Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Retirement Accounts, the 99 Percent and the 1 Percent



I find money fascinating. Money is often on our minds. Thoughts, discussions, and transactions involving money consume a substantial part of our waking hours.

Kids learn early in life money has value. I had a savings account in elementary school and possessed a real bankbook. Occasionally money was deposited – usually gifts from relatives on holidays and birthdays – and notations made in the book, in pen, by an adult.

As a new mom, money was not in great supply during my kids’ early years. One day Number One Son wanted something at the store and I told him I did not have enough money.

“Well, Mommy, just go to the bank and get more.”

Now why didn’t I think of that?

Unless living a hermit-like existence in the wilderness, money is an important component of life, needed for the necessities – food, shelter and clothing - with hopefully some left over for a few extras.

The boomer generation faced the prospect of saving for retirement with limited role models or instructions on how or where to invest. The concept of retirement was changing in 20th century America. Living longer and enjoying a healthy, active lifestyle was just beginning to come into vogue as boomers matured.

The federal government passed legislation establishing IRAs in 1974 (ERISA – Employee Retirement Income Security Act), and subsequent legislation launched 401(k)s and other employer supported retirement plans. Large companies like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and J.C. Penney’s began offering 401(k)s in the early 1980s.

Sometimes government accomplishes good things!

We – hub and I - started IRAs and 401(k)s and now have a nest egg.

I thought we were doing pretty well.

Until reading the latest news.

I came across an article entitled Romney-Sized IRAs Scrutinized as Government Studies Taxes. Summarizing, some very, very, fortunate individuals accumulated retirement accounts worth millions over the past few decades.

Statistics indicate it would be impossible for most people (like hub and me) to amass a fortune worth millions, even if contributing the maximum amount allowed every year from the time these accounts were established to the present.

A minuscule number of Americans – 9,000 – accumulated more than $5 million in retirement accounts.

How was this possible? Savvy businesses and individuals manipulated retirement accounts, placing assets in accounts that should have been taxed, or undervaluing stock contributions, or…I have no idea, but shrewd financial gurus come up with tax-avoidance measures all the time. And they work hard to ensure certain people accrue lots of money tax-free.

The money is taxable when withdrawn, but I bet financiers have an angle minimizing taxes on withdrawals also…

Getting back to statistics, IRA accountholders could have as much as $350,000 stashed away if contributing the maximum from 1975 through 2011, and if the funds were invested aggressively. Higher contribution limits to 401(k)s theoretically allowed accountholders to pile up as much as $4 million in their retirement accounts.

I am going to take a risk here and say that most people did not contribute the maximum every year, nor did they invest the entire amount as aggressively as necessary to amass these sums.

A grand total of 1,100 American taxpayers own accounts worth over $10 million, and 314 amassed a fortune over $25 million.

In comparison, the value of 99% of the 43 million IRA accounts is under $1 million. The average value of retirement accounts for those 55+ was $150,300 as of March 31, 2013.

Romney is mentioned in the title of the article because he is one of the blessed beings, one of the .003% with retirement accounts valued over $20 million (Romney never publicized the size of his IRA; we only know it is worth $20 million or more). His account is considered an example of companies using retirement vehicles as tax shelters. As a business owner (co-founder of Bain Capital) extra contributions, such as company stock, boosted the account value well beyond normal investment gains.

Getting back to my original ramblings, hub and I are doing nicely.

We are proud members of the 99% club, and as the saying goes, sitting pretty.

Not as pretty as those in designer clothes, cars, boats, houses, and accessories, but pretty enough for us.

The moral of this tale?

I am not sure. Maybe the rich will always find ways to work the system.

Bu that does not mean the rest of us cannot take advantage of the system.

We can and we should.

(Statistics cited are from this article unless otherwise noted.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unskilled in the Emoji Language

I am not proficient in languages. I began taking Spanish in seventh grade, eventually competent enough to read newspapers and a few books, but was not fluent with the spoken word. The best uttered was a kind of slow-spoken, chopped-up drawl, a grammatically poor equivalent of the real Spanish language.

I butchered the Russian language for a couple of years in high school, not getting much further than the equivalent of reading and translating board books. 

