Trent Hamm, Genius. Trent Hamm, Lunatic

Who's the most handsomest boy at the board game convention?

Who’s the most handsomest boy at the board game convention?


See? He’s not the only one who can change his mind by 180º in a single motion. And honestly, he is something of a genius in that someone this, what’s a good euphemism – single-minded can attract tens of thousands of devotees despite having only one personal finance tactic at his disposal (“spend less.”)

If you’re unfamiliar, Mr. Hamm is the “creative” force behind The Simple Dollar, an amateurishly written website in which he repeats himself 14 times weekly. He’s been a favorite of ours for a very long time. His advice is insipid, his syntax more stilted than Roy Maloy. From Mr. Hamm’s latest post, here’s an example of the excruciating detail he entices his readers with:

The first morning we were [at a relative’s house for Thanksgiving], I grabbed some clothes and headed for the bathroom to take a shower. Just like I do at home, I turned the hot water to full and turned on the cold water just a little bit, waited about fifteen seconds, and stepped in.

No mention on which body part he used to turn the water on with, whether he closed the shower curtain behind him, or if soap was involved, and if you think we’re being funny you haven’t seen the depraved depths of specificity to which he’ll go. The shower turned out to be too hot for his soft white underbelly, so…you won’t believe what he did to address the problem. Any guesses? Come on, you can do this.

I turned down the hot water and turned the cold water up quite a bit until I found a good balance

This is how you become a great blogger, kids. Write things your audience can identify with. Who among us hasn’t gotten in an unfamiliar shower and found it too hot? More importantly, who among us has found it noteworthy to mention such an occurrence?

Afterwards, I was talking to the person who was hosting us

Trent goes to disturbing lengths to camouflage the identities of the bit players in his inexorable stories. Earlier, he refers to this home as that of “some of our extended family members.” Because “my wife’s uncle” or whatever just conveys way too much information.

Anyhow, the person who was hosting the Hamm clan (or, if you prefer concision, the “host”)

told me that he, too, turns on a mix of hot and cold water for his shower, as does his wife.

This isn’t an atypical post for Trent Hamm. Every one of them is this dull, pointless, and dizzyingly simple in its progression. If you were visiting kin and discovered that they drank beer with breakfast, dried their clothes in the oven, or tossed their trash in the neighbor’s yard, that would be worth mentioning. But that they “tur[n] on a mix of hot and cold water for [their] shower[s]”? You know, like everyone else in the civilized world does? To you, our readers, this is as pleonastic as information gets. To us, it’s something to make fun of. But to Trent, it’s critical to the plot.

[Finding out that these people shower with a mix of hot and cold water] threw me for a loop.

I was…shocked.

We only wish that Trent’s shocked-by-the-shower story had involved someone throwing a toaster in standing water while Trent was scrubbing down his orcine body, but no such luck.

We’re not going to parse every line in Trent’s Typhoon Haiyan of a post, because if we did we’d be here for months. Fast-forwarding, the unidentified male family member explained that they keep their water heater temperature high to prevent disease.

Where do these people live, Calcutta?

The good part, at least for Trent, is that this conversation gave him another triviality to obsess over.

At about 50 degrees Celsius, which is what we keep our hot water heater set to, you have a drastically higher chance of Legionella living in your hot water tank. Instead, [The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases] recommends keeping it set at 60 degrees

God forbid he’d multiply the Celsius values by 1.8 and add 32 to accommodate his American audience, but Trent has a knack for paying attention to meaningless details only. Although he’d probably never given Legionella a 2nd thought in his life, he was now confronted with a whole new series of economic tradeoffs to calculate cost-benefit analyses for:

The problem with that temperature is that you run into some danger of scalding. The solution there is to have anti-scald devices at the faucets and showers

[…]I raised our own tank temperature up to about 140 F. We already had these anti-scald devices installed

So, does Trent’s post have a point? Of course not, this is Trent Hamm we’re talking about. By the way, the cheapest anti-scald device we could find sells for $42. Trent Hamm, who regularly tells his readers to save money by making their own toothpaste instead of dropping $1 for a tube of AquaFresh, and who literally counts the number of times he shakes salt or pepper onto his food, threw away $42 on an additional shower valve instead of just playing with the hot and cold faucets like a normal person would. The net result of Trent raising his water tank’s temperature to unfamiliar heights? Again, by now you should be able to guess this easily.

