TGIF: Spring Break Recap


At last we meet again. Apologies for the break in posts, but last week we were on spring break, and the week prior I had to focus on a major purchase. The good news is I’ve got plenty of blog fodder to fill the coming weeks. Let’s celebrate it’s Friday and get back to full steam, shall we?

Our spring break was a wide and varied bundle of fun. We had planned to travel for a good chunk of the week, but the weather had different plans. In addition, Bamble the dog also started showing his age and needed a visit to the vet. Thankfully our plans, as always, were flexible, so we were able to pivot and combine some fun in town with a short trip.

We started the break with a visit to the local George W. Bush Presidential Library. It was really cool. The was our second presidential library, having visited Clinton’s in Little Rock. I won’t get into politics, but it was fascinating to contrast the two libraries – style, content, and attitude. I would definitely like to visit more presidential libraries, which makes me sound like I’m 70 years old.

Little known fact: the Bushes are a family of giants
My sons in the Oval Office trying to figure out how to use a phone

Next was a trip to New Orleans, one of my favorite cities for a short visit. We visited the awesome WWII museum, took a short cruise on the Mississippi, and enjoyed some fine dining. The boys got to stay up late in a hotel room watching TV (somehow that’s magical for them), the missus got some great seafood, and I celebrated a family trip with no major fights. In other words, a perfect trip for everyone 🙂

deep thoughts on the Mighty Mississippi
flatbread and oysters
awesome muffaletta (hunger may have compromised pic)

On Friday night, my brother came out to spend the night. We grilled steaks and made s’mores. My boys tried to teach him Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Fortnite, but the word on the street is he was terrible at both. While my brother is local and visits often, it was special for both boys to have him “camp” with us. My youngest was really funny – with a huge grin he enjoyed showing uncle where he’d sleep, reminding him several times not to accidentally go into the walk-in attic (“You’ll fall through the floor!”), and making sure he realized that since they shared a bathroom they were officially neighbors.

And in a clear sign that money <> happiness, guess what my boys rated as the high point of spring break?

Speak Another Language for $15

The idiot lights on cars nowadays aren’t super helpful. Your check engine light could mean your gas cap is loose (huh?), your engine is about to explode, or maybe something in between. A light comes on, you take your car to the mechanic, and you steel yourself for the worst.

When my Mini started having some trouble last fall, I took it to an auto parts shop and felt undying gratitude when they read the problem code for free. I gazed with envy at the guy’s code reader and fantasized of speaking car language myself. Then I realized basic car code readers cost about $15.

I don’t push products hard on this site, and it’s not just because the pennies of commission I might earn from Amazon are tough to get excited about. But I’m going to pound the table and say that everyone who owns a car should have at least a basic car code reader. Mine is already the highest return on investment I think I’ve ever had.

I Bought A Car

My not-so-beloved Mini has been cast away. There is a new love in my life. A steamy blog post awaits!

I typically do a lot of research before I buy a car. And of course I do a lot of research whenever a problem arises. What I haven’t done regularly is just research the car I own when nothing pressing is wrong.

Just before spring break, my Mini started having more troubles when it got unseasonably cold. I’m still not certain what was wrong with it – it could have been the thermostat, the temperature sensor, or just that the car didn’t like the cold. The troubles and error code persisted even after it warmed up, but on a lark I cleared the code using my (wait for it…) code reader, and suddenly the car was fine.

As I researched DIY thermostat replacement (pretty easy for normal cars, almost impossible for Mini Coopers), I came to an unpleasant conclusion. My car was a piece of s***. The YouTube videos of people working on them border on comedy – no one can understand why some sadist made them so difficult to work on (well, they are Germans…), and even experts have trouble not breaking stuff or making mistakes when performing repairs. Most mechanics won’t work on Minis, so for real problems I’d need to go to a high-end mechanic specializing in imports.

As I considered the long-term fun of owning an overly complex and seemingly trouble-prone German-engineered car, I did some more googling. Turns out I owned one of Seven Engines to Avoid Like the Plague. Whoa. It appeared my minor problems to date were just the tip of the iceberg.

The missus and I aren’t car people. We just want something that works, and our tolerance for having a car out of commission is quite low. I was already thinking of breaking up with the Mini over some minor transgressions, so hearing the horror stories of other people sealed the deal. Just before break I dropped it like a bad habit.

Both my 2006 RX-8 and 2012 Mini Cooper Countryman had high predicted reliability when I bought them, but they both ended up with terrible reputations for their engines. My dream is to drive a car until it falls apart, but I feel like I dodged a bullet by dumping them both before major repairs.

Will I break my streak of bad luck with my new ride? You’ll have to tune in next week to find out!

Links I Liked

While I didn’t do a lot of writing over the last fortnight, I did do some reading. Here’s some of the stuff that I liked.

Nelson wrote a loving note of thanks to his 22 year old self for making the sacrifices that allow him to enjoy life on cruise control today. It’s a great reminder that front-loading your effort is a wonderful recipe for happiness. And I adamantly refuse to make a joke that Nelson already showed his 22 y.o. self enough love at the time.

The other day, I was reading another Nelson post where he was complaining about something (like that narrows it down…) and a reader mentioned the Longreads site in a comment. I’m officially hooked. It is a great curator of really interesting pieces that challenge our short attention spans and might – might – actually make us more informed. For a nice sample, check out their top picks from 2018.

One of my favorites told the story of an elderly couple from Michigan who cracked the code of two different state lottery games and netted almost $8 million dollars – legally and predictably.

