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How I'm Rescuing the Economy

I'm putting together a stimulus package you won't believe. Gonna write some big checks. True, some of them will be to sent to non-profit institutions, such as a university, which doesn't seem quite the same as buying a Silverado, stimulation-wise. [Writing tip for you amateurs: adding a dangling adjectival modifricative with the suffix "wise" always tarts up a drab sentence.]

But there are other expenditures in my stimulus package. Will trade in -- upgrade -- the wheezy Honda at some point, and we're going to have work done on the kitchen and the legendary porch. Probably take a trip. All this is possible, in part, because we're refinancing the mortgage. Here's the secret reason that Obamabernanke is optimistic about the economy despite so many dismal statistics: He knows that yuppies love to refinance more than anything else in the world. They get cash out in the process. And after months of hunkering down, they feel the sudden urge to spend their brains out.

The rates are historically low, particularly if you are willing to pay a couple of "points," which is bankspeak for the ransom the bank demands in exchange for a lower rate. The gap in the rate between zero, one and two points is unusually big right now, I'm told; my guess is that the banks need cash and are making the two-pointer more attractive.

I'm a big believer in the 30-year fixed, though that technically means I will still be writing checks when I'm SEVENTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD. Why would the bank even contemplate a 30-year mortgage for an old coot like me? Obvious answer: The bank knows that I'm going to be busting deadline with an editor yammering at me to my very last day on Earth, and that, on my deathbed, the last words I'll hear will be someone saying, "How soon can you show us a top?"

We're the generation that will never be able to retire -- for both economic and cultural reasons. It'll be neither fashionable nor feasible. And we'll be servicing debt to our last breath. It's not quite as dark a vision as Orwell's -- a boot in the face, forever -- but it might not be pretty.

Oh, the price we pay for the good things in life.

[Warning: Writer is known to be a sucker when it comes to money. Your results may vary.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 15, 2009; 8:12 AM ET
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Love this kit Joel! And not just because the phrase "dangling adjectival modifricative" is clearly one for the ages.

I remember the day a few years ago when my wife told me that she had made $50K that morning.

Imagine the thoughts that went through my mind, including the various escape plans for when the authorities converged on my home.

Of course, she had refinanced said home.

She keeps a close eye on that money stuff so I don't have to worry my pretty little head about it. Along with, you know, insurance and all those other pesky things grownups usually fret about.

When it comes to fiduciary matters I have a mindset that is technically known as "Weingartian."

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Modafricative? Very peppy word.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 15, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm in the same boat on all of those fronts, JA.

And I'm seriously considering putting all of it (except the mortgage) on my credit cards, and paying it all off with the proceeds from my 401K.

Then, at some point, I keel over and it's all moot. I think.


Posted by: -bc- | April 15, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I'm assuming that "show us a top" is one of those fancy esoteric journalistic terms like "lede" and "inverted pyramid" and "noun."

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Video aired this morning on the Today Show about how bailed-out banks are boosting credit card rates.

It happened to us, but I didn't know how ubiquitous the practice seems to be, as evidenced in the video. We pay on time, we recently paid a good sum toward the balance; in short, we're good customers, yet we received a notice from Bank of America several weeks ago that our interest rate has spiked.

We are livid! This is unfair, and Congress ought to do something about it.

Interesting too, that Wells Reported a profit, yet the only peple in my husband's work group to get a raise this year were the women, not the men. We figure the men are in the higher earnings bracket or percentile, while the women were not--or favoritism, since my husband's boss is a woman.

A woman unaware of the layout of San Antonio. She heard that the Tax Day Tea Party at the Alamo could foment unrest and be disruptive--to be broadcast by Glenn Beck of FOX News, as I've mentioned, so my husband was given permission to work from home today. Is she aware that the data center is about 20 miles from downtown and the Alamo? Will the foment and unrest cover such a wide swath of the city? *l*

I've something far more British planned for the day--not involving tea bags, at least I don't think so at this point in time.

Posted by: laloomis | April 15, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Off-kit, but an astonishing affirmation of the adage that you must never judge a book by its cover:

Turn your speakers up on high.

If your eyes don't moisten up, they be sumpin' wrong witchu.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | April 15, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Well, not exactly the same boat, as I don't currently own a home to refi.

But I don't have any debt whatsoever, either.

This will change significantly soon, I fear.


