Thursday, June 27, 2013

Seven Car Shopping Tips to Save You Money




    Recently, it became obvious that it was time to replace our 2001 Chevy minivan.  We had already replaced or repaired the windshield wipers four or five times and they were broken… again.  It was also time for the brakes to get some major work, the rust was so bad we were worried about structural things instead of just cosmetics, and to top it all off, the odometer was nearing 250,000 miles.  As much as we both hate it, Patti and I agreed that it was time to go car shopping.  Our experience made me remember a few simple rules that saved us a lot of money.

1)      Decide what you need - Before you start looking at cars, decide what you need first, and then decide what other options you might want, but can live without if necessary.  We decided that, we needed seating for at least seven (eight is better) and since we drive our van about 20,000 miles each year, we wanted the best fuel economy possible.  Our Chevy Venture got 27 miles per gallon on the highway when it was newer and still was getting a little over 20.  We hoped to get a new car with 27 mpg but could live with a little less if necessary.

2)      Decide how much you can afford - The time to figure this out is at home and not on the dealer’s lot while you are having an emotional reaction to plush, leather, heated seats or an awesome big block V-8.  Pick a number you (and your spouse) can live with and stick to it.  Dealers will always try to push you higher than you want to go.  Stick to your guns and be prepared to walk away.

3)      Do your homework – Before we left the house we went online.  If you don’t have an Internet connection at home, go to the library but research what’s out there.  You should know what you want, how much that car should cost, and which dealerships have the cars that you are looking for at a price that you can afford (or can haggle down to).  In our search we found that only two or three manufacturers make a van that met our requirements and only a few dealers who had them.

4)      New cars are for suckers and rich people – Okay, not everyone is going to agree, but for those of us who are trying to make every penny count, new cars just don’t make good sense.  A new car loses about $5000 in value the day you drive it off of the lot.  Is it worth five grand just so you can say it’s new?  Buy a car that’s a year or two old and the price can drop as much as 50 percent.  Because our Venture had almost 250,000 miles, buying a car with 50,000 on the odometer was no big deal and well worth the savings.

5)      Pay cash – What?   Many of you will think that this is impossible, but it isn’t.  Dave Ramsey explains this in more detail (I strongly recommend his class – Financial Peace University) but simply put, if you take out a 5 year car loan, you will pay for your car TWICE.  Once for the car, and once for the interest on the loan.  This is not a good deal.  If your loan is almost paid off, don’t buy another car.  Instead, keep on making payments… to yourself.  Write the same check every month and put it into a savings account.  You should be able to make your car last a few years longer.  Then, when your car is on its last legs, use the money in savings to pay for the car.    You might not reach this goal on your first try, but if you can get halfway there, you’ve saved a bunch of money and can make it all the way the next time.  If you haven’t done this, you can’t imagine how good it feels to own a car and owe… nothing.

6)      Don’t get emotionally attached – Decide what you want and then go look for it.  Don’t hang all your hopes on one deal.  If this deal doesn’t work out, another one will.  Someone has the car you want and can afford.  Keep looking until you find it.

7)      Be willing to walk away – I said this before but I cannot overstate this.  Car salesmen want you to fall in love with the car you are buying.  They will do anything in their power to make you think that this is THE ONE.  In the end, we finally found a 2010 Honda Odyssey that was close to our price.  The dealer tried to get us to a higher price several times.  They encouraged us to drive the car home for a while hoping that we would fall in love with it.  Once you fall in love, they gotcha.  Once you’re in love you will pay $500 or $1000 more than you planned.  We knew how much we could afford to spend and were willing to walk away no matter how much we liked the car.  We walked away… twice… and they finally came down to our price.

These are a few of the things that helped us, I hope they help you too.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We *Are* Making a Difference



    I have friends who like to say that the world would be better off without the church.  Today, 2,400,000 Africans would disagree with them.  If it had not been for the United Methodist Church (and her partners) many of those 2.4 million people, most of them children…

…would be dead.

    In 2010, children in sub-Saharan Africa were dying from malaria at a rate of one every 30 seconds.  Today that rate has dropped to one every 60 seconds.  The difference?  Our church’s campaign to eliminate malaria.  In 2008, we had “Nothing but Nets” which partnered with the NBA as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Then in 2010 this effort became “Imagine No Malaria.”  Imagine No Malaria still has the support of the Gates Foundation but also the World Health Organization, The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the United Nations Foundation.  Since 2008, The United Methodist Church has raised $40 million dollars toward our goal of $75 million.  Together, we have distributed 1.2 million insecticide treated bed nets and trained 5400 community health workers to distribute bed nets, train families in their use, and track usage rates.  The results are obvious.  In the last three years we have reduced the childhood death rate (from malaria) by half.

    Why us?  Why is the church important if the NBA, Bill Gates, the UN, and these other big names are already involved?  Is it just because eleven million United Methodists can raise money?  That is undeniably a part of it, but helping the poor has been a part of our United Methodist DNA from the very beginning.  For 200 years we have built and maintained hospitals and schools all across the continent of Africa.  When this project was conceived, everyone knew that while Americans can often be generous, and some are great at publicity, someone had to be the “boots on the ground.”  United Methodists were already there, all across the continent of Africa.  Over two centuries we have built relationships with governments, leaders and decision makers in many of those nations and we established a reputation as being genuinely interested in the welfare of their people, as well as trustworthy.

    Of course, we can’t rest yet.  The job isn’t done.  We haven’t reached our goals and one child every sixty seconds is still way too many.  The goal of Imagine No Malaria is the total elimination and eradication of malaria from the face of the earth.  That’s a long way off, but we’re headed in the right direction.

