Expanding My Empire – A Small Business Story

For the past few years, I’ve wanted to start up my own business doing something.  I’ve never really been able to figure out what, but I know I’d like to get some extra income coming in and find something that occupies my time and pays me a bit of cash.  Of course, I make a small amount of money from this website (I think my hourly wage is somewhere around 34 cents an hour) but I’d like to continue to expand my ultra micro empire.

I’ve been using the proceeds from this website to fund these ventures, so obviously I cant do anything too capital intensive.  I cant do anything too time intensive either, as I’ve got a wife, hobbies and a “real” job.  Basically, I was looking for something that wasnt all that time intensive, relatively high margin per unit, and didnt have high set up fees.  That essentially ruled out my preferred option of rental properties, as well quite a number of other things.  Also, while I realize that there’s plenty of opportunity to make a lot of cash online, I’m not exactly into that either.  I prefer to deal with real, physical products.    Given those preferences, I saw an opportunity as a small scale vendor selling extracts.  I noticed that these extracts were something that was found in lots of homes, widely used , and cost quite a bit in stores.  I noticed I could undercut the stores by about a buck a purchase, and still make a nice profit for myself.  No problem with that, I thought, so off I went.

First, I needed to find a market.  I thought about selling to friends and family, but decided that I couldn’t get the volume of sales that I’d like for the time involved.  There’s a commodities co-op in my area that has online ordering as well.  I looked into that and started to get geared up to sell there (making labels for product, taking pictures, etc) but never pulled the trigger and listed my stuff.  I got the impression that it was just sellers selling, and sellers buying (therefore, no one would really “make” money – they’d just trade it).  Finally, I decided to look into the farmers market.  My town has a winter farmers market that’s for baked goods, jams, and winter veggies.

After careful consideration, I applied to retail at the winter farmers market. and was put on the waiting list for the days that I selected.  Not bad, I thought – could be a good primer on how I figured that I’d do in future years.  At the suggestion of the woman that runs the market though, I put in a call to the state department of agriculture to make sure that I didnt need a food or sampling permit.  Who is going to sample extracts, I thought?  I called a lady at the state, and then my house of cards came crumbling down.  After I told her what I was planning on selling and the method of extraction, she sighed and said “that’s what I was afraid of”.  She then suggested that I call the feds and gave me a contact number of a person in St. Paul, MN.  Obviously, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I’m just 1 guy, working for myself, trying to make a few extra bucks where I saw a hole in the market.  The federal government is exactly the last entity that I want to deal with in this little side venture.  Ok, perhaps the greek government is, but that is not even remotely possible.

So, I placed a call to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly the ATF).  I got on the phone with a nice agent, and again, I explained my process of extraction.  He confirmed my worst fears, and said that while he thought what I was doing was just fine, I needed to make sure that I get it in writing from the feds, so that I could provide it to the farmers market, the state and anyone else who asked.  He then pointed me to a section of the website that housed instructions for “non beverage alcohol” or something like that, and told me to poke around.  He was surely helpful, I just wished that he would have been completely able to answer my question and end this little goose chase that had started right there.

Unfortunately, I had to start poking around the CFRs (Codes of Federal Regulations) for the appropriate area.  It led me to a long form, lots of questions involving math that I thought I left behind in college, and of course, a whole boatload of federal paperwork.  While the form is “short” according to the feds, I’m just one guy.  Just trying to open a small roadside stand selling some stuff that I’m hoping people want to buy, and now I’ve got to deal with this.  Awesome.

Of course, I’ll update you when my situation changes, but right now I’m trying to figure out how to fill out the form correctly.

Readers:  Do you have any side businesses?  If you do, do you have to deal with onerous government regulation?  What sort of agencies have you dealt with, and how have you handled the problem?  Do you think I should go through with it, or find something else to do on the side?

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 4

Now that it’s fall, hunting season has started and it’s time for another entry in the series of getting your own food.  For those new here, I write down what I spent on hunting and how much meat I got in the end (sometimes it’s none), and determine a cost per pound of what I got.    One of the reasons that I do this is because I really am interested in and care about where my food comes from.  I dont really trust the people who prepare food for the grocery store, and what they did to it while the animal was living and while the animal was being cleaned and processed.  Hunting and fishing for my own food is a reasonable way for me to make sure what the animal went through during its life (or what I assume) and how the animal was processed and what was used to do so.  For the record, I dont do anything to the meat I get other than rinse it off, pat it dry with paper towels, wrap it in foil (but H and I did get a food saver for a wedding gift that I’m hoping to use) and toss it in the freezer.

This is the fourth time that I’ve done this (and hopefully not the last this year).  If you’re curious, I talked about Halibut fishing, Duck Hunting and Elk Hunting.

