Name This Blog!

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

I'm announcing a contest to name this blog. "The Road to Black" is too cryptic. It needs a new name.

Criteria:

  • The new name must describe one or more significant parts of this blog: a path to debt freedom, tips, stories, family. If you want ideas, you can read the archives or look over my labels.
  • There must be a domain name available for me to register. While I'm renaming, I might as well get rid of the "blogspot" in the URL.
The Prize:
  • A link in this post and in the post in which the new name is announced
  • 200 Entrecard credits, if you use Entrecard (bloggers, join Entrecard if you haven't!)
  • A link in the sidebar if you don't have one already
The new name will be announced for the new year. Leave ideas in the comments. Thanks!

Five Tips for Saving Money On the Road

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 11:10 AM

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approaching, many people will be travelling — and trying to save money while doing so. Here are some money-saving tips for road trips:

1. Use cash for on-the-road purchases such as meals. It's well-documented that you spend less with cash than with debit or credit cards.

2. Check your tires and get a tune-up. A breakdown or blowout on the road will cost more than a little preventive maintenance.

3. Buy snacks ahead of time. Chips, beef jerky, sodas, and other human fuel cost a lot less at the grocery store than at convenience stores on the Interstate.

4. Know thyself when buying snacks ahead of time. In the past, with the best of intentions, I have tried to buy only healthy snacks like fruit ahead of time. Later, on the road, when I was faced with delicious salty junk food and fatty candy, expensive impulse purchases won out. If your willpower is as weak as mine is, stock up on stuff you know you will eat, not on an ideal.

5. Pack a cooler for meals. Sandwiches (your favorite sandwiches; see the tip immediately preceding) prepared in advance are just as fast as fast food, and far less expensive.

What Do You Splurge On?

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:26 AM

If you are trying to save money, get out of debt, or just live frugally, you know all about buying used, shopping sales, sticking with store brands, and other tricks to spending as little money as possible.

But we all splurge on a few things that are important to us.

A splurge is not the same as impulse buying. Impulse buying will bust your budget in a hurry. Marketers would love for you to impulse-buy rather than mindfully splurge.

Mindful splurging reflects your values and your passions.

Here are some of the few things I splurge on:

  • Organic milk. This is one of the few areas where I am willing to pay extra for organic. In our family, only the kids drink milk, and it is important for me to offer them milk that is "clean." Also, it keeps longer, not because it's organic, but because of the way it's pasteurized.
  • Cage free eggs. Hens kept in cages get bored and peck their neighbors. As a result, on many farms, the hens' beaks are removed. I don't harbor any illusions that cage-free or even free range hens live active, frolicking lives, but it's important to me to know that the birds that laid my eggs at least had beaks.
  • Baby carrots. They cost around three times as much as regular carrots — but I don't snack on regular carrots. They're just not snackable. Even pre-cut into sticks, they are just not as good to me. Since eating vegetables is important to me, I spend extra for the baby carrots.
  • Brand-name diapers. With my first child, we did well with the least expensive store-brand diapers, but my current baby seems to have more sensitive skin. The name-brand ones do seem to absorb more. We use Luvs, the cheapest of the name-brands, which do a fine job.
I want to know what you splurge on. Do you have a blog on living frugally, getting out of debt, or making money? Tell us about your mindful splurges. Leave a link in the comments!

Using Cash Boldly

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 1:43 PM

As a kid, I earned a cash allowance. Yet even so, I was conditioned against cash throughout my childhood. My mother always warned me about waving cash around where people could see it because they might try to steal it. And it was so easy to lose. Later, when I was a teenager, I was ashamed to make purchases with cash. It seemed so unsophisticated. I could not wait to have my own plastic or checks like an adult.

Now my fundamental view of cash has changed. You can't spend money you don't have with cash. No bounced checks. No credit card debt. If you can't afford it, you are incapable of buying if you use cash. It's both a method and a symbol of controlling one's spending.

But I realized I am still affected by my conditioning against cash. When I pull bills out of my envelopes to make a purchase, I tend to treat it like it's my underwear or something. I'm embarrassed that someone will actually see it.

My goal for the next week or two is to be bold when I use cash. Be obvious about it. Let people see it. Be proud of it. Using cash is counter cultural, and you can't be counter cultural if you are timid about it.

Salmonella Bacteria in Cat and Dog Food

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

All babies eat cat food, right? Well, at least all babies who share their homes with cats. Dogs are less likely to leave food behind for baby to snack on, but I suppose it's possible.

Scientific American reports that 79 people in the United States have gotten sick after eating pet food contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella enterica. Most of those are under age two, which is only to be expected, since most people over age two have the good sense not to eat pet food.

As with other food potentially contaminated with bacteria, such as raw meat and poultry, it may be a good idea to treat dry pet food as a potential source of cross contamination. Wash food bowls after every feeding, and wash your hands after feedings your cats and dogs.

No pet illnesses are reported. I could tell you the probably reason why, but that would be off-topic. This is not my science blog; this is. Suffice to say that carnivores are not very susceptible to getting sick from spoiled meat. (If you are really curious, leave a comment and perhaps I will elaborate on my science blog.)

Creating a Budget When You Don't Know Your Income

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:09 AM

My husband recently took a new job with a modest raise. We are not eligible for health insurance for 90 days, so that expense won't come out of our paycheck until around January. They pay biweekly on a schedule offset from his previous job's schedule, which means his first paycheck was for only half a pay period.

It will be nearly two weeks before we know what his take-home pay will be.

How do you create a budget with that kind of uncertainty? Simple: you estimate.

I multiplied the one-week check by 1.8 to estimate the amount of the normal two-week check. Why 1.8 instead of 2? Because most payroll software calculates taxes on the amount of the check, not the annual income, so a bigger check will have a larger amount of tax deducted. I think this is a conservative approach.

The resulting November budget does not put much toward our debt snowball. On the other hand, that is because a great deal is being saved for various anticipated expenses: Christmas, the HOA fee (due January 1), vehicle registrations (both due in January), tire repair or replacement for one vehicle which keeps going flat, and doctor visits (I mentioned we won't have health insurance for 90 days, didn't I?). If our income estimate was low, we can take from one or more of these categories, and replace it in next month's budget. If the income estimate is high, we can add more to the debt snowball.

I hate the uncertainty of not knowing what our take-home pay will be. But there is no reason why we can't create and live on a zero budget in the mean time.

Halloween Humbug

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 3:00 PM

I confess that I am a Halloween humbug. I just don't care for the whole thing. It's not a real holiday (do people get the day off work? are the banks closed?) and it is not terribly clear what it "celebrates" (death? fear?).

We dress up the kids, take them trick-or-treating, and hand out candy to the neighbor children. We like pumpkins. But I don't go any further. No Halloween lights, no fake spider webs, no weird sound effects coming from speakers near my door.

Being a Halloween humbug means I don't appreciate other people's Halloween decorations. Autumn-themed decorations are nice, but death-themed ones, not so much. They're eyesores, to be frank.

You want your front yard to look like a cemetery? Really? You want a decaying skeleton on your mailbox? Are you sure about that?

I don't have principled reasons behind my humbuggery. It's an aesthetic thing. Halloween makes people forget their good taste. Even the colors are ugly.

Am I the only Halloween humbug? Do you enjoy creepy Halloween decor? Or would you, like me, rather skip straight to Thanksgiving cornucopias and corn stalks?

A Tour of My Purse

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 3:32 PM

Jennifer F. of Conversion Diary invented this meme: a photo tour of your purse. She seemed to think people might find it boring. Hello, Jennifer! This is teh Internets! People love being voyeurs here — and exhibitionists. Case in point: I'm sharing my purse too!

I must have cleaned it out recently, because it contains surprisingly little detritus — very unusual for my purse. An odd bit of trash or two did not make it into the photos.


