Talking with strangers about money

Kim and I are back from our two-week tour through Florida, a sort of “vacation from our vacation”. We’ll resume our R.V. trip across the U.S. in a few weeks, but after crunching the numbers we realized it’d be more cost-effective (and time-efficient) to leave the motorhome in Savannah and drive the Mini Cooper across the Sunshine State. So that’s what we did.

Although most of our trip was about play, we both took some time to work. Following three days at Disney World, for instance, Kim joined a weekend retreat with a small group of entrepreneurial women. (Kim has spent all of her working life in the dental field; over the past six months, however, she’s been following Steve Chou’s program for creating an online store. She’s very proud that her endeavor has netted about $300 while Money Boss is thousands in the hole!) Meanwhile, I drank beer and smoked cigars in Tampa’s Ybor City.

Most of my “work” on the trip came through talking about personal finance with the people we met. You’d be surprised at how many conversations you can have about money if you allow yourself to be open to it.

Let me give you an example.

While in Miami, Kim and I stayed in a guesthouse we found on Airbnb. (I’m a huge fan of Airbnb. I’ve used it to find cheap places to stay all over the U.S. — and the world.) Our hosts were a Cuban couple with an entrepreneurial mindset. They used to have an outbuilding they used as an office. After the husband retired early from his job as a contractor, he converted the space into an amazing 400-square-foot living area, complete with bathroom and kitchen.

This guesthouse now supplements their income. At $120 per night, our hosts earn $20,000 to $30,000 every year — all from a space that might otherwise have gone unused. To me this is a win-win: They earn some extra money while we save on the ridiculous Miami hotel prices. (For more about this sort of thing, check out Paula Pant’s series of articles on how she became an Airbnb host.)

But the money conversations didn’t stop there! Continue reading

The prodigal son returns: J.D. Roth is back at Get Rich Slowly

Note: As of last Thursday, J.D. is once again writing here at GRS. His non-financial writing can still be found at More Than Money.

Hey, everybody. It’s J.D. here. I founded this site, and I wrote and edited the content for many years. Last autumn, I retired from writing here. Today, I’m unretiring — just like a professional athlete.

My role at Get Rich Slowly won’t be nearly as extensive as it once was. Ellen will still serve as editor, for instance, and I’ll have no hand in the day-to-day operation of the site. Instead, I’ll contribute stories about personal finance a few times per month. And, if things go according to plan, I may actually provide a couple of updates per week in which I link to other great personal-finance info around the web. (That used to be a key feature of this site, but it’s fallen by the wayside.)

Today, though, I want to give an update on what I’ve been doing for the past year.

Background Info

First, for those who don’t know, I founded Get Rich Slowly in 2006. I was deep in debt and trying to learn how to manage my money. I hoped that by sharing my journey, it’d keep me motivated and help others who were in similar trouble.

The site succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I dug myself out of debt using tried-and-true techniques. Then, as my income from this blog increased, I quit my day job working for the family box factory. I also published Your Money: The Missing Manual, a book about smart money management. Eventually, I sold Get Rich Slowly, though I stuck around as editor for three more years.

Last year, I decided I’d had enough. I felt like I’d written all I could about personal finance, and I’d come to dread the daily grind of producing a blog. (It takes a lot of work to produce a blog like Get Rich Slowly.) So, I retired.

Since then, I’ve been reading and writing, the same as always, but with less focus than in the past. (I’ll explain why in a moment.) I’ve been able to use my new site, More Than Money, to explore a variety of topics, and my pieces about money have mainly gone to Entrepreneur magazine and to the Time website.

Outside work, I’ve continued to pursue Crossfit. Plus, I’ve been dating the same woman for 15 months. Kim and I have had a tons of adventures in our year together, and we’ve worked hard to build a strong, mutually supportive relationship. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
Over Christmas, Kim and I went dogsledding…

Recently, I’ve felt the urge to write about personal finance again. It’s in my blood. For example:

  • I hear Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” on the radio and want to use that as a basis to write about frugality.
  • I talk with my childhood friends about how our financial fortunes have changed in the past 20 years.
  • I see dumb money advice on television and want to warn people to beware.
  • I watch how smart Kim is with money and want to share some of her secrets.

