Archive for September 2015

The high cost of low gas prices

September 29, 2015

Gas Pump Prices

When I was growing up, we didn’t drive very far. Most of our driving to work, school, and shopping malls was done within 5 miles of our home. To my parents, a long road trip was about 20 miles from Honolulu to “the country” (Kaneohe and Kailua) to visit relatives. Sometimes I would take the bus to Waikiki or Windward Mall. I don’t know whether my parents didn’t like to drive, gas was too expensive, or they just didn’t need to go anywhere else.

 

When I got my first job, gas prices were reasonable and I was willing to drive farther, more often. I ended up commuting 25 miles one way from home to work. I made unnecessary trips, sometimes to run a single errand. Road trips got longer, too (it was cheaper than going to the movies or an amusement park). Traffic got worse, and I started leaving earlier for work and staying a little later at work to avoid it. I learned that there’s a high cost to low gas prices.

 

Then gas prices started going up, and I changed my lifestyle – for the better. I found a job closer to home. I ran multiple errands in one trip. I tried to find the shortest route to my destination. I drove less and spent more time in nearby areas. I started paying more attention to pollution and the quality of our air.

 

Now gas prices are down again. This month, gas was $2.319 at Costco in Honolulu – the lowest I’ve seen in years. I know that I should be happy about low gas prices – who likes paying more for anything? – but the truth is that I’m a little dismayed about low gas prices.

 

I never thought I’d say this, but I think Hawaii should pay more for gasoline. This doesn’t mean that we need higher gas taxes. This means that Hawaii’s economy and Hawaii’s environment may not be able to afford low gas prices.

 

We need to think harder about how far and how often we drive. We usually don’t have a lot of choices about where we live and work – that depends on what we can afford and what jobs we are offered – but we can choose our leisure time.

 

With high gas prices, we would be forced to reevaluate our driving habits. Or we can choose, right now, to change our driving habits.

 

We can choose to spend more time at neighborhood beaches, parks, and libraries instead of driving around the island. We can choose to get out of our cars and spend less time at the drive-through. We can choose to shop less and take our time with purchases, instead of rushing to buy. We can choose to reduce carbon exhaust, cut down on traffic, and enjoy cleaner air.

 

How have lower gas prices affected your driving habits? Do you think low gas prices help or hurt Hawaii?

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High interest rates can build character

September 22, 2015

Spend or Save

Last week, the Federal Reserve announced that it would maintain the current 0% federal funds rate. Some people cheered, because it meant that interest rates would be low and the stock market wouldn’t crash. Though I understand some of the reasons behind the decision, I was disappointed.

I believe that low interest rates do help our economy. Low interest rates make life more affordable, make higher education more attainable, make home ownership more achievable, and make it easier for businesses to expand and hire more employees.

But I wouldn’t be the person I am today without high interest rates. I think that I would be less responsible, more in debt, and have more “stuff” if I had grown up in an age of low interest rates. Those high interest rates helped me build character, reinforced by the “pay in cash” philosophy that my parents and grandparents used.

* High student loan rates encouraged me to pay down my student debt. My college loan rates were a formidable 6% to 10%. My grandfather paid off a big chunk of my student debt direct to the bank after I graduated, from money he had set aside as I was growing up. I paid off my second, smaller student loan as soon as I could, because I hated paying the high interest on the loan.

* High savings rates encouraged me to save. Today, savings accounts pay less than 1% interest, making it more tempting to spend money instead of save it. That’s nothing like the 4% to 6% savings rates I enjoyed as a young adult. High interest rates persuaded me to save money instead of spend it, and spurred me to put away money in an IRA when I was just starting my first job. Those savings made me feel more secure in an uncertain job market and when faced with inflation.

* High mortgage rates encouraged me to pay off my mortgage as soon as possible. My first home mortgage was around 8% or 9%, while today’s mortgage rates are probably half of that. My husband and I chose a home we could afford and decided to pay off our mortgage as soon as possible. By paying a little more each month, especially if we received a bonus or tax refund, we shaved off months from our repayment schedule.

* High credit card rates continue to encourage me to control my spending. With credit card rates between 15% and 20% on purchases, it means we should do our best to pay credit card balance in full every month – or to use credit cards for emergencies only. Over the years, high credit card rates have helped me control impulsive shopping and made me question whether something is really worth it.

I hope that interest rates will start to rise soon, so that our savings accounts can grow and my son can build consumer discipline and character. But it may be a long time before we earn more than a few cents every month in our savings account.

How have interest rates affected your life? Have you had good and bad experiences with low interest rates?