    I don’t pretend that United Methodists have a monopoly on compassion.  Clearly our story is just one of many.  Imagine No Malaria is just one way, that one church, is making a difference.  And so, to all those who think we would be better off without the church, I say this:

The people of Africa would like to disagree with you…

…because today their children are not dead.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Sexual Predators: The Hunters and the Hunted



    I suppose it isn’t news that there are sexual predators on the Internet.  Most of us know that we live in a dangerous world and we do our best to protect our children from the worst of it.  I am an engineer and have a natural curiosity about technology.  As a result, I’m pretty comfortable, and good at, computer stuff.  Our computers at home have a firewall between the world and our little local network, another firewall on each computer, everything is password protected, we have anti-virus and anti-spam programs, and we have a fairly effective parental control program that further limits the ability of our children to roam the dark and dangerous neighborhoods of the Internet.  I thought we were doing pretty well… until Saturday.

    On Saturday my wife and I attended a seminar and listened to Detective Bobby Grizzard (pronounced like ‘lizard’ except with a ‘g’) from the Massillon Police Department.  Detective Grizzard knows more about the dangers of the Internet than your average person.  Why?  Because for five years, Detective Grizzard,  who is six-foot something and who is built more like a linebacker than an office jockey, has been “undercover” as a teenage girl pursuing online predators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. 

    One of the first things that Detective Grizzard told us, was that before the end of the day, as a demonstration, he would go online and engage a predator in conversation, and, if possible, would get that person to call us.  For the next several hours we learned about privacy settings, which I knew pretty well, but also about cell phone apps and devices that could give my children a shortcut around our firewalls, security settings, and parental controls.  I learned about smartphone apps with built-in virus hacks that can force your phone’s camera on so that a predator can watch and listen to what is happening in your home.  I did not know all of this and, with three teens in our home, I realized that I still have a few things to learn.

    At the end of his talk, Det. Grizzard did just as he had promised, but the demonstration was more than I expected.  He went online and within seconds had engaged several predators in conversation (posing as 15 year old girl).  In less than ten minutes he was “chatting” with ten or more of them and more were added every few minutes.  In ten more minutes he had two of these begging for his (her) phone number to call and talk live.  One of the women from the seminar volunteered to be the voice of the girl (at work, Det. Grizzard had software that changes his voice) and spoke with the man for a few minutes.  I couldn’t hear everything that he said over the speakerphone, but it was obvious from the looks of shock on the faces of some of the women in the room that the man wasn’t talking about the weather.

    When Det. Grizzard finally picked up the phone the predator immediately hung up.  It didn’t matter.  The phone number that he had called passed through the police department before being routed to our seminar.  The police department had already captured the name, address and phone number of the man before he had said his first word.

    I have always been active in maintaining the security of my children at home and on the Internet.  I thought I was doing pretty well, but I found that I have more work to do.  I always knew that there were people out there who wanted to victimize my children, but I discovered that there are more of them than I imagined.  There is new technology coming out every day.  Much of it is good, but there is some really evil stuff out there as well.

    I took two things home with me Saturday.  One, there is evil in the world that is smarter, sneakier, craftier and more persistent than we give it credit for.  Predators are cruising the Internet in search of victims.  As parents in the twenty-first century, we must me more vigilant than ever before and we must educate ourselves in order to keep our kids from becoming victims.  Two, I thank God every day for people like Detective Grizzard who go to work every day and spend time hunting for, and chatting with the vile, loathsome, scum that prey on children.  Because of men and women like Detective Bobby Grizzard all of our children are safer and we can all sleep a little better.  Thanks.

Monday, June 3, 2013

No, Mr. Oswalt, We Are Not All Good



    After the bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon, Patton Oswalt (from television sitcom the King of Queens) wrote a Facebook post that was quickly recopied and reposted around the world.  He said,

 “The good outnumber you, and we always will.” 

    This is a wonderful sentiment because Oswalt has already noticed that many people were running toward the explosion and not away from it.  People were not afraid as much as they were motivated to help those who had been hurt.  Finding this spirit and attitude in the American people is noteworthy and worthwhile.  I’m proud that we are not easily intimidated.  But after thinking about this, I realized that there was something bothering me.  Over time, I realized that ‘something’ was this: The good may outnumber the bad, but evil is never as far away as we would hope.

    I don’t mean to say that every human being is evil, but most of us are not as good as we like to imagine ourselves.  As hundreds of law enforcement officers were hunting down the bomber who was hiding in a boat stored in someone’s back yard, Patton Oswalt declares that most of us are good.  But are we?  After the bomber’s photograph had been discovered on surveillance tapes and distributed all around the world, what if he had been discovered sitting in a neighborhood bar or in some other public place?  I don’t mean, what would happen if the police discovered him, I mean, what would have happened if you or I were sitting at our neighborhood watering hole watching television and realized that the guy sitting next to us was the bomber we just saw on the news?

    Today, more than a month after the bombing, the chances are good that we would detain him until the police could arrive.  However, if he had been discovered in a public place the day after the bombing, it may well have been to coroner that came to get him instead of the police.

    Last month when Amanda Berry and the other girls were discovered in Cleveland, their rescuer, Charles Ramsey said something like, ‘It’s a good thing I didn’t know what he was doing next door or I would have gone over there with a baseball bat and it would be me the police were taking to jail.’

    I am a teacher of mercy, grace and forgiveness but if someone were to rape or murder a member of my family, they would probably be safer with the police.  That wouldn’t be the most Christian reaction, but I’m not sure how well I could control myself under those circumstances.

    Don’t get me wrong.  I’m just as inspired as you are by police, firefighters and others who run toward danger instead of away from it.  I’m glad that there are good people in the world who will rush to help a neighbor and that we come together as communities to help one another.

All I’m saying is this: We are not all good. 

There is darkness inside every one of us.

More often than not, the distance between good and evil is not nearly as great as we think.


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