Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Urban Prospecting: I Struck Silver!

Somewhere recently I read someone's great idea about how you can acquire silver risk-free. It sounded like a bogus claim at first, and the promo video that went on and on and on (probably ending not in the promised advice, but with a paypal button to purchase an e-book) started to convince me that it was so. The seller, whoever he is, did give away the secret to anyone paying attention to detail, however: the sales pitch kept saying "say these five magic words to any teller at any bank and blahblahblah." I don't know what the words actually were because I stopped listening and started Googling. It didn't take me long to find out what the deal was (and why this e-book wouldn't have been a deal at all).

Very simply, what some are doing (and what I've since tried) is to walk into any bank with some cash and proceed to exchange it for as many rolls of U.S. half-dollar coins as you can.

There was a point in time where some of our coins contained precious metals, mostly silver. For a period of time, so too did half-dollar coins. Basically, any of them that were struck before 1971 have a significant amount of silver in them (for the specifics, use this handy resource, which will even tell you day-to-day what the "melt value" of a coin is).

What's nice about doing this is that if you don't turn up any pre-1971 half-dollars in the rolls you buy, you don't lose any money. You can spend them, deposit them back into your bank account, or even exchange them for other rolls of half-dollars and keep looking. If you do find a silver-containing coin, however, you make a nice gain. 
On my first crack at this, with $40 worth of half-dollar coins that I picked up at my main banking institution, I found this:

A 1967 half-dollar, probably from the Pennsylvania mint (this one does not bear a mint mark, and it is my understanding that coins from that particular mint often have no mark, while the other mints always stamped them with theirs). On the day that I found this coin, the spot price of silver placed the melt value of it at about $5.10. For fifty cents, I acquired something worth over nine-times that amount, without risking a single penny. It's tough to beat that!

My coin is now hanging out with the rest of my silver holdings in my safe deposit box. As the use of silver continues to outpace the production of it, I expect the metal to continue rising in value. My existing holdings I acquired for an average cost of about $14.28 per ounce, but with a method like this one for acquiring more, I wonder if I can nudge that number down further. 

Try it yourself! Do a little "urban prospecting," see if any nuggets end up in your pan. It could take several tries before you strike silver, but with close to 849,000,000 of these silver-containing half-dollar coins having been produced in the past, the chances of finding one are way better than buying a winning lotto ticket! (Not to mention that if you don't win at lotto, you don't get your money back!)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chris Lee: Standup to Cancer 2012

A friend of mine I met during my days at Washington State U., Chris Lee, is building a career in comedy. This short youtube video contains some outtakes from a recent performance he gave. Views of this video will help him in his current endeavor, getting a spot on stage at an up-coming comedy festival. 
Just a word of warning, there's a bit of language contained in this, so if you're sensitive to that sort of thing then please turn your speakers off and click on the video. The hits will add up all the same! Thanks!

Monday, June 25, 2012

From 1200+ to... 56

 My blog cleanup effort is complete, and with only a few exceptions to my arbitrary "100 page views or you're out of here" rule, my total post count has been taken down by over 1100 posts! I think I can stop cutting.

Why do this? I'm not entirely sure, honestly. It really shouldn't matter how many posts are here since this isn't a book - you don't have to turn pages until you get to what you want, you can just search and have it right away. This project does seem to have answered one thing loudly and clearly, however:

What do people who visit this blog like to read about?

The answer, it turns out, is primarily things about finance. Articles I've linked to and commented on that deal with economics are popular, as are various pieces I've written about some stocks I do own or have owned, or have considered buying. Budgeting and debt reduction seem to be popular topics at times, too (budgeting is the more popular of the two; less painful, perhaps?).

Then there's the all-time favorite piece here on this blog, a post I wrote almost four years ago about a particular Quicken malfunction and how I eventually resolved it. That one post is responsible for almost 10% of all page views on this blog, which totals close to 65,000 at this point in time!

I'll definitely have to keep these things in mind going forward. Like I said, the Internet being what it is, it really doesn't matter in terms of accessibility how many posts are on this thing that never get any attention. The traffic-producing posts and the posts that are completely ignored do take time to write, however; time is wasted writing posts that few to none are interested in reading. I should work on avoiding that. I shouldn't keep avoiding the blog, however. That said...

