On Monday, the annual U.S. budget deficit topped (shouldn't we say bottomed?) "$1 trillion for the first time ever." But don't worry, by October (the end of the budget year) the deficit will be an even more astounding $1.84 trillion. According to cbo.gov, the reasons for this record deficit include: declining income and payroll taxes and increasing government payouts related to the economic crisis and unemployment benefits. Funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also play a major role.

Over the 233-year history of the U.S., total debt has risen to $11.5 trillion. Which means that in just one year, debt will increase by about 1/6th of the total of the previous 233 years. That's a lot of cash. If you're wondering what the government's plan is, here's the full 142-page report. Let me know when you're done reading it. 

Basically, the deficit isn't going to get smaller anytime soon. Next year's is projected to be $1.26 trillion and from 2010 - 2019 another $7.1 trillion in deficit will be added. 

These numbers are so brobdingnagian that it's hard to put them into perspective. But here's a try. Right now, the federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour.  To equal the projected deficit of $1.84 trillion for this year, you would have to work 280,916,003,100 hours. Wait that doesn't help at all. Here's another shot: it would take 1.84 billion millipedes to make 1.84 trillion millipede legs. Still too esoteric? $1.84 trillion is an absolute crap-ton of money. So just imagine an enormous, steaming pile of poo and you'll have the right idea.

If you're wondering how the heck we ended up in such a fecal financial mess, read this from news.yahoo.com. To solve the problem, I think we should just borrow some $100 trillion dollar bills from Zimbabwe. Too bad they're not worth anything.

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It seems our future has just gotten a little farther away.

A recent New York Times article describes how Japanese robots are weathering the current economic downturn, and the news isn’t good. Yaskawa, Japan’s largest manufacturer of robots, reported a two-thirds drop in profit for the year ending March 20; and according to the Japan Robot Association, shipments of industrial robots fell by 59% in the first quarter of ’09.

This is a big deal for a nation where 32 out of every 1,000 manufacturing employees are robots.

So what does this mean for the likes of Tmsuk's Roborior? A home guarding robot meant to be more of an alert mechanism than a deterrent, its $2,600 price tag has meant the end of its production in a sour economy.  See a video of it in action here.

And what about the HRP-4C, a humanoid robot built by the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology? A five-foot “female” capable of awkward movement and unconvincing facial expressions (see it here), its $200,000 price tag may overshadow its open-sourced code that allows people to program fun moves for the robot to perform.

So we may have to wait a while longer before we’re living in a post-post-modern floating Jetsons house. But fear not! You can still have your ramen prepared for you by a robot chef. So much for finding hair in your food.

 

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go to the local Farmers Market, which is held in Corvallis every Wednesday and Saturday. Not only are most markets full of quirky and unique vendors, but they are also chock full of fresh veggies and locally produced products. And I must confess, I love to take advantage of the tasty free samples that are offered to passers-by.

Last weekend I bought some heavenly blackberry honey, which was harvested the day before I bought it.

What's even more awesome about Farmers Markets, however, is that they take food stamps! So for thrifty college students such as myself, this makes going to the market even more exciting. Food stamps can even be used to buy food bearing plants (such as tomoto plants, eggplant plants, hot pepper plants, you name it), which is great news because now I can start my own garden! Too tight on cash to afford gardening supplies? I recycled $10 worth of cans and bottles and bought a trowel shovel and some other basic tools.

To find out where and when your town's Farmers Market is open, check out localharvest.org. So if you are bored and not working this weekend, get your gluteus maximus off of the couch, turn off Man vs Wild (don't worry, Bear Grylls will still be eating something disgusting when you get back) and bike/walk/carpool to your local market. Not only will you be doing something outside, but you'll also  support your local economy (which we all know could use as much help as it can get).

 

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Part of growing up is learning to confront the ugly, ugly truths in life. While you may subscribe to some form of the “money is no object” policy today, eventually you’ll have to confront your looming pile of soul-crushing debt.

Don’t worry, this can be fun!

The Federal Reserve has a fancy Credit Card Repayment Calculator that can show you how long it will take to pay down your credit card if you only make the minimum payment each month. All you need is your balance and the interest rate.

Seeing how long it takes to pay off these sums, as well as how much interest you’ll have to pay over that time, is a great motivator for paying off as much debt as you can afford, as soon as you can.

Even if you have a balance as low as $1,000 with 20% APR, and you only make the estimated initial minimum payment of $20 per month, it will take 9 years to pay off. On top of this, you’ll be charged $1,169 in interest over this period.

