, I ran the numbers. The rebate (after the bullshit introductory period, which should never even be considered in such things), is one percent of purchases. Disbursements to your mortgage payment only occur once twenty-five dollars are gained in rebates.

I would need to spend $2,500 to earn $25 back in “rewards.”

In the meantime, if I carried a balance like 34% of Americans do, I’d be charged about 20% APR.

One percent cash back.
Twenty percent APR.
Does that seem worth it to you?

My biggest reason for not doing this is the temptation aspect. If I wanted rewards, I’d need to use the card for more than just the occasional internet purchase. And then I’d lose control and fall off my financial tightrope. I’m not a financial god, and if I was, I’d be some flawed Greco-Roman version. I fail (often, recently) and my main mode of financial control involves using cash to promote artificial scarcity. I’d have to become MUCH more stringent if I used a card for everyday purposes, and that’s hard for me. The system I have now works great. Fucking with it for a mere one percent rebate applied to my mortgage would be catastrophic.

There are a few situations in which credit cards are viable options, and in those situations, a rewards card (if the APR and other detriments were comparable) may be ideal. If you can manage to budget despite using a credit card and pay off your balance monthly, sure, get the card you want. But I’m not going to be able to get past that 1%/20% thing. That’s past Sketchytown and right smack dab in the middle of Areyoufuckingkiddingmeville.

Video killed the article star

Posted in simple living with tags on 02/23/2015 by Fox

When you’re young, you look at television and think, there’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want.
~Steve Jobs

Why do people prefer videos to articles? It seems like every time I try to find instructions for something, I get large numbers of Youtube videos and few articles. Even the links that look like articles are videos sometimes.

I much prefer reading to watching. I can read much faster than I can watch a how-to video, and it’s easier for me to skim to the pertinent shit than sit there and watch some guy blather on about how a new faucet will make my crappy late 70’s bathroom look god damn amazing. I. don’t. care. Even with crochet, I’d much rather read the article, then decide for myself if I need to watch a video to get some vague motion down.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just DIY projects and how-to. But do I really need to watch a video of still images and short clips while someone reads aloud what I could’ve read myself in a quarter of the time?

Check this shit out.

This is an article. For some bizarre reason, it is instead a Youtube video. The guy’s got a fantastic voice, and I’ll admit I listened to a number of these while crocheting, but it’s a damn article being read aloud. Take that fantastic voice and record some audiobooks, dude.

Skip to a random point in this one if you’re not interested in some excellent commentary on Half-Life 2. THIS IS A PROPER VIDEO. The visual portion of this video is absolutely integral to understanding the audio. He’s not just talking about how great HL2 is, he’s going over specific points in detail, and needs to illustrate them with clips from the game. The bit with the Barneys about forty minutes in still cracks me up.

Theoretically, this content could have been made into an article, but his delivery is a substantial part of the humor. Therefore, this is also a proper video.

I don’t know why this is a thing. It’s reflected in the pervasiveness of television over books, as well. Perhaps most people just prefer to passively absorb media via video than do the mental work involved in reading it. That does not mean, however, I won’t bitch about people turning perfectly good articles or blog posts into Youtube videos.

What’s sad is that I’m in the minority and am doomed to shout ineffectually at the uncaring sky.

Financially simple, remarkably strange

Posted in Uncategorized on 02/17/2015 by Fox

What was I doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? Was I just roaming around in a drug frenzy of some kind? Or had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a story? Who are these people, these faces? Where do they come from? They look like caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas, and sweet Jesus, there were a hell of a lot of them at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, still humping the American dream, that vision of the big winner somehow emerging from the last minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino.
~Raoul Duke, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”

I was applying for a mortgage loan at my credit union. The counselor printed out my credit report, and upon looking at it, remarked that I had just enough lines of credit to qualify, and no more.

“You must lead a very simple life,” he said.

I don’t know what I said in response. I should’ve asked why everyone else chooses to lead such complicated lives. Is it really that hard to know how to decline the allure of credit, or to say “I’ve spent enough,” or to realize that living at or above your means isn’t sustainable? I would’ve thought the latter, at least, is self-evident.

I know it’s easy to just slide into bad spending habits, or to have unforeseen circumstances ruin your plans. But how is it that financial simplicity is remarkable? How is it that most people choose to complicate themselves in one of the most excruciating ways?

I have no answer for this. Perhaps I should stop drinking while watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It does things to my head.

Clutter as personalization

Posted in simple living with tags , on 02/09/2015 by Fox

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window; Why, why, says the junk in the yard.
~Paul McCartney

I’ve been following Apartment Therapy for a while now. There are some good ideas for updating old spaces and making do with small homes. It can also be incredibly frustrating…especially when their more generous ideas of “budget” (a $50 planter, really?) and mine don’t line up.

Something I have noticed on AT is the tendency for some people to equate a lack of clutter with a lack of personality. Considering even these spaces can be “junky” by my standards, these people would HATE my house.

I think it’s a reaction to their own home, though. They want to see other homes with junk because their house has junk. I’ve been told that people over time just amass junk, and there’s nothing I can do and I should just embrace it. Some people don’t understand how someone could live in a house without clutter. I don’t know how they live with it (or how I did, for that matter).

It may also be a defense mechanism. Rather than deal with the junk, they embrace it as adding personality. “Without it, my house would be sterile and lifeless.” Sure, but I don’t want to dust around a bunch of crap, I hate dusting. It’s much harder to get rid of the clutter or not buy it than it is to keep it around and keep adding to it.

Different strokes for different folks, of course, but I do wonder how many of these people would rather live without the stuff they have? Do they fantasize about their house burning down so they can start fresh? Or do they genuinely love all the bullshit they’ve got?

Is energy consumption decreasing?

