April 15, 2010

Tax Day Arrives Today - What Are the Fair Tax and Flat Tax Alternatives to the Federal Income Tax?

It's April 15th once again, and I'm going to avoid that road over by the airport, where the main post office is located -- because we all know there's going to be a line of cars over there today, as folk are mailing their tax returns right on the deadline. 

Like it or not, the government has got to have revenue to keep things running for all of us -- but is there a better way to accomplish that?  We're hearing a lot these days about two options: the FAIR TAX and the FLAT TAX.  I got to wondering what they were, so I went and investigated, and thought I'd share what I found out:

Fair Tax

The Fair Tax is a tax that would be placed on all new goods and services you buy for personal consumption (use). You wouldn't pay the tax until you exceeded a "prebate," which is a monthly amount of personal purchases equal to those tallied to be "the poverty level," so the poor and indigent wouldn't have to pay any tax.

The fair tax would be 23%, which sounds like a lot until you hear the Fair Tax proponents tell you that this reflects the current ratio for federal income taxes -- we pay about that much in income taxes each year on our buying dollars.

Why the proponents say this is great: poor people don't get taxed, but all those folk that don't file income tax returns DO. Criminals (think drug dealers) and illegal immigrants automatically paid their fair share because they're buying stuff at the store just like the rest of us. Meanwhile, we get to keep our gross income. No withholding. No tax payments on April 15th. More cash in the citizens pocket means more purchasing power, which should sound good to everyone.

For more information on the Fair Tax, check out FairTax.org and Wikipedia.

Flat Tax

A Flat Tax is really just throwing out all those different tables on who goes into what tax bracket, and taxing everyone on the same percentage -- it's a Flat Rate Tax.

Households would be taxed at a set percentage of income. Companies would be taxed at another set rate.

Proponents argue that this makes it fair on everyone because everyone is paying the same percentage, or the same tax, and it would exempt those below a certain income level from any tax at all.

For more information, check out Wikipedia.

My Two Cents Worth

I'm no tax expert, not by any means, but it seems to me that either of these options offer a simpler alternative to the gathering of needed revenue for the government than the current Tax Code.  While the flat tax does seem to be popular with other countries, I'm thinking that the Fair Tax seems the better option of the two.  Why?  Easy to administer -- and it corrals all those dollars that aren't getting taxed.

Here in San Antonio, we're all too aware of drug money.  We're close to the Tex-Mex border, and our city hosts the intersection of two major interstates:  IH 10 takes you from the east coast to the west coast, and IH 35 takes you from the country's southern border to its Canadian one.  Drug revenue is huge in the U.S.A., and the Fair Tax means these dollars come into the pot.  I like that idea, seems smart.  And simple.

April 14, 2010

Trends in 2010 - Markets That Are Supposed to Do WELL

According to Entrepreneur magazine, all isn't bad.  It just depends on where you are in the marketplace.  They've got an interesting online article where they have checked with Those In The Know (presumably, people like Faith Popcorn) and learned the Top 10 Markets that are thriving in this bad economy
Some aren't any big surprise:  Going Green, Boomer Business, these things aren't new.  But I was a tad surprised at Parental Outsourcing and the fact that Texas is so darn trendy.  Who knew? 

April 13, 2010

What a Dollar Buys Now and Then: Cool Online Tool Showing Decline of Dollar's Power

Over at CoinNews.net, they have a cool online gadget that is based upon the federal government's Consumer Price Index. You input YEAR, PRICE OF ITEM, and SECOND YEAR, and the gizmo tells you how much the same item would cost in the second year, compared to the first -- and it gives you the rate of inflation.  They call it their "Inflation Calculator."  


If you bought a book for $18.00 in 1990, today it would cost $29.95, for an inflation rate of 65.8%.

If you bought a car for 20,000 in 1985, today it would cost $40,286.43, for an inflation rate of 101.4%.

For those of us that have been around awhile, this sounds about right.  The price I paid for a Lexus in the 1980s isn't gonna get me in the dealership door.  What I paid around $25K for back then, I'd have to walk into North Park Lexus with around $50K today. 

