Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Wife Goes Angry Black Woman On Her Cell Phone Company

My wife, Jessica, has been on a savings crusade this month.  She suggested back at the start of August that we cut the cord and stream Netflix on our Roku TV.  We did and my AT & T bill, which now only includes Internet and phone, came down to $147 from an original $201.  That's a nifty $54 savings per month or $648 per year.  What is driving Jessica's motivation?  Well, this week is Jessica's last week of work.  She is quitting her part-time job (she worked two times a week, Tue and Thu) as a dental assistant.  It's a big move for her (and us) because those two days would bring in anywhere from $900 to $1200 net income each month.

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Not my wife! But great pic and article.

It's hard being a parent in this country, especially when your child starts Kindergarten.  Some schools have kids go half-day, while others are "full-day" programs.  Mind you, "full-day" means the child gets out between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.  Now let me ask many people who are employed, i.e., have a typical job, get out between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m.?  Very few!  So what's a parent to do about their child?  If one gets out from work at 5:00 p.m., someone has to pick-up the child from school and if no one is home, take them to after-school hour daycare.  This gets very expensive!  Sometimes the expense is more than the income one generates from full (or part) time employment.

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And that brings us back to the Gomez family's world.  It really made more sense financially for Jessica to be a full-time mom and chauffeur.  She's going to be doing quite a bit of driving, taking both of our children to pre-school and Kinder at different sites around Oceanside.  So on Monday I got a text message from Jessica while at work.  She was off from work that day.  It read,

"I got my cell phone bill down to $86!!  And if I pay my phone off ($450) then it goes down to $45 a month."

I asked: "How?"

Jessica: "Called and got a little crazy to speak to a  Told them I want it under $100 or I'm going to a different company."

Have you ever heard of the "angry black woman" stereotype?'s when a black woman gets angry and evokes a fear so deep, you would be better off with the Grim Reaper.  It works on kids and people with little familiarity with African-Americans.  But it really is an awful stereotype.  Let's face it, all woman (and men) have the potential to get loud and angry with others.  We've seen enough evidence of it on social media.

Now the people on the phone don't know she's black.  How could they?  From her voice?  No...I just inserted this into the title of this post to get your attention and to bring about some reflection.  The main point here is that what Jessica did took an awful lot of determination and gall.  If you want to stop paying so much for your cell phone bill, you too may need to get a little angry.  Why not?  After all, these cell phone companies have been gladly sticking it to you for months with their fees here and there.  Jessica put it in her mind that she wanted a bill that was less than $100 per month; she called the company and got the outcome she desired.  That's success people!

What did she have to give up, you may be wondering?

This is what she texted to me:

"Only downside is I only have 2 Gb of high speed data now.  It will slow down and be irritating but I'm cool with it if it saves money."

That's called taking one for the team!  Her cell phone bill was $137.  So now we're saving $51 a month or $612 per year.  This, in addition to saving on daycare for our eldest daughter now that she's at school on a full-day schedule (we're only paying for pre-school for our son now), will make it so that we live comfortably on our monthly budget.

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There are many ways to save on your cell phone bill.  Here are 22 other tips that can help you save.  I recommend trying these before you reach the point of having to "speak with a manager."  The threat of losing customers is huge for companies in high competition areas like wireless service and pay-TV.  You have leverage as a consumer to ask for certain plans or packages.  Some people jump from provider to provider, getting promotional deal after promotional deal.  You can too!  It does take a bit of work, and never getting into any early cancellation contracts, but it's possible to weasel your way into another promotion and save, save, save!

Thanks for reading!  Until next time.  If you liked this post and want more like them in your inbox, please subscribe below:
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Sunday, August 27, 2017

7 Financial Lessons from Hurricane Harvey

Images of the devastation left behind by hurricane Harvey have made this Game of Thrones season finale Sunday a lot less exciting.  Looking at the big picture is really something we all need to do a whole lot more of.  With everyone so divided these days (Nazis versus anti-Nazis, "Trumptards" versus "Libtards" e.g.), it unfortunately takes an epic disaster for us to once again come together as a nation of united Americans with a common cause.

The "big picture" for us all as citizens is that we want the best for our country, we want everyone to have a chance to prosper and be safe from violence, and we all want to be treated equitably as we pursue our unique versions of happiness.  If only we could always keep this in mind!

So I have some friends in the Houston area.  They're down to two days of fresh water and food.  They are trapped with flood waters nearly coming inside their home.  It's been raining all day as Harvey still lurks, now as a tropical storm.  And they're better off than the thousands of people who have been displaced.  There is still no way of knowing how many people are dead.  If you can help, please consider doing so.

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Events like this make me wonder if I should've sought to cancel my flood insurance.  You see, my geographical neighbor is the San Luis Rey river, and when I first moved in, I did have to buy flood insurance.  My real neighbor, Bobby, and I decided to take our case to the city offices.  We had an engineer approve our homes as "safe" from flooding and ever since then I've not had to pay for flood insurance.  Harvey has made me think: Do all of the people who live in that area of the country characterized by swampy land, low-elevation, near rivers and the dangers coming from the warm ocean waters, have flood insurance?

The damage will be in the billions once the waters recede.  Individual homeowners or landlords will have to wait months before their claims can be processed.  This all brings me to this...

1.  Is it worth living in a place like Louisiana or Southeast Texas?  Climate change has made monster hurricanes even that much more common and frequent.  Don't buy a home or live in an area prone to yearly hurricanes/flooding.

