Health care and investments that make sense

Been meaning to write about this for a while…I’m getting another side business going, that won’t interfere with my credit card merchant services gig. This side venture looks to be a lot more fun and fulfilling.

It started a few months ago, when I began attending my BNI networking group. There I met this guy Ralph who told me he was in the financial education and access business – he teaches people how to gain access to health care, insurance, and investments that make sense for the individual.

So we started talking about health care. He showed me a way to pay the wholesale rates that insurance companies pay for prescription drugs, doctor office visits, etc. Did you know that some prescription drugs are marked up as much as 100,000% by the pharmaceutical companies? That’s why everyone hates their health care so much – because it’s designed to make money for the drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals – not protect the individual. It’s out of control.

I immediately thought of my mother, who is retired and absolutely getting killed on her prescription costs. I called her and got a list of the drugs she takes. We ran them through an online check and found that she could get most of them 30-50% cheaper with the company’s prescription card. So she paid $9.95 a month for a card and saved many times over the next time she went to the drugstore. She told me, the pharmacist said it was the deepest-discounted drug card he had ever seen. She was delighted to have the extra money every month.

Then we got to talking about investments. Now, I self-direct my Roth IRA, which is invested in individual stocks. I’ve done well, and have no plans on changing the way I invest at this time. But, I have friends who have heard about my portfolio performance and have asked, can you show me how to invest the way you do? My answer: absolutely not. I spent years dabbling with an imaginary portfolio on paper before I went into the stock market for real. It’s not something that can be taught to someone.

So, up until I met Ralph, I had advised my friends to invest in an S&P 500 index fund, which is a mutual fund consisting of the 500 stocks that make up the S&P measure. It’s about as safe as you can get if you’re going to be in the stock market. But, the market can still go down. $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 index fund on April 1, 2000 would have been worth only $5,700 three years later. Ouch! Hopefully the dot-com bust won’t happen again, but still, the risk is there.

The alternative, of course, is to invest in something fixed like CDs. But that’s a losing proposition too, because CDs barely keep up with inflation.

Ralph showed me an investment product that works like this: It’s based on a stock market index like the S&P. But, at the end of the year, if the market is down, the company puts your principal back. So you can’t end up with less money than you had at the beginning of the year. If the market goes down the toilet like it did in 2000-03, you won’t go with it – at worst you’ll break even. Not bad, huh? Now, of course, the company has to make money somewhere, and they do it by putting a cap on the gains – the products vary, but the last brochures I read had the cap at 12% a year for one product, and 3.2% a month for another. Not too shabby – 12% is a heck of a lot better than a CD will ever do. So, you get to participate in the gains of the stock market – historically the best place to have your money in the long term – without the risk of losing your principal. Oh, and you can get a bonus of up to 10% on your money they day you open the account. This is absolutely where I would steer my friends.

The thing is, most people don’t even know these kinds of products exist. So they blindly follow the advice their broker or insurance agent gives them – which is usually designed to generate a commission for the broker or agent, not look out for the client’s best interests.

That’s why I like what Ralph does – it’s all about educating the public, letting them know what opportunities are out there. Whether or not they purchase the company’s products, at least they’ll be informed. At least they won’t be at the mercy of the drug and insurance and investment corporations anymore.

So, I’m going into business with Ralph. I had to get an insurance license, because some of the products we sell require one. I passed my Life and Accident & Health licensing exam today.

There are some other really cool products too. For example:

Most people’s life insurance is really death insurance – you don’t get the benefit until you die (and then YOU don’t get it, your beneficiary does). Ralph’s company has a life policy that not only pays off on death, but also pays you immediately if you have a critical illness such as heart disease or cancer. It also pays if you become disabled. And if you reach 65, you have the option of converting the cash value into a retirement benefit. It’s the first cash-value life insurance I’ve ever seen that makes sense to own.

Now here’s something that’s really cool – they have a card that provides discounts to alternative care. Yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, aromatherapy, chiropractors. They also have cards that get you access to dental care, vision care, hearing aids, and doctors’ office visits at discount rates.

And, they have health insurance. Which is pretty boring but still something people need. I never bothered to get insurance after becoming self-employed in December, figuring it would cost me a couple hundred a month at my age (34-year-old nonsmoking male). Through Ralph’s company I got major medical coverage for only $72 a month. Again, not bad.

