Winners and Losers of Marijuana Legalization

The fight to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the United States is finally getting closer and closer to it’s tipping point. Bill Maher claims this is the new ‘Gay Marriage’ issue although we are still fighting for gay rights. Most Americans are starting to agree that we should not only have our civil rights but freedoms to grow any plant we want to use for at least medical purposes. A recent Gallup poll found a solid majority of Americans in favor of legalizing the drug and The Department of Justice recently said it won’t interfere with Colorado and Washington.

We have the Republican President Nixon to thank on declaring a War on Drugs but that may be coming to an end soon. This makes way for a lucrative business opportunity for investors and entrepreneurs. This could also make way for a huge tourism industry.

Legal marijuana is a $1.4 billion industry and is one of the most rapidly expanding markets in the United States. Arcview Market Research predicted the industry has the potential to reach over $10 billion within five years and experience growth outpacing that of smartphones in a recent study.

This would be a major economic change in the United States and has the potential to disrupt many long-standing industries.

Who will profit and be the winners in Pot Legalization?
Marijuana sellers
The most obvious profit center from the legalization of marijuana is the cultivation and sale of the plant to consumers. Since pot is currently outlawed at the federal level, it’s difficult for economists to pin an exact figure on the size of the black market. However, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated the overall size of the marijuana economy, which includes both illicit sales and legal ones made in the 21 states (including Washington, D.C.) that allow medical marijuana, at around $20 billion per year with the majority share going into the black market. A 2006 study out of George Mason University put annual domestic cultivation at somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 million pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Financial Makeover: College Students Maria and Caroline

Maria and Caroline are college students who are barely scraping by. Their monthly income is nearly that of their monthly expenses.

We are both full-time college students at a public university, and we both have part-time jobs on campus (I work with Student Media, while she works with children in the nursery on campus). Working approximately 18 hours a week each for federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr), we bring home $1044/mo. before taxes. Additionally, my wife is a freelance photographer who does engagement shoots and headshots for drama students in her spare time, and depending on the month, that can add another $100-200+ per month to our income.

Here are our monthly expenses:
Rent: $460/mo. including water and trash (relatively inexpensive, since we live in a college town in the midwest)
Utilities: $80-120/mo. depending on the time of year (gas and electric)
Internet (the least expensive non-dial-up option available): $45/mo.
Groceries: approximately $250/mo.
Gas: approximately $50/mo. (We use the University bus system as much as possible!)
Medications: $25/mo.
Pet care (without a vet visit): $30/mo. (food, litter, anti-flea stuff, etc.)
Student health insurance (incl. vision and dental) for Caroline: $130/mo.  (I am still on my parents’ until I graduate from college next year.)
Discretionary spending (books from the used bookstore, eating out, craft supplies, clothing, etc.): about $250/mo.
Netflix (in lieu of cable): $9

We have an emergency fund of about $1500 in savings.
We do not have any credit card debt.
Between the two of us (for five years of school each), we have about $30,000 in subsidized student loans, which defer until after we graduate next year. So, we’re basically operating at nearly exactly what we bring home every month, and sometimes a little over, which is hard- I wish we were saving money each month in case something comes up, or to use on our student loan payments once we graduate.

It sounds like you’re in a tough place, and I know that can be difficult. There are a few options for you, and right now none of them are terribly appealing, but here they are.

First, discretionary spending is always a vague category and has room for improvement. If you’ll recall from my previous Moneyshot post, I blew through about $1,000 in ‘discretionary spending’ and the vast majority of that was eating out. Did I need to eat out? No. I was already doing groceries too, so I was essentially burning my candle at both ends.

I don’t necessarily think it should be scaled back, but just take a look at how much you’re spending on groceries too. I found recently that eating in, groceries were expensive because I had made so many prepared foods–canned tomatoes and beans, both of which are half the price if I’d bought them fresh and made them myself. They’re handy shortcuts, but you’re paying essentially for someone else’s time canning your food. Once I realized that, I was able to save more money by buying the components of prepared foods that I liked.

Your real area of opportunity here is freelancing. She’s doing head shots right now, but is there any way to increase that? Additionally, you could be doing something freelance to bring in additional income. Writing is an easy one to start, and we have a series on how to freelance right here on Queercents. It might be beneficial for both of you, because you look as though you’re mostly doing okay. In the event of an emergency, though, what happens? That’s why it is so important to try to increase your income. A modest increase of even $100 a month would mean quite an emergency fund by the end of next year.

Does anyone else have advice for Maria & Caroline? Let us know in the comments below.

Budgeting: The Envelope Method

Do you know how to budget? Lord knows I talk about it enough. If you look over my extensive posting history here, you’ll see that I talk about budgeting virtually all the time. But I realize that I haven’t been all that specific, so let me share a method that I started using a couple of years ago and continue to use to this day. It works really well, and I think you’ll find it to be an effective way to set your cash aside for the month.

Back in the day (I hate people who start things that way, but here I am…sorry) there wasn’t such a thing as autodeposit from your employer. You couldn’t just get your paycheck sent directly to your bank account. Checks actually didn’t really exist for most employees at companies, so instead they just got an envelope full of money. Pretty sweet, although a bit tempting to walk home with a big wad of cash and not blow it all at the local mead tavern.

