Saturday, September 23, 2023

Another Problem With Rewards Programs...

Dear Zenni Rewards VIP,

We are excited to announce that a NEW Zenni Rewards loyalty program will be debuting in October. In order to make room for our new program, we will need to end our current Zenni Rewards loyalty program on Sunday October 8, 2023.
Rewards programs are not forever.

I wrote about rewards programs and why they suck, before, twice, I think.  They are "customer loyalty" programs designed to reward repeat customers, but in the end, they kick the customers right in the teeth.  And apparently, customers tolerate this.

I wrote before how the old McDonald's app was a nightmare.   You could order food with it, but the store would claim not to have received the order but your credit card would still be charged.  McDonald's finally threw in the towel and found a new provider for their app, but this meant they cancelled the "rewards" program (no great loss to me, I used the app three times, only two times, successfully).  But others had hundreds, nay, thousands, of "points" accumulated and hoped to use them for future purchases.  Like that, those points evaporated into the ether.  That worked out well for McDonald's, didn't it?

Quite frankly, I haven't been to a Micky-D's in a long time, which is a good thing.  While you could score some "deals" on the kiosk, they started closing the in-store registers and going to an all-drive-through format, where you are pressured to order in ten seconds or less and the only things appearing on the "menu" are $11.95 Super-sized value meal deluxe artisanal sandwiches.

McDonald's claims there was no physical way to transfer the rewards points to the new app (it is like cold fusion - impossible to do!) so they just wiped out all the points you earned.  Of course, they could have transferred the points (a simple bot could crawl the database and log all the points - it would take a weekend to do) but since that would cost money (hiring programmers) and since they make more money by throwing away your points, they went with the second option.

And not without precedent.  Airlines used to offer "free flights" after 25,000 frequent flyer miles.  Overnight, they changed the amount of points needed for a free flight to 50,000. Before then, well, planes were half-empty most of the time, so you could actually use points this way.  Today?  Planes are overbooked and there are no free seats.  The best you can hope for is an upgrade to a better seat or to business class - but even those seats are taken, usually by a "premiere" member who has more points than you.

Another game that the airlines played (and Kampground of America - KOA - played) was to make it so that points expired over time.  Back in the 1960's you could accumulate airline miles and when you retired a decade later, use them to take the family to Hawaii.  No longer the case!  I had a number of miles on US Airways (Now American) and they told me than unless I paid a fee the miles would expire.  I let them expire.  Flying on an airplane today has all the appeal of a major root canal.  Who would be idiotic enough to subject themselves to that!

KOA did a similar deal - unless you accumulate a shitload of points in one year, your points "expire" at the end of the year.  So if you only go to a KOA once or twice a year, the points mean nothing.  And at $50-$100 a night (versus $11 at the Army Corps Parks) who can afford that?  And are you really "saving money" by chasing after points?  Of course not.

Uber had a rewards program as well - shut down in 2022.  You can understand why - even with the staggering fees they charge riders and the pittances they pay drivers, they are still losing money (Maybe the executive salaries have something to do with that).  They were following Lyft's lead in this.

The list goes on and on.  Companies either wipe out rewards points, or change the terms of the program so you can't earn anything - or they make it damn difficult to cash in those rewards.

The only "reward" you should seek is cold hard cash - and even those kinds of programs change their terms all the time.  Credit card companies used to offer generous "rewards" but they found out that people like me, who pay off their credit card balance daily never end up paying that sweet, sweet, 22% interest on a perpetual revolving balance.  That's just not cricket!  So 3% cash back on all your purchases, turns into 3% back on a selected category (gasoline) and 1-2% on everything else.  Santa is a takie-backie, ain't he?

Oh, by the way, if a company does offer "rewards" and the options are cash or saving up points for a free toaster or a meal at a restaurant, take the cash.  Our Obamcare plan has "rewards" points for watching videos about staying healthy.  I take the rewards as cash, in the form of a debit card (about $300 a year!) to pay co-pays at the doctor or for prescriptions, etc.  You can also use them to get a "free" toaster - but if you look at the "points" needed, you are better off buying your toasters at Walmart.  Most rewards programs are this way - they assume you will not think of "points" in terms of cash, and spend accordingly.  If they offer cash, that is usually a better deal.

