Black Coffee: Cheapskates, Crooning Car Washers & Frigid Husbands

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…

I was ecstatic when Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. — an unassuming 37-year-old car washer from West Virginia — won America’s Got Talent this week. He is an absolutely incredible performer, a singer arguably on par with some of the best crooners of all time, including one of my favorites, Frank Sinatra. Best of all, Landau is extremely humble, a real family man, and a terrific American success story. I know I’ll be plunking down my hard-earned money to see him when he comes to town.

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Everyday Tips and ThoughtsReflections on Our First Home — Things Done Right and Wrong. I remember my first home. I bought it at the top of a frothing market in 1990 and, as a result, I ended up stuck in that little fixer-upper for the next seven years, hopelessly saddled with an upside down mortgage. That might have been marginally bearable if not for the fact that stupid-me decided it was a good idea at the time to buy a house that sat less than 100 yards from a major freight and commuter rail line feeding Los Angeles. I know. But it was the only thing I could afford and, if I didn’t buy when I did, I’d probably never have been able to afford a home as long as I lived. It’s true; even my real estate agent said so.

The Simple DollarFrugality Won’t Make You Rich … but, as Trent notes, it makes it possible. (And if I were you, Trent, I’d trademark that phrase before somebody steals it. You know, somebody like me.)

Online Investing AI What’s the Difference between Cheap People and Mooches? Speaking of frugality, remember the halcyon days when “thrifty” wasn’t a four-letter word? You know, before the mooches came and ruined everything? Well, George does when he wistfully laments: “Once upon a time in America, cheap people were respected.” Yes we were, George! And, as God is my witness, we will be again! Er, someday … maybe.

Or not.

Darwin’s MoneyDebt – Which Camp are You In? Darwin breaks out four common personality types regarding how people handle debt including “Consolidators” and “Debt Seekers.” For some reason, though, “Mooches” wasn’t included in his list.

And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy…

Control Your CashFollow these Steps for Guaranteed Wealth. Seriously.

Oblivious InvestorShould I Use Options?

Sustainable Life Blog 4 Helpful Money Saving Tips for Autumn

20s Finances Losses Can be Exciting if You’re a Rental Owner

Afford Anything What’s Wrong with Most Money Advice?

Matt About Money Achieve Your Goals More Easily by Shaping the Path

Ironclad Finances – The  “Latte Factor”  and  “Pay  Yourself  First”

Stock Trend InvestingThis is How You Protect Your Savings from this Currency Crisis

Budgeting in the Fun StuffMoney and My Relationships

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

From August 2009:

18 Things You Didn’t Know About Automated Teller Machines – Here’s a bonus fact you can wow your friends with this week: Even though it’s redundant, four out of five Americans can be counted on to call them “ATM machines.”

Credits and Debits

Debit: I see the US Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, is warning the European Union of “catastrophic risk” if they fail to get their financial house in order. Pot, meet kettle.

Credit: Coincidentally, in a related story, Bono warned Lady Gaga that if she’s not careful, she risks being seen by the public as just another self-absorbed narcissistic pop star.

Debit: In other news, the Census Bureau reported this week that in 2010 U.S. median household income fell to its lowest level in 15 years.

Debit: Then there’s this: There are now only 1.75 full-time private-sector workers for every Social Security recipient. Those of you under 55 who think Social Security will be there for you during retirement, raise your hand. Go ahead. Don’t worry; I won’t laugh. (I’ll just snicker.)

Debit: Meanwhile, the country needs jobs — lots of ’em — and Representative Maxine Waters (D-California) has just the prescription too: a trillion dollar government jobs program. Heh.

Debit: According to Waters, such a program is “the only way to revitalize this economy.” Yes, the only way.

Credit: I’ve got an idea: How about a trillion dollars in income tax cuts so we can use the additional money in our wallets to stimulate our local economies?

Debit: For those worried that a trillion-dollars in tax cuts will cripple Washington D.C., I figure they can be completely offset within five years or so by abolishing the Departments of Education, Energy, Labor, Agriculture, and Housing & Urban Development.

Debit: And why not? The Department of Labor, responsible for overseeing state unemployment insurance programs, can’t even prevent billions in unemployment benefits from being paid in error every year. Maybe the bureaucrats there had more important things to do.

Credit: At least the French have their priorities in order. Last week, a 51-year-old man was fined approximately $14,000 by a court in Nice, France for not providing enough sex to his wife.

Credit: You’d think being convicted for withholding sex from your wife would be tougher than getting busted for jaywalking. For the record, I’ve never been cited for either offense.

By the Numbers

The bus-sized Upper Atmospheric Research Satellite (UARS) is set to fall back to Earth later this week, and scientists are warning parts of it will survive reentry and reach the Earth’s surface.

1991 Year UARS was launched.

6 Number of years the satellite has been circling the Earth since it was shut down after completing its mission in 2005.

143 The satellite’s minimum orbital height (in miles) above Earth on September 15, 2011.

26 Number of satellite pieces that are expected to survive reentry.

75 Percent of Earth that is covered by water. Which is why the odds are the debris will most likely fall in the ocean.

500 Length of the expected satellite debris field.

2 Time (in hours) ahead of the satellite’s final reentry when NASA will be able to pinpoint the actual crash zone (within 6000 miles).

1:3200 Odds that satellite debris will actually strike someone on the ground.

The Question of the Week

Have you ever been the victim of a burglary?

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Other Useless News

As of Friday, Len Penzo dot Com had received 344,490 comments! Too bad all but 8,293 of them were spam.   I know.

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!

