The Myth of the Fixed Income

This evening I was watching financial guru Suze Orman on NBC’s Nightly News. She and Brian Williams mentioned how the current economic crunch times are especially tough on those with “fixed incomes.”

Most people define “fixed incomes” as the retirement incomes of folks in their 60s and older.

Excuse me. I would be happy to exchange economic seats with many of those “fixed income” folks. I say this because a lot of those incomes are fixed pretty high.

Most of us — especially the working poor – are on fixed incomes. Many companies pay as little as possible when it comes to salaries for those on the lower end of the social ladder. Companies of all sizes also freeze wages…sometimes for several years…fixing incomes of workers.

What about single parents working at the local Wal-Mart store? Don’t you think their income is “fixed” for the most part? And all of those small businesses Wal-Mart is blamed for putting out of business….many of them paid pretty low wages with lousy or no health insurance or other benefits.

I personally know a lot of people in their 40s and 50s who are making the same — or less — than they did 10 years ago. Things happen. Businesses close, companies merge, people are laid off. You don’t have to look very far to find middle-age folks starting over on a career due to down-sizing, age discrimination, health challenges…all kinds of reasons. Many of these people are still raising kids and or taking care of elderly parents. It’s hard to fix incomes high enough to cover all of these financial challenges.

For many people, it’s a myth that your salary will continue to rise throughout your working career…and the use of the word career is stretching it when describing many of the jobs that keep the economy pumping while many families live paycheck to paycheck.

There are many financially flush people who enjoy their senior discount, while younger minimum-age workers don’t get the much-needed price break.

If you are retired, you don’t have to fill up your car with high priced gasoline every week to drive to work. Retired people can stay home more to save money when times are tough.

The real Larry the Cable Guys of this world are lucky if they make twelve bucks an hour. And they have plenty of company in that salary range. It’s not hard to find ads for jobs in offices with bookkeeping responsibilities paying just 9 or 10 bucks an hour. With no benefits.

And, to get some of these not-so-lucrative jobs….a lot of employers make you sign away all of your privacy regarding your credit, legal liability…even your HIPPA rights so they can make sure you are physically fit to work for low wages. Some firms also want you to take a personality test before they hire you. How about if you show me your score, then I’ll show you mine.

“Living on a fixed income” is a very misleading phrase. It really doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Did You Turn Your Lights Out Saturday Night?

I didn’t think so.

Saturday night the whole world was supposed to dim their lights at 8 pm (their time) for an hour. Do you know how dangerous that could be in some cities and neighborhoods?

Some organization called Earth Hour wanted us to turn off our “non-essential” lights and electronics as a global event to fight climate change. Or at least show some support.

In keeping with the spirit, Google’s page was black all day with white writing (reverse print.)

So tell me this, I didn’t check, but did Google shut down its servers Saturday night? Wouldn’t they qualify as “non-essential?” Oh, they couldn’t do that. That would cost them money. As in loss of revenue. As in bad business. As in some people might not know what was going on.

Did the Earth Hour organization turn off its website? Probably not.

Back in the real Dark Ages – before the World Wide Wide – we were taught in school there were three essential “must-haves” to survive: food, clothing and shelter. There was no mention of Google or Microsoft.

I read that cities and governments all over the world did dim their lights during the rolling 8 pm hour.

The Earth Hour is a nice idea but really, why don’t we turn off ALL of our lights at 8 am on a Monday morning. Most of us would be glad to go into work a little later. Maybe catch up on a little sleep…another essential ingredient for good health. And we could easily cope without electric lights during daylight hours. And yes, we could make this an even bigger impact if we turned everything off. Let the hospitals stay on, but everybody else could shut down.

Let’s also get out of our cars and stay put for an hour. How much oil would that save? Wouldn’t that be cool? Close Wal-Mart for an hour. Ground the jets like 9/11 so we could enjoy some additional peace and quiet. All of the world’s TV and radio stations could shut down for an hour.

