Panama City Beach: Short Term Pain For Long Term Gain

The number of years since I’ve last been to Panama City Beach is growing, but it still holds lots of fond memories and is somewhere I would like to go back to.  I did a six month assignment for a former employee where I worked at a hospital doing IT strategic and project management, and had a blast.

I was down there back in 2004, which seems so long ago!  I arrived in April and stayed through October, so to whatever degree of luck you’d consider, I missed Spring Break.

Spring Break has been a staple of many Florida coastal towns for decades, and Panama City Beach has been one of the top destinations for several decades, and has really taken off over the last decade.

Unfortunately, this last decade has really seen it take off the wrong way, along the lines of a swirling toilet flush.

It’s bad.  Last year, Fox News (I know many don’t trust the source, but this story didn’t have a whole lot of political angle involved) did a story about a lot of debauchery that goes on down there.  People talked openly about drinking and drugs out on the beach, often by underage college kids.  They joked about it on camera.  Crime skyrockets.  Hotels get trashed.  People fall off balconies.  And, young people go on camera fully admitting that things get out of control.

After getting nationally embarrassed by this report, the local government put in a series of measures for this year designed to better control and get a handle on Spring Break.  I follow the local newspaper online and I was less than impressed.  Closing bars a couple of hours early was the ‘big’ win, and it was fought for but the City Council talked about how they really tightened things up.

So how did it go this year?

Worse.  Much worse.

This year, there were multiple shootings.

There was a gang rape that happened right out on the beach that was recorded on cell phone video, and it showed hundreds of people just standing around watching the whole thing, laughing.

Officials and partigoers admit that this happened all the time.  Let me repeat.  People get sexually violated out in the middle of the beach all the time and people stand around laughing about it.   Before this was reported, police released a picture of a girl who looked very underage, yet the full photo apparently included her fully naked holding a beer and surrounded by multiple college guys.

There was more crime than ever.  The number of drug related arrests goes up.  They put every cop on the street and beach and there’s no keeping up.  It just goes on and on.

Fox News went back this year and it was not pretty.

mb-2015-04-beachThe sad part about it is that apparently it took local officials by surprise.  They had their head in the spring break sand fully expecting that it was going to be better this year. The only voice of reason was the local sherriff who basically said that what the half measures weren’t going to work.

Spring Break 2.0 On The Way

After the news kept coming out and kept getting worse, local officials finally got together and dropped the hammer.  With a couple of weeks left in the Spring Break season, they banned alcohol on the beach.  Fully.  No more.

Prior to that, you were theoretically allowed to have it if you were 21.  Which I’m sure everybody claimed to be, and could the cops really check every ID.  No.

Now, it’s easy.  If you’re on the beach, you can’t have alcohol.  Period.

Apparently, this is set to expire as it was only a temporary measure, but the idea is that they’ll either make it all year around, or institute it during the weeks typically associated with Spring Break.  Personally, I think limiting it to Spring Break would suffice, as I can attest from my time down there that the beach is really cool and calm and very well under control for at least mid-April through October.

Who Wouldn’t Want This?

The people that might opposed to this are likely those who make their money from Spring Break.  There are clubs and hotels that cater to Spring Breakers, and I’m sure in their eyes, the more beer that’s consumed, the better.

Obviously they’re not going to like it.

Many residents claim that the tax dollars associated with the hotel stays are crucial to the local budget, and I’m sure that they’re right to some degree, but more and more people are realizing that it isn’t worth it.

And it might not all be lost.

Daytona Beach: Model Citizen For Panama City Beach?

In the mid-1990’s one of the more fascinating things on TV was when MTV showed a couple of weeks of Spring Break.  Although it was relatively tame compared to some of the widlness that gets reported now, it still seemed pretty wild.  Plus there’s a case to be made that it probably was more wild than we know now but that social media really brings it into the limelight that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Anyways, when MTV put the spotlight on Spring Break, things spiraled much out of control as Panama City Beach is seeing now.  Eventually, their local officials made many of the same choices.

What were the results?

Exactly as expected at first.  No more drinking on the beach meant that the college kids stopped coming.  Most of them, anyways.  Many still came.  They largely obeyed the rules.  They had fun.

And, very quickly, a different group started coming.

Families.

My wife and I recently talked about how we’d love to eventually go down to Florida during Spring Break.  She loves a place near Tampa Bay that she used to vacation with when her family went growing up, and I mentioned Panama City Beach.  Now, obviously we’d never take our kids down to the mess that has been going on there, but what if it was no longer a mess?  There would be a definite case to go down there.

