Monday, November 24, 2008

Chess vs Life

I recently started playing Chess again (the last time I played, I was in college). It all came back to me quickly and I realized that there were many life lessons in the game:

1) Always be mindful of the "little guy" because even a pawn can become the most powerful piece on the board.
2) Don't make moves until you have a plan - hasty moves can result in costly mistakes.
3) The real threat may be in the distance and waiting for you to make the wrong move.
4) Be mindful of distractions - look at every possible angle.
5) To be successful, you must anticipate your opponents next possible moves and be able to adapt.
6) Don't be baited into making a move - you may lose more than you gain.
7) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get what you want.
8) Always protect the things you value - nothing is worse than losing a valuable piece due to carelessness.
9) Always be on the offensive - playing defensively is never going to win the game for you.
10) Always learn from your mistakes.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Lazy Mouse and the Industrious Mouse

I was watching Ricky Gervais' (the creator of The Office)comedy special on HBO. He was analyzing children's fables and came across the story of The Lazy Mouse and The Industrious Mouse. All summer/autumn, while the lazy mouse was eating berries, having fun, and doing nothing, the industrious mouse was saving berries, chopping wood, and preparing for winter. When winter comes, the ground is cold and hard and the lazy mouse can't find any berries. The industrious mouse is in the "cottage" that he built for himself with a warm fire and plenty of food. The lazy mouse knocks on the door because he's cold and hungry. The industrious mouse lectures him that he should have prepared for winter after his numerous warnings and eventually lets him in. The morale of the story is "work hard and be prepared for the future," but Gervais interprets the morale to be: "f*ck around, do whatever you want, and then scrounge off a do-gooder". It sounds exactly like the mortgage crisis and corporate bailouts.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Good Life

I just came back from my vacation at the Excellence Punta Cana in The Dominican Republic - it was the best vacation ever. Each room in the resort has a jacuzzi, a patio with a hammock, flat screen TV with "special channels", and a fully stocked complimentary bar (which I took full advantage of on the first day). It was the first vacation that I completely unplugged myself from my Crackberry (aka Blackberry) and couldn't have cared less. I settled into my routine pretty early: breakfast, laying out in a cabana by the pool, lunch, laying out on the beach, nap in the room, dinner, evening entertainment, and dancing at the disco. The resort had 8 restaurants (French, Asian, Italian, etc) which did not require reservations and 10 bars. My only problem was ending my vacation and having to return back to the "real world".

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Love Jersey City

I was born and raised a New Yorker (Bronx, NY). After 3 year of religiously saving money, it was time to purchase real estate and I had a real dilemma: where should I live? I work in lower Manhattan and was mostly familiar with The Bronx and Westchester. I narrowed my search to White Plains, Brooklyn (Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, or Park Slope), and Jersey City. White Plains seemed perfect because it was an up and coming city and is close to my family, but the commute and commuting costs (bus to Metro North to MTA) was bound to add up. I have always loved Brooklyn for its brownstones and have family there, but the maintenance costs ($1,000+) seemed staggering. I decided on Jersey City because of its minimal commute (30 minutes door to door), lower real estate / maintenance costs, and nothing beats the water view of Manhattan and the Statute of Liberty. I patiently did my research and decided on the Paulus Hook neighborhood with its historic brownstones and family atmosphere (it seems like everyone either has a dog or a young child - I have neither, but it makes the neighborhood quaint). It is also within the boundaries of the Urban Enterprise Zone - it allows business to charge only 50% of the sales tax rate (3.5%). I've lived in Jersey City since 2007 - I'm still slowly exploring and finding great new things to do.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Everything at its Time

I have a very bad history of rewarding myself. I've always been very conservative with the mind set of Todo a Su Tiempo (Everything at its Time). My car lease was ending this month and I had made myself a promise that I would get a BMW when my lease expired. I did all of my homework and knew exactly what I wanted. After negotiating a great deal, I decided to push the envelope by walking out to get a sweeter deal. I figured the car dealer would grab onto my ankle and not let me leave (especially in this economy). He confirmed that I was getting his best deal since I was putting no money down, getting a fully loaded car, and had free scheduled maintenance. They actually let me leave! I called two days later and got 36,000 miles, instead of 30,000 miles, for the same price.

I picked up my car last Saturday - 2009 BMW 328xi (the '09 model says X-Drive on the side instead of saying 328xi on the back). I've driven Honda Accords since 1997 and have always been happy, but there is no comparison. I was driving at 80mph and it felt like I was cruising at 30mph. The iPod connectivity is crystal clear when compared to my old static producing monster cable. Overall, I'm very happy and can't wait to drive on a nice country road with plenty of curves.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Outdoors

Last weekend, me and my friends went on our annual camping pilgrimage to Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY. We've gone camping together since 2003 and have learned plenty of lessons.