Honoring the U.S. Constitution

September 15, 2015

September 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Sometimes we take the Constitution for granted, so let’s take a moment to appreciate the Constitution’s thoughtfulness and foresight. It guarantees that we have basic inalienable rights. It certifies that we grant limited authority to our government. It gives us a framework for keeping power with individuals and states, if we choose to keep it.

Appreciate the simplicity and power of Amendment X, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

The U.S. Constitution is such a powerful document that the Constitution of the State of Hawaii follows its lead. Article I is the Bill of Rights and begins, “All political power of this State is inherent in the people and the responsibility for the exercise thereof rests with the people. All government is founded on this authority.”

I challenge you to read or re-read the U.S. Constitution. Learn or remind yourself about the principles on which the United States was founded, and share them with at least one other person.

If you’re in school or spend time with school-age children, the National Constitution Center has a helpful “Constitution Day 2015 Bill of Rights Student Guide.” They also have lesson plans and resources for educators and parents.

Why is understanding the Constitution so important? We need to know our rights – so we can protect our freedoms. We need to know our history – so we can decide our future. We need to uphold our rights, freedoms, and responsibilities – so we can hold each other accountable.

Better Hawaii Constitution Bookmark

Free bookmarks! To celebrate Constitution Day, I have free U.S. Constitution bookmarks with the Preamble and the first 10 Amendments. If you would like a U.S. Constitution bookmark for yourself or your classroom, email me at rachelle09 at yahoo.com (substitute “@” for “at”) and the number of bookmarks you need. I’ll gladly share these bookmarks until I run out.

How well do you know the U.S. Constitution?

 

Update: June 2, 2017
I’m happy to report that I’ve run out of bookmarks to give away. Thank you to the schools, colleges, and organizations who requested bookmarks – you are keeping the principles of the Constitution alive. Happy Constitution Day!

Where did our interisland ferry go?

September 8, 2015

Interisland Travel

In the 1930s, residents and visitors could travel between Hawaii’s islands by boat. “Travel to the outside islands by boat was $9 to Kaua‘i, $5.50 to Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, $14.50 one way to Hilo, and only $11.50 to Mahukona, Kawaihae, and Kailua on the Big Island,” wrote Maile Yardley in her book “Hawaii’s Glamour Days” (1996).

I don’t know when we lost our interisland ferry service, but we currently have just two ferries that connect Maui and Lanai and Maui and Molokai. The Hawaii Super Ferry, which transported passengers, cargo, and vehicles, closed down in 2009 after just 15 months of service.

To be honest, I expected the next governor to step up and revive the project. I expected another Hawaii company to try to find a way to run a ferry service efficiently and affordably. I expected more public support for an interisland ferry to connect all of the islands. I missed my chance to ride the Super Ferry, and I don’t understand why we can’t bring it back.

Most island nations have a ferry service. In Indonesia, there are passenger liners that do weekly and monthly circuits among the islands, as well as ASDP fast ferries. In Japan, there is a ferry service between the main Japanese islands as well as other islands in the Japan Sea, China, and South Korea, with shared or private berths. In the Bahamas, there are slow boats to the Out Islands and Fast Ferries that run twice daily between Nassau and Harbor Island and North Eleuthera, and twice weekly between Nassau and Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera. In Australia, there is passenger and vehicle ferry service between Melbourne and Tasmania; a SeaLink ferry between South Australia and Kangaroo Island; and ferries connecting suburbs in capital cities.

True, those island nations have a much larger population than Hawaii’s 1.4 million people. But consider Fiji, with around 900,000 people on 106 inhabited islands, which is connected by fast passenger catamarans, passenger ferries, and cargo boats. Consider the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago, with around 1.3 million people, which are connected by a daily ferry service between Port Spain and Scarborough for passengers, cargo, and vehicles; as well as the Water Taxi service between Port Spain and San Fernando. Yet Hawaii relies on airplanes for interisland travel.

Here are 7 reminders about why Hawaii needs an interisland passenger ferry service:

* Convenience. A ferry would allow passengers to take their pets, vehicles, surfboards, canoes, bicycles, mopeds, and more to other islands. Luggage could be stored in cars, and you could be ready to go just after arriving at a port.

* Affordability. A ferry service might take longer, but it could also be more affordable for families and large groups, like a family that wants to go camping, a high school band, or a theatre group.

* Choice. A ferry service is a good alternative for people who don’t like to travel by air; who want room to move around or fresh air instead of recycled cabin air; or who have large valuables that they don’t want to trust to baggage handling. It could offer amenities with fine dining and entertainment for those who want a more luxurious way to travel.

* Business transport. A ferry service could help small businesses transport products to neighbor islands more quickly and affordably, letting them load up their own vehicles and deliver to their customers.

* Kamaaina tourism. We could promote neighbor island staycations, strengthening our economy and helping Hawaii businesses. Passengers could even cruise around the islands.

