Sunday, December 6, 2009

Organizing the Job Search

Periodically, I take a few days off from my job to put some extra time into the part-time degree I'm working on. Sometimes though, those days aren't very productive - it usually depends on whether or not I have a plan of exactly what I want to accomplish, and how I'm going to do it. Otherwise, I just stare at the pages of equations blankly for a while before finding something else to do. It reminds me of the last couple of times I was unemployed or underemployed for a significant amount of time.

The first time, I didn't really have a job-finding plan, nor did I have any other concrete plans for the other things I wanted to accomplish in life (this was around my first year of college). I ended up getting very little done for a few months, besides burning through my savings.

The second time, I did a bit better. I scheduled a bit of time each day to study, and put together a good list of job opportunities and sought them actively. I actually found two jobs, both of which were really flexible around my school schedule, and I haven't been unemployed since. I realize now that a big part of why I've done well since is that I effectively used those couple of months where I was underemployed to make myself more employable.

A concrete schedule can definitely make time looking for a job more effective. There's a recent article about this in the New York Times: How to Turn Downtime Into Job Offers. The article focuses on smart planning of and scheduling of the various job search activities. Based on my experience, I think it's also important to schedule a couple of hours a day for concrete skills improvement, but overall it's definitely a useful article.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I have a friend who has been struggling to find a job after graduating. Three years ago, his degree would have made it easy to find a good job. Instead, he's had many interviews, but no offers. Finally, though, he was able to get an internship. Internships, if they pay at all, don't usually pay well. They can make a resume really stand out however.

I do a few hours of recruiting and interviewing candidates each month at my job (most of us at the company do). Speaking with our full-time recruiters, they identified internships as one of the top three things they look for when interviewing recent college graduates. There can be quite the difference between the new college graduates who have done internships, and those who have not. For this reason, I congratulated my friend on finding a worthwhile internship where he'll get to work with some of the important people in his industry while continuing to look for a full-time position.

For anyone else out there having difficulty finding a job, an internship may be just the thing to do while continuing to look for something permanent. According to the New York Times, internships are one position where hiring is increasing: Hiring is Rising in One Area

Also, consider an internship an extended interview. According to one survey, most interns are later offered full-time positions by the same company. (NACE Survey)

More internship information:

Internships (

Friday, November 27, 2009


I was reading a post in a blog on saving money, where the author discusses "the issue of when you cross the line from being financially savvy to being unethical." As an example, she describes a trip to a restaurant where she and her group were undercharged.

Though I think she and her group at the restaurant came to the wrong conclusion, Jennifer Schultz does at least address this point - which is often ignored by other similar publications.
A Holiday Dilemma

You'll notice that the commenters on the blog were all very solidly in the "be as ethical as possible" camp - and were surprised at her group's decision. I don't judge her that harshly, and just think that they were a bit foolish.

This reminds me of two of the common responses when people find a wallet on the ground:

  • Some will thank God for their good fortune, because they really needed the money.
  • Some will hope that they will be able to find the owner of the wallet, who might really need it.
But just like at the restaurant that undercharged, it isn't their money.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving Season! Even better than getting presents at Christmas, now is the time to remember what we have and appreciate the simplest of things.

Here is a fun thanksgiving video from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Monday, November 16, 2009

Slow and Steady

For those of you who don't already read "Get Rich Slowly", I highly recommend it.

Here's a great article about not trying to get all the good things in life too soon:

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Need a bigger place?

People are always talking about needing more space. We start to feel cramped with our kids and our stuff and the messes we make. But how much will we gain with the new square footage? These photographs might change your perspective a little bit.

These photos from a series taken by Michael Wolf in a Hong Kong apartment complex. All of the rooms in the complex were 100 square feet.

The article accompanying a few of the photos in the New York Times photography blog ends with these thoughts:

Mr. Wolf finds the most interesting way to display the photographs is in a 10-by-10-foot room.

"If you’re standing inside a room which is exactly the same size as the room you’re looking at, then you realize how small that space actually is," he said. "And then you realize that people have been living there for 40 years. And then you realize that they are happy! That something like that can be, I think that’s the amazing thing. That people can be happy that they have 100 square feet to live in and nice neighbors. That’s basically all you need."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Taking without giving value in return

What does gambling do to its participants? The attitude of taking something from someone else in order to enhance our own position—the essence of gambling—leads us away from the giving path of Christ and toward the taking path of the adversary. The act of taking or trying to take something from someone else without giving value in return is destructive of spiritual sensitivities.  Dallin H. Oaks, Gambling, Morally Wrong and Politically Unwise

In California, 1/3 of lottery funds are given to schools, with most of the remainder being given out as prizes. A substantial percentage is used to advertise the lottery. The lottery covers 1.5% of the education budget for the state. This is based on the information on the official site for the California Lottery.

So, as I see it, we have a large statewide program to randomly distribute wealth, with those with lower salaries giving a higher percentage of their earnings in. We then advertise it heavily, in order to convince everyone that gambling is good. In return, we get a supposed 1.5% increase in education funding. Worth it?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Step-Down Method: Is living within your means enough?

I have a friend who always lives within his means. However much money he has, he spends just a little bit less than that. He's certainly doing better than those who drown themselves in debt.

It is almost funny to see how quickly he adapts his lifestyle to his current income. He's single, and incredibly talented. When he's employed, he usually makes quite a bit of money. When this happens, he buys all sorts of nice things for himself and eats out a lot. When he's unemployed, he still, somehow, manages to survive (I assume he does some good food storage).

This reminds me of what happened when I got my first full-time, professional position. We immediately bought a bunch of nice things - because we had money. It took us a few months to realize how little money we were actually saving, even though we were making far more money than we had before. Decreasing our spending by a mere 10% resulted in a substantial surplus that we could put into savings.

Though the step-down method is usually targeted at those with debt, it can be especially useful for those who are just barely living within their means. The seven years of plenty are often followed by seven years of famine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waste Not!

Waste not is one of the most important principles in saving money. It is also one of the hardest for me to follow. Sometimes I forget about a container of leftovers until it is too late. Sometimes half of the food I give my toddler at mealtime ends up on the floor, and sometimes I buy food without a good plan for using it.

It's something I'm working on.

The article Study Analyzes Food Waste in Britain, is a wake-up call. It is amazing how much food we throw away, and the damage goes far beyond our food budget.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who said it?

Find this quote:

Now, I believe sincerely that one of the principal causes of the distress that exists among us—and I believe the same thing will apply almost universally throughout the land—is that people have gone beyond their means. They have borrowed largely, mortgaged their homes, their farms, and nearly everything they possess, to keep pace with their neighbors, competing one with another in putting on appearances and in carrying on their business on the credit basis that is so much in vogue in the world. …

Interesting how some counsel hardly ever changes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Talking About Money

Here's a great article from the New York Times:

Four Talks About Money

I especially like the section about "desired level of affluence", and how important it is for both spouses to agree. Things have worked out well for us financially partly because neither of us had strong expectations of affluence.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

That Your Burdens May be Light - Elder L. Whitney Clayton

Elder Clayton of the Seventy gave a talk during conference about the burdens that we face in life. The temporal difficulties related to "provident living" are definitely addressed by his talk.

