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Why did my paycheck shrink in 2013?

Second Friday has passed us and it’s likely you’ve been paid. If you keep track of how much money you’re making, you may realize that it’s suddenly shrunk. My wife noticed almost $40 dollars missing from her paycheck (a small amount until you consider that’s over $1000 a year).

Why is my paycheck smaller?

Turns out, the middle and lower class took a good hit under the new tax deal. A fairly substan­tial tax increase occured when Congress decided to let the payroll tax-cuts end.

In 2010, payroll taxes dropped from 6.2% to 4.2%. This gave my wife (and many others) over $1000 dollars in kept income over the course of a year (think of the things that kind of money could do in an IRA or going towards a nice vacation). Now that money is going back to the US Government.

If my taxes increased, why does everyone say there are only tax increases on the rich?

Congress and the President can tell you tax hasn’t increased for the middle and lower class because no new tax occured. Instead, they just didn’t continue a 2-year-old tax break. Basically, they can lie if they word it right

Why should I worry about $100 or so a month tax increase?

Because over the course of a year, $100 dollars turns into $1200. And $1200 dollars buys a lot. Think of what would happen if you put that money into an IRA, towards the purchase of a home, or saved it up all year to spend at Christmas time (saving yourself from the dreaded Christmas debt).

I’m not bothered by a tax increase, but when Congress goes around saying it has only raised taxes on the super rich while allowing everyone’s taxes to increase 2%, they’re lying and that bothers me.

3 Thoughts on Gun Control

1. Most people with guns are good. Probably the most over­looked part of the debate. There is no evidence to suggest that gun ownership makes someone violent or more prone to using a gun. This is why gun advocates say things like, “guns don’t kill people”. They are afraid that the good people will lose their guns. But that still leaves us with the bad people, which leads into my next point.

2. Very few people need high powered rifles. A true ban of high-powered weapons would probably be a good thing. However, the logistics of a ban make it almost impos­sible. I’m not going to get into every detail, but this article explains why an assault weapons ban is almost impos­sible. The short version: either govern­ment has to ban almost every gun on the market (which no one but the extreme left would support) or they have to create mean­ing­less bans that gun makers can easily get around (which no one should support but many will).

3. A hard look at the data suggests gun laws don’t reduce crime, but gun ownership does. Guns were created so that the 6 and a half foot, 300 pound men can’t walk into the house of the 4 foot nothing, 100 pound woman, rape her and take her stuff. They are the great equal­izers. A knife can’t do that. Neither can words. Except for one, all mass shootings in recent history have happened in gun-free zones where the assailant knows he can make the biggest splash. In situ­a­tions where an average citizen breaks the law and has a gun, these shootings are quickly cut short. Criminals aren’t stupid; they attack children because kids can’t defend themselves.

Conclu­sion

While there is some good to the idea of gun control, it’s a logis­tical nightmare for politi­cians, it doesn’t ulti­mately protect anyone, and the true data suggests that when more average, good citizens are armed, these tragedies don’t last as long and don’t harm nearly as many innocent.

These are my thoughts after listening to the two sides over the past few weeks and consid­ering the realistic outcomes of either a gun ban or a return to the status quo. I do like the idea of having smaller clips, though I doubt that would make a signif­i­cant differ­ence in the tragedy in Connecticut where no one but the murderer was armed. I also like the idea of the average citizen being trained in the art of gun use, specif­i­cally cleaning, handling, and respecting guns. Could this help take off the stigma of guns or would it train up a gener­a­tion of murderers I’m not sure, but I would like to continue to talk about the idea.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

3 Thoughts on the Music Industry

1. Studios are the past. There was a time when a musician’s best hope was to be noticed by one of the mythical studio executive fairies. These fairies would come from the heavens, flip open their magical cell phones, and make all your dreams come true.

Not anymore.

The studios are crippled and their tried-and-true methods have fallen apart like the house of cards they were. If you plan to make it as a musician, you can forget about a studio.

2. Enter­tain­ment first, music second. In the past, minstrels would travel from town to town, playing in bars and local estab­lish­ments, singing songs their audience could sing along too. If they were any good, a Minstrel might find she has a fuller purse and a full belly as reward at the end of her night.

Times have changed, but the ideas are the same. A musician’s audience no longer wants to buy CDs or wait in long lines, they want enter­tain­ment. Adele has one of the best shows in the business because she has mini-stand up sets between songs. Lady Gaga puts on one of the most outra­geous (and enter­taining) shows you’ll ever see, even if you don’t care for her music.

