Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mo' Money, mo' problems: Is "free money" for education a fiscal mistake?

According to the Cons, our students are to be trusted
with cash about as much as Fat Joe and Lil Wayne
Yesterday, the Liberals made their first big platform promise for the upcoming federal election, announcing their "Learning Passport," which would provide $4,000 tax-free to every high school student who chooses to go to university, college or CÉGEP. Students from low-income families will qualify for $6,000 or $1,500 for each year of study. 

Reaction from the media outlets not routinely kissing Harper's butt was overwhelmingly positive: See here and here.

Others weren't so jazzed. National Post columnist John Ivison writes,

"All [students] have to do is open an RESP (no need to make any contributions), turn up at college or university and get their $4,000 in free money. For some reason, the words “beer” and “popcorn” immediately spring to mind." 

The Harper camp launched a full-scale attack on the proposal, which I guess is what they're supposed to do and one of the reasons elections can be so dull. Of course, Conservatives are usually pretty hot to trot when it comes to putting money in the hands of individuals (here I think of Harper's clawback of government-funded daycare in favour of cash payments to parents).

So, who is more likely to waste "free money?" Students? Or parents? Or Fat Joe and Lil' Wayne?

Students, you say?

Let's look at it this way. Under this proposal, students must physically go to a bank and open an RESP. They will be able to see the money accumulate. This in itself could instill positive habits, and get them thinking about saving rather than spending

Yes, some students will waste their money. But in the long-run, affordable education for everyone is an investment in our future. Ivison uses the traditional argument that lowering corporate taxes is the way to make Canada attractive to global investors.

Let's be real: Canada would look good drunk at 1pm, in a dayglo tuxedo and fake moustache. Why? Because we have natural resources - aka "stuff the world needs" - the demand for which will only increase. Now if our goverment is stupid, and goes around just giving away our resources and bowing down to the US every time there's a spat (ahem, Harper, ahem, softwood lumber), well, that's a different story altogether...

I say, let's instill some financial literacy and responsibility in our young people. That, coupled with better access to education for everyone could certainly go a long way towards securing our collective financial future.

PS: I often wonder, when rappers throw money on the set of a music video, do they attempt to collect it at the end of the day? Or does a smiling janitor just sweep it into a big, tidy pile?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Federal election: The markets don’t care. Should you?

Do the eye (brow)s  have it? National Post columnist
John Ivison sports the new Ignatieff look.
With a Federal Fun Fest (also known as an election) now slated for May 2, I’m staring down the daunting task of re-evaluating which party’s fiscal policy most floats my boat.

It’s going to be a tough call, because as always I’m torn between voting "for me" and attempting the nobler and more convoluted task of voting for the good of my country. Like many of us, I like to try and go to the polls with a sense of which party could possibly lead us – economically and socially – towards a better version of ourselves. Fiscally, it can be easy to get mired in relatively narrow issues – who will raise taxes for whom being the most obvious. Health care, government spending and social programs all come into play in terms of securing our financial and societal well being.

This article in today’s Globe
says don’t worry about your investments – yet. Indeed. Even in a coalition government, the free-spending spoke in that wheel – the NDP – would have to kowtow to the Liberals. That is, barring any crazy upsets, like a mythical landslide victory by the Green Party that everyone knows is never going to happen so long as people continue to engage in certain activities such as the driving of automobiles...

Ramping up to the election, I’m going to try and provide as much unbiased information as possible on the fiscal policy of the key parties. And, because that alone would be totally boring and unfun, I’m going to throw in some extremely biased and hopefully amusing commentary, as well.

Just so you know where my sympathies lie: Steven Harper is not my friend. Nor is he yours – especially if you’re gay, aboriginal, a feminist, or just really don't like war. In past I have spoiled my ballot rather than vote for the Cons. Will that even be an option this time around? Please note also that I am no fan of Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff - a man who still has not fully addressed his latent eyebrow issues. True, there is now an actual separation between the brows. Yet this new effort at grooming seems to have rendered them all the more sinister and Communist-dictator-like. This does not bode well.

In all seriousness,
the real test of the men (and one very determined and intelligent woman) will be precisely what was lacking last time around: Vision. Can Harper or Ignatieff come up with one? If nothing else, it will be fun to watch 'em try.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Negotiation 101: Not getting taken to the cleaner

When we think of "negotiation" in financial terms, we may think those stress-inducing, grey-carpet-and-muzac situations: mortgages, loans, car dealerships (I hear this one is particularly bad). But really, financial negotiation happens in a myriad of small ways in our day-to-day lives, whether it's deciding how to split the cheque, or haggling over a cab fare.