That Your Burdens May be Light

As I read it, I really thought about the things he mentioned about burdens caused by others. Often, we can have temporal difficulties that are caused by others:
  • Robbery, theft and vandalism
  • Mistakes of children or other relatives
  • Unfair treatment at work
  • For children, parents can make mistakes that make their lives temporally much more difficult
In addition, some of our problems may be caused to some extent by others:
  • Never having learned self-reliance from parents or other caregivers
  • Feeling compelled to offer assistance to chronically needy friends and relatives
These types of burdens pose a double risk - more than just the temporal risk, it can be very easy to hate or despise the person causing the difficulties.

Elder Clayton gives the following advice that I think is especially important in this situation:

Burdens provide opportunities to practice virtues that contribute to eventual perfection. They invite us to yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father.”2 Thus burdens become blessings, though often such blessings are well disguised and may require time, effort, and faith to accept and understand.

I was reminded especially of one of the times when I didn't handle this type of situation well. While on my mission, one of the Elders that I worked with had never learned how to manage money. Every month, he ran out of money halfway through, and we'd have to request more. Feeling guilty about it, I began trying to spend less and less, so we wouldn't have to request so much extra. During this process, I got angrier and angrier at him, until we couldn't work together effectively. We honestly wasted a great deal of time when we should have been serving the people. Thinking back, if I'd forgiven him and had a better attitude, I'm certain it would have been more than worth the few hundred extra dollars that we used. I can think of a dozen different better reactions I could have had to his poor financial skills. Though he certainly made plenty of mistakes, I can't help but wonder if perhaps mine were greater.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Developing Sales Resistance 101: Technique # 3

It might seem obvious, but sometimes we forget how hard marketers work to implement this next technique.

Sales Technique #3: Make it as appealing as possible

Marketers have used this strategy so heavily, and often dishonestly, that they have changed the way we see ourselves, our bodies, our homes, and our possessions. Not only have they set an impossible standard, they have also done much to skew our priorities.

If you haven't seen this Dove time lapse ad, you should. It says a lot.

Keep in mind, they have their own products to sell. But I like their approach a little better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Photography and Money

I'm just starting out, but I love photography. This is one area where I would be tempted to spend thousands of dollars on equipment. Occasionally, I need a dose of perspective. I read a great blog post today that gives 10 suggestions for becoming a better photographer. It isn't about what you buy. Check out

10 Ways to Improve Your Photography Without Buying Gear

Most of these suggestions can be applied to any hobby. Sometimes we get the idea that if we are committed to something, we should be spending a lot of money on it. For photography, we need six lenses. For running we need the latest technology clothing. For scrapbooking we need every stamp and scissor known to man. The truth is, all of these hobbies are more about the time, love and effort we put in than anything else. We show our real commitment by what we do with what we already have.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Developing Sales Resistance 101: Sales Technique #2

Marketers have a lot of tricks to get us to buy (see Sales Resistance 101: Introduction). One of the most essential is

Sales Technique #2: Play off of our sense of identity

They give us messages, both subtle and overt, that tell us if we want to be a certain way we need their product. As a mom, I see ads pointed at me all the time. In these ads there are a million suggestions, things like:

Moms who care about their kids safety/health/learning buy this product.
Quality time with your kids looks like this (insert heart-warming visual with the product).
Your kids will know you love them if you use this product.
Savvy parents use this product to handle their crazy lives.
Moms deserve a break; see how everything else goes away when you use this product.

Of course I care about my kids. I want to spend time with them and show them I love them. I wish my crazy life was a little easier sometimes, and I value the times when I get to take a break. Does that really have anything to do with buying a particular safety product, toy, or food?

Some products make sense. Others are all about image, fear, or guilt. Before you buy, ask whether you are trying to prove anything with the contents of your cart.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Potatoes, Now Available in Handy Single Serving Size!

Here is a recipe that is often taken for granted: Baked Potatoes. They are cheap, convenient, and nourishing. Leave off the foil, and they will have better flavor and texture (really!). Here are instructions for baking from the instructor of my introductory cooking class at Utah State.

Baked Potatoes

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash potatoes, pat dry, rub with a little vegetable oil, and then sprinkle with salt. Pierce each potato with a fork several times. Place potatoes directly on the oven rack and bake for about an hour.

You can also bake these in the microwave. Follow the same instructions for preparation, but cook in the microwave on HI, turning potatoes over every couple of minutes until done. In the microwave, they only take a few minutes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Developing Sales Resistance 101: Introduction

In college I took a course in persuasion, taught by Dr. John Seiter. In it, we covered all sides of persuasion, both positive and negative, wholesome and slimy. One of the lessons I took away from this class was that many things influence how we behave-- rules of politeness, a need for our actions to match our beliefs about ourselves, fear, ego, guilt, and a sense of generosity. People looking to sell us things know these well, and they have an arsenal of strategies to get us to buy.

The key to sales resistance is to get to know some of these strategies so we can counter them. With these "Sales Resistance 101" posts, I am going to write about a few of them.

Sales technique #1 Make it urgent.

We all know the infomercials that tell us to "call within the next five minutes and we'll throw in a...." Department stores use this strategy too. Sales are usually limited to a couple of days, and sometimes even a few hours. Come in before noon and you can buy these sweaters for only $12, and those pants for only $29. Suddenly we find ourselves thinking, I need sweaters. It's such a great deal. I better get in there while it lasts.

How to resist? Take a deep breath. Think about it. There is always a sale going on somewhere. Even on a regular day you can find all sorts of things marked down. If the item you want isn't on sale, it probably will be soon. So, the real question is, do you actually need the new sweater? Is it really worth the price? What kind of difference will it make in your life/wardrobe? If you are unsure, just leave the sweater there. There will always be clothes to buy and great deals to be had. That is one of life's constants.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Working Hard

A great quote from President Monson yesterday, that I hope I remember correctly:

"Retirement is not part of the Lord's Plan of Salvation."

He focuses on how we shouldn't ever take breaks from our spiritual responsibilities - that there is no way to "earn" some time off from serving the Lord.

I also found an interesting (temporal) article about unemployment. It reminded me of something I wrote in June about Volunteer Work.

Hard Work, No Pay

I still think this is great advice. As pointed out in the article, if we work for free, then we have a lot more choices about what we want to do. We can pick opportunities that will look great on a resume and teach us valuable skills - rather than just fill out resumes and field rejection letters all day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Best Reason for a Budget

Jacob, the Book of Mormon prophet said this of wealth:

Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good-- to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted.

Jacob 2: 18-19

Sometimes when we get so used to saving money, cutting out expenses, and looking for good deals that we forget the reasons we have a budget in the first place. We hold our wallets so tightly closed that we cannot let go. Are we in this so we can endlessly enlarge our net worth? Of course not.

