Black Coffee: Out With the Old and In With the New

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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.

I’m working this weekend. Again. So it’s time for another espresso edition of Black Coffee.

So let’s get right to it …

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

From November 2010:

Come On, People! Quit Maligning the Plastic Bag! – Can anybody tell me why plastic shopping bags continue to get such a bad rap? Why is it still chic to pillory them?

Credits and Debits

Debit: January 1 was the first day that Obamacare enrollees could officially begin using their health care insurance. In theory. Unfortunately, 4.2 million fewer people have healthcare coverage in 2014 because of the law. So far. (Just wait until the employer mandate kicks in.) Happy New Year!

Debit: Meanwhile, workers at one auto dealership are now painfully aware of the onerous redistributive effects of Obamacare. According to NBC News, 21 of 26 workers saw their deductibles rise from $1,125 to $3,000, while maximum out-of-pocket costs jumped from $2,250 to $6,350.

Debit: And those affected dealership employees with families got hit even harder by the new law: their deductibles increased to $6,000 with an out-of-pocket maximum of $12,700. It’s too bad Obamacare subsidies reward many folks who make poor choices while penalizing responsible people.

Debit: Oh … I almost forgot. Now that 2014 is here, there are a host of new Obamacare taxes and fees we all get to deal with, including a new tax on our healthcare plan premiums. As if the higher premiums and deductibles weren’t enough punishment.

Credit: How about some good news? It was a banner year for the stock market in 2013. The NASDAQ was up more than 38%, while the S&P and Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 29.6% and 26.5% respectively. Hooray! Wall Street owes Ben Bernanke a big “thank you” for juicing the returns this year.

Debit: Too bad the Fed’s continuing near-zero interest rate policy came at the expense of savers on Main Street who got socked with another year of real negative returns.

Debit: Of course, past performance is never a guarantee of future results. One technical analyst is predicting the Dow will rise another 4% — before dropping more than 70% over the next two years, thereby ending “the bubble of all bubbles.” I agree on the magnitude of the eventual drop — but it’s the timing that’s tricky.

Debit: Most precious metal speculators who were betting on a 12th consecutive year of price gains for gold got the financial equivalent of a punch in the nose in 2013: for the year, gold was off 28.2% and silver was down 35.9%. Ouch.

Credit: Then again, there are two sides to every coin: So-called “gold bugs” who are concerned about insuring their excess wealth from currency devaluation or outright collapse welcomed the price drop, which has led to the biggest precious metals sale in 32 years.

Credit: In fact, the sale was so big, demand for gold coins soared by 63% in 2013. So it’s not just the world’s central banks that have been eagerly gobbling up the yellow metal — even though Ben Bernanke will tell you with a straight face that gold isn’t money. I know.

Debit: The year also ended with more Americans collecting disability benefits than ever before; 10,988,269 to be exact. That was the 202nd consecutive month of disability roll increases. If you’re thinking that means that dubious streak must have started in February 1997, you’d be right.

Debit: In case you’re wondering, the average monthly disability benefit is now $1146.43. That’s also a record. Too bad it wasn’t enough to stop pending home sales from seeing its worst year-over-year drop since April 2011.

Debit: And finally … Chicago’s woefully underfunded pension system for firefighters, teachers, police, and transit workers is on the verge of eviscerating the city’s budget. The teacher’s system alone is facing a $1 billion deficit.

Credit: Rest assured, the “free lunch” mentality that has led to these types of fiscal issues at the local, national and international level is going to end. One way or another. The only question is when.

By the Numbers

The US wasn’t the only country whose stock market had a stellar year. Here is the year-to-date performance for other countries:

-15.50% Brazil

-6.75% China

9.55% Canada

14.43% Great Britain

16.56% Italy

17.99% France

25.48% Germany

56.72%   Japan

88.87% Argentina

107.69% Dubai UAE


The Question of the Week

Last Week’s Poll Results

Do you think 2014 will be better or worse for you than 2013?