Or, in my case, yesterday: Demanding cash compensation after my dry cleaner wrecked not one, but three of my blouses.

Staring at my clothes covered in black ink - ink belonging to a pen that was clearly not mine - I realized that my reaction to the problem would make all the difference in its outcome. Here are my pointers, which I think can be applied to a variety of scenarios:

1. Even if they don't apologize, set the standard for the communication by being calm but firm. Express disappointment, be polite and understanding, but do not be a pushover. My first comment: Oh dear. One of those shirts was my favourite. But, these things happen. Everyone makes mistakes. Then I asked how they planned to make it right.

2.Don't accept less than what you feel you deserve - at least initially. They countered by offering me a dry cleaning credit equivalent to the value of the clothing.

3. Use humour if you can - sometimes it helps set both parties at ease. I replied, with a grin, "I'm not sure a credit will be helpful for me to clean clothes I no longer own." [Blank stare in this case, but I swear it does work sometimes.] I added that I would need cash compensation to replace the items that were ruined.

4. Be honest. No strategic reason, just because it's the right thing to do. I told them what the items were worth - roughly $200.

5. Don't accept less than you feel you deserve - just yet. They offered me $150 in cash. I countered that the items were worth more than that, plus I would have to go to the effort to replace them.

6. If you reach an impasse, put the problem back in the hands of the person who caused it.  When encountered with another blank stare, I said, very nicely, "I'm sure you know what's fair. So what don't you tell me what you think is the correct way to handle this situation." The lady at the counter went into the back and after some tense negotiations with her husband, she offered me $150 cash plus free cleaning for the other items that were not ruined.

7. Be prepared to accept slightly less than you feel you deserve. Yes, I would have preferred a more forthcoming apology and more effort on their part to compensate me for the cost of the clothing and my trouble, but I realized that what they were offering was as good as I'd get - without a time-consuming and potentially Disastrous Duel to the Death with the Dry-Cleaning Duo. They would probably win, too. They are hard-working, wiry, humourless people. These are not things I like in an opponent.

So, I said goodbye to my favourite blouse - and the other two, which honestly weren't that hot to begin with - and left the store *almost* smiling.

The end.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Your Bell rebate cheque: in the trash or in the bank?

You can see the delicacy with which I tore into this -
of course having no idea it was a cheque...

Hey, guess what? Bell Canada is sending out rebates to its home phone customers - and you may have thrown yours out, because it looks a lot like junk mail.

Like everyone else, I get reams of junk from all sorts of companies - Plan your funeral! Find true love! - which I chuck without opening. But I also get "junk" from legitimate companies. Bell in particular has a way of making all their envelopes look the same, so you just have to open their mail containing crappy promos, in case it's, you know, something important.

Having paid my Bell bill already this month, my hand was hovering over the recycling bin in the mail room when I thought, "aww crap, I should really open this." Good thing I did. Inside was a rebate for $67.41 which, according to Bell, is mandated by the CRTC.

It made me a little weak in the knees to think of a cheque going in the garbage, and even shakier being that it's from a company I kind of consider an arch enemy (a longer story for another day). The irony of it going unopened would be somewhat massive.

The lesson here: take a minute and open all your mail from any companies you have or have had business dealings with, even if it it looks like crap.

If you're a Bell customer and haven't received a cheque, take a minute and surf to to see if you qualify.

Monday, March 21, 2011

You're going to pay me to do *what*?

Well hello everybody! Happy Monday! Are you as stoked about it as I am? Are you all revved up? 

I'm telling you, when it's Monday, and it's grey and raining, and the roads are clogged with cars that have apparently lost all ability to drive about 20km/per hour due to a small amount of precipitation, I freakin' jump out of bed. I simply cannot wait to get on the bus and watch my fellow passengers eat their breakfast and paint their nails in public.

[An aside: Could someone please tell me, how long does it take to eat one slice of toast? Do you think, speaking theoretically of course, this act could be made to fill the comparative silence of a 45-minute bus ride? I mean, there's nothing quite like the slow rustling of foil and the soft crunch of clean teeth on buttered toast, eaten directly in your face, to really make you want to break into a dance of jubilation and shout, yes, YES, this is what I want. This is what I want every Monday morning for the rest of my non-arthritic life.]