Your audience doesn’t come for your music anymore, they come for you. Musicians who don’t connect with their audience through comedy, show­man­ship, and espe­cially YouTube will find them­selves penniless and aban­doning their dreams.

3. More work than ever. There is more work for musicians to do than ever before. Business part­ner­ships are a must. Cold calling and marketing are new and necessary phenom­enon for artists. So is devel­oping a person­ality and learning the ins-and-outs of inter­esting video editing. When music is about connecting with your audience, the true musician accepts that their job starts at 9am, not as the curtains go up. Practice no longer stops at an instrument.

While it takes more effort, the oppor­tu­nity is greater than ever. A musician willing to put in the work, learn their market, and focus their entire lives on their craft will learn that oppor­tu­nity, money, and an audience are waiting.

To say there is more work is not a barrier but an encouragement.

There is more to be said, but this is a good place to stop. Give up your dreams of a studio magically giving you every­thing you want, work on enter­tain­ment with music as a piece of a greater whole, and do the hard work of marketing and part­ner­ships, and you can make it in the music business.

Otherwise, get out of the way. The walls have fallen and many others are doing what you won’t.

Why I Put Down My Camera

My first camera

If you knew me growing up, I have a picture of you. Probably dozens, if not hundreds of pictures of you.

I can’t remember how old I was when my parents first bought me a camera, but I couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7. It was an old film camera without a flash. Back then, every time you used a flash it burned out the bulb. My birthdays and Christ­mases were full of film and extra flashes – or the money to buy them. All of this was made more expensive by the diffi­culty of getting the film developed into pictures.

And yet, I still remember the joy of picking up my pictures from the developer. I would look through them and rejoice in the memories of the last few months of my life.

As I (and tech­nology) grew, I discov­ered the joy of dispos­able cameras. For cheap, I could carry around a camera in my pocket and not worry if it got banged up a bit. I must have gone through a hundred or more dispos­able cameras while in High School.

In 2004, I purchased my first digital camera with the proceeds of my first job. It was the most expensive thing I had ever purchased. I used that thing until it could be used no more, used it’s photos to get my first photog­raphy gig, and later upgraded to a Digital SLR camera – my first profes­sional camera.

This one was the one that took me to the next level. I learned how to crop photos, edit in Photoshop, and manip­u­late lighting. I started getting requests to take photos at events and even­tu­ally got paid for my time and my pictures.

But one day, I put my camera down and rarely picked it back up.

It’s not because I stopped liking pictures. Photog­raphy is still a joy of mine and every once in a while I take out the old camera and snap a few photos. However, I learned that life without the camera is much better than life with it.

There But Not

After years behind the camera I realized something: I wasn’t enjoying these events, I was chron­i­cling them.

The differ­ence between chron­i­cling and expe­ri­encing are massive. When I go to a friend’s wedding with my camera, I come back with beautiful photos but very few memories. My memories are or me, behind the camera, finding good shots and talking briefly about my camera and rela­tion­ship with my friend. But when I set down my camera and expe­ri­ence the event, the most wonderful memories are created! I have good conver­sa­tions with friends, I see all the funny and extra­or­di­nary events that happen, I am forced to open myself to people I can ignore behind my camera.

Ulti­mately, I realized I had to choose between my love of photog­raphy and my ability to expe­ri­ence life. After a lot of thought, I chose to expe­ri­ence life.

Now I spend time with my wife and friends instead of taking pictures of them, I enjoy weddings and other events without the hindrance of a camera, and while I don’t have many photos of the last few years I do have memories – wonderful, beautiful memories.

Expe­ri­ence Your Life

Next time your friend is about to do a trick, the fireworks are about to go off, or you’ve found a beautiful spot you’d like to remember put down your phone, your slr camera, and all your recording devices and enjoy the moment.

Watch the trick.

Enjoy the fireworks.

Expe­ri­ence the place.

These memories are better, and more powerful than any photo you will ever take.

And every once in awhile, after fully expe­ri­ence the moment, take a picture or two. Be satisfied with the few. You won’t regret it.

Losing Weight Is More Than Math

Emile Is Greedy

Today I have the pleasure of intro­ducing my friend Mike. He’s a deep thinker and a local sports writer (with regular posts on Yahoo! Sports and Nolan Writin). I always enjoy hearing his thoughts, and the topic of this one will certainly get you thinking! This is the second in a two-part series click here to check out part one.