That’s exactly what started happening in Daytona Beach. Spring Break there brings a lot of families.  Families who still rent rooms and pay the hotel tax.  Families who go to the restaurants and keep the local economy going.  Families who enjoy the beach and don’t trash it.  Families who have fun that don’t lead to arrests, rapes, deaths, and tragedy that has simply become all too common in today’s Panama City Beach.

Honestly, even though Spring Break is done, I would expect that many families might stay away otherwise.  Why give patronage to a town that actively or passively encourages this type of situation to happen and continues to stand by idly watching it spiral out of control?  I wouldn’t and I suspect that this could start providing a big negative impact on their tourism throughout the rest of the year.

I will continue to read and see what they do.  Now that Spring Break is over, the black on the city still remains.  For years the standard protocol was for officials to put lip service against all the crazy and bad behavior, making promises to crack down and get things under control, but the ‘sweeping changes’ of last year showed that this has to stop.  Lip service won’t cut it and I seriously hope that as time takes attention elsewhere, that the local government finally takes real measures to make Spring Break a fun, enjoyable, and safe destination.

Over and over again when I was down there, people talked with pride about how Panama City Beach had the most beautiful beaches in the world, and compared to the many beaches I’ve been, they were right up there.  However, that beauty has to go beyond the sand, sun and water, and it’s time for Panama City Beach to reclaim their beauty in full.

Readers, have you caught any of the growing media firestorm against Panama City Beach’s spring break?  What do you think needs to happen to control Spring Break?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Spring 2015 Project List

Spring is upon us and there are a few projects around the house that I’ve committed to or started working on.

Deck Painting

Last fall, we had some work done on our deck to take care of some problems.  We had the handrails reinforced, and also had some significant work done on the stairs.  The posts that go into the ground were very loose and a lot of the boards were starting to rot.  The deck itself is a few feet above ground level, but the stairs and such were definitely getting worn, so we had the problem are replaced.  The new boards need to be painted to match the rest of the deck.  Normally, my painting schedule is to do a full job including power washing and stripping the old paint, every four years, and then do a refresh coat at the halfway point.  It’s been two years since I did the last full job, so I’ll give the entire deck another coat as well.  This will make sure that the colors match, and should hopefully keep us going for another couple of years.

Sandbox Leveling

Last year, I relocated the kids sandbox to a different part of the back yard.  The original location was very close to the back edge of a wooded area.  It ended up being very buggy and damp, so we moved it to a more open part of the yard last year.  Ever since then, themb-2015-04-sandbox sand inside would get wet after a rainfall, even though the design is such that water is not supposed to enter.  There are areas to keep air circulating, and I’ve surmised that water is entering through those because I don’t have the sandbox sitting level.  It shouldn’t be much to level the sandbox.  I’ve already removed all of the old sand, so I plan on re-grading the area and making sure it’s on level ground, at which point I’ll do some more water testing.  If all goes well, I’ll add some new sand and hopefully it will stay nice and dry this year!

Garage Cleanout

It’s time to re-organize the garage and this time I plan on getting serious about selling or giving away a number of items that we never use.  My wife replaced her old bike a couple of years ago, and it’s been hanging from the ceiling ever since.  The old bike still functions (she wanted something more suited for trail riding and such) so it’s silly to just hang there.  I plan on taking it down and maybe even just setting it out on garbage night, when I know people drive around looking for salvageable things.  We also have some kids scooters and such that they’ve grown out of that we’ll figure out if anybody needs, and we have two strollers (a double stroller and an umbrella stroller) that are perfectly functional but that we no longer have use for. The strollers can fetch some money to recoup part of their original cost.  I also have to get our bikes down, and swap out the winter tools for the summer yard tools.

Kitchen Painting

Our kitchen color is a pretty bright red color.  It definitely added some pizazz when we moved in, and it looks nice in contrast to our white cabinets and counters, but as we’ve had it for eight years, my wife and I both agree it’s time for a change.  I will be repainting the kitchen, which will involve repainting the ceilings, priming the walls, and applying a new, more muted color that will still keep the kitchen looking nice.  The biggest challenge on this one is that I can’t totally shut down the kitchen during the life of the project, so there will be work not only in the repainting tasks themselves, but also in making sure that the room remains functional.

