Black Coffee: Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance. Here’s what caught my attention over the past week…

This week my daughter, Nina, turned 11-years-old.     Of course, it goes without saying that her birthday is a joyous occasion for me, but in the back of my mind I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness too.

Nina and I are cut from the same cloth.   We both have the same likes and dislikes, not to mention the same twisted sense of humor.     As such, we’ve got a very tight bond that I hope will never go away.

Anyway, her birthday this week only served to remind me that my little girl is growing up, seemingly quicker with each passing year.     Oh, she’s still daddy’s little girl.   But, as she approaches her teenage years, I know those days will soon be coming to a close.

I just hope they stick around for me to enjoy a little while longer.

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Money Help for Christians – This past Monday, my friend Craig released a terrific new ebook that details in simple, easy-to-understand steps how to build an effective budget.   The ebook, The Secret to a Successful Budget: Practical Advice for Creating a Budget that Lasts, is now on-sale.   If you want to know how to create an effective budget, then this ebook will definitely help you get there!   Craig is offering 30 percent off through the end of this month, which means you can get his ebook right now for only $12.   If you are interested in purchasing it, or want more information, please click on my affiliate link.

Christian Personal Finance5 Lessons from a Homeless Entrepreneur.   A bum in Sacramento finds a vacant bar.   He moves in.   He then buys a six pack of beer and sells it to customers.   He repeatedly reinvests his profits, buying more beer and watching his business grow over the next four days until he is finally caught and arrested.   His earnings in that short time span: over $1300 in money and merchandise.     Are there lessons to be learned here?   Of course.   For example, if he had reinvested his profits in hard liquor he could have made five times more money over the same period.   The big dummy.   And if you don’t like that one, guest author Joe Plemon gives us five other lessons you can take away from this true story.

Realm of ProsperityWe Are Forever Indebted to Technology.   Simon says, “To imagine how life would be without a computer, Internet, and a smartphone is terrifying.”   Actually, Simon, it wasn’t that bad back in those dark days of yore.   Before things like computers, the Internet, and smartphones were around, kids actually played outside – all day long.     And people didn’t walk with their heads down, constantly texting.     Perhaps best of all, nobody felt the need to tweet to the whole world that, for example, they’re at Trader Joe’s thinking about buying a five pound block of muenster cheese.

GoBankingRates – Writing Project Roundup: Who’s Competing For Readers’ Choice?   Um, that would be me, for one!   Check out all the great articles submitted by your favorite personal finance bloggers.   Then vote for me!   Twice.     (I won’t tell if you don’t tell.)

Monevator – Are You Richer Than Your Kids, or Poorer Than Your Grandchildren?   Ooo!   I love questions like this.   Here’s a few others for you to ponder:   If you try to fail and succeed, which have you done?   Why do toasters have settings that burn toast to an awful crisp?   And why does a “small tax increase” end up costing us $500, but a “big tax cut” saves us only 66 cents?   Speaking of tax cuts…

JoeTaxpayer – Bush Tax Cuts Expiring Soon. Joe notes that, among other things, “The child care credit is due to expire. This credit was raised to $1000 per child, but is due to drop back to $500. This credit phases out for a couple making over $110K or a single person over $75K. Well below that $250K, Mr President.”     Well said, Joe.   That alone is going to raise my taxes by $2000 in 2011 – and I make far less than $250,000 per year.   I guess I am one of those evil rich people.   (Sorry, I didn’t mean to start the Credits and Debits section so early – but I am not a happy camper.)

…And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

WisebreadMust-Have Qualities to Ensure Long-Term Job Security.

Budgeting In the Fun StuffBeing Judged Cheap and Wasteful at the Same Time.

Everyday TipsI Have Seen It All Now!

Investing Thesis Investing In Small and Micro Cap Value Stocks with Matt Miller of Chanticleer Holdings.

Oblivious InvestorTIPS vs. Nominal Treasury Bonds.

Personal Finance By the Book – What Health Care Reform Means for Workers’ Salaries.

My Dollar Plan – My First Job Ended in Unemployment.

Live RichlyA Stranger In His Own Land, Part 4.