Posted by: -bc- | April 15, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I will be cautiously optimistic about this excellent bee news.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 15, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

We keep telling ourselves that one way or another we will be paying a 'rental fee' our enitre lives. If isn't a mortgage, it will be fees to live in a level 4 care facility.

Posted by: --dr-- | April 15, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I've been married to a (crackerjack) real estate agent for more than 26 years. I have asked her to explain "points" to me half a dozen times. She has tried her best, she really has. I still have no idea. They seem to come from somewhere, somebody decides how many they are, and buyer and seller can kick them around and decide who pays them, and how many to pay.

I have no idea why. Or how. Or who makes these non-rules. It's like that line from "Shakespeare in Love": "It's a mystery."

However, for a number of years, I have secretly harbored the idea that I have stumbled upon a new kind of learning disability, which is the inability to learn exactly what "points " are. It's a kind of financial dyslexia, I think. And I have a really bad case of it.

I think we have re-financed our house once or maybe twice, I'm not sure. My wife told me to show up at some title company's office at such-and-such a time, and sign some papers, and I have dutifully done that. I was in and out in 15 minutes, and it was painless. I assume if anything bad was involved, something would have happened by now, or I'd have at least picked up a rumor or something. So I guess it all went OK.

Also, I have deduced that my wife wouldn't be spending so much time getting me to fix this, or paint that, or remodel something, or repair the whatsis if we didn't, like, actually own it. But this is pure speculation on my part.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I do wonder if retirement as we know it is on its way out. At least for white-collar jobs.

And this isn't necessarily bad. The notion that at a certain age you are supposed to quietly retreat from the world and become a charming old coot who putters around the yard has never really appealed to me.

Which isn't to say I want to expire at my desk. But I can see gradually reducing my hours as I get older until I only come in one day a week.

When younger workers will gather at my feet, burn incense, and listen to my words of wisdom.

Well. Maybe not.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

I got wise advice once to never take marital advice from divorced people or financial advice from broke people. While there are lots of exceptions, this seems like a good idea. I am the counter-example. Please don't treat me like Hax despite nearly three decades of bliss but despite my rather red-ink stained net worth I consider myself financially savvy, at least in theory only.

Right now the APR on my variable HELOC is so low as to make rolling it into my triple-refinanced first mortgage as a re-re-re-re-finance a money loser. That is if I could even find a lender that thinks my house is worth what it was twenty-four months ago.

As for debt, I am finding new and creative ways to meet those pesky tuition bills. I wonder if Sallie Mae will start taking plasma as collateral. I remember from my freshman year that that was a good way to finance a drinking night. It put some cash in your pocket and once you were a quart low, you didn't need to buy quite as many pitchers to get the same effect. It's a twofer.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I've got "old coot" down pat, Padouk, but I've got a lot of work to do on "charming."

The only thing I can get to gather at my feet are my socks.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

My house is on its third mortgage since 2000. The latest is at 4.5%, so I don't foresee any more refinancings.

My own economic stimulus program is nearly completed. New roof, upgraded hurricane shutters (including several new windows), new kitchen. Enough granite was left over from the kitchen to make new countertops for the bathrooms, one of which is getting a new cabinet. It seems that one thing leads to another.

Of course I'm now thoroughly broke. No new car in sight.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | April 15, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

My wife informed me that our insurance company/auto note holder just sent her another 'no application necessary' new car voucher for $50k. They do this to her on a semi-annual basis. When we bought the used Camry six years back we had to call them to authorize the purchase price because it was so low. They seem to have much more faith in our ability to repay another car loan than I have.

As for credit cards, I was reading on Consumerist that Suze WhateverSheIs is telling people to build their emergency cash stash NOW whether they still have consumer debt or not. That defies the hitherto conventional wisdom that you should pay everything off as quickly as possible. I sense a paradigm shift.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Paying stuff off works if you have a job. If you're about to be laid off, you may well need the emergency cash for credit and living expenses.

I've always believed in emergency cash, but it always runs out too quickly if no money is coming in.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

We have just dived back into the refi world. 4.35% with 1.5 points for both houses. The good news is that we get to fold in the credit union equity loan (at 7.25%) into the new mortgage, which has the effect of reducing our monthly payments by about $600. Stimulus, here we come! ;-)

Posted by: ebtnut | April 15, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

returned from a frenetic bout of kitchen cleaning ... should have been working on work... but read your 9:46, mudge, and enjoyed!