I got the above e-mail today from Zenni, which sells glasses for cheap, online.  Both Zenni and eyebuydirect have pretty low prices on glasses, but both have all the charm of a carnival barker.  Buy now and get one free!  Half price on frames!  BoGo! NoGo? HoGo!  BlowGo! RoGo! - whatever.  The deal is, of course that their frames are startlingly cheap ($5 and up) but the lenses can cost $100 or more.  Still cheaper than the "boutique" optometrist in town, but the pricing is confusing at best - by design.  And they will SPAM the shit out of your inbox, particularly as of late.

I had bought maybe four pairs of glasses between myself and Mr. See from Zenni (far more from eyebuydirect).  They last a year or so of constant usage.  And sometimes you get a pair that you just don't wear very much for some reason.  So it is cheaper, but buying from either site is annoying.

Zenni has - or had - a "rewards" program and I qualified for such gimmies as free shipping (whoop-de-fucking-do!) and having my phone number etched inside the temple of the glasses (handy!).   So I didn't lose too much in the way of "rewards points."  I am sure others are pissed.  And they provided such short notice (two weeks!) to spend your points, you have to wonder whether making points "expire" is a neat way of getting people to buy desperately by a deadline.   A good salesman always pushes the pressure points on the prospect to get them to buy now.  "I had another customer interested in this very same car!  He said he was coming back tonight to buy it!"

The best deals, as I noted time and time again, are where you exchange cash and get goods or services in return. No coupons, no rebates, no rewards, no BoGos, no gas club discount, or sales pricing.  The latter are all used to obfuscate the real price of an item, and to get you to think you got a "deal" when in fact, you just purchased an item, or worse yet, bought something you really didn't need or want or bought more than you needed or wanted because it was "on sale!" or whatever.  That is the goal of all these programs - to get you to overconsume and to buy when you are not really interested in buying.

This is, of course, not to say you should march into a car dealer and demand to pay sticker price (which no one actually pays, unless they are really dense).  We are forced to play these discount games because they are thrust upon us.  But in some instances, the cleanest deal is the best deal.  The regular retail price at WalMart is usually less than the effective price of a BoGo at Publix.  But I have friends who are convinced that since they are "getting one FREE!" that the price at Publix is better - even though it is more than twice as much as the regular price for the same item at Wally World (and you don't have to buy two, if you don't want to!).

I wish these stupid retail games would go away, but for the most part, they won't - because ordinary people continually get sucked into them and will actually pay more or buy things they don't want because of these games.

People are idiots.  More on that, later!

Friday, September 22, 2023

Having Children

Should you have children?  Did you have a choice?

A reader writes raising the issue as to whether having children or not affected my retirement decision. Of course it did.  One reason I can retire early is that I didn't have kids.  Of course, if I had, they would all be grown right now and presumably not living in my basement.   But of course, over the years, I managed to squander at least a half-million dollars on cars, boats, RVs, a swimming pool, a vacation home, etc. (poor me!) which I guess would have paid for the cost of raising a kid or two (the number I hear bandied about is about a quarter-million per child).

As I noted before, another reader writes asking for advice (I'm not giving it!) whether to retire early, when they have a child still in high school.   This is a different scenario, of course.  I would think the big issue is health insurance - or the uncertainty thereof - as well as the cost of higher education down the road.   Maybe better to wait a bit - but that is their decision to make.

And occasionally, I get the angry message from someone who has made poor life choices (in every sense of the word) that I don't understand how hard it is to raise kids.   Well, that's true.  But again, I am not an advice column.  I am just writing for myself, to get my own life in order. Getting your life in order is your job, not mine.  Good luck with that!

But it raises the issue, should you have kids?   And it is an interesting question.  I mean, I could have had children, and for all I know, there may be a little Bobby running around out there wondering where his Daddy is (yes, in high school and college, I had a number of girlfriends).  And of course, being a male, I am still capable of procreating right up until my last breath, unless of course I have testicular cancer or something.

And of course there is adoption.  A lot of people tell us, "you should adopt a baby!" and we both say, "Uh, no, don't think so!"  And the reason is multifold.  We have many friends who were adopted and they seem to be doing well in life, although some are doing better than others.  But in every case, there are always issues with being adopted - indeed, everyone seems to have family issues regardless.  One friend of mine from my partying days would get all weepy after a few beers and say, "Did I ever tell you I was adopted?" and we would  always reply, "Yea, every time you get drunk, you Irish bastard!"  Because the Irish do tend to get emotional and weepy (or violent) when drunk.   If you doubt this, come to my family reunion sometime - one reason I stopped going!

