Friday, August 18, 2017

If You Take Care of the Process....The Product Will Take Care of Itself

I have a confession to make:  I am more than a couple of pounds overweight.  In fact, I've fought a weight battle my entire adult life.  Every so often I get sick and tired of the way I look and feel and then do something about it, but I'm the classic yo-yo dieter--and on every pass the low weight gets higher.  Of course, aging doesn't help with that, and the last couple of times I've tried to lose weight I've given up in disgust after a few weeks because the scale wasn't moving, at least not fast enough. 

This time, I'm trying something different--no I'm not going gluten free, low carb or following any of the trendy diets of the day.  I'm sticking to the old-fashioned eat less and exercise more plan.  We are taking my daughter's Girl Scout troop to New York City next summer and I don't want to be miserable walking through the city with the girls.  What am I doing differently?  I'm only getting on the scale every other month.  

Instead of worrying about the PRODUCT--the weight loss, I'm worrying about the PROCESS--controlling my eating and getting my body moving.  If I limit my calories and exercise regularly, I will lose weight.  Some week's I'll lose more than others, and realistically, some weeks I'll be going places or doing things that involve eating and usually broiled fish and steamed vegetables aren't what I want (if they are even available).  I'm in this for the long haul and I'm not going to eat only grilled chicken breasts for the next year.  

After limiting my calories and increasing my exercise for two months, I lost 15 pounds.  I'm hoping for 10 more pounds when I get on the scale six weeks from now.  After two months, if I've done what I'm supposed to do (followed the process) I should see noticeable weight loss, which is reinforcing.
So why am I writing about weight loss on a financial blog?  It struck me that saving money is much like losing weight.  You give up what you want today in hopes of a better future.  You have a lot of competing interests--should you put that money in the bank, or buy the new toy?  However, the bottom line is that if you don't do what you are supposed to do, you'll pay the price, and if you do, you'll reap the rewards.

There are bloggers out there who pride themselves in spending almost no money.  They live in small houses, rarely eat out, drive old cars and only buy secondhand clothes--and save a huge percentage of their paychecks.  Their goal is to amass as much money as quickly as possible so they can retire and spend the rest of their lives doing what they want to do. If that is their goal, they are welcome to it. 

In much the same way, there are people who always watch every bite that goes in their mouth.  They never eat a dessert that is not unadorned fresh fruit.  They work out over an hour a day every day.  They look great, and if it is worth it to them, they are welcome to it.

But what about the rest of us?  The ones who want to spend some of our money today, because we know we aren't guaranteed tomorrow?  The ones who want their chicken fried, or their sweet potatoes with praline crunch on top?  Hopefully we realize and accept the cost of what we are doing.  

Back to what we were talking about earlier.  The process of investing for the future involves spending less than you earn and investing the difference.  When the stock market is blowing and going, and you are watching your net worth go up all the time, staying motivated is easier than when the market is in a downturn and, despite investing more money, the value of the account goes down.  In a similar way, it is easy to stay motivated on the weight loss journey when the weather is great outside, you have lots of time to exercise and a friend to join you, and  harder when you are rushing and grab fast food for lunch and skip the exercise due to bad weather.  

In both cases, the trick is to remember the process and accept that there will be short-term setbacks.  Find a check-in period that works for you.  Weighing weekly was too much for me--I got discouraged too quickly.  On the other hand, I have no trouble checking in weekly with my investments, even when they are going down. 

You also need to find a process that works for you.  Some people swear by the fad diet of the week and others religiously write down everything they eat, weighing it and computing calories.  I've tried that, and for me, it doesn't work--it feel constrained, and I hate paperwork.  I have some "go-to" breakfasts and lunches for which the calories are either on the box or easy to compute.  For supper I just watch m portion size.  It is working for me.  

In the same way, some people create and stick to elaborate budgets that give a job to every dollar.  That would drive me nuts.  Overall our lifestyle is lower than our paychecks can afford.  A certain percent of our paychecks goes into savings before it hits our bank account.  Once that's taken care of, the rest is available for spending.  Some months we spend more than others and once a certain amount has built up in the checking account it gets invested.  We set up a process that, if followed, allows us to achieve our goals.  