* Emergency response. A ferry could carry foods, supplies, medicine, and aid workers to affected areas during and after a hurricane, tsunami, or other natural disaster.

* Evacuation. A ferry could carry wounded or displaced persons to a more safe or well-stocked area, or could reunite families on different islands after a disaster.

I think it’s again time to plan for a ferry service to give residents and visitors more options for interisland travel. We are an island state and we need to be more connected to each other. What do you think?

“I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This” by Kate White

September 5, 2015

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This

In high school and college, I took classes that I enjoyed in subjects that I thought were interesting. But those classes didn’t prepare me for getting a job or even knowing what kind of job I wanted. It didn’t occur to me to ask for help or get advice from friends.

If I could talk to my just-graduated self, I would tell myself that Kate White’s “I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know” (2012) is a great place to start. White, an author, magazine editor-in-chief, and motivational speaker, offers advice and strategies for career women to succeed at a career they love – whether they are just starting out or are looking to advance.

“I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This” is engaging, frank, and matter-of-fact, written for ambitious career women. White doesn’t sugar-coat things, and is willing to talk about her own mistakes too. Her book is packed with tips and information, anecdotes and personal stories. It’s a lot to get through in one sitting and I’d recommend either reading it slowly or starting with where you are in your career, so that you can make changes in your life and work in small steps.

White warns that women tend to down-play their accomplishments, are hesitant to ask for what they want (assignments, raises, promotions) and need to learn put themselves forward – without being bitchy. She also offers practical advice, such as interviewing, finding mentors, and paying attention to your body language.

The book is organized into three parts: how to succeed, how to go big with it, and how to savor it:

* How to get it: go big or go home. Find a career you love, ask for more responsibilities, and take credit their successes.

* How to go big with it: define your goal and focus fiercely on it. Create your personal brand of core values and core specialties, and communicate them; learn what you need to know; and polish your people skills.

* How to savor it: figure out what gives you great pleasure and make time to do it. Prioritize what you need to do and delegate what you can

What do you wish someone had told you? What advice would you give to someone working at their first job? What does “success” mean to you?

Cash not accepted

September 1, 2015

Cash not accepted

Swap meets used to be treasure hunts. We could find the old, the odd, the broken, and the discarded; and we could even “swap” our junk for someone else’s. Today’s swap meets, like the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and eBay, are really bazaars, where we can buy new and used, hand-made and mass-produced items.

The closest thing to a “swap meet” – an exchange of goods and services – is Craigslist, which has a small category called “barter” tucked away under “for sale.” Recently, under Hawaii listings, I saw a 20-gallon Contractor shop vac (new hose needed) being offered in exchange for a Mobi phone; an Xbox 360 being offered in exchange for a 64-oz Hydroflask; and a Safari van being offered in exchange for a motorcycle.

I really like the idea of a barter service – one that helps us save money, trade goods that might otherwise sit in the closet, and prevent more stuff from ending up in a landfill.

Maybe someone has already come up with a plan. If not, I’d like to see Hawaii set up a demonstration project – a barter service that matches people who need products or services and have something of equal value to offer in exchange. It would be a website more local than eBay and more bona fide than Craigslist.

Here are 7 guidelines to starting a barter matching service:

1. Barterers would have to confirm their identity through the service, while keeping their name and contact information anonymous until there’s a “match.”

2. Barterers could only offer legal products that they own, free and clear – no offering on behalf of someone else. Pick-up or delivery would be negotiable.

4. Barterers could only offer lawful services of their own time and effort, not someone else’s; though the offer could include help from one or more other people. The use of tools, equipment, and electricity would be negotiable.

4. Barterers would list what they need and what they have to offer in trade, no cash accepted.

* I need or I have products… valued under $100 (textbooks, an electric drill, a blender); valued over $100 (a bicycle, a handmade quilt, a washing machine); and recurring products (weekly seasonal vegetables, monthly flower arrangements).

* I need or I have services… valued under 4 hours (manicure, dog walking, lawn mowing); valued over 4 hours (home cleaning, home remodeling help, business consulting); and recurring services (weekly lawn mowing, weekly tutoring or coaching, monthly haircuts).

5. Barterers could set a geographic area for the exchange of products and services. In addition, safe and well-lit public libraries and shopping malls could act as exchange locations.

6. Barterers would be able to rate each other on communication, courtesy, and trustworthiness.

7. The barter service would be free to use and exempt from the general excise tax. No paperwork or tax returns.

We already do informal trades between family, friends, and neighbors. I think we need the opportunity to expand the “network” of people we trust and share the things we need.

Could a barter service succeed in Hawaii? Would you be willing to try it out?