How to Survive the Blazing Heat and Stay Motivated

Don’t know how it’s been where you are, but it’s been blazing here. 107 on Sunday, 105 today, and not our usual heat that lets up at night. We’ve had Fresno heat this past week, where it’s hot all night long and you have to seal yourself inside your house and blast the air conditioning. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated in this heat.

I’ve sort of melted down to a lethargic pile of goo. Feeling swollen, cranky, bored and blue. Very hard to pursue my goals in this weather.

Fighting The Malaise

I suppose everyone has to deal with this at some point in the year. For some it’s rainy weather. Others struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder when the days are short and overcast. But we’re nowhere near the Dog Days of Summer and I’m acting like a bored teenager. Nothing seems interesting or fun, and Summer is just two days old. I may be in trouble here.

Sure I’ll rally. I’m on deadline and that keeps me focused. And a lot of this will pass along with this heat wave. But just in case, we better make a plan. We must stay motivated.

The Antidote Is Water

Got to get in or on a body of water. A dunk in the pool always feels good. Just need to get there and throw myself in.

Wading in a river, splashing in the ocean, it’s been mankind’s answer for centuries. Migrate to cooler climates in summer and hit the water. Leave the sweltering valleys for the coast or the mountains.

It takes more effort, and I’m weak right now, but getting the kayak out on the water would be good too.

Music

Summer is the season for free concerts. I stumbled upon X Factor’s Jason Brock today, in of all places, the cafeteria of San Francisco’s Zuckerberg Memorial General Hospital. Though he opened with a Sade song (I hate Sade!), despite my lethargy and foul mood, he made me feel good.

Music always makes me feel better, and hearing it live and for free makes it even sweeter. Check out your city’s Park & Rec department for their free concert series and bust out your lawn chairs and ice chest. They’re everywhere this time of year in parks, farmer’s markets, libraries, shopping malls, and even hospital cafeterias.

If you can make your way to Fremont tomorrow evening, there’s a great one featuring Big Bang Beat at Shirley Sisk Grove by New Park Mall. I’m a bit biased, as the bari player is my brother, but these guys are an awesome party band. They’ll make you forget the heat, and I’ll have a little something in my ice chest for you. Maybe even some…

Cocktails

I hate to advocate substance use to change one’s emotional state. But hell, it was 107 and the ceiling fan in the bedroom died. We’re talking survival here, and we must stay motivated.

So a little social lubrication could be worth a try. Get a little buzz on and relax. Loosen up a bit and see the big picture. Forget about the present. Reminisce about the past and fantasize the about future.

If it’s good enough for Manic Impressives like Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King, it’s good enough for you. In moderation of course.

Rum is good in hot weather, right? Maybe a refreshing Mojito. Or a little vodka and citrus, like a Salty Dog, or a classic, frozen Margarita. Perhaps an ice-cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or a Pliney The Elder Imperial IPA. This is a battle, and these are my weapons.

Stay Motivated!

Soldier on, everyone. Keep creating and stay motivated. This heat wave too shall pass…

The Cheap Bastard Guide To Frugal Summer Travel

Cheap Bastard Guide To Frugal Summer TravelIt’s the summer travel season and we’re all looking to hit the road. But the Fed just raised interest rates, gas is over 3 bucks a gallon, and nothing’s going to be cheap. Lucky for you, I’m not just a Manic Impressive – I’m a Cheap Bastard too.

I once made it from Calgary to San Francisco on less than $40. Okay, things were cheaper back then, and I was hitchhiking with a full backpack and slept on the ground. But when I got down to my last two traveller’s checks (remember those?), I stuck out my thumb and made it back to San Francisco with several bucks to spare.

But that was then and this is now. 

6 Tools Cheap Bastard Uses For Frugal Travel

The family frowns on hitchhiking and sleeping on the ground. So I’ve mastered these tools to vacation in a style they can enjoy.

Airline Miles

We use credit cards for everything throughout the year (groceries, utilities, doctors, insurance) to rack up free airline travel. The bills are paid in full each month automatically with Auto-Pay, so we’re not paying interest and running up debt.

Last year we flew free to Maui, Nashville and Phoenix, and this year we’re flying free to Orlando, all with airline miles. We get rental cars free too. Just gas for the car and a few bucks in fees per airline seat.

Chris Guillebeau is the master of this. Check out his website for the latest mileage deals and tips on how to use credit cards to fly free.