In short, I have more to say about money than I thought I did, so I’m going to write for Get Rich Slowly again. Before I get started, I should update you on a few major changes in my life.

Note: Many folks want to know how Kris is doing. She seems happier than I’ve seen her in a long time. She’s still gardening and canning and frolicking with cats. She’s been dating the same guy for over a year, and he’s even managed to convince her to go camping! (He’s a mechanic for a Mini Cooper shop, and I plan to take my car to him when it needs work.) Kris and I live five miles apart, and have dinner together about once a month. Kim recently loaned her juicer to Kris in exchange for some spicy pickled carrots. Next weekend, we’ll have a joint garage sale.

ADHD and Me

Last fall, I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t have a goal in mind at first. During the divorce, Kris had asked me to see one, so when a friend told me how useful her psychologist had been, I decided to give it a shot. I wasn’t sure how useful therapy would be for me. In time, though, it became clear that I was wrestling with anxiety issues and a mild case of ADHD.

A few months ago, my counselor decided this “mild case of ADHD” was probably more severe. She suggested I seek medication to help the problem. I was reluctant at first, but after three months of using Vyvanse, I’m a believer. I’m a functional human being again! I’m getting more done every morning than I used to get done in a week. Also, my anxiety has (mostly) vanished. My colleagues have noticed a marked difference, and so has Kim. Best of all, so have I.

I don’t like the idea of medication as a long-term solution, so one of my current projects is to create systems and schedules to keep me on track even when I’m not medicated. I’ve been testing these systems. They work well for a few hours, but by mid-afternoon my mind is a muddle. But I’m confident that with more work and more practice, I’ll need the Vyvanse only occasionally.

Note: My ADHD meds cause one notable side effect: I’m not hungry. When I take the Vyvanse, my appetite goes away. To fight this, I try to eat a big breakfast. But some days — like today — I forget to eat before I start working. When that happens, I can go all day without eating. Then I end up very hungry at night when the medication wears off.

Brace Face
photo (9)

For years, I hemmed and hawed about whether I should get braces. I’ve had some crooked teeth and a wicked crossbite, both of which affected my self-confidence. I could never pull the trigger, though. It seemed silly to get braces simply for the sake of vanity.

Late last year, two things happened. First, my friend Matt (who is just as old as I am) got braces. Second, my dental hygienist girlfriend cleaned my teeth for the first time. “Huh, your teeth really are crooked,” Kim said. “You should see an orthodontist.”

So I did.

In January, I got braces. I’ll have them for at least two years, but I don’t mind. I already feel more confident. I just wish food wasn’t so eager to get stuck on the brackets…

Note: The braces and the therapy are great, but they’re also expensive. I have health insurance, but it’s catastrophic health insurance, and it doesn’t cover stuff like this. If I’d been smart, I would have taken care of these things long ago, back when I was on Kris’s awesome health insurance. (And I don’t know what I’m going to do about my deviated septum.) Another personal-finance lesson learned.

A Place of My Own

Perhaps the biggest news, on both the personal and the financial fronts, is that I bought a condo. I loved my apartment in northeast Portland — it was close to everything! — but there were many disadvantages to it too.

Last summer, I met Andi Blackwell, who is not only a Portland-based real-estate agent but also a long-time GRS reader. (Andi used to have a financial blog of her own.) Andi and I worked together through the fall to figure out what sort of place I was after. As the real-estate market began to simmer again here in Portland, I found a nice condo in the lovely (and walkable) Sellwood neighborhood. After a short bidding war (ugh), I became a homeowner once again.

I’ve been here eight months now, and I love it. Sure, I miss having a yard, but I don’t miss the yard work. Besides, I live just steps from three wonderful parks, have quick access to a 20-mile multi-use trail, and can walk (or bike) to almost everything I need. Living here has been awesome. The only drawback is that they’re building a new bridge nearby, so sometimes (like now) the whole building shakes.

