5 Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Tips


Guys, you can't go wrong with novelty sports memorabilia. Women love that stuff more than any romantic dinner or lump of jewelry.

It’s crunch time, guys. Just remember, you can never go wrong with novelty sports memorabilia. Women love that stuff way more than any romantic dinner or lump of jewelry.


Of course not, you should know by now that we don’t do that kind of garbage. But if it gets a few more halfwits to click through, we can increase our advertising rates minimally and maybe make an extra nickel this year. Hey, we don’t call it Control Your Cash for nothing.

The misleading title notwithstanding, we recently discovered something fascinating: a couple whose marriage is mostly if not entirely utilitarian. Meet Bethany Soule and Danny Reeves, 2 nerds with 2 kids who claim to have decreased or eliminated resentment by asking each other “What’s it worth to you?” whenever a roadblock appears. Every non-sexual act in their relationship has a dollar figure attached. They charge for chores, in a fashion that we can only assume (honestly) goes something like this:

Bethany: [sees FedEx tag on door] Dammit. The ship facility is 5 miles away. I don’t want to pick this up.

Danny: I don’t want to pick it up either. But hey, finders keepers. That includes FedEx tags.

Bethany: You know our agreement doesn’t work that way. You sure you don’t want to pick it up? I’ll give you $5, plus our standard 27¢ a mile.

Danny: I wouldn’t get out of bed for $5 + 27¢ a mile.

Bethany: Neither would I, but someone has to get this. Make me an offer.

Danny: $10.

Bethany: No. You want $12?

Danny: You’re getting there. Wait, what if this is just some stupid legal notice that we already received in the mail?

Bethany: That’s the chance you take. $12 is my final offer.

Danny: I’ll give you $15.

Bethany: [stretches out hand] Love you! [drives away]

It can’t be that simple, can it? Apparently it is. Plus it seems to work, judging by the looks of glee on Bethany’s and Danny’s faces.

They also use separate bank accounts. We don’t know why, but can only speculate that doing so makes it easier to keep score. As Bethany pithily states, money is utility. If you want to do a chore, or pass off a chore, it’s either going to give you a positive or a negative feeling. So why not quantify it? And what better to quantify it with than our universal system of fully fungible pluses and minuses, money?

A radical idea, the future spread of which remains debatable. Still, its progenitors seem to take it past the bounds of reason. “They submitted sealed bids worth several thousand dollars” for their kids’ names. That would be Faire and Cantor, which makes us wonder a) what the winning bids were and 2) what the losing choices were. Moon Unit and Dweezil? Erik and Lyle? Coheed and Cambria?

Okay, maybe we can tie this into Valentine’s Day (or as the Italian kids in our neighborhood always pronounced it, “Valentime’s”) after all:

Fellas, ATTEMPT THIS ONLY IF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS A COMPUTER SCIENCE MAJOR. (Even then, don’t suggest it on Valentine’s Day.) Bethany has a master’s in such from Columbia. In other words, God bless her, she thinks like a dude. Trying this with a woman of standard female intellect* would likely mean tears and possibly mean projectiles being thrown. (Fortunately, with the elbow as a fulcrum, so at least whatever’s being thrown won’t be moving that quickly.)

By the way, not only is Danny a computer scientist in his own right, the 2 of them are competitive stair climbers. Of course they are. Again, they’re doubtless happy with this curious system they’ve developed.

Seriously, though, what would the harm be in trying this in your home? You’d have to devote time to the task, every chore that needs to be transacted upon now requiring a discussion, but eventually that would work its way down to mere seconds per chore. And even that isn’t necessarily a cost, because it would supplant the feelings of mild resentment that normally occur when you’re confronted with something you hesitate to do.

Practically speaking, it seems it would help if each partner has similar income and/or net worth. Also, there are inherent differences between the partners. The Soule-Reeves household adjusts the parameters to account for such factors as Bethany being unable to sell or otherwise transfer the cost of her pregnancies.

Here at CYC we wouldn’t dare preach anything that we wouldn’t practice. We’ll implement a modified version of this system in our own household, and see if it (the system, if not the household) doesn’t implode before our next post is scheduled. Which would be next Wednesday. Don’t hold your breath, but we’ll attempt this with an open mind. And a clear heart. And an ignorant disregard of the potential pitfalls. ‘Til next time.


