Black Coffee: Your Holiday Shoplifting Guide & Why It Pays to Layaway Gifts at Kmart

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 really can’t believe Christmas is already here. I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping, but I am looking forward to stepping out later this week with my daughter Nina so I can check off the rest of the boxes on my family’s Christmas wish list.

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Millionaire Nurse Blog – Shoplifiting: 10 Holiday Favorites! I love Dr. Dean. The man is an unabashed contrarian who is always marching to the beat of a different drummer (boy). This holiday season, while everyone else in the personal finance blogosphere is giving advice on what kind of gifts to buy for the holidays, he’s giving out pointers on which ones to consider grabbing via the five-finger discount.

Free From Broke – Tips for Holiday Tipping. This week, Miranda Marquit decided to pass out a little holiday tipping advice for the rest of us. I notice she mentioned that we should all be tipping the UPS guy between $25 and $50. I also notice she didn’t include personal finance bloggers on her list. (Thanks a lot, Miranda.)

Letters of NoteIn Event of Moon Disaster. Yes, I know this isn’t a money website, but Shaun’s blog is my newest guilty pleasure; it highlights collections of fascinating personal and public letters, memos and faxes. This chilling memo from William Safire to Richard Nixon, written in July 1969, provided the words the president was supposed to give to the world in the event Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were to become stranded on the surface of the moon. Thankfully, it was never used.

Car Negotiation Coach – When is the Best Time to Buy a Car? Believe it or not, if you break this infographic down to its logical conclusion, you can actually determine the very best day of the year to buy a car. I won’t give away the answer, but suffice to say that it’s coming up very soon.

The Simple Dollar – Fail. Don’t let the title fool you. Trent offers sage advice here, making his point in a very entertaining fashion too, I might add.

Credit SesameGet Your Free Credit Score without a Credit Card. Hey, if you’re looking for a handy way to check out your credit score at no cost, you might want to consider Credit Sesame’s free iTunes application. What will they think of next?

Smart Spending – Why $1 Coins Haven’t Caught On. In case you missed it, after four years of cranking them out, Uncle Sam suspended mass production of $1 Presidential coins this week. I know what you’re thinking: What $1 Presidential coins? The plan was to make a coin for every dead president — yes, Chester A. Arthur included — but the popularity of the program was so inconsequential that even Piers Morgan was making jokes about it. The program will resume in the spring. However, this time the Mint promises to only make enough coins to meet demand. In other words, approximately five or six.

And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy…

Wisebread – 31 Great Gifts That Keep on Giving

Square Pennies – Recipe: Grinch Punch for Christmas

Afford Anything – I Cringe at this Common Real Estate Mistake

Hope to ProsperWhere Would You Invest $1 Million?

Don’t Quit Your Day Job – Who are the One Percent? Who cares!

Money Trail – What Do Our Kids Really Understand About Money?

Hundred Goals Picking Up Pennies

Financially Poor – How to Get Cheap Magazines

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

From August 2010:

My $114,000 Challenge to Uncle Sam – When it comes to my future Social Security benefits, I’ve got an offer for the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. that they can’t refuse.

Credits and Debits

Debit: So you think the housing market’s been bad since the bottom fell out in 2007? Well, it’s even worse than previously thought. Apparently, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) double counted so many homes over the past four years that sales figures may be overstated by as much as 20 percent.

Debit: I’ve always advocated taking the NAR’s figures with a large serving of salt simply because it’s in their best interest to paint the housing market as being healthy. After all, who wants to join the 10 million Americans who currently owe more than their home is worth?

Debit: Speaking of 2007, it turns out that if the same number of people were looking for work today as there were then, the unemployment rate would be 11 percent.  If you think that’s bad, the underemployment rate would be 20 percent.  

Debit: So why is the unemployment rate dropping now? Because the unemployment rate doesn’t count the total number of unemployed — only the unemployed who haven’t stopped looking.

Debit: A large crop of recent California college graduates are among those who can’t find work. I’m not surprised considering the Golden State’s ridiculously self-destructive anti-business climate.

Credit: Then again, as the 2010 closing of a Toyota plant in Fremont, California illustrates — the not-so-Golden State’s job losses are Texas’ gain. Perhaps those college grads should move to the Lone Star state.

Debit: This week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) suggested that 600,000 new jobs would be created by simply extending unemployment benefits. Assuming she’s correct, if everyone of us applied for extended unemployment, that would result in 180 million new jobs. I know.