I’m finding that it’s substantially easier to get appointments to talk about this than it is in the credit card biz. In fact, just from wandering around chatting with folks the past week, I already have 4 people who are interested in hearing more about various products. Ralph is already saying that this is soon going to become more than we can handle, and we’ll have to find a couple more key people. That’s not bad either – will be a chance for someone to earn a thousand or two a month on a part-time basis with completely flexible hours.

So, I’m really thrilled about this new venture. This is a chance to change people’s lives for the better, and there’s an element of teaching involved, which makes me happy. But unlike my days at the university, in this business I can actually make good money for teaching.

If you know anyone who needs any of the stuff I described above, drop me an e-mail – I’d be happy to talk to them.

Couple of unrelated quick notes about upcoming events:

Mpact Memphis is having a General Membership Meeting Thursday night, the 24th, from 5:30-7:30 at the National Civil Rights Museum. Mayor A.C. Wharton will be speaking. Mpact hasn’t had a general meeting in several months, and I’m glad they’re bringing them back. If you’re looking to get involved with Mpact, this is the best chance to learn what is going on.

Friday night the 25th is the South Main Trolley Art Tour from 6 to 9. Good people, good art, and most importantly, free wine in many of the galleries. Hope to see you there.

Downtown Performance Art: Uniform Monday

Many of you know that I am not a big fan of Autozone. I don’t have a problem with their stores – which actually do have quality products and helpful employees – but rather their corporate office and their so-called corporate “culture.”

Part of that culture is Uniform Monday, which means that every Monday all the corporate employees dress in the same uniforms the store employees wear. Since I live a few blocks from their HQ, when I walk around at lunchtime, I see lots of people sporting the company red-and-black. And again, when I walk past their headquarters around qutting time (which tends to be about 7 pm for salaried people – the company thinks they OWN you), I see more red and black.

So recently I got to thinking, it wouldn’t be hard to put together my own Autozone uniform and parade around town. An Autozoner’s (yes, they really call themselves that) uniform consists of

Red shirt with the Autozone logo and the person’s name. I see these at thrift stores all the time and could probably pick one up for a few bucks. It may not have my name on it, but who cares?

A name tag. If your name is sewn onto your shirt, isn’t the name tag redundant? Wait, I’m trying to apply logic to corporate America here, my bad. I’m sure I could go to a printing company and get a name tag printed which reads “PAUL RYBURN” and underneath “CUSTOMER SERVICE.” Or perhaps “BILL RYBURN” if I find a “Bill” Autozone shirt at the thrift store.

Black casual slacks. I already own these.

Black POLISHABLE shoes. It’s VERY, VERY, VERY important that the shoes be polishable. Jesus himself will strike you down if the shoes are not polishable. It says so in the Bible. Or, rather, in the Autozone corporate handbook, but same dif if you’re an Autozoner.

A belt. You MUST wear a belt. A few years ago I talked to a guy who worked there. I guess he wore some of those Sansabelt slacks that don’t require one, and his manager pitched a fit. He said his manager turned red in the face, almost purple, and looked like he was about to lose control of his bowels. I got a mental image of the manager standing there yelling, and he gets so wound up that all of the sudden he has a big ol’ juicy BM in his black casual pants. And maybe it would leak out onto his black shoes. His black POLISHABLE shoes. Except, I guess they’d be brown polishable shoes at that point.

So, I’d put on my uniform, an exact replica of the official Autozone uniform. Oh, and then I’d accessorize it with a nice baseball cap that says “LEGALIZE POT NOW” and walk around all over downtown, all day Monday, displaying my company pride.

And that would be my performance art piece.

I suppose I won’t do it, though. Someone might look at the outfit and get the idea that I’m a pothead or a stoner, which I’m not.

Or worse, they might think I work for Autozone.

What do math tutors make these days?

Anyone know? One of the servers at my local watering hole found out I’m a former math teacher and asked me to tutor her in calculus this fall. I haven’t a clue what to charge her. The last time I tutored people on a paid basis was 1993, and I charged $15 an hour. But at that time I was just a grad student who happened to be good at explaining things. Since then I’ve had a 5-year run as a faculty member in a major university’s math department, including two semesters instructing the very calculus class my server plans to take – and I had a reputation for drawing success out of math-phobic students. So I feel completely justified charging a premium rate for my services. And if nothing else, inflation would dictate than I charge more than I charged eleven years ago.