The water in the shower…does come out warmer than I like, meaning I mix in some cold water with my showers.

Every 12 hours, this psychopath manages to hunker down and squeeze out another post. Which sounds like it’d be hard to do, at least in terms of time expended, until you remember that he can burn multiple paragraphs on the subject of his preferred method for finding a comfortable temperature each time he steps into the shower (which, judging by his appearance on those YouTube videos, isn’t all that frequently.)

There is a plot twist. About once every couple of hundred posts, Trent goes iconoclast and stops praying at the altar of the great goddess Parsimonia (boldfacing his):

Frugality isn’t worth the risk of a significant increase in the likelihood of Legionnaire’s disease or other bacteria-borne illnesses in our home.

Again, what 3rd-world backwater is he living in? Last we checked, Huxley, Iowa was nowhere near the Gaza Strip. Granted, he lives with kids and kids are filthy, but so filthy that even 120º isn’t enough to stop the microorganisms from claiming another victim? The only people Legionnaire’s disease has killed in this country in the last 30 years all lived in nursing homes. Trent isn’t yet so immobile that he needs a health-care worker to wash him down with a rag on a stick, but you can’t be too careful.

This advice wouldn’t be so bad (though it’d still be plenty bad) if it weren’t coming from the same tool who bars the door against Legionella but goes out of his way to recommend other fun ways for incurring disease:

If your recipe says “Preheat the oven to 400º” and then later says “Bake for 30 minutes,” don’t preheat the oven at all. Instead, put your food in the oven, then set the temperature to 400º. Then, add about half of the preheat time to the cooking time. Why? When you open a preheated oven to put in your dish, it’s no different than opening the oven to check the food near the end of the cooking time. You lose that 2¢. (Ed. note: 2¢ being the amount Trent figured out that it costs to open your oven to check on food. That’s not a joke. Nor is it a joke that he apparently had no clue than turning on an oven light could have saved him 1.994¢ or so of those precious pennies.) 

Keep your shower’s hot water relatively cool to save money. No wait, raise its temperature so you don’t get an extremely rare disease. But it’s okay to risk a more common (if less fatal) disease if it means saving 2¢, or .05% of the price of an unnecessary anti-scald device.

Trent Hamm is an abomination. If you read him for anything other than the (admittedly small) amusement value, you’re throwing your life away. If you’re contemplating buying his book, please buy ours instead before killing yourself.

September’s Financial Retard of the Month


We’d like to take the credit for giving this photo the Roy Liechtenstein treatment, but that’s all Trent.


We try to mix it up, really we do. But sustained excellence is something to be cherished and noted, not downplayed. In 1997 the NBA named Karl Malone its most valuable player for no better reason than the voters were tired of giving the award to Michael Jordan. Malone’s Utah Jazz met and got eviscerated by Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the finals that year, and the following one, leaving one to wonder what might happen to that poor (literally and figuratively) chubby self-indulgent whore from So Over This were she to square off against Trent Hamm in this year’s Financial Retard Championship Series.

Yes, the sage behind The Simple Dollar is our honoree yet again. For those of you unfamiliar with Trent Hamm’s act, he’s a socially inept hypermiser who tells his mouth-breathing minions to save money by making their own toothpaste, not turning the oven light on, and swimming in their underwear. (That sentence sounds like a hyperbolic attempt at humor. We swear on our account balances that every word of it is literally true. And we’d link to the offending stories, but it’s easier for you to just go into the search box at the top right of this page and enter “Hamm”.)