I felt somewhat brainless visiting foreign countries over the years, unable to communicate with the locals, although places like Canada, England, Australia and the deep South of the USA pose no language barrier, although at times accents prove difficult to understand.

My language anxiety recently worsened. 

I discovered a new language I may have to learn, and am not excited about doing so. This language is becoming very popular. If family and friends begin using it, I may be forced to follow.

The new language is Emoji.

Emoji are pictures. String a row together, and users create messages, sentences, paragraphs, and stories - like pictographs found in caves, or hieroglyphics. To this history major it appears to be a deja-vu throwback – way back – to ancient times, but obviously I am missing something.

Emoji are new pictures. Initially used in Japan in the 1990s, Emoji crossed the Pacific and seriously invaded our shores after the turn of the 21st century.

Everyone, except maybe prisoners isolated in non-internet surroundings over the past couple of decades, are familiar with the concept of Emoji.

Think smiley faces.

Emoji icons, pictographs, emoticons (facial expressions illustrating emotions) – more sophisticated-sounding terms than ‘pictures’ – integrate a language of images, each with a specific meaning.

Emoji is spreading fast and infecting our world. The Global Language Monitor (GLM) chose Emoji as 2014’s top trending word.

The esteemed and highly regarded Oxford English Dictionary added Emoji to its lexicon, defining the word as, “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea, emotion, etc., in electronic communications.”

The emojipedia helps users find Emoji expressing the idea, object, or emotion desired. The Unicode Consortium, a technology-oriented organization involved with regulating and standardizing software worldwide, is working on developing a consistent, uniform Emoji language. 

I thought it would be cool to insert Emoji in this article, originally written in Word. I found a couple of cute Emoji (iemoji.com, getemoji.com and emojipedia.org), copied and attempted to paste them into the document. Only a question mark encased in a box appeared.

Further research indicated my Word was not up to receiving Emoji. But following additional Internet inquiry, I now have an Emoji keyboard on my iPhone (check this website to load on your iPhone) and a Character Palette app with Emoji on my Mac computer. (I impress myself with the lingo!)

Lucky for me, Emoji is not a spoken language.

My generation is at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to learning a new language. Experts tell us the best time to acquire new language skills are when young – very young – as an infant and toddler.

We are way, way beyond those years.

The language-skills part of my brain has lied dormant a long time and has probably begun to calcify, making the attempt to stuff new information into it difficult.

But if necessary I will try. And if failing, I will fall back on old language abilities, writing words, messages, sentences, paragraphs, and stories using the letters of the alphabet, forming words and recording them on paper or a computer or chiseling them into rock.

Communicating the old-fashioned way.  

Examples of emoji in action (with translations)





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Fall Unofficially Begins


Today is cloudy, cool and breezy, high mid-70s.

I love this weather!

Yes, folks, fall approaches fast.

Autumn unofficially arrived to our shore community. Labor Day came and went, and like birds migrating south, shoobies temporary island inhabitants began flocking elsewhere. Most returned to homes throughout New Jersey and Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The snowbirds will soon load their cars and head south for the winter.

Signs of summer past appear everywhere.

Fewer cars line residential streets as folks close their vacation homes for the winter.

A new gym schedule began. Smaller (yeah!) but fewer classes now.

The grocery store displays less fresh items, especially prepared foods. Those of us still around no longer entertain hordes of shoobies pretending to visit but wanting to spend long days at the beach, absorbing enough sun and fun to hold them over until next Memorial Day weekend. Unwilling to spend a lot of time cooking in summer heat, we fill the refrigerator with prepared foods.

Post-Labor Day the house no longer overflows with friends and relatives, food bills shrink, and the cooler weather is conducive to cooking.

I parked directly in front of the market this morning. No need to drive into the parking lot or cruise around the block hoping a spot opens.

Kids no longer crowd the bagel store, begging parents for brownies, cakes and drinks along with their chocolate chip bagel. Men and women women especially seem more serene, less hassled, now that their kids returned to school. They leisurely pour a cup of coffee and order a bagel sandwich, looking forward to enjoying some hassle-free, kid-free time.

Restaurants started cutting hours and days, closing three or four days a week. Some soon close for the winter. Locals do not eat out as frequently as affluent vacationers, and the islands population shrinks as winter approaches, bottoming out during the dark, gray days of January and February before slowly climbing once again.

