Jan 16 2013

Letting off Some Steam: The Most Boring Way to Spend $200

Carlos Portocarrero

two suitcases on a tarmac

I won’t lie—spending money can be really fun. Acquiring new stuff makes us feel good because it triggers the same chemicals in our body that make us feel good when we do a good deed, when we fall in love, when we eat chocolate.

Over the holidays, M and A and I flew to Guatemala to spend some time with my family. The sense of Zen I found there was for another post, but there was one other thing that happened: the airline lost our luggage.

We got it two full days later, which was NOT fun. Instead of being flooded with dopamine, my synapses were flush with (insert chemical that makes you angry).

I complained, I followed up, and I complained some more. Eventually, I held them to their own policies. And because I was civil and polite in my quest, I wound up with twice the amount of compensation I was entitled to: $200 in cash.

Was it worth the hassle of not having clothes for two days? Of course not. But you know what? I’m over it (for the most part) so I’ll gladly take a couple hundred bucks for my troubles.

And now that all the hard work of collecting my just reward, I have to figure out how I want to spend it.


Here is where I tell you that I’m terrible at spending anything over $100. That’s why I needed my wife’s permission to buy my first smartphone and buying a Wii. It isn’t about “permission” so much as I need someone to tell me it’s OK to spend serious money on something you don’t really “need.”

I just can’t seem to pull the trigger without an endless amount of hand wringing and internal debate.

It’s the curse of the cheapskates.


google nexus tablet

So I got $200 in what’s essentially found money. I’ve been wanting to buy a tablet for a while…one that costs $199. So this is perfect, right? Buy the tablet you’ve been researching for months now that you have this found money.

You won’t feel the pain of depleting your cash on a trivial purchase. Done deal, right?


I’ve already sent it into my ING “New Car” account.

Just like that, the excitement of having $200 to spend is gone. Do I feel great that our New Car account is growing and that eventually we’ll be able to buy a new car without dipping into our savings?

Sure. But it means I’ve repressed that instinctual urge deep in all of us to spend, spend, spend. And every time I do that I can feel the tension increase. Eventually, I’m going to want to blow off some steam and unfurl that compact little ball of repression.

Like when I bought a Wii. And a new phone. And my MacBook Air (which I’m typing on now and has been a fantastic purchase…that should be another post).

The MacBook air was the last big purchase and that was on Black Friday of 2011, so it’s been a while.

I need some unfurling…

Part of me wants to just say the hell with it and buy the tablet. And not just the $199 tablet but to go all the way up to the iPad Mini (retail: $329) to make up for lost time. There are tiny little voices inside me saying “Do it! You’ve earned it! You deserve it!”

We all know those voices.

Eventually, I’ll buy something. I know I can’t keep repressing this feeling forever—I don’t have the stamina to fight it for much longer.

Am I the only one out there that feels this way? How are you dealing with this constant feeling? Why do I feel so guilty spending money? I guess it’s better than the alternative but it’s still kind of annoying that I have to go through all this mental gymnastics and internal debate to just buy myself a stupid gadget…

Apr 30 2012

How to Give and Ask for a Raise [Infographic]

Carlos Portocarrero

Here is a cool infographic I bumped into today (from the folks at Mindflash) that shows some mildly interesting data that is probably obvious to most people: if you’re a high performer in an executive position, you should expect a higher raise than the rest of us.


More interesting to me is the Employee’s guide near the end: it makes some decent points but doesn’t tell you what you can do to build your case ahead of time.

What do you think of this kind of data? Is it helpful at all or just noise?

*Favor: Can you please take my super quick survey on making more money at work? It’s six questions and won’t take more than 3 minutes, I promise! Thanks!

[click to enlarge]

Infographic on raises

Apr 21 2012

How to Change Careers Without Formal Credentials

Carlos Portocarrero

A lot of people work in one field but secretly wish they were in another.

The accountant that dreams of being a writer. The engineer that wishes he was a carpenter.

We all have these feelings. Most of us, however, suppress them.

  • It’s too hard
  • It’s too late
  • I can’t do it
  • I don’t have the money
  • My head is in the clouds

It’s because of those kinds of excuses that we stay in the jobs we’re in. It’s the reason why we stop growing as we get older. It’s the reason why we get more and more unhappy as time goes on.

And when we do meet someone who has done it, who has managed to put the work in and take a leap of faith and—surprise, surprise—show us it can indeed be done, we feel like losers. It’s that strange combination of envy and jealousy that can either motivate us or bury us even deeper into our daily rituals of normality.

Sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it?

Fear not! This post is a positive one—I want to share a post that has the potential to get you off your ass and into action.

Most of us think that starting a new career or learning something new takes years and thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to.

Check out Michael Ellsberg’s fantastic (and now infamous) 8 Steps to Getting What You Want Without Formal Credentials.

In it, he shows a way to get around the whole credential problem. He shows you the importance of the informal job market.

He shows you a way out.

So if you’re ready to take that leap and commit to finding a way into a career that has more meaning and depth, make sure to check out the post.

It could change your life.


Jan 13 2012

Doing It for the Money…Would You?

Carlos Portocarrero

Taco Bell Restaurant

Had an interesting conversation with some co-workers the other day. I was trying to gauge how much money it would take for people to take a job that’s traditionally frowned upon.

I’m curious to hear what other people think.

Here’s the scenario:

Would you take a job at a fast-food restaurant (assuming you aren’t in that industry already) in exchange for a tripling of your current salary? The catch is that you would have no opportunity for advancement (you would have the entry-level job of casheering, cleaning, etc.) and you have to sign up for a 10-year contract.

You break the contract, you stop getting paid. If you agree, you basically have to stay for 10 years.

The Upside

  • The money, obviously.
  • One co-worker mentioned you would save money on clothing since you have a uniform you’d be wearing every day for the next 3,650 days.
  • You get to work with people, which can help make it less monotonous.
  • No pressure to advance…you’re in for the next 10 years.

The Downside

  • Locked in for 10 years (we’re adding in that you can’t “get fired” even though I know that makes no sense…it’s an exercise for God’s sake).
  • No advancement.
  • Dull days ahead.
  • Cleaning bathrooms will be a step down for a lot of people.
  • No career prospects after the 10 years are done since you basically have a black hole in your resume.

Most people didn’t have to think twice, they said they would do it without even hesitating. This surprised me so I tried to slow them down to actually think of what this would be like. To work in something they have no interest or passion for and to be locked in for 10 years.

They didn’t care. The tripling of the salary clinched it…I’m not sure if that makes me naive or makes them greedy and heartless.

What’s your take?

Image by Mike Baird