Having conquered the realm of personal finance, Trent Hamm is now going to take on relationships. He and his lovely wife have figured out the way to eternal happiness, and in between the child-rearing and collecting of rocks by the roadside (another literal truth, search our archives), it involves some wildly unimaginative gestures:

One of the most effective ways to cement our relationship and keep it strong is something incredibly simple that costs almost nothing and is something people have been doing for hundreds of years.

I just write a little note for Sarah and stick it somewhere where she will find it later.

The more of Trent Hamm we read, the more we’re convinced that his father used to beat him with a giant wooden nickel. No one can hate/fear money that much without having a lasting reason. Don’t just send notes because it’s something couples do, do it because it’s cheap!

Later in the same post, just in case you missed the part about how cost-effective leaving notes can be:

 It takes a few minutes to do and it’s practically free.

So once you’ve written a note, you should gingerly place it atop the summit of K2 or inside Fort Knox, right? Or perhaps you should seal it inside a bottle, toss it into the ocean and hope for the best?

stick that note somewhere where your partner will discover it. Drop it in a purse. Tuck it in a wallet. Stick it in the console of their car.

You see, if you place the note per Trent’s directions, the object of your note will then find it. Finding the note is the key to having it read.

The above tip has nothing to do with personal finance, evidence that Trent might be slipping in his dotage. The old, hungry Trent would have given stationery prices and explained much you can save on ink if you don’t dot the i’s in said love notes.

It takes more than just a sappy and pointless observation to qualify someone for Financial Retard of the Month status, however. Earlier this week Trent went on a rant about “mindfulness”, in response to a “reader” (named Trent) who “wrote an email” (that is, thought to himself) about how to be frugal. Of course. Here’s Trent on mindfulness:

Let’s say I’m thirsty. We’re on a long road trip and I’m feeling a little drowsy, too. We stop for gas at a gas station, so I head inside looking for a beverage, since our cooler is empty.

If I’m not mindful, I’d just glance for the first high-energy drink, buy it regardless of the cost, and happily head out to the vehicle. It’s tasty, it’ll give me an energy boost, it’ll quench my thirst – why not?

There are a lot of factors involved, though. Is it healthy? Is the package just going to get tossed in a trash bin? What does it cost? Will I actually feel better after consuming it or just get jittery? Do I respect the company that makes the product? Am I setting a good parental example?

The superfluous words in his sloppy writing never get old. “We stop for gas at a gas station”, as opposed to stopping for gas at a hardware store.

You want to know how to be miserable, indecisive, morbidly obese and stuck in Iowa? Ask yourself half a dozen questions before doing something as routine as buying a drink while your Prius fuels up.

How does this nut make it through the day? What happens if he finds a drink that’s healthy, and that comes in an decomposable and/or edible package, and that’s inexpensive, and that will make him feel better after “consuming”* it, but that comes from a company he doesn’t respect, and that makes him set only an indifferent parental example? That’s 4 out of 6, right? A passing grade.

The only thing more depressing than our nation’s $16 trillion budget hole is that Trent Hamm has 92,675 readers (according to the latest Feedburner data.) If you’re one of them, and God help you if you are, get out now while you can. If spending 99¢ on a bottle of Aquafina requires that much conscious thought, think about what you’ll be getting into if you ever have to buy a house. As for how to buy a house, read Chapter VIII here. You’re welcome.

*He means “drinking”, for all you conversational English speakers out there. Trent is also the only person on Earth who routinely says “children” instead of “kids” and “automobile” instead of “car”.

In Case You Missed It


We couldn’t decide between 2 captions this week:
a) She never took a toothbrush on tour, and things worked out just fine.
b) Who says British women are unattractive?


An unscheduled feature in which we fill you in on what’s happening with other personal finance blogs. Because after all, Control Your Cash doesn’t have a monopoly on good advice:

Bible Money Matters

The author is going to a blog conference this week. Because he writes his blog for other bloggers, rather than a general audience, it’s filled with minutiae of interest only to that tiny little subgroup. Imagine how much more popular Bill Simmons would be if he wrote about paragraph spacing and interview techniques in every column. Guess we’ll never find out.