Ahem. Pardon me.

Now that I've got that off my chest, here's what I'm sayin': You're going to pay me to do what this coming Wednesday?

Yes, I started teaching violin lessons - one of my goals for 2011, and so far I've had two sessions with my new student. Each time she hands me $20 for a half hour of help that I'd happy give anyone for free and I scratch my head and say, "Huh? What? Awesome!" This is the exact feeling I want to expand on, so that more of my working hours are like this. I realize not everyone has this luxury, and maybe I'd have to take a drastic pay cut to achieve it. Being paid to write creatively (my other favourite - though at times hair-pulling - pastime) would be equally as luxurious...

Are there people out there who get this feeling from their full-time job? How truly rare is it? Is it worth risking a certain kind of security for a certain kind of freedom?

Don't get me wrong, there are moments in my job when I do feel this way. Only I sense my role - and my industry - shifting. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling I'll be doing less and less of the things I love. It does makes me think...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tax refund update: Officially impressed (and stupid)

Thanks Stevie. You're the best. Really.
Okay, Stevie Harper and your Federal Government Jamboree. I am officially impressed. I'm sure this is an improvement that some other, better government (surely not the Liberals) had in process before you were elected a crappy, half-cocked minority, but I digress: I got my tax refund processed faster than ever this year. Exactly one week from submitting via NetFile, my return shows online as assessed, and a refund has been...mailed.

Forehead slap.

I completely forgot that I was going to input my direct deposit information this year. Rats! So it looks like I'll have to wait another 5-10 business days for the cheque show up in my mailbox (has anyone else noticed that Canada Post has been deadly slow lately? Ants tug crumbs faster, I swear.) And another 10,000 business days for the cheque to clear at the bank. I mean c'mon guys. It's a government cheque. You know old penny-pinching, arts- funding-cutting Stevie is totally good for the dough...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How much should we give?

Following the horrific events in Japan this week, I realized that I have neglected something crucial: I haven't allocated any funds in my budget for charitable giving.

I thought about it this morning on the way to work. It was raining and I remembered a parable from the bible (bear with me, I promise this won't turn into a religious diatribe!)
It was Luke 21: 1-4, the parable of the widow's offering. Please, keep reading even if you think the bible's a load of crap. I promise this will be interesting:

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

This made a big impression on me as a kid. Being literal, as kids are, the lesson seemed to be "give everything." Now I think of it in terms of spiritual wealth (or wealth of character, if you're not a spiritual person) versus material wealth.

I think the parable was intended to make us uncomfortable. It's saying, take stock of what you've got and "give of yourself." This will be different for every person. When it comes to money, it might not be a straight equation - a percentage or a line in one's budget.

I feel that I can and should sacrifice something in solidarity and support of the people of Japan. My monetary contribution, like the widow's, will be negligible in the grand scheme of the billions that are needed to piece their world back together. But if the parable holds true, it's still has value. All I'm giving up is the money I would have put into my vacation fund. Maybe that's not enough? I'll see how I feel. If it doesn't feel uncomfortable I will add more until it does.

I pray that the people of Japan will be able to sustain hope in such dark times. Hope is hardest when it is most needed.

I'm interested in hearing whether others have a set amount of funds for charitable giving, or how they determine what they will give. Thoughts?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Can I get this off my chest?

I was inspired reading Krystal's post last week on Give Me Back My Five Bucks about Toastmasters and how she's tackling her anxiety regarding public speaking. I really admire when people share their fears with others and take constructive steps to overcome them.

So here's mine (and this nothing to do with PF, so please bear with me):

At times, I get extremely nervous meeting new people. It can range from a medium level anxiety that is probably somewhat normal to feeling as if I'm so nervous I can't quite get my breath. And in those situations, I can say the wrong thing at the wrong time and make a bad impression. Talking to groups of people, where I am an unknown person - and especially if other people in the group all know each other - is a special kind of hell for me.

Here are some recent examples: During a panel job interview, I froze up and could not say a word. My mind was like trackless snow. The room started to spin and tilt and my heart was pounding so fast I felt like it would hammer right out of my chest.

I got the same bad feeling during an audition for the orchestra I'm in, but managed to stumble through. When I was invited out with other orchestra members for the first time, I didn't even go because I was so nervous.