Camper Readiness And Repair

Our camper is close to being ready to come out for the winter.  It will need to be dewinterized, washed, and waxed, plus I also am looking into getting new tires this year.  I also found that the seals around one of the storage compartment doors started failing, so we had a small amount of water make its way in over the last few weeks.  I put a temporary fix on that, but I’ll need to permanently replace the seals, as well as re-glue some linoleum that was loosened.  Still, it could have been a lot worse!

Those are our major projects for the year.  Readers, what do you have on tap for the next couple of months?

 

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Accountability Can Improve Results

This year, I’ve been posting various updates centered around my fitness activities, mostly centered on running.  It’s not that finance has become less important or more boring, it’s just that running is something that’s relatively new to me, but the posts also offer accountability.

I actually started my running last year, first at my old gym and then moving over to Planet Fitness.  But, for the calendar year of 2014, I didn’t track anything and my results were marginal at best.

Going into 2015, I added a tab to one of the daily tracking sheets that I use for things like finance, weather tracking (yes, I do track the weather temps too), for the purposes of mb-lightbulb201308tracking my running activity.

The main things I started tracking are how often I go, how far I go when I get there, and how long it takes me.  There are some additional things that I enter, and some calculations that also happen as a result, but that’s pretty much it.  Adding a run entry takes fifteen seconds per run, if that, but it gives me a lot.  It gives me the data but it also gives me accountability.

Just how has tracking improved my accountability?

  • I exercise more often- As I mentioned previously, I never tracked any of my activity.  As a result, I really had no idea on how often I would go to the gym.  I had a rough idea that I would maybe have gone 3-4 times a week some weeks, 1-2 times on other weeks, but it was just a guess. Now, I can look back and tell you exactly how many times I’ve gone.  Having that information at my disposal motivates me to keep going.
  • I improve my results – I ran for a year, but because I never really tracked it, I had no incentive to push myself.  As such, I never got better at it.  When I started tracking it, I began tracking how far I go and my pace.  Those are things that I can now try to improve upon, and I have.  I’ve shaved nearly a minute per mile off my pace, and my average distance has nudged up as well.
  • I build a plan – Because I have numbers behind me, I’ve started getting into more consistent routines.  A year ago a treadmill run would have me run for awhile until I got tired, then walk again until I felt like starting again.  Not really the best approach, especially when I couldn’t really tell you how long I was doing either one.  Now, I’ve refined it where I run for 3-4 minutes at a time, then walk for 30 seconds.  My consistency has improved considerably.
  • I have proof of results – A year ago, my biggest proof of a good workout was walking out with a sweaty shirt.  Now, I still have the sweaty shirt as I walk out the door, but I have numbers behind that I can track.  I can see how many times I’ve run.  I can see a rough approximation of how many calories I’ve burned.  I know how many miles I’ve run.  A year ago, as soon as that sweaty shirt was run through the wash, my proof the results was gone.  Now, with my spreadsheet tab, the results live on, pushing me further.

Overall, staying accountable to myself is a great method for me to keep moving forward.  And, I know that this applies in many areas.  This is mainly a personal finance blog, and it of course applies in that aspect.

Think about a budget.

I am a huge advocate of everybody having a budget, but my main reason is not so much to restrict your spending, though that is certainly one reason for which many people us it and a perfectly acceptable one, at that.  But, my main reason for having and using a budget is to bring accountability to our finances.  We can look back at what we’ve spent and make changes if we need to.  We can see where income has come in and strive for higher numbers.

It’s the same principle, and I think it’s just as important in personal finance as it is in exercising, and there are many other areas as well.

Readers, do numbers make you hold yourself more accountable? Does this lead to better results in whatever it is your tracking, whether it be a budget, a workout log, or anything else that allows for tracking and decision making?  I’d love to hear your stories and ideas in the comments below.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How Does Panera Bread Stay In Business?

OK, let me start this off by saying that I have a fond appreciation for Panera Bread bagels, especially their Cinammon Crunch variety, which is worth every penny of the $1.49 price that they charge as a once-in-a-while treat.

However, my appreciation for Panera products or their value starts and stops right there.

Beyond that, I just don’t understand how the company stays in business.

The ‘Promotion’

My wife has a Panera Bread rewards card, so she jumped when she got an offer that if she made five purchases on her card during the month of March, she would get a free ‘meal’ consisting of a You-Pick-Two, which is basically a half sandwich and a cup of soup normally provided to you with no price discount whatsoever, so far as I can tell.

But still, we like the bagels and figured that getting a single bagel here and there, either for one of us or for the kids to split, would not end up being such a bad deal.