Well Heeled Blog –   Why We Are So Bad At Buying Happiness.

Control Your CashMeet Your Role Model.

Wealth Pilgrim5 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score Fast.

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From August 2009:

Is Your Employer Stealing from You? – Did you ever wonder why your employer often looks the other way when he knows that you’re walking out the door with a six-month supply of paper clips and correction tape?   Maybe you should.

Credits and Debits

Debit: In September, the Los Angeles Unified School District will open its newest K-12 mega-school, named after the late Robert F. Kennedy.     The price tag for the 4,200-student school:   $578 million.

Debit: That comes out to $137,619 for each student.

Debit: Since 2008, the LAUSD has also unveiled two other taj mahal schools costing $232 million and $377 million.

Debit: According to the Associated Press, “officials say the new schools were planned long before the economic pinch.”   Silly me.   I guess that makes this all a big ado about nothing, doesn’t it?

Debit: More from the AP: “Architects and builders love this stuff, but there’s a little bit of a lack of discipline here,” said Mary Filardo, executive director of 21st Century School Fund in Washington, D.C., which promotes urban school construction. Oh, brother.   “Just a little bit?”   Ya think, Mary?   Really?

Debit: I had a few questions about the new Obamacare law that will soon put our personal health care decisions into the hands of millions of government bureaucrats – you know, like the ones you encounter at the DMV.     So I started to draft a letter to the guy who sponsored the law, Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana).   Then I found out he didn’t actually read it.

Debit: “I don’t think you want me to waste my time to read every page of the health care bill.   It’s statutory language,” Baucus said. “We hire experts.”   Unbelievable.   I thought we elected our representatives to write and read the bills – not “experts” for hire (read: lobbyists).

Credit: So to summarize: Baucus didn’t read the bill.   He didn’t write the bill.   But he hired “experts” to do the work the people elected him to do.   WTF do senators think their job is exactly if reading and writing bills are considered to be a “waste of time?”

Credit: I think now I understand why Nancy Pelosi told the American people that in order for us to know what Obamacare was all about, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.

Debit: How long will it be before Baucus considers casting votes a waste of time?

Debit: What else… Oh yes, the Drug Enforcement Agency spends about $70 million per year on linguistics experts.   (Supposedly not the same “experts” that ghost-wrote the Obamacare law for Max Baucus.)   In fact, the Department of Justice is currently looking for nine (9) experts in Ebonics.     Heh.   Is that really necessary?   Or is this simply another useless program to create nine more overpaid government jobs?

Debit: The DEA is acting like Ebonics is more complicated than the Navajo language that was used to confound the Axis code breakers during World War II.

Credit: It’s Ebonics, people, not Arabic.   According to The Smoking Gun, they quote a linguistic expert who states, “Ebonics pronunciation includes features like the omission of the final consonant in words like ‘past’ (pas’ ) and ‘hand’ (han’), the pronunciation of the th in ‘bath’ as t (bat) or f (baf), and the pronunciation of the vowel in words like ‘my’ and ‘ride’ as a long ah (mah, rahd).”     That’s not rocket science, folks.

Debit: In fact, most people who speak American English could probably fill these newly-created government “Ebonics expert” jobs with ease.   I assume they all come with six-figure salaries –   and the odds are good you can retire after ten years of service with a pension based on 90% of your final pay too.   I’m just sayin’.

Credit: What’s next?   The DEA requesting linguistics experts in Boston English?   “The Sox ah wicked good!   Now go pahk the cah in Hav-ed Yahd.”

By the Numbers

Why you might want to at least think twice the next time your local school district asks for the passage of another taxpayer-funded bond to make ends meet – and evidence that a majority of Americans already have.

$1.187 billion The amount of taxpayer money the Los Angeles Unified School District spent to build three showcase “taj mahal” schools since 2008.

6,451 The number of homes that could be bought with $1.187 billion, based on the US median home price as of June 2010 of $184,000.

$640 million The LAUSD’s funding shortfall for the 2010-2011 school year.

$578 million The cost of the LAUSD’s Robert F. Kennedy mega school scheduled to open next month.