2.  Keep plenty of canned food and water in your pantry.  The refrigerator will be useless. 

3.  Skipping out on flood insurance is risky, especially if you live near a flood zone.

4.  Not paying a couple hundred dollars or so for a disaster preparedness kit is just plain cheap and stupid.

5.  Have some cash at home!  I know it sounds ridiculous, but having some cash hidden in your home will come in handy during a disaster. you expect your ATM to be dispensing cash?  Your bank to be wide open?

6.  Buy a generator.  Make sure you have fuel for it too.  Electrical power will be out and this may be your only way of being able to watch Game of Thrones on HBO (and get important safety updates too, of course).

7.  Get a safety deposit box at a bank and place your most important files (car pink slips, deeds, etc.) in it.  Sometimes you don't have time to grab things. 

No one can ever be fully prepared for a disaster, but some preparation is better than none.  Both Katrina and Harvey are reminders that there are things far more important than politics.  Let's keep our prayers up for the people of Texas!

Thanks for reading.  Until next time.        

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Don't Be Scared By The Possible Loss of Mortgage Interest Deduction

Talk of tax reform has impacted the stock market.  Whenever politicians in the highest offices, including our President and Speaker, talk tax reform (a euphemism for tax cuts) the market bounces up or down.  If the comments made hint at the tax reform (cuts) process taking shape sooner than later, the market rallies.  If the comments are vague about when and if Congress can get started on the process, the market sells off.

Image source: Author.

Homeowners have been worrying about their ability to deduct mortgage interest from their taxable income.  The Donald has not ruled it off the table.  His tax plan, however, calls for an increase (almost double) in the "Standard" deduction so fewer homeowners would need to use the MID (Mortgage Interest Deduction).  Many people are confused and quite irritated by the potential changes.  After all, they were sold on the perk of being able to deduct all of their mortgage interest from their taxable income and thus save on taxes.  But this was simply a selling gimmick used by their realtors.

You Don't Get A Dollar for Dollar

Many homeowners erroneously believe they can get a tax savings from all of their mortgage interest.  That's just wrong.  Your marginal tax bracket determines how much of your deduction you can apply to lower taxable income.  The lower your tax bracket, the lower the tax break you'll get.  Someone in the 25% tax bracket, let's say, that pays $12K in mortgage interest can apply $3,000 to be excluded from taxation.  In 2017, the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly was worth $12,700.  25% of this is $3,175.  In this example, you'd be better off taking the standard deduction by $175 in tax savings.

According to, about 70% of U.S. taxpayers elected to take the standard deduction.  Why?  They most likely didn't have enough deductions to itemize and reducing their tax liability via the standard deduction made more sense.  I also personally think that many Americans have no idea what's going on when it comes time to file their taxes.  They take their W2's and maybe a mortgage interest statement or two, and drop them off at the nearest Liberty Tax.  They go in for their follow-up and are told they'll get back about $3K (the average) in refunds and jump for joy, not knowing where it came from.

So, only 30% of all U.S. taxpayers would be "affected" by a change in policy on the M.I.D.  And out of this 30%, those who would be most affected are...

Top Income Earners In Top Real Estate Markets

In order to benefit from the M.I.D. you actually have to belong to a select group of taxpayers.  First, you have to make income upwards of $100K a year.  So we're talking high paid professionals and entrepreneurs here: doctors, superintendents of schools, lawyers, successful business owners, etc.  Also, you have to be in a high tax bracket, as in anywhere beyond 25%.  Finally, you also need a McMansion or San Francisco 1-room flat type of mortgage, meaning close to a million dollars and being somewhere at the start of your amortization schedule.

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It makes perfect sense.  High income earners that are employees with little if any deductions from assets, meaning they make their money actively and not from passive sources (real estate, e.g.), will generally have higher income taxes.  According to The Motley Fool the average American's mortgage for First Time Homebuyers is $190K.  What they pay in mortgage interest depends on their interest rate, of course.  Interest rates on mortgages have been historically low for several years so we can assume many newbies (less than ten years) to home ownership will not pay enough mortgage interest to offset the savings they'd get in taxes by taking the standard deduction.  Even if you throw in property taxes into the mix!

So ending the Mortgage Interest Deduction will not destroy home ownership.  It can affect the housing market, however, especially in the first few years of the change.  Why?  It will take time for the average American to understand they're not really losing something sacred.  Buyers may be scarce, thus ending the housing boom.  Property values may fall.  A recovery will ensue once Americans realize they had a bad deal to begin being homeowners, and head back into the market, buying homes again mainly to build equity the old fashion way: by paying down principal.

The change may be more dramatic at the high end.  Financing the purchase of a million (or more) dollar home would be a serious sucker's game.  To put it bluntly, you will be screwed!  If you're wealthy, you'd be better off paying the home outright, and avoiding a mortgage altogether.  The same can be said of middle-class buyers.  Pay-off your mortgages as fast as you can.  It's in your interest to kill the interest!

Thanks for reading!  Until next time.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Lessons from Ryan Blair's Rock Bottom to Rock Star

I just finished devouring Ryan Blair's, Rock Bottom to Rock Star, a book I started reading for free at Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago then decided to buy on Amazon.  Rock Bottom was one of those business and entrepreneurship books you have a hard time putting down.  The perfect combination of storytelling and sharing of wisdom.  Mr. Blair never shies away from disclosing his business and personal mistakes, and that's precisely what makes the book so valuable to the would-be entrepreneur.