Fossil purse with Precious FeetCoach brand handbags are all the rage in my area. I am much too cheap for Coach. It's amazing that my purse has a name brand at all (Fossil). It was on clearance, what can I say? Its predecessor came from a craft booth at some event and was replaced when it could no longer be held together with safety pins. Notice the Precious Feet pin. I'm hoping one of my pro-choice friends will ask me about them at some point.


The main compartment in the middle contains only my wallet and Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University envelope system. The wallet contains NO CREDIT CARDS (only my debit card). The envelope system contains $12, which is all we have left of our monthly food budget. Oh well; we are still working out the kinks of the budget. Confession: I used the debit card to buy food today and to get $10 of those $12.


Cleaning cloth and Epipen juniorThe snap pocket is usually the least cluttered because it's not as easy to access. I have the special cleaning cloth for my glasses (I concealed the name brand, but they're the ones where the guy in the restroom hallucinates that his eyes are talking to him), and an Epipen Jr. for my older son, who is allergic to fire ants. I hope I never have to use it, but I keep it handy just in case.


Motorola cell phoneFinally, my cell phone. (Oh look, I have voice mail!) I have actually been meaning to write a post about how we save money with our cell phone plan. Guess I'll save the story for another post.

Not pictured are my keys. I keep those in a designated place in the house; otherwise they would be frequently lost, variously in my pocket, in my purse, or on a random surface. I try to be very disciplined about putting those keys in the same place every time I enter the house.

Like Jennifer, I can't stand the idea of being caught waiting with nothing to do. When I think I may have to wait somewhere, I try to bring a book with me. There are usually one or two books or magazines in each vehicle. And my diaper bag currently contains not one, but two pencil puzzle magazines.

That's it for my purse. What's in yours?

First debt is paid off!

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:08 AM

"If I were assured of your eventual destruction I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept my own."

So said Sherlock Holmes to his nemesis Moriarty in "The Final Problem." Fortunately, destroying our Moriarty did not require anybody's destruction. It did require us to finally receive some money we have been waiting for. Using some of that money to work on getting debt free was a priority.

In fact, Moriarty is more than dead. It was overpaid by $15 due to a miscommunication with the company. And here is the evidence of his demise from my bank's website.



Goodbye, Moriarty! We won't miss you!

Shopping for Cheap, Nutritious Food

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

Bright Hub has a good article on saving money while shopping for nutrient-dense food. This is an important issue if you are trying to save on your grocery bill, since it seems the cheapest foods are often the least nutritious (think ramen noodles and boxed macaroni & cheese).

When is it worth it to spend a little extra for improved nutrition? Barilla Plus pasta, for example, is made with legumes and is higher in protein and fiber than regular pasta with a comparable taste (unlike whole wheat pasta, which is, let's admit it, gross). But it also costs twice as much. I think this is often worth it; regular pasta is quite bad for people trying to control triglycerides (a category recently joined by my dear husband), not to mention diabetics. And as the article points out, foods with better nutrient profiles are more satisfying, so you need to eat less. Of the "big three" nutrients — protein, carbohydrate, and fat — protein also keeps you feeling full the longest. My personal experience is that it works better even than high-fiber food to maintain that feeling.

Do you know of any good "deals" on cheap but nutritious foods?

OH NOES! Teh stock market is collapsing!

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

Stock prices are down. Down, down, down. And I've been surprised to hear people talking about cashing in their stocks.

The mass media seem to portray the stock market as something that reflects fundamental objective reality (like a textbook), or something that controls our destiny (like a god), or something that tells us what to do with our money (like Ann Landers). The truth is that it is a market. It's about buying and selling. And buying and selling are heavily influenced by emotion.

The stock market is ruled by the basest and most fickle human traits: greed and fear.

When the market is down, that is the worst time to cash in your investments. You're supposed to buy low and sell high, remember? This is the time to buy and hold. Buy diverse, that is, and hold for at least five to ten years.

Dave Ramsey says the stock market has never lost money on any single ten-year period. Even during the Great Depression, if you bought diverse stock at any point and held it for ten years, you would have made money.

When the Dow is sinking like the Titanic, don't go buying in the stock market for the short-term, and don't gamble on any single stock -- but above all don't sell the long-term investments you have. Keep the college fund and the retirement accounts! If you have liquid cash, consider buying more! It's on sale.

I Want My Laptop Back

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:46 AM

The biggest inconvenience with my laptop is the power cord. To me, it looks like a black rubberized electrical cord. To my baby, it looks like a game, a treasure, and a meal all in one. He tugged on it one too many times, until the power jack inside the computer broke. It's in the shop now.

I want my laptop back. My desktop is slow, it doesn't have all my bookmarks, and it's not in the TV room. Those are all problems I could have predicted. But I didn't anticipate every troublesome aspect of using the desktop. I also have a four-legged problem.

We have a new kitten. (In LOLspeak, we can has new kitteh.) He just jumped on the keyboard and did a Google Adsense keyword search for lkjlknk.

I miss my laptop!

Sound Not Working? A Fix for Vista

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 3:01 PM

The other day my computer crashed. I mean blue screen of death crashed. It even said "Blue Screen Error."

When I rebooted, my computer's sound didn't work anymore. The control panel said "No audio device is installed." The computer's ability to recognize the built-in speaker (which always worked before) was gone, vanished, kaput.

A Google search revealed that this is not an uncommon problem with Windows Vista. (Shocking, I know.) There were lots of questions in various forums around the web and not a whole lot of answers. People reported having reinstalled everything under the sun with no luck. I even found a YouTube video on fixing broken sound, but it was a video of a guy talking — you had to have sound to get the information on how to fix your sound.

Luckily, there was one answer to one forum post: System Restore.

I ran System Restore, and the wizard said it didn't work. But the sound on my computer works again. I'm not sure if that's a fail or a win, but the bottom line is that just trying System Restore worked when Vista declared "No audio device is installed."

I'm posting this in the hope that someone Googling for the same problem finds this solution useful someday. If that's you, post a comment!

Seven hundred billion or else

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 11:31 AM

Here's what you could do with $700,000,000,000 (from jbreazeale, from dihard):

  • Give every person in the US $2,300 or give every household $6,200. (Think about it another way: this will cost each person in the US $2,300.)
  • Pay the income taxes of every American who makes $500,000 or less a year.
  • Fully fund the Defense, Treasure, Education, State Veterans Affairs and Interior departments next year, as well as NASA.
  • Buy gasoline for every car in the US for 16 months.
  • Buy every NFL, NBA, and MLB team and build each one a new stadium - and pay your players $191 million each for a year
  • Create the 17th largest economy in the world - roughly equal to that of the Netherlands.
  • Or you could pay off just 7% of the $9.8 trillion national debt
But to hear about half of Washington D.C. and most of the people I've heard on the radio talk, instead we MUST buy a bunch of bad debt with it RIGHT NOW OR THE SKY WILL FALL IN ON OUR HEADS!

I wonder what you think of Dave Ramsey's so-called "Common Sense Fix"? It certainly sounds like a better idea than what was defeated in the House yesterday.

My first child

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 2:50 PM

I have never done a meme in Blogger before, but I was tagged by Mile Hi Mama, so how could I refuse?

1. Were you married at the time? Yes

2. What were your reactions when you found out you were pregnant? My first child was quite deliberately adopted, so there was no moment when we first "found out" we would have a child. But there was a moment when our child went from being a "theoretical baby" to an "actual baby," when we got a referral with a photo, a name, and a history. Those who know me in person know that I am usually reserved, but I recall hugging my usually hands-off co-workers.

3. How old were you? 27

4. How did you find out you were pregnant? When we got the referral, I was at work, where the agency called me. I was helping a new employee get situated, so I wasn't at my desk, and they paged me overhead, which was pretty unusual. But it was an unusual phone call.

