The (F)RotM to end all (F)RsotM

From Occupy Grand Rapids. Yes, such a thing existed. Image used utterly without concern for private property rights.

From Occupy Grand Rapids. Yes, such a thing existed. Image used utterly without concern for private property rights.

Not literally, of course. We’ll run another one next month. But this one’s so good, so emblematic of what being the (F)RotM means, that we couldn’t wait for the 31st before bestowing the laurels upon this month’s winner.

From The Huffington Post, which evidently has standards as lax as the Yakezie Carnival’s, comes a soliloquy/possible suicide note from Dirk Hughes, who currently enjoys an uninspiring career registering students at the Grand Rapids, Michigan campus of ITT Technical Institute. That’s not our assessment of Dirk’s job, it’s his.

I have a doctorate. I have been employed full-time for the 35 years I have been of employable age with only a week or so between jobs. I have worked my butt off my entire adult life.

Well, there’s your first problem. What Dirk’s doctorate is in is unclear: his LinkedIn page states only that he attended Cleveland State University 22 years ago, without mentioning what he studied nor what degree he earned. There’s also no mention of where he took his undergraduate degree. Hopefully his Ph.D. thesis (we’re assuming his doctorate isn’t an M.D., or he wouldn’t be working at ITT) is more diligently researched and annotated than is his LinkedIn bio.

He dropped out of college twice (for most of you, once is plenty), attempted to write a novel, then borrowed money to attend law school at a superannuated age. Then he failed the bar. Thrice. But somehow he is, in his own mind, evidence that “hard work just doesn’t pay off.”

Once my wife graduated with her masters (Ed. Note: In human resources, the most vile occupation this side of baby seal clubber. Apparently a mere bachelor’s degree isn’t sufficient to qualify someone to leave condescending notes in the break room and coordinate homophobia awareness seminars) we moved to another city for her new job.

This was also the time for me to go back to school and for us to start having a family.

(Dramatic line break ours.) Hey Dirk? Excuse us – hey, Dr. Dirk? No, that was the worst time for you to start having kids. Raising a family on one income is hard enough. But raising an family on one income minus whatever your newly incurred tuition was? It doesn’t take an ITT certificate to know that expenses were going to run up against revenues, pass them, then take several victory laps while blowing kisses to the crowd.

Alright, maybe that’s an unfair generalization. If you were returning to school to get, say, a civil engineering degree, that’d guarantee you work and a great wage. Is that what you did?

I got my bachelor of arts in English

Oooooh, so close.

The wife’s career blossomed – one advantage, if you want to call it that, of today’s regulatory and regimented workplace – while Dr. Dirk’s faltered. He tended bar. He worked in sales. Neither of those jobs require a degree, or even a high school diploma, but Dr. Dirk had worse than just a high school diploma. His book-learnin’ bona fides consisted of a high school diploma weighted with a huge liability in the form of a useless bachelor’s degree from a school so embarrassing to have attended that today he doesn’t mention it. Again, the useless degree isn’t merely useless like an appendix or a vestigial finger. It’s a negative. A bachelor’s in the soft arts costs money, which thus paradoxically requires its holder to find an even better-paying job, despite him now being ill-equipped to do anything beyond a) pouring beer or 2) prompting secretaries across the Tri-County area to say, “Sorry, the purchasing manager is in Turkmenistan for the week. Why don’t you leave your card and I’ll get him to call you when he gets back?”

I finally landed a teaching job with one of those for-profit colleges you see on TV. I wasn’t a big fan of the corporate philosophy

He doesn’t mention that the college is ITT, and who can blame him? For a gifted academic like the Doc, that’d be like a Ferrandi graduate keeping his job as a Papa John’s pizza assembler on the down low.

Not satisfied with being overeducated and broke, Dr. Dirk is perpetuating the cycle for a new generation of same in his registrar job. Again we turn to CYC favorite Mike Rowe: “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.”

The wife left the Doc, doubtless looking for a man who could support himself instead of a quixotic dreamer. By this time they had 2 kids, and the Dr. started working at a factory. He got remarried, turned 45, bought a house (“a few minutes before the housing bubble burst in 2006”), suffered a bout of congestive heart failure, and the only thing that stops this part of the story from turning into a mid-period Bruce Springsteen song is that our hero now decided he’d like to give lawyering a try. Again, he’s 45. 48, actually, when he failed the bar exam for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

Not cognizant of the part of the Universe’s plan that states “Dirk Hughes, under no circumstances, should be practicing law”, he took the exam again. And failed again.