It isn't always like this. Sometimes I am "on" and I am fine. I am capable of making a good impression, both in job interviews and social settings. But other times I crash and burn. In an interview setting, awkwardness is a death knell. And if you screw up in a social setting, many people won't give you a second chance. They may write you off as weird, self-absorbed, oddly quiet - whatever apparent deficit rears its head. Ideally we would be judged over time on who we show ourselves to be. This isn't an ideal world, though, and life isn't "fair." It's not something wrong with other people, or "the system." It's me. I must learn to adapt if I want to thrive and be happy.

I'm most comfortable when I'm arranging words in a way that makes sense - with the opportunity to edit and delete. This is probably why I work in communications, but on the written end exclusively. To stand up in front of 500 people and play the violin? I don't know how I ever did that. I have a picture from the newspaper when I am 15 and I am doing exactly that and I am smiling. I look relaxed.

I want to get to back there again. I want to be able to come off poised and confident in any situation, and with consistency. I'm making this an official goal of 2011. I think it's doable!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tax refund: Rev Can, bring it.

Let me sing you a song about taxes....
because I'm a sensitive guy and not a robot....
After some typical dithering born out of frugality and coupled with a side of indecision (sounds tasty, but needs hot sauce) I Netfiled my taxes yesterday.  I've read with this method, you can get your return in as little as eight business days. So, the race is on. Let's see what Revenue Canada is made of (other than...uh....Hey, it's early. I won't go there).

I will say this: the online experience this year is much improved. The website is faster, Netfile codes are available through the website, and everything has been streamlined under "My Account." As I recall, last year, I needed about three different passwords just to file my taxes and the website kept seizing up. I blamed Stephen Harper personally for this because it is fun.

The site tells me my return has been "Received" but doesn't assign a date as to when (I submitted it yesterday). I'll be checking this daily to see whether there are any updates.

I'm interested in hearing time lines from others: How long did it take to get your refund last year? Has anyone out there already gotten theirs?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What I thought I wanted

Well, well, what a week. A lot has happened. And when you have a shake-up like this, it can cause you to rethink your priorities.

Specifically, I've been thinking about whether I might actually want more money. Not that I don't want to save (no way am I giving up on that) but perhaps I don't want to live quite as frugally as I'd thought.  Having and doing nice things can be fun. It's certainly not important, but it's a dimension of life that, if it's in your grasp, why wouldn't you want to at least try for it?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm opening my mind to new possibilities. Perhaps I've been too strict in my anti-materialism. Maybe I do want nicer clothes or a car (actually, I'd take a nicer violin over a car any day). I know I'm not a fundamentally materialistic person, but I think I want to have a family. And how would I want to raise a family? Would I want to send them to public school or private? Where would we live? It doesn't have to be complicated at all, and there are no set standards in my mind except for loving your kids and your partner and being there for them to the best of your abilities. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with trying to raise the bar to make yourselves more comfortable in life. Provided, of course, that the means don't thwart the ends.

That said, I have some issues with capitalism. And even bigger issues with materialism. The idea of a lifestyle where you need millions to retire - and there are many people who feel this way - is a bit scary to me. Of course, so is the idea of this (and coincidentally, probably my favourite TV show of all time).

Anyway, if you haven't guessed by now, I met someone. His financial goals and cultural background are quite different from mine. I haven't shown him this blog yet (should I? I'm a little scared). I think we both might have something to teach each other; I sense we're both re-evaluating some of our ideas now that we've met.

What he has taught me so far is that you can think you want something, and then realize that what you really wanted is something else entirely. And that's just in the short time I've known him. I have also sampled some truly kick-a** Chinese food. ;)

When you're first meeting someone, do finances come up right away? Are you freaked out if it seems like a scenario between the Capulets and the Montagues - or are you curious?

I think I'm curious and so is he. :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Job postings: Show us the money

I’m starting to look at job ads again as there’s some uncertainty at work and I would also like to increase my salary eventually. (FYI, if my employer did read this, they wouldn’t be surprised: I’ve shown myself to be a dedicated employee, but we all know the situation in my area isn’t optimal and may not be for some time.)

So, is it just me, or are fewer companies including salary ranges in job postings these days?

I think it has the potential to waste time on both sides of the hiring process.

If I have no idea of the compensation being offered, and it turns out that salary is much lower than my target and I have to turn down an offer of employment, won’t I have wasted the employer’s time as well?