So if anyone reading this has paid for a math tutor recently, I’d appreciate it if you’d e-mail me and let me know what you paid, as well as the level of experience your tutor had. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll call a few tutoring services, pretend to be a student and find out what they charge.

Hmmm…sometime I should do a journal entry on the tutoring business I ran in 1992-93 as a grad student, and the paper-typing business I ran at Rhodes as an undergrad. Those were my first two attempts at self-employment, and a lot of the lessons I learned are still relevant today.

But right now, it’s getting late, so I think I’ll take a walk around downtown and then get to bed.

You’re going to think you’re reading a 6-year-old’s blog, but…


Seriously. I never learned to ride when I was a kid. No idea why. Somehow I got by until I was 16, and then I figured, I have a car, why would I want a bike? But recently, I’ve been thinking, it would be a convenient way to get to destinations that are slightly too far to reach on foot – Mud Island, Midtown. There’s just something about exploring a neighborhood on foot (or on a bike) that just isn’t the same driving an automobile.

So last weekend I got talking to my friend Bobby, who also hangs out on Beale Street quite a bit. He’s a bike aficionado – owns about a dozen of them. He told me I could get a good bike from a local pawn shop for cheap, and that he’d keep an eye out for one for me. Well, yesterday he found one – 30 bucks for a 12-speed in excellent shape. He went ahead and bought it, and rode it from his house on Mud Island to Beale Street and back to verify that it was in working condition. Today I went over to his house to see it.

And I attempted to ride it. For the first 10 minutes I couldn’t even get on the seat without falling over. Felt like a complete idiot.

Then, after about twenty failed tries, I was able to get on the seat and keep my balance as the bike rolled – but as soon as it came time to pedal, over I went. Most of the time I was able to stop myself. One time I took a rather nasty bump but got up okay.

I went inside and drank a Gatorade – it was blazing hot outside, and the fact that I had consumed my usual bottle of champagne at Sleep Out’s earlier in the day wasn’t helping matters. Then I went back out. Push off…attempt to pedal…over I went. Push off…pedaled once while keeping my balance…over I went. Push off…pedaled three times before losing balance. Then I pushed off again, began to pedal, and it was like I had been riding a bike for years. Made it all the way down the street and felt like I could have gone another mile if I had wanted to.

I spent the rest of the afternoon pedaling around the neighborhood while Bobby and my other friends washed their cars and grilled out.

The way I see it, there were two reasons I was able to ride that bike:

1) I believed that I could, and imagined all the fun I would have once I learned how to ride it; and

2) I realized I’d probably have to make a lot of mistakes (i.e. fall over a lot) in order to learn how to ride.

I definitely think there are some lessons there that can be extrapolated to my sales career and other areas of life.

Plans for this weekend

Tonight (Thursday 6/10): The Madison Hotel’s weekly rooftop party, where the Dempseys are playing. I need to write up a detailed post about the Peabody and Madison rooftop parties sometime.

So, I encourage you all to join me on the roof and catch the best band in Memphis. But, if standing outside in the June humidity isn’t your thing, I have an alternate suggestion. Mpact Memphis is hosting a Riverfront Forum tonight at 5:30 at the Theater & Communications building at the U of M. You’ll be able to hear the two sides of the debate on riverfront redevelopment – The RDC and Friends of Our Riverfront – so you can have an informed opinion. I won’t be there, because I want to see the Dempseys and I’ve already heard both sides (and am pro-RDC; will post on that sometime) but this is a good way to get informed. You do NOT have to be an Mpact member to attend.

Tomorrow (Friday 6/11): Going to the Beale Street Tap Room to see Johnny Hotshot, a band a friend of mine is in. I’ll probably buy the $10 wristband so I can wander in and out of all the clubs on Beale.

Saturday: Haven’t figured it out yet. Probably studying, because I have to take a test and get my insurance license (I’ll explain why in a later post).

Sunday: Champagne brunch at Sleep Out Louie’s, and from there, who knows.