Posted by: russianthistle | April 15, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Wife retired at 50 and I retired at 51. It's not that difficult.

Posted by: miesen | April 15, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Wow, miesen, good for you. But there must have been at least a lucky break or two to accomplish that. In 30 years you were able to make enough to last 60+ years? I have to what cost were you able to swing that?

Posted by: LostInThought | April 15, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that retiring young is easy.

You just have to become fabulously rich. Or have no dependents. Or live in a cave. Or plan on an early death.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

This refinancing stuff makes my head spin. I'm sure we paid too much interest but settling it for 5 years at a time gives me peace of mind. As someone who paid over 13% interest when we bought our first house I'm happy to pay 6%.

My current stimulus (garage door, garage roof, backyard side door and window) was pay as you go but the next phase may not. The septic tank and field are 10 years older than their design life. The septic field is getting very lumpy. So we may have to fork over large sums of money to get a new plastic tank destined to receive sh1t, to have our flower beds and fence destroyed and our backyard dug-up and carted away. To be replaced by a lovely tumulus dedicated to the gods of sanitation.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 15, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

How can any of this be true, Joel? First, it's easy to say you're an old coot when you're not (48 ain't even middle-aged anymore). Second, I thought we were not supposed to be diving into the toxic debt pool so quickly? Third, A trip? What's that? Fourth, Hondas are meant to be driven until 200K miles. Fifth, there should be a moral law against redoing your house just when your kids are leaving for college. And finally, I thought the journalism business was cratering?

Posted by: chrismadison1 | April 15, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

My original plan to retire early was to be born to rich parents in poor health, but that didn't work out too well. Right now I'm on the Modified Travis McGee Retirement Plan: Take as many vacations as possible as frequently as possible and get killed by a sociopath whose ill-gotten gains I am trying to recover for a very attractive and suitably grateful widower.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Come to think of it, I never quite figured out how Trav's health coverage worked. He spent an awfully lot of time in the emergency room. The freelance salvage consultant business seems to have some disadvantages.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Hi-five to some anonymous WaPo techie for a long overdue fix - the Latest Posts window on the homepage is no longer obscured by the diversions line! Finally, I don't have to wonder if there's a new kit lurking behind the Sudoku link...

Posted by: tomsing | April 15, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Psst Joel-- a more uplifting kit possible today?

Taxes ain't my worry. I made the mistake of opening my IRA statement...

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, don't forget to remind Wilbrodog to file his 1040RUFF by midnight tonight. If he hurries, he can take his stuff to H & R Bark to get it done for him (for a fee). He should probably be getting a pretty sizable refund back due to the special Putting-Up-With-a-Gnome deduction (Form 7824GN sub. a para. 3196571 of the Federal Code, as amended). There may also be deductions under the Lend-leash Act.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse you and your wife have kids? Did you both work for the same org your whole careers? I bet no and yes but could be wrong. I would go nuts if I didn't have an interesting job...and I will again soon, I'm sure. My dad worked (cause he wanted to) until he was 84.

Hey, it's a nice day here despite the tax bill and no job. And watching Susan Boyle a few times can give anyone hope! We will endeavor to persevere.

Posted by: Windy3 | April 15, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

The old rule of thumb regarding refinancing was that you needed to shave off about 2 percentage points on the loan interest rate to make it worthwile overall (accounting for closing costs, fees, etc.). It also depends on how long you plan to stay in the house after the refi. Three or more years is about right. In the recent past, some of these "rules" could be ignored due to the rocketing home values. Today, they make a lot more sense.

Posted by: ebtnut | April 15, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

That made me laugh, Mudge. Thanks.

BTW, a couple friends just lost their dogs last week. Any suggestions for moral support?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I didn't know you were Irish Wilbrod.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 15, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Let's just say half of my assets have been taken out in the last 2 years, Shrieking, and I consider that an act of financial terrorism, Irish republican army or not.

(IRA= Individual Retirement Account for non-yanks)

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Whenever I have to bury a dog, the only thing that cheers me up is a puppy. Never to replace, of course, but the void is unbearable.

Posted by: Gomer144 | April 15, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I thought gwe's photo idea for his pet owner friend was a good one.

I note in passing that a widower is the male surviving spouse, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by: engelmann | April 15, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree. In the meanwhile, would fur therapy visits from Wilbrodog help?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

SoC, I agree, but I actually don't have any pictures etc. of the dogs, as I never met them, just the owners.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. I retired at 53 and three-quarters, because I worked for the same employer my whole career, paid into a defined-benefit pension system, and my employer allows retirees to keep their medical insurance (although my premium is a bit larger than an employee's).