Imagine the world without white noise. Even if just for an hour. During the daytime. No lawnmowers, either.

In some places this would not be a hardship. But boy us Americans would be screwed.

This would cost business way too much money. We can’t do that.

So instead, let’s just dim the lights on a Saturday night and pretend we are part of the green movement. Like Kermit the frog says, “It not easy being green.”

Warning: Don’t Mix Tip Jars & Coffee

I think it’s time to outlaw tip jars in coffee shops. Mixing hot coffee and tip jars is causing too much trouble.

Earlier this month, a man was killed when he tried to stop a couple of thieves from stealing less than ten dollars from a Starbucks tip jar in Crestwood, Missouri. When the thief and his accomplice fled the scene, Roger Kreutz chased after them and was run over by their “getaway car.” Kreutz died two days later.

And now Starbucks has gotten into legal hot water after California managers received a portion of monies collected in tip jars. Apparently under California law, managers and supervisors are not allowed to take tips from employees.

I don’t see why every coffee shop “barrista” should be tipped in the first place. Do you tip the clerk at McDonald’s? Do you tip the Krispy Kreme doughnut guy?

And why are tips limited to food service workers? Let’s start tipping librarians when they hand us the books we requested. If your administrative assistant drops a Fed-Ex package off on the way home from work, doesn’t she deserve a tip? Or doesn’t she at least deserve a tip when she brings you and your guests a cup of coffee????

Where do we draw the line in tipping people for doing their job?

Serving you a hot cup of coffee is pretty similar work to mixing up a chocolate shake at McDonald’s. What makes coffee clerks so special?

The Naked Job Interview

When it comes to exchanging valuable information, job hunting is a one-way process.

Don’t you love those job applications where you are supposed to “account for all time periods,” fill in your complete salary history, and explain why you left each job. Sometimes you are 55 years old and they want to know your high school grade point average.

Your whole employment and much of your personal history is supposed to be outlined on a couple of pieces of paper.

Then there’s the “salary call.” You’ve submitted a resume in response to an ad, and the baby-voiced HR person calls and asks you to tell her about yourself…which of course, is already outlined on the piece of paper she has in her hand. Next she asks you your salary expectations. She’s not willing to give you a range when you toss the question back. If you don’t give the right number, your resume will be filed in the trash.

While you’ve got her on the line…she encourages you to ask her questions to make this call look a little more legit. So you ask her how big the company is and tell her you noticed there were a dozen jobs posted. Are these new positions? She gives you some vague blah, blah, blah, answer. You never hear from them again if you don’t play the salary game. Maybe the HR person is just doing some local marketing research, and your application makes you a potential source of information.

You see, you – the job hunter – are supposed to tell this stranger over the phone how much you make. If you get the job, you are then supposed to keep your mouth shut about your salary.

The employment process utilizes marketing and truth in advertising. Marketing is what the employer tells you is going to happen, what your job duties will be, what you won’t have to do, how everyone works as a team, and just how wonderful everything is going to be.

Truth in advertising is that legal document YOU the job hunter sign swearing YOUR application is “true and complete.”

Eat’n & Sav’n at Aldi’s: Pork Roast

Posted On March 18, 2008

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It’s been awhile since I reviewed products purchased at Aldi Foods. Here’s one I really enjoyed: Appleton pork roast with gravy.

I bought a 17 oz package for $3.99. The package said it contained 3.5 servings. That was about right. I thought it was very tasty and very tender. I microwaved it several more minutes than the package estimate (ovens will vary). I will definitely buy more.

For more information, visit http://www.aldifoods.com.

What’s Legal At Senior Housing?

There’s a new senior housing complex opening near my house. It’s one that offers meals and recreation opportunities. Since it is closer than the one my mother lives in, I am curious about it.

I went to a talk there, and a few weeks later a rep called me to gage my interest in renting an apartment. I asked a few questions, and was told, “We’re looking for the more active senior.” Translation: they don’t want somebody with the early stages of dementia.

