Why You Should Pretend Gas Is Still $4 Per Gallon

Michigan has some of the higher gas prices in the country, and the area where I live generally has some of the higher prices in the Metro Detroit area, so when I’m seeing prices around $2.69, I know that gas has gotten cheap.  I’m sure you’ve seen it too, right?  Good.

It’s interesting, though, because gas has been under $3 here for barely a month, and already people act like they’ve forgotten everything that came along with higher gas prices….that will return, probably sooner rather than later.  Consider:

  • Gas Guzzler Sales On The Rise – With gas prices having been on the decline for a few months, auto companies are reporting that bigger cars, trucks and SUVs are seeing increased sales.
  • Return of Poor Driving Habits – I’ve read various articles about the lower prices, and inevitably there are social media comments along the lines of “I love the lower gas prices.  Now I can drive faster again!”
  • Call for Increased Speed Limits – This one boggled my mind.  Someone in the Michigan legislature is working on a bill that will allow the maximum speed limit in the state to be raised from 70 MPH to 80 MPH.

Gas Prices Will Not Remain Low Forever

mb-2014-12gaspumpPeople love the idea of lower gas prices.  I’ll be honest, seeing the prices slip below $3 was something I’d completely forgotten about.  The $3 limit was a threshold that I figured might never be breached again, not when the average yearly prices had been steadily rising for the last few years.

Now that oil is at comparatively low prices and output is higher, people seem to think that this will be the new norm.

I have news for you: It won’t.

At a certain point, everybody that gets hurt from low prices will start to realize that they don’t like it.  Oil companies will make less profits.  Oil producing countries will see less tax and other revenue.  Gas station owners will continue to see margins erode.

Guess what happens when profits shrink?  All those affected start to work on raising them back up.

Right now, political interests are allowing for oil prices to stay low which is feeding the whole thing, but as soon as those political interests start losing steam, then profits will take center stage.  And, since money and profit are pretty important drivers in the grand scheme of thing, believe me when I say that profit will take precedence.

Charge Yourself Higher Gas Prices

When gas prices start climbing, you’ll want to be prepared.  The best way to accomplish this is to charge yourself the same price for gas that you used to pay.  If you buy 20 gallons per week, and the current price is $2.65, that works out to $53 spent on gas.  Back when prices were $3.50, that would have cost you $70.   That’s a savings of $17!  Pretty cool, right?

The idea behind charging yourself more is that you take the $17 and apply it to something that won’t hurt you once that money returns to paying for gas once the price goes back up.  What are some of the things you can do with it?  I’m glad you asked!

  • Apply it toward debt – If you’ve got credit card debt or other debt, apply the extra money to that amount.
  • Save up for something – If you’re debt free, then save the money up.  You can save toward an emergency fund, or a travel fund, or something else where savings will come in handy, but that won’t negatively impact you once the savings opportunity goes away.
  • Give – You can give the extra money to your favorite charitable organization.  I’m sure they would appreciate the extra funds for awhile.

Things To Avoid Doing When Gas Prices Are Low

You can tell that I firmly believe that the lower gas prices are temporary.  I could very well be wrong on that, but I’m going to be safe and just stick with my assumption.  If you believe the same thing, here are some things you most certainly want to avoid while gas prices are low:

  • Buying a bigger car – There are people now who are car shopping, and figuring out their gas usage based on current prices.  This works out OK as long as prices are up, but if they use a lot of gas and suddenly the price goes back up $1 per gallon, they’re going to be in trouble.  Any car you by should include gas costs as if they were back where they were before the decline.
  • Buying or upgrading something else – If you are saving the $17 per week I hypothetically laid out above, you could save around $70 per month with lower gas prices.  Some people will figure that gives them extra spending money and they’ll start doing just that, spending the money.  Except what happens when that $70 needs to go back into the gas pump?
  • Taking on a new monthly payment – Even worse than just spending the money is applying that towards a new monthly payment, one that will likely still be there when gas prices go up, at which point you’re really going to be hurting.
  • Changing your driving habits – When gas prices go up, I guarantee that these two things will happen: People will complain and you’ll start seeing people talk about changing driving habits to get better mileage.  You’ll see tips on driving slower, not accelerating so fast, and all the others that come with it.  My point is that you should do these things no matter what!  Changing habits back and forth just because of the price at the pump doesn’t really make sense and it never leads to long term positive changes anyways, so just do yourself a favor and drive efficiently regardless of the price of gas.