Stores advertise end-of-season sales.

A couple of ice cream shops remain open seven days a week, but others open weekends only. By the end of October See you next summer! signs will adorn every ice cream shop window on the island.

Noticeably lighter traffic travels the islands two main streets.  Traffic signals will soon be on flash, as throngs of pedestrians carrying chairs and beach toys no longer stampede across the road on the way to the beach.

Leaves on the trees, only a few days ago a rich, dark green, lighten and turn various hues of red and gold.

My tomato plants begin to sulk, unhappy about the cooler weather and shorter days.

The sun rises later and sets earlier each day, and that saddens me. I love long days of bright light, darkness suggesting cold, loneliness, and depression.

Locals know September is the best month of the year around here. Crowds disappear. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities. Most days are sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s to low 80s. The oceans warmth lingers. Empty beaches beckon, a place of sunshiny solitude, except on a weekend when temperatures soar into the 80s and people temporarily return for one last sandy experience of the season.

September needs a song of celebration. Too many songs and literary references use September as a metaphor for the autumn of our years. I think the month deserves more cheerfulness.

I like the following song by Earth, Wind, and Fire, simply titled September, because the music is upbeat. Enjoy!


And check out the latest Best of Boomers posts!
  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Barbie Embodies The One Woman in 100,000

September 6th, 1959, was a landmark date for girls now members of the baby boomer generation.

On that date what became the most popular doll throughout the world and probably in history went on sale in the United States.

Barbara Millicent Roberts was born and introduced to the world on March 9, 1959, at the New York Toy Fair by her Mom, Ruth Handler, owner and founder (with her husband) of Mattel Creations. The 11.5” doll, featuring long blonde hair swept up in a ponytail, sported a black and white zebra-design bathing suit…

and a too-perfect hourglass figure.

Barbie became a girl’s best friend.

Barbie was not, however, every little girl’s BFF, and not mine. In the spirit of full disclosure, I never owned a Barbie doll as far as I can remember. If I did, it never made an impression on me. But I was not enamored of dolls, so the omission would not have bothered this nine-year-old.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand, always wanted a real Barbie. Her Mom either could not afford one (they initially cost a whopping $3.00, about $24.50 in 2014 dollars) or did not want to spend the money, giving Joan a faux, cheap and poorly designed look-alike.

On Joan’s 50th birthday hub and I presented her with her first authentic Barbie.

Barbie has led an interesting life over the past 55 years. She had over 150 careers, experienced space travel, and ran for President four times.

I am glad some woman out there, even if a make believe one, had an exciting, action-packed life with no problems or issues of any kind.

And she still has an impossibly flawless body.

I never came close to possessing her original measurements (estimated but never publicly announced) of 36, 18, 33. According to research by esteemed universities, if alive and kicking she would not have enough body fat to menstruate.

But Barbie never lived in the real world or contended with tampons, a bloated abdomen or mood swings. But apparently one in 100,000 females could look like her. So human Barbies are out there somewhere. I have to admit, however, I have never personally seen one.

I have no idea how many (if any) plastic surgeries (what other kind of surgery would a plastic doll get?) Barbie endured over the past few decades, but she looks better at 55 than any of my friends, acquaintances, or people on the street.

Today five price tiers of Barbies tempt girls young and old  - pink, silver, gold, platinum, and black - ranging in price from reasonable to are you out of your f***ing mind!?

I guess the woman-doll still enchants little girls. Barbie wears beautiful clothes and owns an extensive wardrobe, has lots of pretty possessions, lives in her dream house (I toured it in Florida), has three attractive sisters, a long-time boyfriend and lots of good-looking girlfriends, her own TV show, and must make great money (salary and net worth never disclosed).
 
More than one Barbie, one Ken, and assorted accessories.

I bought a Barbie suitcase at a yard sale a couple of years ago for a dollar or two. It is filled with dolls (some Barbie, some not) and assorted clothes. My granddaughters find the best part of playing with the doll case is lugging it around, emptying and refilling it.

