Updated on 02.03.10

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Resolution Updates Edition

Trent Hamm

I thought I’d update you on my progress with my 2010 resolutions.

Resolution #1: Lose 40 pounds I lost three pounds in January, so I’m more or less on pace with this one. My biggest challenge here is the weather, which makes it very difficult to just get outside and take a long walk, something I love to do every day when the weather is nice.

Resolution #2: Pay cash for a replacement for my truck I have an adequate amount of cash ready to go. I’m just merely waiting for the right replacement vehicle to come along. Oh, and I’ve had additional truck troubles in the last month, so I have even more incentive to switch.

Resolution #3: Learn to play the piano After testing out two piano teachers, I’ve been taking weekly hour-long lessons from a teacher for the past three weeks. I’ve also been practicing a lot at home. So far, I can read most simple sheet music if I go slowly and I can play a few simple songs at a reasonable tempo.

Resolution #4: Reduce my entertainment and hobby spending by 50% This is going really well so far, as I spent just a few dollars on entertainment in January. If the rest of the year goes anywhere near this well, this one will be easy to do.

So, to put it simply, #2, #3, and #4 are very much on pace, and #1 arguably is. I’m pretty happy with that.

Here are some personal finance posts to enjoy.

Star Trek and The Time Well Spent Continuum In the last Reader Mailbag, I argued that MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Star Trek Online could be potentially good ways to reduce your entertainment spending. This article actually makes the opposite argument. (@ debt free adventure)

The Hypocrite Test: Should Rich People Pay More? As with many such fundamental political issues, I think there are valid arguments on both sides of the coin and that some reasonable compromises can be reached. The only problem is that people don’t sit down at the table and rationally discuss such issues today – instead, they resort to arguing, insulting, and “straw man” representations of the opposition. I have little interest in that, whether it’s Keith Olbermann or Glenn Beck – I wish they’d both shut up. Whatever happened to the Lincoln-Douglas debates? Such thoughtful coverage of the issues of the day went away with the advent of fifteen second news blips. (@ awake @ the wheel)

Does Renting Make Sense? J.D. pulls out the P/R ratio to take a look at whether renting is more worthwhile financially than buying. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t really take into account individual financial situations. (@ get rich slowly)

How is disorganization and clutter affecting your job performance? In my own case, I notice a serious downturn in productivity when my office gets disorganized and messy. I’m far better off just stopping for a bit to get things in better order than I am just charging ahead. (@ unclutterer)

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  1. Adam says:

    Thanks for the resolution updates Trent! Nice to see some progress on all fronts. You’re right about the losing weight resolution, its tricky to know if its real progress in the first while (my weight fluctuates a few lbs every other day). Besides the weight though, do you feel like you’re eating healthier/less junk and excersizing more? That should be the short term goal rather than absolute pounds just yet.

    Interesting link on the MMORPG. My take is that they are a very frugal lifestyle choice (adding the cost of upgrading your computer is a bit specious reasoning imho) BUT ultimately not worth it since your overall quality of life can go downhill extremely fast if you become severely addicted (which happens more than people like to admit!).

  2. kristine says:

    Are you including the piano lessons in your hobbies expenses? If so, what did you cut back on?

  3. John says:

    Re: Hypocrite test

    Not all people benifet from government equally. If a brilliant enterprenuer is born in America, she can become a billionaire. If she’s in Somolia, her talen is effectively wasted. Steve Jobs can earn billions of dollars in America because the American government has provided the infrastructure and security neccessary for businesses to thrive. Somolia, not so much.

    Talented people get more benifet from the government, so talented people should pay more taxes.

  4. lurker carl says:

    Hypocrite test:

    The rich usually pay more simply because they can afford it. As far as taxes are concerned, folks who don’t earn much can’t fork over much in taxes.

  5. Johanna says:

    Building on what John said: A big benefit of having a functioning government is the protection of private property – which you could argue is central to the very concept of private property. (If the only thing you can do when somebody steals your wallet is try to steal it back, with no guarantee that he won’t try to steal it back back, in what sense is the wallet really “yours”?) People with more property benefit more from the measures the government takes to protect private property.

    And my income is well above the national median, so the suggestion that I’m some kind of hypocrite for wanting the rich to pay more falls flat.

    Trent, I’m curious what kind of compromise you think can be reached on this issue. Either people with higher incomes pay a higher percentage, or they pay the same percentage. What middle ground is there?

  6. Adam says:

    I think there is some compromise in that some fees/fines (taxes) are flat, and sales tax on consumption of food, utilities, gasoline, etc. is flat after a certain amount (yes it goes up but plateaus beyond a certain level of wealth, one can only spend so much on utlities and gasoline and food in a year, no matter how rich you are).

    While income tax is staggered such that the richer you are, the higher percentage you pay.

    So a flat $50 parking ticket for someone who is a milionaire is inconsequencial; but for a welfare recipient they would get the same ticket regardless of their wealth, and it may mean no cable bill gets paid that month.

    But the millionare pays ~50% of his income in a year to income taxes, while the welfare person actually collects money rather than pays it to the government.

    Obviously extremes, but its a compromise.

  7. TattleTale says:

    Hey Trent, just thought you might like to know that one of your readers is dissing you on the MSN Money Boards, specfically on the Your Money board. There’s even a post that includes a “Catty Side Bar” in which the poster snarkily discusses your weight and that of another PF blogger. It was originally posted on 1-27-10.

    I do realize I am being a tattletale, but I also feel that you are entitled to know what people think of your blog, good and bad, so that you can make changes accordingly, if you so desire.

