Black Coffee: Halloween, Greed Gripers, XXL Chalupas & Other Scary Stuff

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 want to thank my friend and fellow blogger, the always-entertaining Greg McFarlane from Control Your Cash, for filling in for me last week. He did a terrific job, as usual. In fact, I think he does this Black Coffee gig better than I do.

Anyway, let’s get this show on the road. I want to get an early start on Halloween this year — which for me means going through the trick-or-treat candy we bought this week and pulling out all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for, um, safekeeping.

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Amateur Asset Allocator – Don’t Multitask — It’s a Productivity Killer. Says Kyle: “When you multitask between two or more tasks, you will be about 40% less efficient with your time than if you focused on just one task.” Lucky for me I’m 100% inefficient when multitasking anyway, so I can continue doing it without any additional loss of productivity.

Money NingHow the Availability Heuristic in Behavioral Economics Explains Your Irrational Money Choices. I know. See what happens when headline writers multitask? I’m going to go out on a limb and say this has got to be the worst title for a blog post I’ve ever seen. Don’t let that scare you though. After reading Emily’s entertaining article, I now finally understand why I make irrational money decisions. Although I’m still trying to figure out what heuristic means.

The Digerati LifeRating the Most Stressful Financial Events. The Silicon Valley Blogger warns that: “Finance is a tough subject.” I’ll say! (Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand heuristics.)

Financially Poor – The Tortoise and the Hare: Which One to Financial Freedom? Check out Kevin’s entertaining story of Mr. H and Mr. T. (No, not that Mr. T.)

Wealth Informatics This Little Piggy Wants to Retire. Coincidentally, Suba decided to share five animal fables of her own this week. Each one featured a different precocious pig that took a different investing path: Patricia, Priscilla, Pippin, Pinky and Pookie. And aside from the morals Suba shared for each story, I also took away an additional unstated lesson: that I should thank my lucky stars Mom and Dad didn’t name me Pookie.

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

From August 2010:

A Simple Trick to Get Your Credit Card Interest Charges Waived – When it comes to profits, it turns out that credit card companies are also no more heartless or greedy than, say, the Hollywood movie industry. If they were, I wouldn’t be able to do this.

Credits and Debits

Credit: Don’t look now, but barring a large decline on Halloween, the Dow is poised to post its best monthly performance since 1987. Scary, I know.

Credit: The Grim Reaper will have to wait a little longer. The inevitable death of the Euro was delayed a bit after politicians twisted arms and convinced bond holders to take a horrific 50 percent haircut on their investment — effectively writing off more than $182 billion — so that Greece can avoid defaulting on its demonic debt load. That debt was accrued over the years handing out government benefits and social entitlements it couldn’t afford.

Debit: Of course, that means the dollar is now once again in rapid decline — as previously-fearful investors begin redeploying their money elsewhere. Unfortunately, the eroding value of the greenback puts inflationary pressure on many items here in the United States.

Debit: To be honest, I’m not sure what all the exuberance is about on Wall Street, considering that 26 million Americans are now either unemployed, or only working part-time despite their best efforts to find full-time employment. Those numbers are as gruesome as they’ve ever been, according to experts.

Debit: Then again, what do I know. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the private sector is doing just fine — what the country really needs is more government jobs. Jeepers creepers, Harry! Talk about an other-worldly viewpoint.  

Debit: Don’t tell that to most Americans. Especially in light of the fact that the average guy and ghoul now have $1315 less in disposable annual income than they did during the start of the Great Recession three years ago. That represents the longest and steepest decline in Americans’ standard of living over the past 50 years.

Debit: Harry’s creepy claim is ironic considering this witches’ brew: According to the Census Bureau, America’s highest concentration of lawyers — coupled with highly-paid federal employees — makes the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area the wealthiest part of the country. The typical Washington metro area household earned $84,523 in 2010 — $34,477 more than the national median income.

Credit: Speaking of irony: Occupy Wall Street protesters responsible for collecting cash donations are now calling for formal investigations because the OWS Finance Committee isn’t returning enough funds for their own needs. They’re complaining that the committee is giving most of the money they raised to other groups within the OWS movement. These are the same folks demanding more redistribution of wealth and railing against “greedy” corporate zombies. I know.  