5. Who did you tell first? Probably whatever co-worker was standing next to me

6. Did you want to find out the sex? Keeping this a secret was not an option. We had to choose at the get-go. We said "either," so they put us on the boy list because it was shorter.

7. Due date: Once we got the referral, we knew the arrival would be several months later, but had no information beyond that. They were a tense few months, during which every phone call made us wonder if we would be heading to the airport soon.

8. Did you deliver your child early or late? We missed the Chinese New Year, during which our child's home country essentially closes down for a month. So I would say "late."

9. Did you have morning sickness? No.

10. What did you crave? Same old things. The advantage to doing it my way is that I got to keep drinking alcohol throughout the whole "pregnancy."

11. Who irritated you the most? Internet trolls.

12. What was your first child's sex? Male. Still is.

13. How many pounds did you gain throughout the pregnancy? I maintained a svelte figure the whole time!

14. Did you have any complications during your pregnancy? The whole process of adoption is complicated to begin with. We had to get fingerprinted by two different agencies and get visas from two different governments. We had to have a home study and almost needed a follow-up home study (expensive) because the delay was so long, the original one nearly expired. We had to undergo 20 hours of special training to be adoptive parents. There were more complications after arrival, including a misspelled birth certificate, a lost passport, and a three-year delay in getting a Social Security card.

15. Where did you give birth? The municipal airport

16. How many hours were you in labor? I can't even remember how long it was between the plane's scheduled arrival and the time the escort brought our child to us. It seemed like it was over an hour, but maybe it was less. Between the referral and arrival dates, five very long months. The total time from our first talk with the agency to arrival was just under 14 months.

17. Who drove you to the hospital? I don't remember who drove to the airport.

18. Who watched? My extended family.

19. Was it vaginal or c-section? Aviational.

20. Did you take medicine to ease the pain? Ah, no.

21. How much did your child weigh? 18 pounds. Now that's a big firstborn!

22. What did you name him/her? His first name is after a contemporary saint, one middle name is shared with his adoptive father and grandfather, and the other middle name is his birth surname.

23. How old is your first child today? Four

I tag Kimberly, Tammy, Katie, Susan, and Anna. And anyone else who may happen to read this post and who wants to participate. Leave a comment to link to your answers!

Hurricane Ike: Aftermath

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 8:58 PM

In the area of northwest Houston and Spring where we live, enormous 100-foot Loblolly pines were snapped in two. Limbs the size of whole trees were scattered about.

Every yard was littered with fresh green tree limbs and branches. One neighbor's gutter was ripped off; another's ceiling collapsed after the roof sprung a leak; and a third had a huge limb fall on it, opening a large hole in the roof. We lost a single panel of trellis fencing, so I am considering us very lucky.

Our neighborhood has no power and our street is typically the last to have power restored when there is an outage. After hearing quotes ranging from two to four weeks for electricity restoration, we migrated to my sister Milehimama's house, also in the Houston area. Hers is a newer neighborhood with underground power lines and they have had electricity since earlier today.

Countless fences are down. But in northwest Houston, the damage is far less than that experienced by those on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. Some in the news media are making loud noises about not being allowed to see West Galveston or the Bolivar Peninsula. Bolivar was completely submerged by storm surge. The official death toll according to the TV news is nine in Texas, but that will doubtless rise.

Thanks be to God, we are all safe.

Hurricane Ike blog: Back after almost 48 hours

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 6:33 PM

We lost power in pretty short order Friday night. Our house still needs power but we made it to my sister's house, which does have power. I only have a moment to update but will add more later — stay tuned!

Hurricane Ike: 9:45 p.m. local time

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:45 PM

Live blogging Hurricane Ike continues. The outer eye wall is approaching the coast and should make landfall in a few hours. Here in northwest Houston, perhaps 50 miles inland, the wind is not yet intense. The effect is eerie, tree limbs waving against a dark sky. Sustained winds of 75-110 are expected right here from midnight until the early morning hours.

Eyewitness 13 news has their poor sports reporter out in the field. I imagine the most dangerous thing he expected to experience in his job was a flying baseball. Actually, flying objects are currently the most dangerous thing for him.

Chambers County, located east of Houston, is expected to be entirely inundated. Galveston Island, Port Bolivar and the Bolivar Peninsula, and High Island will experience sustained winds from 100-120 mph, and gusting hurricane force winds are reported from Galveston right now.

I will be keeping this up as long as I can. You can subscribe to make sure you get updates immediately. Over a million people are anticipated to lose power before this is over.

Hurricane Ike: 9:00 local time

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:02 PM

Winds outside are ranging around 41-46 mph, according to the news.

This storm is flirting with Category 3, but the storm surge will be that of a Category 4 or Category 5 storm.

The eye is very wide, about 60 miles across. If the eye narrows, the winds in the eye wall will become much faster due to the conservation of momentum. Let's hope the eye stays large!

I wish so, so badly that we had had an opportunity to make plywood shutters. The windows are all taped so that in case of damage, flying glass will be lessened.

Our older child doesn't know what a hurricane is, but he is excited and doesn't want to go to bed. Our younger child is still a baby. The animals are spooked, but that could be attributed to the fact that a new kitten joined our household this week.

Hurricane Ike: Video of the winds before the storm

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 8:43 PM

I took this video to show the wind intensity in northwest Houston about 7:00 p.m. This is the amount of wind you would expect from a run-of-the-mill thunderstorm. Hurricane force winds are yet to come, but will be here overnight so I won't be able to film them (even though we have unboarded windows).

Hurricane Ike: Photo post

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 8:02 PM

I took these photographs around 7:00 p.m. local time.


I felt I was foolhardy to be driving around at that hour, as the wind was picking up quite a bit. This even more foolhardy person was taking advantage of the wind to fly a kite.

Many local business have boarded up their windows, and they have some choice words to say about Hurricane Ike.

"Friendly Donuts Open" (I doubt it.)
"Don't Like Ike Wife Beater!"


"Bring it on"
"Just Like... Ike and Tina..." (with picture of a hurricane)
"We're rollin' down the river" (with picture of a boat)


"Take A Hike IKE!" with picture of hurricane track


This neighbor created some art in their driveway for the storm.

Hurricane Ike: Texas Governor Rick Perry

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 5:45 PM

Notes from the press converence with Texas Senator John Cornyn and Texas Governor Rick Perry:

The governor's office has urged the federal government to expand the federal disaster area from 25 Texas counties to 88 counties. They are asking for federal government to take over responsibility for debris removal, water pumping, and individual homeowner assistance.

Hurricane Ike will have a big effect on the national economy because 25% of refining capacity is expected to be lost. (No matter where you are in the country, go fill up all your vehicles!)

Hospital and nursing home residents from Brownsville, Texas, near the Mexico border, to Louisiana have already been evacuated.

***

Meanwhile, the clouds are getting darker outside our northwest Houston home. I prefer not to give out my address, but we are located in the vicinity of FM 1960 West and Kuykendahl Road. You can Google Map this. Hurricane-force winds will arrive here around midnight. The eye will arrive here around 5:00 a.m.

Hurricane Ike bloggers

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 4:59 PM

Are you live-blogging Hurricane Ike? Leave a comment and I'll link to you in a future post.

Hurricane Ike: 4:45 local time

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 4:45 PM

  • East Houston is beginning to flood near the East Freeway and Uvalde. See map for location. This flooding is due entirely to storm surge.
  • In Quintana, at least two houses, have been washed away. Quintana is due south of Houston and southeast of Galveston, on the coast near Freeport.
  • A huge warehouse fire has broken out in a building which normally stores and repairs boats. on the east end of Galveston Island. Firefighters have had difficulty getting ther. It reportedly contains two 500 gallon diesel fuel tanks.
Source: Channel 13 Eyewitness News

Hurricane Ike: 4:10 p.m. local time

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 4:10 PM

It's cloudy outside with light breezes — no sign of the storm yet. That will change soon.