Priceline

William Shatner may be a hack actor, but he truly is the “Negotiator.” The Cheap Bastard secret to Priceline is the bidding feature. I know, it’s scary to book a hotel without knowing which one you’ll get. But we’ve stayed in Hiltons and Marriotts for pennies on the dollar by bidding.

You need to work it a little. They rate hotels by “Star” level (1 Star = Crappy, 5 Star = Luxury), so learn which hotel chains land in which “Star” levels for the area you want. Then check their “Express Deals.” We’ve gotten good deals here without bidding, but mostly you go here for research.

Once you know which hotels they have, pick the Star level you want and start lowballing. They’ll reject you flat-out if you’re too low. That’s okay. You’re establishing the going rate. They limit your bids to once per day per account. But Cheap Bastard is sneaky. He has multiple accounts, so he can bid multiple times per day.

Bid repeatedly, a few bucks higher each time. When you get close to their best rate, they’ll actually tell you how much to bid to get what you want.

A little research and you can master this site. This is how we got a suite at the Anaheim Hilton, a mile from Disneyland, for just $64 a night. Bid low, then creep upward until you land your deal.

A Coffee Grinder

Let’s be honest. I’m a coffee snob, I’m totally addicted to caffeine, and I bring my own coffee when I travel. Partly because I’m particular, but mostly cuz I’m a Cheap Bastard.

It’s crazy what hotels and Starbucks charge for coffee. A pound of whole beans costs me $16 and lasts about a month. You couldn’t last a week at Starbucks on $16.  I travel with freshly ground beans, filters, and the skill to jerry-rig any hotel room system to brew my own. I get way better quality for a fraction of what most people pay.

So consider taking coffee with you on the road. You’ll get a better fix and save enough for a fancy dinner out.

The Nutri-Bullet Blender

Amazing what you can fit in a suitcase. I pack my Nutri-Bullet and portion my protein powder and fiber in little zip-lock baggies. Pick up strawberries and kale along the way and you can start each day with a healthy breakfast smoothie.

Hotel Mini-Fridges and Barbecues

Eating out with the family can run hundreds for a week’s vacation. So do what Cheap Bastard does. Make breakfast in your room and sandwiches for lunch. Use your hotel mini fridge for smoothie ingredients, yogurt, or milk for cereal, and the microwave in the lounge for oatmeal. Hit a grocery store when you land, pick up a cheap (bastard) cooler, get all the ice you need for free at your hotel, and cut your food expense in half.

Most hotels also have barbeques you can use. Take advantage. We often grill at our hotel, meet our frugal neighbors, and enjoy a nice sunset over dinner.

My friends Molly and Raul once flew to Hawaii with an ice chest of steaks, fish and ribs packed in dry ice. They ate in style their whole vacation for what you’d probably pay for one fancy dinner out.

Follow these dining tips and you’ll save enough to splurge on some nice restaurant meals without stressing over the tab.

Cheap Bastard Travels Well

I’m not the only Cheap Bastard around. Learn from the frugal, use your creativity, and you’ll be able to travel more, eat better, and give your credit cards a rest.

Now, take a moment and share your Cheap Bastard travel tips with the rest of us…

How To Get From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

  1. From deep in debt to solvent and secure

“Debt Kills Creativity”,  Damian Mason

There’s no bigger dream-killer than being deep in debt. And there’s nothing worse on a relationship than financial stress. So in 1995, with over $20,000 in consumer debt and barely one job between us, my wife and I did what anyone should, to get from deep in debt to solvent and secure  – we fled the country.

But not to a place with a lower cost of living. We quit our jobs, rented out our house, put our stuff in storage and bought one-way tickets to Tokyo. The most expensive place we could find. Then we signed contracts for two very low-paying jobs.

You’re right, that’s totally nuts. Crazy financial strategy right there. But 2½ years later we returned to the States completely debt-free with $10,000 cash in hand (100,000 in yen, actually) to re-start our American Dream .

How did we do it? With a change in financial philosophy and 5 simple strategies you can copy.

Pay Yourself First

If there’s one overriding piece of advice to follow, this is it. Pay yourself first. Let everyone else get in line. We’d gotten lulled into thinking we could “afford” a bunch of things we hadn’t yet earned. This causes a lot of people to pay their bills first, squander a bit on luxury, then put what’s left into savings.

Absolutely not. If you’re doing this, stop it right now!