Just who is Ryan Blair?  Despite the title of the book, Blair is a human being, like you and me.  Yes, he's made (and lost) millions of dollars throughout his career, owning and selling start-ups in broadband (Sky-Pipeline) and network marketing (ViSalus), but his words paint another picture.  He's a man that has had to make multiple business decisions, and often times he's gotten them wrong.  Only his work ethic, effective powers of reflection, and mentors have kept him from failing.

The man's life is interesting, and that's why the book works.  That's about as raw as a review can get.  The nuggets of advice you can extract from his commentary as he tells his most salient business stories are the icing on the cake.  And there are many.  I'm going to condense these lessons for you below, so that you can always have them at your disposal.  You're gonna love them if you're an entrepreneur or someone with CEO experience.

Chapter 1:

  • You are your own competition.  When you busy yourself celebrating your victories, you stop creating new opportunities.
  • Close the excuse department down.  Don't take them from you or anyone else. 

Chapter 2:

  • When you're at the bottom of a hole, you need to have tough conversations with yourself, and learn to fight your way out.
  • Be prepared both monetarily and psychologically to withstand loss.  Keep weathering the storm and trust that you will win in the end.  
Chapter 3:

  • To become successful you have to optimize your time.  The comfort of being part of the middle class is illusory.
Chapter 4:

  • Your secret weapon is whatever makes you or your work unique...whatever gives it a special signature.  Figure out what it is to become a rock star.
Chapter 5:

  •  Every entrepreneur must identify and understand what their "failure quotient" (the ability to fail and bounce back from it) is.  How capable are you of embarrassing yourself and letting other people down?
  • Be proud of your failures because they demonstrate to the world where you were knocked down and got back up again.
  • Don't obsess about goal setting.  Desire to achieve counts for much more.  Desire keeps you in the game.
Chapter 6:
  • Most entrepreneurs aren't the whole package.  They may be good at raising capital, or product development, or being an executive, but hardly ever are they all.  So identify what you're strong at and surround yourself with people who offset your weaknesses.
  • Figuring out your identity lets you say "yes" to the right things and "no" to the wrong ones.  "Focus is saying no."
  • It shouldn't take you years to crystallize and elevator pitch.  If you're struggling thinking of a concise statement that lets the world know what you do, pretend writing an email to somebody you admire so much you wouldn't want them to dismiss you.  (Don't send it obviously).
Chapter 7:
  • Have a process and action plan for launching products.  Leave no stone unturned, and deal with the rejection and criticism that comes with any launch.
  • Your entire team must be certain that you have the right plan to launch a product.  If there is uncertainty in the room, the product is destined for failure.
  • The Certainty Formula is, CEO's confidence in the product ( a number between 1 & 10) is equal to the average score in the room between 1 & 10.  If the team's average score is less than the CEO's, then the CEO has to convey his/her beliefs for the product through effective communication.
Chapter 8:
  • A CEO's number one job is to make sure he/she has enough money in the bank at all times.  If you can't do it through sales, then the preferred method is to go raise money.
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Chapter 9:
  • If you bring in too many outsiders all at once, you better have a filter to determine who is aligned with your value system and who isn't.
  • When a board member suggests a consultant to you, sometimes you should say, no.  The unscrupulous ones may be actually gathering intel on you and plotting ways to insert themselves into your position.
  • Social support and engagement is a key way of getting people to use your products.
  • Rebuilding your business adds to your foundation, and provides you with better instincts and a deeper understanding of your customer.  If you don't rebuild, someone else will build a business to take you out of business.
  • Reinventing yourself also as a leader is the rule.  Think Madonna!  You will have a longer trajectory if you reinvent yourself to remain worthy of your followers' attention.
Chapter 10
  • You can't hire your way out of problems.  The solutions are in your business model.
  • As entrepreneurs, you should design your company around your personality, and try finding people who can accept and work with your personality.
Chapter 11
  • If you should ever be lucky enough to be able to file for IPO status and are meeting with Wall Street bankers and venture capitalists, watch out for the "pretty" sales pitch they give you.
  • The "number" you'll get offered for your ownership stake will undoubtedly come with terms.  Terms that when unraveled, turn your apparent good deal into a really bad one.
  • Don't let the Wall Street lawyers bait your ego.  Keep your poker face on at all times.
Chapter 12
  • Along with thinking about the best thing that can happen to your business, you must consider the outcome of the worst thing happening to your business and how you'd respond.
  • Business is a constant war.  Your competitors will target your strategies to find your weaknesses and then exploit them.
  • Growing your business out of control without the right processes in place will break you down.  How do you "slow your roll"?  You can raise prices, delay shipment, e.g.
Chapter 13
  • You're never really autonomous or free in business because there are still a bunch of people who depend on you.
  • Never strive to have absolute autonomy in your company...otherwise you're a company of one.
Chapter 14
  • Money can help you check off a whole lot of (must have, must do) boxes.  But sometimes those boxes are empty.
  • Own your image and brand.  It's okay to expose your thorns.  These hardships you faced will set you apart from others.
  • It's okay to care what people think of you, but never let lesser people get to you.
Chapter 15
  • The fastest way to achieve personal or self-growth is through suffering, whether self-imposed or delivered by the hand of God.
  • Suffering is the greatest teacher.  What makes you weak will one day make you strong and vice versa.
Chapter 16
  • There's no book you can read or seminar you can take for how to be strong.  Someone has to model strength for you.  If you're the leader, it's up to you to model strength to others.
  • Pretending you're not living in the same world as others doesn't help you lead them.
  • Entrepreneurs must learn to compartmentalize their lives.  It's the only way one can deal with life-changing events while still carrying on the functions of a business.  Survival has to be learned; it's not a lesson they teach you in business school.
This is a book you'll want in your library of great business and entrepreneurship books.  Blair's narrative is insightful and vulnerable at times, giving the reader an emotional connection.  He gets deep and philosophical when writing about having the burden of taking his mother off life support after a fall that left her gravely injured.  Miraculously, she came out of her coma.  Blair reminds us all that there is no better time like the present for making deep connections with your loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones...I have some kids I have to play with before bedtime.  So I'll be seeing you on the next post!  Deuces!