Because banks are tighter with money than they used to be, and because I barely have an income, I couldn’t qualify for a mortgage. I had to pay cash for this place. That’s put a crimp in my budget (and it pains me to not be able to take advantage of today’s low interest rates), which is helping me to rediscover my frugal side.

photo (27)
Kim and Andi exploring a condo in northwest Portland…

Looking Forward

Though I still have a sizable emergency fund, I depleted a huge chunk of my savings to buy this place. (On the plus side, not having a mortgage keeps my monthly costs low.) Plus, my income is lower than it has been in years.

Kim is feeling pinched too. She’s smart with money. She’d been building her savings so she could replace her 15-year-old car. But she got hit with an unexpected tax bill, had extensive (and expensive) shoulder surgery, and then accompanied me on a three-week trip to Europe. Her savings have taken a hit.

So, this summer has been all about frugal dating. We’ve been exploring fun things we can do for cheap. We love happy hour and shuffleboard at the nearby pubs!

Meanwhile, I’m following my own advice and looking for ways to boost my income. Kim helped me sell my comic book collection (about which more later), I’m going to produce an ebook (about conquering fear), and I’ve started the proposal for my second real book — even though the last book project ended up paying me less than minimum wage. (Writing here won’t help. I’m doing this without pay!)

Professionally, I have a couple of unpaid speaking gigs (again on the subject of conquering fear), and helped to produce the third-annual World Domination Summit.

I have a good life, and I know it. I have a nice home, work I enjoy, a supportive girlfriend, and get to spend plenty of time with my friends. This is the happiest I’ve been in my adult life. And now that my ADHD seems to be under control, I can finally be a productive human being again. That means you’ll see a little more of me around here. It feels good to be back…

Downshifting: The first day of the rest of my life

“This is it,” I told my wife last Monday.

“This is what?” Kris asked.

“This is the first day of the rest of my life,” I said. She knew what I meant. For the past few years, I’ve been living in a self-created whirlwind of busy-ness. I know a blog like this often seems calm and quiet on the surface, but underneath there’s usually a flurry of turbulent activity.

“Look,” I said, showing her my calendar. “As of today, I have nothing major scheduled. I don’t have any book deadlines, I don’t have any speaking engagements. I don’t have anything at all.”

When Money Meant More Than Time

Before I started Get Rich Slowly in 2006, I had a lot of free time. After I got home from my job selling custom boxes every day, I could do whatever I wanted. I could read comic books, play videogames, work in the yard, watch old movies with Kris, or hang out with my friends. Financially, I was deep in debt, but I had a vast surplus of time.

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to use some of this surplus free time to make more money. In a way, I wanted to convert time into cash. During the past four years, I’ve gradually taken every spare moment I once had, and now use that time to read and write about money. This happened slowly, of course, but by January of this year, the change was complete. I lived and breathed money.

But you know what? I found that having a high income and no free time was just as frustrating as having lots of time and a pile of debt. A life out of balance is a life out of balance.

The side effects of my life with no spare time haven’t been pretty:

  • Our home and yard began to fall into disrepair.
  • I haven’t had time to watch TV, play videogames, or read my comic books.
  • I didn’t even read for pleasure anymore.
  • My friendships have faltered.
  • Even my relationship with Kris has seemed rocky at times.

For years I’ve been promising Kris that, “As soon as this project is over, my schedule will loosen up.” But something new has always come up. My schedule is always full, and I never have any time for the important things in life.

Things came to a climax during the book project. While I was writing and promoting Your Money: The Missing Manual, I had zero time for anything else. (Even Get Rich Slowly took a backseat to the book!) As I’ve mentioned many times, I was so stressed that I ate all of the time, gaining 20 pounds in four months. Yikes!

After I turned in the final book edits in February, Kris and I took a vacation to Belize. I needed a few days to unwind, but once I did, I realized my life was out of control. I remembered what the old J.D. used to be like: relaxed, friendly, and easy-going. Now I was highly strung. Surely there was some sort of middle ground between between time and money?

Committed to No Commitments

Over the past few months, I’ve gradually reduced my obligations. The last major thing I had on my schedule was speaking at the Savvy Blogging Summit. Now I’m intentionally not doing things:

  • I’m not starting a second book, despite interest from another publisher.
  • I’m not pursuing other speaking engagements.
  • I’m putting off a blog I really want to launch (Success Daily) until January 1st. (Well, if that ends up being our case-study blog for the GRS blogging project, it’ll launch sooner.)