It has been reported that 10,000 people are already without power closer to the coast. Eight- to ten-foot storm surge is reported, and is expected to increase by ten more feet. Storm surge is nothing more than the rise of sea level. Waves are expected on top of the surge, which will do damage to buildings. Already a buoy off Galveston Island indicated 17 foot waves.

Blackhawk helicopters are evacuating residents near the coast.

Storm surge is not a big worry in our area. We are high enough above sea level, as well as high off street level.

Coming: What to expect from winds.

Hurricane Ike: 12:30 p.m. local time

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 12:30 AM

Partly cloudy and breezy right now. Winds will pick up this afternoon.

We are in the direct path of the hurricane's eye as predicted by NOAA. At 7 a.m. the storm's center will pass right over us.

Hurricane Ike

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 1:10 PM

Our Road to Black is located near Houston, Texas, which means we are under a hurricane warning from Hurricane Ike. I will post updates on the storm in this space.

Our house is far from the areas in danger from the storm surge and is located high off the street, so flooding danger is as minimal as possible. This was not an accident; we intentionally sought a home that would be safe from water. I am concerned about the wind, though, because there are a lot of trees in our neighborhood and they haven't been trimmed in a while.

Stay tuned. Better yet, subscribe.

30% off shelving for my readers

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:23 AM

This is a sponsored link, but it's a pretty good deal if you are looking for shelving. I recommend you only make a purchase if you are already planning to buy shelving — an impulse purchase won't help you on your own Road to Black.

Click the link below to get 25% off, then enter promo code SS5 to get another 5% off, for a total of 30%.

25% OFF All elfa Shelving Systems

You will have to pay shipping, but as I said recently, online shopping still can cost less than in-store shopping because it cuts down on those little impulse purchases.

Using GNUcash and Double-Entry Accounting

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Since I took over responsibility for bill paying, I used the old-fashioned pencil-and-paper method. Tracking our expenses and income was new to me, and I felt more comfortable and "in control" when I held the pencil in my hand. I knew the feeling was an illusion — there's nothing about a pencil, as opposed to a computer program, that gives more control — but it was nice to have.

A couple of months ago, I decided the time had come to upgrade and start using financial software. I had already consigned the pen and checkbook to the past, replacing them with online bill paying from my bank's website.

The software I settled on was GNUcash. I was attracted by the fact that it is open-source — and free.

GNUcash uses double-entry accounting, also called two-column accounting, which is different from the simple category system used by other financial applications. Each entry in an account has a corresponding and opposite entry in another account. For example, if I paid a utility bill in the amount of $100.00 from my main checking account, it would be deducted from that account as an expense; but it would also be added to an expense account.

Here is a shot of the page for my checking account with the $100.00 bill. See that the money is recorded as a withdrawal and noted as a "transfer" to another account, in this case to Utilities. Since this is an expense type of account, the transfer column refers to it as "Expenses:Utilities".



At the top of the page are tabs for each account. The left tab labeled Accounts lists all of them, and the user chooses which ones to open and look at. If I open the Utilities account, this is what I see:



Instead of Deposit and Withdrawal, the corresponding columns are called Expense and Rebate, but they amount to the same thing. If my utility company credited money back to my checking account, I would record it in the checking account tab as a deposit, and it would show in the Utilities tab in the Rebate column.

On paper, double-entry accounting would require typing in an entry twice, but GNUcash automatically makes the record in the second account as soon as you save it in the first account. I could just as easily save the record in the Utilities account if I liked, and it would be recorded automatically in the Checking account.

Split transactions are possible in GNUcash, too.

Although I have heard many people, first-year accounting students among them, complain about double-entry accounting as confusing, I find it intuitive. I like it better than a "categories" system.

How I use online shopping to save money

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 2:05 PM

I love Babies 'R' Us.

I browse the baby care, clothing, and toy sections every time I go in. I just can't help it; I love baby things.

Unfortunately, I can't get out of the store without dropping at least a C-note — even if the item I was shopping for costs ten or twenty dollars. At the baby superstore, my impulses always get the better of my budget.

Big-box department stores are worse. I don't enjoy the shopping experience as much, but I still end up overspending every time I go in. Travis at The Simple Dollar recently explained why.

I do not have trouble with impulse shopping when I shop online, though. As much as online retailers try, they have a hard time getting to me; my tendency to add things to the shopping cart impulsively seems tied to my ability to hold and feel objects.

So lately, whenever I have to buy a specialty baby item, as I just did for a baby bath seat, I skip the brick and mortar stores and go straight to the Internet. I hate to pay shipping, but it's a lot less than the extra money I would spend at the superstore.

Image credit: basykes on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Improve Your Internet Security: Protect Your Identity Online

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

I recently came across an article with the provocative title "How I Stole Someone's Identity," in which a baby-faced computer security professor details how he broke into the online accounts (with permission, all in the name of science) of a hapless acquaintance named Kim. He didn't use any programming skills or esoteric techniques — only search engines and cleverness. Here are three lessons I learned from his article:

1. Be aware of what personal information you share online. Blog posts, myspace pages, and even web forums can be sources of personal information for identity thieves to mine. Paranoia isn't necessary, but remember that not everyone who accesses the Internet is your friend.

2. Don't use personal information to safeguard your identity. Once information is posted on the web, you should assume it cannot be removed, thanks to caches and mirror sites. (For example, when something is "deleted" from Wikipedia by an administrator, it is really just protected from viewing. It can later be restored by any administrator.) Your phone number, your pet's name, your mother's maiden name, and above all your date of birth: none of these are private enough to be the basis of your online security.

3. Keep your e-mail passwords at maximum security. E-mail password security has to be your top priority because your e-mail account is the key to the rest of your online accounts. In the article, e-mail was the key to all of Kim's accounts because most sites reset passwords via e-mail. Security Focus has a great article on password-security best practices.

And here is a bonus tip that was not addressed in the article:

4. Be aware of sites that do not encrypt your password. If you receive (or can ask for) an e-mail with your password in it, then that site does not encrypt your password. Your password cannot be retrieved if it is encrypted, which is why most sites will reset your password but not send it to you. StumbleUpon is one major site that does not encrypt passwords.

Do you have any stories about a stolen online identity? Are there any tips you would like to share for keeping your accounts secure?

The Carnival of Debt Reduction

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:18 AM

The Road to Black won a silver medal at this week's Carnival of Debt Reduction! Check out the carnival to view other great posts on reducing your debt.

How to save money on bills

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:10 AM

I've discovered a very simple way to permanently reduce some of our bills: Call and ask nicely.

Last month, I called several car insurance companies. One of them has a discount program through my husband's employer, so combined with their already-low rate, we reduced the amount we pay by over a third.

Last week, I called the phone company, and a great customer service agent (wow, there is such a thing?) did some "bundling" voodoo that reduced our rate almost in half, with no contract or commitment needed. To top it off, we are getting a $50 Visa gift card as a thanks for ...giving them less money. I'll take it!

Today, I called Moriarty's bank, which reduced our rate by a percentage point. This will not make a huge impact, since we no longer use credit cards and are working to pay off that debt (as we travel our Road to Black), but it will probably change the order in which we pay down debts. Moriarty is our smallest debt, and according to Dave Ramsey's snowball principle, it should be paid off first. Now I think we may use Moriarty to pay off as much of Saruman as possible. Vader is smaller than Saruman, but has the lowest rate of all our debts.

So my money-saving tip is this: Call your utilities and creditors and ask nicely. What do you have to lose?

Google Maps Street View

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Google Maps Street View
The Road to Black has become aware that the road to our house has been photographed by Google Maps. They offer an option to report an "inappropriate street view." I would like to thank Google for photographing a very appropriate street view of our house, viz. that the grass is neatly mowed and trimmed. I am sorry to report that this is not the case much of the time.