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

When It's Okay To Go Off Your Grocery List

Hey everybody!  So my summer vacation is over.  Yesterday was the "First Day of School" at my work site.  Seeing a new batch of kids enter your classroom and calling out new names for roll call is quite exciting.  Why?  Well, if you're a people person like me, you like meeting new people, no matter what age they happen to be.  An occupational hazard, so to speak, that all teachers have to endure on the first day back is getting their teaching legs and voice back.

Boy were my dogs tired at the end of the day.  Don't you just love American expressions that make no sense?  And my voice box was burning too.  But all in all, I had a great first day back at work.  And after school I was off.  First I hit the gym.  Then a little grocery shopping on the way home.  An Albertsons is on my way.  Not the most inexpensive grocery store in town, but convenience often trumps costs.

My list, texted to me by my wife, Jessica, who was at home starting dinner, included the following items: sour cream, pinto beans, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and ground turkey.  We were having tostadas by the way, and we had plenty tostadas at home.  Jessica handles the family budget these days and I dare not deviate.  Last week, I accidentally made a second $250 payment to my credit card and she just about killed me.

Apparently, I had made one payment as soon as I got paid on the 31st and I made the second one on the 12th.  Mind you my remaining balance now is only $315.  That's all the credit card debt I have left!  She didn't care.  "You gotta tell me when you're doing this kind of stuff!" she said, adamantly.  (I would've if I had known I was doing it at the time!)

But going back to my grocery shopping stop.  So I walk into the Albertsons and low and behold I see this:

Honey Bunches of Oats for $1.88!  But only if I bought 5 boxes.  I go through a box of these a week so it was a slam dunk to add to my shopping cart.  It wasn't on my list because I still have cereal at home, but when you come across a sale like this (one where it is obvious the store is trying to get rid of inventory) you can't pass it up.  Obviously you'd pass it up if you don't eat cereal for breakfast, but for all others who do...who cares if HBoO aren't your favorite!  Think of all the money you're saving on future cereal purchases.

I felt good loading the grocery cart with 5 boxes of cereal.  I continued going down the aisles, looking for the items on my list, and came ever so dangerously close to the booze section.  Too late.  I was pulled toward the wine aisle like a tractor beam had been applied on my cart.  I wasn't low on wine at home, but feeling like I'd already won by saving on cereal, I decided to take a gander and found this:

A $12.99 bottle of red wine for $3.97!  I'm a Cabernet Sauvignon man, but how can you pass up a bottle of a red blend wine selling at a 69% discount?  You can't!  It would totally upset the balance of good versus evil.  So I grabbed two bottles to not be greedy and left some for other lucky customers.

What's My Point?

Well, if it isn't obvious yet, I think we get too hung up on shopping lists.  They make us inflexible, and unadaptable.  You've probably read countless personal finance articles online that have suggested you have a shopping list so that you don't overspend at the grocery store.  And I get it.  Without a list, you will undoubtedly fall victim to all of the juicy marketing tricks grocery stores employ to get you to buy more.

But people, common sense has to prevail.  You have to realize that lists are not set in stone.  Say I had decided against the purchase of the five boxes of HBoO.  I would've spent less for sure.  But in a week or so I would've needed cereal again.  That same super sale may not be available and I'll be stuck paying full price on a box.  Not smart.

So I got home and proudly reported to Jessica that I'd saved $21 at Albertsons.  She asked how much I'd spent.  She entered the total cost of my trip to the store on her budgeting app while listening to me tell her about the five boxes of cereal and two bottles of wine.  Did she get mad?  Nope!  I lived to shop another day...

Thanks for reading! Until next time.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Stock Market Investing Strategies In An Aging Bull Market

The beta market that ensued following the March 2009 bottom in the stock market was great for me.  As stocks (and the market) recovered systematically, I was profiting nicely from just about all of my stock investments.  Those were great times that lasted several years.  If you had cash to work with, you probably made out quite nicely yourself.  After all, stock picking prowess was almost not necessary.  Having placed your money back then in a low-cost index fund that tracks the S & P would have given you incredible returns.  How incredible?  Since the market bottom, the S & P 500's total return (includes reinvested dividends) has more than quadrupled, gaining 313%.

Image result for aging bull market

If you were hurt by the Great Recession, and decided to sit on the sidelines out of fear (or lack of disposable cash to invest with), today you probably wish you had been smarter.  Maybe you got back in eventually only to find that the beta market had transformed into an alpha market? Maybe your stock or ETF/mutual fund picking skills have made you some money, and now with a saturated market, you're wondering what to do?  You're no longer able to find equities with enough "margin of safety."  You're no longer able to find stocks priced below their "intrinsic value."  Heck, even growth stocks look expensive and overbought.  Should you exit the market and wait for the correction to happen?