One day they might actually pay attention to the dolls and their distorted bodies, wondering why they (the real girls) look so different, and why the older girls and women around them do not look anything like Barbie, except maybe for the long blonde hair.

Meanwhile…Barbie lives on.

It is so difficult keeping up with the lives and loves of celebrities nowadays that I was unaware of the ups and downs of Barbie’s love life. I must have missed the People issues featuring her sensational news.

I had no idea Barbie and Ken broke up on Valentine’s Day 2004 following their 43-year courtship. But, in the spirit of soul mates linking forever, they reunited on Valentine’s Day 2011.

And will probably live happily ever after (plastic does not age or biodegrade and lasts an eternity). Barbie will retain her smooth face and hourglass figure forever.

There are numerous questions to contemplate concerning the future life and loves of this plastic doll (I never liked). (Answers may or may not appear in future People magazine articles).

Will Barbie and Ken make it to the altar or live apart forever, enjoying each other’s company but not engaging in the realities of married life?

Will they have children, either in or out of wedlock? (Although she is too old.)

Is Ken gay?

Will Barbie retire? Did she stay long enough at any job to qualify for a pension? Has she been saving for retirement?

Will enough Moms (grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends) eventually refuse to buy Barbie so Mattel stops making them?

Will Barbie ever gain weight?

Who buys the really expensive Barbies? And why?

Can any real woman have an 18” waist without wearing a tight-fitting contraption that women bound themselves in during the 19th century? (Except Scarlett O’Hara’s 17” corseted waist in Gone With the Wind – oh, wait, she was not real either).

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Market Basket (Hopefully) Rises Again

Labor Day seems an appropriate time for a story about capitalism.

Sounds like an awesome, profound subject for my weekly blog post, but I promise it is not deep. Or long.

It is a tale of working men and women prevailing, and about the brouhaha over the recent labor and management disputes at the Market Basket supermarket chain. Readers from other parts of the country may be unaware of the turmoil this New England-based company experienced over the past few months.

The supermarket chain, comprised of 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, is an excellent example of how capitalism can work for everyone in a positive way when management and employees are on the same page. It is refreshing to hear about companies NOT cutting staff, employee hours, pay and benefits while upper management amasses millions.

The owners of Market Basket made oodles of money over the years. Yet employees respected management, knew management cared about them, and workers earned a respectable, if not awesome, income. CEO Arthur T. instituted a retirement plan, encouraged entry-level personnel to work their way up the corporate ladder, gave out holiday bonuses, and treated customers and suppliers respectfully and fairly. 

But that was not enough for members of the company Board who wanted a larger piece of the cash pie. Of course corporate politics are not that simple, but that was the bottom line.

The saga began decades ago. It is a story similar to that of a lot of family-owned businesses. The founder and head of the family business dies, and the business passes to the next generation. The second generation often works together harmoniously.

When that generation passes or moves on to an upscale retirement mecca in Florida or Arizona, the third generation assumes the company reins. Frequently it is the third generation where trouble begins. In the case of the Demoulas family, owners of the Market Basket empire, trouble was already brewing, but remained low-key. When the third generation took over, schism surfaced and festered.

The animosity, legal disputes and business maneuvers between cousins Arthur S. and Arthur T. (Demoulas) came to a head when the company board (led by Arthur S. and his cronies) fired Arthur T. (the CEO) and a couple of other executives (Arthur T.’s cronies).

What the board did not anticipate was the overwhelming response by Market Basket employees.

Arthur T. is much beloved, and his dethronement was strongly opposed by the rank-and-file. So much so that they rebelled. Executives resigned and employees rallied in support of Arthur T. They refused to follow new management’s instructions or restock store shelves. Customers joined the dispute, taping receipts from Market Basket competitors to store windows. A social media campaign publicized and supported the protesters.

The company hemorrhaged money (losses estimated at $70 million a day). Workers ignored pleas by the new CEO and the board to return to work, perceiving new management (Arthur S.’s appointees) as too focused on delivering additional profits to the detriment of employees.

The governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire stepped in and attempted to broker a deal. Arthur T. bid to buy Arthur S.’s 50.5% of the company.

On August 27th (2014) the Arthur S. camp caved and agreed to sell their portion of the company to Arthur T. for $1.5 billion.