Our neighbors' houses have Christmas decorations, which means these pictures were probably taken around the time our son was born. That explains the grass: my brother-in-law mowed it while I was in the hospital, and it does not grow fast during the winter. (In our subtropical corner of the world, the grass never stops growing altogether.)

Tips for a great sales tax holiday

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 12:06 PM

Our state's annual sales-tax free shopping weekend is a week away, and Living Well on Less had some excellent thoughts on whether you really save money on a tax-free weekend. Here are some tips for making sure you are better off at the end of the weekend:

Make sure you know what is tax free and what isn't. Texas will tax football pants, but not gym suits. Certain kinds of boots are taxed and other kinds are not. Be aware of what is excluded from the tax holiday.

Make a list. Figure out what you need, such as school clothes for your kids or new shoes for yourself, and write it down. Don't buy anything not on the list.

Make a budget and stick to it. Even if you don't usually use a cash budget, this would be a great time to make an exception. Leave your debit card and checks behind. (If you're like me, you don't credit cards at all; if you do, leave those behind too.)

Keep in mind that the tax-free weekend is equivalent to a 7% to 9% off everything sale. Don't pay full price for anything if you would not pay full price anyway. Shop in the same kind of stores you usually do — especially if you normally stick to discount, thrift, and consignment stores.

And finally... make sure you go on the right days. In most states, it's too late for 2008. Only Connecticut (August 17-23) and Texas (August 15-17) have upcoming sales tax holidays for school supplies. And unfortunately, many states don't have a sales tax holiday at all. Don't miss the boat!

Ten ways to avoid being a crime victim

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

I just got an e-mail from a friend whose other friend who was robbed two days ago at a local grocery store. I read the account of what happened, and it could have easily happened to me. And I should know better, having more background in law enforcement than the average person. So here are some tips, both for your benefit and to remind myself, on how to avoid being a victim of a crime while out in public.

  1. Keep your head up. If you are aware of your surroundings, you are more likely to spot potential trouble. But there's more to it than that: an alert, confident person makes a very unattractive victim. Criminals like easy prey — the person not paying attention, the person acting nervous, the person not able to react quickly.
  2. At the grocery store, accept "help out." The grocery store where the robbery took place always offers to help me out to my car, and lately I have been accepting because it's hard to load both the car and the kids. There are crime-prevention reasons to accept help, too: First, you will be with another adult, which is a deterrent to criminals. Second, having help to load your groceries — especially if you are also loading up small children, are pregnant, or have any physical handicap — will make you less vulnerable. Criminals see distractions as opportunities.
  3. Keep your car locked. You should lock it even if you are getting out just for a minute — in fact, especially if you are getting out just for a minute. This leads to the next tip...
  4. Never leave your purse or other valuables in the car. Again, this is true especially if you are getting out just for a minute. Criminals know you are least likely to lock up and most likely to leave valuables behind if it's only for a moment. They patiently watch for opportunities, and they move fast.
  5. Be extra vigilant at school, day care, or the gym. These are situations in which women are likely to leave their purses behind, either because they are just running in to pick up their kids, or because they don't want to have to rent a gym locker. Bad plan: Criminals know that these are common habits. Even if you do lock up, they won't think twice about breaking your side window to get to your valuables.
  6. Don't store your car keys in an obvious location. Burglars like to check the garage for easy-to-steal getaway vehicles. If you keep your keys in an obvious location like a key hook or basket near the door of your house (or worse, in the car itself), you may lose your car if your home is ever burglarized.
  7. Don't leave your car running. In cold climates, car thefts skyrocket in the winter because people leave their cars running to warm them up. Even if you lock the doors, a car thief finds this situation irresistible. This is even more important if you have kids in the car. Don't leave it running so the kids can have air-conditioning while you step out. If you will be gone long enough for them to need air-conditioning, then you will be gone too long for them to be left alone, anyway. Which leads to the next tip...
  8. Never, ever, ever leave your kids unattended in the car. Not even older kids, and not even for a few minutes. You will not believe what can happen to them. I know of one person who was left in the car when she was a tween and was targeted by an exhibitionist pedophile. Thankfully, he did not make contact, but she will never forget the image.
  9. If you are targeted for a property crime, don't fight back. Some of us would never fight back, but others, like myself, are likely to be impulsive and try to defend our property. This behavior, unfortunately, is what can turn a theft into an assault.
  10. If, God forbid, you are assaulted, don't let yourself be transported to another location. This is a situation in which you should fight back. If your attacker takes you somewhere else, they are likely planning to murder you. Act accordingly.

Update: Texas Association for Infant Mental Health denounces "Baby Borrowers"

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 5:24 PM

The Baby Kidnappers

The Texas Association for Infant Mental Health (TAIMH) brings to six the list of organizations denouncing "Baby Borrowers." In fact, this organization feels so strongly that the front page of their website is devoted to the subject. Thanks to commenter Carol for the update.

TAIMH contacted a number of the sponsors of "Baby Borrowers" and published responses from three of them on their website. Nestlé Corporation immediately withdrew their ads. In statements reeking of corporate Newspeak, Pervetti Van Melle (manufacturer of Mentos) and Combe Incorporated (manufacturer of Just For Men, Odor Eaters, and other personal care products) were not courageous enough to do the same and instead referred the issue to their marketing directors.

Is Knol a "Wikipedia Killer"?

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 1:12 PM

Knol is Google's newest launch. It's a site where authors can write articles on any topics they like. "Knol," if you were wondering, is a neologism meaning "a unit of knowledge."

ProBlogger wondered whether Knol will be a Wikipedia-killer. I love Darren's ministry very helpful site, but I have to say that if he is even asking that question, then he does not know very much about Wikipedia.

Wikipedia may seem both wide and deep (with almost 2.5 million articles in the English version, more than twice as many as when I first started as an editor), but casual readers may not realize how much isn't there. The Wikipedia community loudly declares that it is not many things, among them "a publisher of original thought" nor a "manual, guidebook, or textbook." And while anybody is free to add to Wikipedia, they are not free to add anything they like to Wikipedia.

At least several hundred entire articles are deleted every day. Over 3000 pages were deleted in the last 24 hours (including articles, images, user pages, and all other types of pages). That's not counting content edited out of existing articles, which is immeasurable (literally — there's no way to tell from the logs).

I imagine that little of what will likely be found in the Knols will overlap with Wikipedia's scope. And virtually none of it will carry authority remotely like Wikipedia's. Since anybody with an Internet connection can change Wikipedia instantaneously, one might think Wikipedia would not have much authority, but the net energy put into keeping Wikipedia sound is far greater than the net energy put into Wikipedia misinformation and disinformation. And that is why so many people trust Wikipedia. (More than they really should; even Wikipedia rejects its own self as an adequately reliable source for Wikipedia.)

Knols may give About.com a run for its money, and may nudge a few Wikipedia articles around in the Google rankings, but Wikipedia is a behemoth that won't feel much from the little flies that are Knols.

Update on the debt villains

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 2:59 PM

Of our debt villains, Moriarty and Saruman are with the same bank. I called to try to see if I could combine them and lower our interest rate or our total monthly payment (so we can focus on another debt, probably Vader, with intensity). No dice.

Opening a credit card is something I am philosophically opposed to, even one with 0% interest or a bonus for balance transfers. However, in this situation I am tempted. I would not be using it to make any purchases, and I would actually be reducing our credit card count to one (though the total amount owed would stay the same). What would you do in this situation?

Worth a dime

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Generally, it's good for the family when one family member finds some money. Just not when that family member swallows it.

I spent the weekend at the hospital, getting this removed from the baby's esophagus. Notice the tarnishing? That's because it was in there for at least a couple of days. The baby was still able to eat normally, but I am not sure how.