Otherwise I could never have done it. I needed 30 years of credit in the system to retire without penalty, and I had 30.085. So I basically got out the very first day I possibly could. And I Do Not Regret It At All.

So far I've not had to dip into my IRA or 457 accounts. I've always been fiscally conservative and still am. But I do realize how fortunate I am.

Posted by: slyness | April 15, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

This Kit really resonates with me. First, assuming I rejoice in continued employment, I expect to work until I die. No retirement for me. I might get bored, and I'd certainly get hungry. Also sick. I just don't see any financial way that retirement is feasible. My fallback plan: the Boy will become fabulously wealthy and take care of my in my dotage. To hear him talk, I'm already well into old age, so he'd better hurry.

Also, I have no idea what points are. Never have clearly understood the concept. Now, I know that you have to fix points on old brickwork after a certain time, or else the whole wall falls apart. Or so I'm told. I'm not real clear on that either, but I suspect it doesn't have anything to do with real estate points. I feel I will never be able to buy a house because the points will get me, somehow. Maybe Ivansdad will understand them for me, should we need to leave the IvanAbode.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 15, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Wibrod, I would say for them to get new dogs but in my case I am dogged-out. When my dearly beloved daschund finally does go -- she is 15.5 (the world record is 21 years and counting!!!) that will be it. I'm tired of the shedding and messes and dog-sitting needs. But I love her and she has been a great entertaining companion and cuddler and grew up with my boys. This despite the fact she mentally remains a 2-year old. Woof.

Posted by: Windy3 | April 15, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Also, I'd just like to mention that those crazy ***!*! tea-party idiots descended on my workplace this morning. Really screwed up the parking. The irony is, we're one of the poorest states in the nation. Pretty much every citizen here benefits from the stimulus plan and gummint spending, and most do so directly. Chances are excellent that those people were clamoring to cut off their noses to spite their face.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 15, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Reliance on an offspring is certainly part of my financial plan. This is why I keep encouraging my son to major in Fabulously Wealthy with a minor in Stinkin' Rich.

Alas, he wants to go into chemistry. Evidently, so he can blow stuff up.

I grieve for the future.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm relying on offspring for my retirement, too.

I've picked one of Donald Trump's kids, but I'm not sure he/she will have me.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Some years ago, in a fit of worry over the purchase of our first house, I wrote some software to compare amortization schemes. It's still on the computer here somewhere, not that I remember how to run it, what the filename is, or what is the mathematical technique it embodies. Anyway, the practical upshot is that I compared total money paid out at the time -- 30-year fixed with different points up-front, 8-9-10% (or was it 9-10-11%?), balloons, and ARM (what used to be called a balloon is now an ARM; what used to be an ARM no longer seems to exist, a variable rate indexed to the Fed rate, able to go either up or down). When you plot out the total money you've paid out as a function of time, the purpose of points and how they are set becomes fairly clear: the purpose of points is to make sure that the bank gets paid.

There is a cross-over point between 2 and 4 years into the life of the loan (I forget exactly when). I suspect that the points and the interest rate are chosen so that the cross-over point coincides with the median time that a new home-buyer holds onto the home, so that the bank makes the same profit no matter what. If you hold a house only up to the cross-over point, it makes sense to pay few points and take a high interest rate. However, if you are in the house for the long haul, it makes sense to pay the up-front points and get the lower interest rate. After the cross-over point, the total money spent by the low-points people continues climbing much more rapidly than the total paid by the high-points people who took a low interest rate. If you fully expect to hold onto a house for 4 years or more, it pretty much always makes sense to take a fixed-rate mortgage.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 15, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

In our own case, we bet against the bank, and we won -- more accurately, we lost less than the usual amount. The bank always wins, so long as you continue to make payments. We took the ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage, for those who don't know). In those days, an ARM was indexed to the prime lending rate and could go either up or down. My calculations showed that if the ARM went up by the contractual maximum change permitted (1% rate per year maximum), cross-over would be reached by about 4 years, after which it would have been better if we had taken the fixed-rate. We expected not to be in the house that long, and we had reason to believe that our income would improve dramatically once I finished graduate school (it did), making it easier to pay the loan, in any case.