Having a budget allows us to amass money, yes, but we all plan to spend it some time. The goal is to spend our money on things that are truly important to us-- like helping people in need.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grocery Buying Thought # 3: Think Like a Food Manufacturer

Food companies understand how to keep costs down, and we can learn a lot from the ways they practice thrift. Thus today's thought, save money by thinking like a food manufacturer. Here are some of the things they do:

1. Understand that good packaging adds to a foods perceived value, but not its actual value. A lot of times when we shop, we are buying art and novelty just as much as we are buying nourishment. Think about what's inside the pretty package? Is it worth it? Check out to see some silly examples. In contrast, the ingredients food manufacturers bring in to make their products come in boring, utilitarian packaging.

2. Use expensive ingredients as garnish and inexpensive ingredients as filler. Ever notice the size and number of chicken pieces in a canned soup or on a frozen pizza? The difference is that when you make it yourself, you can make the inexpensive filler healthy-- brown rice, vegetables, whole grain bread, etc.

3. Remember small savings add up. I read once about an airline that saved over a million dollars by putting one less olive on people's salads. When searching for good deals on food, it is most important to consistently spend less on the foods you eat most often. For example, if you spend $1 less on the milk you buy every week, you will save $52 in a year. If you spend $5 less on the big bottle of vanilla you buy once a year, you will save $5 in a year. Of course it good to save money on big purchases too, but sometimes we forget how little savings add up.

4. Buy in bulk, but don't get distracted. Manufacturers buy directly from suppliers, in huge quantities. For basic items, don't be afraid to buy a lot at once. Just make sure you really need it. Watch out for the luxury foods sold at warehouse stores. It may be cheaper than you can get it elsewhere, but you probably wouldn't buy that much elsewhere. Sometimes it is better to buy a smaller amount at higher relative cost. And sometimes you should just skip it.

5. Cook a lot at once. Food manufacturers do it for efficiency. You can do it for convenience. Freeze it, or eat it again tomorrow with cheese on top.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Swiss Oats

Breakfast cereal can be expensive. The price per pound is often $3 or more. Compare that to less than $1 for rolled oats, flours, and whole grains. This huge difference in cost means you can save a lot of money each week, just by rethinking breakfast. Consider making waffles from scratch. They are super-cheap, and you can freeze and toast them later. You could also start an oatmeal habit. Skip the packets, though. Old fashioned oats are easy to cook in the microwave (microwave in a wide bowl, with a bit of butter to prevent overflows).

If you are looking for something you can prepare ahead of time, or if you want a cooler breakfast for summer, try Swiss Oats. Here is my recipe:

Swiss Oats

2 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups milk

fruit, fresh or dried
chopped nuts

Combine oats, salt, cinnamon, honey and milk in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve with fruit and nuts for individuals to mix in as desired.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Recipe for Tuna Rolls

Make these instead of tuna boxed dinner! They are cheaper, faster, and just as handy. Jeremy remembered them from his childhood, and I made up my own version. Try them, they're tasty.

Tuna Rolls with Special Sauce

1 batch of biscuit dough (use your own, or see 60 Second Biscuits post)
1 can of tuna
2 tablespoons mustard
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup relish, chopped pickled banana peppers (yummy!), or finely chopped onions

Preheat the oven to 400°. Make the biscuit dough. Roll out dough to form a rectangle, approximately 8 inches by 12 inches. Open and drain tuna. Spread tuna evenly over biscuit dough. Roll up dough with tuna inside to form a log 12 inches long. Use string to cut dough into 3/4 inch thick rolls by wrapping string around the log and pulling it tight. Place tuna rolls on a cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake until light golden brown on top, about 12 minutes.

While rolls are in the oven, combine mayonnaise, mustard, and relish to make the sauce.

Eat the rolls warm, topped with sauce if desired.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grocery Buying Thought #2: Make a Plan

Grocery Buying Plan
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
D&C 88: 119

It took me a while to warm up to the idea of writing a menu for our family's meals. It just didn't fit my personality to be that organized. Besides, I was busy and I figured I wouldn't always have time to cook what was on the menu anyway. I never really bought expensive food. I watched for sale prices and stocked up on good deals. I regularly bought fruits, vegetables, and other healthy items.

Things worked alright, but there were a few problems with my grocery-buying strategy. First, our diet was relatively boring. Since I had no real plans for what to cook, I would usually cook what was easiest, like frozen pizza, microwaved potatoes, or spaghetti. And there was a lot of repetition. Second, I had to do more grocery runs, because I hadn't realized I would need marjoram, cream cheese, or whatever else that week. Third, I wasted more food. I bought items that sounded good or were on sale, but often I never got around to using them.

I am still not as organized as I could be. My mother-in-law plans two meals for each day of the coming week. One woman I know writes out a dinner menu for the entire month. Both these systems are great, but you can get a lot of the same benefits by making a simpler plan (and this is the only way I have been able to make it work for me.

On a good week, here is what I do. Quickly, I check out what I have in my cupboard and fridge. I figure out what supplies I already have and, more importantly, which foods I need to use up soon. Next, I look at the weekly ads. What is on a good sale that I can use? With all of that information in mind, I write out a list of five or six things I want to cook that week. Then I write a grocery list with the things I need to buy, including items for each recipe. When I am preparing to make dinner each day, I choose something from the list and make it. I save money by wasting less, cooking what is on sale, and making fewer trips to the grocery store.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Prosperity Preaching

The New York Times had an article I'd been meaning to post about one of the groups that does "Prosperity Preaching" - teaching that righteousness leads inevitably to financial success. In this case, righteousness means donating to the prosperity preachers themselves.

Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich

It's easy to believe this sort of fallacy - that righteousness in one area will make up for laziness in another area, or will make the rest of our life easy. Paying tithing doesn't mean that your credit card debts will magically fix themselves, and serving well in your calling doesn't mean you'll be able to afford that subprime mortgage.

I thought of this because of a post at Mormon Finance Deceitful Theology: The Theology of Prosperity. It reminded me I hadn't posted these two interesting articles.

Edit: Here's a neat post that refers to this: Not All Deviance is Quixotism

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Using Sales to Increase Food Storage

An article in September's Ensign points out a simple method for increasing our amount of food storage cheaply. Grocery stores will often have very large sales on some items of food (sometimes they are sold for less than they cost the store), in an attempt to attract more shoppers, who will hopefully buy many of the more expensive items too. When these items are non-perishable, they can be bought in large quantities, with most set aside for food storage. Over time, it should be easy to get quite a variety of food this way.

The article also addresses storing food in a small apartment - something very important to us, since our current apartment is quite a bit smaller than our previous one. Our primary problem now is that our kids enjoy climbing on the food storage...