Signs of a rip-off

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

In my post "Is Rent-To-Own a good idea?" I mentioned some terms that are red flags for a rip-off. Here is a collection of them. Use of these terms does not necessarily signify a bad deal, but it is a sign for the buyer to be especially aware. Look out for any "deal" that mentions the following:

  • Buy now, pay later
  • No money down
  • Insider secrets
  • "They" don't want you to know
  • You'd be crazy not to
  • Extended warranty
  • Act fast
  • Important information — do no discard

Is Rent-To-Own a good idea?

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 2:41 PM

The August 2008 issue of Reader's Digest features an article called "7 Rip-Off Tip Offs." One of the rip-offs listed? Rent-to-own merchandise.

The advantage to rent-to-own merchandise

When you rent furniture or appliances, you can have the item immediately. You don't need to have the money available to purchase it outright — and you don't go into debt. You get instant gratification for a low price and no obligation.

The rent-to-own disadvantage

The savvy reader will notice the short length the paragraph above. I can only think of that one advantage: easy, instant gratification. And there is a very ugly disadvantage: You pay a very, very high price for the merchandise. Reader's Digest calculated the equivalent APR (annual percentage rate) of most rent-to-own items as between 75% and 350%. (And I thought 20% credit card rates were high!) At the end of that time, your very expensive sofa is out of style and your pricey flat-screen TV is obsolete. Since you were renting, you could have exchanged them periodically for newer models... but then you would have lost all the money you "invested."

It can make sense in certain situations to rent merchandise. That's just "rent," without the "...to own" part. Take a hint from the fact that Rent-A-Center and similar operations locate their retail outlets mainly in poorer neighborhoods.

Rip-off tip off words

Take a look again at the short "advantage" paragraph above. It contains red flag words: "no obligation" and "instant gratification." These terms are signals that the subject being discussed is a bad idea, financially speaking. Another red flag term, which certainly applies to rent-to-own schemes, is "no money down."

Don't borrow money to buy things for your house. But don't jump out of the debt frying pan and into the fire by renting to own!

Just say no to credit cards

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 11:05 AM

Credit cards are ubiquitous in America. Buying things with other people's money is a societal norm, and achieving a high "credit score" literally requires one to have a lot of debt.

But it is my contention that credit cards should always be avoided. Here are a few reasons:

1. Universal default

With a few exceptions, the credit card contracts offered by banks have a provision called universal default. The bank monitors your credit history, and if you fail to pay (default) on any loan, your rate is raised to the default rate (the highest possible) — even if you never paid late on the credit card in question.

2. Increased spending

According to Dave Ramsey, when you make a purchase with a credit card, you spend 12-18% more than you would have if you had used cash. Swiping a credit card is painless; there is no sense of money actually leaving you. And with small purchases, there may be internal pressure to spend more "to make it worth it," since it seems silly to run a credit card for only a dollar or two. There is often external pressure as well: many businesses have a minimum purchase for credit cards, which offsets the fee that banks charge merchants to accept credit card payments.

3. Lack of privacy

Your credit card statement records where and how much you spend. Think nobody's paying attention? CompuCredit, which issues a subprime Visa card, makes decisions about its customers' credit-worthiness based on where they use their card, according to Businessweek. Their attorney says, "These scoring models are commonplace across the industry."

What do you think?

Do you think credit cards should always be avoided? Or is it OK — even wise — to use them in some cases? Leave a comment with the pros and/or cons of credit cards.

Four Ways to Earn Extra Money: A Review

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:01 AM

Maybe you already have a job and would like a little extra cash, or maybe you are unable to take a regular job because of children, school obligations, or disability. There are a lot of alternative opportunities tantalizing people in your situation that promise a few extra dollars.

I have tried several of these, and here is a review of how well they worked for me, and whether I made any money at them.

1. Mystery shopping

Corporations need a way to find out whether their retail outlets are really following company policies, or just talking the talk. Enter the mystery shopper. It sounds sexy and exciting: a sophisticated, professional shopper who is also an undercover agent! You are promised up to $50-$100 for each "shop," and you usually are reimbursed for any merchandise you purchase, which you get to keep.

My experience was that most shops actually paid no more than $10-$15. I was assigned mostly cell phone stores and pet stores; other mystery shoppers I have talked to mostly got chain restaurants like Bennigan's. The rules are very strict as to what time of day you must come and who you can bring with you. If you are a mom, forget about being able to do this with your children in tow. You usually have to memorize a script, and remember a lot of details for your report. Of course, you cannot make any notes, or you will blow your cover, in which case you don't get paid.

The bottom line: The time spent traveling to and from the store, memorizing the script, conducting the shop, and completing the report make this opportunity not worth the trouble for most people.

2. Filling out surveys online

Market research is big business, and to motivate consumers to participate, many companies offer financial compensation. In return for filling out questionnaires, you get cash money.

I signed up with a company that was recommended to me (not one I found through a banner ad on some web site). My experience is that more often than not, I don't qualify for the surveys offered me. When I do, the compensation often works out to a pretty paltry hourly wage. On the other hand, the time I devote to the questionnaires is time I would otherwise most likely waste goofing off online, and it is kind of fun, at least for me. After about three months, I've made around $25.

The bottom line: If you spend a lot of time online anyway and you are not always 100% productive, it may be a nice way to make a few (very few) bucks. Otherwise, it is probably a waste of time.

3. Attending focus groups

Focus groups give market research companies the chance to gauge the reactions of real people to their efforts. You offer your opinions on some sort of presentation or discussion. You are paid on the spot with no deductions taken out, either by check or in cash.

A number of websites offer to hook you up with marketers looking for focus group participants. Individual opportunities can often be found on Craigslist, and once you get on the lists, they often call you when something is available. Participants provide their own transportation to the site. You may, for example, be asked your reaction to commercials that are still in production, or you may participate in a mock jury trial. You may have to agree not to disclose any details of your experience, especially for mock trials.

Sessions are often held during the day on weekdays, which may not be compatible with many schedules. Moms will still have to find child care, and you need transportation. If you can work around these issues, focus groups can be very lucrative, paying $50-$200 or more per session.

The bottom line: Definitely worth it if you can work around the logistics issues. They will never be frequent enough to provide more than pocket money, though.

4. "Work from home" programs.

The ads are everywhere, from banner ads to telephone poles. They promise riches enough to make you quit your day job, and you don't even have to leave your house. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. It's supposed to be perfect for students and stay-at-home moms.

I learned what these are really about when I clicked a banner ad as a favor to someone, hoping to help that person get some advertising revenue from her site (most ads are pay-per-click). I should have just given her fifty cents and saved myself the aggravation.

These work-from-home schemes aren't exactly scams — that is, they don't lie to you, or take your money and run — but they are hardly what they are cracked up to be. Generally, they want you to set up a website (you have to pay for the domain name and hosting, usually around $100) to market some product. Your income is completely dependent on how many people visit your website, so you have to market it aggressively.

I didn't take any of these people up on the pitch. And yes, if you answer one ad, you will be called by about a dozen different organizations, all operating on the same basic business plan. I can't say whether you can really make worthwhile money on this, but doubt it works out for most people.

The bottom line: Smells very fishy. I would recommend giving "work from home" opportunities a wide berth.

Do you have any experiences with alternative ways to make money? Share them with in a comment!

Automated phone systems don't play nice with children

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Online banking hiccuped this morning, and the website told me to call their online banking hotline. Here is a transcript:

PHONE RECORDING: Welcome to phone banking! Para español, diga espa—
BABY (sitting on my lap): Gaaaah gah!
PHONE RECORDING: (pause) ...Welcome to phone ban—
BABY: Heeehhh!
PHONE RECORDING: You selected mobile banking. Mobile banking options:
ME: Unprintable *hangs up and redials*
PHONE RECORDING: Welcome to phone banking! Para español, diga español. What is the reason you are calling today?
PRESCHOOLER: *swings his toy golf club at the cat*
ME: Cut it out!
PHONE RECORDING: (pause) ...I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. What is the reason you are calling today?
ME: (speaking slowly and clearly) Can't access account online.
PRESCHOOLER: (simultaneously) Mama, watch this!
PHONE RECORDING: I understand you are having trouble with your debit card. Please—
ME: No!
PHONE RECORDING: (pause) ...Okay. Let's try again. What is the reason you are calling today?
BABY: Ehhhhhh haaahh!
PHONE RECORDING: (pause) ...I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. What is—
ME: Unprintable

And this is why automated phone systems should stick to "Press one for..."

