Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Finances--A Definitely Scary Story

I am back on track reducing my total indebtedness after a slight slip-up last month wherein I actually increased my debts by $5.97. But even subtracting out that $5.97, I managed to lessen my debts by $606.18.

Still, the rest of the year is going to be tricky--I have property tax payments, birthdays for three kids, not to mention Thanksgiving and Christmas all coming up in the next two months.

Halloween is not nearly as scary as my finances!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Ah, the cushy life of a blogger, even a non-monetized blogger like Grace. We write our gems and put them out into the blogosphere where we wait to see what comments we get back from our reading public.

So why is it that far too many of those comments are in languages most of us don't speak or in gibberish that no one understands? And why do all of them contain links that are entirely unrelated to the blog post itself? (My personal favorites are the links to fashionista websites--obviously these folks have no idea what a middle-class, overweight 63-year-old wears, especially Grace!)

It's not a new question. Bob at Satisfying Retirement asked the same thing awhile ago. His issue was moderation. I long ago realized that I was going to have to moderate the comments coming into my blog. This wasn't necessarily to prevent nasty comments. (Not that I've gotten those, anyway. Disagreement is always fine by me.)

But I find myself wondering what the spam is supposed to accomplish. I can't imagine that anyone would click on a link buried in a lot of nonsense words.

In searching for the answers, I learned a lot--more, actually, than I wanted to know--about comment-spam. Apparently there IS a reason for it, especially for those who monetize their blogs and want to attract traffic. Since I'm not blogging for money, I don't particularly care how or where my blog comes up in a search though I do want potential readers to find me. Sure, I like knowing who comes to my blog, but I don't worry about my numbers--I'm not looking to be first in any search engine exploration.

Still, when Google or some other search engine, decides which websites to place at the top of a list of search results, one of the factors it considers is the number of links pointing to the site. A page that has many inbound links from other places on the web generally ranks higher in the search results than a page that has only a few links. As far as Google can tell, web pages with many inbound links are more popular, so Google concludes that those pages are more likely to have the information that a user is looking for.

Ergo, spammers don't really care if readers of GRACEful Retirement read the comment, click on the links or buy anything. The simple fact of getting the comment published creates a link that a search engine will count. That's also why a lot of the comments are on posts from the past rather than current ones--maybe we bloggers won't notice a new spam comment in an old post and it will be more likely to remain there untouched.

Even more amazing to me was the discovery that there are people, particularly in third world countries who will sit around and comment for seriously small amounts of money, as low as $1.11 an hour. I guess, for that kind of money, a decent command of the language in which the blog is written is not necessary.

On the flip side, there is software that allows you and I to send out random spam with a link to our blog to everyone else, so we can say a lot of folks out there linked back to us, and, we hope, get us up to the top of search engine lists.

See how wonderful technology is! And it must be getting better because I have seen an increase in the number of spam comments to my blog--fortunately, mostly caught by my spam filter, but still. . .

I personally found most of the explanations of spam and why we have it, way too technical. But here is one of the more succinct and helpful posts on the subject.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pizza, Beer & The Queen of Versailles

Some things have definitely improved over time, one of which is the movie-going experience. While I have no memories of the screen palaces of old, I grew up in small-town theaters replete with sticky floors, screaming kids and spilled popcorn. Over time, and yes, even in my very small hometown, I watched theaters morph into small-screened cineplexes which might as well be home television sets for all the thrill they gave me.

But somewhere along the way, movies theaters continued to change, and this time in a really good way--with couches, alcohol,big screens and adults-only showings. What's not to like about sharing a couch, a pizza and a pitcher of beer with friends while watching a (albeit, second-run) movie?

And thus, my friends, is how Grace came to be watching the documentary "Queen of Versailles" last week-end.

Ya gotta see this movie!

It is, by turns, funny and thought-provoking and even a bit sad. It is also maddening--I dare you to see it with someone and not come out of the theater arguing.

Briefly, this is a documentary that was intended to show a billionaire family throwing money around on, among other things, a 90,000 square foot home in Florida. But part way into the filming, enter the recession. Money tightened up and disaster beckoned.

Let's face it. Disaster for a billionaire's family is NOT like disaster for you and me. Having to travel by commercial airline because the family jets have been sold is SO not an issue for me. Nor have I ever asked the bewildered clerk at a Rent-A-Car outlet, "What's the name of the driver?"

David Siegal, now in his '70's, made his money in timeshares. To be specific, he made it by encouraging middle and lower-class families to spend money they didn't have for vacations they couldn't afford and probably wouldn't use even if they could afford them. His sales staff encouraged prospects to "stretch" their financing to come up with money for his products. In the meantime, he did a lot of 'stretching' of his own to finance his ever-expanding global empire. That is, until the time came when banks refused to be 'stretched' any further.

His third wife, the much-younger Jackie, has impressive boobs as befits the trophy wife that she is. But she defies stereotypes. She has an engineering degree that she threw over when modeling proved more lucrative. She has seven children by David and is raising an eighth child, a teen-age niece. From the evidence onscreen, the children have a surprising amount of common sense. When Jackie says she'd live in an apartment if it comes to that, one believes her, even while imagining a lot of unintentional laughs along the way.

The financial choices made by this couple as they tighten their belts made me wince. Private schools for the kids were out, but limo trips to McDonald's remained, as did their commitment to their monstrosity of a new home. Never mind that they were already living in a 23-room Orlando mansion. David gets pouty because no one turns off the lights. Yet the amazing amount of money he is spending in a futile attempt to keep control of one Las Vegas skyscraper doesn't seem to faze him.

They went from a staff of 19 household workers to 4, and still the dog poop never gets cleaned up from the floors? Go figure.

The rich, at least the superrich, really ARE a lot different from the rest of us.

At any rate, it's a great movie. Made even better in a great theater with lots of beer and pizza.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

September Wrap-Up

My quarterly Net Worth statement is way up--$23,708 up to be exact. Everything contributed. My 401(k) is up by $19,000. My home value is up by $4000. Even my coastal rental is up--OK, so only $300 but hey, it's the right direction.

My net worth is now at 646,801, about which I am feeling very good.

I can't say the same for my monthly debt reduction.

Probably because there wasn't any for September.

In fact, my overall debt increased by $5.97. School clothes, grandchildren's college tuitions and chimney repairs were the cause. Actually, I feel good that the damage wasn't worse.

Onward through October!