Home » 1960s » Page 5

1960s

How to find motivation to balance your budget

This week I read a story on Get Rich Slowly about a couple who refuses to budget. The conversation ended when the person who needed to budget bragged about getting five shrubs on sale for $10 each. She didn’t need them, but the deal was too good to pass up.Consumerism is an easy trap to fall into because of easy credit, and the messages are all around us. Most people who know me probably categorize me as an extreme cheapskate. Certainly there are lots of things I could be doing that I don’t, but even by doing a few little things you can improve your financial situation immensely.

Watch less TV. I think this is a really big one, because TV is the primary source of marketing messages. It’s not just the commercials either. The TV shows give lots of messages about how you’re supposed to live. It’s not a realistic picture.

At one point in my life I was able to go a year without watching TV, just watching the World Series each year. I watch more now. I try to catch This Old House on Sunday evenings and sometimes I’ll watch a show with my wife, so I probably watch 3-4 hours a week now. But that’s a lot less than average.

My advice to someone who wants to watch more TV than I do would be to watch older movies (1940s-1960s), as that would make it harder to compare your life to someone else’s. Plus, there’s a lot less product placement and other marketing shenanigans going on, and if you watch it on video, no commercials.

Have realistic expectations. A lot of 20-somethings seem to think they have to have furniture as nice as their parents. That’s unrealistic and sometimes impractical. The previous generation didn’t always have what they have now. Walk into the home of a 50-something, and some of the furniture will be new, but some of it will be 10-15 years old, possibly more. The furnishings were bought over the course of many years. Plus, nicer things are impractical when you have kids running around. There will be spills and stains and dirt. Kids need to be taught to respect things, but what’s the point of ruining a $1,000 sofa to teach the lesson? It’s better to put something older and cheaper in harm’s way instead–much easier on the credit card and on your sanity.

Budget. A budget isn’t some mystical thing. It’s a simple list of your money as it comes and goes. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet. In one column, list all your sources of income–your paycheck, plus anything you make on the side. Add up that total.

In another column, list your monthly expenses. That’s everything–your car payment, rent or mortgage, credit card bills, utility bills, gasoline, food, and entertainment. You may have to save your receipts for a month to do this realistically. Add up that total. Hopefully it’s a smaller number than the first total.

I first did this in college when I was treasurer for my fraternity. We were in serious financial trouble but nobody knew why. I grabbed the checkbook, did the simple analysis I described above, and figured out we were spending more than $400 per member every month. We were only charging $380 a month for people to live there.

When we couldn’t raise rates, I started cancelling things. I cancelled the Super Bowl Party. I cancelled cable TV in the lounge. If it wasn’t a basic necessity of life, it went. It made me unpopular and it didn’t balance the budget, but it cut the shortfall.

I’m guessing most of the people who voted against me raising rates are having more trouble paying their bills today than they need to.

The expenses involved in a personal budget are different than for an organization, but the principles are identical. You still need to have more coming in every month than comes out, and if you can’t figure out how to make more, the only way to have more money is to spend less.

Reward yourself. Practically. A few years ago my budget was tight and I’d taken on an expensive hobby. Then I realized what I spent on food every day. It started with $1 for a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Lunch was $5 at the cafeteria. And usually I spent another dollar or two in the vending machine. I let my ego tell me it wasn’t worth my time to pack a lunch.

Then I did this math equation: (365-52-52-10-10)*7 and came up with $1,687. I was spending $1,687 a year on (mostly) bad food because I thought I was too important to pack my own lunch.

I was also making about $15,000 a year less than I make now. Dice.com tells me I’m slightly underpaid now, let alone then. Who was I kidding? That $1,687 was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

So I went to the store, bought a Thermos and a big can of coffee, bought some instant oatmeal and some breakfast bars and granola bars, and started packing fruit and sandwiches. What was left became my hobby budget.

I couldn’t motivate myself to cut that expense just to have more money, but being able to afford something I otherwise couldn’t was enough motivation for me. Eventually I shrunk the hobby budget and started using that money to pay down debt.

But had my situation been different I don’t think it would have been a bad thing, necessarily, to keep using that to fund a hobby. It’s easy to get discouraged when it seems like everyone else is passing you by, even if they’re passing you by on borrowed money.