And, I think back to McDonald's visits growing up. I remember the little hamburger costing only 25 cents.  You could get one for a quarter, and maybe some pennies for tax.  I think the little basic burger is now 89 cents, but I'll have to double check this and get back to you, Dear Reader, the next time I drive thru McD's (which is rare, so bear with me.) 

For the detailed report on the Consumer Price Index by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can read their periodic reports in .pdf format.

Image: US Twenty Dollar Bills, Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

April 12, 2010

WalMart Is Paying Me to Shop There

Wow.  Last week, I got a little cardboard mailing from WalMart with "Rollback in TO SAVE" in big orange and yellow letters on the front.  It looked like one of those things that surround free samples of dishwashing detergent or hand lotion, so I opened it up.

Inside, was a $5 WalMart Gift Card.  All I had to do was call a 1-800 number, give the promo code, and the card would be activated.  I did it.  I've got five bucks to use in WalMart before sometime around May 15th.

Of course I'm going to use it.  You betcha. 

In fact, I'm all excited about my free gift card from a store.  I'm trying to decide WHAT I'm going to be buying with it.  Should I get a new Toilet Bowl Brush Set (which is on the list), or a treat like a Paperback Book?  A food item? A gift?  Decisions, decisions. 

Look, I already shop at WalMart so this marketing campaign isn't drawing a new customer into its doors.  However, it's putting a smile on my face because I can't remember a merchant giving me a gift card before. 

That's a nice thing to do, and I wish more stores would do it, don't you? 

April 11, 2010

Simplifying Means Changing Your Life: Read Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer

Simplying life means changing your lifestyle.  Changing the way you live isn't done in a day, and it isn't done successfully without some major internal alterations.

You have to change your attitude.  You have to change what you value.  You have to change the way you think.

For me, that means reading Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind and then re-reading it periodically.  You can even buy it as an ebook these days (Barnes & Nobles offers this version for $8.99; the paperback is a couple of dollars more, new.)

Yes, this is a Christian book.  Essentially, Joyce Meyer is telling you that the battle for your life is between your ears.  Lessons are provided, founded in Scripture, that teach you how to change the way that you think, to recognize and tear down strongholds in your thinking, to know what thoughts and thought patterns the devil uses to thwart you, and first and foremost, this book teaches you to start thinking about what you're thinking about.  To watch what and how you're thinking.

Using the 40 Years in the Wilderness, Battlefield of the Mind identifies "wilderness mentalities" that can be wrong ways of thinking - and instructs you on how to win the battle of getting those ways of thinking out of your head.

If you're ready for change, then you're ready for the fight.  Go buy Battlefield today.  Get a used copy to save money, but this isn't a book to check out from the library.  You'll want to have this as a life tool, something to take notes in -- something to go back and re-read every so often. 

It's that helpful, it's that good.

April 10, 2010

Expatriate: Resources for Americans Considering Living Overseas

In honor of Overseas Americans Week, April 19 - 23, here's a list of online resources for those of you who are pondering living at least part of the year in another country besides the U.S.A.:

Association of Americans Resident Overseas

American Citizens Abroad

Association of American Clubs

(U.S.) Department of State

Escape Artist

Expat Finder

Going Global

Overseas Digest

Tales from a Small Planet

And, some expat / relocation overseas resource books to read (listed by oldest to newest publication dates):

New American Expat: Thriving and Surviving Overseas in the Post 9/11 World by William Russell Melton (April 2005)

The Expert Expat - Revised Edition: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad by Melissa Brayer Hess (October 2007)

Leaving America: The New Expat Generation by John R. Wennersten (November 2007)

The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroad by Rosanne Knorr (March 2008)

Retirement Without Borders: How to Retire Abroad -- in Mexico, France, Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, and Other Sunny Foreign Places (and The Secret to Making It Happen Without Stress) by Barry Golson (December 2008)

Easy Belize: How to Live, Retire, Work, & Buy Property in Belize, the English Speaking Frost Free Paradise on the Caribbean Coast by Lan Sluder (February 2010)

The Truth About Moving Abroad and Whether It's Right for You: Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Paul Allen (March 2010)

April 9, 2010

How to Make Homemade Flour Tortillas

Once again, I've offered to bring goodies this weekend, and I'm really, really wanting to make my own flour tortillas this time. Now, I've got Mexican-American friends that have shared their expertise with me. I'm dense, I'm not a natural baker, my tortillas just never turned out right no matter how many notes I took as they gave their instructions.