  • Better (52%)
  • About the same. (29%)
  • Worse (19%)

More than 200 Len Penzo dot Com readers participated in this week’s survey, more than half of you expect 2014 to be better than last year — at least on a personal level. Being a glass-half-empty guy, I’m expecting things to be worse. Hey, if I set the bar low, I’ve got nowhere to go but up!

Other Useless News

Programming note: Unlike most blogs, I’m always open for the weekend here at Len Penzo dot Com. There’s a fresh new article waiting for you every Saturday afternoon. At least there should be. If not, somebody call 9-1-1.

Hey! If you happen to enjoy what you’re reading — or not — please don’t forget to:

1. Click on 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. :-)

Top 25 Referrers for December

It’s the first weekend of the month, which means it’s time once again to thank the top 25 referring websites to Len Penzo dot Com.

1. MSN
2. Kiplinger
3. The Simple Dollar
4. Money Talks News
5. Lifehacker
6. Business Insider
7. Deseret News
8. Wisebread
9. Budgets Are Sexy
10. Consumerist
11. Time
12. Mr. Money Mustache
13. Quest for $85,000
14. Afford Anything
15. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
16. Financial Uproar
17. Save Outside the Box
18. Plutus Awards
19. Christian Science Monitor
20. Boomer and Echo
21. Clark Howard
22. Money Crashers
23. Money Funk
24. Escaping Dodge
25. Control Your Cash

Thank you to everyone who refers their readers to this little ol’ blog! It’s much appreciated.

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! You can reach out to me at:

Here is a small portion of a long rambling diatribe that Your [sic] An Idiot left in the comment section of last week’s edition of Black Coffee (since deleted):

“Every overly opinionated idiot with enough sense to turn on a computer has the right to publish any amount of worthless, meaningless, biased, thoughtless and useless words that they have time to salvage from the biological landfill they call their brain.”

I see what you mean.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 1

    Spuky says

    I swear I will never understand why the healthcare system is so expensive in the US. Sure, I know that there are expensive medical procedures, but yikes, those out of pocket sound really insane(12k! the average family in Mexico earns less than that IN A YEAR!) No wonder all the PF blogs encourage people to have several months of emergency funds

    And wow at the Argentina stockmarket. I feel so sad for all the people down there, is not going to be pretty when the thing falls down

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      Re: why healthcare is so expensive. It’s because our system encourages price distortions. How? Well … it’s set up such that the insurance companies encourages unnecessary procedures, and hides prices from those who are requesting the services. The government adds to the problem by adding an inefficient layer of oversight that increases costs; they also add fuel to the fire because, unlike private companies, they have little incentive to cut fraud, waste and abuse.

      If you want to see the true costs of a medical procedure, ask your doctor what his cash price is. It’s typically a small fraction of the insurance company cost.

      Excessive stock market gains can be a sign of a failing economy where the currency is being rapidly devalued. In those cases, while some profit, most people who invest in the stock market end up doing little more than treading water financially, at best. It’s no coincidence that Argentina’s socialist economy is currently being run into the ground.

      The best performing stock market in the world over the last decade was Zimbabwe’s. At one point in 2007, the Zimbabwe stock index was up more than 12,000% (twelve thousand percent) year-over-year. And we all know what happened to the Zimbabwe dollar — it’s value eventually went to zero. And I have five one-hundred-trillion bills from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to prove it.

      • 3

        Spuky says

        Thanks for the answer, in just one post you cleared up two topics, talk about efficiency.

        have a good year Len, I hope you keep posting for a long time, I’m enjoying your blog a lot

  2. 4

    Frugal Pediatrician says

    The man who sent you the letter sounds like he has indigestion. We are registered Democrats but enjoy your blog.