We owned that house for 7 years, as it happened, and sold it at a small loss. BUT: interest rates declined pretty much every year that we owned it, so our interest rate kept falling and the crossover point kept moving to a more and more remote date. Ultimately, we made the best possible deal. I suspect that this is why this kind of ARM no longer is available -- it's too favorable to the customer.

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 15, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Sorta on Kit - I'm hitting the road momentarily to take the eldest for a College Road Trip, way up I 95. Six schools, if we're lucky.

*This* should be interesting, anyway.

My Boodling will be even more sproradic than usual for the next few days.

Ciao for now.


Posted by: -bc- | April 15, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Ohmygosh, today is the 144th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. I'm sure Mudge remembers it like it was yesterday! Tell us about it, Mudge!

Posted by: slyness | April 15, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The pirates have no "collegues" but "friends".

“The aim of this attack was totally different. We were not after a ransom. We also assigned a team with special equipment to chase and destroy any ship flying the American flag in retaliation for the brutal killing of our friends."

My pension plan is an act of Parliament, the Public Service Superannuation Act. So I know what I would get if I retire now but our Benevolent Dictators might decide to change it before I could retire without penalty in late 2020.
Like when they changed it in 2000 to increase our contributions, seize the surplusses and integrate the benefits with the Canada Pension Plan (a.k.a. old age pension). Integration means that the pension contribution are reduced by the amount of the CPP when we get to draw it at age 65. So I view my CPP contribution as some kind of special tax applicable to public servants since we will not see any of its benefits.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 15, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Chris Madison writes:

"How can any of this be true, Joel? First, it's easy to say you're an old coot when you're not (48 ain't even middle-aged anymore). Second, I thought we were not supposed to be diving into the toxic debt pool so quickly? Third, A trip? What's that? Fourth, Hondas are meant to be driven until 200K miles. Fifth, there should be a moral law against redoing your house just when your kids are leaving for college. And finally, I thought the journalism business was cratering?"

My Honda has more than 100K miles on it and could easily go another 100K if I put a bunch of work into it. So the question is, do I trade it in now for a new model -- while it still has trade-in value and before I've done the expensive long-term maintenance (whenever I go to the dealership they basically want me to replace the entire engine), or just keep driving it until it expires?

The trip: Up in the air. For money reasons.

Redoing the house: Very modest work. We're not blowing out the back or anything. Some of it is really in the category of maintenance. But, yeah, the timing isn't great.

The cratering journalism business: My plan, as I've said many times, is to be the last man standing. Will turn phrase for food.

Posted by: joelache | April 15, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Ha! Joel, I traded in my old VW Passat at about 110,000 miles. Every six weeks or so something would go wrong with it. Every time I took it in the mechanics would rave about what a good solid car this was and how it should last me a long time. Yes, while I put their kids through college. I'm already doing that for my plumber. I finally traded it in while I could get something out of it (at least, according to the mechanics).

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 15, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The ScienceGrandpa has just bought the new 4-passenger Honda Insight. Or, you could hold out until 2011 and get that Tesla sedan. 300 mile range, very swoopy looking. We wants it, we wants it, we do... Precioussssss...

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 15, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Joel, if you ever do want anything blown out the back of your house, well, I know some guys.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | April 15, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that was like a Kit in the Boodle.

It is rather horrifying to think of a bunch of 85-year-olds tottering into the office every day, but at least we'll be surrounded by our peers.

Posted by: Yoki | April 15, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Consumer Reports shows a gigantic difference between repair rates for VW's and repair rates for Hondas. My historical experience with Hondas is not far from Joel's -- they run innocuously and without fail until around 100K-120K, then lots of things fail all at once. Get it fixed, and it resumes faultless operation.

Or, y'know, wait for the availability of that battery-powered rocket from Tesla.

Going through my taxes last night, I came across the part where you can get a substantial deduction if you bought a hybrid or other alternative-fuel vehicle -- but not for an electric car. Perhaps one could buy an electric car, bolt a generator onto the rear deck, and call it an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (like the Chevy Volt).

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 15, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I know Yoki, it will be like the Senate in every office. *shudder*

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 15, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

But the Canadian Senate retires its 75 year olds so the Senate will look like a working place full of hip youngsters in the future.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | April 15, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Yoki | April 15, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of what people are grappling with is the threshold between "needs" and "wants" -- I suspect the "want" category is much, much larger than the "need" category. This is clouding a lot of people's thought processes and is contributing, I suspect, to a lot of extraneous anxiety which sort of feeds on itself.