Reading the News

After going without Internet news for a while now, as part of this experiment, I've learned a few things:
  • It's harder to update a blog without news stories and blog entries to get ideas going.
  • Most news is very, very unimportant. I have Julianne tell me what's going on each day, and usually there is very little of actual importance - at least among the more prominent articles.
  • I'd like some way to get a list each morning of the 30 or 40 articles that I'd be most interested in. I'm going to have to work on setting up some Yahoo Pipes filters.
  • It's very refreshing not to be reading about politics! I think I needed a break after the multi-year presidential campaign and recession brought on so many political articles.
I definitely plan to try to find ways to better focus my news and blog reading to filter out the garbage.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Are They Really Necessities?

In the spirit of John Bytheway (I've never been to one of his firesides, but I have listened to a talk or two, and read one of his books, and Julianne repeats his stories from time to time), I decided to give up electronic entertainment for 30 days. For me, electronic entertainment means:
  1. Computer games (not very hard, I play them a couple times a month at most)
  2. Television
  3. Internet surfing, especially online news
I only watch television with Julianne, who enjoys it more than I do. Thus, I need to find good activities to fill up the time instead with her!

I love reading the news online, and this is the main reason I decided to set the goal. I want to see how different my life is if I cut that out completely. Besides my work, online news is the primary use I make of the computer.

This is basically an experiment to see how it affects my performance at work, my relationship with my family, and my progress with my other goals.

Recreation and relaxation are important, but I want to find out if my level and type of recreation was the best choice! I'll post here about how it turns out.

John Bytheway posted the chapter from his book about this:

PS I am cheating a little bit - I still listen to music on the computer and radio, and I read the comics that my wife has automatically update as her background. I figured those were fair concessions, since I don't think either of them really cuts into my productivity.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Things as They Really Are

Any sort of addiction can be a major obstacle to self-reliance. An addiction can result in spending a large amount of time and or money on things that get us no closer to (or even drive us away from) our personal goals.

Elder Bednar focused in a recent talk on a newer, but quickly growing, addiction - to virtual worlds, computer games and social networking.

Things as They Really Are

It reminded me of my earlier post: Priorities

When I was younger, I finally figured we only had so much time in this life, and there wasn't much point in spending a significant chunk of it in a virtual life. As one website put it, get a first life in a real-time, 3D analog world with no lag and 6.5 billion users.

Monday, August 17, 2009

We Can Afford It

These two lessons are the essence of provident living. When faced with the choice to buy, consume, or engage in worldly things and activities, we all need to learn to say to one another, “We can’t afford it, even though we want it!” or “We can afford it, but we don’t need it—and we really don’t even want it!”

Elder Hales gave a very good talk during the previous General Conference about being provident providers. He gave as examples two stories about times he wanted to buy gifts for his wife, but she turned them down. Each time, she had a different reason. When she gave her first reason, I just nodded, thinking that of course she was right to turn down a gift when they couldn't afford it.

It was the second gift that struck me - she asked him if he was buying the gift for her or for himself. He wasn't buying her a power tool, golf clubs or another type of gift that I think of when I consider the type of gift you are really giving to yourself, not someone else (like when I my little brothers decided to buy a computer game they really wanted "for the family" for Christmas - they were the only ones to play it, as you might guess). No, in this case the gift was one that was definitely for her - a very nice coat. What she meant then was probably that he was buying it to make himself seem like a good provider, and to show off his wife and his money to the world. It didn't matter that they could afford it - he was buying the gift for the wrong reasons.

I realized that I do this myself. Sometimes, when I buy something for my wife, I justify going over the budget because it's for her. Looking back though, I realize that I often had thoughts about how this would impress my wife's friends or ward members, and how she'd have to appreciate me being willing to go over the budget for her gifts! In fact, I realize now that I occasionally felt a little cheated when my wife stayed within the budget on my own gifts! I'm going to have to work on repenting, and when I want to spend a little extra on my wife, I'm going to just have to save money somewhere else first. Besides, I'm the one who set the budget numbers - I have no excuse to go over.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buy as much house as you can afford, right?

Here's a great old article on how much to spend on a house:

Advice on Buying a House

The problem is that everyone seems to have taken this advice at once...

A few real gems:

The Claim: The basic rule is that you should buy as much house as you can afford. Stretch a little.

This advice started to get really bad once various sub-prime and ARM loans became available, making it so that people could suddenly "afford" a much larger mortgage.

The Claim: Use a mortgage broker.

Mortgage brokers aren't always on your side: When to Use a Mortgage Broker

The Claim: Homes are an investment, so buying bigger is better - because it appreciates faster.

Homes may be considered an investment, but they're not a great one. A larger house is going to increase utility bills and upkeep, and the amount of appreciation is, in general (besides the recent housing bubble), probably less than the interest rate on the mortgage. In addition, if you consider a house an investment, doesn't that make the mortgage leverage?

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Value of Mobility

To those who are currently unemployed or underemployed (and this is a lot of you!), it's pretty clear just how bad this recession is. For the rest of you:

The New Joblessness (New York Times)

One point made in the article is about the value of mobility. Many of the recently unemployed have low mobility, because their mortgages are under water, and it is so difficult to sell a house anyway. Job options are thus very limited, since they can't simply uproot and move to a different state.

Growing up, we moved around a lot. Four times, my parents bought a house. Two of those times, we only lived in the house for a year before changes in employment required moving again. Each time, I think my parents had planned to stay for quite a while, but life rarely turns out as planned. One time in particular, I recall that my father's was doing contract work. His contract expired right in the middle of an employment downturn in his industry. He had difficulty finding work, compounded by the fact that we couldn't afford to move, because we'd just bought a house a few months before.

A couple of years ago, we were living in a different state. I'm very glad that we decided to rent while we were there. We could have afforded a mortgage (though, during 2006, who couldn't qualify?), but I didn't like the looks of the housing bubble. It turned out well for us, since after only a little over a year, I transferred to a different team at the company which required a move to California!

In general (though during a housing bubble all bets are off), buying a house works out better the longer you live in it before moving. Renting works out better if you move often, or can't qualify for a mortgage with a good rate.

In the current economy, I don't think it's a good idea to tie oneself down with a house, unless you are quite financially secure. The standard advice to pay at least 20% down and get a fixed-rate mortgage is coming back into style...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Two Recipes for Bean Soup

Beans are one of my favorite things. They are cheap, nutritious, and filling. Make them a staple, and you will save money.

Here are two recipes for bean soup--one simple, one fancy, both yummy.

Bean Soup, adapted from a recipe in the 1976 edition of the Crockery Cooker Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens:

2 cups dry pinto beans
half an onion, chopped (or 1/4c dry chopped onion)
1 1/2 tablespoons chicken broth concentrate or 4 cubes bouillon
1 teaspoon salt (I sometimes leave this out)
pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
grated cheese, bacon pieces, and/or sour cream for toppings

Sort through beans to remove any pebbles or dirt. Rinse thoroughly and soak overnight. Drain beans and put them in the slow cooker with the onion, broth concentrate, salt, pepper, and marjoram. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Cover and cook on high 6-7 hours, or on low 12-14 hours. 20 minutes before you eat, mix the flour with the milk and add the mixture to the slow cooker, and continue to cook 15 minutes. Serve with topping.

