Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's not a purse, it's a satchel! - Efficiencies of a ManBag

Too bad the belly is photobombing

Never Say You'll Never Have a Manbag

So, I finally knucked under and bought myself a MEC Carry All MG Shoulder Bag, primarily because I love to read. Recently I've been reading The Personal MBA.

The Personal MBA is a great book, by Josh Kaufman. The premise of the book is by reading, and studying business you can gain a great deal of business education without doing an MBA. I'll have more on the book later, but I was really tired of being on public transit, waiting for my wife at a store (or outside of a store) or waiting anywhere and being unable to read.

I also got tired of having bulging pockets from carrying around a cellphone, wallet, sunglasses case, and sometimes a digital camera. As any guy will admit, it's not comfortable carrying all this stuff around.

I went with Mountain Equipment Co-op since they make excellent products, and have a 100% satisfaction policy. I can return the product at any time, for a full refund. If I decide that a satchel is not for me, I can return it and get all my money back. Buying something you're not sure of, and returning it if you don't want it is completely legal and ethical. Buying something you know that you only need for a short time period, and returning it once you're done, is wrong.

Even only using this on weekends, over the last few weeks I've gained over 2 hours of reading. That's a real time gain. While I could do like everyone else and just burn up idle time using my phone, reading off a real book (or an e-reader) is much nicer, and now with a satchel, completely possible.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cover Your Assets - Covered Parking

Underground, and safe!

Go Deep

My wife and I went to the grocery store last weekend, and it being a high of 25 degrees Celsius (or 77 Fahrenheit), we decided to park underground. The decision was made that much easier, since I own a black vehicle, with a gray interior, without tinted windows, and without air conditioning. So, in short, I drive a black oven.

We parked underground, for the obvious reason that it would give the car a chance to cool before we, and our suitably protected groceries, got back in it.

It was interesting, that very few people parked in the underground, most parking out front. While I imagine people have safety concerns about darkly lit parking garages, this one is very well lit. It was also the middle of the day on a Sunday, so there was no risk of being the only non-criminal in the lot.

Why Park Outside?

Outside you are vulnerable to:
  1. Bird POOP (which can damage your paint almost immediately)
  2. Sun, which fades your interior, and is hard on the paint over time
  3. Sun, which heats your vehicle
  4. Unexpected rain
  5. Unexpected hail
  6. Unexpected Lightening
  7. Wind, and wind blown debris
  8. Unexpected meteorites
  9. Unexpected space junk
Image Courtesy of State Farm on Flickr 
While you may think the above is silly, as they say, bird poop does happen. Some of the others may seems less likely, but if US insurance company State Farm writes about space junk claims, then you know it's serious enough. Well, maybe not, but who knows.

So why not cover yourself, and always park in covered parking. Besides, for those of us with black cars, don't black cars look better in the shade?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons From Finance - Pay Yourself First... With Vegetables!

Food Displacement

Pay Yourself When/What?

One of my favourite concepts from personal finance, is the idea of "paying yourself first". There are numerous websites that explain this, from Investopedia to <OTHER>. I like the <OTHER> definition:
To pay yourself first means simply this: Before you pay your bills, before you buy groceries, before you do anything else, set aside a portion of your income to save. The first bill you pay each month should be to yourself. This habit, developed early, can help a person build tremendous wealth
Paying yourself first ensures that if you have a finite amount of money, that you meet your savings targets first, then you try to allocate what is leftover to everything else. This reduces the amount of discipline needed, and any need for a complicated budget plan. You have however much leftover after savings, and you'll find a way to make it work.

So Why is There A Picture of Some Vegetables?

What if paying yourself first, could be applied to food?

Think of it as your stomach has a finite amount of room before you feel full. By allocating some of that space for healthy, non-fattening, "no added sugar", low sodium food first, you are guaranteed to eat at least that much healthy food. After you've gotten your vegetables out of the way, you eat as you wish, but you'll have less room in your stomach for everything else. The vegetables will crowd out how much other food you can eat.


