Archives for May 2013

The Happiness Poem

If a happiness poem could bring forth a smile, Then my face would always dress in style.

Everybody loves happiness.  And everybody loves poems.  OK, but some people love poems.  Today, we combine the two in a short happiness poem to help inspire those readers who do love poems.

happiness poemThe Happiness Poem

If a happiness poem could bring forth a smile,
Then my face would always dress in style.

If my ears could hear my computer screen,
From one to another, they, too, would grin.

My keyboard types for my eyes not my tongue
This happiness poem will never be sung.

But what of my eyes?  Don’t they shine?
Yes, but not from this poem of mine.

The pen is mightier than the sword,
But a pen can write only words.

The feelings I sense and the senses I feel
For keyboard and screen remain far too real.

My ears and my nose remain at rest.
My cheeks and hairline are doing their best.

But if this happiness poem could make my mouth smile,
My face would forever dress up in style.

Your face can dress up in style, too.  All it needs is a smile.  Put away the blush and the lipstick and the mascara and the liner.  The only makeup that will dress your face in style is a smile.  For without a smile, all the other forms of makeup are just…paint.

Here is another happiness poem of sorts.



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Does good debt exist?

A frugal person tries to define good debt and bad debt. When does it make sense to get a personal loan?

You know me; I’m a frugal person and I hate debt of all kinds. I hate it even more now that I have too much of it, than I used to hate it when I avoided it like the plague.

But some debt does make sense, so sometimes a loan makes sense. Here are a few times that even I don’t mind going into debt…

Buy a home. Let’s face it, if you wait until you can pay for your house outright, you will never own a home. You will always rent from someone else and pay down someone else’s mortgage. There are very few frugal purists who will argue against this point. And since house prices historically climb at a somewhat predictable , if uneven rate, a mortgage is generally a good investment. Sometimes it’s an incredibly good investment.

But even on mortgages, look what Big Cajun Man says

“Yup, you might have to get a Mortgage, but don’t get comfortable with it, treat it like you would a Cockroach or an Uninvited Guest (fill in your most unfavorite person here), want to get rid of it, as soon as possible.”

Buy a car. Cars are pretty expensive, so it is hard to save up enough to buy a car outright. But unlike a house, it is possible for many people. And unlike a house, a car depreciates in value.

I actually bought my first car outright. I simply waited until I had saved up for the vehicle, based on a simple premise: spend only what you have earned.

Nevertheless, most people will need to spread a car purchase out over several years, so unless you are very patient, you will want to finance the purchase. Which is what I have done with all further car purchases. But, I have bought used cars each time, rather than incurring debt at top dollar for a depreciating asset.

Watch this video on why you should not borrow to buy a new vehicle:

Pay for education. Taking out a loan to pay for college or university is generally considered to be worthwhile, for two reasons. First, at that point in a person’s life, large amounts of money are rarely saved up. Second, it is the degree that will help you to earn the money to pay for the education – until you get the education, it is very hard to earn enough money to pay for the education.

Michael James says

” Borrowing to go to school gives you an education and a debt. The education part is good and the debt part is bad. When people say that this is a good debt, they mean that you’re better off with both the education and the debt than you are with neither. But by itself the debt is still bad.”

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There are some opportunities that come along once in a lifetime. For me, it was when both my mom and my uncle were in Hungary at the same time, and I had the chance to bring one of my daughters with me and make it somewhat of a family event. The stars would not align so perfectly ever again, and there was no way on relatively short notice to save up the money for the trip.

Greetings from Budapest

If you need to borrow for these kinds of opportunities, be careful. If you want to borrow for other types of expenses…don’t.

People borrow for vacations and for entertainment and for leisure. These things are not necessary, and if the debt remains for five years at a 20-percent interest rate, the actual cost is double the sticker price. In other words, if you go into long-term debt to buy something that is 25-percent off, you are NOT being a crafty shopper. You are being a sucker.

People borrow for food and clothing; these are both necessities, of course, but instead of downsizing their taste, they upsize their debt. Bad idea.

Debt sucks. The only reason to take on debt is if the alternative would be worse. But understand that as soon as you take on debt, you are essentially saying, “OK, I’ll pay through the nose for that.” If it’s worth paying through the nose, then the debt is worth it.

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Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Happiness

This article is an excerpt by David Leonhardt from 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life.

Do I believe there is a secret to happiness? I’ll bet you expect me to say “NO, there is just no simple secret.” While it is true that there are many factors that affect our happiness, I believe there is one secret that determines whether those factors will work for you, and that is the secret to happiness.

101 Great Ways to Improve Your LifeBut first, allow me to share a some history. In 2001, I published the first edition of Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness. I did all the things authors do, right up to getting myself some media interviews. Being an old hand at media relations (actually, Canada’s send-most-quoted consumer advocate at the time), you would think I would have been superbly prepared for the question that almost every journalist would ask me:

“So, which of the 9 habits is most important?”

What?! Which one is most important? Why, they are all important, of course. That’s why I wrote about them all. I was obviously too close to the forest to see the trees. Or, in this case, the tree.