It’s only with hindsight that we know that he bought his house at the top of the market, but Dr. Dirk can’t help but turn that fact into melodrama. (“Our home dropped in value every second.”) So did almost everyone else’s, but there’s nothing like a little personal projecting to make societal problems seem as though they’re exclusively Dirk Hughes’s. But at least, at least, he was smart enough not to take on any other stupid expenses, right?

The parent loans I had taken out for my now college-aged children were coming due.

The child is the father of the man, or something. Not content with mortgaging his own future, and seeing how well that turned out, Dr. Dirk decided to burden his kids with the same handicap. It’s much like how alcoholics teach their kids to be alcoholics and abusers instruct their kids in the fine points of abuse (whether directly or indirectly.) Yeah, he’s a bad father on top of everything else.

He also confused “levy” with “levee”, but if the Huffington Post’s elite team of proofreaders doesn’t think homonym confusion is important, who are we to bring it up?

Also, Dr. Dirk lives 30 miles from work. ITT gave him a $150 gift card and he spent it on gas.
The strangest thing about his lament, other than a would-be novelist having so unsophisticated a command of English, is that he still doesn’t get it. By that, we’re not talking about his insistence that a college degree is economically critical. Lots of people can’t figure that one out. What we mean is that he should seriously be grateful that his law school aspirations never made it to the completed stage. Dr. Dirk later finds out that a friend is working as a bankruptcy lawyer for considerably less than Dr. Dirk’s registrar salary. Shouldn’t the takeaway from that be “Thank God I failed the bar exam repeatedly”? It isn’t, or if it is, we couldn’t find his articulation of it.

Dr. Dirk likes to talk about how hard he works, which is meaningless; millions of other people make similar boasts. But he offers no solutions to his predicament, no hope, and, even at 50 or so and with plenty of academic credentials, no evidence that he understands how the world works. Fortunately, we do, and in the unlikely event that he’s reading this we’re willing to help him out.


No one gives a damn about your effort. They want only results.

Your humble blogger’s last (and hopefully final) 9-to-5 gig was at an advertising agency. Such workplaces often pride themselves on their looseness (no dress code, wacky knickknacks adorning the hallways), and God knows we took advantage of the looseness. Need to meet with the client? Well, let’s do it on the client’s turf, not at our office. Maybe the client will spring for lunch. And if the meeting should take 2 hours, schedule it for 2 p.m. At that point, are you really going to come back to the office from the other side of town just to leave again? After a while we started getting cocksure and setting those meetings for even earlier in the afternoon (or later in the morning, as you do.)

All told, we probably spent 25 hours a week in the office. And were out of there at 5 p.m. every day, like it was a religious imperative. Meanwhile our contemporaries got there early, stayed late, came in on weekends, and bragged about it. But we got more work done than anyone in the department, typically completing thrice the assignments of an ordinary worker bee.

Not because of a heroic work ethic (see above.) Not necessarily because of personal efficiency. But rather, because we knew what to do, did it, and understood the unrepealability of Parkinson’s Law. The self-congratulatory cubicle soldiers screwed around all day, but they did their screwing around at the office and could be persuaded to look busy at the appropriate times. We were more interested in whittling the pile of assignments down as fast as possible (but not at the price of shoddiness, of course.)

Hardest worker in the office? Hell no. Worker who produced the most results? Yes, especially per unit of time spent.

The moral? How hard we worked was of no interest to anyone. Right now, you could grab a shovel and spend the next 8 hours digging holes. Then, spend the following 8 filling the holes back up. Do that 7 days a week and we guarantee your back will ache, your mind will atrophy, and you’ll be the hardest-working person on the block if not the county.

But if you’re expecting a reward for that, you’re even dumber than Dr. Dirk.

You didn’t do anything, or at least nothing that anyone wants and is willing to pay for. Effort for its own sake is a waste of time. And by that measure, Dr. Dirk’s life has been squandered.

At last count 378 fellow idiots had chimed in in the comments section, sympathizing with Dr. Dirk and laying blame on everyone from the Koch Brothers to the Walton clan of Walmart fame. We’re a little surprised that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld avoided the commenters’ wrath, but at least they reminded us why we don’t and never will run comments on this site.