I have some logical strategies that you can use to invest even in an aging bull market.

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If you're in your 20s, 30s, and early 40s, you have considerable time left before you retire.  Staying in the market, no matter what the market does this year or next, is what you need to do.  You'll want to stay diversified, own several low-cost index funds (ETF or part of the mutual fund family).  For example, you could continue to contribute to your Target Date fund every month and dollar-cost-average, buying more shares as the market tanks.

Or if you like to pick stocks, you could ring the cash register, take some gains, and keep a portfolio with your core positions still intact.  Buy shares of your remaining holdings on big pullbacks and lower your cost basis.  The key is not to panic sell and liquidate your positions at huge losses.  Only do this if the economic landscape causing the market's correction directly impacts one or several of your key holdings.  For example, when the market crashed, causing the Great Recession, banks were hit the hardest (for obvious reasons).

If you trade bonds, you risk having to sell at lower prices if interest rates rise (so far the Fed has kept rates in check).  Sticking with bonds with short maturities is your best move.  By the way, the same will be true for CD ladder lovers (3-month, 6-month, 9-month, 12-month, 15-month will work best as rates rise).

The main point for long term investors is to stay in the market.  Make adjustments, like raising cash, getting out of long-term maturity bonds or CDs, etc., but don't completely exit.  Timing the market doesn't work!


If you're supposed to be retiring within the next ten years, and you've been in the market since we reached the bottom in March of 2009, you should be on alert.  You can't still be possibly swinging for the fences, trying to find growth plays in this market.  Don't let the FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google or Alphabet) stocks lure you in.  This is the wrong time to be starting a position in these stocks no matter what anyone says.

You definitely should be ringing the register and cashing out a substantial portion of your portfolio.  Now this doesn't mean get out of the market completely.  Just raise cash to give yourself peace of mind.  You can even swap out your growth plays for some value ones that have underperformed for good reason.  Case in point: Ford (F).  It's a horrible stock that has severely underperformed the S & P now going on several years. has a great dividend, most of the sellers have left it (hopefully) and the company has plenty of cash to stay alive if another recession were to happen.  Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) has underperformed all year.  Technically it looks like it's going to break out.  Barron's gave it the thumbs up this past weekend and claimed it will not be a victim of least not in the next two to three years.

In essence, you want to find stocks that are of companies not in jeopardy of going out of business, with plenty of cash, and that have gotten beat up this year.  In other words, contrarian plays.  Buy into these stocks slowly, buying more blocks of shares if they pull back.  Keep your head, remember that these stocks are already at their floors or close to reaching their bottoms, so the downside (if a correction happens) will be less dramatic than stocks on 52-week highs.


Okay, it's not a question of IF but WHEN the market corrects, you'll want to be in the right strategic place to ride it out and profit when the next bull market begins.  No one knows how long this will take so timing the market is a foolish proposition.  Stock market success is about buying low, when everyone else is afraid to take a dip in the water, and selling high, when everyone is in the water and the pool is overcrowded.

Thanks for reading!  Disclosure: I own shares of Ford (F).  I don't own shares of DKS, but will!   

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Will Our BBQ Island Side-Hustle Go Up In Flames?

The Gomez family is entrepreneurial...if you haven't noticed.  We like to have conversations about side-hustles at the kitchen table, while cooking, in the car, on date nights, and even across bathroom doors.  A lack of access to capital kept us from starting our previous venture as builders.  We had the city (Pahrump), state (Nevada), and even the empty lots we wanted to build on, but the financing was not to be.  Private lenders didn't want to lend on lots (only on construction) and the banks we spoke to wouldn't lend unless we showed title to the lot(s) we intended to build on.  My rental property refinance fail took the wind out of our sail.  We were going to get cash out and use it as seed money.  Oh well...back to the drawing board.

The wifey building the steel frame with dad watching

While living in Las Vegas before the Great Recession, my father-in-law owned and operated a barbecue island/grill retail store.  I don't know the entire story, but he learned how to make BBQ islands from framing all the way to adding accent rock or stucco as an exterior finish.  Then he taught his oldest son (my wife's brother) and together they set-up shop, becoming one of the most successful and early BBQ shops in town.  Like many business owners who didn't plan for a major slow down, he went slowly and painfully out of business.

Fast forward to today.  The only element of my father-in-law's BBQ island business that survived was my brother-in-law going into business alone, building islands on site as requested.  That is, until now.  My wife wanted to learn the trade.  She figured she could build and sell several of these BBQ islands on the weekends throughout the year.  The idea is not to get ahead of ourselves and build-up inventory, but rather to get orders and build on demand.

Cutting the backer-board.  Very messy, especially if windy.

Our first goal was to build a model.  We are still debating whether to sell this model and use the profit to buy additional tools (to expedite the process) OR to take it around to new developments in our area and drop it off at a model home (with the builder's permission) where hundreds of prospective buyers can decide on ordering one.  One of our challenges right now is physically moving the islands around as they can weigh 300 to 500 pounds depending on what's on them.  We're building them outside in my backyard and it can get messy.