Lesson 1 - when you think you have enough firewood, you don't! Nothing is worse than secretly burning a sleeping friend's blanket when you've run out of firewood / duralogs.
Lesson 2 - wear your worst clothes and dress in layers. Embers jumping out of the fire and leaving a hole in your North Face is not going to put a smile on your face.
Lesson 3 - no matter how much you pee before going to bed, you're bound to wake up twice in the middle of the freezing night to pee.
Lesson 4 - never leave food or garbage out and go to bed. Raccoons and skunks are fearless and will not move no matter how many times you stomp or shine a light on them.
Lesson 5 - food/beer taste much better outdoors.
Lesson 6 - after eating hot dogs, burgers, sausages, and beer, the tent will transform into a dutch oven. Nuff said.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to Save Money and Get out of Debt

I graduated from college (UPenn) in 1999. After being on my own at college, I couldn't make the adjustment to living under my mother's roof (the home cooked meals were great, but the freedom of making my own rules outweighed any positives). I began my career at AIG as a Professional Associate making $31,000. New furniture (including the much needed pool table), buying suits for work (thanks Today's Man), going clubbing on the weekends (Jimmy's Bronx Cafe), and constantly going out to eat quickly added up to $25,000 in credit debt - not to mention my student loans ($25,000) also kicked in. I had to quickly get my life on track and become disciplined with my spending and savings. Here are a few helpful hints that helped me knock out my debt by 2004:

1. Transfer balances from your higher interest credit cards to a lower APR. Watch out for transfer balance fees, make sure you transfer to a credit without a balance & don't make any new purchases on it, and note when the offer expires so you don’t get slammed with the APR increase.
2. Call your credit card company and ask them to lower your APR (if they say no, tell them you have a lower offer from someone else).
3. Go to movie matinees.
4. Brown bag your lunch.
5. Drink water when you eat out.
6. Open an ING Savings account and set up automatic monthly savings transfers (high interest, no fees, and you get referral bonuses for friends).
7. Sell unwanted items around the house on eBay (cds, dvds, books, etc).
8. Use coupons, join frequent buyer clubs, or buy groceries on sale.
9. Transfer your money to a bank with no or lower bank fees (some banks offer zero maintenance fees if you set up direct deposit through them).
10. Concentrate on paying your high interest debt first.
11. Make your long distance phone calls using your “anytime” minutes on your cell phone (or cancel your home service).
12. Shop for food using a shopping list.
13. Use generic drugs – they have the same active ingredients as the name brand but at a fraction of the costs.
14. Take advantage of shopping online: free shipping and no tax.
15. Always shop around for the best auto insurance quotes (GEICO is great, but sometimes they are not the cheapest).
16. Pay your car insurance off in one payment – eliminates installment payments.
17. Use plastic bags from the supermarket as trash bags.
18. Resole your shoes (much cheaper than buying new shoes and something I learned from The Millionaire Mind).
19. Rent videos, cook at home, walk in the park, go to a museum, or play board games as ideas for dates.
20. Buy iced tea and lemonade mix as alternatives to soda.
21. Recycle.
22. Borrow books and videos from the library (you could request to have the books and dvds you want sent to your nearby library).
23. Buy frequent use mass transit passes when feasible (participate in pre-tax programs at work).
24. Download music and movies.
25. Try to use only your bank’s ATM machine to avoid fees.
26. Machine wash and iron instead of dry cleaning.
27. Compare prices at Target, Walmart, eBay, Amazon, or clothing outlets.
28. Save gifts that you were not fond of and re-gift them.
29. Go to a bar/club with drink specials, free buffet, or allows free admission before a certain time.
30. Ski and go to driving ranges at non-peek hours for savings.
31. Check to see if your credit card offers discounts for eating at a restaurant or shopping at a store.
32. If your job offers a 401K or similar where they match, definitely participate (free money and forced savings)!
33. Cut back on vices: cigarettes, drinking, and coffee.
34. Take a defensive driving course to save on car insurance.
35. Take advantage of credit card reward programs.
36. Vacation during off peak time
37. Apply your tax refunds and work bonuses directly towards your debt.