Caribbean Black-Bean Soup, from the 2007 edition of Light and Healthy Recipes, by Good Houskeeping:

1 package (16 ounces) dry black beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, chopped
4 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced [if you carefully remove the seeds, these won't make the soup spicy hot]
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 cups water
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (2 medium), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional)

1. Rinse beans with cold running water and discard any stones or shriveled beans. In large bowl, place beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight. (Or, in 6-quart saucepot, place beans and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat to boiling over hight heat; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 1 hour.) Drain and rinse beans.
2. In 6-quart saucepot, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add jalapeno chiles, ginger, garlic, allspice, and thyme; cook, stirring, 3 minutes.
3. Add beans and water; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and salt; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until beans and sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes longer.
4. Spoon 1 cup bean mixture into blender; cover, with center part of cover removed to let
steam escape, and puree until smooth. Return to saucepot. Stir in green onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, if you like.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Simply consuming less is an important part of becoming self-reliant. Naturally, consuming less leads to needing less and spending less, making self-reliance easier to attain.

Another benefit of consuming less is that it makes the world a better place.

Imagine a collection of garbage, mostly plastic, perhaps twice the size of Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean. Sound fun? Maybe we should turn it into a tourist site:

Wikipedia: Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Even when trying to consume less, we'll end up with garbage. Most cities now have decent, affordable recycling programs. Check out the services in your city.

Friday, July 31, 2009


It's really fun to read financial articles from the first few years of this decade:

2006: Investing: How to recognize a bubble

I like his comment on housing construction, where he figured the bubble was already finished:

"Barring a full-blown consumer recession, something we see as unlikely, we see respite fundamentally for this sector."

I guess we should never ignore the possibility of a recession...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Grocery Buying Thought #1: Staples

One way to reduce the amount you spend on groceries is to figure out which foods are staples in your family's diet and make adjustments. For example, convincing your family to drink water instead of soda will save a lot of money, and it will make everyone healthier.

For my family, throwing out the granola bars made a significant difference. At first it made sense to me to buy low-sugar granola bars in bulk. They were relatively healthy and we could eat them on the run. The problem was, I liked them so much, I ate them all the time. Eventually, I realized I ought to be eating whole grain bread or rice, nuts, and fruit instead.

The great thing is, any one of these things cost less per ounce than the bars. The grains--which made up the bulk of the bars anyway--cost much less. I stopped buying the bars and, when they were no longer an option, I started eating healthier replacements. I save money every month, just by cutting them out.

Here are a few other adjustments we are working on:

-more beans and lentils, less meat
-whole grain bread and rice as staples (good, cheap, solid, healthy calories)
-more seasonal fruits
-only very inexpensive, healthy cereals
-more whole vegetable, fewer prepared veggies
-no more frozen pizza (I have to admit, sometimes I get nostalgic about these)
-if I am desperate for cookies, then I have to make them myself

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Big Letdown

When I was a kid, I saw amazing commercials for a Star Trek Phaser, that could shoot out beams of light! It amazed me that this device could shoot out beams that looked just like the devices I'd seen in the television show.

I decided to convince my brother to go buy a couple with me. We gathered together what little cash we had, and went to the store with my father, picked up a couple of them, and went to the cashier to purchase them.

The cashier told us the amount they cost, and we were quite surprised - they'd apparently been mislabeled on the shelf, and really cost nearly twice as much as we'd expected (either that or my label-reading skills weren't very good). So we went home empty-handed.

Waiting only made us want them more, so a few weeks later, we decided to get them after all - the commercials had been very convincing. We brought home our new phasers, and excitedly put in the batteries.

(As an aside, this is why the story of Calvin and Hobbes and the propeller beanie that he waited for for months became one of my favorites: Calvin and Hobbes)

It quickly became clear that these toys we had bought were little more than glorified flashlights. We were quite disappointed that the beams of light depicted in the commercial were completely impossible to reproduce with the actual toy. This surprised me quite a bit. Up until this point, I'm not sure it had occurred to me that the basic features of an item could be so exaggerated in a commercial.

These toys remained at the bottom of the toy box, except when the power went out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


How does one waste the days of his or her probation? Turning to sin is surely part of it, but there is another, more subtle way, a way that may not seem evil at all [....] One of the ways Satan lessens your effectiveness and weakens your spiritual strength is by encouraging you to spend large blocks of your time doing things that matter very little.

M. Russel Ballard, Be Strong in the Lord

Escapism has been on my mind today for a couple or reasons. First, I read an article in the Ensign about the addictive nature of online role-playing games. It isn't available on the internet yet, but if you're interested, it is called "Just a Game? by Charles D. Knutson and Kyle K. Oswald, August 2009 Ensign. Second, I had the stomach flu yesterday, and since I could not stand up without feeling nauseous, I ended up watching a lot of T.V.

The truth is, I loved it... at least the T.V. part of it. Jeremy and I found a show we hadn't seen before that was both fun and clean, and watched a bunch of episodes in a row. I have found myself wanting to watch more today. But I know that wouldn't be wise.

While I am not tempted to take up online role-playing, television happens to be one of my weaknesses. In college I went through a stressful period when I watched way too much T.V. I would come home from class, grab some food, sit down, and watch a show. If it was good, I would watch another one because I wanted to hold on to that happy, relaxed feeling. If it wasn't that good, I would watch another one because I hoped the next one would be better. In either case, I would stand up from the television, hours later, feeling unfulfilled.

I regret now all the time I lost, when I could have been learning, serving, and solving some of the problems that made me so stressed.

This can happen with a lot of things. If we let them, even harmless activities can gobble up our time and take away our independence. Sometimes it is good to escape for a while into a good book, a shopping trip, a T.V. show, or a computer game. But, we will not be self-reliant if we do not have the time to take care of all the necessary and mundane details of life. We cannot serve others if we are too busy escaping to face our own problems. And, we cannot keep our finances in order if we spend recklessly on shopping and entertainment.

In the end, no escape can substitute for the peace that comes through turning to the Savior. We still have to work to solve the problems in our lives, and we will never find happiness without putting forth earnest effort, but the Savior promises:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11: 28-30

Through Him our efforts will have meaning, and our peace will be real and lasting.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How Often Should Computers be Upgraded?

When I was a kid, I figured that everyone ought to upgrade their computer at least every year or two. I continued to think that until recently, when I was shopping around for a new computer for our home. I realized that I wouldn't actually get that much of a noticeable increase in capability by buying a new machine. I'd get a number of "nice" things, but nothing that was really necessary. So, instead of buying a new computer, I decided to address the specific issues that I had:
  1. I had difficulty running some heavy duty mathematical software, so I doubled the RAM in the computer from 1 GB to 2 GB. This cost $30. It works fine now.
  2. Netflix streamed videos were a bit choppy (because of the new SilverLight player). I discovered that Boxee can play Netflix videos better than a web browser, and the choppiness problems went away.
  3. We were a little bit low on hard drive space. I moved most of our media files to an external drive.
Now the three-year-old laptop does everything I need it to do, and it only cost me $30 plus a little bit of work. Now I can wait another year or so before buying a new computer!