Posted in green living with tags , on 02/05/2015 by Fox

I have witnessed the tremendous energy of the masses. On this foundation it is possible to accomplish any task whatsoever.
~Mao Zedong

My utility company sends me a community blurb sheet every month with my bill. Usually events, it inevitably also has “tips for saving energy!” This month, it had a short, bulleted list that claimed (and I’m regretting tossing the thing now, as I paraphrase) that Texans were using less energy now than we were in 1965. No citation, of course.

So I went digging through the internets. Nothing specific to Texas, but American energy consumption was down for both 2012 and 2011, although still increased from 2002. No indication of what 2013 and 2014 were like, thanks, Outdated Wikipedia Page. Somehow I think Texas wasn’t down to pre-1965 levels.

Australia, too, has experienced decreasing consumption since 2010.

Part of me thinks this is pretty cool, while the other part of me reminds all of me that worldwide consumption is still on the rise as “developing” nations get on board with the cool kids. And there’s also the ugly fact that America outsources some production to countries that don’t have the energy standards they’d be forced to contend with domestically. I doubt outsourcing is to blame for the decrease in consumption, but it is something to remind oneself. My shoes were not made in America, and the energy consumed to produce them isn’t counted as American consumption.

Here’s hoping we continue to see decreases in energy consumption, and that we export efficiency along with our culture.

Etsy and Kickstarter and Patreon, oh my!

Posted in simple living on 01/30/2015 by Fox

The Internet is probably the most important technological advancement of my lifetime. Its strength lies in its open architecture and its ability to allow a framework where all voices can be heard.
~Adam Savage

The internet is a magical place.

It’s also full of financial landmines. I have a love/hate relationship with Etsy. It has the best things I shouldn’t be spending money on. But at the same time, if I want something unique, knowing that the purchase goes to support a Real Live Human Being is pretty fucking sweet. There are also Real Live Human Beings on Amazon and Ebay, too, (I know, I am one of them, thank you random people with enough disposable income to purchase a fucking outdoor umbrella light, an object I didn’t know existed until two of them fell in my lap), but Etsy seems to have a higher percentage. Craigslist, too, although that’s more local, less crafty, and equally prone to horror.

I better avoid temptation with Kickstarter. Most of what’s on there is crap I’m not remotely interested in, but I do like the concept. People have ideas and need funding, and a mass of human beings votes yay or nay like judges watching gladiators. No suited execs with preconceived notions of “what people want” to muck shit up. The people have made their desires known, and they desire a card game about kittens accidentally exploding themselves. I have a hard time imagining a system more democratic than that.

Except someone did make a system more democratic than that and it’s called Patreon. I’m not funding anyone yet, as the monthly donation thing would irritate my need to have things over and done. Usually if I donate to a project or person I prefer a larger lump sum than a monthly hemorrhage. There is one guy out there who could get me onto the Patreon bandwagon despite that, though. But damn, it’s so much more than Kickstarter. Less emphasis on getting crap, and more people just saying “I like this and want it to continue and am willing to shell out to make this happen,” and that’s fucking amazing. The two Patreons I have looked at seem to be doing outstanding by my (admittedly low) standards, and it makes me happy to see people whose work I enjoy getting at least some of what they deserve.

It just blows my mind sometimes to see how game-changing the internet is. From making DIY more accessible to people too cheap to buy home improvement books to funding people ranting about video games, the internet makes possible things that probably would never have been possible otherwise.

((No, I have no intentions of starting a Patreon anytime soon. That sort of thing would require an actual fanbase. I happily accept donations (thank you!) via the Paypal link that should be somewhere on the side bar. Seriously, those of you who have donated, I love you guys.))

What a real minimum wage budget looks like

Posted in simple living with tags , on 01/18/2015 by Fox

Poverty entails fear and stress and sometimes depression. It meets a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself but poverty itself is romanticized by fools.
~J. K. Rowling

I’m far too late to discuss McDonald’s idiocy regarding what it’s like to make minimum wage. But I want to touch on it a little, anyway.

I should start off by saying that I don’t believe raising the minimum wage is going to do shit. The issue is systemic and requires a top-down solution that would go against American cultural and political ideals.

The budget I’m about to set down is an approximation of the budget I used for several years while hauling my ass out of debt. I’ve no doubt forgotten some of the exact details, but it should get the idea across to anyone who hasn’t been stuck in a dead-end minimum-wage job for years. Keep in mind, too, that this is a budget set in Texas. In this area, we have very low cost-of-living. I also had a roommate with whom to split rent and utilities. We did not live in a nice apartment, but it wasn’t in the ghetto. I worked two jobs, sometimes as much as fourteen hours a day, and I did not utilize any form of community assistance or welfare programs.

Job 1: $800/mnth
Job 2: $200/mnth

Monthly budget:
Rent: $250
Utilities: $50
Car note: $300
Car insurance: $50
Food, clothing, cat supplies, gas, toiletries, fun money, etc: $200
Emergency fund/Debt reduction: $150

I did not have health insurance. Buying clothing, going to the movies, or taking the cats to the vet removed money straight out of my food budget.

This is not fucking sustainable. Even with my emergency fund, a sudden serious issue could have ruined me. As you can imagine, selling possessions or Christmas gifts isn’t a solution. I was already eating less.

I got lucky in that my second job was willing to take me on full-time and, in time, pay me a living wage (or what is a living wage when you’ve become as frugal as I). The worst part of living on a minimum wage budget is the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that come with that sort of life. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the beginning fades, and eventually it’s dark all around and you don’t feel you’re making progress. You could be going backward for all you can tell.

And as long as the people at the top are willing to alienate and exploit those at the bottom, raising the minimum wage will do nothing. Prices will rise to match, and a living minimum wage will never be achieved.

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