After being asked this question a few times, I was forced to think, and think hard. And out of nowhere, I had an “Aha!” moment that stands the test of time five years later.

One of the 9 habits I wrote about is more important than the others. One of my 9 habits activates all the others. One of my habits is the secret to happiness. It starts on page 83 of the second edition.

“Count Your Blessings”

It sounds so simple, and so, well, almost corny. But let me give you a concrete example of how this works.

“Count Your Blessings” for Happiness

Have you ever bought a new car? Remember the pride you felt and the excitement when you made the choice? When you signed the papers? When you drove it off the lot? Do you remember that “new car smell”?

Then something happened. Where is that pride today? Where is that excitement now? What happened to that “new car smell”?

Simple. You stopped counting your blessings. When you bought the car, it was a step up. Perhaps it was a better car. Or a bigger car. Or simply a car that would spend less days on the hoist. You were grateful. You were appreciative. You were counting this blessing.

It does not take long for a new blessing to be taken for granted. And the new car becomes just another thing in your life that you take for granted. Consider this incredible set of statistics:

  • 99% of people in the developed world take shelter for granted.
  • 99% of people in the developed world take breakfast for granted.
  • 99% of people in the developed world take lunch for granted.
  • 99% of people in the developed world take dinner for granted.
  • 99% of people in the developed world take clothing for granted.

At the risk of sounding trite or glib, most people in the developed world take cars, televisions, computers, vacations, toasters, freedom of speech, paper clips and thousands of other conveniences for granted. In fact, a TV remote control that requires a battery change or a web page that takes more than five seconds to load are considered serious irritations.

Who is happier, the person grateful to be able to change those batteries and wait for that web page? Or the person grumbling about the time it takes and the inconvenience and the bother and why can’t things work better? (Why don’t they make things like they used to? Why does the lineup have to be so long? Why is it so cold outside? Why do I have to go to work today?)

Of course you have every right to complain any time you choose. Nobody wants to take away your right to be unhappy. But I would love to take away your unhappiness, if you are willing to take action.

Math is not everybody’s strong suit

This is where “counting your blessings”, simple and even corny, is not as easy as it sounds. Our knee-jerk reaction is to complain, to grumble, to be frustrated, to feel almost offended when things don’t work out “perfectly”, just the way we want them to. Imagine poor God, sifting through the millions of prayers he receives daily. Despite the cornucopia of blessings we receive, I am willing to bet that he receives ten times more “Gimmee” prayers than “Thank you” prayers.

Counting our blessings in this day and age of entitlement is not as simple as it sounds, and it sure is not easy to do. In fact, billions of dollars of advertising conspire to reinforce the belief that whatever we have is not good enough and that we deserve better. Who is there to tell us we have enough? Who can help us feel happy with what we have?

You. Only you. Are you ready to give up your own natural knee-jerk reaction and choose to be happy?

You can have all the confidence in the world, but if you do not actively feel grateful for the fruits of your confidence, it will not bring you happiness. You can have immaculate health, but if you do not think about how wonderful that is, it will not bring you happiness. You can smile, build friendships, achieve success, win the lottery, or do whatever you desire, but if you are not saying every day, “Wow! This is wonderful. This is grand. I am the luckiest man (or woman) alive because of this,” don’t expect it to bring you happiness.

Yes, there is a secret to happiness. The secret is gratitude. The secret is appreciation. Or, as I call it in Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness, the secret is to count your blessings.

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Laundry costs and how to save money

Here’s a great idea for people who want to save three of the most important things around:

  • Time
  • MoneySave money on laundry costs
  • Environment

First a tactic.  Then a strategy.

I did a quick calculation, which might be accurate or way off (I won’t embarrass myself by trying to reconstruct the calculations and start a debate over just exactly how inaccurate they are).  Suffice to say that your costs and mine could vary greatly, depending on whether you wear thick flannels or tiny tank tops.  Whether you wash in hot, warm or cold water.  Whether you have a top-loading or a front-loading washing machine.  Whether you are on a well or whether you pay for city water.

If a person is in the habit of tossing their PJs in the wash each morning, they could save close to $100 per year just by wearing them three nights.  $100 per person.  So a family of five could save almost $500 a year.

Factor in the cost of water and detergent, perhaps even hot water, and some fabric softener.  There is the extra wear and tear on the PJ fabric and also on your machines to consider, too.

But it’s not just money.  Consider also how much time you spend doing each load of laundry – time you would save.  All the sorting, all the loading, all the transferring, all the folding and all the putting away.  If you live in a vertical home, there is also a lot of up-and-down stairs.  And all that extra detergent that you would no longer be flushing into the environment.  And if you live in a city, how much less water will need to be sanitized.

Why can you save all this money, time and pollution?  Because you wear your PJs only seven or eight hours a day (usually).  If you wear them three nights in a row, that’s 21-24 hours.  Not bad.

Does this always work?  No.  Some people sweat a lot at night.  Some nights you might sweat, and not others.  If you sweat a lot, it might not be so wise to keep wearing the same PJs.  If you don’t sweat at all, you might even be able to wear them four or five nights in a row.