Emile Is Greedy

This is why I don’t eat with Emile…

But that’s not all, my friends!

There’s more to this than the plus and the minus. In thinking about it for at least a couple of weeks now, I’ve come up with several more ways in which your diet and your budget mirror each other.

It Pays to Plan Accordingly

If you sit down in your kitchen at the end of the month, calculate what you’ll make in the next 30 days, and decide how you’re going to spend your money, what are you doing?

If you sit down in your kitchen at the end of the week, write down what you want to eat in the next 7 days, and then go to the store to buy the stuff from your list, what are you doing?

See my point?

Theo­ret­i­cally, if you do your homework and plan ahead, you should be able to control where and how your money is spent. In the same way, you can also plan out your diet beforehand.

There’s no reason that a smart, capable adult can’t avoid excessive amounts of sweets and junk food, espe­cially if you make your decisions before you even set foot in the grocery store.

You’re a Part of the Equation

How often does someone budget because someone else told them to? Almost never.

If you do sit down and do the work, it’s because you’ve decided that the way you were living your life no longer makes sense. Your prior­i­ties have changed and you’ve made the conscious choice to do things differently.

This applies to both your finances and your health. No one can nag you into improving yourself. It’s up to you to make that decision.

Do it for yourself and don’t blame anyone else if you fail. If you really want to change, you will.

Don’t Stop, Even When You’re Done

What do you do when you’ve finally paid off your credit card? Do you go apply for a new credit card and buy a bunch of stuff with it? Maybe you do, if you’re an idiot.

Unfor­tu­nately, this is what a lot of people do when they “go on a diet.” They eat right and exercise for a week or a month or 6 months; then they go back to doing exactly what got them into trouble in the first place.

Before long they’re right back where they started, but why does this happen?

Part of it, I think, is the way that our culture looks at dieting. If summer’s on its way and you want to look good in your swimsuit, then cutting out carbs for a few weeks is fine.

But a lot of people don’t need a sprint; they need a marathon.

For many people, it isn’t about quick fixes and “losing a few pounds.” It’s about deciding what your prior­i­ties are and then adopting a lifestyle that matches those priorities.

Crash diets generally don’t work long-term because they’re not supposed to work long-term. They don’t teach you how to eat better; they teach you how to cut corners without giving you the tools to live a better life.

If you really want to change, that change should be funda­mental, not temporary.

This Isn’t About John McClane

When you were born, were you already bad with money? Were you already a glut­to­nous slob?

Hopefully you answered “no” to both of the questions above because the way that you eat and the way that you spend your money are both learned practices. You might have gotten it from your parents or from the culture; maybe you developed some of it on your own.

Regard­less of where you learned it, you did learn it. If that’s the case, you can unlearn it too.

Habits aren’t impos­sible to break, but it takes time and effort and it won’t always be easy. Some of your habits may go back decades and you know what they say about old habits.

They die hard.

(See what I did there?)

Beware the Impulse Buy

Maybe this has happened to you before…

You go to Best Buy to get something that you need. Maybe your head­phones broke and you need a new pair of head­phones. You’re there with a purpose and you’ll be in and out in less than 5 minutes.

But then you see this sign over by the DVD section and it says that select movies are Buy 2, Get 1 Half Off. “Holy cow, what a steal!” you exclaim to yourself.

Before you know it, you’ve walked out of the store with 3 movies that you’d never intended to buy and, maybe, you were so excited about the unex­pected “bargain” that you even forgot about the head­phones that you came in for!

Maybe this has happened to you before…

You’re out eating with friends, having a good time. You’ve finished your meal and the waiter asks if any of you would like dessert.

You ponder for a moment because you did see the picture of the hot fudge sundae on the back of the menu and it looked really good and you’ve been really good on your diet for the last month and you’re an adult, so why shouldn’t you get a sundae if you want a sundae?!

Before you know it, you’re lying on the floor of your apartment in a sugar coma with hot fudge and shame smeared all over your face!

Generally you buy something impul­sively because you assume that it will make you happy. It isn’t planned, it just sort of happens, and it can completely derail both your diet and your budget.

It also rarely makes you happy because it doesn’t take long for you to realize that nobody really needs to own Monkey Bone on DVD, even if it seemed like a good idea when you bought it.

