Monthly Archives: June 2013

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Wasting your money on fireworks is for suckers

Don’t blow up your savings on the Fourth of July

Photo: noppasinw via

Photo: noppasinw via

I still remember the year it happened. Defying all past precedent, our parents took us down the most amazing place on Earth: the fireworks stand.

We had never before gotten fireworks at home for the Fourth. I know some years we’d gone into the big city to watch the big show, my mom ooohing and ahhing at the splashes of light in the sky. Then the inevitable traffic jam home while we kids gave up trying to stay awake and fell fast asleep unbuckled in the back seat.

At 9 or 10 years old the fireworks stand was already legendary to me. Something we’d never experienced firsthand but had learned about through our more worldly friends. They described the sounds, power, height and close calls with voices trembling with excitement. Growing up on a farm in what was basically the wilderness at the time, we hadn’t even seen our neighbors blowing up fireworks before. When my friends talked about buying handfuls of bottle rockets, my mind reeled imagining what a bottle rocket must be like. Does it really make a bottle into a rocket? Wow!

So my brother and I were more than thrilled to be able to pick out fireworks from the stand. We pointed at the brightly colored boxes and occasionally we were steered by our parents away from items that were too expensive or dangerous. Oh man, this would be the best Fourth of July ever!

We were allowed to play on our own outside with the little ones. We put them under buckets, taped them to our army men and lit them and through them to watch them explode in the air. A few went off in our hands, but they were little enough to just hurt — no damage. But it was enough to make it thrilling. For awhile.

The other fireworks had to wait until it got dark for the full effect. An adult had to light most of those for us, carefully lighting the device and rushing away quickly. Then a whoosh of sound, a slight bit of apprehension as we waited to see if it would turn suddenly dangerous, then some light and noise and then just some burned-up paper remained.

My brother and I hoarded some of our little firecrackers for use later in the year, planning some epic explosion. But somehow the reality of the big boom never measured up to the dream.

And so it went over the years. One year we even got to go Blackjack, the biggest fireworks store I’d ever seen. (Which I now consider to be ground zero for idiots. Alert: The design of that web site is even more offensive than the fireworks themselves.) Occasionally we’d hear stories of someone scoring some of the mysterious “M-80s” and I had great fun at a friend’s house one year playing war by shooting bottle rockets across the ground at each other.

Then there was the time in high school when one of my idiot friends shot off a bottle rocket inside the car while we were driving. Or the time just a few years ago when some drunk morons shot a very large bottle rocket (accidentally) across the street, nearly hitting my 2 year old nephew in the face.

One of the most shocking fireworks scenes I’ve witnessed was when I was living in Chicago. I was over at some friends’ house for the Fourth and some of the local residents (clearly not wealthy people, by the way) closed off the street and began blowing up fireworks in the middle of the street. I wish I could begin to describe to you the amount of fireworks these people had. It must have been thousands of dollars worth. The garbage when they were finally done was as big as a large car. Just the garbage!

The problem got a lot weirder when governments cracked down on the danger and nuisance of these firecrackers. That’s when the concept of “illegal” firework came into existence. Suddenly you weren’t cool unless you were sneaking onto the Indian reservation to buy the “good stuff”. Like an arms race for ass-clowns, neighbors would try to outdo each other with bigger and more annoying fireworks.

That’s how things are now. Our neighborhood sounds like a war zone on the Fourth of July, scaring animals, causing fires and littering my yard with bottle rocket sticks, plastic pieces and paper. Perhaps the only thing more annoying than all of that are the bottle rocket scientists who can’t figure out what day it is, blowing crap up for days before and after.

All of this is a long story to explain why I can’t help but grind my teeth when I hear one of these “middle class is struggling” stories. I’m not saying the middle class hasn’t been hammered on several fronts and I more than recognize many people are having a tough time of it these days. But we do need to be honest and admit that a fair amount of this is self-inflicted. And buying fireworks is probably the dumbest way to turn cash into garbage.

Occasionally some bozo will try to pretend that the more crap he buys to blow up at home means he loves America more than everyone else. These fools stamp their feet and whine at every local government attempt to protect fingers, sanity and property claiming it’s their American right and freedom! Please. They’re just consumerist suckers being manipulated into wasting money. If they want to celebrate America, maybe they could spend the evening reading the Constitution or something. The Fourth Amendment is particularly relevant right now if time is short…

Whether you’re trying to get out of debt, trying to reach your pretirement goals or simply don’t want to be an annoying douchebag, skip the fireworks stand this year. Wasting your money on fireworks — such a fleeting moment of excitement — is just not worth it. Enjoy your community’s local fireworks show if you have one, or enjoy the show put on by your idiot neighbors if you like watching money go up in flames. But please, please, don’t burn up your savings on fireworks.

What do you think? Anyone else annoyed and dismayed by DIY fireworks? 

Pretirement fun for the week of June 17

Stories of financial independence, saving money and early retirement

pretirement_livingI had one of my busiest weeks ever last week so I didn’t get to do as much reading as I like. Fortunately there were still a lot of really great posts worth sharing! Here’s hoping next week is back to normal!

Here is some of the best Pretirement Fun I read last week:

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Buying 25 percent of a cow: 100% worth it

When buying the best pays off — buying a quarter cow

quarter cow

What a quarter cow looks like

It was almost a decade ago now that my girlfriend (now wife) and I made the fateful decision to pick up some delicious Jones Barbecue and bring it back home to eat. It’d been a tough week and a Friday night at home watching TV while eating an amazing beef brisket dinner with sides was just what the doctor ordered.