The rules for building wealth are simple, unambiguous, and posted here almost every day. Buy assets. Sell liabilities. Look at each transaction from the other party’s perspective. Leave emotions out of it. Dr. Dirk sold assets, bought liabilities (God, did he ever), looked at transactions from his own perspective only, and continues to emote all over the place, everywhere. He deserves to be poor and struggling, especially because of his refusal to adapt to circumstances instead of fighting them. You want to be like him, or do you want success, independence and the capacity for affluence? The choice is easy, the work it takes to accomplish said choice not much harder.

Dr. Dirk’s story is part of a series on the Huffington Post about losers who failed and are blaming society rather than themselves. If we’re feeling inspired (don’t expect miracles, you already know we’re lazy) we’ll write about some more of them.

The CYC New Year’s Resolution Review

24 million more leap-kicks, and she'll be a hardbody in no time

24 million more leap-kicks, and she’ll be a hardbody in no time


We didn’t make any resolutions for January 1, 2013 (or any prior year), because new year’s resolutions are stupid. If you want to change/improve on/reverse something, why would you deliberately postpone doing so until an arbitrary date months down the road? What good would it do to hold off on implementing whatever behavior it is you want to adopt?

Aside: Thanks to all the fat tubs of goo who resolved to get in shape in 2014 by joining a gym. Today’s January 3, which means it’s another week or so before you “sprain an ankle” or “have a fibromyalgia flareup” and have to “take some time off” before “getting back into it.” It’s because of you that gym memberships for the rest of us are sold at a de facto 85% discount.

So, back to our non-existent resolutions and how we fared at accomplishing them.

Pay off $0 in credit card balances. 

Admittedly, this one was the easiest. Here’s the 3-part strategy we used to get our balances on every card from $0 all the way down to $0:

  1. Incur charges for everyday purchases, groceries, gas etc.
  2. Refrain from buying useless stuff, with or without the understanding that said purchase will reappear in statement form at the end of the month.
  3. Authorize AmEx to debit our bank account by the exact amount of the balance incurred each month, each month.

Wait, that’s all there is to it? Come on, there’s got to be more. Isn’t there a debt snowball strategy involved? Something about paying off the lowest balance first and then riding that intangible wave, which provides the impetus to pay off the next-highest balance, and so on, until 7 years later when we can finally begin attacking the $45,394.12 VISA balance that has since grown by a greater amount than the smaller balances we paid off in the interim?

No, that’s it. We wish there were more complexity to our method, because then we could come across as more ingenious than we are, but there isn’t any more to it. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Keep the student loan balance at 0, too.

We take it back: this one was even easier than the previous one. All we did was not incur any financing for further education. Again, there are no other steps involved.

Sure, you say, you folks are old enough that formal education is years behind you. Which is true. However, if we were of college age, we’d have run the numbers and concluded that taking out loans that we’d have no capacity to ever pay off given what useless field we planned to major in might not be the brightest way to start one’s adult relationship with money.

You know what’s odd? As far as we know, there are no blogs written by people who say “Damn, the money I spent learning how to become a diesel technician at UTI or a commercial driver at C.R. England was a total waste. I would have been better off paying twice as much to earn a humanities degree. Oh well, live and learn.”

Make money from something other than salary. 

Another win for us! After close to 500 posts, a lot of people still don’t seem to comprehend how this works, so let us spell it out for you again, as simply as possible. If this doesn’t work, we’ll incorporate puppet theater and line drawings instead and see if that leads to a breakthrough.

Reducing expenses and earning more is the easy part, or at least the easily understood part. Once you’ve done that, you’re left with a balance. So what do you do with the balance? Invest it, obviously. That being said, “invest” means more than “defer spending until you’re withered and gray.” The idea is to see returns while you’re still young enough to enjoy them. There are countless ways to do this. Yes, your company-matched 401(k) is a good start. But there’s so much more. As our fellow genius Paula Pant at Afford Anything points out, there are trillions of dollars and dollar equivalents on the planet, awaiting your claim. Buying a 2nd house and renting it out might not seem glamorous, but a) it’s a start and 2) how enchanting is your accounts payable/data entry job at the equipment rental shop, anyway?