So there are issues for any kid who is adopted - issues that can be overcome, provided you are not an emotional thinker and spend all day wondering why your Mother "abandoned" you.  But to be adopted by two gay guys - that seems like an additional complication.  And maybe we are old-fashioned, but the entire concept makes us a little uncomfortable. It seems that today, people are pushing the cultural envelope a little too far.  We thought it was great progress that gay men weren't being beaten to death.   Cross-gender restrooms and "transitioning" in the third grade seem like taking a good thing a little too far.

I think also, we both realize that we didn't have the maturity to handle something like that - taking care of ourselves was hard enough to do.  Oddly enough, at age 59, I might have be able to handle it.  But at age 30?  I'd be the abusive rageaholic my Father was.  And there's no need to raise another generation on that!

But it strikes me that there are two kinds of people who have children - those who feel they have to (due to a biological urge to raise children) and those who do so accidentally.  And the latter makes up the majority of folks who have kids.

Many of our friends reached a certain age where they decided they wanted to have kids - in fact it became a biological imperative.  Some, for example, went through extreme medical procedures due to infertility issues. Others adopted when those techniques didn't work out. Others had no issues, but carefully planned their family - how many kids to have, and when.  There is a biological urge to have children, which of course is a good thing, or we wouldn't be here.

Others - far too many - only have a biological urge to get laid.  Having children is sort of the after-effect of that.  A young man of 17 chirps (literally, on Twitter) that "I'm going to be a Father!" which I thought was a little over-stated.  You got laid.  You knocked up some chick, and now some young life is coming into the world, without a full set of parents, and without a means of supporting him into the future. Great work, keep it up!

And yes, these are the sorts of people who then take on the mantle of "parent" as if it were a sacred duty - such as the white-trash girl I mentioned before who made a big deal about being a "Mom" when in fact, she just got fucked in the back seat of a Camaro.   Being a good parent is not easy - and the best parents don't brag about their parenting.

But of course, there is no shame in getting knocked-up. It happens. You go out for a night of partying, and have a few beers, and before you know it, that boy who you kind of like is having busy hands and maybe you should have said no or gotten that condom out of the glovebox.  And the next day, you have a real hangover - with lifetime consequences.  And it is all-too-easy to say, "Well, get an abortion" when you can feel life kicking inside you.  So you have a kid.  It happens.  No shame in being human, so just get over that.

Having children is, of course expensive.  How expensive does depend on how you raise them.  Every day, it seems, we read another horror story about parents who literally starve their kids to death.  I suppose that is one way to raise kids on a budget, but you'll end up in jail.

Other parents, having spend a lot of money and time on children, consider them to be life-long possessions, or slaves - bound to do their bidding.  And this does not usually end well for everyone involved.

Still others feel that it is their obligation to continue their DNA legacy and indeed, this is a hot-button issue today - and in the past.  Elon Musk claims it is a societal duty to have kids - and none of his will even talk to him (even the ones too young to talk).  There has always been this worry that the dumber and lesser of us will reproduce exponentially and thus snuff-out the better part of humanity.  Sadly, such arguments are often a cover for racism.  Eugenics, for example, was a popular movement in the early part of the last Century, but was quickly discarded after the horrors of the holocaust.  We breed every sort of animal from horses, to cows, to dogs, and beyond, to favor certain genetic characteristics.  Couldn't the same be done with humans?

The problem with that argument is that some folks want to speed up the process by culling the herd, which leads to genocide. The other problem is, the folks who want to do selective breeding are often the worst examples of humanity and often not even a representative of the √úbermensch they strive for.  Hitler talked of the superior Aryan race, but he was, in fact, short and black-haired and had no children of his own.

Maybe that is a pattern - that those who are highly flawed desire the most to see humanity "perfect" and thus advance these Eugenic ideas the hardest.

What history has taught us, though, is that you can't tell in advance which combination of DNA will produce the person who cures cancer or solves the problem of world peace.  Selective breeding might not save humanity, but be the very end of it.  A world of  "super-men" may turn out to be a world of weaklings.

All that being said, that is another reason why I am not motivated to progenate.  The world is already too damn full of people.  I am not sure that adding more is helping at all.

But all that being said, sometimes I wonder what it would be like, to drive the minivan to Disney, with screaming children in the back seat, calling me "Dad" and whatnot.  I suppose that would be very rewarding, if done right.