It's BBQ season. In Canada (and of course the USA), BBQ's are a great time for gettting together with friends and eating delicious BBQ'd food. Several weeks ago I went to a friend's bbq and ate:
  • 2x 1/4 pound cheeseburgers with buns
  • 1x large piece of salmon
  • uncountable numbers of chips, with a homemade dip with cheese, and salsa
  • 3x chicken quesadilla's
  • an ice cream sandwich
I'll admit, this is an obscene amount of food. All of it was completely delicious, but probably more than I should be eating. The ability to overeat at a BBQ is compounded by the amount of time you spend at one. That afternoon we were there for 4-5 hours. I enjoyed myself the whole time, and it was an excellent chance to catch up with friends, but it's hard to sit around for that long and not keep eating.

Fill Yourself First (with Vegetables)

Rather than relying on any sort of willpower, when I was invited to another BBQ last weekend, I resolved to do things differently.

Prior to going to the BBQ, I made the salad you see above and ate it. Getting to the BBQ took about 30 minutes, so it didn't feel as if I had just ate prior to arriving. Over the next happy 3 hours at the BBQ, I ate a fair amount, but nowhere near as much as at the last one. I had filled myself first, so there just wasn't as much room.

Eating a healthy, breakfast every morning is another example of filling yourself first. Breakfast can help reduce any unhealthy, rushed, fast food type lunch you may wind up eating.

So next time you're going to a ribfest, BBQ, or other potential binge eating session, why not fill yourself first and displace just a bit of the unhealthy food you're about to eat.

Monday, August 19, 2013

YES! I do wear black socks and shorts to the gym!

Fashion, is it Optimal?

Fashion, it's everything to some people, but is being fashionable always optimal?

I wear black cotton socks to work. 

Periodically, I do go to the gym to workout, in shorts and a t-shirt.

Now, take any preconceived ideas you may have about anything and answer this: does it make sense to remove one cotton sock and replace it with another different coloured cotton sock, then after 30-60 minutes remove and launder the 2nd sock? Think of it, that one white sock is only getting 30-60 minutes of wear per wash, what a waste.

No way! Think of the extra laundry you're needlessly generating.

So, be brave, be a hero for the environment, be optimal and wear your work socks with pride to the gym!

(Note: if you're single, this might be a bad idea and lead to a loss of potential mate options. If you're married, you should definitely do this, and repel any romantic advances towards you before they happen).

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Taxing Issue - 591 mL Water bottles?

Get your calculator out! It's tax time!

Going for a drive after work on a hot day, I decided to buy some water at a gas station. Usually, I'm not a fan of bottled water, but coming straight from a job site, and not wanting a soda, there was no choice.

Somehow at the cash register, my 591 mL bottle which was $1.70 became almost the same price as a 1L bottle at $1.99. The reason? Sales tax applied to the water bottle. The gas station attendant told me that for quantities under 1L there is sales tax.

Yes, in Canada they put tax on water.

You see "Food products sold for human consumption are not taxable. However, for [tax] purposes, food products are different from prepared foods, snack foods and soft drinks."

Obviously, everyone knows that water under 1L is a "snack food" while water above 1L is a "food product".

You may also be interested to know that "non-carbonated fruit drinks containing 25 per cent or more natural
fruit juice" and "tea, including fruit flavored and/or sweetened crystals, and canned and bottled iced tea" are "exempt food items" and not subject to tax.

I hope you agree with me that this is completely ridiculous, arbitrary and makes things more complicated for the consumer and merchant.

Well wait just a minute, the sales taxes in Ontario were changed from a provincial tax to a harmonized sales tax. For HST, there is no tax on water over 600 ml., since 599ml is obviously more of a snack water, rather than food water. Unfortunately I didn't keep my receipt, so shame on me, but a gas station attendant can be forgiven for not keeping up with this complexity.

But wait, it gets even more complicated, consider this from the Federal guideline for HST:

Mr. B goes to the grocery store and buys two 591 mL 
bottles of unflavoured and non-carbonated brand W water, 
which he takes from the cooler one at a time. The next day 
Mr. B goes to the store and buys a two-pack of the 591 mL 
size of the same brand of water, sealed together in a 
plastic wrap by the manufacturer. 

In this example, Mr. B’s purchase of two bottles of brand 
W water on the first day is taxable because they were not 
packaged together by the manufacturer. Even though the 
bottles were purchased at the same time, two or more 
single-serving-sized bottles of water must be packaged 
together by the manufacturer to be zero-rated. 