*Ladies, you’re offended by that phrase, but there is no way you could explain why. 

The Easiest, Most Painless Way Imaginable to Save Money

Yeah, but look how much fun he's having!

Yeah, but look how much fun he’s having!


Late in the previous decade, when we started this experiment in frank advice and intolerance of fiscal stupidity, we figured that the best way for us to get noted was to offer guest posts to any established personal finance blog that wanted one. Most didn’t, some did, and that endomorphic blob at The Simple Dollar eventually found a couple of minutes between bites of deep-fried Double Stuf Oreo™ à la mode at the Story County (IA) Fair in which to tell us that he didn’t take guest posts.

A gal who ran a site called Money Funk did, however. She doesn’t appear to have updated the site in a couple of years, though, and since we never signed over the copyright to the piece, we figured we can dust it off and run it. Here it is again, contemporized for a radically different 2014 audience. One major difference is that this time, you won’t see any indignant comments from misguided readers who thought we were being judgmental. You won’t see any comments at all, because we don’t run comments. Anyhow, here goes:

Yes, [The Easiest, Most Painless Way Imaginable to Save Money] is easy, but adopting it means being an iconoclast by default.

We’re talking about The Activity (actually, The Lack Of An Activity) That Dare Not Speak Its Name. One so extraordinary, so unusual, that everyone under its spell is treated as some sort of human aberration in need of reassurance and approval. And even then, people will still be certain that you must be either a medical curiosity, a desperately penitent deviant with an unfathomable past, a sheltered religious zealot, or at any rate, a less-than-full member of society. Because no one with this horrible affliction could possibly be enjoying all life has to offer.


Never even crossed your mind before, did it?

Look, this is not a moral issue. We’re not your finger-wagging aunt and uncle. It doesn’t matter to us if you shoot black tar heroin into both eyeballs simultaneously. We don’t care if Ron Wood throws his hands up in defeat after a night on the town with you because he can’t keep up. Or if Lindsay Lohan says, “I’m, like, having fun with you and all, but I’m going to give you the name of my addiction counselor. You should call him. He’s really good.”

If you are going to inject that smack, at least don’t throw away money on it.

A rum & Coke at the Foundation Room in Las Vegas costs $14, but the view of the Strip is complimentary. The same drink is essentially the same price 40 floors downstairs at the (indoor) House of Blues.

That’s one ounce of rum, maybe an ounce-and-a-half if you and the bartender share sufficient sexual chemistry. Premium rum costs a bar around $16 for a 59-ounce bottle, so you’re buying 24¢ worth of rum, a penny or two of cola syrup, and ice and water, whose prices are measured in trillionths of cents.

Which means you’re paying about 4500% markup for the drink itself. And of course, you’d better be leaving a tip, you cheap bastard.

It doesn’t matter what your preferred intoxicating beverage is. The margin between what the distributor pays for beer and what you pay is in the same neighborhood. And let’s not forget the wonderful 21st century indulgence of bottle service, in which an upscale venue charges you even more for the privilege of not having to go to the bar or flag down a waitress to order drinks. (Which reduces the workload on their bartenders and waitresses, freeing up time for them to serve other patrons absurdly marked-up drinks.)

Nothing comes with a higher markup than alcohol does, except maybe divorces. And why not? The people who sell alcohol have the perfect clientele – motivated, repeat buyers who don’t accept substitutes.

Look at it this way. Among doing other things, we sell books (available now at Amazon and BN.com!). But imagine if every person who bought our book either:

  • just wanted to be left alone with it, gazing into the book while contemplating their sins;
  • bought one every week as far back as he could remember, and would continue to because that’s just the way he’s always done it and always will do it;
  • read it, wanted another one, wanted another one after that, and was going to BUY EVERTHING ON THISH WHOLE DAMN SHELF IF I WANTS, BOOKTENDER;
  • was legally too young to buy it, and risked expulsion or a citation or parental punishment because the book was either such a great read or a necessary stepping stone en route to full adulthood, or;
  • was commemorating something, and wanted to prove to the guest of honor that money was no object.

If you’re drinking, you’re either depressed, a creature of habit, addicted, trying to be cool, or celebratory. Okay, fine, you aren’t. Whatever you feel comfortable believing.