On the other hand, I've seen firsthand how parenting can turn into a nightmare, particularly for the children.

And I suspect, my life would be far more circumscribed as well.  I would have been less likely to start my own practice, but instead stay at a "steady job" and work long hours to "bring home the bacon" like so many Dads - to a family I never get to see.  I would still be working today, just to fund my retirement.

And yea, you can say that is "selfish" I guess.  But on the other hand, maybe it isn't.  Maybe some people shouldn't have children and that's OK, too.

Just a thought.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Why Management Loves Unions!

Unions were seen as a threat to industry until managers realized they could be co-opted to help the company, instead of the workers.

Unions are in the news these days, as union membership starts to increase and more and more businesses are unionized - or unions try to unionize them.  But oddly enough, some companies, while publicly grousing about how unions are screwing up their business, actually benefit from them and often manipulate unions into helping the company obliterate competitors or screw consumers.

We just had a big Teamsters strike, and it was settled after the Teamsters bankrupted Yellow Freight Lines.  Yellow was a weaker company than others and the strike quickly caused the company to fold.  Who benefits from this?  Other freight companies of course - such as UPS, who quickly settled with the Teamsters after Yellow folded.  They could afford to settle now, as the much of the freight traffic from Yellow would end up on their loading dock - increasing their profitability.

And historically, this has been the case.  In the 1950's and 1960's, some storied old car brands went bust, such as Studebaker, Nash, Hudson, and Packard.  Nash and Hudson became American Motors, but eventually, that too, folded in to Chrysler (although some say it was really vice-versa).  Studebaker had high labor costs and restrictive work rules under its UAW contract and could not afford to compete with GM, Ford, and Chrysler, who had the budgets to develop new cars that would meet new safety and emissions standards.  At the very end, Studebaker had one car model for sale, made in Canada.  They pulled the plug, realizing their paltry sales would not support the research needed to comply with future laws.  By that time, of course, both their engines and transmissions were being made by GM anyway.

So the unions, while causing headaches for management, also obliterated smaller competition at the same time.  It was a love-hate relationship between the company and the unions.  Of course, it all fell apart when foreign manufacturers came to the US and opened non-union plants.  Well, most of them, except Volkswagen, which opened a union plant in Pennsylvania which quickly closed as the costs were too high and the quality too low.  VW came back, of course, but workers voted down efforts to unionize.  Good thing, too, as the UAW would have shut down the plant as a favor to GM.

There was, of course, a scandal involving the UAW leaders taking bribes from automakers to have "labor peace."  Act shocked - I know.  Historically, many unions were hijacked by organized crime, which used union leverage to extract bribes in exchange for a strike-free workforce.  Apparently, some UAW leaders decided to do this as freelancers.

Today, the UAW is on strike, and already the car makers are promising a "car shortage" as a result.  How convenient for them!  Prior to the pandemic, there was a surplus of cars on the world market and dealers had to wheel-and-deal to get you to buy.  No one paid sticker price for a car back then, and "back then" was 2018.  The pandemic changed all that, and the carmakers paid attention.  By making fewer cars they made more money per car as rebates and discounts weren't needed.

When I was at GMI they taught us that market share was meaningless (something VW chased for years and nearly bankrupted the company!).  "We can make a million cars and make $1000 per car, or sell one car and make a Billion dollars from it - there is no difference!"  And while selling a billion-dollar car is hard to do (but not impossible, it seems) the idea has merit.  Overall profits mean more than market share.  So, sell less cars, use less effort, and make the same amount of money -  if not more!

The pandemic ended and cars and trucks and SUVs started cluttering up dealer lots.  Shortage over, folks!  Back to normal!

We can't have that, can we?

So, very conveniently for the car companies, the UAW goes on strike, and creates a new shortage of cars, driving up prices across the board.  This of course, helps the non-union companies as well as the unionized ones.  In fact, it could backfire, as the F150 buyer might be tempted to look across the street at a Tundra or a Titan from Toyota or Nissan.

Maybe this isn't the case, though.  Maybe the strike is part of this nationwide trend where people are upset that upper management takes home millions of dollars in stock options, while they get paltry raises that don't even keep up with inflation.   My former classmate at GMI, Mary Barra, makes $30M a year in salary and stock options.  Is that a justified compensation for any executive anywhere?  Bear in mind that her compensation is on the low end of the scale compared to some companies where CEOs take home hundreds of millions a year - or more.