Readers, what are you paying for gas compared to a year ago?  What are you doing with the savings at the pump?  Do you think the prices will last or are they just a short term thing? When do you predict gas will go back up to $3 per gallon on average?

Copyright 2014 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.

Use Gift Cards As Currency For Holiday Shopping

As holiday shopping starts winding down (or starts to peak for those who have not gotten started), one fact remains and that is that the holidays are expensive.  Have you had your first bill come in or checked your credit card statement for pending transactions yet?

As we look to complete (or start) our shopping, it’s helpful to think of different ways to make the holidays pack less of a punch on your wallet while still letting Santa cross things off his list.

My wife recently had a great experience where she was able to use gift cards for holiday shopping, and I thought it was a great idea that I could share, and can be a useful and effective strategy.

Two Cards, Two Approaches

My wife was doing some shopping for our son.  We wanted something from Toys R Us that they only stocked online.  She got everything ready in her shopping cart, then remembered that she had gift cards from items that had been returned on gifts for him when he received duplicate items in the past.

She entered in the gift card information and was able to get him some items at no cost.

She went onto another site and was able to take care of other purchases using a gift card for TJ Maxx from returned clothing items and such that she’d purchased for herself months back and had later changed her mind.

In both cases, she got items for gifts without having to make a big dent on our credit cards.  This was pretty cool.

Did Using Gift Cards Impact Overall Spending?  It All Depends!

There are some additional questions that came out of this.  Specifically, did it reduce our overall spending.  The answer for each case was slightly different.

In the instance of my son, we used the opportunity to flex our budget a bit.  Since the original intent was for him to receive gifts at whatever point in time he received the original gift, it didn’t seem right to simply reduce our budget.  Not that the original gift givers would know the progression, but all the same, it seemed the right approach.  So for him, we had a ‘cash’ budget going into the season and we used that plus the gift cards.

In the instance of the items from TJ Maxx (which went to multiple people), we had no problem using that money to reduce our cash outlay.  The reason being that the original purchases were made for items to be used within our household.  In the end it worked out that we’d basically spent the money for the gifts back when we made the original purchase.  In that case, we had no qualms about reducing our cash budget for the season.

Can Your Gift Cards Be Used To Buy Gifts?

This day, it’s probably more likely than not that you have an unused gift card laying around.  Can you use these as part of your gift purchasing and gift giving strategy?

I don’t see why not.

There might be limits on how far you want to go with this, but honestly, I think that depends on each person and their own scenarios.

A couple possible situations come to mind, and I’d be curious to get your feedback.  These are hypothetical:

  1. mb-2014-12mallYou have a gift card you probably won’t use – What if you got a gift card from somewhere, but you know you’ll probably never use it for one reason or another.  Is it OK to simply re-gift the gift card?  If you do this, you might want to make sure the original balance is still intact.
  2. You use gift card balance to buy a gift for the original giver – What if you got a gift card to JC Penney from Aunt Lorraine last year, then turned around bought Aunt Lorraine a sweater this year…using the gift card she gave you?
  3. Discounted gift cards – Every once in a while, you can get a gift card purchased for less than face value?  If you got $100 worth of gift cards for $80 and your balance was $100 for that person, would you call it good after getting the discounted gift cards or would you take the $20 in savings and buy additional presents?

Readers, do you use your gift cards as part of your shopping strategy and if so, what do you do?  Any dos and don’ts?  Ever been involved one way or another on any sort of gift card faux paux? 

Copyright 2014 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.

Take Lessons From Tragedy

Tragedy comes in many forms, but in every case, it is based on something profoundly sad, heartbreaking, and usually involves loss.  You know tragedy, right?  You have likely had a tragic event if your life, known someone who has, and if you read or watch the news regularly, you certainly see tragedy on a regular basis.

Tragedy Can Come At Anytime To Anyone

One tragedy has stock in my mind for the last several months.  I’ll say up front that I don’t know anybody involved, but from the moment I saw the initial news reports, I’ve been emotionally touched by the tragic events.

In early September, two parents were in a car together, having had lunch and on their way to pick their children up from school.  Another car came from a side street and there was nearly a collision.  There was some additional aggressive driving which turned into road rage which led to tragedy.  At a stoplight, the father got out of the car to confront the other driver, and as he got to the window of the car, he was shot.