It is so important to be able to survive in stages. The basic stage is food and shelter and enough clothing to brave whatever the elements are at the moment. Clothing does not mean designer duds. Food does not mean Kobe beef or caviar. Shelter does not mean a McMansion or a chalet in the Swiss Alps.

Transportation used to mean horse and/or buggy, or, simply walking (intended for those with functional knees). Public transportation (buses, subways) is the next step up from walking. Transportation does not mean a Rolls Royce or any of its cousins.

My grandfather was a junk dealer. He recycled long before it was fashionable. Ya pick it up off the street and ya sell it -- it's gotta be useful to somebody. And it was a reasonably respectable job. He wasn't a brain surgeon. If everybody were a brain surgeon, who would pick up the junk and sell it?

Food? Grow your own. Can't grow meat? Don't eat meat. Like meat but can't afford it? Make a choice. What can you afford and what can you afford to live without? For how long?

Be creative. Not everyone can afford a Wii or an X-Box. Or even a computer. Go to a library (if there are any still open in your neighborhood) -- read some books, even if you just sit in a chair in the library and read it there. Get some ideas to improve your life, and while you're at it, you might be able to get some ideas to improve the lives of others.

Times like this is when the rubber meets the road of creativity and entrepreneurship. This is when you make two lists: Column A is "WANTS" and Column B is "What do you need to get what you want?". How much will it cost? How much do you have? How much more do you need? How long will it take? How often will you revisit this analysis? Are there organizations which can help you? Do you know who to ask? Do you know *how* to ask?

As I've posted before, I know very well how to live on financial fumes. It's not particularly fun at times, but it has forced me to consider all of the above, and to learn to make the choices which work, and avoid the ones which don't.

Gonna go listen to that YouTube site again.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | April 15, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Old coots who don't retire. I respect more and more institutional memory. The old coot in the far office, who emerges once or twice a year and says, "Eh? We tried that in '85, and it didn't work; here's why." And happens to be right. He saves the red-faced young Turk a career and the company a million or two. The old coot has just earned his salary for the year, and more. He goes back into his office and is not heard of again for a long time. The young Turks don't even realize what has happened, and mutter.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 15, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, we may be all 85 and still slogging to work (or telecommunting or beaming up somewhere) but we'll look gooooood. :-)

Hey even my dad still looked good (on the outside...on the inside, he checked out about age 88).

Posted by: Windy3 | April 15, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Agree, Jumper1 We just all need to keep telling ourselves that: "There's no place like work, there's no place like work..."

Posted by: Windy3 | April 15, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

We will look fabulous, Windy!

Posted by: Yoki | April 15, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I had nothing to do with it, slyness, honest! I was in Philadelphia and possibly inebriated, being too busy celebrating Leonardo DaVinci's birthday (my old mentor and boss). (He'd have been 413 that year.)

I read about it in the papers a day or two later.

(True story: I live about three miles from Dr. Mudd's house, which is a famous local landmark down my way. My favorite crabhouse is on the Potomac River at Pope's Creek [TBG knows the place] where Booth crossed the river into Virginia. There are still Mudds *all* over Southern Maryland. My son's lawyer is one of them. [Good lawyer, too.])

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Excellent advice, firsttimeblogger--exactly what we all need to follow--sending it to my boys.

Posted by: Windy3 | April 15, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Oh, okay, Mudge. I thought you might have been in on the perp chase, but if you were in Philly, I guess not.

Posted by: slyness | April 15, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Frugality does pay off. My parents WHO are in their late 60s and have been retired for nearly a decade just returned from a seven week cruise around South America. Next month they are off to the Galapagos to have sea turtle omlettes. I don't mind them spending my inheritance as long as they keep that 1992 Miata in working shape.

I like to feign a deprived childhood mostly over my dad's refusal to buy name brand food (e.g. ketchup that doesn't begin with an 'H'). A life of thrift now means that he can travel when and where he wants at the drop of a hat. My dad complains that with all the things he now does, he has no idea when he had time to actually work.

While I'm resigned to the work-til-I'm-dead paradigm, there is something to be said for two fixed benefit pensions, a maxed-out 401(k) and a Social Security fund that won't be bankrupt until well after they stop drawing from it.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Yello--there exists a brand of ketchup whose name doesn't start with a H?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

yello, if it began with an H it would be "hetchup," now wouldn't it?