GM used to settle strikes in a panic, back in the day.  Again, as our GMI professors told us, "Every minute, a new Chevy Caprice comes off the assembly line, that's $5000 in GM's pocket.  If you have a strike for even a few days, it costs the company millions of dollars!"  So back then, management cowered in the event of a strike.

Today?  I am less sure - it may all be political theater for the plebes to consume.  Conservatives can whine and moan about how unfair the union is being - after all, managers are paid in stock options and how can they make millions if the plants are idle?  Liberals can say "stick it to the man!  Unions, yay!" and both sides declare victory in the end.

Meanwhile, the consumer, looking to turn in his leased car at the GM dealer, finds out he owes $5000 in excess wear charges - which will be waived if he buys or leases a new GM vehicle.  Problem is, there are only six on the lot, all in hideous colors, and all priced $3000 over sticker - no haggling!

That is what happened to people I met during the pandemic.  They were screwed - which is another reason why leasing really sucks.  I feel sorry for you (not really) if your lease expired during this new "car shortage" - when will you ever learn?

If this strike lingers on for longer than expected, don't be surprised.  GM will benefit from a car shortage, in the short-term and even in the long-term, as they will claim it will take months to re-fill the "supply chain" once the strike ends.

Hope you aren't in the market for a pickup truck anytime soon!

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Old is the New Young?

It used to be that 60 meant you were nearly dead.  No longer the case!

I recounted before how we were watching an old episode of Streets of San Francisco and in that episode, a group of "young punks" killed a shopkeeper.  "He was over 60 years old!" Karl Maldin said, "his life was almost over anyway!" - or something to that effect.

In an old episode of Dragnet, an "old lady" complains that she is "66 years old and not as young as I used to be!" and indeed, she looked like, dressed like, and acted like, an old biddy.

What shocked me about these scenes is that, well, I'm 63 and I don't feel "old" yet, other than everything hurts.  When people ask my age, I often say "53" without thinking, before I correct myself.  I hear people tell me I don't look that old - maybe late 40's or something.  Some young gay men call me a "hot Daddy" and yes, I even get hit on by women sometimes.  And I'm not all that attractive!

What is going on?  Is our generation aging differently than previous ones?  I suspect so, and part and parcel of this is better health care, less smoking, and a better understanding of the effects of sun on our skin.  The next generation may routinely live to 100 or more, if they lay off the opioids and meth.

When I was a kid, giving your kid sunglasses was never even a thing.  I still see some parents - rednecks, usually - who are wearing wrap-around shades at the beach while their kids squint in the searing sun.  No issues with cataracts for them, right?  Just give it 50 years.  And sun tan lotion - if we got it at all as a kid, it was "tanning butter" designed to cook your skin to a nice dark brown, and provide no protection from UV rays.  SPF?  What the heck is that?  And even when that stuff came out, we thought that SPF 15 was like the real deal.  Now they go 50 and up - and wear clothes on top of that!

Yes, chain-smoking and spending all day in the sun will make  you look old and wrinkled - and shorten your life.  And maybe this is part of the plan.  If you want a "conspiracy theory" this is it - that the "powers that be" promote unhealthy lifestyles, so that people don't live much longer than their reproductive and working lives.  Work until 65 - kick the bucket before 70!  That way Social Security is solvent!

When people started pointing out that smoking was deadly, the powers-that-be fought restrictions on smoking, tooth-and-nail.  They finally had to give in, but came up with new poisons to kill us off - an obesity epidemic fueled by cheap carbs and high-fructose corn syrup, or a drug epidemic fueled by cheap fentanyl from China.  And yea, the same powers-that-be (mostly conservatives) fight efforts to even educate people about eating right ("don't tell us what to do!") or provide NARCAN to overdosing addicts. They believe in the "right to life" but only for so long and only for the right people. Those unborn fetuses will make good workers and cannon fodder.  If only those bleeding-heart Democrats didn't keep trying to give them health care and proper nutrition so they live longer!  The world would be a perfect place, then - a few Billionaires and legions of minions!

But I digress....

It seems though, that our generation is aging more gracefully than the last.  Some folks ask me how I stay looking so young, and I reply, "the fat stretches out all the wrinkles!"

So maybe it is just that.  Martha's cheeks do look like they've been injected with something.  Probably with a pastry bag....

By the way,  she's over 80!