His name was Derek Fleming.  He died instantly.  His wife sat in the car and watched the whole thing happen.  In her account, everything happened so fast that she didn’t even realize her husband was going to get out of the car.  He was there one second, out the next, and gone the next.  What a tragedy.

This was an ordinary day.  Well, maybe not ordinary.  It was the first day of school.  That’s always an exciting day.  But every plan for that day and anything moving forward was instantly shattered.  Dreams.  Plans for dinner, for the next vacation, for the upcoming school year, everything was simply gone.  I can’t even imagine that.

Take Lessons From Tragedy

mb-2014-12glassAs I said already, I don’t know anybody involved here.  But you still have things that ring so true, that you feel like you do.  The man who died was a couple of years older than me.  His kids were a couple of years older than mine.  He got mad at a driver and let the other person know that he was unhappy.

But, he died as a result of that.  That’s tragic, and it taught me a lesson.  It taught me to chill out on the road.

Earlier this summer, on the way to a camping trip, we hit a construction zone.  We pulled off to get gas and were merging back on, where of course traffic was still completely stopped.  I was approaching the lane and it was a point where I needed to get on, and any reasonable person would have probably let me in, except the person that should have didn’t.  He zoomed up and refused to let me in.  The next person did, so I was behind Mr. Jerk and I let him know exactly how I felt about him with a couple of nice horn taps and finger gestures.  He rolled his window down and returned the gesture.

My wife told me to cool it, that you never know what he could do.  I laughed it off saying, “Mr. Tough Guy isn’t going to do anything.”  Still, I didn’t do anything further, and within a minute or two, we hit the last of the barrels, and we were on our way, never to interact again.

That happened a couple of months before the tragic story I just told, but the moment I read about what happened, I went right back to my experience and it chilled me to the bone.

I’m sure that the victim of the shooting thought the same thing.  While I didn’t get out of the car like he did, I’m sure he had the same thought that nothing bad would happen.  Did the thought even cross his mind that he wouldn’t be getting back into his car?  Ever?  No, I’m sure it didn’t.  But, tragically, that’s the way it turned out.

My Lessons Learned From This Tragedy

As I read the story and went back the couple of months to my experience, I vowed that I needed to change.  I didn’t want to be the next victim of a shooting.  Even if the other person was completely a jerk and no matter how right or wrong they were, I thought about how that family no longer had a husband or father because of what had happened.

Since then, I’ve encountered plenty of bad drivers.  I’ve had other people not let me in or had other people do bad things.  In the past, most of the time I would have done nothing but some times, sure I would have given them a honk or a stare or a finger gesture.  Now, I’ve gone to just letting it go.  Every time I move my hand to the horn or to go up in the air, I think of the tragedy that unfolded with people that I didn’t know and never will, and I put my hand back on the steering wheel.

Tragedy sucks.  Every tragedy means that someone’s heart somewhere is broken.  My heart breaks for the wife and children that lost the man that was most important to all of them.  I follow the story, wondering if any answers will come.  If it will ever make sense.  Eventually, there will be a trial as the shooter was charged with murder.  As the details emerge and as verdicts come down, we may find out more, but one thing that will never happen is that the tragedy of that event will never be erased.  It will live with everybody who lost, and it can also live in a different way for anybody that learned and took something away.

Readers, what tragic events have you seen transformed into opportunities or eye-opening moments in some way?  Have you experienced anything of the sort firsthand?  

Copyright 2014 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.

Why You Need To Accept Responsibility For A Job Loss

So, you lost your job?  You got fired.  You got canned.  You got the boot.  Whatever you call it, the bottom line is, it sucks.  It’s happened to me, and trust me, it is something I hope to never have take place again.  Has it happened to you?

If it’s happened, there are a number of things you’re going to feel.  Chances are you’re going to panic a little bit.  You’ll be angry and hurt.  No matter how you look at it, the experience and the aftermath are going to weigh you down.

Once the initial shock wears off, which can take a few hours or a few days, then the time comes to collect yourself and start looking forward.  That sounds pretty simple, but as I recently discovered, that path isn’t the one that’s always taken.

Holding Onto Anger After Getting Fired

I was reading through Facebook, and stumbled upon an article that struck my fancy.  It was an article listing some things you might have done wrong that led you go get fired.   I clicked into the article, and also looked into the Facebook comments that followed the link.  As I don’t want to call attention to the person about whom inspired my post, I’m not going to link to the article or the comments, but I will paraphrase the comment.