I’ve managed to cut my commitments to the basics; I have no large projects looming on the horizon. Along with some other behind-the-scenes changes (including the addition of the staff writers last year), I now should have some big chunks of free time.

What will I do with this new-found temporal wealth? I’ll spend a lot of it with my wife: We’ll work in the yard, watch old movies together, and go on a couple of trips. I’ll exercise in the morning, and I’ll practice my French in the afternoon. I’ve already begun to dig into my comic book collection, and that’s been a blast. Plus, Starcraft II comes out in a couple of weeks, which should provide hours of fun

And, oh yeah! I’ll also be able to spend more time writing articles for GRS — articles like this one.

Big Rocks

The transition won’t be immediate, of course; it’s going to take effort to change my workaholic mindset. But I’m intent on insuring that the turbulent activity beneath the surface of this blog doesn’t drag my life along with it again. I’ve set up systems to solve the problem. In other words, I’m striving to find balance. Instead of letting my life be only about money, I’m going to make room for other priorities, too.

In Work Less, Live More (still one of my favorite personal finance books), Bob Clyatt offers a simple metaphor for making room in your life for the important stuff. The secret, he says, is prioritizing:

Imagine you have an empty jar, a collection of a few large rocks, and several handfuls of gravel. Your task is to put all the large and small rocks into the jar. One approach would be to pile all the gravel first, but doing so would leave room for only one or two of the large rocks; you wouldn’t get everything to fit. Switch your approach and put the large rocks in first, and you’ll find that the gravel will all fit nicely around the empty space. If a bit of gravel doesn’t fit at the end, you’ve not lost much.

Let too many little things take priority, and there never seems to be time for the big things. Consider the Big Rocks to be really important things you want to accomplish in life, the things that define you. Get the big things in first, work on the right projects and priorities, and let the little stuff fit in around the edges. Let your Big Rocks be non-negotiable priorities in your weekly calendar — and learn to say “no” when other things begin to intrude. Then fit those other things in where you can.

So if running makes you happy, schedule your runs — and then fit the rest of your life around them. Don’t ignore your obligations, but make the stuff you have to do fit around the stuff you want to do, not the other way around.

Make an appointment with yourself. I’ve learned that if I really want to make something a priority, I sometimes have to schedule it. Because fitness is so important to me this year, for example, I’ve intentionally blocked off time on my Google calendar to exercise. Is it before 9am on Sunday through Thursday? Sorry. I can’t do what you’re asking. I’m busy. I have an appointment with myself at the gym or on my bike. Is it between four and five on a weekday afternoon? Sorry. I’m studying French.

As much as I love Clyatt’s analogy, there’s just one problem. Most of us start with our jars already full of rocks. How then do we find room for the stuff we want to do?

You don’t necessarily need to drop your current obligations, but as they end, don’t add more. Drop things (and let things end) until you are easily able to fit the Big Rocks into your schedule. Once you’re sure that everything fits, and that you have enough time for yourself, it’s okay to add something else to the jar. But only add one thing at a time. If you can handle that, then add something else.

Rich in Time

Last month, I wrote about the rewards of thrift. By being frugal, I said, and by saving my money, I’m able to spend money on the things that are important to me. GRS reader Dink left an insightful comment on that article:

There’s no need to worry about getting “rich” either slowly or quickly; if you’re rich in time, and comfortable financially, you’re better off than most people, poor or wealthy. Time is the real currency. Just look at what J.D. is showing…his time to cycle, his time to go to his gym, his time to travel. Freedom of time is what I personally strive for, where I can wake up one day and be my own master. While I’m lucky that I both enjoy my job and get paid well, it’s a complete time-suck. All I want is to reclaim my time.

I love the notion of being “rich in time”. I’d never though of it that way before, but now I can see that this idea has been a huge motivating factor for me over the past year. Sure, I’ve been able to create monetary wealth for myself, but I’ve done so at the expense of time. Because of this, in some ways I’ve felt poorer. These past few months have been all about me re-learning what it feels like to be rich in time.

I’ve been looking for balance, and — at last — I think I may have found it.