Arthur T. once again is Market Basket CEO.

Arthur S. and his cronies can retire in splendor wherever they want.

Employees immediately began restocking shelves.

The stores have been basically inoperable for two months. Hopefully they can regain their position in the marketplace and continue to prosper.

It is an encouraging story of capitalism benefiting all parties (owners, workers, and consumers) winning a battle against a narrowly defined capitalism focused on a few elite owners.

And that is The End of my sermon-story.
For a number of (most likely) more interesting articles, check out this week’s Best of Boomer blogs!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Patriotic Pair Step Up and Purchase New Stuff

 Hub and I can happily pat ourselves on the back this week as we deplete our checkbook, knowing it is for a good cause.

The U.S. economy.

We recently purchased two kitchen appliances. One needed replacement due to the death of its predecessor – our microwave/convection oven – the other resulted from a sale we could not pass by.

Shopping, eating and cooking patterns changed as we adapted over the years from young singles to a married couple, to a family with kids with bottomless stomachs, back to couple status again.

Over the years our kitchen appliances sometimes matched our needs, but at other times did not (the appliances came with the territory - the house purchased, we could not afford to replace the old one, the wish list model proved unaffordable…).

We were happy with the older appliances in our current home (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher all predate the purchase of our home in 2010 and are at least a decade old, and probably two decades old), but realized replacement was inevitable.

What was not necessarily inevitable was the replacement of the one kitchen appliance purchased new – the microwave/convection oven.

Yet that is exactly what happened.

Thrown a lemon, we try to make lemonade. Which in these circumstances was easy enough to do in our kitchen.

We met the challenge, stepped up and became patriotic Americans.

We spent money.

By doing so, we helped spur the economy to new heights. The day after we purchased two new appliances, the stock market rose half a percent. That may not sound like much, but every little bit helps. We are proud to be responsible, even a little bit, for that rise.

After all, buying new stuff is what the American dream is all about. Buying new stuff is what consumers are supposed to do.

We are the greatest economy on earth.

Because we spend money and buy new stuff.

So hub and I joined the throngs of Americans indulging in the most popular recreational activity of all – shopping.

We researched online.

We perused the unending number of circulars covering our front porch every Sunday.

We got in the car and depleted expensive gas driving to brick-and-mortar stores, overwhelmed by the number of brands and models available. And of course prices, which start modestly for a stripped down, cheap no frills model from an unheard-of brand to a sleek, fully loaded, overpriced boutique brand with a cool foreign-sounding name from another country but still made in China.

A lot of appliances are made in China. Or South Korea. Many machines manufactured in the U.S. have a substantial amount of foreign parts. It gets complicated…

We purchased our two new appliances at a local appliance dealer because we have dealt with both their sales and service department favorably in the past. Our research provided us with the information needed to assure ourselves we were not being ripped off. Prices were comparable to the big box stores and online ‘specials’.

So, enough with the suspense, what did we buy?

A Maytag microwave/convection oven.

And a Maytag refrigerator. One door, freezer on top.

The Maytag refrigerator was a floor clearance model. The company is changing the design (new handle).

We do not care. Good price, we grabbed it.

We do not need a fridge with lots of bells and whistles. Two of us live in the house. No pets. The kids and grandkids stop in and stay for a week occasionally, but not long enough to warrant a large fancy fridge.

Why replace the fridge? The enamel on the old one is peeling, the icemaker works sporadically, and the freezer compartment on the two-door unit is too narrow for lots of things (one example – an ice cream cake). And we were shopping and spending money and saw a good deal…our patriotism shines through!

Our new fridge is no-frills, except it is stainless steel.

I know - next week stainless will be passé.

But hub and I will survive the humiliation.

We spied slate appliances, apparently the latest innovation in kitchen design. Otherwise white and black appliances, in addition to stainless, prevailed.

Anyone know what happened to all those avocado, yellow, blue (turquoise, actually) and other colored appliances of the 1950s and 60s?

Anyone out there own one? 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Memo to GE

To: Jeff Immelt, CEO GE
cc: Keith McLoughlin, CEO Electrolux 

This post was going to begin with the sentence:
GE, your appliances suck,
but thought that would be too abrupt, forthright, and unprofessional.