The actual costs of building a barbecue island isn't that much.  About $1,000 for materials on a straight 6-footer, including the grill IF you can get it at wholesale price.  My brother-in-law will help us with this.  What the consumer pays a premium for is the labor.  Having helped build an island, I can tell you that there is plenty of places where you can go wrong and you have to pay attention to detail.  The light gauge steel frame has to be square and supported in the right places.  The backer-board has to be cut with precise dimensions and drilled into the frame properly.  The thin-set has to seal the joints and be plopped in the right amount at the top for the tile (unless you use a granite surface).

With tile surface.  Only stucco process is left.


The risk of this side-hustle is minimal.  So let's say no one wants to buy our first barbecue island/grill.  What then?

We can try to unload to a very lucky buyer on Craigslist.
We can keep the island/grill for ourselves.
If we get too many orders, we may not be able to fill them.


The rewards of this side-hustle are many.   Say we get a manageable number of orders.

We will profit enough to expand, perhaps hire help.
We can get out of our backyard and find a garage or space to use as our workshop.
We can maybe even get a retail space and do the whole brick and mortar thing.  

Success in this era will not come from relying on your paycheck.  You need multiple streams of income and that is only possible from side-hustling.  It made no sense for us to not make us of all our family's talents.  Building BBQ island grills is a technical trade.  Your side-hustle can put your skills to use or you can simply join the ranks of others out there using Internet platforms (leaving the thinking to someone else) to make money.

As for this latest venture of ours...I will be presenting updates to you throughout the year to let you know how we are doing.  I'd like for this side-hustle to be more like a paradise and for it to not go up in flames.  Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Son's Corrective Circumcision, A Reminder To Be Grateful For Health Insurance

For two years, my wife, Jessica, and I waited for my son's adhesion to tear on its own.  He'd been complaining to the two of us since the age of about 2.5 that his "pipi" hurt.  His pediatrician kept telling us that adhesions sometimes took care of themselves by virtue of little boys curiously touching their privates, or simply from rough play.  Still, we didn't like it.  Mostly because we had elected to have him circumcised as a newborn and felt guilty that his pain was by our doing.

Showing off his stickers.

It also didn't help that the doctor who circumcised him at the hospital didn't take enough foreskin off.  So his wee-wee looked like a cross between both versions of the manhood.  Not good.  I joked with my wife..."He'll never get a part in the porn industry if it doesn't look right."  The pediatrician advised us to wait until closer to four to have him re-evaluated by a urologist.

"Mijo...gotta take you to the pi-pi doctor," I'd tell him.
"Again!" he'd say.

He had no idea that we, the parents, were setting him up for another surgery.  Most of his visits for this purpose involved the pediatrician pulling down his chonis and pulling back his remaining foreskin, checking on the adhesion.  It was in the worst possible spot on his 12 o'clock.  "Let me refer you to the urologist," he said, in late June, close to his 4th birthday.  The urologist gave us his expert opinion: "Yea, this adhesion looks too thick.  It probably won't tear up on its own."

Surgery was in store.  It would require general anesthesia.  The urologist assured us..."I've done hundreds of these.  I'll cut just enough of his skin and make it look good."  He had a prideful smirk on his face.  All I kept imagining was my son dying through the process.  Anxiety sucks!  My wife was anxious too though.  And it was a good thing we both talked openly about the procedure up until the day of the surgery on August 7th.  (Both of us have never had any type of surgery so we had no idea what it was like).

Minutes from surgery.  My son with my wife.

Three days before the surgery, we were given final instructions and the time of the surgery.  My son couldn't eat any food past midnight the day before.  His check-in at the hospital was 12 noon.  Let's just say this added another layer of worry.  How do you keep a growing four-year-old from not eating and staying on a liquid diet from the time he wakes up until the afternoon?  We put all the food beyond his reach so he didn't sneak in a bite from somewhere and watched him like a hawk until it was time to go.

We drove to San Diego from Oceanside, checked in at the new Kaiser hospital they have in Claremont Mesa, and waited in pre-op.  The nurses tended to him, giving him a coloring book, crayons, stickers, and cartoons to watch on TV.  They gave him new socks to wear along with his gown.  What great service, I thought to myself.  Then it hit me.  What do people without insurance do for their kids in scenarios like this?  Did you know...

The Affordable Care Act has yet to be repealed.  That may have been great news to many millions of Americans who still depend on it.

  • The average annual cost on health care was $10,345 in 2016.
  • The average annual deductible for individual plans was $4,358.
  • The average deductible for family plans was $7,983.

I paid $10 for my son's procedure, my copay.  As a teacher, I have great medical, dental, and vision benefits.  In my school district, we have at least three different options, including two PPO and one HMO (Kaiser).  Kaiser is the least expensive.  I think I have less than $400 taken out of my check each month to insure my entire family.

I'm very lucky and fortunate.  I never had to worry about paying a single dime for my wife's two deliveries, and I didn't have to worry about paying any money for my son's second surgery.  (After all, it was Kaiser who didn't do it right in the first place!)  For an individual or family without health care insurance, any visit to the hospital will probably cripple them financially for some time, maybe even an entire lifetime.  It really sucks.

Wearing a one tank-top.

Prior to my son being carted off into the operation room, the anesthesiologist informed us that he would be waking up not being himself, as in grumpy and upset.  This was a huge understatement.  My son went all beast-mode on three nurses, my wife, and me.  He wanted his tube out of his arm vein and exerted every last fiber of his muscles to get it off.  He beat us all up a good five minutes even with a tiny bit of morphine injected in him.  What he needed was a tranquilizer!  Ultimately he won the battle and the tube was pulled out of his vein.