How much stuff does one man need?

It seems like every time I travel, I come home committed to win my war on Stuff. This time was no different. I lived out of a single carry-on bag while vacationing in Belize last week, and even that felt luxurious. Now I’ve returned to a house packed with doodads and gewgaws, knick-knacks and baubles.

The more I purge Stuff from my life, the more I travel, and the more I see (and read) about how little others need to get by, the stronger my conviction to reduce what I own, as well. I’m in awe of my friend Leo from Zen Habits, for instance. At his secondary blog, mnmlist, Leo has been chronicling his attempt to reduce the number of thing he owns. At first, this was his 100 Things Challenge (he wanted to own just 100 personal items). Recently, he’s upped the ante. It’s now a 50 Things Challenge. Wow.

I’m not ready to go to this extreme — not even close. But I am beginning to wonder: How many t-shirts does one man need? How many jackets? How many books? And how in the heck did I end up with more than ten pairs of shoes? Ridiculous! How much Stuff does one man really need?

Small Steps

Over the past three years, I’ve made great strides in ridding my life of Stuff. I’ve sold or given away thousands of books (yes, thousands). I’ve purged a garage full of computer parts. I’ve managed to turn off the rationalization switch in my brain and learned to simply donate my Stuff to charity instead of saving it for “someday”. And about a year ago, I started my slow-motion clothes purge.

Based on a Get Rich Slowly reader suggestion, I moved all of my sweaters and button-down shirts to an unused closet. For the past several months, I’ve gradually pulled one shirt and then another into my regular closet as I actually wear them. Unworn shirts and sweaters stay in their temporary holding space. At the end of this process (which should be in June), all of the shirts I’ve worn in the past year will be in one closet, and the Stuff I don’t wear will be purged.

Do you know how many different shirts I’ve worn over the past nine months? I just went upstairs to count. My “good” closet contains 17 button-down shirts and three sweaters. My closet of unused clothes contains 30 shirts (two of which haven’t even been taken out of their packaging) and 11 sweaters.

Sometimes I think I’m the village idiot. I don’t even wear two-thirds of my wardrobe? It’s like I’m just throwing my money away. But rather than beat myself up over this, I can use the info going forward.

For example, Kris and I made a trip to REI before leaving for Belize. I fell in love with one shirt, but I almost didn’t buy it after looking at the price tag. $40? For a shirt? Get real! I rarely spend more than $20. But then I realized: If I really love the shirt and it’ll live in my “good” closet, then spending $40 is much better than buying two cheap shirts I never wear. I bought the REI shirt in two colors (rust and aqua), and I’m glad I did. (But maybe I should get rid of two other shirts from my “good” closet to make up for this.)

I’ve begun to realize it’ll take a few more years to finally get rid of the worst of my Stuff. It took me two decades to acquire these things; it’ll take a bit of time to unload it. But how will I know when I’m finished? How much Stuff does one man need?

The Magic of Thinking Small

It was interesting to see how small the average homes were in Belize and Guatemala. In the U.S., the average new home was 2349 square feet in 2004 (up from 1695 square feet in 1974). In Central America, homes seemed to be maybe 600 or 700 square feet.

Guatemalan Houses
Note: From talking with some of the folks who live there, I think people in Belize want bigger homes, but can’t afford them. It’s not like they’re choosing small homes because they think it’s virtuous.

Seeing these small homes made we think: What would I choose to own if my space were limited? Could I really rationalize my comic book collection? Forty-seven button-down shirts and fourteen sweaters? Two bicycles? My burgeoning pile of shoes? Which Stuff is worth owning, and which is not? And if it’s not worth owning in a small home, why is it worth owning in a large home?

I don’t know the answer to these questions; I’ll continue to puzzle them out.

This weekend, one of our neighbors held a yard sale. Kris and I went across the street to chat. “Wow,” Kris said. “It looks like you’re selling everything.” She scooped up the neighbor’s canning jars.

“In a way, I am,” our neighbor said. “I’m moving into a smaller place, and I have a couple of weeks before I have to be out of this one. I’ve already moved everything I want to keep, and I’m selling everything else.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. “I wish I could do that.”