None of this explains my recent absence

The simple explanation as to why I've been away from this thing for four months is that I have a growing business to run, and since late March I have been back in the classroom, somewhere I never thought I would find myself again, teaching introductory Western philosophy part-time. At times these two things don't leave time for much else. In such a scenario, what isn't particularly interesting and completely optional tends to get selected against.

As to what I've done here in the last day or so, I can say that it's been hard to stay interested in my own project without it having a sharper focus, so perhaps this pruning will help me to achieve that. Looking back on what I have tried with this project before, I think the basic problem is the idea that there should be content posted to the blog daily. Having just eliminated 95% of my posts, which were basically being ignored, and retaining the remainder that get all of the attention, I think I can safely put that mistaken notion to bed. Write fewer posts; maintain a greater focus on a few topics; this doesn't have to be a daily thing. Got it.

Where to go from here?
  • Finance (obviously, and in all of its forms - investing, budgeting, etc.). In particular...
  • Passive income
  • Helpful tech advice (when possible; this isn't my strong suit)
  • Bits of philosophy related/relevant to the general theme of the blog
  • Business, particularly aiming at...
  • Owning all of my time (my ultimate goal)

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Love Satellite Radio

My satellite radio introduced me to this today:

I love satellite radio. Worth every penny.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Bill Flax: Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else?

Spotted this excellent article this morning: Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else? It's packed with gems; the two that are my favorites are quoted below.

I'm not posting this to express any endorsement or rejection of any particular theological point-of-view, which is really the point of the article. When you hear people of either left or right political persuasions leaning on scripture to make their case, it's very likely that they have no clue what it is that they cite as support and they sound silly. To wit:
"Although capitalism appears compatible with Christ’s teachings the Bible never specifically endorses free enterprise. Neither are markets anywhere condemned, only the sinful actions of those abusing others. Markets offer freedom, which amplifies character. Without room for good or ill, morality is irrelevant."
One of the secular gems, and a very clear, concise explanation of why individualism is good and why collectivism is bad, without needing any sort of false "biblical" justification (the author's apparent bias in that regard is demonstrated here, though not in a way that detracts from the main point):
"Capitalism forces the greedy to produce thereby growing the overall pie. To gain they must provide what others willingly purchase. It’s ironic that while those relentlessly pursuing materialism search for contentment in error, the rest richly benefit by the impoverishing lifestyles they pursue.

Those most responsible for increasing wealth accumulate more, they should, but in so doing lift their community’s living standards. Even America’s poor live well by any material measure.

In socialism, greed shifts from productivity into consumption. Without property rights or opportunities for profit, men quickly descend into mutually destructive envy. Our base instincts betray us. Output plummets. When we see someone slacking and still taking – we produce less. When we see others hoarding – we snatch more too.

If nothing can be acquired, advantage is only feasible by consuming beyond one’s share of public goods. As Adam Smith said of slavery, “A person who can acquire no property can have no other interest but to eat as much and to labour as little as possible.”

One criticism of the article I have (though maybe I'm operating from a false premise here, not sure) is that on page three, Mr. Flax writes, "capitalism is the best platform man has yet devised." To my mind, capitalism isn't a system, it is just what is: in the absence of any sort of institutionalized market, people trade, always with the aim of making an exchange in which each party considers themselves to have gained. A system of rules and procedures is not a prerequisite to this, quite the opposite. What was devised? Nothing, that's just how things are.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When You Light A Fire Under Someone, They Move

Following on the heels of President Obama's State of the Union address last night, I spotted this Barron's article this morning:

Barrons: Millionaires Won't Sit Still for Higher Taxes

This dovetails with the article I posted last night about U.S. citizens becoming former U.S. citizens to avoid taxes, though the methods described in the Barron's article are far less drastic. Bottom line: the minority of people being targeted here are a moving target (and they can afford to be very mobile). Unless they think the purpose of an individual human life is to support the whims of government (doubt that), then move they shall: leave New York for Florida, buy municipal bonds, offshore; the list goes on.