Look at opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is about the only thing I remember from college economics. The theory goes like this: The cost of a new car isn’t $20,000. It’s what else I could have done with that money. So the cost of a new car is a plasma TV ($5,000), a high-def DVD player ($500), a nice computer ($1,500), a new high-efficiency furnace ($4,000), a nice vacation ($3,000), all three current generation video game systems (roughly $1,000), a new living room set ($2,000), and you’d still have $3,000 left to replace two or three appliances with high-end models, or all your major appliances with new low-to-mid-range models.

Would it be worth driving an older car for a few more years to be able to afford to go on a home-improvement binge like that?

Or here’s the way I prefer to look at it. I could invest that money conservatively, using a no-load index fund that just does exactly what the Dow Jones Industrial Average does. Historically, money invested in the DJIA doubles every seven years. Some seven-year periods are better than others, of course. If I dump $20,000 into that kind of a fund, it will be worth $320,000 in 28 years.

The sticker price on the Honda Civic sitting in my driveway was around $15,000, but that’s not what it cost me. It didn’t cost $16,500 either (I paid some interest on it because I didn’t have the cash to buy it outright immediately). It cost $264,000.

I know some people look down on me for driving what’s now a five-year-old car, but I can build myself a very nice nest egg just by keeping my cars two or three times as long as everyone else does. Will they still be looking down on me if I retire at 65 and they have to work 10 more years because they still have debt to pay off?

If the cost of a secure future is driving a car typical of what 16-year-olds drive, I’ll pay that price. It’s a bargain.

Don’t pay interest. If you have a choice between financing something and waiting a while and paying cash, wait and pay cash. Paying interest is like paying rent. It’s paying money off and having nothing to show for it in the end.

I do use interest-free periods to buy things because that gives me a little more time to get the money together. I financed a furnace earlier this year because they offered 6 months same as cash. I probably could have paid cash on the spot but it would have been less comfortable. Being able to spread my payments out over six months allows me to pay more on the mortgage, which does charge interest.

American Model Toys and Kusan trains

While almost everyone knows American Flyer and Lionel, and a lot of people have heard of Marx, there was a fourth maker of toy trains in the late 1940s and early 1950s that was much smaller, although very innovative, and today is nearly forgotten: Auburn, Indiana-based American Model Toys.

Its legacy, however, ties into virtually every major producer of O gauge trains in business today.

Read More »American Model Toys and Kusan trains

The unheralded bargain in O gauge trains

Toy trains are a funny thing. Vintage Lionel trains are almost a status symbol, and their value has almost taken a mythical quality. Marx, on the other hand, was the working class brand in the 1950s, the company that had something for you no matter how much you had available to spend.

For the most part, today’s prices reflect that. Lionels are expensive and Marxes are cheap.

Sort of.

Read More »The unheralded bargain in O gauge trains

Reports on the death of film are [you know the rest]

Giddy Slashdotters are proclaiming the death of film since Kodak has announced it’s not going to sell film cameras anymore, at least not in the United States and Europe.
It proves to me that whoever wrote that story summary knows little or nothing about serious photography.

For many years, Kodak was a big name in serious photography. But come the 1960s, you started seeing serious cameras from a lot of other manufacturers. For the duration of my lifetime, Kodak cameras were pretty much relegated to the casual point-and-shoot arena.

But meanwhile, Kodak remained one of the largest producers of film. It remains so today. Go into any store and look for film, and the two brands you’re most likely to find are Kodak and Fuji.

Serious photographers have only recently begun to prefer digital. Some serious photographers still prefer the look of film. Pictures shot on film have a different look from digital shots, and they probably always will. Neither type of camera’s view on reality is necessarily more correct, but they’re certainly different, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly.

Casual photographers like digital point-and-shoots because they can take hundreds of pictures and only print out (and thus only pay for) the good ones. And there’s the perception among certain laypeople that digital is always better. CDs sound better than cassettes, so digital pictures will look better than film, right? That’s what the girl I was dating a year ago thought, and I never convinced her otherwise.