Why not be up front as to roughly how much money you’re willing to pay someone? Is there something I’m missing here?

I had a particularly frustrating experience prior to finding my current job, which I'd rather not repeat: I went through three pretty gruelling interviews before being offered a job at a publishing house. Salary was never so much as discussed and everyone I talked to told me *not* to ask. Finally, they made me an offer – a completely pathetic sum that was barely minimum wage (I could have made more in retail) while at the same time dropping the bomb that it was only a contract job, and I would have to work with a notoriously difficult author. And they wanted me to quit my current job immediately to start working for them - no notice.

I wanted to get my foot in the door of this particular publishing house very badly, but they gave me no choice: I had to turn down their offer. I felt it was an unethical way to treat a future employee. It was a difficult decision because I was miserable at my other job. But, my instincts were right; about six months later, they started eliminating jobs and have since folded completely.

Obviously, when it comes to salary, there needs to be room for negotiation on both sides of the table. Ultimately, I think everyone should just be above board and the whole process would be less painful and more efficient. And shouldn’t corporations be all about increasing efficiency?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tax return: to Netfile or Not?

I have a teensy dilemma: Do I file my taxes for free using the trusty old paper and pen method, or shell out a bit of cash to Netfile, and get my refund back faster?

The average wait time for a paper refund is about six weeks. Filing electronically can apparently put your refund in your account in as little as eight days (though my experience has been about two weeks).

I'm not sure whether this is a strictly Canadian conundrum (?), but our government requires taxpayers to use special software to generate a return that can be submitted electronically. This means either pay for software or a web-based service to generate a return, or file the old-fashioned way.

This article outlines the various options and pricing for different types of software. Web-based services start at about $8.99 for a single return. Software starts around $19. Note: You may be eligible to generate your return for free with some services if your income is under $20,000.

So, is it worth it for me? While I hesitate to part with a single penny the government owes me - ever - I did pre-spend about half my anticipated $825.00 refund on a fancy dress. I put this on my credit card and need to pay that off ASAP to avoid interest charges.

There’s also something to be said for the OCD types such as myself who like to know that their return has been received / submitted and where it is in the bowels of the Revenue Canada machine. Just sending an envelope of off into the ether kind of freaks me out. Odd, I know...

How are you filing your taxes this year?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My subconscious likes to spend

Well, this is embarrassing. Last night, I dreamed I was in a gigantic mall with ceilings that arced endlessly into the sky. I was with a friend who loves to shop. We were swatching buttery soft eyeshadows and blushes and trying on cute little dry-clean-only dresses. Leighton Meester from Gossip Girl may have been there as well. We were eating chocolate ice cream from Laura Secord.

I think I may miss shopping more than I thought I would, seeing as I’m now doing it in my sleep.

Let me clarify that I was never really a big spender, but I was a "shopper." Typically I would dither over something and eventually…not buy it. I also went through a crazy phase of buying and then returning things. (Inevitably I’d get an item home find something I didn’t like about it – in a very Seinfeld way – and back to the store it went.)

So why did I stop shopping if I wasn't spending? Simply put, it gave me a general feeling of unease - of being unsatisfactory in some vague, indefinable way. Like a kind of perfection I could not achieve.

It would go like this: Oh I wish I had nicer clothes. I wish I were more “pulled together.” How do all these girls look so pulled together. I would be more pulled together if I wasn’t running around all the time looking for matching socks. Maybe I should colour-code? Dividers? Padded hangers for my clothes? And how do I get my cutlery drawer to be perfectly neat, like the one in the flyer for Crate and Barrel? Is there something I can buy for that, too?

I was spending my life fretting over insignificant details in a quest for material perfection, when really what I wanted was something more intangible – wholeness, happiness, fulfillment of purpose. Instead I was looking for a solution I could buy.

There’s an aesthetic part of me that craves pretty things, and perhaps that’s what the dream was about. I wonder whether it's dangerous to deny such desires entirely. Like Well Heeled was saying recently, could a small but happy-making purchase be beneficial now and then? Or will frivolous purchases put me back on the never-ending tilt-a-whirl of consumerism?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How I graduated without debt

I graduated university debt-free in 2001. Here's how I did it:

Split costs with my parents: Though my parents were in the position to pay for my education, they believed I should help pay my way. Some people are surprised when I tell them this. I am grateful: it instilled a work ethic in me. First and second year we split costs. By third year, I was by and large paying my own way. Note: I went to school out of town and had rent/living expenses to think about as well as tuition.

