It sounds a little silly to build a miles-wide arrangement of islands, made entirely of sand, in the approximate shape of the Earth (as seen in the picture). It sounds even stranger when the developer encourages the prospective owners of the islands to "terraform" them as they see fit; to move the sand around to create harbors and coves, while an accompanying digital representation shows 50 years of mature vegetation sprout up like mold on bread.

But it's all too real for Dubai World, the company who's now staring $26 billion worth of debt in the face after a global economic downturn. Who knew that all that sand could just wash back into the ocean?

Speaking of epic development failures, you can't forget the South China Mall. At 7-million-square-feet of retail space, the mall--meant to house more than 1,500 tenants--has fewer than a dozen, even though it opened in 2005. It's truly a creepy place: in a documentary hosted on the PBS website, you see workers who are endlessly cleaning canals meant to ferry visitors from one place to the next, employees standing in front of an entrance that's never used, and a food vendor with his head resting on an open book, fast asleep. It's not quite the "eruptive vent of wealth" that the mall claims itself to be.

Some failures hit closer to homes, both in a developmental and geographic sense. Take this unfortunate development in California, which left the city with unfinished neighborhoods and families whose down payments disappeared when the developer couldn't complete the homes. Nationwide the vacancy rate for homes is still at 11.1%--despite the fact that the median sale price of homes is about $178,000 for the third quarter of 2009 compared to $221,000 for 2006 (which you would think would mean more buyers).

It seems that failures of developing too much, too quick can not only happen on the grandest of scales, but on a personal and sometimes painful level as well.

Last night, President Obama said that the U.S. will be sending 30,000 new troops to fight in Afghanistan. From a financial perspective, this will add an estimated $30 billion in costs, according to roughly the same amount the government bailed GM out with ( In light of that, I decided that today's stat blog will break down the cost and size of the wars being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan in October 2001 ( and in Iraq in March 2003 ( U.S. troops are slated to begin pulling out of Afghanistan in summer 2011 ( and all U.S. troops in Iraq are to be pulled out by Dec. 31, 2011 (
  • U.S. military personnel total more than 2.6 million ( The number of troops in Iraq at one time peaked at 160,000, according to President Obama, and with the additional 30,000 troops, Afghanistan will have nearly 100,000 troops at the height of the surge (
  • $501,031,750,000 in total expenditures were racked up by the Department of Defense in 2008. Of this, payroll totaled $146,780,817,000, contracts totaled $349,557,369,000, and grants were $4,693,564,000
  • Lockheed Martin received a total of $28,316,370,000 (the highest amount) in contracts with the Dept. of Defense in 2008, according to the Department of Defense.
  • 906 troops have died in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and 4,345 in Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq).   

U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq have been an everyday reality for the last eight years. Now you know the scope of involvement and the costs. / CC BY 2.0

Budgeting is to finance as jump shots are to basketball--foundational and ubiquitous. We have an entire budgeting section at However, most budgeting content focuses only on the personal side. That leaves out the whole federal aspect of budgeting.

Last week, I read this article from discussing the federal budget deficit. It made me curious to learn more about the Congressional Budget Office ( and the Office Of Management And Budget (, both of which were cited as main sources.

Basically the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assists the Congress in budget decisions and the Office Of Management And Budget (OMB) assists the President. Together these two agencies help shape budgeting policy. Here's some more detail.


  • The official CBO mandate "is to provide the Congress with: Objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions on the wide array of programs coverd by the federal budget and the information and estimates required for the Congressional budget process"  (source).
  • The CBO received $45.3 million in 2009 funding to assess and oversee a total federal budget with $2.1 trillion in revenues (income) and $3.68 trillion in outlays (expenditures)--that leaves a federal deficit (shortfall) in 2009 of $1.59 trillion (source). The federal deficit represents 11.2% of total U.S. GDP--the highest rate since World War II (source).  
  • The CBO analyzes proposed legislation for budgeting and economic purposes. Recent analyses covers such topics as: Costs of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, a cost estimate of the health care bill passed by the House, and the implications of the Department of Defense's budget requests for 2010.


  • "OMB's predominant mission is to assist the President in overseeing the preparation of the federal budget and to supervise its administration in Executive Branch agencies" (source). It also evaluates the effectiveness of programs, policies, and procedures and prioritizes funding, among other tasks. 
  • For 2009, the estimated funding required for the OMB was $72 billion (source). The OMB utilizes the money to implement the presidential administration's policies. Click here for more info on the OMB's mission and structure.
  • OMB publications include: The president's budget for 2010, fact sheets on key issues, and historical tables for budget comparison.