I suspect a lot of these places, over time, as their residents settle in for a few years, find more and more of their residents are “less active” than when the places first opened up.

Here’s my question – how much discrimination is legally allowed at senior apartment complexes? Besides the fact that you have to be a certain age. If you want to rent an apartment for your parent, and then pay for someone to come in and oversee all of his or her needs, what difference does it make to them as long as you pay your rent?

Are other apartment complexes allowed to “do an evaluation” on their seemingly able-bodied, mentally stable residents? Are owners of senior independent living apartments allowed to make such determinations under the law? I’m not talking about dumping off an elderly person and walking away to let them fend for themselves — that would be abuse. What about the Americans With Disabilities Act – how far does this extend to senior apartments? Are the owners and managers afraid a bunch of people walking around with walkers or scooting around in wheelchairs will tarnish their good image?

Also, what happens when a resident’s health starts to go downhill— but there are no family members or others stepping up to intervene with needed assistance? How do these places handle those situations? Does a 70 year old new resident have to provide a name and number of someone who can be called if this person gets a little loopy and needs help when s/he turns 80?

If you have the answers to these questions – please share.

By the way, this place is surrounded by cement. The east end of the property butts up against a parking lot for a big retail store that’s going out of business. The west end fronts a somewhat busy road. The view across the street is a small industrial looking building. The views on the other two sides are also concrete and maybe the glimpse of the sides of some houses on the busy street. I didn’t see any green space…so I can’t really imagine too many mentally active seniors selling their nice homes to move to this concrete campus.

After telling me my mother wouldn’t be eligible to live there, I’ve started receiving their promotional mailings. It was obvious that both the return address and my address labels were hand-affixed by their staff. I guess maybe they hire “challenged” employees…ones that can’t figure out that my mom’s not the kind of resident they want.

The Not So Sly Governor

Never trust the morality police. The higher a person carries the morality flag, the deeper he falls when caught with his own pants down.

Governor Eliot Spitzer (aka Client 9) of New York is just the latest high profile man of power to come under the public’s radar. I have no sympathy for politicians or others who make a life out of preaching and prosecuting others for their own sins.

Spitzer must have thought he was oh, so sly… as he went by the name of George Fox.

I do think Spitzer deserves a trial by a jury of his peers — a true jury of his peers filled with men and women who were tried for similar sex crimes during his administration as governor or attorney general. Let the good governor sit on trial while these folks, who otherwise minded their own business, sit in judgment of his committing the same sex crimes that he so proudly hailed victory over in his moral crusade. Throw in a couple of spouses or other family members who felt embarrassed and disgraced when their relative’s indiscretions were publicly revealed and their lives were torn apart because the good governor was trying to make a name for himself.

Do I feel sorry for the wife? I don’t know the wife. Until yesterday, I didn’t even know who the governor was. Maybe she was standing behind him holding the morality flag during his campaign speeches. I don’t know how the rich live. Is it normal for a rich man to spend thousands of dollars of the household budget on a single visit with a prostitute and have nothing to show for where the family’s money went? I don’t know the answer to this question. What did she know – or ignore – about his routines?

His kids? Yes, I do have compassion for them.

This case reminds me of former St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney George Peach, aka Larry Johnson. He has long faded away from public sight since it came to light in the early ’90s that his off-work hobby was meeting prostitutes in cheesy hotel rooms, using taxpayers money to fund his apparent addiction to illicit sex. Like Client 9, he was a high profile member of the morality police — prosecuting prostitutes and their customers. He was eventually convicted of stealing and lost his law license.

There’s a reason they call prostitution the oldest profession. It’s not going to go away. And neither are these high-profile sex scandals. Thanks to the internet, there are more tools to track down customers and clients alike. Maybe society should just collect taxes from these operations and let God stand in judgment of the activity itself.

Before the morality police run around convicting every body else for sex crimes committed between consenting adults, they need to look in the mirror.