And, it really wasn’t.  There’s a Panera Bread in the same shopping center as our Planet Fitness, so after my morning workouts, I stopped a few times and got the bagel.  I think over the course of the month, I had two, my wife had two and the kids got one.  We all usually each have a bagel once per week, anyway, so it really wasn’t that big of a stretch in terms of cost.

At the end of the fifth purchase, sure enough, my wife got an e-mail stating that her card was loaded up with her free Pick-Two.

What Panera Bread Did Wrong (Besides, Well, Everything)

As mentioned above, I typically avoid Panera for anything other than a bagel now and then.  I never really cared for their sandwiches, and had a memory of it being vastly overpriced, but it had been a while since I’d purchased anything other than a bagel, so when my wife suggested that we go for a family dinner to use her coupon, I reluctantly agreed.

My wife was out with the kids, so when the time came, I met them up there.  She had finished placing her order which included her ‘free’ meal, and a grilled cheese sandwich for the kids to split.  Somehow, I found out later that even with her discount, her total still came out to be over $6.  This made no sense to me as all I think she ended up really paying for was the grilled cheese.

$6 for a grilled cheese? 

Well, I didn’t know that until later.  But, as it was, I walked in and was ready to order after she’d already finished.  First, I had no idea what to get.  I looked at the menu and saw a

You'll need some fat stacks to dine regularly at Panera.

You’ll need some fat stacks to dine regularly at Panera.

bunch of sandwiches, which all looked pretty much the same to me with their description.  The soup varieties didn’t look too bad, so I had no problem, but it was the sandwiches that really stopped me.  It was a flustering experience as my wife was on one side, trying to give me suggestions (none of which really took me away from my belief that they were all pretty much the same), and for some reason there were three employees standing in front of the register.

I saw that they had a couple of different things besides sandwiches, and almost thought about getting a pasta dish, I think it was Chicken Alfredo Tortellini or something.  But the price was $7.99 and I figured that the soup and sandwich deal had to be better than that, right?  But the pricing really wasn’t clear, and with seemingly everybody in the restaurant waiting with anticipation for my order, I just picked a sandwich and added some chicken noodle soup.

And I was shocked when the total came up at $9.20.

I asked them to make sure it was right, and they confirmed.  Only afterward did I realize that the Pick-Two is just you ordering two things off the menu.

But, whatever.  I handed over my card and moved over to the order pickup.

That’s where the overall experience went from bad to worse.  Let me count the things that were ‘wrong’ between our two orders.

  • No water – I asked for water with my order but received nothing.
  • To-Go – My order came out on a plate and in a bowl all set out on a tray.  My wife and kid’s stuff came put together in a bag.  They made the whole thing to-go.  So, we had to unpack everything and create a bunch of waste.
  • Roll – When you order soup, my wife specifically asked for a type of roll. Instead, she got two pieces of bread.  They were out of the roll but never asked her what she wanted instead.
  • Price, again (this time for soup) – This one really wasn’t the restaurant doing anything wrong, but came back again to the absurd pricing.  The kids spotted my wife’s soup and wanted it.  Being the amazing mom that she is, she gave them her soup.  When my sister-in-law (who also joined us) asked why she just didn’t get them their own, she answered that there was no way she was paying an extra $4 for another tiny cup of soup.

In the end, after sacrificing her soup, she was still hungry, so she stopped at the Taco Bell next door and got a burrito from their dollar menu.  I, of course, took that opportunity to lament that for the $9.20 I spent on mine, we probably could have all eaten there and been a lot more full, plus saved the money on the $6 grilled cheese and the $1 burrito.

At the beginning, the ‘freebie’ looked like a good deal, and had my wife just gone and gotten it for herself, it probably would have been.  But, it’s amazing that adding two young children and one more adult turned the experience into feeling like we’d been robbed.  There’s just something not right about that.

My wife did say that they seem to use a lot of natural and organic ingredients.  Which is great, but I guess I’ll go back to the grilled cheese.  How organic can two slices of bread and some cheese be to make $6 worth it?  With that in mind, I simply can’t put much justification into the pricing if that’s indeed the argument for higher prices.  It’s still out of whack.

It gave me enough ammunition to reinforce the fact that, but for the occasional $1.49 bagel that I’ll buy now and then, I have no intention of setting foot in a Panera for anything, and it boggles my mind to think that enough people do on a daily basis for them to stay afloat.

Readers, tell me what am I missing?  I know there have to be enough people out there who love Panera and who don’t think their prices are absurdly out of touch with reality, so I’d love to hear from you.  Or, are you like me and think that the value just doesn’t match what you get.

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.