How much would this procedure have cost a parent without insurance?  I'm not talking the type given to newborn boys.  Newborns don't require two specialists, general anesthesia, anti-nausea meds, pain killers, and short stays in a pre and post-op room.  According to this article, for a child requiring general anesthesia, it could cost as much as $3,000.  Sounds somewhat too low to me.  I guess it depends where the procedure is taking place.


My son is doing okay.  The poor little guy had to walk around with one of his old man's polyester (not cotton) tank-tops all day, the day after surgery.  I now have a new appreciation for the movie, John Q., starring Denzel Washington.  If you haven't watched this film yet, and have children, it will tug at your heartstrings.  No parent wants to see their child suffer and every parent wants to do whatever it takes for their child to be happy and healthy.

It should go without saying, but every child (0-12) in this great country of ours should have access to free health care, no matter how grave or ordinary their ailment happens to be.  Their innocence depends on the adults of any great society doing what's right for them.  Thanks for reading!  

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Teaching My Daughter To Ride A Bike On The Cheap, Fatherhood Moment

Every parent is responsible for making sure their children learn some basic, but extremely important life skills.  The other day, I read that an adult female escaped two male thugs (who had forced her at gunpoint to drive her vehicle around town) by knowing how to drive stick.  Apparently the suspects only drove automatics.  I know comparing this to teaching a kid to ride a bike is pretty extreme, but hey, you never know when being able to flee on a bike may come in handy.

Biking in general opens up a whole new world for people needing to get around, and it happens to also be environmentally friendly.  Kids love bikes, but for some parents, the cost of a bike can be a barrier to teaching their children how to ride.  My daughter is 5.5 years-old.  She's quite tall for her age, on par with some seven year-old girls.  For her 4th birthday, Grandpa bought her a bike from Walmart.  She got on it a few times, training wheels and all, but wasn't addicted to it per se.  I think it was because the pedals were so hard to push and she was too tall for it even with the seat raised to the top.  The Walmart bike was basically left to the spiders and bugs to make into a home.

The "Walmart" Bike

Many people probably turn to Walmart to get their kids a starter bike.  Their prices on new bikes are hard to beat.  A 20'' pink Huffy will set you back only $49.97.  Amazon may be an option for adults with mechanical aptitude who have the patience to put a bike together.  A 16'' boys steel frame costs $54.99 with free shipping.  

Where else can people turn to get their kids a bike?  The Play-It-Again and other discount (sort-of) retail stores like Sports Authority are closing down all over the country thanks to the behemoth that is Amazon.  Saving money every month until Christmas rolls around or until your child has a birthday is also a sensible thing to do financially.

My daughter's bike training was at a standstill this summer.  Again I encouraged her to try riding the Walmart bike, but she was too scared to try without the training wheels (I'd removed them).  Then we took a vacation to Northern CA in July.  I met up with a former colleague at her million dollar home in Santa Clara, CA.  My two kids and her two kids spent an evening playing with toys, as she and I caught up.  Just as we (my wife was with me) were leaving, I asked my friend's husband (a Silicon Valley engineer) if he was still road cycling.

The two free bikes my kids got

This conversation would end with my children getting two free "Specialized" brand used bikes.  One was actually a balance bike, the type kids use to learn the skill of bicycle balancing by striding along or by rolling down hill.  His two boys had grown out of them.  This lucky break and kind gesture re-energized my daughter.  She loved the balance bike!  Once home in Oceanside, she started asking me to take her outside with her "pirate" bike.  There is a sticker of a pirate on the balance bike.  She first used it to stride along as we went on walks around the neighborhood.  Then she gathered the nerve to launch herself and balance rolling down driveways.  I had to be the car lookout and clear her to go.

My daughter rolling down a driveway on her balance bike

She mastered balancing in about four outings.  It was time for her to try pedaling and balancing.  I drove her to the local elementary and on the basketball blacktop, I gave her some words of encouragement, held the back of her seat, and told her to pedal.  She wasn't as scared because she knew that if she needed to, she could always put her foot down (she was too tall for this bike as well).  After a few attempts with me holding on and letting go, she was able to ride solo!  She'd done it.

Riding the bike! Proud father moment.

But the true test was riding a bike her size.  I turned to Craigslist.  As a bike expert I was sure to find her a name brand bike, her size, hopefully at a decent prize.  I got lucky.  I found a girl's Diamondback being sold in Carlsbad, CA for only $25!  It was a steal and I wasn't going to let anyone else beat me to it.  Within the hour I was at the home of the seller and had purchased this used girl's bike; it was in great condition.  There are deals on Craigslist folks!  Especially if you are great at spotting undervalued/priced items.

A couple days later we were back at the elementary.  The bigger girl's bike was in the back of the SUV.  I took it out.  I could sense my daughter's nervousness.  I reassured her, telling her she already knew how to ride a bike and that she was simply going to be doing it on a bike her size.  I helped her get on the seat, told her to pedal, and let her go.

There she goes!

$25 for a bike my daughter's size.
Seeing my daughter riding a bike for the first time...priceless.