While you still might not understand how the total federal debt has grown to $12 trillion (source), at least you'll know where to look for explanations and cost breakdowns. / CC BY-SA 2.0

This time of year is all about tradition. Traditionally, almost everyone eats turkey. Many people go shopping. We even watch the same events. Here's the breakdown by the numbers:

  • $3.8 billion in receipts is expected for turkey farmers in 2009.
  • 273 million turkeys were expected to be raised in the U.S. in 2009.
  • 41 billion pounds of potatoes are consumed each year.
  • This year is the 83rd Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Five high school bands will perform, 16 balloons will float, and 21 kinds of clowns will try not to scare people.
  • 134 million shoppers are expected to show up for Black Friday shopping.
  • There will be three NFL games aired (the Detroit Lions have played a game on Thanksgiving 70 times--the first in 1934).

Have fun this Thanksgiving weekend! Enjoy your traditions, make some new ones, and try not to overstuff yourself. :)



By Jens Odegaard on November 23rd, 2009 • Black Friday, Budgeting, Deal, Sale

This week culminates in Black Friday--the day when Americans wake up at the crack of dawn and work themselves into a frothy retail frenzy because of great deals. A quick word of advice: it's not a deal if you don't need the product or can't afford it. Buying a "deal" on a credit card isn't worth it if you don't pay off the balance before interest accrues.

But if you legitimately need an item and want to save some money, Black Friday can pay off with cheap stuff everywhere you look. Here are a few Black Friday resources:

  • this site aggregates Black Friday deal lists and coupons from major retailers nationwide.
  • check out a list of Black Friday apps to keep you in the deal-know everywhere you go.
  • my favorite website is chock full of Black Friday deals. I also took advantage of's magazine subscription center and saved cash on my favorite  reading materials.
  • here's a huge list of Black Friday video game deals.

Before heading out the door--or logging on to your computer--this Friday, read this article from to avoid getting misled by Black Friday ads. Also, make a budgeting decision before spending your money. If we learn nothing else from our current economic downturn, it's that now is the time to actually start living within--or even below--our means. Black Friday is only a good deal if you're not breaking your budget. / CC BY 2.0

The economy sucks. It's tough to keep the job you have, let alone find a new one. And if it seems that college is getting more expensive to boot, you'd be right. But who knew that it might have anything to do with prisons?

First, the nationwide scene: median tuition and fees for undergraduates has risen from $2,400 in 2000 to $3,700 in 2008. As if that wasn't bad enough, the average price of textbooks topped $900 a year in 2008, and is growing at about 6% per annum.

So while news that the University of California Board Of Regents approved a 32% increase in undergraduate tuition isn't a big surprise, it's obviously a huge burden for those who are already struggling to get by. Their parents had it a lot easier: the average cost of attending one year school at a public university in the state has gone from $685 in 1979 to a  projected $10,000+ with the proposed increase for 2010.

The worst of it: California faces a $21.5 billion deficit over the next year and a half.

So how can they make up the difference? One answer might lie in how their budget it prioritized. According to the Associated Press, California spends more on its 167,000 prisoners than it does on the 226,000 students in its 10-campus University of California system. The $10.8 billion budget for corrections has also increased four times over in the last 30 years. The state took notice: they recently submitted a plan to cut their prison population by 44,000.

The lesson here is elementary: when there's an overall budget shortage, you need to make careful cuts and thoughtfully re-evaluate how much money will be spent in which areas. But if you get sloppy, never fear! You could always sell your unwanted livestock to make up the difference.

picture 1: / CC BY 2.0

15.7 million people are unemployed in the United States, as of October of this year. It is sad to say that the number of unemployed is now nearly double the population of New York City. The rate rose to 10.2% in the past month and is at its highest since April 1983. The Labor Department, using a survey of company payrolls, said the economy also dropped 190,000 jobs. To make matters worse the survey of companies doesn't count the self-employed and undercounts employees of small businesses, according to Visit to see exactly what the unemployment situation looks like for people like you.

It's nerve racking to think of the "wonderful job market" that is awaiting those of us who are preparing to graduate college in the next year.

Enough about the saddened state of our economy. Let's be proactive in our thinking on this less than desirable situation.

After reading an article from about job hunting in a tight market, I was reminded that no matter what state the job market is in there will always be reasons why people leave their current jobs: retirement, births, relocations and unexpected emergencies to name a few. The biggest thing to expect is more competition.

But you have options.

Be aggressive in the hunt. You need to put yourself out there and get noticed by employers. Brush up on your résumé, interview skills and networking. Especially connect with other professionals: if you mention to them you are looking for a new job they'll keep you in mind if they run across something in the future. Remember to look for jobs everywhere, whether that be the classified ads or by inquiring within businesses.