If you're deciding whether to buy a new computer or upgrade your current one, here are my recommendations:
  1. If you can upgrade your RAM to at least 1 GB, do that. If you've been running Windows XP or Mac OS X with only 512 MB, you'll be surprised at how much better it works (if you're running Linux, you don't need this very basic post about computers). Make sure to add the correct RAM for your computer (check out NewEgg).
  2. If your hard drive is more than 70% full, buy a larger one (perhaps external).
  3. If your computer can't be upgraded to 1 GB RAM, and you want to use it for modern software and web applications, you're probably best off replacing it soon.
As a last note, from a productivity standpoint, it can be beneficial to spend almost as much on the monitor as on the computer itself. Studies, such as this one from the University of Utah, seem to show that larger monitors result in better productivity. Currently, a 24-inch monitor seems to be the offer the best balance between affordability and size - or, you could always hook up multiple monitors...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You're worth is what you make?

As my father's worldly circumstances were very limited, we were under the necessity of laboring with our hands, hiring out by day's work and otherwise, as we could get opportunity. Sometimes we were at home, and sometimes abroad, and by continuous labor were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance. - Joseph Smith's Testimony

When I was a teenager, I had a terrible thing happen to me. I was offered a great job. Though I was a talented student, I had never had an easy time finding good jobs. So I was really pleased about this one. I would be making about 50% more than at my job at a fast food restaurant. I immediately quit the fast food job, and accepted the position. As it turned out, the position I'd accepted was as a temp. Though the pay was excellent for two days, they had no more work for me after that. They promised to call soon though. It took me about a month to realize that they weren't going to call.

The damage was done, however. I now considered myself to be worth $10 an hour, no less. Fast food was now beneath me. I began only applying to jobs where the pay was at least that much.

Needless to say, I had difficulty finding any job that paid that much. In fact, I remained mostly unemployed for the next six months. Finally, halfway through my freshman year of college, I figured things out. I applied at a fast food restaurant, and started working for $6.00 an hour - even less than at my previous fast food job. But, $6.00 an hour is a lot more than $0.00 an hour!

I decided never to make that mistake again. Since then, I've had a system:
  1. If I don't have a job, take the first job I can get.
  2. If I don't like my current job, look hard for a better job.
  3. Don't ever quit a job until another, better long-term job is guaranteed.
  4. Always be prepared in case I become unemployed tomorrow.
This is why during college I had the following series of jobs:
  • Fast Food (at two different places)
  • Assisting a disabled older fellow
  • Elementary School Music Teacher
  • Russian Tutor
  • Research Assistant at an aerospace company
The last job was a very good job - but importantly, I didn't quit the two jobs I'd held at the time until I had the Research Assistant job.

It is foolish to define one's worth by an hourly wage - especially during a job search. And minimum wage definitely beats no wage.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dry Pack Canning

Here's a great introduction to the Church canning centers:

The Mission: Put Up in Bulk

Much of our long-term food storage is from a dry-pack cannery, and we were surprised by how inexpensive it was. I definitely prefer doing dry-pack canning, rather than wet-pack (ie, canned goods such as jams, green beans etc.). Different canneries handle different items, but it is quite affordable, and comes very well-labeled to be part of food storage.

Of course, because of the size of our apartment, our food storage is mostly behind our couch...

Comparing a State's Finances to Personal Finances has a great article comparing the state budget crisis in California to our own personal finances:

Understanding the California Budget Crisis

It's often possible to learn valuable lessons about our personal lives from large events involving many people. The pride cycle of the Book of Mormon is certainly applicable in our own lives, and the scattering and gathering of Israel can be a powerful metaphor for repentance. Similarly, we can learn important lessons about our own finances from the financial failings of large institutions, states or countries...

And California has definitely failed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Competitive Times

You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known. All around you is competition. You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.

You belong to a church that teaches the importance of education. You have a mandate from the Lord to educate your minds and your hearts and your hands.

Gordon B. Hinckley, A Prophet's Counsel and Prayer for Youth.

Our state has hit 11.5% unemployment. The competition that President Hinckley spoke of is far more intense now than usual, making education even more important.

Besides, a college or vocational school is a good place to sit out a recession - once one's studies are done, the job market has usually recovered.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Confusing Expiration Dates

Lifehacker has posted a short note listing some resources for figuring out if your food is still good. Knowing when to throw food out is definitely important for food storage, and just for shopping in general, so I thought I'd post a link here:

Read and Understand Your Food Expiration Labels

I was glad to find out that that yogurt that we ate a little while after the date was probably OK.

Skip the 10-Year Plan

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
Luke 14:28

Now that you're convinced to go to college, it's not enough just to show up for a few years at the college campus.

I have a friend who, as is common among college students, is on the "Ten-Year Plan". This is the plan where a student changes their major (or gets D's) so many times, that it takes far more than four years to graduate. As he finally, hopefully, approaches graduation (it will only have actually been six or seven years), I asked him what he would do differently.

"I wouldn't change my major."

As it turned out, his final major is identical to his original major. A few times throughout his college work, he decided he didn't like his major, and changed to a different one - sometimes a very different major. As one major proved difficult, he moved to an easier one, but then realized he'd have no good career options, so he moved to a more lucrative easy one. He then discovered that he hated it - and moved back to an interesting difficult major.

This reminded me of a decision that I made when I first started college, that turned out very well. I had about six different majors that I was considering. After speaking to people from the different departments, I still couldn't decide which was best, so I picked a major based on a few criteria:
  1. It required many classes that were also required by other majors I was interested in.
  2. It could result in a good career, with which I could support a family, with just a Bachelor's degree.
  3. It could lead to a variety of Master's Degrees.
  4. It sounded like it would be interesting, and challenging.
I then decided to finish that degree no matter what (well, almost no matter what). Then, if I had decided by then that I hated the degree, I would go on to get a Master's Degree in something I actually liked. Then, I could take as long as I wanted on the Master's Degree - if it didn't work out, at least I'd have a Bachelor's degree and be able to find a good job if I needed it.

Things did not, as usual, turn out quite as expected. Once I finished the degree that I chose, I was offered a very good job, and am now just working on a Master's Degree part-time. Many of my friends, though, are still in school and having difficulty supporting their families, since they have taken so long to graduate. I have a lot of freedom, thanks to having finished what I started.

I certainly made (and will probably continue to make) various mistakes in my educational choices - but I'll write about those later.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Betting against the credit card company

The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.   Proverbs 22:7

We have some friends who had a goal - and it was a very good goal. It would cost a lot of money, but it was the type of expense that results in an equal size tax credit, meaning that they would get all of the money back during the next tax season.