I'm hoping to do better, because of this great video AbrahamDiaz19 has shared on YouTube. Not only is it easy to follow, it uses the stuff I've already got and I don't have to go borrow my friend's tortilla smasher-thingie (the silver metal tool that smuches the dough ball into a flat circle.

One caveat: I've been told that for truly authentic tortillas, you'd use LARD here, not the Crisco or the veggie oil. Just so you know.

April 8, 2010

Considering Expatriating? Watch HouseHunters International on HGTV

Want to be an American Expatriate?  Whether or not you are thinking about becoming a "snowbird" and buying a vacation home on a foreign beach somewhere, or if you're considering moving to another country permanently, you should include watching one TV show in all your research and planning. 

I know, it sounds a little silly but you'll learn things from HGTV's House Hunters International that are valuable, like:
1. dishwashers - many countries just don't have them;
2. refrigerators - the American monsters are not found elsewhere, lots of places have fridges the size of a dorm fridge here in the States
3. carpeting - lotsa places have tile.  Lots and lots of tile. No hardwood flooring.  No carpeting.
4. closets - some countries (particularly the quaint older homes in Europe) don't have closets.  You buy wardrobes for your stuff.  Looks like a lot more folding than hanging in these places.
5. bedrooms - smaller.  Lots smaller.  Apparently, in lots of countries, you don't loiter in the bedroom, you just sleep there.  It's not the sanctuary that Americans enjoy.
6. kids share a bedroom.  In lots of cultures, the children have a bedroom they share.  Boys and girls.  Don't know if there's an age cutoff here or not. 
7. furnished sales -- especially in island countries and Central and South America, the homes are sold furnished.  You buy the land, you buy the dwelling, you buy the sofas.  All tied together. 
8. ovens -- Some parts of the world (particularly Asia), they don't use ovens.  You don't get one.
9. bathroom en suite -- Lots of places share a bathroom, there's no bathroom off the master bedroom.  Lots of places have bidets though.  Bidet, yes and dishwasher, no?  That's right.
10. bomb shelters -- Buy in Israel, expect a bomb shelter as part of your standard features in the more modern offerings. 
Each episode of HouseHunters International has a buyer in a foreign country - sometimes American, sometimes not - looking at three options and then choosing one.  With the Americans, it's a 50-50 chance you'll see one or more Americanized condo-type developments, catering to the Americanized lifestyle.  These places won't look that much different than buying a condo in Houston or Coco Beach.  

Even these episodes give you a nice look at the local community though - and if you listen carefully, you get tips like the places where these types of resorts have alarms and burglar bars, hints of the crime rate, and where others have all sorts of hurricane-proof features, hints that those living there expect to ride out some hairy storms.

Want to watch some?  They've got episodes at the ready, online, at their website. 

Image:  Public domain, View of Little Beach, looking south over Mount Gardiner, with the granite headland massif in the background at the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve in Albany, Western Australia. Photo taken June 2nd 2007 by Darren Hughes. Wikimedia Commons.

April 7, 2010

All Natural Dog Biscuits That My Dogs Love, Love, Love

First, let me admit that my dogs have no choice: they have to live the Simplicity Lifestyle right along with me.  Which means none of those artificially-flavored bacon things, commercial dry food made with filler, well - you get the drift. 

This doesn't mean that they don't get treats.  Treats are big around here.  Even the word "treat" is very popular....

When I have time, I like to make the treats.  That way, I know exactly what goes into the batch, and I can cater the batch to their likes and dislikes.  Shocking though it may be, one of my pups isn't fond of peanut butter.  The other pup, finicky about fish.  You get the idea.