AACAP and State of Connecticut denounce "The Baby Borrowers"

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Update: The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology and (reportedly) the Connecticut State Child Advocate have joined the list of organizations issuing negative statements about "The Baby Borrowers."

Women's wage equality and Glassdoor.com

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:15 AM

May an employer base an employee pay decision solely on her gender? In the United States, this has been illegal since the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This statute requires charges to be filed "within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." In May 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ledbetter v. Goodyear that "unlawful employment practice" refers only to the initial discriminatory pay decision.1 Unfortunately for plaintiffs, that decision is likely to have been made much more than 180 days before an employee becomes aware of any pay disparity.

In an article in Time magazine,2 Lisa Takeuchi Cullen remarked on Americans' reluctance to share their own salary information. She suggested that we might all be better served by openly sharing the details of our compensation with others.

The trouble with this plan is that many workers fear their employers will disapprove of their sharing — even retaliate against them. In fact, in some workplaces, employees are expressly forbidden to discuss their own compensation terms with coworkers.

A new website, Glassdoor.com,3 has the potential to become a useful weapon in the fight for pay equality. Members are encouraged to "contribute an employer review or salary report," "save [their] information to a free and anonymous account," and "get full access to the reviews and salaries shared by our community." A site like this could be useful in shedding light not just on illegal discrimination, but also on legal but unfair policies practiced by some companies.

A bill to allow employees to bring suit within 180 days on their most recent discriminatory paycheck (rather than the initial one, which may have been issued years before), passed in the House of Representatives but failed to pass in the Senate in April 2008.4 (Had it passed, the Bush White House had promised to veto it anyway.) Taking advantage of every opportunity, such as that offered by Glassdoor.com, to share salary information may be the only way for employees to guard against unfair compensation.

Notes

  1. Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc. See the complete text of the decision (PDF).
  2. May 5, 2008. "Coming Clean on Workers' Salaries.
  3. The author has no affiliation with Glassdoor.com and is receiving no compensation for this post.
  4. Results of Senate vote reported in IPMA-HR Washington Update, May 2008.

Baby Borrowers sponsors: Two down

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 6:54 PM

Thanks to commenter Matt for information on Ace Hardware, which has declared it is not a sponsor of "The Baby Borrowers." And kudos to Ace for refusing to sponsor this program.

NBC's website has a poll asking when people are best prepared for parenthood: teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, or later. This show reeks of a major trend in American culture: Becoming a parent has become just one more thing you do in order to "have it all." The view that children are gifts has given way to family planning in which births had better be planned — or you are not a good parent.

Paying off debt — our villains

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 12:31 PM

In our household, there is a lot of debt. This makes us normal.

I don't want to be normal, at least not in this way. So I have done an eccentric thing: I named all our debts after villains. Shoestringing the budget to get out of debt is not especially fun, but killing bad guys is!

Here is the rogue gallery, in order from the petty to the truly depraved:

  1. Moriarty, a credit card debt.
  2. Vader, a vehicle loan.
  3. Saruman, an unsecured line of credit (basically, a credit card without the plastic).
  4. Sylar, an enormous student loan.
Not included is our mortage. Already slain is Voldemort, which was the name both of a house we just couldn't get rid of and the mortgage attached to it. It finally sold early this year, but at a price less than what we bought it for, which made it a painful demon to slay.

Stay tuned for a chronicle of our battles with these villains!

Another group (Zero to Three) against "The Baby Borrowers"

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 11:50 PM

A quick note: The child welfare group Zero to Three has issued an official statement against "The Baby Borrowers." They join the list compiled here.

A list of child welfare groups protesting "The Baby Borrowers"

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

Here is a list of child advocates and child welfare groups which have officially protested, spoken out against, or otherwise denounced "The Baby Borrowers." This post is updated as necessary.

  • The Natural Child has issued an open letter of protest, February 27, 2008.
  • Attachment Parenting International has formally issued a strong objection to NBC Studios, June 21, 2008.
  • The Texas Association for Infant Mental Health has "released an opinion denouncing" the program, June 26, 2008.
  • Zero to Three has issued a sharply critical statement, no date.
  • The Connecticut State Child Advocate has reportedly protested the show in a letter to NBC, although I was not able to confirm this from their website.
  • The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology has issued a call to NBC to pull the program, July 2, 2008.
Do you know of any other groups protesting this program? Leave your tip in the comments below or visit my profile for my e-mail address.

Attachment Parenting International protests "The Baby Borrowers"

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

The Baby Kidnappers

Attachment Parenting International (API) has issued a press release to draw attention to their letter of protest (PDF) sent to NBC Studios.

API makes reference to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959. More recently, the U.N.'s 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child reiterates a key point: "In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration" (Article 3). NBC's role with regard to the "borrowed" children is closest to that of "a private social welfare institution." It has utterly failed to take the best interests of the "borrowed" children into consideration.

I have used the provocative epithet "The Baby Kidnappers" to highlight the effects of the experience from the child's point of view. From the point of view of the parents, who have given permission and who are right next door, there is no kidnapping involved. To these parents, who obviously love their children, the arrangement is no different that hiring a babysitter — safer, even, since they can supervise and intervene at any time. But young children are not able to understand any of that. They don't know their parents are nearby. They only know that their parents have disappeared and that suddenly they are in the care of total strangers. To a baby, this is exactly the same as being kidnapped.

The "borrowed" babies have no choice in the matter. Their lives are being manipulated by adults, who are placing them in a terrifying situation — a situation that does these children no good. NBC has created a situation uniformly harmful to young children, placing their interests last.

API rightfully protests this program, and so should the rest of the informed public.

The Baby Borrowers: Don't believe everything you hear

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 2:29 PM

A famous American aphorism, variously attributed to Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, and Bob Dylan, observes:

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

With "The Baby Borrowers," NBC has fooled some of the people by gravely asserting, "It's not TV, it's birth control." In promoting this program, NBC weeps crocodile tears over teen pregnancy, and successfully has fooled many, many people, among them Sandy Maple of Parent Dish; a nameless rumor blogger, and even, astonishingly, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (PDF).

Let me be very clear about this. "The Baby Borrowers" is not about preventing teen pregnancy.

This program has teens live together, which is a recipe for teen pregnancy. When young couples live together, we all know they are having sex; let's not beat around the bush. Sex leads to pregnancy. Birth control has never been 100% effective, especially when used by inexperienced, impulsive youths. Therefore, "The Baby Borrowers" is not about preventing teen pregnancy. Q.E.D.

The show does not even focus exclusively on teens having babies. Why on earth would a show about teen pregnancy show how difficult it is to take care of an elderly person? It wouldn't. But it is already established that "The Baby Borrowers" is not about preventing teen pregnancy.

Do not let NBC's marketing fool you. "The Baby Borrowers" is not about helping teens. When someone says "The Baby Borrowers" will help teenagers, they are either lying, or they have been fooled by a liar.

Comments to my posts on The Baby Borrowers

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:54 AM

The Baby Kidnappers

Just for the record, in response to the sundry comments that have popped up lately:
  • I am not for teen pregnancy.
  • I care very much about teens and "the future of this country." I also care very much about babies.
  • I never said anything about day care being harmful to children, and I am bewildered that anyone thought I did.
  • I never said that I oppose "using kids" on TV.
  • Obviously the babies are more or less safe, thanks to the show's precautions, but that doesn't make them any less scared, sad, or emotionally hurt. In other words, the adults know they are safe, but the babies don't!
If you want to know why I am so cranky about The Baby Borrowers, read about what I think is wrong with it. And please do actually read it before you accuse me of being ignorant, stupid, or closed-minded.