Take 25 percent off the top and sock it away. Then pay your bills. If there’s money left over, great. Have a good time. Buy ridiculous, impractical things. But only when you’ve paid yourself first.

From our first payday in Japan, we sent one paycheck home to pay off our debt, and lived off the other. We paid ourselves first, then lived off what was left.

For Everyone Else, Use Auto Pay 

Living in Japan in the 90’s, we were surprised to find there were no checking accounts. The Japanese paid their routine bills automatically from their bank accounts and used cash for everything else. No checks or credit cards, no late fees, interest or overwhelming balances. Just debts that were settled in full, every month, automatically.

Manics, more than any type of people, have trouble with details like writing checks, finding and addressing envelopes, hunting down stamps and remembering to get things in the mail. That’s five steps for every bill. Neither smart nor lazy, that’s a procrastinator’s path to late fees.

I should know. I’ve paid thousands in late fees. And not because I was broke. But because my process was broke. It required too much discipline. Other types of people live neat, orderly lives. But not us.

So when we returned to the U.S., we set up all our recurring bills on auto-pay. No more late fees, and more importantly, no time, thought or effort. Smart and lazy!

Live Within Your Means

This was tough in a place so incredibly expensive. At home we paid $1 for 4 ears of corn. In Japan we paid $4 for 1 ear of corn. We paid 25 cents a pound for a watermelon at home. In Japan watermelons were $25. Each.

With seeds!

So we adapted, and learned the most important lesson of all. We had to get over the shame of being humble about our spending, instead of  digging our hole deeper to save face.

When a group goes out to dinner in Japan, they split the check evenly no matter who orders what. It only took a few $100 tabs for a bowl of miso soup and a salad to realize we couldn’t afford other people’s extravagance. So we stopped going along with the crowd when we couldn’t afford to, and caught up with them after dinner.

Move To The Cash Standard

When credit is easy, it’s tempting to buy first and pay later. But credit card debt is the number 1 killer of financial dreams. If you’re carrying consumer debt, you’re digging a hole that will be tough to get out of, no matter your income.

In Japan we each made only 250,000 yen a month. That’s $2500 American dollars. Since our credit cards were tapped out, and no one wanted to let a Gaijin (filthy devil foreigner) run up a tab, we had to stop spending when the cash was gone. We walked instead of hailing a cab, and cooked at home instead of eating out.

The upside was losing weight from all the walking, and finally getting full after a meal (Japanese portions are tiny!).

It was tough for a while, but over time we stopped digging the hole and started filling it in. Today we carry no consumer debt besides a mortgage. Yes, we use credit cards, to earn airline miles and track our spending. But we pay them in full automatically each month from our checking account. Because they’re all on auto-pay.

From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

Suzy Orman likes to tell people to “stand in your truth.” It can be painful at first, if your truth is deep dept. But the path to solvency and security is through knowing exactly where you stand financially.

So we put it on paper. All our debts subtracted from all our assets. A classic but simple balance sheet with a bottom line. At first the bottom line was ugly and very red. But we moved into the black with conscious effort and honest acknowledgment of where we stood.

It didn’t happen all at once. But by the time we moved home we were solvent. And we’ve stayed that way ever since by following these 5 simple strategies.

If you want some help with this, let me know. I’ll send you a template of my balance sheet to get you to your bottom line. Then you can go from deep in debt, to solvent and secure. Or to patting yourself on the back for already being financially awesome.

It’s a very good feeling…

 

5 Strong Manic Impressives You Should Know And Love

I’m often surprised when people who seem much different from me (together, disciplined, grown up) admit to sharing my Manic traits. Since it’s sometimes hard to identify someone’s style, I thought I’d give you some examples. So for purely academic reasons, here are 5 strong Manic Impressives you should know and love.

Popeye The Sailor Man

Popeye showed several strong Manic Impressive traits. He was an advocate for others with a strong sense of justice.  He was assertive, and would take action when others wouldn’t. While they cowered and ducked for cover, Popeye stepped up to take down the bully.

And he had a strong sense of self. With his own personal branding statement, “I Yam What I Yam,” Popeye was a strong, confident, somewhat existential, working class poet-philosopher.

He was also a bit forgetful and got in his own way. Ever watch him babysit Sweat Pea? Constantly allowing that tyke to wander into traffic, construction sites, and other life-threatening situations.