But who says I can’t? Why can’t I pretend that I’m moving into a smaller place? If I did, what would I keep? What is it I really value? How much Stuff does one man really need?

Some thoughts on the return to traditional skills

I give several media interviews each month. As the economy changes, so do the questions. Recently, as you can imagine, reporters have been asking me what people can do to save money.

This question gets boring after a while. There are only so many ways a fellow can say, “Spend less than you earn by reducing unnecessary expenses.” Lately I’ve been trying to spice up interviews by promoting what I call “traditional skills”.

When I say “traditional skills”, I really mean the do-it-yourself ethic. It seems to me that during the 1990s and early 2000s, as the U.S. moved more toward a service economy, we became so specialized in what we do that we let go of “traditional skills” and began to pay others to do things that we might have done ourselves a decade or two ago.

One example in my own life is changing the oil in our cars. When I was in high school, my father taught me basic automobile maintenance. I could change the oil, I could change filters, and I could even replace my brake pads. I’m by no means a macho auto-shop kind of guy (quite the opposite: I’m an indoor techno-nerd), but I found these sorts of jobs rewarding. Somewhere along the way, I started paying other people to do this stuff for me.

I’m not the only one. Over the past generation, folks seem to have forgotten how to sew, how to garden, and how to perform basic home maintenance.

Obviously there are situations in which it makes sense to pay others to do things. Kris and I are going to pay somebody to repair our gutters, for example. I could do this myself, but I am swamped with work, work that will pay me far more than it would cost to have somebody else repair the gutters. This is a trade I’m willing to make.

In general, however, I think there’s a tremendous money-saving opportunity for people to return to traditional skills, to begin doing some of these tasks themselves again. It pleases me that here in Oregon, at least, there seems to be a surge of interest in this sort of DIY ethic. I am shocked by how many of my friends now grow at least some of their own produce. (And more of them are beginning to raise chickens — and goats!)

But that’s not all. More of our friends are canning now, and knitting, and performing home maintenance. They’re learning to bake bread and to sew and to build their own patios. I think this is wonderful, and I think it’s a great way to save money.

I’ve written about this subject many times in the past at Get Rich Slowly, and am sure to write about it more in the future. I also enjoy covering individual examples of these “traditional skills” in posts like these:

Knitting and sewing, auto mechanics and woodworking, hunting and fishing, baking and canning: all of these are making a resurgence among my friends and family. Maybe it’s just the region in which I live, or maybe it’s just a product of entering middle age, but the people I know seem to have a renewed interest in finding ways to do things themselves.

Have you observed something similar where you live, or in your own life? Have you begun to do things yourself that you used to pay others to do? Which things are worth doing on your own? Do you think it would be a good thing for people to begin doing more of these tasks on their own again? Or will this simply weaken the economy?

Marvelous magazine ads from 1904

This post contains many scanned images. Click on any detail to see a larger version.

I believe that one of the best ways to reduce spending is to limit your exposure to advertising. Marketers employ powerful persuasive techniques to circumvent our rational minds, encouraging us to spend our hard-earned money on things we don’t really need.

This isn’t anything new. Advertising has been a pervasive part of American culture for more than a century. I recently picked up some 100-year-old magazines for cheap at a garage sale.

  • One is the May 1904 issue of Women’s Home Journal.
  • The other is the October 1909 issue of Collier’s.

While it’s fun to read the articles — the Wright brothers fly a plane over Manhattan! Admiral Dewey at home! — it’s even more fun to look at the ads. They provide a fascinating glimpse of the rise of U.S. consumerism.

A few advertisements show products that are still familiar today:

[ad for Heinz and its 57 varieties] [ad for Jell-O]

Some of the ads demonstrate new technology that now, 100 years later, we take for granted:

[ad for Pope bicycles] [ad for Opal Refrigerators]
[ad for Hoover Suction Sweepers] [ad for parlor organ]
[ad for Edison Phonographs]

And, of course, certain ads seem quaint or dated:

[ad for some sort of clotheswashing thing, though I'm not sure what] [ad for Domino Sugar]
[ad for a book about how women should please men] [ad for Dr. Graves' tooth powder]

Of course, there were questionable financial schemes being advertised even back then. People have always been lured by the promise of quick riches. Some of these ads offer guarantees of “perfectly safe” returns of 12-18% a year, while others offer sure ways to make a couple hundred dollars in just a few days while working from home.