Credit: More irony: OWS protesters are also upset that thieves within their own ranks are helping to redistribute their personal wealth, stealing everything from laptops and cell phones to food and even cash. Welcome to my world. I feel the same way every time the IRS — a.k.a. the US government’s “Finance Committee” — takes money from my paycheck.

Debit: And while the OWS crowd and others are rightfully complaining that average college tuition costs and fees soared another 8.3 percent this year, it’s even worse in California. College costs there rose a terrifying 21 percent. Dare I say that’s horrific enough to wake the (un)dead.

Debit: President Obama’s decision to bypass Congress by issuing an executive order limiting student loan life to 20 years — and capping student loan repayment rates at merely 10 percent of the debtor’s income that goes above the poverty line — isn’t helping matters. Why should universities lower tuition rates when the taxpayer is now on the hook for underwriting an even bigger percentage of outstanding student loans?

Debit: Finally, police in Albany, Georgia are searching for a disgruntled customer who fire bombed a Taco Bell this week after he discovered his “Extra Extra Large Chalupa” didn’t have enough meat in it. Yes, an extra extra large chalupa.

Credit: If I remember correctly, chalupa is Spanish for “indigestible.” Or something.

Credit: I don’t see why the guy was so surprised that the meat content of his chalupa was lacking. Even if it was “extra extra large.” After all, Taco Bell’s definition of “meat” is, shall we say, allegedly open for interpretation.

Credit: And, just for the record, the bomb in question was indeed a Molotov cocktail — as opposed to the, um, bomb that typically follows ingestion of most Taco Bell fare. (Yeah, I’m sorry about that joke too.)

Other Useless News

I was on national television this week! I know. I’m not sure what Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News was thinking either when he pulled me aside at Fincon earlier this month — along with a couple of other bloggers you may know — for a quick comment on my favorite money saving tip. Oh, you’ll recognize me instantly, folks — I’m the only ugly one. (Before filming, I asked Stacy for a little make-up, but he said he only had a three-month supply and didn’t want to use it all up on me.) And while I couldn’t help occasionally looking at that very large camera that was bearing down on me (a big no-no, I’m told), at least I didn’t blow my lines. Well, at least I didn’t on take number eight.

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By the Numbers

57 Days until Christmas.

27 Days until Black Friday.

16.8 Average number of holiday gifts the average household purchased in 2010.

14.7 Average number of holiday gifts expected to be purchased in 2011.

59 Percentage of people that come from upper income households who say they will be spending more this holiday season.

26 Anticipated percentage decrease in holiday spending this year among households earning less than $100,000 annually.

48 Percentage of holiday shoppers who say they plan to visit a Wal-Mart or similar discount store this holiday season.

80 Percentage who say they’ll be inclined to switch to a generic brand if name-brand prices rise by more than 10 percent.

33 Percentage that admit they could be enticed to buy a non-necessity if the price is marked down by 50 percent or more.

(Source: Forbes)

The Question of the Week

What was the hourly pay rate of your first "real" job?

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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!

From Lauren: “I’ve read a few of your articles and I think sometimes you take your personal responsibility thing a bit too far. Life can be complicated you know.”
Yes, that pesky “personal responsibility thing” can be really annoying sometimes. Maybe I’ll start relaxing my standards with “personally irresponsible Fridays.” (But don’t count it.)

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


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    Thank you for your kind words about my article on Money Ning. And I must apologize for my terrible title. Dan Ariely (a REAL expert on Behavioral Economics) had already used the catchy title Predictably Irrational for his book, so I figured I should go completely incomprehensible for my title. Glad to see my plan worked!

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      My pleasure, Emily. I really enjoyed the article! (No apologies necessary for the title, by the way. Your writing more than made up for it.) 😉

  2. 3


    And yet more irony from the NY Post. Key takeaway: “The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a “counter” revolution yesterday — because they’re angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for “professional homeless” people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters.”

    So… protest the top and the bottom 1%?

  3. 4



    There’s so much good stuff in this week’s round-up, I barely know where to start.

    Student loans: Wouldn’t it make more sense to cap the amount of the loan based on the estimated future wages of the student? That way the student (and the lender a/k/a US Government a/k/a US Taxpayers) is forced to do a cost benefit analysis on their higher education expenses.

    Occupy Wall Street: Share and share alike sounds good until some “derelict” comes along and takes your MACbook :-)

    Harry Reid: Ugh, why does he have to tell everyone which state he represents?

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