Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Living within your means

There is a lot of buzz today about global warming, sustainable agriculture, the green revolution and other world issues. When it comes right down to it, living within your means includes all of these issues and a lot more. Unfortunately, living within your means has gained an association with poverty. But you do not have to be poor to live within your means. Simply put, living within your means involves spending less than you make. It does not mean that you have to live on a farm or grow your own food, it just means having a budget and having some control over your spending habits.

Most of the ways I read about to save money are really marginal. If you really want to save money, you need to know how much you are presently spending. That means you track every penny of your expenditures. You need to know exactly, not approximately, and not a ball park figure. Once you know your present rate of spending and obligations, you have to continue to track spending for many months and years. There are some expenses that are annual, like real estate taxes, and others that may only come up after years, like the cost of replacing the roof on your house. But all of these costs need to be considered.

Once you know what it costs to live, you can start making adjustments to your spending based on realistic evaluations of your actual needs. Do you really need the air conditioning set to 72 degrees in the summer? Do you really need to buy a case of water every week? Could you save money by buying a different car? Do you really need to eat out two or three times a week? Once you answer these questions you are ready to live within your means.

Let's get some definitions down, if you owe debts and are paying interest, by definition you are not living within your means. If you were living within your means you would have no interest payments. There is an argument that if you have a piece of property that generates income, you can carry the interest as a cost of doing business, but most consumer debt is not offset by specific income.

Living within your means is not an issue as to how you spend your money. It is an issue about whether or not to spend money at all. Fundamentally, it addresses the problem of owning things or being owned by them. Let me give an example. One of the most common big ticket item purchases in Arizona is some kind of outdoor motor vehicle; a boat, an ATV, a jet ski, a motor home or something similar. I have no problem with spending money on any of these items. What I think is the problem, is purchasing a _________ [fill in the blank] when you have a burden of consumer debt. How many of the people in my neighborhood who have lost their homes to foreclosure have one or more of these outdoor vehicles? By observation, I would say quite a few.

I have no argument with someone who chooses to purchase any one or more of the items listed above, what I do have an argument with is purchasing a consumer toy at the expense of borrowing money to purchase a house or to pay for necessities. This example applies at all income levels. It is just as difficult for a person making a lot of money to live within their means as it is for a person living below the poverty level.

Unless and until we achieve a balance between what we need and can afford and what we purchase, we will never live within our means.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

National news coverage of food storage

It is apparent that the national economic difficulties have finally resulted in some national news coverage of the welfare system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a major article dated July 8, 2009, The Washington Post ran a story entitled "The Mission: Put Up in Bulk." As the author of the article notes, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints runs 101 dry-pack canneries, which are housed in multi-function home storage centers (see sidebar). The church doesn't intend the facilities to be public but won't turn away nonmembers. It wants everyone to have a three-month supply and be working toward a year's stockpile."

I suggest you read the entire article. Link. As the author notes the Church canning facilities "people are allowed to package only dry food stocked by the center. (It's possible to buy in bulk from the center as well without processing the food at the cannery. And food can be packed in pouches as well as cans.)"

The author also found out that dry-pack canning is not free. She says, "And then, slight sticker shock hit me: I had canned $217 worth of dried goods. In choosing foods my family uses frequently, I hadn't kept track of how many cans there were. Each of the six 4.3-pound cans of spaghetti cost me $4.05. My 15 cans of apple slices came to $73.50."

Despite the price paid by the author, dry-pack canning is highly economical and a good way to increase your food storage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

High tech cheating in children

More than 1/3 of teens with cell phones admit to cheating in school at least once. This is one of the conclusions of a newer study of the interaction of teenagers with cell phones, iPods and PDAs. The study from Common Sense Media and the Benenson Strategy Group conducted a poll of teenagers and parents on the use of digital media for cheating in school. Two-thirds of teenagers today own cell phones*, and most 8- to 12-year-olds will own a cell phone in the next three years**. And those numbers are only a small representation of our kids’ 24/7 media world. The study is called "Hi-Tech Cheating: Cell Phones and Cheating in Schools."

In looking at the Common Sense Media Website, may have a laudable goal, but their level of acceptance of modern media surely exceeds mine or my childrens' level of acceptance. The Benenson Strategy Group appears to be a strategic research and consulting firm.

The study also found that half (52%) of teens admitted to using some form of cheating involving the Internet. In fact, two-thirds of all teens say others in their school cheat with cell phones. Nearly 1 in 4 students think that acts like accessing notes on their cell phone during a test, texting friends with answers during a test and using their cell to search the internet for answers during a test aren't cheating at all! To quote the survey:
For example, only 41% say that storing notes on a cell phone to access during a test is cheating and a “serious offense.” And almost 1 in 4 (23%) don’t think it’s cheating at all. Similarly, only 45% say texting friends about answers during tests is cheating and a serious offense, while 20% say it’s not cheating at all. More than a third (36%) say that downloading a paper from the Internet to turn in isn’t a serious cheating offense, and almost 1 in 5 (19%) say it isn’t cheating at all.
On the other hand their parents are in total denial: The study shows, again quoting:
Parents are quite realistic when it comes to the frequency of cheating in schools – they just don’t believe it happens in their own backyard. 76% say cell phone cheating happens at their child’s school. But perhaps not surprisingly, just 3% of parents say their child has ever cheated with cell phones. Similarly, 79% say teens at their child’s school download papers from the Internet to turn in as their own work, but only 7% say their child has done this.
Here are some quotes from students in the study:

[I don’t cheat] that often, just
when I think the test is unfair…
the teacher gives questions
that are too hard or they did not
prepare us for… I guess it’s
cheating… using work that isn’t
your own is cheating, but I don’t
really think about it.” – student

I only [downloaded a paper or
report from the Internet] once
when I was in 6th grade because
my teacher had us do a project
that I knew nothing about…
I tried to find information, but it
was taking too long as it had to
be five pages and I started the
night before. So I decided I
should turn that in instead of
nothing.” – student

If someone is texting during
a test and looks suspicious, it’s
obvious they are cheating…
the teachers don’t really see
because the person texting
looks for them and hides their
phone when the teacher comes
by.” – student.

Cheating harms both society and the cheater. Is it any wonder that students fail to learn?