That’s actually not fair. And we strive to be fair. Bible Money Matters has handy tips for anyone traveling to any kind of conference. Or traveling, period. Or leaving the house:

Photo ID: Planning on getting drinks at the conference after party, or flying? You’ll need a photo ID of some sort.

Bet you thought tooth decay was an inevitable part of traveling, didn’t you? Well, it turns out that it isn’t:

Assorted toiletries: Don’t forget all your assorted toiletries from deodorant and shampoo, to a toothbrush and toothpaste.

When other bloggers are reminding you to remember your toothpaste and toothbrush, there’s not much we can add. “Wipe”, e.g.

The author also suggests that you take your phone, just in case you were dead set on leaving it at home. Like most people do when they travel.


The Simple Dollar

Well, here’s the opening sentence, formulated for the Alpha Centaurians whom the site’s author usually writes for. It’s a good refresher for any extraterrestrials, really, who aren’t familiar with human living customs:

In most American family homes, you’ll find one or two adults, sometimes paired with some number of children.

Some of these homes also feature pets, such as a dog or cat, or multiple dogs or cats, or a single dog and multiple cats, or a single cat and multiple dogs, but now we’re getting into advanced-level course work.

This post features the most toothless word in English, “consider”. As in, “consider quitting smoking to reduce your risk of lung cancer.” No, just freaking do it. Or don’t do it, whatever. But to tell people to “consider” doing something is the equivalent of telling them nothing at all.

To summarize, the Hamm-fisted (hey-oh!) author suggests that you “consider an alternative living situation” to save money on housing expenses. Whereas a normal person would say “find a roommate”, “consider an alternative living situation” adds that spunk of impenetrability.

But wait, he’s not done. The concluding tip in this post?

construct a second home on your land. 

Yes! A months-long full-time project that will require you to hire a contractor and laborers! Why doesn’t every person who’s short on funds try this? Heck, we should all be rich.

The point is that none of this garbage – pack a toothbrush, build a house on the house-sized lot that you already own but never thought about improving – is actionable, worthwhile, or anything other than a waste of both the author’s and the readers’ time.

Here’s some advice:

  • If you live in Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, or Oregon, buy your groceries at WinCo. Good God. Their prices make Walmart look like Whole Foods.
  • You have an emergency fund? What the hell for? Take that money and put it in a 401(k). Buy gold with it. Buy BHP Billiton stock with it (3½% dividend yield, trading at near a 52-week low, ridiculously profitable.) That emergency will never come. Then again, there’s every possibility that it’s happening right now and you’re too blindly optimistic to even notice.
  • Change your freaking oil. Buy a permanent air filter, too. You can install it in 30 seconds, without tools. A $7 AutoZone battery tester will help out too, unless you want to run the risk of your battery dying in traffic and you have your heart set on paying a premium to get it fixed then and there.
  • Buy a house. The big quinella of low interest rates and low home prices won’t last forever. It’s lasted for years, but we’ve reached the nadir. The housing market is having a sale. Everything must go. Make someone an offer. Unless you have a compelling professional reason for renting, stop giving 100% of your dwelling expenses to a big fat rich landlord. (Note: The CYC principals are neither big nor fat.)
  • Which brings up another point. The proverbial ounce of prevention is physical activity. You know how some old people can fill out a pair of shorts without completely nauseating everyone around them, while others have those thick purple ankles and feet that terminate in toenails you could use to harvest crops with? What do you think those folks were doing 40 years ago? The former were taking the stairs and lifting weights. The latter were watching All My Children with one hand in a bowl of dry Froot Loops. (Note: Example cited may or may not be drawn from author’s real family life.)
  • Spend an hour or two running the numbers before spending 4 years in college. Chances are, your university education will not pay off. For it to be a worthwhile investment, you need to major in something not meaningless. If the very idea of running said numbers intimidates you to the point where you don’t want to do it, that’s a pretty good indication that anything you’d feel comfortable majoring in is not going to be worth studying.

Personal finance is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. As a general rule, the more complex it is (and the more you rationalize), the worse off you’ll be.