Online Banking Doesn’t Always Add Up

I recently wrote an online check to pay one of my mother’s bills. As you may know, sometime the bank sends a paper check if the “payee” does not accept electronic payments.

I “wrote” a check from a National City Bank account that was to be “delivered” February 5. The bank printed out a letter dated February 8, which arrived in an envelope dated February 11 by their postage meter. This letter was delivered to my house a full week later. The letter stated, “The payee returned the payment due to an invalid account number or payment address.”

Well let’s see, if the payee received the check….then the address must have been OK….so that part of your letter makes no sense. If the payee did not know the account number, just half of that sentence would be believable.

I went online, double-checked the payment information, called the payee to let them know “the check is in the mail,” and messed with the check file so it would appear “changed” and a new check would be generated. I assumed that letter had gone astray in the post office equipment and was kicked back to the bank. (I’ve seen this happen to several correctly addressed letters over the years.) Also, this payee does not have account numbers…so that half of the bank’s blanket statement doesn’t apply here either.

Guess what, the whole process repeated itself…including the postage meter date being three days later than the date on the letter. So I am calling the payee again and telling them to please call their post office and see what’s going on. And I’m getting pretty bitchy with the payee thinking it’s an issue with their post office. I’m also pissed because the first time I called the payee, the bookkeeper did not make a note that I was re-sending the check and calls the next week looking for it.

I also see both checks are still in the bank’s online system, neither one has cleared. However this time, there is no email message indicating there is trouble with the second check.

The first bank employee called doesn’t even see the check in the system. At this point, I want to know what is on the envelope. The second phone call yields an employee who has the check in hand and says it has an incomplete street address and the wrong zip code.

National City Bank…… the problem is at your end. I went back online and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that address as I typed it. It shows fine online.

Not only that…why did the second letter suddenly go to an OLD address? We had changed this address months ago, and all other bank mail has been received at the proper address…at least as far as we know…..now suddenly you are resurrecting an old address??????

This isn’t the first story I’ve heard about checks written online going haywire. Previously I assumed once I typed something for payment, a paper check spit out on a printer somewhere and was then put into an envelope by a machine or a human hand. (If the payee was not accepting electronic payments.) Evidently, a human being does something more to generate these paper checks, or some banks obviously have some bugs in their online checking software.

All I know is it adds up to a lot of frustration for this customer.

Can We Be Too Healthy For Our Own Good?

Once in a while I’ll watch a TV show or read something in the paper where I don’t understand fully the technical explanation, but I do get what the bottom line message is.

Recently I read a blog entry pointing to flu shots as a contributing factor to the causes of Alzheimer’s, dementia and other diseases.

In the past, I was doubtful that vaccines could cause autism, although many parents believe so. A recent court ruling indicates that there may be some convincing scientific support for this argument.

A friend of mine, a 30 year veteran of an elementary school, says something is wrong. From her teacher’s seat, she’s seen an amazing rise in the number of kids with autism. She doesn’t have any statistics outlined on a spreadsheet….just a practical, first-hand, close-up look at change over time.

Since the followers of Christian Science don’t go to doctors…are they as affected by these health issues? What are the rates of autism and dementia among their followers as compared to those being vaccinated?

When I was a kid, I carried one of those original metal Flintstones lunch boxes with a peanut butter sandwich inside. Our biggest food fear at the time was mayonnaise on a warm day. A PBJ sandwich was our insurance against food borne illness. Today, some schools are banning peanuts and peanut butter in the classroom to protect kids who are highly allergic to this legume. What has caused this change?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know this. The world is not flat and Pluto is no longer a planet. Science changes over time.

Yesterday as I struggled in Wal-Mart’s dressing room, trying to get Mom to cooperate/understand how to move so we could evaluate the fit of a new pair of pants….I asked myself, should Mom start skipping flu shots?

Is Your Software Haunted?

Posted On March 5, 2008

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I type things, they disappear. I make corrections, this software reverts back to the first draft.¬† I put in paragraph breaks…the paragraphs mate.

 Does anybody else have trouble with this software?

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