The site isn’t all doom and gloom. It offers suggestions on how you can pay the balance off sooner. Input either a specific number of years in which you want to pay off the balance or an amount you can pay every month.

Either way, the sooner you start to get out of debt, the better.

--Cody

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Books took thousands of years to develop, but e-books seem to be hitting the mainstream after only a few decades.

E-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle ($299), the Sony Reader ($279.99) or the  COOL-ER ($249), after struggling to gain an audience in the 1990s, are finally going mainstream. Total e-book sales crested $25 million in the first quarter of 2009, up more than 50% from the quarter before.

Companies tout their devices as being more versatile and less expensive per copy than printed products. But is an e-book reader a smart investment?

The cost of purchasing an e-book-–depending on whose device you use-–generally ranges between $5 and $15 for new releases. Considering most printed hardbacks retail for around $20 to $30, you would have to buy about 20 e-books to make up for the average purchase price of the reader device.

But there are other factors to consider. An e-book reader can carry a ridiculous number of e-books, but it can’t be used to straighten a table’s wobbly leg.

So do your homework--here you can find reviews for the Kindle, Reader and COOL-ER--then determine whether or not an e-book reader may be right for you.  Just don’t be disappointed if you can’t read your favorite novel because the batteries ran out, or if you find yourself out $300 because your nephew used your gadget as a frisbee. On the bright side, it’s now okay to ask authors to autograph your e-book reader for you. Crazy.

 

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Do you have a nine-year-old computer hanging out in your closet? How about a regular Nintendo that, no matter how many times you try to clean it out, just blinks on and off when you power it up?

You’re not alone. According to EPA estimates, over 99 million television sets are sitting unused in people’s homes. A good portion of those are probably due to the fact that nobody quite knows what to do with them. It’s tough when something is so outdated that you can’t use it, can’t sell it, and can’t even give it away. And if you throw it out with the garbage, its heavy metals and other toxins are sure to leach into the surrounding soil and water.

Currently, the U.S. does a fair amount of exporting of its e-waste to other nations, such as India. This video by Greenpeace talks about where e-waste ends up (check out the interactive feature with the video at greenpeace.org).

Despite the fact that this is against an international treaty signed by the United States (the Basel Convention), it happens anyway because there hasn’t been much pressure to find ways to deal with e-waste ourselves, until recently.

Since 2004, 18 states have passed laws that hold manufacturers responsible for the recycling of their products. This is all well and good, but the U.S. is still exporting defunct electronics to other nations.

Between 1997 and 2005, the average lifespan of computers dropped from six years to just two. And with a greater number of Americans owning computers–-77 per 100 people–-the problem of e-waste is only going to become more important to tackle. Hopefully, requiring manufacturers to be responsible for recycling their own products will force them to look at the cost of poorly-made devices, and, if the price of recycling is high enough, may actually lead them to conclude that it’s in their best interest to build solid electronics and provide user support for a longer period of time than we enjoy now, and to make these electronic devices easier and safer to recycle. With that, we might see a benefit to the consumer, the manufacturer, and the planet at the same time.

 

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If you've grown up in the U.S, no doubt you have come to associate the 4th of July with tasty grilled treats. I can't think of a better way to celebrate our nation's independence from Great Britain than to watch fireworks and gorge on juicy and crispy hot dogs, mouth-watering hamburgers, and other delicious morsels (veggies included). It's no surprise that Independence Day is the number one grilling holiday in the U.S. In fact, 88% of American grill owners choose to cook outside on this holiday (according to the International Weber GrillWatch Survey).

What is interesting, is that BBQ lovers across the world also choose their countries' national holidays as their top days for grilling. People from Canada to Denmark raise their spatulas in salute to holidays such as Canada Day (when 73% of Canadian grillers choose to cook outside), Australia Day (65%), Bastille Day in France (54%) and Mid-summer's Eve in Norway and Sweden (81% of Norwegians, 75% of Swedes).

Coincidentally, these dates also happen to fall between June and July (except for Australia Day, which is celebrated on January 26th during the southern hemisphere summer). I suppose people will use any excuse to grill when it is nice outside, and what better excuse than a holiday?

If you're looking for some unique things to throw on the grill this Saturday, check out these recipes for kabobs and salmon rosemary burgers. For the vegetarians out there, try grilling some zucchini or this recipe for portobello mushroom burgers. Yum!

You will find me in Brookings, OR this 4th of July, a small town on the Oregon coast where my family has gone almost every year for Independence Day since I was born. I usually leave the grilling to my dad (the king of the grill,) but maybe this year I'll spice things up and throw on a burger or two.

Happy grilling!