Friday, August 4, 2017

I Finally Cut The Cord, Fought With My Water Utility Company in Oceanside, CA

I'm a stubborn Gen X'er.  I grew up watching television since the days of He-Man: Masters of The Universe.  Back then, we had but 13 lowly channels, one was called, "U."  Then came the greatest invention of all time: cable!  It's taken me almost to my 41st birthday, but I've finally cut the cord.  (Clapping in the background).  I had cable because I liked watching the occasional football, soccer, or basketball game.  My wife liked some shows on network TV and the kids were into Disney and Nick, Jr.  But as of late, no one is watching television.    

Image result for old tv with 13 channels

My kids now prefer YoutTube videos, and neither my wife or I have time anymore to channel surf.  So I called DirectTV/A T & T and had my service terminated.  I'll be saving $77 a month from now on.  Yes!

Now onto my fight with my water utility company who I shall refrain from naming out of respect, and only say I live in the city of (cough, cough) Oceanside.

After my week long vacation with my family in the central coast of this great state of CA, I came home to find my water bill in the mailbox.  The previous month (June) had been brutal.  I'd paid $293 for my bill and was reported to have used 31 units of water.  Each unit is 748 gallons!  Wow...I thought to myself, I better stop watering the grass or something.  With gusto I tore open the envelope expecting a lower bill because after all we'd been on vacation, so how much damage could we have made in three weeks?

Gasp!  My bill was $425.  I almost had a heart attack.  The reported meter reading was 55 units!  Folks, that's a whopping 41,140 gallons of water.  The average 21-foot, 48-inch deep round pool holds between 13,000 and 15,000 gallons of water for comparisons sake.  I didn't come home to find our house completely underwater so for sure something must be wrong, I thought.  I called my public utility water company.  The nice lady asked if I wanted a re-check on my meter to which of course I agreed to have.  She also asked me to check around my home for any leaks, look for saturated areas, etc.  That was it.  So I had to sit back and wait for the meter person to show and then I'd get an answer.

1,285 gallons a day! Is there a basketball team showering at my house? So ridiculous.

You know, these public utility companies have us all by the cojones, excuse my Spanish.  If we don't pay, even when we're in the middle of a dispute with them, they can shut off our service.  Pay first, answers later.  I'm not the type of person to wait around for things to happen so I went outside, screwdriver in hand.  I opened the meter cover and low and behold, a dead meter staring back at me.  I cleared the dirt off the little window panel to see if maybe I wasn't seeing the numbers clearly.  Nope.  Dead meter.  I moved the wires around to see if there was a faulty connection.  Nada.  I went to my neighbor's house and checked his meter.  His meter shone brightly lit numbers, obviously a sign of functionality.

No reading. Even after I cleared the mud off the panel, and wiggled the wires.  The cap was off btw.
Remember this post on the drip irrigation system I put all around my house to conserve water?
These days meter readers don't even have to open the cover.  There's this plastic sensor on top of cover and the readers swipe their Star Trek contraption to get a "reading."  So I asked myself...How does one arrive at a reading of 55 units when the meter isn't even working?  I called the utility company the next day to report my findings and asked them this same exact question.  The guy I was talking to, horrible people skills mind you, had no answers.  He kept deflecting, and saying over and over that there was nothing he could do.  (Clearly he had been trained in the art of deniability and non-admittance).  That I had to wait for the meter reader to come by and do the re-check.  He had no authority to order the reading any sooner.  Apparently the meter department is off limits to anyone in the billing office.

I informed him I needed this matter resolved soon because my bill is due and I didn't want to have to pay the entire amount.  It seemed ridiculous to me that no one would think there was something wrong with my bill.  Oh, but the guy was quick to point out that I had to pay my bill.  All he had to do was tell me he'd see what he could do about getting someone out here to my house.  Nope, he got testier with me, upset about my own discontent.  He put me on hold in mid sentence too!  Just bad customer service.


I called the City of Oceanside, yeah...I'm over this respect thing with them after the phone call I had again with my man in that office.  I asked about the outcome of the meter re-check.  He tells me..."Yeah, the check was completed and there is a new digital meter there, it is working, and there are no leaks."  He was in essence telling me the initial meter reading was accurate and the meter is working.

Me: But I have a picture of it off, I shook the wires, tapped it, stared at it for over a minute and it was dead.  My family and I were gone for a whole week, we've never even gone over 40 units.  Does this not seem completely illogical to you? 

Man at City of O: Uh, I can't answer that.

Me: Who do I talk to about the meter reading?

Man: I can give you the number to the meter department.

Me: Okay give it to me.

Man: Okay, hold on (proceeds to put me on hold for 7 minutes!).  Okay, I called the meter department and the supervisors aren't in today.  I also talked to the person who read your meter and he said the reading was accurate.  These are some of the best meters in the market today...they are very (emphasis added) accurate.

Of course I was livid now.  How very convenient to be able to say that no errors were made, and you, the consumer, still have to pay your bill no matter how ridiculous it happens to be.

Me: The supervisors aren't in today.  Give me their number anyway, I'll call them on Monday.

Man: What I can do is email them, and give them your information.  They'll call you.

I'm stuck paying this bill.  Up until this past month, I didn't think too much about the service I was receiving from the City of Oceanside (water utility).  But now, after the inferior service I received from their phone rep, and the information I gleaned about their inner workings (meter readers are protected and infallible), I am going to be ever more vigilant about my water consumption and the reports I get in the mail.  I don't think I'll ever be able to trust them again.  You should be leery too if you live in Oceanside, CA!

My next stop may be a visit to the public utility commission office in San Diego because this isn't right and I'm not okay with it.

Until next time!