Now let’s assume that we sold our book at the same markup that bars sell alcohol at. That means you’d be paying $268 for a regular glossy trade publication. Yet we sell the Kindle version for 7 stinking bucks, trusting the electrons will arrange themselves in a way you find engaging.

Just try it, once. Purely as an economic exercise, go out with your regular co-conspirators and substitute club soda for beer. You’ll be embarrassed to do this, peer pressure being far stronger among adults than it is among kids. So tell everyone you’re having surgery the next morning if that’ll make you feel better. Surgery on your instep. (Pick an innocuous and hard-to-reach body part. No one will ask you to take off your shoes.)

If you usually kick back 5 drinks a night, every couple of weeks, you’ll save well over $1000 over the course of a year. How many days’ worth of take-home pay is that for you?

The uncompromised brain cells will just be a bonus, as will the feeling of nonchalance at the police roadblock.

The funny thing is, no one will do this. Alcohol is so ingrained as a part of society, pretty much everywhere in the world that isn’t part of a caliphate, that the idea of perfect sobriety makes about as much sense to people as getting a facial tattoo does.

Drinking is indicative of maturity, adulthood. You can see it, right there in the age restrictions placed on its purchase. By the way, that’s unshakeable refutation of the commonly held belief that if you restrict people’s access to something, they’ll just want it more. If that were true, no one over 21 would drink.

People will merely modulate their drinking, rather than stop it, as if doing a little of a destructive and expensive behavior isn’t destructive nor expensive.

Again, writing these words right now and assembling them for universal delivery on Friday, January 17, 2014, it’s impossible to look at them and sound them out internally without sounding preachy. That’s what society’s obsession with alcohol has done: made schoolmarms out of the few of us who’ve figured out that alcohol’s positives, if any, are vastly outweighed by its negatives. No, drinking the occasional beer isn’t a sufficient condition for becoming a homeless, cirrhotic bum or even just a defendant awaiting trial on DUI charges.

But it’s a necessary one.

It costs far too much, both at the time of consumption and beyond. It serves no legitimate purpose.

Screw you, I like taking the edge off. And it makes me feel more sociable. 

If it takes alcohol to turn you from a bore or an introvert into someone capable of conversing in public, why don’t you do us both a favor and exit the party, but leave the case of Bud Light here, because you seem to be saying that the beer is a lot more interesting than you are.

So you don’t socialize? 

Hey, narrow-minded fools: You know that the alcohol is just an adjunct to whatever venue you’re in, right? There isn’t a bar, club, or gathering place in the world that requires your drink to have ethanol in it. Maybe on the Anheuser-Busch facility tour, but nowhere else that we can think of.

So yeah: for the benefits of

  • zero hangovers
  • no fear of ever incurring the police’s interest
  • thousands of dollars in savings
  • control of one’s mind and body
  • decades of rejuvenation

You’ll miss out on the occasional jackassery, which can either remain minor or metastasize into something larger. You know what? You’re right, that’s an awful tradeoff. You should drink, and drink more. Forget we said anything.

That $75,000 Thing Is A Crock Of Garbage

"You can take the rest of these back. I only want the one."

“You can take the rest of these back. I only want the one.”

This is what happens when you cede your thinking to journalists and let them write your headlines for you. Misinterpretation abounds and becomes calcified as fact.

4 years ago, a famous study appeared that was said to conclude that the optimal salary for human happiness was $75,000. No word on what the optimal effective tax rate, optimal local cost of living or optimal amount of expenses were, but you can’t expect the media to understand concepts that have multiple layers. By the way, we could have attached any of a million other links, but simpletons still regard Time magazine as some sort of authority for some reason. Actually, what the hell: here are some more, running the political continuum all the way from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times. It should go without saying that every unimaginative personal finance blogger wrote her own evaluation of the study, too.

Happiness tracks salary up to $75,000, then it either levels off or declines. If you’re not skeptical when you read something like that, ask yourself why you aren’t. There isn’t an employee anywhere on Earth making >$75,000 who has demanded a pay cut to the so-called optimal level. From real-world observation, we know plenty of people making much more than $75,000 who seem to be having the time of their lives. So wherefore the study?

