Adios to Motorcycles

bf-roadracingMy wife recently posted some throwback Thursday photos of me from the early 80s when I did some amateur roadracing. It was a lot of fun, but it was also expensive. I gave it up because it was at the time that I was just starting college. I think we can all agree that studying and learning needs to be a person’s main focus while in college, and that expensive extra-curricular activities, like roadracing, typically need to be put on hold.

When I finished college, I sold my old race bike and moved to Silicon Valley. After I landed my career job as a mechanical engineer, I took up amateur roadracing again as a hobby. But after a near crash at 150 mph, I decided to give that hobby a permanent rest.

saline-valleyAlong with roadracing, I also used to go dirtbiking with several friends from work. We road in all the off-road vehicle areas within a day’s drive of Silicon Valley. We also did a lot of riding in the Mojave Desert, Imperial Valley, and Baja California. We felt very adventuresome while riding the Baja 500 course. The picture to the right is in the White Mountains, looking back toward Saline and Death Valley.

Finally, I used to regularly commute to work on various motorcycles that I owned. I could ride in the car pool lanes, and get to work a lot faster than if I were driving in a car. I also got great gas mileage on the motorcycles. My old Honda XL-600 used to average more than 60 mpg.

Due to my failing health, though, I gave up all types of motorcycle riding a few years ago. My bones have become brittle, and I find that I bruise a lot easier than I used to.

I do not know how much money I am saving by giving up motorcycle riding. Roadracing was a very expensive hobby. Tires were more than $100 each. Crashing a motorcycle could cost in the thousands. I blew up the top end of my old RD-400, shown in the top pictures, a few times. Each blow up necessitated a complete rebuild of the engine. For those who care, I also roadraced a GSXR-750 at Sears Point and Willow Springs in the mid 80s.

Dirt-bike trips were not all that expensive. The cost was similar to a regular camping trip, but the wear and tear on my body could be pretty high.

So at this point in my life, I have to say, “Adios motorcycles. It’s been fun, but also dangerous and expensive.”

Have you had to give up a hobby due to cost or your age/health?

Paid Research Studies and Focus Groups

focus-groupI was contacted last July by a person who works for a research and focus group firm. They have an office near where we live. Her email said,

I’m emailing you because I’d like to invite you to join our participant database to be notified of future paid research studies and focus groups. We pay $75 per hour for folks to come to our office and provide feedback on upcoming products and concepts. I send out emails to participants a few times a month notifying them of opportunities to take part in a paid study. (Most research studies are 60-90 minutes long.) Using our participants’ great feedback, we help companies create better user experiences for their products and interfaces.

We are always looking for participants of all ages, including children!

I forwarded the email to my wife, who filled out their online survey for herself and our son. So, guess who earned $75 for participating in a focus group this past weekend? Our 13 year old son. I have no idea of what he was asked to test. And since I assume he signed a non-disclosure agreement, I’m not even going to ask.

I have participated in paid research/focus groups in the past. In some, I was asked to accomplish certain tasks using new software. In others, I was asked what I thought of some piece of tech hardware. Eventually the requests for me to participate in these paid focus groups dried up. I am sure the focus group companies do not want to use participants who are trying to make a profession out of it.

Anyway, our son had a lot of fun, and is raring to do it again. We will have to see of the focus group company wants to use him again. If nothing else, he earned $75 for giving his opinion, and for a 13 year old, that is awesome!

Have you ever participated in paid research/focus groups?

Our Credit Cards

Fido-Amex-Rewards-CardWe try to never buy on credit, but that does not mean we don’t use credit cards. In fact we use credit cards for most all of our purchases—from small things like a deli sandwich, to big stuff, like tickets to Hawaii. We never carry a balance on any credit card and always pay them off every month.

We don’t spend money we don’t have, so we treat our credit cards like debit cards. We don’t purchase anything unless we already have the money in the bank. The banks call us “deadbeats,” but I call us “smart.”

There are several reasons we use credit cards over other forms of payment.

Convenience — It is easier to swipe a credit card through a card reader than it is to count out  money and check that you got the correct change. I also avoid having to carry any change around for the rest of the day.

Rewards — The card we use most often pays a 2% cash back reward on all purchases.

Protection — Many cards carry a merchandise warranty that is better than the one provided by the manufacturer. Many also provide liability and collision insurance if you rent a car with the card. Most importantly, you will not be held responsible for purchases on your credit card if it is used by an unauthorized person. If you lose your wallet that contained a large amount of cash, you are pretty much out of luck as far as getting the cash back. If you lose your wallet, and all it contained were credit cards, a simple call to each credit card company will get the current cards cancelled and replaced with new credit cards. You will not have to pay anything for this service.