I wish everyone was great with finances, but that’s not going to happen. Their loss is our gain, though, as Full Time Finance points out in “People Who are Poor with Money Subsidize the Rest of Us”.

An enduring lesson being taught in our household right now is that a big brain will only take you so far – good habits and discipline are key, especially when showing your work on math assignments. I was happy to read a finance-themed piece of the same message, as Brent writes in “Behavior is More Important than Brilliance”.

One of the knocks on frugal folks is that they never go nuts and have “fun” splurging with wild abandon. Mr. Tako answered the question, “Don’t You Ever Splurge?” by pointing out that fun <> spending and if being disciplined makes sense, it makes sense all of the time. In other words (spoiler alert), no, Mr. Tako doesn’t splurge.

What I’m Reading

I’m just about to wrap up A Colony In a Nation. It’s not going to give you a warm, happy glow, but I highly recommend it. It’s an important and timely book.

In the coming posts I’m going to talk about ways to save on a car and share the thrilling narrative of my recent car purchase. Stay tuned!

Picture courtesy of the mysterious “shell ghostcage”

14 thoughts on “TGIF: Spring Break Recap”

  1. In advance of next week’s post, you should start a poll of which model car readers think you purchased.

    And I remember the Sunfire. It only takes three points to draw a straight line.

    1. I think it’s going to be hard to figure out, but I’m open to any guesses. My 1996 Pontiac Sunfire is still the gold standard against which I judge all cars, and if I could buy it back I would. My new ride is much closer in spirit to it than my last two cars!

  2. For whatever it’s worth, I think you made the right choice on the mini cooper. Excited to see what you purchased.

    Reliable, easy to work on cars and snazzy cars tend to be exact opposite ends of the spectrum. Give me a good ole Toyota over a German engineering masterpiece any day!

    P.S. Thanks for the mention!

    1. I think you’re right. When I bought the Mini, I thought I was getting a simple 4 cylinder that would last forever. I was wrong.

      I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll fully approve of at least the make of my new ride. I’m bullish that it may outlast my Pontiac Sunfire’s 10 years!

      Thanks for the note!

  3. They weren’t plain oysters, they were Roaster Louisiana Oysters with Marrow, Hogs Head, and other good stuff.

    Tako-san and JRS-san, let me just tell you he did not get a Tesla.

    1. They were delicious, but they just tasted like oysters to me. Emeril is trying to get you hooked on his fancy sauces!

    2. Tesla never even crossed my mind… I’m assuming Paul has done the research to conclude that the demise of the internal combustion engine is still 10+ years away and subsequent generations of vehicles will have more livable range and be cheaper. Plus Elon Musk may be a narcissistic d-bag and I don’t think Paul would want to be associated with that for x years.

      I’m guessing pre-owned (~2 years) and Japanese. Possibly a hybrid. That seems like a sweet spot… my truck was 2 years old when I bought and save a ton of what it cost new.

      1. Yeah, I’m not sure I’d take a Tesla if you gave it to me for free. I’ve spent over four decades carefully crafting my personal brand and associating with Elon Musk would be a PR nightmare.

        Japanese is a good guess, but hybrids have only been around for 20 years or so – way too new for a late adopter like me!

  4. Every now and again I get mocked (good-naturedly, or at least I assume) about being a “blogger”. But starting FU probably ranks as one of the top 5 decisions I’ve made in my life. It ranks right up there with saving 80% of my income as a young adult. (Thanks for the mention, btw!)

    I have a small army of people who show up, read what I have to say, are presumably entertained by it, and will then post helpful suggestions in the comment section. Like suggesting Longreads or Longform. Between the two sites there’s something interesting every day.

    I’m going to guess you bought a Honda Civic.

    1. I’m very glad and thankful you didn’t keep your wit & wisdom under a bushel – there aren’t many blogs that both entertain and inform with consistently unique and new material, and yours is the standard. And if memory serves you met your much better half via your blog, which is pretty amazing and a nice little ROI.

      Honda Civic is an outstanding guess, and probably would have been the choice in a free, unfettered market. That’s my brother’s ride and he and I have very similar tastes in cars (he’s also a former Sunfire owner). But the missus had a bad experience with a Honda once upon a time and they’re on a blacklist now. Given my recent lemons, I didn’t want to tempt fate by going against that!

      1. Was it a Subaru? (I’m partial to Subarus, myself. Lol. Hence why I drive an Impreza. Great value cars, although they (the older ones at least) kind of suck on gas.)

  5. Hi Paul,

    Good to know that you had a good time on the Spring Break, with a lot of (look’s like) delicious food.

    It is very funny to see how nowadays kids look for the things from our childhood, such as the landline telephone, tube tv’s, car stereo tape, Lp’s, etc. Some of those items can already be seen in museums….

    I’ll have 2 weeks break in April and I’m looking forward to having a good time with the kids.

    All the best.


    1. Thanks Odysseus – yes, we ate quite well. It’s always a good sign when you need to diet a little after a long break!

      I was amused by my sons trying to figure out a land line. I enjoy telling them stories about TV’s you had to walk up to and television shows that, if you missed them, would be gone forever (but perhaps available nowadays on YouTube…). It’s fun to think of the cutting edge technology our kids enjoy today that will be viewed similarly when they are old. The pace of technological change is pretty amazing nowadays!

      I hope you enjoy your long spring break, and I look forward to hearing about it (hopefully you’ll have a picture-filled post).

      Thanks again

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