Debit: Have you seen the price of butter lately? Whatever it is, I bet you’re getting a deal compared to the folks in Norway, where a butter shortage has the stuff now going for $500 per pound. Spread the news.

Credit: How about some good news. A Michigan ex-con and father-of-eight is being hailed as a good Samaritan this week after he turned in a wallet he found at a gas station that was stuffed with $1000 in cash. Police successfully found the billfold’s grateful owner.

Credit: I’m sure there are plenty of folks in Norway who think that the Michigan ex-con was crazy to turn in the money to authorities. After all, $1000 buys almost two pounds of butter there.

Credit: Finally, here’s an uplifting story: It seems there is a rash of anonymous donors at Kmarts across the country this holiday season who are paying off strangers’ Christmas layaway accounts. The acts of generosity have been reported in Michigan, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, and Iowa, and the benefactors usually ask to help families setting aside items for young children. If that doesn’t fill your heart with joy, folks, I don’t know what will.

The Question of the Week

What will you be having for Thanksgiving dinner this year?

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By the Numbers

8 Days until Christmas.

10 Percentage of Christmas presents that will be broken by New Year’s Day.

70 Percentage of dog owners who buy Christmas gifts for their faithful friends.

7 Average number of years it takes to grow a 6 to 7 foot tall Christmas tree.

$184.99 The cost of a partridge in a pear tree in 2011. That’s an increase of almost 15 percent from 2010.

$58 This year’s cost to hire eight maids-a-milking — the least expensive gift in the 12 Days of Christmas song.

$6300 The cost of the song’s most expensive gift this year: seven swans-a-swimming. (Last year it was nine ladies dancing.)

$645 The price of five gold rings. (I know. I thought they would be more expensive than that too.)

$24,263 This year’s total cost for all 12 gifts, assuming they are each bought only once.

(Source: PNC and Venere)

Other Useless News – The Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Men

Here are the top 10 Christmas gifts for men, according to

1. Sports or concert tickets
2. A fine single malt
3. An iPod dock
4. A classic blazer
5. A cell phone upgrade
6. An espresso machine
7. Cologne
8. A DVD collection
9. A bathrobe
10. High-quality leather goods

Coincidentally, I actually asked the Honeybee for one of those ten gifts this year. Can you guess which one?

And, ladies, just to be clear, Colt 45 is not single malt. (Although I’d much rather gulp a can of Colt 45 than sip a glass of Bruichladdich.)

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. :-)

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!

This week, Kayla wrote in with this brief note:

I’m only writing to see if I’m the only letter in the mailbag this week. Merry Christmas, Len!

Nope — but yours was the most interesting one. Merry Christmas, Kayla!

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 1


    hey, Len, this is the season to be cheerful not gloomy. let the “credits outnumber the “debits” to indicate the positives of life as the holidays were meant to bring out.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      Hey now, I thought I ended on a high note with those last two credits! But in honor of your request, Griper, I’ll only have credits next week. (I always try to be responsive to my readers, folks. Well, except when they tell me to essentially take a long walk off a short pier.)

  2. 6

    Gina says

    I paid off a layaway at Walmart
    I bought a strangers medicine at a locally owned Pharmacy
    Bought a young guy’s lunch without him knowing a local cafe, triple tipled the waitress.
    Offered to buy a handicapped man’s groceries.
    Merry Christmas and help keep the spirit alive!

  3. 11

    Arthur Garcia says


    Another great post – I actually read it with coffee this AM. Crazy news regarding NAR, huh? 20% is a big number – even more the reason to buy investment property!!

    • 12

      Len Penzo says

      Glad you enjoy the column, Arthur! Yes, 20% is really a big “mistake.” I think they new about this all along, but didn’t decide to change it until they were called on it. Yes, I could be wrong, but if I was a bettin’ man…

  4. 13


    Thanks for the link love Len! I like to think of it as being featured in the Len Penzone…

    I tried to read your way back article but it looks like the link is broken. I’m motivated, so I went into your archive, but just wanted to toss you the heads up!

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Dang! I hate it when I do that… Thanks for the heads up, Paul. And I appreciate your motivation too! :-) (BTW, I fixed the link.)

  5. 15


    @ CNC, What’s wrong with espresso? A triple shot will grow hair on your chest!

    I’m going to guess Len, you want the iPod Docking station, though you may be into leather….

    I know you won’t turn down hockey tickets….hmmm…

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