Provided you got home with enough to keep your family fed for the next month, your wife would take the envelope from you and stuff the cash into various envelopes that were earmarked for different expenses. Five gold ingots for groceries, a shekel for clothing, perhaps a doubloon for going out on the town. With cash, it was impossible to go overbudget–in fact, there were pretty strong incentives for staying under. If you absolutely had to go over, you took cash from another envelope. That month, if you overspent on mutton, that means no new clogs for little Inga.

It sucks, though, because you can’t exactly do that nowadays. Virtually no one needs cash, nor is it exactly easy to pay things like your credit card bill or your student loans with just cash. You’ll have to do it electronically. But you can still earmark certain accounts for some things. I have an account solely dedicated groceries, and I’m opening new ING accounts to split up the rest of my finances. ING is nice in that you can do that easily–other banks aren’t quite as kind about it, but you can nonetheless use some tools to split up your different budget categories. ING Direct is one, and the PNC Virtual Wallet is a slightly different but awesome way as well.

The envelope method is a great way to keep track of what you’re spending and makes it hard to overspend, even when you feel like a splurge. In fact, one of the accounts I’m opening is called Splurges. I suggest that you try it. Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let me know!

Holiday Credit Card Debt

Happy Groundhog Day, Queercents readers! It is I, your friendly neighborhood vlogger, back from hiatus with a new blog post on holiday credit card debt.

I know the holidays are long gone, but if you’re young and just went through your first holiday season without school as an excuse, you probably racked up the charges on your card. It’s okay. I wouldn’t recommend doing it again, but it’s understandable. You’re not alone! Millions of others do the same thing. The only thing is, millions of others are in credit card debt and don’t save any money. Don’t be like that! Nurture the sugar daddy within. And please, follow my advice, which follows below.

Financial benefits of being fluent in Mandarin

I’ve been to China several times with my day job and every time I go, I’m amazed at how increasingly relevant the country is becoming. I keep telling Jeanine that we should make sure Sam learns Mandarin as a child because will certainly help him as an adult.

There was an article a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times about American graduates finding jobs in China. It profiled a number of adventurous twentysomethings to show why it’s better to be there than here:

Shanghai and Beijing are becoming new lands of opportunity for recent American college graduates who face unemployment nearing double digits at home.

The article is good, but Xin Lu at Wise Bread wrote a post taking it a step further by offering 6 tips for those who are really interested in working in China: Read the rest of this entry »

S.O.B. or otherwise known as Student Over Banks

Campus Progress, the youth outreach division of the Center for American Progress launched Students Over Banks (S.O.B.); a web site and campaign for green jobs, college affordability, and better health care for young people. Help them take aim at supporting President Obama’s plan to make college more affordable. Student loan debt got you down?

Take action now! Serena recently got involved by speaking on a panel about student loan and credit card debt at Campus Progress’ National Conference. Click here to learn more.

Video credit: Student Over Banks.

Vlog: How To Prepare an Emergency Fund

So while we look for a new vlogger to take over where Clint left off, here is a video about how to prepare an emergency fund from my new favorite how-to site,

Do you have six months of living expenses squirreled away for a crisis?

Video credit:

Perpetual probation in the service industry

For all you college students out there, this post is for you…

The wife is a nurse and her husband is a mechanic operating his own successful shop. Together they have three children, one of which is a nineteen-year-old daughter named “Julie.” Julie began her first year at a local college in September 2008. Her parents told her they’d financially support her while she was in school, meaning that they would pay for her rent, food and other things. However, Julie was determined to get a job like her friends and earn some money. She picked a local restaurant to apply for a waitress position. The restaurant owner “Sally” and her husband “Jim” hired Julie. Julie had fit their perfect server profile: young and naïve college student.

Prior to Julie’s first shift the owners told her that since she was on probation she was not entitled to her tips for two weeks and that she would only get paid $8 an hour. Although Julie found that probation rule odd she agreed to give the owners her tips for two weeks. (As a side note, withholding a person’s tips is wrong.) After the probation period ended, Julie didn’t get the paycheck that she was entitled to. She went to the restaurant on her day off to talk with the owner about her check. She sat down in a chair in the owner’s office for almost an hour before Sally would speak to her. Sally walked in and out of her office a handful of times before finally acknowledging Julie, saying: “What do you want?”

“I’m here to collect my paycheck,” Julie said. “Everybody else got a paycheck and I didn’t.” Read the rest of this entry »

Vlog: Implementing a Budget

Good evening, Queercents readers.

As you will recall from my previous post on building a budget, so this week is of course information on how to implement a budget, plus some ideas on how to keep yourself faithful. Check the video!

I want to thank all of you for enjoying my vlog series but unfortunately my time has come to an end. I have to concentrate on some other projects, but I want you to know how much fun I’ve had doing this. Hopefully you have learned a lot, and I will stick around and visit from time to time! Thanks again to all of you.



Where Will Your Piggy Bank Take You?

If you’re a student or recent college graduate and have been watching Clint’s vlogs over the last couple of months, you might also be interested in the videos and information at

They’ve got the basics covered and do so with a well-organized and interactive website. What do I mean by the basics:

Do you need to better understand the risk-vs.-return ratio?
Do you need to better understand the importance of diversifying investments?
Do you need to better understand the importance of saving for retirement?
Do you need to better understand the importance of employer-sponsored retirement plans?

If so, click over and experiment with different financial variables, learn how to compare investment opportunities and manage credit and debt. There is a difference between saving and investing:

Saving: The act of putting money aside for future use.
Investing: The act of making it grow. Read the rest of this entry »