With both weight loss and saving money, if you take care of the process, if you do what you are supposed to do, the product, the end result, will take care of itself.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Should My Next Computer Be a Mac, a PC or a Chromebook?

One trick to getting your money's worth with any purchase is to buy enough product to meet your needs, and not more.  If TV is your major source of entertainment, the big-screen, all the bells and whistles model may bring you a lot of pleasure.  If you watch it an hour or two a month, just about anything will probably be fine.

If sitting at an antique table set with beautiful china and real silver gives you pleasure and you can afford it, go for it. If all you see is furniture to dust and silver to polish (what a pain) then you'll probably be happier with a Wal-Mart table and stainless steel flatware (and save a few dollars).

What about your next computer?  Until recently, you had two basic choices:  you could buy a PC or you could buy a Mac.  Now you have a third mainstream choice--a Chromebook.  Should you buy a PC or a Chromebook?  Should you buy a Mac or a PC?  Let's look at the options.

Things to Consider When Buying a New Computer

  • What would you like to use it for?  If you could spend as much as you want, what would your new computer do? If the answer is send emails and surf the internet, you will probably be happy with a lower-priced machine than the person who wants to play graphics heavy games.  If you have particular software you want to run, check to see if it can be run on the computer you are considering.

  • Where do you want to use it?  Obviously if you want this computer to travel with you, it will need to be some sort of laptop.  If it is for office use only, you may prefer a tower hooked up to multiple monitors (though you can hook your laptop up to multiple monitors as well).

  • Who is going to be using it, and how computer savvy are they?  Some people like to tinker with their computer and software while others just want it to work.

  • How much do you want to spend?  How important is price?  
  • Reasons to Buy a Windows PC--And Reasons Not To

    A PC (personal computer) that you buy in a store runs the Windows operating system, which is the most commonly used operating system today.  Today you can get a desktop computer, without a monitor, a laptop, or an all in one desktop computer that integrates the processor and the touch screen.  Generally speaking the desktop design gives you the most processing power for the dollar, though laptops are more comparable in price now than they were a few years ago.  All in ones are the new kids on the block and like most things, if you want the newest, you'll pay more.

    The main reason to buy a PC is compatibility.  Since the Windows operating system is the most popular, particularly with businesses, there is more software available for it than for the other systems, so if you need to run software that is only written for Windows, you may need to buy a PC (there are ways around it, but they generally require some level of technical expertise to implement and maintain). 

    Overall, Windows works reasonably well, though you won't find many people who love it, and because of its ubiquity, finding people who know how to tweak it or fix problems isn't difficult.  On the minus side, that same ubiquity means Windows is a popular virus target.

    One thing some people consider to be a big minus for Windows (and others consider an advantage) is that they have moved to automatic updates.  Rather than releasing new versions of the software, Microsoft is pushing updates to current users.  While they will take "not now" for an answer, they keep requesting to update and even if you don't want to do so, you may eventually end up accidentally hitting the "yes" button and updating.  Microsoft does this to keep the program secure, but people with finely tweaked systems or who are running outdated software may find that one of these updates "breaks" their system.  

    Reasons to Buy a Mac--And Reasons Not To

    Like PC's Macs (Apple Computers) come in desktop and laptop versions.  

    People who use Macs often love them and hate to even think of going to Windows.  People who do a lot of graphics or other artistic work tend to use Macs more than most businesses, so if that is your field, you may need a Mac to be compatible with other people--and I tend to think that if most people in a field are using Macs there must be some economic advantage to doing so.   

    Macs do not tend to get the viruses PCs do because there are not as many of them and because  they work differently.

    While Windows has become a lot more user-friendly lately, Macs have a reputation of just plain working--if you want something to fiddle with and tweak, go buy a Windows  PC.

    While you can buy Windows PCs in a lot of different configurations, made by a lot of different companies, at a lot of different price points all Macs are made by Apple and there are relatively few price points.  In general Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs, but they are durable and high quality.

    Reasons to Buy a Chromebook--And Reasons Not To

    The new kid on the block in the computer business is the Chromebook.  In a lot of ways, these computers are glorified web browsers, or tablets with keyboard--and whether that is a good thing or bad depends on your needs and wants.