Save on all your laundry

Which brings us to the strategy.  This is not about PJs.  This is about when you need to do laundry.  All too often North Americans (and I assume other people in developed countries) think that you have to wash clothes after each time you wear them.

But that makes no sense. Clothes need to be washed when they are dirty.  And when is that?

When they start to smell.  That’s right, put them to the smell test.  If they smell like sweat, put them in the laundry.  If they don’t smell like sweat, they are ready to be worn again.  There is no magical period to wear something.  Sometimes you sweat more than other times.  That is the way things work.  Sometimes you will need to wash a piece of clothing after just a few hours.  Other times, after several days.

READ ALSO: 8 sneaky ways to get free furniture

The other time you need to wash clothing is if you dirty them from the outside – you spill something on them or they rub against something and get dirty.

Imagine how much time you would save if you had 50 fewer loads of laundry to do each year.   Or 60.  Or even just 30.

If your clothes don’t fail the smell test or the dirt test, there is no reason they should not go back in the closet.  They are still clean.  Wear them again, and save time, money and the environment.

Frugal tip:  Save even more by drying them outside. No fabric softener will ever make your clothes smell as fresh as gool ‘ol fresh air.


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No Happiness Without Patience

Instant gratification is not the recipe for happiness. Let’s take a look at how cavemen searched for happiness, long ago…

I’m searching for modern happiness. The old-fashioned kind takes just too long. That happiness requires patience and I don’t want to wait. I want upgraded happiness. I want release 4.02, the “new and improved” version.

This is the 21st century and I demand instant gratification.

Once upon a time, you had to wait to eat your meal. Even when the Mammoth Burger walk-through was open, they offered only self-kill meals. And when you brought them home, you still had to get the fire started.

Patiently waiting for fire to be invented“What? Mammoth burger again? How you cook?”

“Put mammoth carcass on stove.”

“That thing rock.”

“Rock no want to start.  Must make fire for cave lady.”

“Hah. You probably burn cave down.”

“Hah you. No can burn cave down. Buy insurance policy.”

“How you start fire?”

“Rub two fingers together. Make big flame. Cook mammoth burger.”

“Last time you burn fingers.”


READ ALSO: How do you fill your time?


Nobody lights a fire these days. People don’t even light ovens anymore. It takes just too long to heat up a meal. It takes just too much patience. I’m hungry now, not 40 minutes from now. That’s why God gave us microwave ovens. Just pop the food in and whrrr –BEEP- out it comes, nicely warmed for immediate consumption. That’s how I want my happiness – toasty warm and right now!

“Ooh. No more burn fingers.”

Consider the Internet. You type “electric toothpicks”. You hit “enter”. Google responds: “Search took 1.02 seconds.”

“Seems kinda slow,” you think. “Google is ready for the geriatric ward.” You click on the first result – something about an electric eel eating a balanced breakfast – and a blank screen appears. You wait.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Did you know that Shakespeare once waited almost twenty seconds for a web site to appear, so he could find a word that rhymed with cardiologist? The web site finally appeared in 1997, but he had given up waiting by then.

Five seconds pass. Time’s up and still no site. Your instant gratification cells have been offended. You surf to another site.

“Ugh. No get Mammoth Burger web site. This thing no work.”That thing rock

“That thing rock.”

“Rock need reboot. Go to mammoth burger walk-through”

I don’t want to walk to get happiness. I want it delivered now. Not twenty seconds later, even if it does rhyme with cardiologist. Not 1.02 seconds later. I want happiness now.

Remote control happiness

Remember the olden days when you had to extract your posterior from the couch to change channels? That took such a monumental effort that most people sat through whole television shows without changing channels. Of course, that might have been because the other channel was playing Lawrence Welk.

Back in the two-channel universe there was always something on. Now we flip through 472 channels, which keeps us busy while wishing for something worth watching.

Thanks to the remote control, affectionately known by its technical term – the doodadder – we can flip channels at a relaxed pace of 15 to 20 per minute without even breaking into a sweat. Imagine our body odor if we had to extract our posteriors from the couch each time we change channels!

“Ugh. No like show. Change channels.”

“That thing rock.”

“Rock need more channels. This play only test pattern.”

READ ALSO: Stay grounded or reach for the stars

Happiness should be like television. If I don’t get instant gratification, I should be able to change channels with a zap.

The checkout clerk who doesn’t care…ZAP!

The driver kissing my rear bumper…ZAP!

The loudmouth yakking in the cinema…ZAP!

The telemarketer who calls during dinner…ZAP!

Come to think of it, all those annoying people in my way at the grocery store, at the ticket booth, in the parking lot, in the waiting room…ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!

“Miss Wooly no give me mammoth burger.”

“What you do?”

“I zap her with club.”

“That thing rock.”

“I zap her with club. Take mammoth burger.”

“Ugh. You invent self-serve.”

Sigh. Happiness is not like a microwave oven. Nor like the Internet. Not even like a doodadder. Happiness does not run on the instant gratification system. Happiness takes patience. Lord, please grant me the patience I lack…and I want it now!

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