 

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In these tough times, we are all looking at ways to save. For me, that means riding my bike wherever and whenever I can. Bicycles are a legitimate part of the nation's transporation mix, and more and more Americans are choosing to ride their bike to work. True, bikes come with some maintenance costs, but frankly paying $20 to $30 for a new bike tires or a bike seat every now and then is pocket change compared to the maintenance of owning a car.

So how big is the bike industry? And how much dough are you really saving if you ride a bike instead of drive a car? Check it out:

 

 

  • In 2008, the U.S bicycle industry was worth $6 billion.
  • 18.5 million bicycles were sold in the U.S in 2008.
  • 44.7 million Americans age seven and older were estimated to have ridden a bicycle six times or more in 2008.
  • On a round-trip commute of 10 miles, bicyclists save roughly $10 daily and spare the air 10 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. They also burn around 360 calories!
  • Based on gas prices of about $4/gallon, the average annual direct cost of owning, operating, and driving a passenger car roughly 15,000 miles is nearly $14,000. It costs about $300 a year to maintain a bike on average.

As Queen once said, "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like." Maybe if we all heeded these words, we'd become famous rock stars. Ok, maybe not, but at least we can save money and stay healthy!

 

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When my cell phone contract came up for renewal, I decided to ditch my old phone for one that had everything I could want: Touch screen, applications to keep track of pro sports teams (Blazers!), a decent browser… I'm worth it, right?

With a bit of research I found a phone my carrier had available that was a solid pick. So I bought it, along with a new service plan to support the extra features that made it so enticing.

My bill went from $40 to $75 a month, and at some point I decided to purchase a custom ringtone and a couple of songs.

After a few months, my checking account was getting fried. I didn’t budget for my phone to cost twice as much as it used to, and I knew I had to get that monthly cost down. If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few ways to bail yourself out:

1) Beg. Seriously. Call up your carrier and give them the whole sob story about how your dog died, your wife up and left, and your cell phone is too expensive. Don't embellish the truth, but there's no reason to leave anything out, either. Stay polite, and frame it in such a way that the'll know you want to continue giving them money every month… just not as much.
2) Cut back on some of the goodies. If you can go without those extra 300 minutes you don’t use and you don’t need to check your email from your phone, consider dropping these services. They can weigh down an otherwise healthy phone bill.
3) Stop buying stuff! I understand now that I didn’t need that wickedsick Jo Bros. ringtone--those one- to three-dollar charges can really add up.
4) Drop names. Many service providers provide discounts for employees of certain companies, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask. You can also type “employer discounts *carrier*” into your search engine for more results.
5) Crank the DeLorean to 88mph and go back to the… past. You did keep your old phone, right?  (If you didn't, you hopefully donated it to a worthy cause.) How about the box and all the accessories for your new one? Most service providers will allow you to drop back to your old plan - so long as you have a phone to accommodate it – and you can sell your new/old phone online, sometimes at a profit.

While I may have lost a few hundred bucks while overcome with new phone fever, I am thankful that it won't be sticking around for the next two years.

 

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By Lauren Sigel on June 26th, 2009 • Clothes, Life, Money

Here in Oregon, June is the transition month between rainy spring to glorious summer. If your closet looks anything like mine, it is a mess of winter sweaters, summer t-shirts, and old long sleeved shirts. So, the question is: what should you do to conquer your seasonally confused wardrobe?

There are plenty of consignment shops who are in need of your old winter clothes, and they will pay cash for that sweater you accidentally shrunk last winter.

However, don't confuse consignment shops with thrift stores. With thrift stores, the clothes you give are a donation and all profits end up going back to the thrift store or are donated to charity. Most thrift stores even offer a receipt to deduct the donation from your taxes. Consignment stores, on the other hand, split the profits with you. Keep in mind that most consigment stores won't accept merchandise unless it is in good condition. This is because the owners have to split their profits, and they want to get the highest possible price for their merchanise. For that reason, in-season clothes usually sell for more.

If you are looking for a good consignment store, Buffalo Exchange is a great place to start. It's a national used-clothing store that buys "quality" used clothes (sorry, no moth holes) and accessories in exchange for cash or for other clothing items in the store. To find other consignment stores in your area, check out yellowpages.com.

If you think your clothes aren't quite up to par, consider thrift stores such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and St. Vincent De Paul. Their revenues fund job training and other services to prepare people for job success. They also take used household goods (furniture, silverware, etc.). Best of all, donations are tax deductable!

It's a win-win situation. Not only do you clean out your closet, but you'll also earn cash or get a tax deduction at the same time! The only hard part will be figuring out how to sneak out that jacket your mom bought you last year without hurting her feelings...

 

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