The cards we use in order of most-to-least used, are

Fidelity American Express — Pays 2% cash back on all purchases. It’s especially nice to use at Costco since the only credit cards they accept are American Express. This is our favorite card to use for everyday purchases when we are out-and-about.

Amazon Chase Visa — Pays a 3% reward on all purchases made on amazon.com; pays a 2% reward at some gas stations, restaurants and drugstores; and pays 1% on all other purchases. We have a Prime membership with Amazon, so we find that we order more and more items from amazon.com. Signing up to get a 3% reward on all amazon.com purchases was a no-brainer. This has quickly become our second most favorite card.

Barclaycard Upromise Mastercard — Pays a 1% reward into a 529 account for our son’s college savings. This is the oldest card that my wife and I have jointly held. We got it shortly after we were married. We still sometimes use it for purchases at stores or websites that do not accept American Express.

Discover Card — Pays 1% reward for all purchases. My wife is the only owner of a Discover card in our family. It is the card she has had the longest, plus she says she uses it to buy presents for me.  :-)

Disney Mastercard — I have no idea of the rewards for this card. My wife got it in order to receive some sort of fabulous discount for a Disney cruise. Or was it for Disneyland tickets? I don’t remember.

What is your favorite credit card?

Never Cosign a Loan

never-cosignI have come to the conclusion that cosigned loans are only advantageous to the lender, possibly advantageous to the borrower, and never advantageous to the cosigner. If a potential borrower does not have good enough credit, or enough savings, collateral, or income to take out a loan, then they should not be trying to get the loan in the first place.

The AARP has a list of 7 loans that should not be cosigned. These are

  1. Private student loans
  2. Mortgages
  3. Business loans
  4. Car loans
  5. Construction loans
  6. Balloon loans
  7. Payday loans

MyFICO has a story of warning, titled, “Cosigning Student Loans – Learn From My Mistakes.” This was written by someone who cosigned on a $60k student loan with Sallie Mae. And of course, the person with the loan defaulted and left the cosigner holding the bag. They became the responsible party, and paid off the student loan. The author has 9 tips related to avoiding problems with loans.

  1. Do not cosign a student loan
  2. Loan only what you can lose
  3. Unpaid loans grow
  4. Sallie Mae does not care
  5. Don’t delay payments
  6. No legal recourse
  7. Would i do business with this person?
  8. Protect yourself
  9. People can be irresponsible

Suze Orman says, “Never cosign a loan. Once you have cosigned, you cannot get out of it–even on your deathbed.”

As the title of this article suggests, I have never, nor will I ever, cosign a loan. There are just too many possible problems for the cosigner. You could end up being on the hook for payment of the loan. Your credit score will be tied to this debt. Any late or missed payments will adversely affect your credit score. Bill collectors may come after you. And finally, other than guilt, you have no ability to make the person who took out the loan pay you back.

If my son were to come to me and ask me to cosign a loan for him, I would sit down with him and try to figure out why he needs the loan, and why does it require a cosigner. If it is that his credit score is bad, or non-existent, then he will need to wait on the loan and fix his credit score. If he were trying to get a student loan, I would tell him he will just have to find other financial means for college.

My wife and I have saved enough that our son should be able to get through his undergraduate studies at a state university with money left over. We have already told him how much we have saved, and how much we expect to have when he starts college, which will be approximately $250k. If he ends up needing more money than that, he will have to either get scholarships, work a part-time job, or some combination of the two.

Have you ever cosigned a loan?

USAF Band of the Golden West

US-Air_Force-of-the-West-program-coverWe just attended a free concert of the US Air Force Band of the Golden West. It was great fun.

The Band of the Golden West plays for free all around the western United States. Their spokesperson said they hold live performances from the West Coast to the Rockies, and from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. They have four engagements in California scheduled during the month of October.

The performance did not just incorporate John Philip Sousa, although they did play a few of his rousing pieces. Their music selections varied from “The Girl from Ipanema” played mostly on a flugelhorn, to the Irish tune “Danny Boy,” to an operatic waltz from La Boheme. Their two operatic singers finished their part with a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” accompanied by a ukelele.

It was great fun and again, it was free.

The USAF Band of the Golden West has a website and are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Of course there are other military bands serving other parts of the country, as well as around the world. A few of their web sites are

The United States Air Force Band

The United States Army Band

The United States Navy Band

The United States Marine Band

Note that most of these groups not only have concert bands, but also have sub-groups that hold their own events. The USAF Band of the Golden West includes a mobility band that “is an upbeat group of talented musicians bringing you rock, jazz and blues favorites, new and old.” They also have a Ceremonial Marching Band that “participates in official military ceremonies, military and civilian parades, and patriotic events for the general public.” They also have groups called the Golden West Winds, Travis Brass, the Commanders, the Blue Yonders, and the Wild West Winds.

Check the various websites to see if any military bands or ensembles will be performing in your area. You will not be disappointed.