Typically in the fall, I go with “the in-laws” (still weird saying that) out for an antelope hunt, which I had planned on writing about.  Unfortunately due to some oversight, we were unable to  access the area we normally went for antelope hunting, and went grouse hunting instead.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Guns:  I used the 12 gague that I got for christmas a few years back, so this was free.
  • Ammo: $46 dollars for 2 boxes of steel shot, and I think I shot about 5 shells.  I’ve still got most of them left, so I’ll be able to go again for free
  • Game bird tag: $20 – This is good until the end of the calendar year, I believe.
  • Conservation Stamp: $0 – Last year, I bought a lifetime conservation stamp.
  • Gas: I didnt have to drive, and we only were out for 1 day.

Total Cost $66.

For this hunt, we hit the bag limit before lunch (Even after 2 terrible shots from me first thing in the morning), and then went back to town and decided to go after a different species of grouse in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find any grouse in the afternoon, so we headed home.

Cleaning the birds is much less work than cleaning the elk, because they are so much smaller.  The downside of that is that you dont get nearly as much meat.  With my bag limit of 3, I ended up with 3 grouse breasts, each weight at most 1 lb.  This gave me a total of 3 lbs, for a total of $22 per pound.  Clearly, not a price I’d be willing to pay in the store under any circumstance.

The benefit of this though is that I can go again for basically free, which I may end up doing while I’m out on other hunts.  That will further drive down my costs, but it’s not always a winning proposition.

I’ll continue to update this as the year winds down, but as of right now, I dont have any specific plans for heading out grouse hunting again.

Readers: Do you think grouse hunting is a fools errand based on my calculations?  Would you still give it a try?  

October 2012 Monthly Review

This here continued to slow down, and I’m finally starting to be able to use the kitchen.  I’m getting better at knowing where things are, and knowing where to look for some things.  I still cant find everything I need, which is super annoying, but when we get around to cleaning out the basement that should change.

I’ve been doing more and different workouts, but I’ve been finding it tough to get motivated because there’s not really a clearly defined goal that I’m working towards.  Sure, staying fit is a goal, but it’s one that wont pay off for quite a few years – I need something more immediate to get focused.

Finances have basically stayed the same, as we’ve been spending most of our free cash flow on house upgrades.  We are 90% done with quite a few things, and have shifted our main focus to finishing up the bathroom, which we can hopefully make some huge gains in the next few weeks.

Debt:

This is pretty high right now because of the house, but I’m alright with that.  I’m not 100% against debt like I used to be, but I still dont think it’s a great thing.  It’s a tool, like a lot of things – and you can hurt yourself with it just as much as you can help yourself.

House

Mortgage $ 120,140  ($531) –  This is going down super slowly which makes sad, it looks like about 50% of our payment goes towards interest every month.  H and I are still in the working stages of clearing out our other debts and/or making house upgrades right now, but are working out a plan to start making 2 payments per month starting in January 2012.  If we do that, we should be able to take a considerable amount of time off the loan.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $ 10,200 ($122)  It’s nice to see this going down a bit faster after I increased the payment, but it’s still not going down as fast as I’d like.  This will be the next focus after the truck.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $4,993  ($308): Finally got below 5k on this note.  This is exciting, and I’m hoping to retire this by the end of the year, which is quickly coming up.  I’ve developed a plan to pay the vehicle off with a credit card for the points, then pay that bill as well.  It’s a huge point haul, and I wish I could set up my automatic payment to the credit card, but they will only let you do a 1 time.  No matter, I guess.

Total Debt: 135,333 (1,920)  This is kind of crazy, and really bothers me about debt in general.  Without making any extra payments on anything, we paid almost 2,000 to our debt!   Totally nuts!

Health Goals

This has finally turned around – though not exactly how I would have liked.  I’ve been working out 5 or 6 times per week, usually consisting of 2 trips to the gym to lift weights, 2 sessions of yoga in the morning.  Ive been liking it, but because of all of the bouncing around, it feels like i’m doing a few things: 1) avoiding a hard workout by doing something else instead and 2) not really being able to get into anything because I’m spread too thin and not really focusing in on anything specific.