And yes, he was a substance user. Possibly an abuser. But like all Manics, Popeye needed to be inspired to perform. It may seem like a weakness, but let’s face it, when Popeye downed his spinach, he always kicked ass. He made no excuses for it either – it was right there in his theme song – “I’m strong to the finish, when I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailorman!”

Peter ‘StarLord’ Quill, Guardians Of The Galaxy

“Starlord” as he wants to be called, models Manic behavior in several ways. He is a rule breaker. He is a smartass. He starts out as a delinquent and falls into his role of Guardian by accident. He usually means well, but often falls victim to his bad habits and dysfunctional childhood.

And like Popeye, he relies heavily on inspiration. But instead of using a substance to trigger his inspiration, StarLord’s trigger of choice is music. This is an extremely Manic trait.

But not just any music. The R&B pop hits from the 70’s, the favorite music of his mother, who died when StarLord was just a kid. There’s a reason Manic Impressives can never seem to get enough attention, and it’s often rooted in childhood abandonment issues.  This guy is a classic Freudian fuck-up hero.

But like most Manics he is completely loveable. Even when he’s breaking all the rules, you just want him to win. Because he’s a scamp, he’s audacious, he thumbs his nose at authority, and he loves his mama. All the qualities we love in a hero.

Anthony Dinozo Jr., NCIS

You may not have realized this one because he’s in the by-the-book field of law enforcement, he’s a former jock and, yes ladies, he’s extremely handsome. But look at his behavior on the job. He’s a classic smartass constantly needling his co-workers and getting slapped in the back of the head by his boss.

Tony is irritating.  He gets under people’s skin with his constant razing and hazing. But he’s impressive. Not as a specialist like his computer geek sidekick or martial arts badass love interest. He’s a generalist who uses his intuition and perception to solve murders and identify the killers.

He too uses the arts as inspiration, and often makes breakthroughs in a case with his extensive knowledge and obsession with cinema, often to the great annoyance of those around him. To them it looks like he’s screwing around. But he’s actually using his knowledge of popular culture to think outside the box, in a highly imaginative way.

Tony, though often inappropriately playful at work, is a strong leader. But his antics lead others to underestimate his work ethic and intelligence. A true Manic Impressive, he never lets the seriousness of his profession get in the way of a good time.

Deadpool

Wade Wilson, former Special Forces badass turned super-antihero, is a vulgar smartass. And like most Manic Impressives, he uses his biting, dark humor as a weapon, and also as a shield, to protect his tender feelings and insecurities.

He is one seriously fucked-up dude, having become a mutant in an effort to cure his terminal cancer. But the disfigurement caused by his treatment creates incredible self-doubt, a trait common among Manics. So he covers it up with his costume and his raging sarcasm.

Deadpool’s need for revenge drives him to do regrettable things, and to many people he comes across as a total a-hole. But underneath his mask is a deeply misunderstood soul that longs for the intimacy he constantly pushes away in his relationships.

But oh is he impressive. Not just in his fighting ability and his quest for justice. He is impressive with words. His profane, guttural, wicked humor puts him in a class all his own. This guy is hilarious, with a wit sharper than his weapons of choice  – two razor-sharp Japanese katanas. Deadpool is a deadly smartass’ smartass.

Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MASH

Hawkeye Pierce, an amazingly skilled physician, was the heart and soul of the team at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Though an inveterate rule breaker and prankster, Hawkeye was a dedicated, conscientious, and deeply caring man.

He just found the conditions of a field unit in the Korean War too much to bear at times, and did what any good Manic Impressive would. He attacked the stupidity of the army rule-makers and installed a moonshine martini still in his tent.

He never lost sight of his mission, to care for the sick and wounded, but he went out of his way to poke fun at his leaders and make an untenable situation  as human and compassionate as possible. This meant taking on every chance to seek justice, and making a pass at every attractive woman in sight.

Without Hawkeye’s brashness, the downtrodden and low-ranking personnel would have had to suffer in silence. But he was their champion and took his role seriously, in true Manic fashion. He mocked, ridiculed, pranked and shamed anyone who put rules above logic, and order above decency.

Hawkeye was a strong leader, and a huge smartass. But everyone loved him for it, and the show (and movie) would have been unwatchable without him.

Leading By Example

All five of these fictional characters were strong leaders, and constantly put themselves in the spotlight when it mattered most. They sacrificed their own comfort to make life better for others, and took advantage of every opportunity to seek justice and punch lines.

If all of us can just channel their energy, bravado and humor in our daily lives, the world would be a much happier and funnier place.