If you have any more suggestions, feel free to leave them in my comments section.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Body of Lies

I was bored on Saturday and decided to go to my favorite mall (Palisades Center Mall) for dinner and a movie. I saw Body of Lies with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe - you can't really go wrong with either actor. The movie follows DiCaprio as a C.I.A. operative who tries to take out a terrorist network with the help of his boss (Crowe) and local intelligence authorities. DiCaprio gets caught between his boss' need for immediate results, double crossing allies, and everyone looking out for their own self interests. Sound familiar?

After the movie, I went to The Cheesecake Factory and was shocked at the 45-60 minute wait at 8pm. No problem (I was feening Farfalle with Chicken and Craig's Crazy Carrotcake Cheesecake). I stood in the waiting area and patiently waited for the pager to summon me. The place was packed with people with shopping bags and I saw 6 pregnant women during my 40 minute wait (counting pregnant women became a game and helped pass the time). So I the U.S. economy really doing badly? Is consumer spending an indicator of recovery? Then I noticed that everyone was paying with credit cards. The same credit cards backed by banks that can barely loan money to one another. I used my credit card as well, but I carry a zero balance and use it to accumulate reward points. I learned my lesson when I had $25,000 in credit card debt and $25,000 in student loans when I graduated from college. I was disciplined enough to get out of debt, but I wondered how many people were paying the minimum, not scaling back on their lifestyles, and living a Body of Lies....

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

What Recession?

Call me slow, but I just joined Pandora recently. is a free customizable radio website where you plug in the name of an artist you like and it plays similar artists grouped by genre, musical inspirations, "vocal harmony", and "rhythmic syncopation". Its similar to Yahoo!'s Launch, but without the annoying commercials (I'm boycotting Launch because it isn't compatible on Mozilla Firefox). The way Pandora works, if you like a song, you give it a thumbs up, thumbs down or choose "don't play again for another 30 days". I really wish I could use Pandora's technology with the news. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired of hearing about the Crisis on Wall Street, credit default swaps, sub-prime mortgages, failing banks, AIG (where I worked for 5 years, 5 years ago), and The Recession. Don't get me wrong, my 401K took a UFC-like beating this week, but you can't become a Chicken Little and let the media completely stress you with the impending doom. In fact, I'm going to take advantage of the market - I just booked a vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and the end of my car lease is quickly approaching. With gas prices dropping, the end of hurricane season, and less tourism, I got a great deal on a 5 star resort in November - I'll get to cross a few things off of my bucket list: jet skiing, horseback riding, and scuba diving. With the 2009 models hitting the lot, I'm sure car dealers are throwing out incentives left and right to get someone behind the wheel. I'll let you know how I fare over the weekend.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

What Happens in Vegas

In What Happens in Vegas, Ashton Kutcher tells Cameron Diaz: "I'd rather do nothing and be happy, than do something I know I don't love." His character was recently fired by his father from the family business and she was miserable working 80 hours a week on Wall Street. Is it really worth getting depressed on Sunday once you realize that the weekend is over, dreading the alarm clock's faithful buzz, or looking for sharp objects when stuck in pointless meetings?

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Big Idea

I just finished reading Greg Holden's Starting an Online Business For Dummies. It had some helpful tips discussing Search Engine Optimization (SEO), merchant accounts, using different means to promote your business (blogs, Yahoo! Groups, eBay Store, website), and generating revenue through Google AdSense & Amazon's Affiliate Program. The question is now....what should I do? I'm pretty proficient on eBay (547 stars to date), but I'm more of an opportunistic seller. I sell things that are in the news (Yankee Stadium's Final Season memorabilia), laying around my house, or things that I get for free. My problem has always been finding the perfect item(s) to focus on that are easy to ship, have a good profit margin, and are in demand. What am I interested in? Sports, traveling, food, and trying new things. The question is - how can I turn that into a business?

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Wakeup Call

Overall, I had a pretty good summer. I was out of the office 1-2 days a week playing golf, traveling (Las Vegas, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia) , and getting back to my love of reading. I read Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Richand I couldn't help but think - why can't I do that? For those that have not read his book, he promotes taking "mini-retirements", delegating/outsourcing work, telecommuting, and taking the necessary steps to escape the 9 to 5 life. I'm not doing the book any justice with the brief description, but it is thought provoking (in a simple common sense kind of way). So I figured....I'm 30 years old, single, make pretty good money, have no debt, and its time to make a move. I have 13 vacation days left so I'm taking the majority of Fridays off from now until December and a week off in November. Right now I'm digesting books and trying to come up with the right business plan. I started this blog to get help from other entrepreneurs and to inspire others with my journey. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip.

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