Black Coffee: Nasty Rumors, Gift Card Arbitrage & Early-Retirement Tips

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…

Hi, I’m Len Penzo, the smell-good blogger. And despite any rumors you may have heard recently, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not selling this blog to a major web-based financial conglomerate for seven figures.

I can assure you that the rumor is baseless, if not completely preposterous.

For the record, they offered me four figures — and two of them were to the right of the decimal point. (That’s the last time I ever send an unsolicited email to Quinn Street asking if they’d be interested in buying me out.)

Okay, on with this week’s abbreviated “Espresso” edition of Black Coffee: It has all the flavor of the regular Black Coffee column, it’s just concentrated in a smaller cup!

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Retire By 403 Easy Steps to Retire by 40. Joe recently quit his six-figure engineering job. That takes a lot of guts, folks. In this post, he tells you how you too can retire by 40 in three “easy” steps. Step 1: Get a job with a big paycheck. I know. I bet a lot of you right now are kicking yourselves, wondering why you didn’t think of that.

Budgets are Sexy How I Made $4000+ on a Cash Back Credit Card Offer. What do you do when you have lots of spare cash available for a quick — and very handsome — return on investment? Well, if you’re as financially savvy as guest writer Joe Taxpayer is, you buy $50,000 worth of gift cards at a local drug store with a credit card that offers a promotional 10% rebate on all drug store purchases. Brilliant! Don’t bother stealing Joe’s idea though because his credit card company has since pulled that offer off the table for new customers. Go figure.

Money CounselorInvest In You! Earlier this week, I wrote a post explaining why college isn’t for everyone. On a somewhat related note, Kurt makes the case for education as a viable investment alternative to the stock market. Check out his explanation and see if you agree.

Darwin’s Money First Home Buyers: How Much Can I Borrow? Says Betsy: “‘How much can I borrow?’ It’s the first question you’ll hear from first home buyers.” Coincidentally, it’s also the first question I usually hear from my teenage son, Matthew, every Saturday morning before he walks out the door.

Money BeagleCan the Post Office Be Saved? According to MB, one big misconception about the US Post Office is that it “loses money delivering mail and packages.” Correction: it usually loses the mail and packages too.

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

From February 2011:

100 Words On: Why Inflation Is Taxation Without Representation –  Ronald Reagan accurately warned us in 1984 to be vigilant against inflation because it can come, “like a thief in the night to rob our savings, rob our earnings, and take the bread off our tables.” It’s also how complicit politicians intend to pay off our humongous national debt.

Credits and Debits

Credit: In 1961, President John F. Kennedy implored all Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Debit: Unfortunately, today there are a growing number of Americans who, sadly, vehemently disagree with President Kennedy’s famous paean for liberty and self-reliance. How did this happen?

Debit: This week’s riots in nearly-bankrupt Greece by people dependent on the government should be a wake-up call for Americans clamoring for more entitlements. Don’t think that won’t happen here when we finally run out of other people’s money.

Debit: Meanwhile, the Fed — supposedly the guardian of our currency’s purchasing power — is printing $40 billion every month, thereby devaluing every dollar in our pockets. It’s legalized theft, but the people want their government “freebies.”

Debit: Adding insult to injury, the president of the Fed’s Philadelphia branch admits the Fed’s money printing campaign, known as QE3, is only an “illusion” that will do nothing to turn the economy around. I know.

Debit: And that’s too bad, considering the second quarter US GDP numbers were revised downward to 1.3% this week, a number that clearly indicates a stalling economy on the verge of another recession.

Debit: If that isn’t bad enough, orders for durable goods — stuff like appliances, automobiles, and airplanes — fell 13.2%. That’s the worst performance since January 2009, during the last recession.

Debit: For many, things aren’t going too well at home either. The typical household’s inflation-adjusted income has fallen $3,040 during the current 38-month “recovery.” Amazingly, that’s double the income drop experienced during the recession that preceded it.

Credit: Well … At least the airlines are doing well. They collected a record $1.7 billion in baggage fees during the first six-months of this year. Delta Airlines was the top recipient, collecting a hefty $430 million.

Debit: The banks set their own record this week. The average ATM surcharge has reached an all-time high; it’s now $2.50. But you probably already knew that.

Debit: Speaking of banks, new regulations have helped drive the number of free checking accounts being offered to an all-time low — another example of government meddling resulting in adverse consequences for consumers. Just sayin’.

Debit:  Finally … All this depressing news has put me in the mood for an exotic cocktail known as The Jewel of Pangaea. The drink was recently introduced in a local Singapore club.

Credit: Did I mention it costs $26,000? It does. That’s because the drink — Hennessy cognac and champagne — is garnished with edible gold flecks and a one-karat triple-X flawless diamond. It also comes with five bodyguards.

Credit:  You know what? On second thought, I think I’ll just grab a beer.

By the Numbers

Here’s a few more cocktail facts to sip on:

1912 Year absinthe was banned in the United States. The ban remained in effect until 2007, when it was officially lifted.

41 Percentage of cocktail bar patrons under age 36. Because they’re more expensive than beer, most cocktails are typically purchased by older, financially-endowed customers.

62 Percentage of Americans who have used the services of a designated driver.

1970 Year the British Navy stopped providing every sailor with a daily ration of rum.

10 Countries where alcohol is illegal. (Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan)

Sources: Bundle, Denizen Rum,

The Question of the Week

Are you ready for summer to end?

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Other Useless News – Guess Who’s Featured in Forbes This Week

For some odd reason, Forbes asked me to weigh in on the potential impacts of this year’s presidential election on consumers. Click here if you’d like to read my irritating opinion, along with the thoughts of other personal finance bloggers willing to go out on a limb, like Phil Taylor of PT Money and Jeff Rose.

Whether you happen to enjoy what you’re reading – or not – please don’t forget to:

1. Click that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not!

BigDog wrote a very nice note to me this week and then capped it off with this question:

… Do you have any investment advice for a newbie like me?    

Yep! Buy low and sell high — it works every time.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 2


    Thanks for mentioning my article “Invest in You!”

    I agree with you that higher education is not a good choice for every person. I think though that no matter what field or trade or business you’re in, staying up-to-date on the ‘latest & greatest’ and learning specialized skills by regularly getting more training or education over the course of your career–or learning an entirely new skill that can be put to use at least initially in a side gig–can provide a great return on investment at relatively low risk.

    Enjoyed the joe!

  2. 3


    Glad you enjoyed Joe’s trick too – that guy is full of smarts! And oddly enough when I asked him to give the post a good title, he told me he’d try but that it wouldn’t nearly be as good as if Len Penzo did it 😉

  3. 6


    Based on the price they offered, I’ll double their offer, Len. Think about the possibilities: you’ll be independently wealthy until the next mortgage payment!

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