I have to think of everything around here.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

yello, I just know they're planning on moving in with you next year. Lose the kid, gain the 'rents.

Posted by: -dbG- | April 15, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Booth trivia: John Wilkes Booth's brother Edwin had a park named after him in NYC.

Posted by: engelmann | April 15, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Yay Yello! I caught that grammatically correct usage!

Posted by: slyness | April 15, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

slyness, I think he was just toying with us.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 15, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Not to be missed in Southern Prince George's County is the Surratt House, where Mary Surratt kept a room and board tavern. She was hung with Mudd and the others. Mudd was pardoned officially a few years ago. Mary was not, IRRC.

However, at the time of the assignation, Mary was living in DC, renting the upper two rooms to people in town on government business (at 604 H Street, NW (then 541), in the District of Columbia). Mary, then a widow, lived most of her life like many farmers: land rich and cash poor. Husband John Surratt drank and was said to be loose with pocket change.

Surratt House (closer to Mudge's Mudd neck of the woods), then called the Surrattsville Tavern, was leased to barkeep John Lloyd. Lloyd was hanged as an active conspirator. The military tribunal recommended that Mary be imprisoned for life. Andrew Johnson, however, signed her death warrant saying: she "kept the nest that hatched the egg."

Mary Surratt -- and John Lloyd -- are interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetary in DC,. near the Arboretum.

The standards of evidence were likely overwhelmed by the sentiment of the day; that and a dash of anti Catholic feeling prevalent at the time, even in "Catholic" Maryland.

Mudge -- am liking the history moments!

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | April 15, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

The brand of ketchup in question was called Queen Anne's. It was available for purchase at the MacDill commissary and qualified as either very runny catsup of fairly thick tomato juice. Sometimes I think it's just a fevered suppressed memory but my wife can confirm the details.

We also used to stockpile whole chicken fryers in the freezer whenever the local chicken plant outlet store had them down to 39 cents a pound. I learned ways to avoid being home on baked chicken nights which were Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternate Saturdays. This involved either exploiting the employee discount at Wendy's or learning never to ask my future mother-in-law what was in what they were having for dinner.

Someday I need write an Angela's Ashes style memoir (with about 10% Great Santini thrown in) about how miserable it was growing up in the suburbs with an excessively thrifty Air Force pilot as a father.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse


I have forbidden my wife from ever allowing her in-laws to move in with us. I just do not get along with them. She has made me vow the same thing about my mother-in-law.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Mt. Olivet, is our version of a charmingly decayed graveyard: Angel monuments, little house-crypts, a plethora of names in MD history, later Italian names and a smattering of Bohunk names....and the vast majority are the great unwashed Irish of 1850 through say 1940 or so.

I would like to be buried there.

Other factoid: Mary Elizabeth Jenkins Surratt was a second cousin of F.S. not sure if she was connected to F.S. Key. But, FSF was.

Her grave reads "Mrs. Surratt"

John Surratt her son, escaped to Europe and Canada. Eventually he was tried but the civilian jury hung on his conviction. He lived out his life, mostly near Baltimore, with his wife and his sister's family. Some of the Surratts changed their name to Sarratt. Descendants still live near Baltimore.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | April 15, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Chicken even 3 times a week isn't bad. Chicken the same way 3 times a week IS. I don't know if you can pin that one on your dad, though, Yello.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: yellojkt | April 15, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, even though yello is much much younger than my ancient self, we are enough of an age to remember when North American style cooking was *all* the same way. You roasted a bit of animal flesh, boiled some potatoes, and boiled some veg (two, in my family) and that was supper (or, in some families, dinner). You had either a hot breakfast based on eggs, a sandwich in your packed school lunch, and meat-and-two-veg for supper.

Nothing about yello's story surprises me. It is hard to remember that it is really only in the last 30 years or so that all these delightful ethnic flavours entered home kitchens, though they'd been around in restaurants (in big cities) for a long time before that.

Posted by: Yoki | April 15, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, I adore how young you think I am. My parents are the same age as Yello's parents, more or less, from what he says.

But yes, my mom's cooking evolved; we used to have home-fried donuts, hush puppies, etc. until my mom went on a diet and learned how to cook healthier, and that meant more variety.

Even without ethnic cooking, there's BBQ chicken, fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken noodle soup, chicken stew. Baked chicken 3 times a week is masochism.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 15, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

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