We came home and started mowing our beef like we’d done so many times before, commenting on the spiciness, soaking up the sauce with cheap bread. About two-thirds of the way through the meal, however, she suddenly stood and quickly walked to the bathroom. I set my plastic fork down as the sounds of someone violently puking her guts out immediately ruined my appetite.

Shaken, but clearly feeling better, she emerged from the bathroom with her stomach as empty as it had been 20 minutes earlier.

We didn’t really know what to make of it and just assumed that the spices were too much for her delicate tummy. That theory went out the window some months later when we were cooking steaks at home. Same thing: immediate, violent vomiting. OK, clearly it had something to do with the meat. Could she simply be allergic to cow meat? That didn’t really seem to be the case because we had certainly eaten beef many other times without a problem. And it also didn’t appear to be food poisoning because I never got sick even though I ate the exact same food. Plus, the reaction was so immediate and so violent that it seemed more like an allergy than a bacteria problem.

After doing a bit more research, we realized that it may not be the beef itself, but rather something in some of the beef we ate that was causing the problem. Something she reacted to, but I didn’t. I finally found an article (now long lost) pointing out that most supposed beef allergies are actually allergies to the antibiotics given to cows on overcrowded cattle lots.

This was worth testing. After doing a bit more reading, we found out that corn makes cattle sick so the beef factories (they’re not “farms”, don’t kid yourself) give them massive doses of antibiotics. They, in fact, give them the antibiotics even when they’re not sick as a preventative. Why are cows being fed food they weren’t evolved to digest? Because it’s cheap. Why is it cheap? Frankly because the government subsidizes the landowners to grow lots of corn thus feeding it to cows is a good way to get rid of it.

If you want a wonderful overview of the modern food system with ways to positively rethink our approach to food, be sure to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. (Did you catch that? My first affiliate link!)

So we sought out grass-fed beef. In fact, you have to look for grass fed AND grass-finished as some “grass-fed beef” is actually corn-finished as a way to add more fat marbling to the final cut. We carefully selected some overpriced steaks that were reliably sourced and well-labeled. Guess what? No problems at all.

The test was repeated many, many times after that point. And so we continued like this for many years, until I finally read the Ominvore’s Dilemma while in vacation in Kauai a couple years ago. This is where I learned of the concept of “pasture-raised” beef. Without giving away the whole book, the idea is that every creature and plant on the farm has its role to fill, which it was given by eons of evolution. So the basic approach when it comes to cows is that the cows eat the grass, the cows fertilize the grass, the chickens eat the bugs out of the pasture so the cows aren’t covered in insects and the whole system is moved around frequently so no part of the system is overtaxed. In fact, interestingly, even the grass did much better as it had evolved to be trampled (creating water pockets) and fertilized regularly. Simply put, the system is in balance. No antibiotics are needed because there isn’t a stress on the system causing illness.

Fate intervened again when our fridge started to die. We weren’t sure if it was going to be savable, but most of the food we were worried about was our frozen stuff. Plus we had an old bar fridge in our basement that wasn’t being used. We decided to spring for a deep freezer and then use the bar fridge as back-up if our refrigerator truly did bite the dust. (We’d been thinking about getting one anyway as a way to be a bit more self-sufficient and to buy in a bit larger quantities.)

So we were all set when we decided to take the plunge and buy our first quarter-cow. It worked out great when my wife was pregnant as she was told to up her iron intake. So about a year ago my wife, then six months pregnant, and I drove up to Snohomish to pick up our meat.

It’s taken us about a year to eat that meat, with the lesser steaks and some of the roasts taking awhile to get through. (It was just a couple weeks ago that we gnawed our way through some nasty chuck steak.) We still have a few pieces left from last year, ribs (I’ve never cooked them, so that’s something I’ll have to figure out) and a couple roasts left. We also gave away all our offal last year (we just didn’t take it this year) and we gave away a few other choices as gifts.

Is buying a quarter cow a good deal money-wise?

Well, we paid $764 for about 120 pounds of beef. That was $511 for the cow and the rest for the butcher’s time. That puts us somewhere around $6/pound. However, we didn’t actually weigh our product, plus we didn’t take the offal, which is included in the price. On the other hand, this is organic and we know where it all came from and, of course, it also includes plenty of premium cuts like T-bones and rib steaks. I’ve heard a clean rib eye can go for as much as $20/pound. There’s also the difference between “pre-hang” weight and the actual weight of what you buy, so it’s a true apples and oranges problem. To really tell you what our value was compared to supermarket meat, I’d have to weigh each cut and compare each one to retail prices and total it up. I’m way too lazy to do that! Instead, I’ll roughly estimate that we eat beef 1.5 times a week on average and that this amount lasted over a year. That is around $63/month, or $15/week. At one and a half meals per week, that’d be around $10/meal (for two people). That doesn’t include power for our freezer and gas to go up and get the meat, but you get the idea.

Bottom line to us is we don’t feel we’re being gouged, we’re getting quality, clean meat and we have it on-hand when we need it — plus, no puking! To us, that’s a great deal!

What do you think? Is clean meat worth it? Has anyone else tried buying a quarter or half cow? 

Pretirement fun from last week

Stories of financial independence, saving money and early retirement

pretirement_livingWow, that was an insanely busy and even crazy week! Today we’re heading up North to pick up our 1/4 pasture-raised cow that should keep us beefed-up for another year. Tomorrow is my first Father’s Day. (Never thought I’d be saying that!) What’s everyone else got going on this weekend?

Here is some of the best Pretirement Fun I read last week:

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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