Started saving early:
I started saving as soon as I got my first part-time job (at 15, playing violin in a restaurant). At 16, I got a job on the line at Green Giant, working 12-hour shifts in the “Bean Production Building.” Yes, it was really called that. I worked 6pm - 6am and made $6.85/hr. I saved the majority of this money for my first year's tuition. Let me tell you, standing in one spot and picking bad beans off a conveyor belt all day can really make you want a degree. ASAP.

Worked multiple part-time jobs while in school: I looked for jobs that allowed me to work early in the morning and later in the evening, in order to work around my class schedule. I took a 6am shift at the airport, and an 8pm shift as an editorial assistant at a newswire. On alternating nights I worked as a receptionist at a retirement home. Overall I worked 30-35 hours a week.

Worked summer jobs and lived at home in the summer: I started looking for summer jobs early and made sure I had some type of employment in place come May 1st. Three out of four summers I was able to live at home, which helped me to save more money.

Freelanced in my area of study: I studied journalism and began freelancing for the local newspaper, writing fashion articles.

Lived very cheaply: I always lived with roommates, and never paid more than $500 a month for rent. I bought food staples in bulk and rarely ate out. I didn't generally buy milk or cheese (cereal with water...those were the days) and ate very little meat. I survived on a diet of rice, lentils and pasta and consumed more curry than anyone probably should in their lifetime. I had no car (still don't), and took the bus everywhere. I wore a lot of black clothes because they matched with everything.

What I didn't have:

A cell phone (for the majority of the time I was in school)
A credit card
Internet at home (except for free dial-up access)
Fancy designer clothes or accessories
Haircuts (my mom cut my hair with a pair of kitchen scissors). In fourth year I started to treat myself to a cut in a salon, on occasion.

I may have been especially frugal, but I think overall, standards were different even ten years ago. You didn't see kids toting Gucci and Vuitton (fake or not). A "brand name" was more like GAP or Club Monaco. Girls didn't come to school with fake tans and manicures. Certainly not that I recall.

Have spending standards for students risen? Is it part of the reason why they're graduating with so much debt?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My TV-less life: Week one

Yet another story today on cable TV getting more expensive.

But not for me.

I ditched my cable contract last month and returned the requisite equipment to Rogers last week. That's right: I haven't watched any seriously cute guys investigate crime and make moderately intellectual pronouncements in almost seven days.

How much will it save me this month? $43.00.

How much will it save me over a year: $516.00.

Doesn't sound like much, right? I mean why ditch the awesomeness of constant advertising and typically mind-numbing programming for such paltry savings?

Well, think about the next thirty years of your life, and do the math. $516 x 30 = $15,480. That's without inflation. And if that money were invested, instead? At a rate of 6%, that's $43,241.67.  For basic cable. And a lot of people spend double the cost of basic cable, I'll bet.

I don't know about you, but that math makes me a little queasy (math always makes me queasy, but especially so when it involves a calculation that hits you over the head with the conclusion that, hey, this is a really dumb way to spend money.)

Why is TV a dumb way to spend money? It doesn't just waste money. It wastes time and kills motivation. Sure, there are quality programs. And how often do you sit down and just watch that one program, then switch off the hopeless little screen? As I've argued already, TV steals the precious few hours at the end of a long working day, in which something productive can be done to enrich our lives and better our situations.

But, you say, TV helps me tune out and relax: There are much better ways. Trust me.

Don't those all involve being alone with one's own thoughts?
Naw, not all of them. And you can always look at your Blackberry repeatedly if you feel the need to distract yourself from thinking (works for me). Also, we all die alone (Happy Tuesday).

How has a TV-less existence been so far: Honestly, I've barely noticed it. I did try to switch it on once, and spent a few minutes staring abstractedly at black-and-white fuzz.

What have I done instead: Practice violin, read two novels, work out, dance in my apartment to le techno musique (Did I just write that? What I actually meant was "stand around in my apartment looking cool"), talk to friends on the phone, make progress on my writing. And listen to one cute guy make moderately intellectual pronouncements. (Okay, maybe "smart-ass pronouncements" is more accurate.) In real life. Imagine that.

Me: One. TV: Zero.