School could be a great idea in times like this. Now is the time to rev up your education if you are questioning your career path or still looking for one. Hit the books and gain valuable knowledge that will make you indispensible when graduation rolls around years later. Already have a degree? Won't hurt you to have another, but consider if it's something you really want to do and if it's beneficial to your future and pocketbook. Look around for scholarship opportunities. Really, they are hiding everywhere.

Think about applying for an internship. It most likely will be unpaid, but what better way to put yourself in a position to gain the framework to further your future career? Plus you gain valuable connections in the work force.

With that I let you go with a hopeful and more positive look on such a daunting statistic.

Maybe it speaks more to the company I keep, but I don’t know anyone who would claim to be a financial wiz. But it appears that for most of us having even adequate financial knowledge is something of a stretch. Yahoo! News has gone as far to say, “When it comes to financial matters, Americans are functionally illiterate.” Boom! Roasted!

This financial ignorance crosses all age boundaries, highlighted by our ever-decreasing personal savings rate. A meager 11% in 1981, this rate is nearly 0% today.

So what can be done about this problem… besides shamelessly plugging the fun, easy to understand financial information on

In all seriousness, increasing your financial knowledge just takes a little discipline. Start by really considering every purchase you make and, as boring as it may be, read the fine print on any credit applications you might consider. Part of what got us into the current financial crisis was people taking out loans they assumed they could afford, only to find out later that there were terms and conditions that made that impossible.

Take it from me, most financial contracts may as well be written in Klingon. If you come across any confusing financial terms, my favorite economic jargon translator is And when trying to understand complicated economic concepts, I like to go to

The bar has been set low, but that’s no reason to avoid becoming well versed in financial topics. Keep checking back in at the brass|BLOG. If there are any financial topics you feel we haven’t addressed, leave a comment below.


Those familiar with our print edition know that each issue features a Ridiculous detailing overpriced merchandise or outrageous celebrity behavior--oftentimes, both. Well today I ran across Basically you (or more likely, someone who is actually rich) pay Fame Route to be treated like a king, queen or something equally royal. As the website states, "For our members, plush amenities are not necessarily extravagances, but often essential for efficiency and privacy."

(Insert sarcasm) I for one, work much more efficiently when being pampered with plush amenities in a non-extravagent and essential way. 

Fame Route charges a $550 non-refundable application fee (that has to hurt if you get turned down). Once accepted as a Fame Route member, $1,000 monthly membership fees follow. From there, the costs and service are up to you. Fame Route offers three services, which are each charged on a pay-as-you-go system.

  • Concierge 360. Concierge 360 gives you a team of Service Specialists that arrange and implement "every detail of your travel experience with accuracy and perfection." This is done with services such as: In-flight catering, helicopter pickups, luxury hotel accomodations, and exclusive social events. Prices for Concierge 360 aren't listed.
  • Chartered jets. Chartered jets will shuttle you around in private or semi-private opulence. This service starts at $1,350 for turbo props and ranges up to $8,000 for heavy jets or "Call For Price" for an airliner.
  • Motorsports. This service hooks you up with whatever sick whip you feel like hitting the town in. Prices aren't listed, but a Bentley can't be cheap.      

Fame Route isn't the bad guy. They wouldn't exist if people didn't want to pay for a make-me-feel-special club. There's nothing wrong with being rich, but what you do with your money says a lot about who you really are as a human being. 

I think we can do better than throwing money away to stroke our own egos. That goes whether we're rich enough to afford Fame Route or--regardless of income--spend all of our expendable  cash on ourselves.

Here's one idea to give a little to help someone else. A record 1 billion people are now malnourished worldwide--read the details at For only $35 a month, World Vision allows you to provide a child with nutritious food, clean water, health care and education. For $15 a month, UNICEF can provide 20 packets of highly nutritious biscuits to starving kids. There are plenty of other opportunities out there. 

I'm not trying to be preachy, but I think we can all lend a helping hand with a little spare cash. Or go the extra mile and volunteer some of your time and energy. I guarantee that helping others will change your life. / CC BY 2.0

Today is Veterans Day. To clear up a common misconception, veterans aren't just military members who have participated in combat. "The term veteran means a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable."

In other words, a veteran is anyone who served in the military and didn't get kicked out. If you know someone who fits that description, they deserve a sincere "thank you."

Of the current 23.2 million veterans in the U.S, 1.9 million are younger than 35, according to This is our generation. Veterans Day isn't just for the old folks.  

Here are some more veteran statistics--courtesy of add some numerical context:

  • 3 million vets are business owners.
  • 3.4 million vets are disabled because of a service-related injury.
  • $36,779 is the median annual salary of veterans.
  • $84.4 billion was spent by the federal government on veterans benefits programs in 2008. 

We should take a little time out of our day to show some gratitude to the veterans around us. They took time out of their lives to serve our country. I'll be calling up a couple of my friends who served in Iraq with the Marines. / CC BY 2.0