Mr. B’s purchase of the two-pack of water on the second 
day is zero-rated because the two single-serving-sized 
bottles of water were packaged together by the 

So a 2-pack of 591 ml water is tax free, but two singles aren't? And water with 7% fruit juice of any size is taxed since the fruit part is under 25%.

Of course, each non-HST provinces treats this slightly different. I've tried to wade through the details of what is tax-free by province below:

Alberta - 600ml and larger, smaller pack sizes face 5% federal tax
British Columbia - 600ml and larger face no tax, 5% federal tax applied to smaller pack sizes
Manitoba - 600ml and larger, 5% federal tax applied to smaller pack sizes
New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI - 600ml and larger, smaller pack sizes face full sales tax (13-14%)

Ontario - 600ml and larger, smaller pack sizes face full sales tax
Quebec - 600ml and larger, smaller pack sizes face full sales tax
Saskatchewan -  600ml and larger, 5% federal tax applied to smaller pack sizes
Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories - 600ml and larger, smaller pack sizes face 5% federal tax

So, make sure you practice proper tax planning with tax sheltered retirement investments, and 600+ ml bottles of water.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Make FindingOptimal, Optimal!

Improvement Ideas?

I've been publishing on FindingOptimal for about a month now, with 15 (not including this) published posts. This my first try at blogging, so thank you for bearing with me. The goal has to make a useful, fun, easy to read blog with real strategies for improvement.

I'm looking for your help with any suggested changes to the formatting, layout and content on the blog.

While the initial template I used was a good start, there are a few things I don't like about it and how some things are formatted. My ideas are below, but I'd love to hear from you.

1. Include a "popular in last month" as well as "popular all time" list of posts in side panel
2. Consider font colour changes for visited links
3. Add in an icon in the contacts section for following me on twitter, facebook, or email.
4. Consider changing the main section of the page, since the sidebars are so long, but the main section of the blog is very short.

Now that there is a start at some content, the top navigation bar that has "about" and "home" could use some more items on it. The tags and labels also need reviewing, to see about re-categorizing some posts.

Again, any constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

David G. McKenna

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Would you hire yourself, to be yourself? - Typing

2 Finger Typer

Would you hire someone like this to type for you?

What qualifications would you list to be you? I don’t just mean qualifications at work, what about qualifications needed for your personal life? What assortment of skills and traits would you look for to juggle all the different hats you wear as a husband, wife, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, friend, employee, owner and co-worker? Do you have all the traits and skills that you think you’d need if you were to hire someone to replace you in your life?

This post is the first to look at some of these traits and skills, specifically your typing skills for when you act as your own personal assistant.

Sadly, few of us have our own secretaries, even Director / Business Unit Manager / Plant Manager type people I’ve worked with don’t have their own secretaries.

Would you hire yourself to be your own typist?
How many emails a day to you send? At work? At home? Do a quick count, is it 100? Is it more?
How many documents do you type at work?

Are you unable to keep up when taking notes in a meeting or at school?

If you type like the guy above (with two fingers), would you hire that guy to do all your daily typing? No, of course not, then why do you “hire” yourself to type with two fingers? Even if you type better than someone with two fingers, can you touch type? Are you at 40, or 50 words per minute?

Learning to type even 10% faster could make a huge difference in how efficient you are professionally and personally. If you’re using two fingers, there’s probably a lot more room for improvement than 10%.

OK, I agree, I’m not qualified to type for myself, now what do I do?

There’s many different programs or techniques out there, but I've tried: . It’s free and decent, so why not give it a shot? This could make a real productivity difference, very quickly.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pay Your Bills Precisely - Credit Card Tipping at Restaurants


Businesses Don't Overpay Their Suppliers, Why Do You?

If you were running a business, and had to pay one of your suppliers would you ever round up? No, nobody would. You would pay your supplier what they were owed, what was agreed to, and what was fair. You would not round up, or let them keep the change.

Tipping With a Credit Card Lets You Be More Precise

When you pay with a credit card you can enter a precise tip amount, with cash, you are limited by the combination of change you receive and are carrying.