[ad promising a 12-18% safe return] [ad for a mysterious scheme]

Some of the “make money” ads offered legitimate opportunities. This one from the October 1909 issue of Collier’s seems to give a peek into the origins of the now familiar bowling alley.

[ad for a sort of portable bowling alley]

There are two interesting differences between the ads in the 1904 Women’s Journal and the 1909 Collier’s. In the former, there are several advertisements for carriages:

[ad for Elkhart Carriages] [ad for carriages]

But five years later, there are no ads for carriages at all. Instead, there are several full-page ads for automobiles! (Unfortunately, the magazine was way too big for my scanner, so I can only get about half of this ad.)

[ad for Ford motorcars]

It’s also interesting to see the rise of credit. Though consumer credit has been used for centuries, the sort of credit we think of (using installment payments) is a more recent development. For a long time, it carried a social stigma, but that eased during the first part of the twentieth century.

The 1904 Women’s Home Journal contains one ad (for pianos) that offers installment purchases. The 1909 Collier’s promotes several companies with “easy terms”.

[ad for easy credit terms on a clothing purchase]

I loved reading these old magazines, and intend to keep my eye out for similar bargains in the future. Actually, Kris and I are stopping at an antique store later this afternoon. I should set myself a $10 budget and then see if I can’t find a couple of magazines to take home.

[ad for boys' clothes] [ad for hair renewer]

Turning the tables on telemarketers

It’s been an annoying day here at the box factory. November 15th must be some sort of telemarketing celebration day. I’ve been handling three or four calls an hour from these bozos all day long. It drives me nuts.

I have little patience for spammers of any sort. Telemarketers are the worst. I have filters that can handle most of the e-mail and blog spam I receive. But there’s no way to filter the telemarketers. I have to answer each and every call, have to listen to a few seconds of the lousy accents before I’m able to determine whether the call is worth taking or not.

In general, I have one (and only one) technique for dealing with these people: I hang up on them. They’re not worth my time. Yes, I know that I ought to ask them to remove my name from their calling list. I try that with the worst offenders, but you know what? Nothing ever changes. I still get calls from Paper Printing and Converting nearly every day despite having asked to be removed from their list a dozen times.

Some people are unwilling to hang up on telemarketers because they believe it’s rude. My sister-in-law, for example, tries to be very polite. She sits through a lot of tedious sales pitches. I have other friends who simply set the phone down and walk away. This isn’t a bad idea, but it means I have to return to hang up the phone after a couple of minutes. No — for me, hanging up on the telemarketer is the most efficient course of action.

Telemarketers work off “scripts”. Especially resourceful people turn the tables on telemarketers by using counterscripts. There are a variety of counterscripts available on the internet. My favorite comes from Junkbusters:

Every time you get a call you consider junk, just ask the questions in this script. If they answer no, you may be able to sue them. Be sure to put your phone number on the National Do-Not-Call registry by visiting or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

  1. “Are you calling to sell something?” (or “is this a telemarketing call?”)
  2. “Could you tell me your full name please?”
  3. “And a phone number, area code first?”
  4. “What’s the name of the organization you’re calling for?”
  5. “Does that organization keep a list of numbers it’s been asked not to call?”
  6. “I would like my number(s) put on that list. Can you take care of that now?”
  7. “And does the company you work for also make telemarketing calls for any other organizations?” (If they answer no, skip the next question.)
  8. (If yes) “Can you make sure your company won’t call me for any other organization?”

Visit Junkbusters for more information on this counterscript (and on other ways to “bust the junk messages out of your life”).

Just now I got a call from a telemarketer who read from a script with a lot of big words, and who sounded vaguely like he might have an actual concern with our business. I listened for 20 seconds before hanging up in disgust.

A minute later, the same telemarketer called back. “May I speak with the owner?” he asked.

“I am an owner,” I said. “And you just called. I told you I wasn’t interested.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, “and you hung up on me.”

“I know I did,” I said, laughing. And I hung up on him again.

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