  8. Brent says:

    Do not forget that the rich people employ the rest of us…

    “Not all people benifet from government equally.”

    Like those of us paying the taxes?

    If I ran my household budget they way the U.S. government runs it’s budget, well, you get the point.

  9. Bart says:

    I had trouble with resolution number one while living in Scotland a few years ago. Let me help you out with this little gem:

    “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”

  10. John says:

    “Do not forget that the rich people employ the rest of us…”

    Unless you work as a personal assistant, or your company is owned by one person, you’re working for the shareholders. Shareholders != rich people.

  11. SEC Lawyer says:

    I applaud you, Trent, for setting personal objectives (not always easy), then announcing them publicly (harder to do), then updating everyone on your progress (harder still). It is said that “public” commitment is important in fulfilling personal objectives. But there is always the risk of embarassment for failure to achieve those objectives, so it’s not easy to do what you’re doing. Keep up the good work!

  12. An important resolution this year is to find a financial advisor to review your financial plan for the affects of the income, capital gains, dividend and estate tax increases which will be hitting everyone in 2011.

  13. Henry says:

    My doctor told me I needed to lose weight too. I’ve been working on it for two months, lost three pounds the first month, gained it back the second. I’m going back to the Doc next week, I’m just going to ask him for some Adipex. It’s too hard living with people that eat whatever they want all the time.
    Hopefully my Doc will have no trouble giving up on me doing it myself and will be glad to write another prescription for me, since I found out he gets kickbacks for writing scripts. That explained a lot when I found that out, since I wondered why I got scripts for things like Aspirin, Fish Oil and Niacin, things I could’ve bought OTC.

  14. Jeroen says:

    On the tax issue, I recently had a discussion with a local politician.

    We both agreed that progressive tax is (up to a limit) fair, because rich people get more value out of the government. But he managed to convince me that income taxation is bad.

    What he proposes is this:
    – give every citizen a flat amount per month (say 500 for children, 800 for adults; 1000 for pensioners)
    – eliminate all tax on income, but raise sales taxes significantly (he claims that with costs going down by eliminating , a product could stay at the same price as now, but have a higher sales tax.
    – that sales tax is kind of regressive: primary goods taxed at 10%, luxury good(and goods with negative externalities): 32%

    If those numbers check out: i’m all for it….

  15. Geoff Hart says:


    Sounds a lot like me! Here’s one trick my wife came up with you might enjoy: buy a treadmill and a laptop stand. She did a bit of frugal shopping and found Sears selling a good model for less than half price. Now, combined with the laptop stand, she spend an hour every morning walking fast while checking e-mail, reading her friends’ blogs, etc. This turns previously “unproductive” time into productive time! I’ve started using the treadmill too when I don’t have the energy to do my usual workout, and I get caught up on the TV news while I do. Highly recommended.


    Another way to consider renting vs. buying is exactly the same logic used when evaluating leasing or buying a car: what is the net expenditure (payments minus equity) at the end of the time period?

    If you rent, the total expenditure is your monthly payment (rent, heating, electricity, etc.) multiplied by the number of months. You earn not a penny, so all of this money is pure expenditure. Net payment: total payments minus profits (zero) = total payments.

    If you buy, the total expenditure is similarly calculated (as above, plus homeowner insurance, taxes, etc.) multiplied by the number of months. But at the end of this period, you own the house, and in a normal (non-bubble) real-estate market, your investment has actually appreciated. It’s easy to compare the equity in your home with the total amount you paid to earn that equity. Net payment = total payments – equity when the mortgage is retired.

    It should be relatively rare that your net payment (even including interest) is more than you would pay from renting a comparable home, but it can happen in many ways: high mortgage interest, low downpayment, long mortgage term, collapse of a house price bubble, etc. There are also opportunity costs: if your house increases in value by 10% but you could have earned 20% in the stock market, then you should consider that too.

    There’s no shortcut: You have to do the math to see whether buying makes more sense. But on the whole, buying makes more sense than renting if you can afford the monthly payments and your house will retain its value or increase in value.

  16. littlepitcher says:

    RE: hypocrite test

    Rich and poor seldom opt for the same materials. Rich usually will make more demands, want more contact time, and may well be slower in paying.

    Best thing to do is ask the buyer what they have planned to pay, and begin negotiations from there.

    Many businesses do a little under-the-radar price reduction for low income people, and/or sponsor one or two for free or at cost, as a service to society or their spiritual beliefs. Probably an equal number will cheerfully overcharge someone known to be an SOB.

  17. mary says:

    Re: #10
    Why would you stay with a doctor who is ethically suspect (taking kickbacks)? There are too many honest docs in the world. IMHO Adipex is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Mary

  18. Evita says:

    RE: resolutions
    Trent, you are actually reading sheet music after three weeks of classes? I am IMPRESSED !! so many students can barely read after a year !

  19. SP says:

    Did you read music before? I agree it seems impressive to read so quickly, but I learned to read music at a fairly young age

    I have the same question as the previous commenter — doesn’t piano fall into hobby? If not, whee do you put it?

  20. Another Elizabeth says:

    I wish WoW offered a lifetime subscription! My sister and her husband claim that WoW keeps their entertainment budget very low because they quit going to the movies (or really doing anything) when they became hardcore WoW gamers about 3-4 years ago. The blog article you linked to makes a good point, though, about having to upgrade your computer. I think both my sister and her husband have gotten new computers in the last couple years for the express purpose of being able to keep playing well. And of course, there are the expansions you have to buy every 18-24 months if you want to stay at the top of the game. On the other hand, they enjoy gaming together and it’s worth it to them. If I had the time I would still be playing a lot, too.

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