What the bums are drinking this week

(Based on the discarded boxes outside the liquor store around the corner from where I live, which caters to the under-$3 crowd)

No surprises here, folks. Mad Dog 20/20, Dark Eyes vodka, Lord Calvert, and Wild Irish Rose wine. I think the Wild Irish Rose may have been the “white label” variety, which is even more disgusting than their red wine. There was also an unlabeled box. I’m guessing Thunderbird must arrive in unlabeled cartons, because the bums drink the hell out of it and I’ve never seen any empty boxes with that name outside the liquor store. For the non-bums, there were empty cartons of Smirnoff vodka and Jim Beam.

Plans for this weekend

Friday night I will be attending a reception for my friend Danita Beck’s exhibit “Biopic – A Narrative in 25 Images” at Universal Art Gallery, 111 G.E. Patterson near the corner of Main. Not only is Danita an accomplished artist, but she’s also the chair of Mpact’s Community Involvement Pillar. Please come out and support her! The reception lasts from 6 to 9 pm.

Edited to add: I just found out that Automusik is playing at the Butler Street Bazaar. I am definitely there! Please come check them out. Not only Automusik, but the Bazaar itself if you’ve never been. There are over a dozen vendors offering photography, homemade foods, vintage clothing, works of art, records, books, one-of-a-kind items, you name it. Great place to buy birthday presents. In particular, check out the last booth on the left – my friend and budding artist, Wendy Melton.

Saturday I will start my third year as a Memphis Orientation Leader (MOL) for Mpact. What this means is, another MOL and I will take a group of corporate interns on a tour of downtown. These interns come from FedEx, AutoZone, First Tennessee, International Paper, the Redbirds, the Grizzlies, and other large and medium-sized companies. Many of the interns are from out of state, and this is a way for them to see more of Memphis than their office and their apartment. Throughout the summer we will be taking our interns on various activities – a Redbirds game, a business lunch, a movie, an after-hours at a local hangout – to allow them to get the true feel of the city. It’s very rewarding to show these people what we love about Memphis, and we hope some of them will eventually relocate here.

The intern event should wrap up by early afternoon. After that I may head over to Italian Fest at Marquette Park, at the corner of Park and Mt. Moriah. This is one of the few outdoor festivals I have never had the chance to attend, and I’m looking forward to it.

On Sunday afternoon, the Pinch district is having a party at Cafe Francisco. It’s sponsored by Uptown Memphis, and people will be on hand to provide information on this hot new neighborhood just north of downtown. The event runs from 1 to 5. I’ll probably stop by Sleep Out Louie’s at noon and have my usual Sunday bottle of champagne before heading up there.

That’s how the weekend is shaping up. Perhaps I’ll see you out!

Our president

In this post I will discuss my opinion of our president, George W. Bush. Been wanting to write this for a while, but I thought to myself, my e-mail address is on my business card. Now that I’m in sales, I wondered, what if a potential client hits my website and decides not to buy from me because my political views are different from his/hers? But, after thinking about it some more, ah, screw it. I’m not going to stop being me because of a job.

In the election of 2000, toward the end of the primaries there were four candidates still standing. Bush, John McCain, Al Gore and Bill Bradley. At the time, I would have been very happy to support McCain, Gore, or Bradley for president. Bush, I thought, just didn’t seem to have the intelligence to be president. I also worried about his lack of foreign policy experience.

But, Bush got elected. I thought to myself, maybe he won’t be so bad. He may not have a lot of foreign policy knowledge, I thought, but he has Dick Cheney as his vice-president and Colin Powell in his cabinet, two people with backgrounds in foreign policy – and he could always turn to his dad as a trusted advisor.

Then 9/11 happened. Maybe he could have done more to prevent it, maybe not. We’ll never know, because all we can do at this stage is apply hindsight. I don’t hold 9/11 against him.

And then he decided to invade Afghanistan, to drive out the Taliban who provided the 9/11 terrorists a place to train. No problem with that. We had to show the world that terrorism would not be tolerated.

A year later, he decided to invade Iraq. Now, I agree that Saddam needed to go; in fact, I wish Bush’s dad had finished the job 10 years ago. And now that we’re over there, I support our troops 100% and am very proud of them for defending our freedom. What I have a problem with is the way Bush handled the Iraq situation.