Instead I will objectively, straightforwardly, and without emotion overcoming my better judgment, relate the saga of our microwave/convection oven.

The short version:
It died. For the third time in four years.

The longer story:
We bought a GE microwave/convection oven in May 2010. The appliance died two years later. We replaced it with another GE. A mistake, we realized even then, but the price was right and, when the appliance worked, it worked well.

That oven died a year later (immediately after the warranty expired). Because it broke down early in our ownership cycle, GE covered the cost of parts. We paid for labor.

And now, one year and two weeks after purchase (and two weeks after the warranty on the new parts elapsed), the machine died again.

GE has a long, distinguished track record of manufacturing appliances. The esteemed corporation traces its origins back to Thomas Alva Edison, who established the Edison General Electric Company in 1890. The first appliance manufactured by the company was an electric fan in the 1890s. Cooking appliances appeared soon after the turn of the 20th century. The 1920s brought huge strides, including the refrigerator and dishwasher, leading the way to today’s modern kitchens.

Somewhere along the line I believe greed overtook a desire for top-notch performance.

Or maybe the giant conglomerate neglected a small division. After all, the appliance division contributes just under 6% of GE’s total revenue.

Or perhaps the desire to unload the division brought about cost-cutting measures in an effort to make it appear as profit-generating as possible. Those belt-tightening measures eventually negatively impacted appliance performance.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Immelt, your microwave-convection ovens underperform.

Or, more accurately, our two microwaves underperformed and failed. Disappointment does not adequately convey our feelings.

If I was emotional, I would use a lot more colorful language.

And the machines are not cheap. More important in the long run, GE appliances are costly to repair.

Our repairmen do not recommend GE because when appliances break down replacement parts must be purchased through GE at a high price. And then there is the cost of labor…

Our poor-performing microwave/convection ovens generated a dismal track record and cost the consumer, a.k.a. the appliance owner, a.k.a. hub and I - $$$.

I realize I am only one of millions of consumers. I hope the vast majority have better luck with their GE purchases. Maybe we were the unlucky recipients of lemons. Hopefully there are not too many out there.

Our appliance repairman was contacted – we are on friendly terms now, since he has become a regular at our house. Then we contacted GE customer service directly.

Their computer was down (really).

Goodbye, farewell, sayonara GE.

No more GE appliances for us.

Ever.

I cc’d the CEO of Electrolux because the scuttlebutt is that the company is interested in purchasing GE’s appliance division.

A note to Electrolux:
Beware. As the owner of iconic brands Frigidaire, Westinghouse, and Eureka, if you can improve on the performance of certain GE underperforming appliances, go for it. Otherwise…

And now it is time to shop for another microwave/convection oven. We briefly considered replacing the combo with a cheaper microwave-only unit, but the convection oven is used often at our house. It is big enough to cook complete meals for the two of us, and is more energy efficient than firing up the oven for a small casserole.

I am not happy about the broken appliance, am not pleased about taking the time, effort and energy to research and shop for a new one, and am especially unhappy that we have to pay for a new unit again.

We can only hope the new one lasts a long, long time.

And if anyone can recommend a brand other than GE, I look forward to hearing from you. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kudos (maybe someday) to McDonald’s

Companies keeping up with the latest fads, fashions, and trends make the most money. That is not, as the saying goes, rocket science. McDonald’s is one of the best in the business at being, if not ahead of the curve, catching and successfully riding the latest food-related wave; or in some instances, creating and shaping the wave.

One of the strongest waves now shaking up the food industry is the emphasis on fresh foods and healthier products.

McDonald’s has jumped on this bandwagon with its latest food-related initiative. The company recently sponsored a party for reporters and bloggers (not this blogger; I was not invited. No hard feelings, McDonald’s. Maybe next time.), offering dishes prepared with McDonald’s ingredients and created by renowned chefs.

McDonald’s campaign strives to change the perception the world holds of its products. The New York City gourmet gala was one undertaking in this endeavor. The company wants people to abandon the vision of McDonald’s as purveyor of cheap junk food, a.k.a. fast food, and embrace the idea that the company is all about ‘good food served fast’.