I also saw this U.S. News and World Report article: 3 Myths About Mitt Romney and the Rich

This one fits the theme I have going here this morning, too. This is all old hat stuff to people who are familiar with the topic, and it probably won't change the minds of the envy class about anything (it's nearly impossible to convince someone of the falsehood of their religion). The article does contain at least one gem that, old or new to you, is worth repeating again and again: wealth is not a zero sum game. Again: WEALTH IS NOT A ZERO SUM GAME.

Finally, on the SOTU address, read through this article at Zero Hedge: President Obama's State of the Union: Ten Skirted Issues

Good read, but I hope that Prins is wrong about her conclusion.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

1,024 Became Former U.S. Citizens In First Half Of 2011 Over Taxation

"Rather than deal with the complexities of U.S. tax law, Americans living overseas are increasingly renouncing their citizenship in order to avoid paying their income taxes.

According to National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, approximately 4,000 people gave up their citizenship from fiscal year 2005 to FY 2010. Renunciations increased sharply within the past three years, from 146 in FY 2008 to 1,534 in FY 2010. And during the first two quarters of FY 2011 alone, 1,024 Americans ditched their citizenship."

Read more: Tax Evaders Renounce U.S. Citizenship

That headline, it's wrong. Tax evasion is not paying a tax that you are legally required to pay. Tax avoidance is doing something that legally exempts you from taxation of some sort. Renouncing your U.S. citizenship and being in the country for less than the maximum allowable time legally exempts you from a requirement to pay U.S. income taxes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Penny Power 2011: How My Change Jar Stacked Up and Where It's Going

While the New Year's Day tradition of many is to nurse their raging hangovers, my ritual is a bit more tame and a lot less painful. I get up on NYD, make some coffee, turn on my satellite radio, then I dump out my loose change jar and count what's in it.

This jar contains the spare change I come by via whatever means (odd tip money, coins I find in the laundry, on the ground, etc.; the exception is quarters, which go back into the laundry...). I say, "do not pass up free money," which is what finding coins here and there represents. By themselves they're not much, not even added together, which is why I find a productive use for them all once per year: these tiny bits of lost and found capital get invested somehow. In 2011, the change jar ended up with $11.44 in it.

I've taken to plotting my financial moves in terms of whatever will result in the greatest increase in cash flow. I don't pay much attention to my net worth, nor will my future investing be for capital gains. The thinking behind this I'll have to save for a future post, but the basics of it is that I want to widen the spread between what is coming in versus what is going out month-to-month.

Right now I have various debts, one of which is a credit card that is currently at 0%. At first glance it would seem the choice of what to do with 2011's coin collection would be to invest in something paying any amount greater than zero. That would be to ignore the nature of a credit card balance payment, however, which is a percentage of the existing balance, calculated monthly. In this particular case, the percentage used is 1.5%. Thus, any amounts applied to the balance have the effect of reducing the monthly minimum by 1.5% per month going forward, which increases future free cash flow by an equal amount. In terms of cash flow, any alternative must pay at this rate at the least, but preferably more, to be the better alternative. Since most investment returns are expressed annually, the alternative must do better than this:

$11.44*.015 = $0.1716 monthly minimum payment reduction; $0.1716*12(months) = $2.0592 annual free cash flow increase; $2.0592/$11.44 = 18%.

Any alternative has to do at least 18% or better. There's only one dividend paying stock I'm paying attention to these days that can do that, American Capital Agency Corp (AGNC), which at the moment sports a dividend yield that clocks in at 19.9%.

It would seem I should go for some AGNC. I will not do this, however. AGNC's dividend could change. It may go higher, but because that company's returns depend on the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates very low, there's a good chance that their dividend will go down. There's also a very good chance that any cut in their dividend would take the relative yield well below 18%.

Applying these coins to my card balance, however, guarantees an 18% boost to my free cash flow in perpetuity, because once that balance is gone, it's gone forever (changes to other inputs and outputs notwithstanding, of course; I'm focusing on this event in and of itself here).

Had this particular card used the common monthly minimum divisor, 1%, the situation might have been different (the implied yield from applying these funds to such a card would have been 12%, a rate which can be easily and reliably beaten by alternatives). Being what it is though, it is the winner of my 2011 loose change collection.

The 2012 collection is already started, with the first few found coins clinking against the bottom of the jar. Keep your eyes peeled, there's free capital out there on the ground. Don't ignore it, it does add up. Find it, get it, and put it to work for you.

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