Consider my modest lunch purchase last week, the subtotal was $7.89. Let's consider the following scenario's:

  1. Pay with $10 cash, and let the server keep the change. This results in a 27% tip (based on the subtotal)
  2. Pay with $10 cash and get $2.10 in change (the penny has been abolished in Canada).
    1. Assume the change is a $2 coin, and a 10 cent coin. To maintain a 15% tip minimum, the tip would've been $2 resulting in a 25% tip
    2. Assume the change is a $1 coin, 4 quarters, and one 10 cent coin. To maintain a 15% tip minimum the tip would've been $1.35 resulting in a 17% tip. This would've required some math, and it's probable quickly looking at the change I might have left $1.50 or $1.60 instead.

While the service was good, it wasn't worthy of more than a 15% tip. 

Whether you think service is worth 15%, 20%, or higher, you should tip based on what you think the service is worth, not based on what combination of change you receive. Paying with a credit card helps ensure you can pay precisely how much you want.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Do Ladies Dig It? - Search Don't Sort - Laundry Vol2

No underwear, so don't zoom in looking for any

Cutlery Search Don't Sort Update

This post furthers our series in Be Like Gmail - Search Don't Sort. The original posting described saving time by dumping your dishwasher cutlery basket directly into the cutlery drawer. The idea is, instead of spending time sorting something, you don't sort at all and just search for individual items from the collection as needed.

There were some great comments (mostly on facebook) that brought out some disadvantages of this approach, some of the highlights:
  1. "Sorting is faster, especially if you need to grab multiples"
  2. Some commenters had dishwasher baskets with individual slots for cutlery, this presents the opportunity to pre-sort the cutlery in the dishwasher (since you have to place each individual item into a slot anyways) with no marginal effort. Pre-sorting allows you be sorted in the cutlery drawer with no marginal effort.
  3. "you are optimising the wrong thing! You should have one type of utensil only -- a spork! then sorting and searching are both O(1)
These are excellent points. There is also the matter of change management, and bringing various stakeholders into any change. Suffice to say, in my home my wife and I are no longer following the cutlery Gmail approach.

An Outrageous Comment

The craziest comment from a FindingOptimal reader was this one:
 I do this with my clothes...jeans, dress pants, tshirts, etc...all in one pile...saves a great deal of time. chicks dig it too

Isn't laundry another great candidate for search-don't-sort? It takes considerable time to arrange clothes in a dresser or hang them up. Many of us don't have stringent dress-codes at work, so a minor increase in wrinkles shouldn't cause major problems and, isn't floor space in your bedroom just wasted anyways?

FindingOptimal will research this approach and advise.

Update - 2013-08-12

Don't try this at home.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Solving your gas problem - Dollar Cost Averaging -

Gasoline - SuperNet? Or PlusNet? - Isn't French great?

Help, I have a gas problem!

Finally, something good to come out of personal finance! I'm talking about solving that embarrassing gas problem you have, where getting gas costs you money, lots of it. For other gas problems, you'll have to read elsewhere.

The principle behind dollar cost averaging (DCA) is prices move randomly up and down, making it impossible to tell if a 5 cent lower price today is a time to buy or will be beaten by a 10 cent lower price tomorrow. Instead of trying to time when to buy, always buy a fixed dollar amount. Buying a fixed dollar amount, leads to buying more when prices are lower and less when prices are higher, giving you a better than average cost.

Enough theory, let’s look at an example:
Say gas prices track the following chart:

Let’s compare buying $25 per day (the dollar cost averaging approach) with buying a fixed volume (20L) per day. Buying is shown on the table below:
Cost / L
Volume Purchased For $25 / day (L)
$25 / day - Cost
Fixed Volume Purchase (L)
Fixed Volume Cost per day


The chart below shows quantity purchased with both strategies as well as gas prices in blue.

Note with the DCA strategy:
1.      We are buying more gas when prices are low ($1.00)
2.      We are buying less gas when prices are high ($1.50)

By automatically buying more when prices are low and less when prices are higher, our total cost over the 10 day period is lower, even though we bought the same amount of gas.

But What About Real Life?

In real life, your gas consumption is more or less fixed, so using dollar cost averaging would have you buying gas more frequently in smaller quantities when prices are high and less frequently in larger quanitites when prices are low. Dollar Cost Averaging gives you a simple strategy to manage how much to buy based on the current price, especially when no one knows what future prices are and you have to buy regularly.