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Plutus Awards

Have I mentioned that Len Penzo dot Com earned two nominations for the 2nd Annual Plutus Awards? Yep!

  • Most Humorous Personal Finance Blog
  • Best Personal Finance Blog, Single Author (Don’t say it. Just accept that even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in awhile.)

Ah, who am I kidding? I ain’t fooling anyone. Yes, this is the third consecutive week I’ve shamelessly plugged these awards in a thinly veiled attempt to garner at least two votes before the polls officially close for good. (According to the Plutus Awards main office, I’m happy to report that I am half-way to my goal — of course, that’s only because I finally voted for myself earlier this week.)

You can vote for your favorite Plutus Award nominees by clicking this link.

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!

Andrea wanted to inform me of a headline error for an article I wrote earlier this week: “Hi Len! Your post on ‘22 things you can haggle for‘ seems to be one short. I only counted 21!”

She wasn’t the only one; Karen caught it too: “P.S. Your post has 21 items, not 22.”

Are you sure? I’ve got three words for you ladies: count again!

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message. (Oh yes I did.)


  1. 3


    In all seriousness, I wonder if Maxine Waters knows what a trillion is. I mean, if you gave her a pen and a piece of paper and said, “Write the number ‘one trillion'”, could she do it?

    ATM machine is indeed redundant. Especially when you can’t remember your PIN number.

  2. 5


    Can’t say I’m much of a fan of the commodity index as any sort of a hedge against anything: they have historically returned slightly less than zero. That being said, the rise of living standards in China and India might make it a good one time play as an investment (but not as any sort of a hedge). Of course, at least in my life I don’t see any meaningful inflation (but we all buy different baskets).

  3. 6


    As for your tril in cuts: DO education can’t be cut without a replacement. Its no understatement to say that our nation’s future depends on them. DO Energy might sound like an overhead, but their primary function is maintaining the readiness and security of our nuclear forces, which is not something that should be cut.

    • 7

      Len Penzo says

      You really think so, m? I’m not so sure. The Dept of Education wasn’t formed until 1979. I guess one could arguably make a case that it’s been around in some form since the 50s as part of the Dept of Health, Education & Welfare. The country seemed to do alright without major gov’t interference in education before then. Perhaps it can be returned it to a smaller role as a non-cabinet “Office” level position?

      As for the Dept of Energy — I realize the DoE’s role with our nuclear forces; in fact, a portion of my early career involved working alongside the DoE in that very regard. However, I believe those duties could be transferred and more than capably managed by the Dept of Defense.

      • 8


        Alas, too much going on for me to do any research into the actual impact for the Dept of Education, but I’ll spell out why I think they should stay (and you can tell me if any of my assumptions/logic fail).

        Philosophical Premise: All Americans should have the opportunity to make the most of themselves. Perhaps we should all have an equal chance at success, but you can’t control for “accidents of birth” (e.g. your parents income, parents education, parents relationship stats, year you are born (graduating into a boom or a depression), etc).

        Education is the single strongest factor that we can isolate and provide to give everyone a chance. Giving everyone a chance will not happen if education is completely privatized. Some families will choose not to pay for it and some will be unable to—kids bear the brunt of their parents poor choices or misfortunes. Since America has such a strong anti-tax culture and states cannot run a deficit they seem unable to pay for the whole of their education funding. The DoE helps out by its membership in the federal Government and makes transfers to states (I think, correct me if I am wrong). I don’t see how states could possibly raise revenues in america’s current political climate to make up for the lack of transfers. Furthermore, shifting all funding to states/local governments would make the geographical inequality problem a lot worse. Hence I think it should stay. That’s before we even touch on the national importance of having a well educated work force.

  4. 9

    Cemlyn Jones says

    I was having a bad day, hell, it’s not been such a good week. I needed a touch of Joe. Good humor as always Len. I can’t believe that anyone in the American government is giving any sort of advice to anyone regarding money !! There is definatrely a growing concern around the world about the ever expanding size of government. The sheer cost of maintaining the government machine take so much out of the county’s income and where do we see the benefit. M wrote that the DOE was need to maintain the nuclear deterrent, well if they are then what the heck are the DOD doing. Why have 2 big bodies looking after it. Whatever the arguments were for economies by centralizing responsibilities have been lost or g\forgotten over the passage of time. Too many people around now do not remember a different way. We are exactly the same in the UK. We close small regional offices and replace them with a huge district office. The overheads triple the jobs get cut and ‘we the people’ get a worse serviced. the employees don’t want to move, the customers don’t want to lose their services so who the heck wants this ?? Isn’t government supposed to do what we want ??

    There will come a change but I suspect everything has to get a heck of a lot worse before it comes.

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      I’m glad I could cheer you up a little, Cemlyn. I hope you’re wrong about things getting worse before they get better, but I think you’re correct. There is a lot of unwinding that needs to occur before the world economy gets its legs under it again.

    • 11


      With regard to the DOE, I think, but I’m not sure that it has to do with core competencies. The military is presumably very good at the warfare aspect of the nuclear arsenal. The DOE would handle the physics aspect(e.g. creating fuel, modelling future weapons, maintenance due to decay, etc). Len can probably provide a much more accurate breakdown than I did.

      Unfortunately, I suspect that if we cut the DOE the exact same employs would just come back and work for the DoD as private contractors at three times the pay.

  5. 13

    tim says

    Will the haggling for an additional item be successful? Would it help if I offered to find new friends to refer to Len Penzo dot com?
    I neglected the count on the original article, but laughed heartily at your response to the letter.

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