Even If You Get It, You Might Not Get It

Watching how you spend your money should be easy, shouldn’t it? Most people would agree that it makes sense to have an emergency fund and savings and to live within their means. In fact, what disad­van­tages are there to budgeting? Don’t the pros far outweigh the cons?

So it is with dieting and exercise. Nobody really wants to be unhealthy, but many of us don’t even bother trying to change ourselves, even if we know it’s for the best.

Why not? Is it worth trading a longer, more comfort­able life for the little bit of grat­i­fi­ca­tion that comes from an extra milkshake every couple of days?

Are you finally tired of rhetor­ical questions? Good, ‘cause I’m almost done.

One Final Thought

There’s more to the connec­tion between personal finance and health than what I listed above. The fact is that, if you’re 30 pounds over­weight, you’re costing yourself money down the road.

Being unhealthy takes its toll as you age. You might have knee problems later on in life, which could require surgery. You may also suffer from something more serious, like heart disease or stroke.

Some of those things may happen anyway, but some of it can be avoided. If you knowingly live an unhealthy lifestyle, you’re putting your life and your financial wellbeing at risk.

If you are going to put yourself at risk, don’t do it for an extra meat patty on your cheese­burger. Do it for something noble, like saving your ex-wife from German terrorists!

Are there other areas where finance and health inter­mingle? Are there other places in your life where the prin­ci­ples of budgeting can be applied? Let me know in the comments!

Contain Your Wallet…and Your Belt

Thinking

Today I have the pleasure of intro­ducing my friend Mike. He’s a deep thinker and a local sports writer (with regular posts on Yahoo! Sports and Nolan Writin). I always enjoy hearing his thoughts, and the topic of this one will certainly get you thinking! This is the first in a two-part series s0, come back Tuesday for part two!

Obesity is a serious problem in this country. Countless Americans are over­weight and many assume that they can’t do anything about it. They say that dieting doesn’t work for them, either because it’s too hard or they don’t have time or a hundred other reasons excuses.

But what if you started looking at it differ­ently? What if you applied the prin­ci­ples of personal finance to your eating habits? Would that change the way that you thought about dieting and losing weight?

The Numbers Game

Budgeting is simple, right?

You figure out how much money you make and then you spend less than that amount. There is more that goes into it, obviously, but that is the essence of budgeting. That is it at its core.

So, what exactly is dieting? It’s the same thing!

Everybody takes in calories when they eat, but they also burn calories. If you eat better food you can control caloric intake. If you exercise, you can increase burn.

To lose weight, all you have to do is burn more than you consume.

Math! That’s it!

My First Budget

I’ve heard Alex’s story of the first time that he tried to budget. If you’re a regular reader of Entre­pre­life, you’ve probably heard it too.

He sat down one night and guessti­mated all of his monthly expenses. He made a lot of assump­tions and, as it turned out, he was way off in some areas.

I decided to do the same thing a couple of weeks ago, but with my stomach instead of my bank account.

For 6 days I ate the way that I normally do and at the end of each day I added up the calories using myfitnesspal.com. I decided that 1600 calories per day was a good place to set my “budget.”

This is how it broke down:

  • Monday +305
  • Tuesday +104
  • Wednesday +481
  • Thursday –120
  • Friday –73
  • Saturday +392

All of these numbers are approx­i­ma­tions, mind you, but it was an inter­esting exper­i­ment nonetheless.

Just like Alex, when he reviewed his first budget, I started to see where I was going wrong. Things like pancakes (800 calories including the syrup) can dras­ti­cally affect your totals, though most of us wouldn’t think about it when we’re ordering a short stack at IHOP.

That’s really what this is about. If you stop and look at your finances, you’ll start to see that you’re not as good with your money as you thought you were.

Your diet is no different. Even if you’re pretty good, I’ll bet that you still have your trouble areas. I’ll bet that you can do better.

For instance, I drink too much sweet tea. It isn’t that I dislike unsweet tea. I actually really like it! I just like sweet tea better, even though I know it isn’t good for me.

Think about yourself for a moment. Are there parts of your diet that could be just a little bit better without much effort? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Read Everything, Just What Works

I don’t read every personal finance book out there. In fact, I have only read a handful.

I don’t read every theology book ever written. But I have read several.

I don’t try every method I’ve ever seen. Sometimes, I purpose­fully ignore certain methods.