Around this time, I began to notice something else about Bush, something that disturbed me even more than his lack of intelligence. He seems to have a mindset of I’M RIGHT, and if you disagree with me, I don’t even have to bother to listen to you, to try to understand your point of view, because I’M RIGHT and YOU’RE WRONG. That is a very dangerous mindset to have. It can close a person off so that he ignores valuable information, and leave him vulnerable to being manipulated. I’ve always believed it’s extremely important to listen to the other side’s argument with an open mind before forming an opinion. Bush doesn’t seem to do that.

Worse, a couple of his key cabinet members share this I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG mindset – Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. Bush seems to be ignoring people like Colin Powell who are more inclined to consider all sides of an issue. Not sure how much he goes to his father for advice.

So, my problem with Bush is not that he invaded Iraq, but that he didn’t listen to the many nations that opposed the invasion. I’m not saying that he had to agree, but he should have made more of an effort to meet with them and listen to what they had to say. Ever talked to someone and just knew you were wasting your breath, that they weren’t listening at all, or that they were merely pretending to listen to be polite and they really didn’t care what you had to say? It’s not a pleasant feeling, is it? That’s the way Bush made those citizens of all those countries feel. In two years, he managed to turn world opinion of the U.S. from a country everyone sympathized with (following 9/11) into the Evil Empire.

More recently, I’ve noticed another mindset of Bush (and Cheney and Rumsfeld) that is equally scary – that the end seems to justify the means at any cost. Did you see my journal entry a couple of days ago, where Bush is pushing a bill through Congress to reinstate the draft? He’s waiting until after the November election, of course. It makes me wonder which countries he plans on invading next. Iran? Syria? North Korea? If he’s not planning on invading anyone else, is the draft a sign that he’s made a bigger mess in Iraq than he’s willing to admit? The draft will affect ages 18-26, and women as well as men. It’s frightening to think that I might be dating someone 25 or 26 this time next year, and suddenly she could be shipped off to Iraq against her will to fight a war she may not even believe in.

I’m really, really afraid of what will happen if we give this man four more years in office. Nuclear war seems like a definite possibility. I worry that historians will look back and see Bush’s second term as the beginning of the fall of the United States.

So, I’m supporting Kerry for president.

It’s not a Democrat/Republican thing. I try to make my voting decisions based on the issues, rather than political affiliations. In my adult life there has not been a Republican presidential candidate I have supported, but I would consider it if the right person ran – McCain perhaps, or Powell. If I still lived in Arkansas I would vote to re-elect Mike Huckabee, a Republican, as governor because I think he has done an excellent job.

It’s not even a liberal/conservative thing in the traditional sense. On most social issues I tend to take the liberal point of view, whereas I tend to be centrist to conservative on fiscal issues. But let’s take a look at the record. When Clinton was president, we had a balanced budget. Bush, on the other hand, adds hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt every year, with seemingly no concept that the next generation is going to have to pay for the mess he has made. Or possibly he thinks to himself, “Well, if the debt gets out of hand, we’ll just default. We’re the United States of America, we can do that.” I really don’t think the consequences have occurred to him, or perhaps he doesn’t care because his term will be over by then. So, who’s the real fiscal conservative here? Sure doesn’t seem like it’s Bush.

So, in summary, I’m really frightened by the thought of four more years of a Bush presidency, and therefore I’m voting for Kerry.

I know that some people will read this and disagree with what I have written. And, if you wish, I will be happy to discuss it, to listen to you and do my best to see things from your point of view.

Which, I think, is more than our current president would do.

Looking for something to do tomorrow evening? (Wed June 2)

First Wednesday at The Brooks. If you’ve never been, it’s a monthly party with music, food, and drinks. I like First Wed. because it attracts a diverse crowd age-wise. The majority of people who go are probably “young professionals,” but you get everyone from teenagers to longtime museum supporters in their 80s, and everyone mingles and has a good time. I haven’t made it to First Wednesday in about 6 months, but I guarantee you I’ll be there tomorrow – they’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock’n’roll, and my favorite band The Dempseys will be performing.

$5 cover, free if you’re a member of the Brooks. Hope to see you there.