One Thing & Another

Lisbon, Portugal

Notes From My Journal: “Your Lordship, Meet Your Cousin”

Until Rogerio, our guide, mentioned it, I had forgotten that all of the rulers in Europe were cousins of one another. Fernando II was actually from Vienna when he married the Queen of Portugal, but he was also related to Austrian royalty and to Queen Victoria of England. For hundreds of years, while the Catholic Church held the dominant power, individual kingdoms had to form alliances to survive. And marriage between monarchs was considered the best way to maintain such ties.

Of course many of them didn’t survive. Patricide, matricide, and fratricide were about as common then as family reunions are today.


Today’s Word:  doughty (adjective)

Doughty (DOW-tee) means valiant, brave and persistent. Example, as used by David Barash in a controversial journal article titled “It’s Time to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids”: “[Our] knowledge of chimpanzees has continued to expand thanks to a doughty array of field workers.” (Barash, a Darwinist psychologist, calls the hybrids “humanzees.”)


From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

 Principles of Wealth: #15 of 61*

 As personal income grows, so, too, does spending. The single most effective way to curtail that spending is to resist the urge to move into a more expensive house.

Four years after we bought house #1, we bought a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. The first house cost $170,000. The second one was close to half a million dollars.

Buying a $500,000 house felt ambitious but not dangerous. I owned the first house outright and had a high income, much higher than my expenses. I was able to pay off the mortgage on the second house in a couple of years.

What I didn’t expect was the cost of everything else.

In house #1, our property taxes were $1,900 per year. In house #2, they were $6,500.

In house #1, utilities and maintenance cost about $5,000 per year. In house #2, they were more than double that.

I could have and should have expected those sorts of additional expenses. But I could not have guessed the additional cost of other things.

In house #1, we could buy a beautiful couch for $600. I still remember that couch. It was snow white and super comfortable. But in house #2, that $600 couch was too small and looked, suddenly, “bargain basement” in a room with French doors and marble floors. So the little white couch was out and replaced by a truly beautiful, custom-made one that cost an astonishing $4,000.

Of course, next to the new couch, the old coffee tables and other furniture looked small and shabby. They were replaced, too.

In house #1, going out to dinner with the kids cost us $60. In house #2, it was more like $100.

In house #1, our kids went to public schools. In house #2, we were inspired by our neighbors to put them in a private school at 10 grand per kid per year.

In house #1, a family vacation might be a week at an inexpensive hotel in Orlando and visits to theme parks. In house #2, Orlando seemed so “yesterday.” Taking the kids to Paris or Rome seemed like the better idea.

If this sounds like an argument about social pressure, it’s not. I spent that extra money happily and without regret because I could afford to. It’s simply a recognition that the house—or, more exactly, the neighborhood you live in—determines what sort of goods and services you are going to be seeing. At every level of neighborhood, there is a price level for everything you can buy, from baby strollers to roof repairs to colleges for your children.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll be able to maintain house #1 spending when you move up to house #2. If you want to keep your overall spending down, stay in house #1.

* In this series of essays, I’ll be rethinking and expanding upon many of the observations I’ve made over the years about wealth: What it is, what it’s not, how it can be acquired, and how it is usually lost.


It’s Good to Know: How to Order Wine Economically

Most restaurants use wineglasses that hold five or six ounces. But some pour less than that. If you are ordering wine by the glass, there’s nothing wrong with asking for the size of the pour. Doing so prevents disappointment. It’s also the only way to know if you are getting a good value.

A normal-sized wine bottle is 750 ml. That equates to 25.4 ounces. If the restaurant is pouring five-ounce glasses, you will get five per bottle. If it is pouring six-ounce glasses, you will get four. Take the cost-per-bottle and divide by the number of glasses. Compare that to the price per glass.

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