1.  My Source for Homemade Dog Treat Recipes

For the past few months, when I've looked for dog biscuit recipes, or other forms of treats, I've gone to Bullwrinkle.Com and combed through their big list of free recipes.  I do alter things a bit.  For example:

Fido's Favorite Treats (With My Alterations and Comments)

1 cup rolled oats
(I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal, which I understand may be different from the rolled oats.  Why?  Because this is the oatmeal I keep in the pantry.)

1/3 cup margarine or butter
(Never, ever, ever do I use margarine.  Never buy this bad stuff.  I use unsalted butter. It's what's in the fridge.)

1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup cornmeal
(I use yellow or white, whatever I have on hand.)

1 tablespoon sugar
(I tried Stevia.  Didn't work well.  I tried honey.  Did okay.)

April 6, 2010

Use Your George Foreman Grill - It's Easy and Healthy: Watch This Video

Using your George Foreman Grill not only saves time, but it saves energy, cooks healthier food, and it keeps the kitchen lots cooler -- and thanks to DarkShadow1955 at YouTube, here's a great video to see how its done by real people, not Infomercial Hosts or pro chefs:

April 5, 2010

Cleaning House - Some are Better than Others

I firmly believe that true housecleaning is a talent. One that I don't have. Some folk have a Green Thumb in the garden, and some have a Clean Thumb in the house. I have neither. I have to work at it.

And, here it is: Spring Cleaning Time.

So, it being April and all, I've made my list of chores for my annual Spring Clean. In doing so, I've gone to the web for help. Making this list just doesn't come naturally to me; luckily, there are lots of bloggers out there who have tips and hints for people like me. And maybe you, Dear Reader.

Here's some of the great things I found:

All About Home is just loaded with cleaning tips, in a nicely organized site. Something I learned here: rubbing alcohol will take out those stains on the window sill (which are really bothering me, now that I've got the blinds up and the curtains pulled back, airing out the house with the nice Spring breezes).

How to Clean Anything has a great collection of Spring Cleaning articles. Very informative - and they cover a nice spectrum of topics, including your car (and the leather car seats -- cool hint, leather is a skin. Treat it accordingly).

Robbie Haf's got a lot of great info. Lots here, things like an easy way to clean a George Foreman grill (where the plates aren't removable) -- and here's a great one: when you move furniture and the carpet is pushed down, put an ice cube there. As the ice melts, the carpet fibers will bounce back. Wow, gotta try that one!

And, of course, there are commercial web sites with lots of tips, too. Mr. Clean, LYSOL, Windex -- they've all got helpful info (if you're willing to work around the fact that in giving advice, they're busy promoting their product).

And, just in case you're interested - today, I got an advertising message from a local cleaning service. When I look at their price list, silly as it may be, it really helps me to put a value on all that I'm doing (and have done) every week, much less in this month's Spring Clean.

April 2, 2010

Good Friday 2010

Today is the day that acknowledges Jesus' death on the Cross. On Sunday, believers celebrate his Resurrection, and Easter Week concludes.

I have posted daily since the beginning of 2010, but I will not post tomorrow or Sunday in honor of Jesus of Nazareth and what He did for me, and all others. It just doesn't seem right to me.

I'll start up again on Monday, Dear Reader, and I hope you have a wonderful Easter Weekend! God bless you!

April 1, 2010

Stevia Sweetens Crystal Light Pure: The Popularity of Stevia Grows - Hooray!

I just saw a TV commercial for Crystal Light Pure as being "all natural, no calorie" and I wondered how they could say that to all of us ... and I pondered, could my beloved Stevia finally becoming mainstream?

Yes, Dear Reader, yes.

Kraft Foods has sweetened Crystal Light PureFitness with TruVia, a brand of Stevia. Bad news, they've also thrown in some cane sugar (why?).

It comes in three flavors and has 3g of sugar, or 15 calories, per 8 ounce serving.

People seem to like it (I checked the reviews at Amazon for the Lemon-Lime (see package image here) but heck.  I'd rather have my own Limeade made just from real limes and stevia, myself. 

Still, it's great to see Stevia gaining market power out there.  Love that.
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