Why?

Because success doesn’t come from knowing every­thing, it comes from knowing what works.

It’s good to try and fail – failure breeds success; but after one or two failures it’s time to move on and try something else. This is how you succeed. This is how you win.

So don’t read every­thing that’s put in front of you – most if it is rubbish. Only read what works.

New Schedule and Katy Perry the Sim

Katy Perry and Sim

You may have noticed I didn’t update yesterday; that wasn’t an accident. Starting this week I’m cutting my updates down to twice a week.

This has every­thing to do with all the stuff going on in my life that have nothing to do with the blog. I love writing, but between this site and the others I write for, three times a week was getting a bit rough. Cutting it down to twice a week should make things easier.

With that said, today’s post has nothing to do with money, but is still interesting.

Katy Perry and Sim

While running some errands a few weeks ago, a local DJ announced the new Sim’s game featuring Katy Perry. When asked about it, Perry said,

I always like to think of myself as a cartoon, and now I’m a Sim.”

I groaned inwardly at the thought of another ridicu­lous way to use fame to make money and tried to push the whole thing out of my mind.

But her words, “I always like to think of myself as a cartoon…” stuck with me. They rattled around inside my head and wouldn’t let me go.

I started to think about what they mean.

Maybe I’m taking her words too far, but the thought of Katy Perry thinking of herself as a cartoon made me deeply sad. I wondered what she saw when looking in the mirror. Does she see anything but the lie? Has “Katy Perry” taken over her life?

Is there a real Katy Perry left?

I think about her divorce, her lyrics, the way she dresses. It’s all a game — a lie.

Does she have anyone who knows her and not just the persona she’s created? Is there anyone in her life that wants something besides a cartoon?

I have no idea, and since I’ve never spoken to the girl I’m sure I’ll never find answers. But they still rattle around in my head; they still weigh on my heart.

How many young girls look up to Katy Perry? How many men dream of her? Do their dreams squash away what’s left of the person underneath?

Am I Any Different?

With all the sadness, also comes a bit of fear — and maybe some clarity.

Am I the same as her? I may not be exploited the way she is, but there is a persona I create to hide my inse­cu­ri­ties. There is a cartoon version of myself that I show to the world as the weight of the truth presses my heart.

Am I really so different from her? Are any of us?

I’m sure she’s dealing with issues I’ll never begin to consider and making choices I’ll never be offered. But still, in my sadness I find introspection.

Which parts of my life are cartoons? Which parts aren’t real? Those are the parts of life that need to be put to death. Those are the things I need to let go.

It’s never healthy to live as a lie.

Business. Money. Ethics.

Designer cat is unethical
Designer cat is unethical

All his designs are unethical…

How do you know that a product you use is made ethically?

The answer is you can’t. There are too many loop holes and too many clever people to know that the business you’re buying from has made their product ethically.

Consider Fair Trade. Created to guarantee ethical treatment of employees in poorer nations, it has repeat­edly failed to keep clever people from using a few loopholes and over­sights to keep their unethical busi­nesses alive.

I’m not talking about “white lies” or other small unethical choices. I’m talking about things like slavery, pros­ti­tu­tion, and murder. The cotton in my shirt, the beans used to brew my coffee, and the diamond on my wife’s finger were probably handled by slaves at some point.

A few people may have even died creating the things I don’t think twice about. (more…)

Things Get Messed Up Sometimes

Whatever your inten­tions, you’ll even­tu­ally forget to do something.

Last week, I forgot to write two blog posts. I thought I had them written (I did a lot of other writing), but I was wrong. That left you without anything to read for a few days and since I took an unan­nounced break for a few days I didn’t catch the mistake.

Whether it’s a deadline that can’t be met, an oversight with a large price tag, or a surprise budget buster these kinds of things hit hard and fast and leave only disap­point­ment and confusion in their wake.

When that happens, you gotta pick yourself up, dust off a bit and remind yourself that it is okay.

It’s okay to make mistakes, to fail miserably, and to be surprised.

Just don’t use it as a reason to give up. Mistakes are only as valuable as the lessons you learn from them.

What did I learn from my mistake? I need to get further ahead in updates so this doesn’t happen. Right now, I’m only about 2 posts ahead at any time. After this week, I’m back at 0. Getting 3-to-6 posts ahead will all bust stop this sort of thing from happening.

A hard lessons that’ll be even harder to implement.

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