    When you turn on a Windows PC you have to wait for it to "boot up", for all the background programs to start, before you can start doing what you want to do.  Chromebooks turn on in about 5 seconds.  

    Chromebooks are designed to be connected to the Internet and to run apps rather than locally installed programs.  While you can use them offline, it is not what they were designed for and if WiFi is not generally available where you are going to be using this computer, a Chromebook is probably not the best choice.

    The main strengths of Chromebooks are their price, ease of use, and battery life.  Even with a keyboard, their size and weight are closer to tablets than laptop PCs. They are becoming school favorites because they can be made school-ready (connected to the school's network, with chosen apps downloaded) in a matter of minutes.  Updates can be made to all computers in a school via a central control panel in a matter of minutes, whereas Windows PCs must be individually updated. 

    Chromebooks under $200 are easy to find, though a recent Amazon search also found one for over $400.00.  The one my daughter's school required cost right at $200.  Most Chromebooks will last close to eight hours per battery charge, far more than the average Windows laptop.  

    The main disadvantage of Chromebooks is that they do not run Windows software (though they can connect to Cloud Office).  If you have a need for a particular program and there is no Chrome app for it, you will have to chose another platform.  If your need is for web browsing, basic word processing and basic spreadsheets, a Chromebook will probably meet your needs.  

    What will your next computer be?  At this point, I'm still thinking Windows PC but Chromebooks are looking better all the time.

    Disease Called Debt

    Friday, July 28, 2017

    Why I Bank At Metairie Bank

    I've seen a lot of blog articles over the years praising certain banks and offering handy affiliate links that allow readers to open accounts, and bloggers to be paid commissions.  I have nothing against bloggers making money, and I'm certainly open to earning more of it.  However, you will not find any affiliate links in this post, nor will I be paid for writing it.

    Years ago I wrote an article about how we came to be customers of Metairie Bank. Basically I felt that our prior bank, Chase, stole $6.00 from my son.  He did not have a bank account (or any money) but had received checks as graduation gifts.  I had him endorse the checks to me, take them to my bank (Chase) deposit them in my account and then cash a check I had written to him.  Since he did not have an account, they charged him $ 6.00 to cash his mother's check, drawn on their bank.

    This week I found yet another reason to be pleased that we chose to move our money and banking business to a relatively small local bank, Metairie Bank and Trust.  We have several large bills that are due only once or twice a year and we've had to pull money from savings to help pay for some of them this year.  I've read several bloggers who have suggested creating separate bank accounts for bills like that, and contributing to those accounts monthly, so, via the website, I opened a new savings account to cover such bills.

    When the bank statement came, I found that I had been charged a $15 service charge, and since I had never seen a service charge on my other savings account, I called the bank to find out what I did wrong.  The clerk who answered the phone could not help me but put me through to the officer in charge of my accounts.  I left a voicemail message and she called me back within a couple of hours.

    When I told her what the problem was, she explained why the service charge had been assessed--there was a minimum balance requirement that I had not met.  I told her I'd accept responsibility for not reading the fine print, but that I needed to close that account before that charge hit again.  She said that wouldn't be necessary and asked me what I expected the minimum balance to be and how many transactions per month I expected.  When I told her, she changed the type of account--no more than six transactions per month (more than I need) and no minimum balance and no fee.

    I then asked her if I was going to be charged for a paper statement, like I was on  my Girl Scout account and on the account for my Dad's estate.  I told her that with those accounts, I was willing to pay for the paper because it wasn't my money, but that I'd be ok with online only for the savings account.  Again, she said that wasn't necessary, and then went through all my accounts with me and changed them to accounts that met my needs and didn't charge ANY fees.

    My whole family banks at Metairie Bank.  They offer free teen accounts which require the teen to get parental permission for large debit card withdrawals.They are everything I want in a bank and I hope they are in business for a long time because I have no desire to go back to doing business with a behemoth like Chase.  While Metairie Bank probably isn't in your area, I'll bet there is a small local bank that offers better service than the "big boys" do; give them a chance.  You may be as happy as I am.