I’m also thinking that I need to up my goal workouts – hitting 20 every month seems to be getting easier and easier, and I dont seem to be getting sore as often, so it could be time to ratchet up the frequency.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Workouts: 24

Food Challenges:

This month, in an effort to save some money and start eating what food H and I have, I started a Meat Challenge.  The meat challenge continued on for another successful month, and I can hardly remember the last time that we bought meat at the store.  It seems like the grocery bill is starting to inch up, but lots of that has been because we have been running out of staples that we typically buy in bulk, such as olive oil, rice, flour and things like that.  I went  hunting once this month, and got nothing.  I’ll be going at the beginning of november as well and hopefully my luck will turn.  I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting 1 more elk tag, but I’m not 100% set on it just yet

The Grocery Store Challenge has been harder to track than the meat challenge.  I just went to the store a few days ago, and didnt really do that well for this particular trip.  Most of what I had was dairy, but there were lots of veggies that we have not been getting from the farm share.

Fall is coming, and we are starting to get some stuff ready for winter.  I finally got my beer kit, and we made our first (and probably only) batch of homemade hard cider for the winter.  I’d like to try a pear cider or some other type next year, but the only cider I’ve been able to find is apple.  Total cost of the cider was $40 for the cider, 1.25 for the yeast, and 1.50 for the sugar.

How did everyone do in september?  Were you able to make lots of progress on your debt, or were you focusing on some other area of your life?

Honeymoon: Thailand pt 1 – Bangkok

After our few days in japan, we flew to our real destination – thailand.  H and I were both really looking forward to thailand, as we’ve heard all about the beautiful beaches, the super relaxing massages, and the awesome food and culture.  I will say that it was not a disappointment at all, and H and I each had a fantastic time.  We worked with a tour group for the majority of our time in thailand, and I’m glad we did – I think it ended up saving us a lot of money.  They took care of everything for us for the days that we were working with them, and all we had to do was show up at the right time and place.

One thing that I was mildly annoyed by was the pressure to buy stuff, which I’ll admit neither of us handled well at all.  During our tours, we were taken to places (reputable ones) that had a distinctly thai product.  One was a jewelry shop (thailand exports a lot of gems), one was a tailor, one was a teak wood carving store (that had a 30k+ chair!!!).  The products were impressive and lots of them way out of our price range, I was just a bit annoyed that we took us there and didnt put the things like this in the itinerary.  H ended up getting some earrings and a shirt, and I ended up getting 3 more custom shirts – these did not take near as long to get made as the one for my wedding, but they fit just as nice – and didnt cost near as much.  I picked some checkered patterns so that I could wear them to work when the weather gets cool, which I’m unable to do with my wedding shirt.  Without further ado, the pictures.  (fyi – this is a long and picture heavy post, so feel free to skip if you like)

This is the temple (Wat Tramit) where they housed the golden buddha.  The golden buddha was giant, and held a buddha that was probably 10′ high made entirely of gold.  He was covered in plaster in the 1700s, to keep him from being stolen.  The identity was eventually forgotten, and when moving the statue to its current location in the 50s, the ropes broke and part of the plaster cracked, revealing the gold underneath.

This is the golden buddha.  Quite an amazing work of art, if I do say so myself.  There were not as many people there as was normal because we went on a sunday.  Apparently, it’s just packed full of people every other day.

This was another one of the temples (Wat Phra Kew) that we went to.  It housed the emerald buddha, but unfortunately we didnt get to see it because people were worshiping there when we were there.  Also, there’s chatter about the buddha not really being made of emerald, but jadeite, which is also green.

This is another part of the roof – the detail they put into the construction is just incredible, and must have been hugely time consuming.  The buildings looked great though, and were a total wonder to see.  (I took asian art in college to get out of my english requirement, so I’d see lots of this stuff in my professors old slide shows, but seeing it up close was totally different).

This is a picture of the floating market north of bangkok.  There was quite a drive to get here (about 1 hour) and then we got on a long tail boat  like the one you see in the bottom left of the picture, and they took us to the market.  Those long tail boats were crazy – most of them looked like v8’s with long pipes and a propeller on the back, which the driver moved by hand.  It sure looked like a lot of work.  Once we got to the floating market, we got on another boat where they took us around the market.  Neither H nor I were very interested in the things they were selling – they all seemed to be more or less the same, and the whole thing felt a bit touristy.  The one thing I was interested in though, were the food items – they had coconut water straight from the coconut, and lots of spices in bulk for sale.  I bought some bulk spices (to be used when the kitchen is done) and that was about it.

This is a picture from the elephant show that we got to see.  This elephant is in the middle of doing a handstand – which was super awesome.  These elephants did a whole ton of stuff – they played soccer, played drums, swung a hula hoop around their trunk, and reenacted how elephants were used in war.  It was pretty amazing all of the things that they were trained to do, and they seemed to be having a ton of fun doing it all, too (as much as I can read an elephants emotion, of course).