So yeah, we did that. We also bought some undervalued stocks. Which brings us to our next resolution:

Don’t get caught up in the hype. 

Heck, this might have been the easiest one of all. We didn’t buy Facebook stock when it went on sale in 2012, and we didn’t buy Twitter stock when it went on sale 2 months ago. Was the latter a bad idea? Of course it was, the stock has risen 50% since its initial public offering. Did we have any reason to believe that that would happen? The company’s profit margins have been less than outstanding for the last couple of years. Does that justify a market capitalization that’s almost 60 times the size of shareholders’ equity? Not at all. To everyone riding the Twitter train right now, congratulations, you’re smarter than us. We’d bet that Twitter will sink below its IPO value before the year is up. That’s in bold so you can hold us to it.

On balance, not only was it a good year but the resolutions were easy to follow through on. Or would have been, had we chosen to come up with them a year ago. One more time: why isn’t everyone rich, or at least liquid and building? Must be because they haven’t read our book yet. Seven measly dollars.



Carnival of Wealth, Innumeracy Edition


Of course she's confused. She's studying trigonometry, HTML, physics, economics and currency exchange simultaneously. Well, that and she's female.

Of course she’s confused. She’s studying trigonometry, HTML, physics, economics and currency exchange simultaneously. Well, that and she’s female.


CYC Winter Headquarters is at a condo complex in the North Pacific. 13 buildings, 32 units in each. The complex is clean and well-maintained, but the buildings themselves are ancient. The condo board decided to float some bonds to pay for a multi-year renovation. Which is fine, except this was their excuse for wanting more money after the initial outlay:

we are uncovering some unpredictable issues that were only discovered as work progressed. Surprises include: far more spalling than anticipated that was fully observed after lanai tile was removed; far more concrete (in excess of a million cubic inches more than originally budgeted) needed to repair the extensive spalling;

Okay, those are legitimate issues, as were the electrical conduit replacement and the corroded railings. What bothers us is the pandering to the mathematically inept dues payers.

A million cubic inches of concrete! No wonder they need more money. That’s a lot of…cubic inches.

Why didn’t they say 21 cubic yards, i.e. small enough to easily fit in our second bathroom? Have we as a species gotten so flighty and ignorant of details that we see only the big number and ignore the tiny units? It’s like when our slow friends in the media tell us about a wildfire that’s burned 257,314 acres, instead of 402 square miles. How far is it from Jacksonville to Los Angeles? Why, 12,750,000 feet. Better start packing.

For God’s sake, use the appropriate units.

When I come back from a journey, I haven’t had a vacation; I need a vacation.
-Paul Theroux

The good news is that the lovely Pauline Paquin at Reach Financial Independence has decided to rejoin us in a carnival that’s been mired in mediocrity lately. The bad news is that between 2 blogs, a chicken farm, international travel, tutoring, fighting off Central American corruption and inspiring the rest of us, something had to give. Hopefully not for long. We could write at length about how Pauline’s life is an endless series of prudent decisions that affords her more freedom, enjoyment and opportunity than any debt blogger could dream of, but we do that every time she submits.

Fortunately we still have the somewhat less lovely Jason at Hull Financial Planning, whose genius is that he consistently shows us how the decision that makes reactionary sense isn’t necessarily the best one. For instance, why live in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (America’s 2nd-priciest city, after Rancho Santa Fe, California) when you can move 25 miles to downtown Detroit and pocket the difference?

Because if you’re sane, you’d be miserable, among other reasons. Jason wouldn’t want to live in Pauline’s conditions, away from many 1st-world conveniences – he says as much – but understands that for her, it’s paradise. Different strokes, indeed. Your humble blogger rented what was probably too fancy of an apartment during his senior year of college, throwing away money that could have been socked away, but the idea of taking on roommates or living anywhere but in the heart of the action sounded too depressing.

Does that mean you should ignore dollars and cents and do whatever you want? Of course not. We’re assuming that you’re not $200,000 in the hole. If you are, suck it up, put on some pajamas and move back in with your parents. No, you’ll still be pathetic, but at least you won’t be digging yourself a deeper hole.

Would someone please get Harry Campbell at Your PF Pro a bigger font for Christmas? This week’s 6-pt pica goodness is a detailed account of how he paid for a visit to Kauai solely by spending the past few months charging sufficient purchases to his credit card.