The money is in disposable cameras, film, and digitals. There’s just not much money to be made in the traditional point-and-shoots–too many companies are making them, and the margins are too thin. So Kodak is concentrating on the areas where it can make money. And Kodak can make a lot of money selling $150 digital cameras to people year over year (people will want to upgrade so they can make bigger prints, after all), or disposable cameras to people who forget to pack a camera, or film to people buying razor-thin-margin cameras made by someone else.

Once you can buy a $40 digital camera with resolution comparable to film, you’ll be able to declare film dead. But you can’t do that yet, and you won’t be able to for a few more years.

But I’m sure you already knew all of this, so I’m not sure why I’m writing this. But I feel better now.

Recapturing the charm of Dad’s Lionel train

I unboxed Dad’s old Lionel train Monday night. They don’t make them like that anymore.

Dad’s train led a rough life. My investigative reporting skills tell me he got the train sometime between 1949 and 1952, and then sometime after 1953 he got a new locomotive and cars. And then sometime in the 1960s, the trains ended up in a box. I remember him telling me it came out a few times in the 1970s for Christmas, but most of my memories of Dad’s train are four big pieces of plywood with rusty track mounted on it, sitting in the garage next to a stack of repurposed liquor boxes containing train parts.

Read More »Recapturing the charm of Dad’s Lionel train

Pretentious Pontifications: Tape drives

R. Collins Farquhar IV, Scotsman, and aristocrat. To all whom it may concern. Greeting: One of my associates contacted me today about tape backup units, specifically, a review on Tom’s Hardware Guide. As usual, Tom’s Hardware substantially misses the mark.
I was extraordinarily disappointed that Tom’s Hardware made no mention whatsoever about Intel tape drives. I had my manservant call one of my contacts at Intel for the purposes of having them send me a tape drive, but my contact said that Intel does not make tape drives. Since Intel is one of a very small number of reputable hardware manufacturers, this is the kind of important information that needs to be in a review like this.

I had my manservant ask my contact at Intel which tape drive he would recommend. He recommended the HP SDLT320. Since Intel has a very close relationship with HP, I decided that an HP tape drive might be the next best thing. The Intel contact mentioned–as did the THG review–that the Tandberg SDLT320 is an identical unit. Since I have never heard of Tandberg, I did not even consider it. Any operation I have never heard of is obviously a fly-by-night. Accepting a Tandberg when Intel recommends an HP is akin to accepting a mere Bentley when you sought a real Rolls. Whereas Jacques Pierre Cousteau Bouillabaise Nouveau Riche Croissant de Raunche de la Stenche will settle for a Bentley, I am never willing to settle for a knockoff, even when the alleged difference is only in the front plate or grille.

I was also extraordinarily disappointed that Tom’s Hardware did not test the drives with Microsoft software. Microsoft, as even a tryo or ingenue knows, makes simply the finest software in the world. I would go so far as to call Microsoft the Rolls-Royce of software. So my manservant contacted Microsoft to ask for a copy of their top-flight tape backup software. The Microsoft representative said that Microsoft’s offering came bundled with its server software and is licensed by Veritas. If I wanted something better, I should talk to Veritas. Again, doing so would be to settle for something less than a Rolls. Even though a Rolls from the 1960s used a General Motors transmission, I would never settle for a 1968 Cadillac when what I really want is a 1968 Rolls. I have never heard of Veritas either, so I evaluated Microsoft’s offering and found it to be first-class and worthy of performing the backup needs of any enterprise. That Microsoft would be so generous as to bundle such a grandee application with its server software makes it all the more sweet for those whose means are less aristocratic than my own.

I was pleased when I connected the HP SDLT320 to my main workstation (a prototype 4 GHz Pentium 4 I got from Intel) that my Quake 3 framerates rose to 430 FPS. A serious gamer will want this.

Next, I tried backing up my Quake III CD to the HP SDLT320. I was amazed when the backup took a mere two minutes. I do not know whether to attribute these results to the influence of Intel engineers on HP, or to Microsoft’s sterling software. In all likelihood, it is a combination of both.

These tests prove once again the adage that corporations sufficiently large truly can do no wrong.

Will today ruin baseball?

Well, it’s strike day. I haven’t talked about it. I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. That strategy rarely works, but there’s always a first time.
Let’s face it: This is the Crybaby Billionaire Boys’ Club vs. the Crybaby Millionaire Boys’ Club.