They were able to find a credit card that offered 0% interest for one year, followed by terrible interest. They put most of the debt on the credit card, knowing that they would be able to pay it off before then, with their tax refund.

Let's pause for a moment here, and ask a simple question: Are credit card companies generous? Did they give my friends this card just to help them out? Certainly not. The company gave them this card because they knew that, statistically, a high enough percentage of people would fail to pay off the card after one year to make up the losses on all of the people who did pay it off after one year.

Basically, trying these sorts of tricks are like betting against the credit card companies.

Our friends ran into a problem with this expense - and because of the intricacies of tax law, they would not be able to put the tax credit on the current year's return. They would have to wait until the next year. They suddenly had a looming deadline to pay off the credit card, and no money with which to do it.

Credit card companies are devious. Hence, my rule:
  • If you don't pay off your credit card in full every single month, just cut it up.
A minor variation on this rule was discussed in the Ensign:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Helping Job Seekers

New York Times: Helping the Job Seeker Without Hurting Yourself

I just wrote about how to better network if you're unemployed. You may have noticed that I emphasized to job seekers to network primarily through people who can vouch for them. It is important to network even further out than that, but if you're a person that people try to network through often, you know that you can't help everyone.

I was recently approached by a student from my former university who wanted a recommendation. I didn't know him, but he was apparently under the impression that I'd just recommend him based on our common university background. His resume looked pretty good, though a couple of parts were rather suspicious. I explained that I could only recommend him if one of a list of four professors that I trusted him could recommend him strongly.

As it turned out, he had been attempting to hide some important facts in his resume - and none of the professors were willing to recommend him. If I had recommended him, those facts would have inevitably come out during the interview process, and my recommendations would be less trusted, and I'd be less able to help other job-seekers in the future!

He ended up applying for the job without my recommendation, and was not invited to an interview. I gave him quite a bit of advice about how to improve his career options, and hopefully he'll fix up the things that are holding him back.

The New York Times article above has quite a few more good points about avoiding these types of problems when helping job-seekers.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How Many Cars do You Need?

OK, those of you who don't own a car, go pat yourselves on the back and read a different article.
For the rest of us, imagine with me. Now, imagine owning one less car than you currently do.

We own one car, and it was built in 1995. It's been running really well lately. Even though we only have one car, we don't need it most of the time. Here's what we do:
  1. We walk everywhere that's within a couple of miles.
  2. I bike or jog to work (2 miles the short way, 5 miles the scenic way).
  3. I bike to school (5 miles).
  4. Julianne walks when she can do her grocery shopping close (she has to drive when going to Costco).
We don't end up needing the car very often, and have been putting fewer and fewer miles on it. Really though, it would be really easy to find a way justify having two cars in our situation (it's really easy to justify about anything if you want it badly enough), but we have saved a lot of money by only having one car.

When we were in Seattle, this was a bit harder - since it rained often enough that I couldn't always bike. So I got a bus pass instead for the rainy days.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking: "Jeremy you're cheating - you're supposed to imagine yourself with one less car."

Here goes:
  • We would still need a car to visit family a couple of times a year, as they live about 10 hours away. We could rent one for these occasions. This would actually be nice, since we could rent a small SUV to make it through the sometimes treacherous pass between here and there during the winter, instead of having to take a roundabout trip that adds 4 hours.
  • For occasions when we would need a car, we could use ZipCar!
  • Julianne can use the bike trailer when she needs to go shopping at Costco.
  • We can just plan better - half of our car usage is when we didn't plan well enough in advance.
  • Julianne would still need to find a bus or something - she often takes night courses at a college. Since they are night courses, it would be too late to bike back afterward.
  • There are lots of good public transit options around, so we'd probably be able to get wherever we needed just fine.
  • We'd save lots of money on repairs, car insurance etc.
We added everything up, looked at the probable costs for each option, and decided that not having a car probably wouldn't actually save us any cash - primarily just because of the high cost of renting a car to get back to see our families, which is where the car gets the majority of its miles anyway. In addition, ZipCar doesn't yet have any locations within four miles, which would make it difficult to use.

Add it up yourself - as we've decreased our own car usage, we've quickly discovered that we don't miss driving everywhere. And if you have two, three or four cars, the savings from getting rid of one or two of them can be substantial. There are many websites that can help to estimate the true cost of owning a vehicle.

Getting rid of an extra vehicle is one of the ideas suggested in this Ensign article for getting out of debt or avoiding bankruptcy: Before You Lose It All …

Friday, July 3, 2009

Paid Clergy

Is it OK for a Pastor to Earn 600k a Year?
Who Should Know How Much a Pastor Makes?

Interesting articles - it makes one glad to be LDS and not have to worry about that.

I know that their are many salaried pastors who preach for the right reasons, and have the difficult stress of needing to raise enough money to keep their churches healthy (or the blessing of having enough and being able to contribute the remainder to worthy causes). But for those preaching for "filthy lucre", I suppose they "have their reward."

It is very important in our own financial lives that we have the right motivations - supporting our family, preparing for the future, and contributing to those worthy causes. Otherwise, we will have no more real reward for our efforts than those who preach to get gain.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Receive him as myself - Paul in the Epistle to Philemon

When I first realized what an effect that networking could have on a job search, it seemed to me a bit like nepotism - the practice of doling out the best jobs and favors to relatives. As I've become more involved in the hiring process, I've realized how little can truly be discovered about a person from a resume and job interview. The place I work has a very thorough job interview process - involving a half dozen (or more) 45 minute interviews with different people. Even with this type of process, I often feel like we don't have nearly enough information.

When the candidate was referred by a current employee of the company, however, the situation is different. The interview can, to some extent, determine their skills in communication or technical work - and the referrer can vouch for the candidates work ethic and honesty. That vital combination gives far more information than either alone could.

Networking can thus be a very valuable way to find ways for the people who know you and your work ethic to express that confidence to potential employers.

It can be difficult to build up the connections necessary to find a job that will work out well - there are lots of resources about successful networking, including this on Provident Living:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Step-Down Method

The key to spending less than we earn is simple—it is called discipline. Whether early in life or late, we must all eventually learn to discipline ourselves, our appetites, and our economic desires. How blessed is he who learns to spend less than he earns and puts something away for a rainy day.

N. Eldon Tanner, Constancy Amid Change

When I was at Utah State, I took an excellent family finance class taught by Alena Johnson. In addition to teaching classes, she worked in a financial counseling center on campus helping people who had found themselves in difficult financial situations. One of the gems I picked up from that class was something Alena called the "step-down method." Simple and adaptable, it is the best method I have found for reducing our family's expenditures.

Here is how it works: In any given situation, you have a variety of options, and some cost more than others. The example used in class was waffles.

Restaurant waffles: a few dollars
Frozen waffles: about a dollar
Waffles from a mix: less
Waffles from scratch: pennies

Sometimes people think that in order to cut back, they have to drop from expensive end of the scale to the cheapest end. This can be kind of depressing. The point of the step-down method is that, wherever you are, you take a step down. If you are eating waffles at a restaurant every Saturday morning, you will save a lot of money by eating frozen waffles at home. If you make waffles from a mix and you still need to cut back, you can start making them from scratch.