Good food served fast in my kitchen are fresh fruits…a bagel laden with cream cheese, red onion and a thick slice of an in-season tomato…leftovers warmed in the microwave, an undertaking of maybe three minutes…and, always in reserve in case no other food is around and a shopping trip appears imminent, a bowl of cold cereal (not sugary ones)…but I digress…

My blood pressure rises and body swells thinking about the event and the lost opportunity to observe what the company considers ‘good food served fast’, not because I am upset about not being invited (I am not. Upset. At all.), but because of all the salt and fat my body would absorb tasting the various dishes. Yet, on behalf of my readers and others who might one day read my words of wisdom providing a detailed account of the event, the venue, who attended, and my description and humble opinion of food served, I would sample every item, not thinking about the medical issues which might occur as a result of my gluttony.

It is not easy finding and preparing cheap healthy foods – the term is almost a contradiction. And like most people I appreciate low-priced almost everything (especially taxes, but that is fodder for a future post), but also understand the truth to the saying, “you get what you pay for”.

However if anyone can find a way to sell low-cost, healthy fare (I state anyone purposely, after all, Citizens United and other Supreme Court cases set the precedent that McDonald’s is a person), McDonald’s can.

Even without nutritious food items, McDonald’s does a wonderful service for the people of our nation and I categorically do not advocate the demise of McDonald’s. That would prove a hardship to long-distance travelers. McDonald’s outlets strategically positioned along America’s highways are sometimes the only place weary and bladder-filled road warriors can find clean rest rooms (as long as they do not venture into stores in major cities, where facilities may be less than pristine; the restaurants cannot always keep up with heavy foot traffic).

While McDonald’s attempts to improve menu offerings, it maintains their food is real food.

Really? Remember the book and movie Super Size Me? The guy ate McDonald’s for a month. The result was a host of medical issues. He conducted several experiments, and in one test placed McDonald’s sandwiches and French fries in sealed containers, observing them for weeks. The sandwiches turned to moldy, ugly, smelly messes, but after two months the French fries looked like they just came out of the deep fryer.

Real food?

Maybe someday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rebate Welcomed

In a previous life I was never enthusiastic about applying for rebates. I rarely did it. The undertaking required work. Filling out forms, collecting receipts, finding a stamp and an envelope – it was not worth it.

Which is, of course, what companies counted on.

Rebates can now be requested online, avoiding the search for an envelope and stamp, saving 40 cents, 45 cents or however much a first class stamp costs nowadays (49 cents – just looked it up. Real $ !). Stamps no longer have a monetary value printed on them; the word forever appears somewhere on the design.

I venture to the post office every few months to stock up, choosing interesting images. I do not bother doing the math to figure out how much each costs.

For years, decades actually, I did not have the time to devote to rebate management. Working…raising kids…cooking meals…watching TV…cleaning …laundry…phone calls…something had to give. It did not seem worth the time or effort for a few cents or a dollar or two.

Although we are not on a fixed budget, hub is close to retirement. The necessity of careful budgeting is on the near horizon. So when recently purchasing paper for our printer at Staples and noticing a rebate offer, I decided to go for it.

Rebate requests are a quick, painless process nowadays, at least for the particular rebate requested from Staples. The receipt was already online. I punched a couple of computer keys and my application launched into cyberspace. A follow-up email stated my claim would be processed and a check issued in four to six weeks.

One day three to four weeks later hub retrieves the mail from our mailbox and throws the stack on the counter with the comment, “It’s all junk.” I grab the pile before tossing.

Sitting on top is a postcard, which initially looks like junk mail. Inspecting it closer, I realize it is my $4.00 Staples rebate check. No envelope. The postcard saves money, I am sure, but anyone can cash it. The amount is not a lot and its loss would in no way cause hardship, but the unsecure transmittal in this day and age of privacy and the too-common occurrence of stolen personal data seems inappropriate.

Nevertheless I will cash the check.

Luckily I reviewed the mail, or the check would have been tossed and lost.  I am not sure, after waiting futilely for weeks for the rebate check, that I would have followed up with Staples. 

Hub will be more careful pitching mail in the future.

Meanwhile there are all kinds of possibilities for the $4.00. I will splurge on something.

After all, we are not living on a fixed income yet.