If it prohibits free speech, is it an oppressive regime? (Canada)

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

This post was originally published on Leave the lights on.

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THE CHARACTERS:
  • A government concerned with promoting its ideology, but not with protecting free expression.
  • A minority religious group with radical views.

THE SCENE:
Minority religious group expresses its radical views. These views are in opposition to government's ideology. Government intervenes to curtail religious group's expression of said radical views.

Can you guess where this drama took place?
    1. China
    2. Iran
    3. North Korea
    4. Canada


If you said Canada, you are correct! Here are the ugly details:

The minority religious group is the Concerned Christian Coalition and its leader, Stephen Boissoin. The ideologues are the Human Rights Panel of Alberta. Please do not be misled by the name; the Human Rights Panel of Alberta is not particularly concerned with promoting human rights, at least not as they are defined in the United States. The Human Rights Panel of Alberta is in the business of making sure nobody's feelings get hurt.

Enter a third character: Dr. Darren E. Lund. Dr. Lund's feelings did get hurt, as a result of Mr. Boissoin free expression of his radical views. The Human Rights Panel of Alberta does not call Mr. Boissoin's speech "free expression" or even "radical"; it calls it hate propaganda. And certainly, it may very well be the worst kind of hate propaganda; the published decision does not discuss the content of Mr. Boissoin's speech, so the commentator cannot draw her own conclusions.

The Panel does express a radical view of its own in ordering as follows:

That Mr. Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. shall cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.

Note that the defendants are not prohibited from publishing "hate propaganda" -- only from publicly making "disparaging remarks." The word disparaging means "insulting."

So our neighbor to the north has prohibited insults. Canada truly is a foreign country, since it holds to the concept, foreign to Americans, that protecting noxious speech is not a necessary part of protecting a free society.

Baby Borrowers sponsors: One down

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

This post was originally published on Leave the lights on.

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An update on the countdown:

As of today, Realityworks, Inc. is no longer listed as a sponsor of "The Baby Borrowers" on NBC's website. There are 32 sponsors still on the list.Baby Borrowers sponsors: One down

What's wrong with "The Baby Borrowers," anyway?

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:00 AM

This post was originally published on Leave the lights on.

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An anonymous commenter on my first post about "The Baby Borrowers" remarked that he or she felt the show is a "fantastic idea." He or she suggested that I "find out just what precautions were taken before these babies were 'borrowed'--- No parents would just willingly hand over there (sic) child for NO money, which I hear is exactly what happened. NO ONE was paid to do this."

So just what is my problem, anyway? Why don't I just lighten up? What about all the good the show will do?

Let's consider:

1. The show will help teenagers.
The show puts unmarried teenage couples into the same house to live as if they are married. It presents this arrangement as socially acceptable and no big deal, which ignores the fact that living together before marriage increases the statistical odds of divorce if the couple later marries. It puts girls in a position to be used by their boyfriends, as in the crude old saying, "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" You don't have to consider cohabitation immoral to see this as a problem; these kids, while legally adults, are still very, very young to be thrust into an arrangement that is so frequently problematic even for mature adults.

2. It's not TV, it's birth control.
NBC's slogan seems to promise that the TV program is meant to reduce teen pregnancy. It's not; that's a marketing gimmick. It's meant to sell sponsors' products by drawing viewers with the most lurid and shocking content possible -- just like all reality TV shows. Consider this: The first thing you see on the official "The Baby Borrowers" website is a poll about which teen couples stay together. That's not about preventing teen pregnancy. And later in the show, the couples will have to take care of an elderly person. That's not about preventing teen pregnancy. For that matter, having teenage couples cohabitating is not about preventing teen pregnancy.

3. The producers were very careful to make sure nobody got hurt.
Why does the graphic above use the inflammatory word "kidnappers"? Why such over-the-top language? Because I am describing the show from the babies' and toddlers' point of view. As Jan Hunt said in her open letter to NBC, "Sudden removal from their parents and placement with strangers for long periods of time is from a baby's point of view no different than a kidnapping." She continues, "It has been well-established that babies who suddenly lose their primary caregiver can quickly go into mourning and emotional depression." Causing a tiny child, who is just beginning to learn whether adults can be trusted, to grieve the loss of his families does hurt the child. I am sure the parents of the children on the show believed their children would not be harmed, but I am also sure that they are mistaken. I have seen for myself how a baby (my adopted son) grieves the loss of his primary caregivers. There are few things more heart-wrenching than a baby who won't eat because he is too sad.

It is tragic to me that it is too late to prevent the filming of the series. But I take hope in the possibility that viewer response -- or lack thereof (it's all about ratings) -- will prevent another season from being recorded.

Don't watch "The Baby Borrowers"!

Visit Sir Linksalot for more on "The Baby Borrowers."

Baby Borrowers sponsors: Countdown

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:00 AM

This post was originally published on Leave the lights on.

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Here is the list of sponsors of The Baby Borrowers as of May 22. Let us see how many of these companies we can harry into dropping their sponsorship. Contact as many as you can, as many ways as you can, as often as you can to express your disapproval. Be firm, but please remain calm, detached, and polite. Rational voices are far more effective than hysterical ones.

COMPANYPHONEWEBSITE
Ace Hardware Corp.630-990-6600www.acehardware.com
Area212-924-7084www.areahome.com
Barbara Cosgrove Lamps816-221-3461www.barbaracosgrovelamps.com
Benjamin Moore & Co.201-573-9600www.benjaminmoore.com
Born Free, LLC561-347-8112www.newbornfree.com
Borup Construction208-884-1092www.borupconstruction.com
buybuy Baby516-507-3410www.buybuybaby.com
Chicago Cutlery®800-999-3437www.chicagocutlery.com
ClubFurniture.com (One Source Plus, Inc.)888-378-8383www.ClubFurniture.com
Corelle® Dinnerware800-999-3436www.corelle.com
CorningWare® French White®800-999-3438www.corningware.com
Finer Frames208-888-9898www.finerframes.com
GE ProfileTM Appliances800-626-2005www.geappliances.com
Green Dot Corporation626-775-3400www.greendotonline.com
Hello Kitty818-526-0111www.upp.net
Krups800-526-5377www.krups.com
Lamp Works847-295-7600www.lampworks.com
Larson Juhl & Artaissance800-886-6126www.larsonjuhl.com
Levitz Furniture212-634-2200www.levitz.com
Mazda North America949-341-6195www.mazdausa.com
MysticMaid®877-468-0888www.mysticmaid.com
Playcore-Swing n' Slide877-888-1232www.swing-n-slide.com
Pyrex® Glassware800-999-3440www.pyrexware.com
Quaker818-526-0111www.upp.net
Realityworks, Inc.715-830-2040www.Realityworks.com
Revere® Cookware800-999-3441www.revereware.com
Rowenta®781-396-0600www.rowentausa.com
Simmons Bedding Co.877-399-9397www.simmons.com
Smith & Noble800-248-8888www.smithandnoble.com/sn/home.jsp
Southwest Airlines214-792-4000www.southwest.com
Spinmaster Toys818-526-0111www.upp.net
The Stylish Stork208-336-5655www.thestylishstork.com
Thumprints501-225-1542www.thumprints.com


I will keep track of which companies discontinue their support. And let me reiterate, please, use a rational voice. And it should go without saying that you should not break any laws and should cease communications with a company if they ask you to do so (i.e. no harrassment).

Subscribe to this blog if you would like to keep up with companies dropping their sponsorship.

Visit Sir Linksalot for more on "The Baby Borrowers."