One of the 2 principals behind the study is Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel economics laureate and all-around smart guy. His 2011 book Thinking Fast And Slow is illustrative nonfiction, lay cognitive psychology for people who have graduated past Malcolm Gladwell and have a hankering for something more rigorous. We bought the book recently, knowing of Kahneman but unaware that he was half the brains behind the $75,000 study. Reading the book, we realized that everyone completely missed the point. 

Kahneman did reference $75,000/year as being a maximum of sorts, and makes repeated use of his own idiomatic term “experienced well-being” in conjunction with the $75,000 figure, but he didn’t say that $75,000/year was the ideal salary for human happiness or make anything close to such a wild and counterintuitive proclamation. What he said takes more words to explain than there are in a typical headline.

In any group of people, there will be some with feelings of despair. Unsurprisingly, the poorer the group is, the greater the proportion of people in it who have said feelings. This isn’t exactly news. Maybe 19% of people in a high income bracket and 38% of people in a low income bracket feel these negative thoughts, according to Kahneman’s research.

Now add a mildly deleterious event, like a headache. That’s enough to turn even more people despondent, and it does. The headache will increase the proportion of rich people who feel depressed, and it will do the same for the poor people. But it’ll do the latter to a greater extent. Compound their situation with a headache, and an additional 19% of rich people will be sad and/or worried. Add that same headache to the subset of poor people, and an additional 32% of them will acknowledge feelings of depression. (All numbers taken from Thinking Fast and Slow.) A minus, even one that a Tylenol or two will cure within hours, slams the poor worse than it does the rich. Again, these discoveries don’t seem all that revelatory, at least to us.

Now, imagine a positive event of similar absolute value. A hole-in-one, your kid coming home with a report card full of straight A’s, a stranger paying you a compliment, whatever. That ought to improve your mood no matter how much money you make. Among poor people, the percentage of them whom such an event will put in a bouncy mood will increase. Among rich people, most of whom are happier than the poor folk to begin with, the numbers will also increase when the positive event happens. But of course, this is bounded. If 99% of people who make $1 million a year are generally ecstatic to begin with, all the strokes of good fortune in the world aren’t going to increase the ranks of such people by more than a percentage point.

What Kahneman said was that the biggest increase in well-being happens around $75,000 a year. Mathematically speaking, that’s where dy/dx, the 1st derivative of the curve, is its highest. If you’re an adult making $20,000/year, chances are relatively strong (relative to people who make higher incomes) that your outlook on life is going to be pretty bleak. A random positive event will increase the percentage of people at that income level who feel happy and optimistic, but not by that much – only a few percentage points. Conversely, at the upper end of income, the random positive event will indeed turn some frowns upside-down – but at that level, the frowns are rare to begin with. $75,000 marks the point at which a positive occurrence makes the largest difference, moves the most people from morose or lukewarm into bags of joy. As Kahneman says,

Being poor makes one miserable, and…being rich may enhance one’s life satisfaction, but does not (on average) improve experienced well-being.

Which requires an explanation of the difference between “life satisfaction” and “experienced well-being.” He defines the latter as your day-to-day or minute-to-minute answer to “How are you feeling?” The day that the guards bring the monthly allocation of bean paste to the prisoners at Pukchang prison camp is great, relative to the 30 that surround it. “Life satisfaction” is something a little more broad: “the satisfaction of the remembering self.” And that, rich people have an abundance of.

So in short, Kahneman said that if you were to quantify one’s reaction to a good thing happening, the important variables are 1) the event itself and b) the person’s starting point. And a modest starting point will mean a greater increase in “experienced well-being.” Think about it: who gets a bigger thrill from hitting a home run – the 20-year-old just called up from Toledo and making his major league debut, or Albert Pujols, who’s already done this thing 492 times? That doesn’t mean that the guy fighting to stay on a big-league roster is somehow in a better position than a 3-time MVP and future Hall of Famer.

To the lay person’s ears, distinguishing between experienced well-being and life satisfaction might seem like nothing more than coming with unnecessary alternate phrasings for “happiness”. But there’s a difference. One is marginal, the other cumulative. Cumulative is better. It’s “he who dies with the most toys” who wins, not “he who has the greatest temporary increase in happiness with the addition of a particular toy.”  Debunking these stupid myths is fun.