“This article is annoying.  Women are awful to each other in job settings.  I was fired 12+ years ago.  The HR person, a judgmental lunatic named ______ _______ made my life miserable and ruined my job.  She was jealous of me and that I was smart and good at what I did.  I got fired and it was all her fault.”

I read this and was floored.  And, I’m going to tell you, even though I paraphrased this, I did not embellish or exaggerate one single thing.  If anything, I took a few things out of her comment.

Let’s look at some of the key things that happened here:

  • mb-2014-12stressedShe insulted the blog owner – She didn’t agree with the article but rather than put that kindly, she insulted the owner.  That’s just bad form.  The author didn’t bother to reply to the comment, nor would I have.  I’m all for meaningful discussion with my readers, and I know that some may disagree with me, but when the conversation starts off as disrespectful, there’s no reason to continue on.
  • She generalizes – She comments about how women are awful to each other.  Interesting.  Does that mean that she herself is awful to other women in job settings?
  • She has held a grudge for over twelve years – That is a long time to hold a grudge.  Was the job that great or important that she is still holding on to this much anger over twelve years later?  Many couples that go through terrible divorces hold less anger after that long.
  • She actually named the person – After twelve years, she put the person’s name in the comment field.  How passive-aggressive and unnecessary is that?  It serves no person except to show bitterness that should have long died by now.
  • She assigned all the blame – She blamed every bad thing that happened at her job on the HR person that ‘ruined her job’.  I find it hard to believe that one person, presumably not even her boss, could have that much influence.
  • She took no responsibility – The last sentence says it all. She assigned 100% of the blame of her getting fired on this other person, meaning that she took absolutely zero responsibility for what went down.
  • She is totally self-unaware – How can someone claim that a co-worker was that vicious when describing the experience with such venom and not see how any reasonable person is going to see them as the maniac?  She lists out all kinds of character flaws about someone else, then demonstrates them in glorious fashion.  It’s honestly painful.

You Got Fired: Take Your Lumps And Take Responsibility

As I said at the top, I’ve gotten let go.  I was angry.  I was hurt.  And, yes, I blamed my boss.  When I walked out of there, and even after, I was storming mad.  When I left that place, I knew that on one hand, my boss was right: I didn’t perform well at my job.  But, my boss was supposed to be my leader, so I put it on her.

Until I didn’t.

Eventually, as I got past the experience of being fired, I realized that some of the responsibility was mine to take.  Yes, I feel my boss underperformed in her job in the way she mentored and led me, but I still had other things I could have and should have done.  I have always been successful so once I struggled, instead of reaching out for help, I didn’t.  I assumed I would just figure it out and it would all come together.  That was my strategy.  It was a bad one, and that part was on me.

Taking ownership of that responsibility was key.

What Taking Responsibility For Your Job Loss Gives You

Once you take responsibility, here’s what you get:

  • You can let go of the anger – Being angry sucks.  It takes a lot of energy. I’m generally a peaceful person anyways, so when I get angry, it affects my whole life.  The job was over, but if I held onto the anger, the negativity was going to stay with me.  By finding a way to let go of the anger, I was able to release that anger.
  • You can learn for your next job – Once I took responsibility for getting fired, I was able to look back objectively at what had happened, learn from it, and apply those learning elements to my current job.  Which I’ve been successful at, in good part because I was able to make adjustments and understand things better after having gone through what I did.  Do you think the person who left the comment above has learned a single thing in the 12+ years since her firing? From what I can tell, I’m guessing no.
  • You keen your awareness – Having gone through my experience, I now have a better understanding of myself and of others in the workplace.  I now recognize people that have similar personality traits as my former boss that made us clash, and I try to steer my career away from them.  If I’m reading the person who left the comment correctly, her position is that she just avoids working with other women.  Great strategy.

Take Charge Today

If you’ve been fired, whether it be recently or years ago, I would encourage you to take responsibility.  You don’t have to take 100% of the blame, because usually there’s plenty to go around, but make sure you be honest and take the portion that’s yours.  That may seem weak, but it really can turn into an opportunity to strengthen you professionally and personally.  I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from that.

Readers, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to have been fired, how have you responded?  What are some of the best and worst takeaways you’ve had or seen from others that have gone through the experience?

Copyright 2014 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.