Players complain about how they used to be treated as slaves. Well, they aren’t anymore. The league minimum–the minimum is more than some doctors make. Baseball players work nine months out of the year, counting spring training. They have to travel a lot, but they don’t have to work full 8-hour days, usually. When they do work, they do things I do for fun (and usually have to pay to do).

Yes, in the 1960s, there was a problem. Those problems have been solved for a very long time. Players’ greatest fears are that their salaries won’t necessarily double at the same rate they did before. Well, boo-hoo. Today a decent utility infielder makes what George Brett made at his peak, and George Brett isn’t hurting.

Now, the players talk down about the fans. Even Neifi Perez talks down to the fans. Neifi Perez! The worst everyday player in the majors. Mr. .257 on-base-percentage. Mr. Where-have-you-gone-Donnie-Sadler?, for crying out loud! “They’re just fans,” Neifi says. “What do they know?”

Who cares what the fans know? (What I know is that Felix Martinez isn’t the worst shortstop in Royals history anymore.) They pay your salary. Though it’s certain Perez won’t be back in Kansas City next year, and questionable whether he’ll be playing baseball at all. Serves him right. He’s a lousy player and a jerk. Kansas City deserves better. For that matter, Baghdad deserves better.

I don’t have any sympathy for the players.

The owners complain about competitive imbalance and salaries rising too quickly. The problems are largely their own making, but at least most of them recognize there is a problem and are trying to solve it. As recently as ten years ago, there was no way of knowing who was going to be a contender. You could take a good guess, but several teams would always surprise you. Is anyone really surprised the Yankees and the Braves are the teams to beat this year?

Now Oakland and Minnesota have proven you can create a winner on a budget. They spend smart. That’s good. Not every small or medium-market team spends smart. But when New York can spend five times what a small-market team spends, there’s a problem. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees; in a few years they won’t be able to afford to keep both Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada either. Who cares about the players or the owners–that’s unfair to the fans.

Most of the owners are on the same page. Even Tom Hicks, who can’t seem to spend his way out of last place but not for lack of trying, wants a luxury tax and revenue sharing. He sees the need for rules to follow. George Steinbrenner won’t be happy until every team but the Yankees is bankrupt and the second-best team in baseball is the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. But he’s in the minority.

The owners are being the more reasonable of the two. That feels weird to say. Isn’t that kind of like saying Ayatollah Khomeini was reasonable about something?

A lot of people are saying if there’s a strike, they won’t be back. Some of them will make good on that promise. I know I’ll be back. Baseball’s broken. I see this strike like a car crash to an alcoholic. You don’t wish the car crash on anybody, but if the car crash leads to the person finally seeing the problem and doing something about it, then the car crash can do some good. With some people, it takes a car crash. But with some people, even a car crash isn’t enough.

And the players and owners are just like that drunk behind the wheel–not giving a rip who gets hurt as a result of their irresponsible actions. Who cares about the people who make their living selling concessions at the ballpark? Not the players and owners. That’s an established fact.

I’ll be mad if they can’t come to an agreement before the deadline. But I’ll be madder if the strike doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s only one thing worse than a drunk, and that’s an incurable drunk.

I know what we need. A few good men who love baseball–who love baseball more than money–need to step up to the plate and do the right thing. And no, I don’t really care if that happens tomorrow, or if it happens during a lockout in spring training while Jason Grimsley and Johnny Damon and Todd Zeile and Steve Kline sit at home.

I think it might be refreshing to watch a bunch of guys who’ve never touched steroids, who are actually glad to be getting paid to do what we used to do at recess, and who play every inning like it’s the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, don’t you?

But there are no promises. So we wait. And I’m fully aware that if the worst happens, I might be the only baseball fan left.

That’s OK by me. I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. I’m used to being alone.

The craziest thing I’ve read in a long time

I thought the craziest story I’d read this year was a UFO enthusiast’s account of his hunt for a wrecked 1960s vintage spyplane so top-secret you’ve probably never heard of it.
Then I found a link to the story of a teenager who had plans to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. (Click the printer-friendly link at the bottom of the first page if you want to read it.)

I lived such a sheltered life…Read More »The craziest thing I’ve read in a long time