5,200 The number of teacher layoffs the LAUSD was planning to deal with their funding shortfall.

54 The percentage of Americans in a Rasmussen poll conducted last month that said they are unwilling to pay higher taxes for public education.

Other Useless News

This little ol’ blog has more than few loyal Canadian readers, for which I am very thankful. I suspect a lot of that has to do with my fellow Money Maven, Tom, from the Canadian Finance Blog. In honor of my friends that reside north of the 48th parallel (and those who live south of it too), here are the Top 10 Canadian Cities whose residents spend the most time at Len Penzo dot Com on a per-visit basis:

1. Dryden (36 minutes 56 seconds per visit)
2. Simcoe (32:35)
3. Sardis (22:31)
4. White Rock (17:31)
5. Windsor (14:24)
6. Niagara Falls (14:16)
7. Brantford (13:38)
8. Montreal (13:20)
9. Mount Pearl (11:13)
10. Truro (10:50)

IMPORTANT: If you are from one of those ten cities, especially the more obscure towns I’ve never heard of – like Montreal – I’d love it if you dropped me a quick note to say hello!   And I want to personally thank all you Canucks out there who stop by every once in a while – no matter where you’re from! I truly appreciate it!

Next week in this space I’ll be highlighting the Top 25 referring sites for the month of August.     (I know you’ll be counting down the days.)

New Money Mavens: The Money Mavens Network added four new members this week.   I’d like to welcome The Investor from Monevator, Jeff from Deliver Away Debt, Ryan from The Military Wallet, and Kelly from the Centsible Life!   If you haven’t already done so, please stop by and check out their sites.

Oh yes, and here’s another friendly reminder for ya: if you happen to enjoy what you’re reading – or not – please make sure you follow me on Twitter. And, if you’ll be so kind, don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! :-)

Letters, I Get Letters

Spurred on by last week’s Black Coffee column where I shared the peanut butter game I play with my pooch, Major, Christa H. wrote in to tell me about a pup from her past – a border collie mix named “Major Pain” who, “sucked off every eye and nose from my stuffed animals. To this day, I still have a few around my house who have the appearance of war casualty victims. Dogs are great.”

I totally agree, Christa.   If you ask me, the old saying that “dogs are miracles with paws” is a gross understatement.

If you have a question you’d like to ask, or a comment you’d like to make regarding some of my irritating opinions, please feel free to drop me an e-mail at:

I’ll feature the most interesting question or comment I get each week here on Black Coffee — assuming I get one, that is.

If you’re lucky enough to be the only question in the mail bag I’ll highlight your letter, whether it’s interesting or not. 😉

Carnival News

This week I had articles featured at the following carnivals:

The Carnival of Money Stories @ The Intelligent Speculator (Editor’s Pick – Hooray!)

The Carnival of Personal Finance @ Provident Planning (Editor’s Pick – Hooray!)


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    Thanks for the shout out Len! Don’t worry, I have a lot of the interview left. 😉

    I’m quite aware the Congresscritters don’t read the bills. They’re too long! I couldn’t get through the whole first draft of Obamacare and that was half the size of the thing they passed. If I was in charge, no law would be more than 10 pages long, and if you wanted to pass a new one you had to retire an old one first.

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    Hi Len! Thanks for mentioning BFS and for another fun weekly roundup! Don’t worry, I was daddy’s little girl until about 15 and then came back to it in my early 20’s, lol. I’m sure Nina will always have a soft spot for her dad!

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    @KayLynn and BIFS: Thanks for the words of encouragement, ladies. I appreciate it!
    @Jennifer: I’m glad there is a lot more of your interview left! I really enjoy it, although the guy makes me shake my head a lot in disagreement. As for your 10 page rule, I think it’s a good one. I really think some of these laws are long on purpose to confuse the electorate. (I bet the lawyers would just go to 2-point font to get around the rule.)
    @Tom: I know. Where in the heck is Montreal? 😉

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    “Are you richer than your kids or poorer than your grandchildren” really is an interesting question to ask, so thanks for linking to that blog. Everyone tries to make sure that their children are better off then themselves, but is this always possible?

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