    • 5

      Len Penzo says

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog, Doc! Believe it or not, I know for a fact there are many open-minded liberals and Dems who read my blog — even though they disagree with me at times — because they tell me! :-)

  3. 6


    Hi Len,

    I’m thrilled my little blog is sending traffic your way…I’m stoked! I’m not stoked, however, at how Obamacare is messing with my life. In fact, today I received my new bill from Anthem Blue Cross. You see, my plan was cancelled because it didn’t meet the new requirements so the new plan they want to “stick” me in costs about $100/mo more. A monthly premium of $476 for a single person. Okay. It sucks, but okay.

    BUT, today’s bill came and I nearly choked. It says I owe $3,982.00. Yeah. That’s what it says. Of course, the premium is FROM 2/1/14 to 1/1/14. Huh????? The whole thing is a mess.

    You can be sure I WON’T be sending them a check for $3,982.00. I doubt I’ll send them a check for .01.

    This doesn’t even address how hacked off I am that I’m forced to pay $5.87/mo to provide dental insurance for the kids I never had. ARGGGGGHHHHH…..

    Okie dokie, I’m going to try to calm down, make dinner and focus on the things I have some control over.


    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      Thanks, Ree. I appreciate the referrals!

      I’m sorry about your rising health insurance bill. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop for me when the employer mandate kicks in later this year. I’m worried sick about the increase I’m probably going to have to deal with soon … um, no pun intended.

      I’m going to make dinner now too.

  4. 10


    “The NASDAQ was up more than 38%, while the S&P and Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 29.6% and 26.5% respectively.”

    “Do you think 2014 will be better or worse for you than 2013?
    Better (52%)”

    We’re an optimistic bunch, aren’t we?!

  5. 12

    SassyMamaw says


    I just want you to know that even though I’m a ‘bleeding heart liberal’, I enjoy your blog, and your sense of humor! It’s gotta be tough making personal finance fun and interesting day after day! Thanks for all you do.

    ersonal finance

  6. 14

    Karen Kinnane says

    Dear Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way, Why BUY? Go RESCUE! I am mourning the loss of my dream Doberman St. Buddy the good, who came from the Warwick Valley Humane Society, Warwick NY, for $140. which included neutering, complete health check, all shots. Buddy was an 8 month old puppy, gorgeous example of his breed, no papers, stunning temperament, but able to compete in AKC obedience and agility events for a $25. fee to the AKC with three photos. Buddy also got his companion dog certificate the first time he tried, and aced his pet therapy classes and passed that exam the first time, enabling us to visit nursing homes to cheer up older folks who used to own dogs when their life was better. Rescues are loaded with wonderful pure bred and mixed breed dogs, many of whom desperately want a chance at a loving family. WHY BUY? Particularly why buy a puppy mill product at a mall or pet store? They all claim family raised puppies, but the animals are cranked out in misery by the Amish in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, and other unscrupulous operators whose breeding stock live lives of misery and whose puppies are poorly socialized and often sickly. Save a life, adopt. Adopting an older puppy like 8 month old Buddy, or a year old dog will save most of the baby puppy trauma, the house training, the problems, while insuring that the dog’s personality is developed and visible to all.

    • 15

      Len Penzo says

      Karen, I know your comment wasn’t directed at me, but I’m sorry for your loss just the same.

      I’ve lost six dogs over my lifetime and I know it’s never easy.

  7. 16

    Marcia says

    I’m a registered democrat who enjoys your blog too. But then I grew up in a red town. Full of “union democrats” who are mostly republican.

    I am conservative for Santa Barbara but liberal for my home town. I have this word combo of being fiscally conservative but supportive of national healthcare. I would prefer single payer but think of all those repricing middlemen who would be out of a job. Health insurance companies suck.

    What is with the plastic bags? SB just made them illegal. You have to pay for them. Seriously.

    • 17

      Len Penzo says

      Marcia, I went to college a few miles up the road from you, in San Luis Obispo – which has a similar demographic. I lived there for five years.

      As for you backing a single payer system … one of these days we need to talk.

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