Monday, September 18, 2023

How Much To Live Debt-Free?

Just because you are debt-free doesn't mean you can live without money.

Note:  This is a draft from 2011, that I only completed today.  One down, 485 637 to go.

In an earlier posting, I noted that winning a car is a double-edged sword for some folks.  Oprah was thinking she was "helping" the needy by giving them $21,000 cars, but as it turns out, few of them could afford the $5000 to $7000 in taxes (which the IRS wants in cash) and the annual collision insurance. What's more, they likely would not even be able to afford to maintain the cars properly, and within a few years, they would be junk.  Most ended up selling the cars - and giving cash is a far better idea than giving away things that people might not buy on their own.

Elvis did this with his entourage - buying them all brand-new Chevy El Camino pickups to drive around his Mississippi "ranch" when he owned it.  Many of the entourage members secretly sold the trucks, as they needed the cash more than they needed a new El Camino.  And when "The King" found out, he was pissed.  But it illustrates the fallacy of giving hugely expensive gifts that are not cash - to people who need the cash more than they need an expensive gift.

Objects require maintenance and incur expenses - and often taxes. Give a poor person a fancy house and chances are, they might not be able to afford the property taxes on it.  Just because you don't have a mortgage, doesn't mean you don't have expenses.

For example, our house is finally paid for. Wow, that must mean we live for free, right?  Hardly.  Between our property taxes, insurance, lot lease, fire fee, garbage fee, water fee, sewer fee, and electric bill, we still need to come up with $12,000 a year to live here.  And if we don't pay this, they boot us out, eventually.  And that's not even considering maintenance expenses, which can easily total the same amount again, particularly as a house ages.  (UPDATE:  As you might imagine, these costs are higher today - perhaps 50% or more).

So, even a "paid for" house costs $1000 to $2000 a month to live in.  And that is what a lot of people pay to rent an apartment these days.  Owning a home is not really cheaper, even if it is paid for - in many cases.  Throw in a mortgage, and you are paying extra for the privilege of owning.

Granted, we could live an area with lower property taxes, lower insurance rates, fewer fees for fire, trash, water, and sewer.  But these fees never drop down to ZERO - ever.  So, once you pay off all that debt on the mortgage, all it means is that you cut out the largest single part of your monthly expense.  In some places, the taxes and other fees could be higher than your mortgage!

Of course, that doesn't cover all our living expenses. You still have to eat and drink.  We have tried to to trim our monthly food and beverage budget to less than $800 a month, but it has not decreased by much. 

Then there are the cars. Gas, insurance, and licensing fees are all we pay, as there are no car payments.  But even "just these" expenses are easily $250 a month, if not more, depending on how far we drive.   And even a "paid for" car is really costing you money, sitting there and depreciating in your garage, every day.  Most cars depreciate 50% every five years, so a $20,000 car might be costing you five bucks a day or $2000 a year, just in depreciation.  And depreciation is a real expense.

So, add it all up, and you are looking at a minimum of $2000 to $3000 a month, just to live, or about $24,000 to $36,000 a year (or more!).  Not a lot of money, and nearly at the poverty line.  Hmmmm.... I could qualify for food stamps!

Just kidding.  I would not go that route unless I was really desperate.  Safety nets are for safety - not an entitlement, like the guy with the question-mark suit would have you believe.

UPDATE: In the last few years, I have tried to live on $100 a day or $36,500 a year.  And for the first few years, it worked. Our taxable income was low, so we paid little in taxes and qualified for all sorts of things, such as an Obamacare subsidy and a low-cost hotspot.  But with inflation, we've had to withdraw more money from our IRA and that in turn increases our taxes, which means we have to withdraw yet more money, which means we lose subsidies and then have to withdraw more money..... the snowball effect kick in, to our disadvantage!

Not only that, but when your house is fairly new and your cars are fairly new, you might not "need" much income to get by.  But 10 years later, you need new appliances and a new roof and maybe a new car and suddenly, you need a lot more income to get by.  Those deferred maintenance expenses add up, just like the depreciation on that "paid-for" car.

So the coming years will be harder for us, as a lot of "big ticket" bills come due.  Of course, there are ways of working around this.  There is little point, I have learned, in "remodeling" a home unless it is really falling apart.  Good maintenance is sufficient.  Leave the next owner to do the "makeover" to their specifications.  You can remodel yourself into the poor house.

That being said, have you priced a new roof lately?  Ouch!