We’re right around the 500-word mark now, and remember when that used to mean that we were 8 or 9 awful posts deep at this point? An old-school resurgence led by luminaries such as Andrew at 101 Centavos means that we’re seeing a smaller and smaller ratio of bad posts every week. Who else opens his posts with a Robert Heinlein quote, and not even from something famous like Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land? Andrew looks at how much of certain developed nations’ gross domestic product goes toward health care expenses, and finds the United States lacking. Even when we disagree with Andrew, as we kind of do this week, his arguments still provoke plenty of thought.

This week’s submitters are turning out to be the 1927 Yankees of personal finance bloggers. Defending CYC Woman of the Year Paula Pant at Afford Anything returns, with an email concerning a 23-year old woman who mistakenly has an emergency fund, but who on the other hand is not only carrying zero student debt, but has found a fiancé willing to help her pay for a new car. (She must be really hot, or he must be really old. Maybe both.) Should the woman in question take out a car loan? More specifically, should she borrow money to pay for the car so her credit score will improve? Paula has the unambiguous answer. She’s right, the woman (and her fiancé) shouldn’t take out a loan for such an indirect reason, especially since there are better ways to improve one’s credit score. But we’d want to know what rate the loan was offered at before making such a recommendation. (Anything over .9% or so and we’d certainly agree with Paula.)

Kevin Mercadente at Critical Financial says you should get a 2nd job or start a business so you can afford to pay your health insurance premia as Obamacare continues to spread destruction across what was a hampered but still functionting health insurance landscape. Take on a 2nd job so you can pay for the health insurance policy the federal government forces you to buy. We’ve come a long, long way from “a chicken in every pot.”

When you’re PKamp3 at, you’ve earned the right to be lighthearted with every 50th post or so. This week, the 7 Best Finance-Related Songs. You know what makes PKamp3 brilliant? He made a pre-emptive self-deprecating joke about putting Pink Floyd’s “Money” on his list before anyone else had a chance to. However, we can point out that PKamp3 must have suffered a temporary brain cramp, as he confused the Aerosmith guitarist who plowed through bushels of cocaine in the ’70s with the Eagles guitarist who plowed through bushels of cocaine in the ’70s. And for one shining millisecond, we were smarter than PKamp3.

Joshua Rodriguez at CNA Finance explains what secured credit cards are. For those of you whose credit is so poor or nonexistent that you need to put money down to get access to more money, these handy little pieces of plastic will get you on the road to consumer debt in no time! (Most of you, that is. The few responsible ones among you will eventually figure it out, qualify for an unsecured credit card, and only then start taking on insurmountable debt.)

You have 8 days to complete every one of the 11 recommendations Justin at Root of Good lays out, by his recommended deadline. That’s 1.4 recommendations per day. Can you do it? Recommendation 1-3, 7, and 9-11 you should be able to do within the hour. 4-6 might take most of a day, and 8 might require a scalpel and some grain alcohol.

Mark Hanna at Debt, Dividends and Diversions examines the dividend champions – companies who have paid out an ever-increasing dividend (or at least a non-decreasing one) for several years. Includes tables and graphs to put a DQYDJ Excel maestro to shame.

Finally, Jon Haver at Pay My Student Loans opens with a sentence that looks like it was written by a college freshman who’s just started incurring overwhelming debt while still applying the prose techniques that earned her an A- in her high school senior English class:

Graduation day is arguably one of the best days in the entire college experience.

Because it means you’ll be “ready to pursue a career in (your) chosen field,” you see. Especially if your chosen field is selling dresses at TJ Maxx or coffee at Tully’s, which it probably wasn’t.

On balance, a solid carnival if we do say so ourselves. Read us on Investopedia, listen to us on the Stacking Benjamins podcast, and have yourself a delightful diminished work week.

[Late addition: Nick at Step Away From the Mall, who uses what is hopefully a semi-fictitious dialogue to illustrate the points that 1) big-ticket retailers will screw you if left to their own devices, and b) our initial assumption is accurate, and innumeracy is a more dangerous deficiency than illiteracy and anemia combined.]

[PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’re taking the rest of the week off to update the site. Oh, and it’s Christmas. We’ll be back Monday. Why does it take 7 days to update a site when it takes just 18 hours to reconfigure Coliseum from baseball to football or vice versa? Non-union labor, that’s why.]