You can apply this principle just about anywhere. How do you watch movies? Where and how often do you eat out? What makes for a good family vacation? Where do you buy your clothes? Take a step down in several areas and you will find more room in your budget. You may also find that there are some areas where you are willing to pay for the nicer option, and some areas where spending more hardly made a difference.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Resumes: Make it Quantifiable

In my work, I get the opportunity to interview potential employees. My primary duty is to make sure that they "know their stuff."

As I've reviewed resumes, I've discovered that the best resumes aren't always written by the best candidates. Many very good candidates have resumes that make me dread the interview. Then the interview goes quite well.

One of my favorite interviews was with a candidate who had put together a resume that made it sound like his last internship consisted of paper-shuffling and coffee delivery. His descriptions of his school work made it sound like he did well in his classes, but hadn't really worked on any really interesting projects.

When I spoke to him though, it quickly became clear that he'd left out all sorts of neat details about his projects. The project that had sounded like shuffling papers turned out to be incredibly complex, and he had been quite successful. He had completely left out the details of quite a number of interesting things that he had done, while filling up his resume with the usual fluff put in by candidates with no real skills.

A resume is not the time to be humble! It's the time to be honest - let the company know why you would make a great employee. Emphasize the successes you've had in your career and education, and point out the interesting and difficult parts of each project. Then find the most exciting items, and put them first. Take the least exciting items, and throw them out.

There are different standard formats for resumes - find the one that lets you highlight the interesting things you have done and learned the best. I, personally, use a chronological resume that focuses on my biggest projects and accomplishments. Check out some of the different formats here:

I especially like the quote on that page:

“Neglect not the gift that is in thee.”
1 Timothy 4:14

Monday, June 29, 2009

Biscuits from Scratch in 60 Seconds Flat

In the family where I grew up, pancake/biscuit mix was a staple. I never really considered that it might not be necessary. Then I got married. Jeremy thought I was crazy, because his family never used the stuff.

So, reluctantly, I tried the from-scratch method. To my surprise, I realized that it was not much harder at all. And, while pancake/biscuit mix is cheap, the ingredients are even cheaper. I now make biscuits from scratch every time. I am having some fun with them, and working to perfect my super-quick version. These are convenience food at its best, because you end up with something hot and fresh that only cost you a few cents to make. They are not much to look at, but you are going to eat them anyway.

Unsightly but tasty, here is my special method for biscuits from scratch in 60 seconds flat.

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees.

Get out flour, baking powder, salt, milk, vegetable oil, 1 cup measuring cup, 1 tablespoon, a medium bowl, a fork, and a cookie sheet.
Start timing...

Scoop two cups of flour into bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of baking powder, and then use the tablespoon to eyeball measure 1/3-1/4 of a tablespoon of salt. Stir with the fork.

Pour 1/3-1/4 cup vegetable oil into the measuring cup, and then fill to the top with milk. Stir with fork until it looks like dough.

Grab small handfuls of dough and squish them onto the cookie sheet into roundish biscuits.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until they just start to look golden at the edges.

Makes about ten (depending on the baker). If you want to make these more healthy, just substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour for half of the flour.

Resumes - Get Help

I wanted very badly to work at an aerospace company near the university where I was a student, so I sent in my resume every time they had a job opening. I was never even telephoned.

One day I discovered that the university had people who would assist students with resumes for free. I met with one of those fellows, who helped me out quite a bit. Honestly, looking at them side by side, I could hardly tell why the new version was better than the old. And the new resume was still a correct and honest representation of my abilities and experience. I sent it in to the aerospace company, as well as to another small aerospace laboratory. Not only did I get interviews with both companies, I was actually able to negotiate my starting wage up by about 25% because of how well the interview went.

If you are looking for a job, even passively, don't waste time sending in resumes that haven't been appraised by someone who knows what to look for.

If you are in school, there are probably people paid to help students improve resumes.

If you are being laid off (and not for performance reasons), many companies are quite willing to offer job-finding assistance. Find one of the HR people from the company to help you spruce up your resume.

Otherwise, find friends who are tasked with looking at resumes on a regular basis. Talk with the ward employment specialist to find people who are skilled in the area.

Getting a resume looked at, and an interview scheduled, can be very difficult. A polished, accurate resume definitely has a bigger effect than I'd expected.

More resume and job hunting tips:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Engineered Food

"...all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving." Doctrine and Covenants 89:10-11

When we finally got serious about staying within our food budget, I found I needed to stop buying some of the snack foods we ate on a regular basis. It has turned out to be a good thing. While our diet is far from perfect, we eat fewer "easy" calories and we are more hungry for real, nutritious food.

Here is an interesting article I read from the New York Times that talks about the engineering that goes into some of the foods we buy. There is a reason these foods taste so good!... and are not good for us.

Well: How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains

Friday, June 26, 2009

Another reason to go to college

Here are some articles that have caught my interest lately.

It's a big risk to skip college, even if you think you have a great, guaranteed job opportunity:
As Plants Close, Teenagers Focus More on College

Some careers are rougher on families than others. Take this into account when deciding on a career path:
Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Families

Highly skilled workers are in demand even in recessions:
Despite Recession, High Demand for Skilled Labor


Alpine man accused of widespread investment scam

Read the article. It should have been obvious to anyone investing that the profits involved were a bit unreal. The very obvious Ponzi structure should also have been a tip-off.

We can easily be blinded when there is an offer of so much money to be made - and it seems so easy.

Just as Judas used his position of trust to steal from the church, there are even some in the Church who use positions of trust to convince others to join them:

Apostles and Prophets have repeatedly warned against this sort of problem, as in a recent letter from the First Presidency of the Church.

After recommending avoiding debt and living within our means, they recommend that "Consideration should also be given to investing wisely with responsible and established financial institutions."

For me, this means that I don't invest my money with friends and family, even if I trust them. I stick to an established investment firm with low-maintenance accounts.

Since savings accounts and checking accounts offer, at best, interest that doesn't even cover the cost of inflation, it makes sense once we have enough extra money saved to move some into stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

There are many companies that provide this type of service. We use the one we do because it offers the features we need.
  1. It only requires $3000 to open an account, with no annual fees if I receive my statements by e-mail.
  2. We can choose between a variety of mutual funds, targeting different levels of risk tolerance.
  3. I can have part of each paycheck automatically deposited into the account and invested into whichever funds I want. Basically, I only have to even look at it every few months.
Basically, I'm using the type of "Lazy Investing" described in an article on Get Rich Slowly: "The Lazy Way to Investment Success".

When we enter into high-risk, unrealistically high-yield or high-maintenance investments, we can begin to focus so much on money that we may begin to indulge in the "Love of money".

We don't want to make the foolish mistake of the man who buried his money in the ground, but nor should we become people who seek first for money.