This is from the crocodile show.  These guys were totally nuts.  They were sticking their heads and hands in the crocodiles mouth and pulling the crocs out of the water.  One thing that I did notice about these crocs was that they stayed very still, basically not moving from the last position they were in unless they were really, really provoked.  I was thinking that it was an evolutionary thing for conservation of energy that they’ve employed basically forever, but I dont know for sure.  At first H and I though there were about 4 crocs in that little pond, but there were probably around 12 – all the others just stayed super still and blended in with everything else.

This is a bridge over the chao phraya river that was lit up when we took  a dinner cruise.  It was a nice cruise along the river in bangkok, and we got to see a lot of the city lit up – which was nice, because most of our exploring had been during the day.    There were lots of tall hotels that were all lit up, and this bridge, as well as a lot of other boats on the river.  We got to sit in a rather secluded table, but everyone kept coming over our way because we were at the front of the boat and they wanted to take pictures.  It was kind of annoying, but the rest of the cruise was still pretty fun.

This is the Jim Thompson house, which we saw on our final stay in bangkok without the tour guides.  It was a pretty sweet place, and there’s a lot of history behind the guy.  He moved to thailand after the war working for the OSS, and loved the silk and sent samples to london.  He became a famous silk merchant, and loved thailand so much he made his home there.  After living there for a while, he built a prosperous company.  One day he went hiking and disappeared, and about a year later, his daughter disappeared as well!  Crazy stuff, considering he was in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA).  The silk products were amazing, and we got a wedding gift for some friends there, and I got a tie with elephants on it (it rules).

This is a template he used for putting patterns and colors on silk.

These are rolls of silk that the silkworms made.  Really cool stuff, and they were really soft.  I had to take this picture about 4 times because people kept reaching in there and touching the silk while I was trying to take a picture.

This was on the way to the royal barge museum.  H and I took a river express boat on the last day (because we were not sure what to do) and this was one of the stops.  There were directions in the guidebook that we had, so we decided to follow them and though it was close.  When we got off the boat and into the area, I saw something in the water that was sticking up with gold on the top, and figured that had to be it.  It was about 1000 feet away, but unfortunately you couldnt go through that way because it was a naval base.  So, we followed the signs that were going to take us to the museum, and they led us through some really depressed areas.  There were tons of places that looked awful – very poor living conditions.  I think they had electricity, but I’m not sure about potable water.  It was my first time seeing how the majority of the world lived, and it was almost surreal.

This is the center of one of the boats – I believe that this one was for the king.

Front of one of the boats – these were all gold as well, and were incredibly detailed.  Unfortunately, these boats only come out on very rare occasions – the last time was in 2006.  The queens 60th birthday was during the month we were there (july) and they didnt even break them out for that.

ANother one of the front of a boat.  There were probably about 10 barges here in all, some were just for show and were much older.  These were made of teak wood.  Once again, the detail on these was just amazing….and all of that is gold.

Another shot of the front of the boat.

All of the images on the front of the boats are famous in thai culture.  The monkeys rescued the princess from another color monkey.  This 7 headed serpent played a role (forgive me for being vague, we didnt have a tour guide and I dont recall much).  One interesting thing about this place though was you had to pay a fee to take pictures!  It was a small fee (something like 3 dollars, I believe) but was totally worth it.

This was the last place we went on the last night in thailand.  It was amazing and had a great view.  You may recognize the dome from the movie the Hangover 2.  The view was amazing, but the place was super crowded and small.  And even though it was 10pm or so, it was still really hot outside.

This was everything from our time in bangkok – it was an amazing city and we both had lots of fun.  It was super nice to relax and not have to worry about what to do or where to go that day – the tour did that for us.

Honeymoon: Japan


After a super long flight from LAX to tokyo, we landed at about 8pm tokyo time, and were absolutely dead tired.  We were staying in akasaka area of tokyo, which was a few train rides from narita airport, which we sleepily navigated with some help from a few friendly train station employees.  Once we got to the hotel, we quickly checked in, then promptly fell asleep – with both of us waking at around 3am, ready to start the day.  We were able to go back to sleep, and finally got to enjoy tokyo.

This is the imperial palace grounds in tokyo – an awesome place to around and see historical buildings.  They had some amazing gardens on site, and it was free as well.  This is one of the first things we did in Tokyo.  This involved a lot of walking, and afterward we went to the museum of contemporary art (or something), that had a lot of really sweet scrolls and stuff as well.

The tokyo metro government building.  I couldnt believe that just the city government was this big, but it was. I later found out that tokyo is the equivalent of a city/state, so this doesnt seem too over the top.  This building had an awesome view – even though it was slightly cloudy outside (which was not unwelcome, as it was hot).

A view from the tokyo metropolitan government tower.

This is from the tokyo zoo, which we happily went and explored.  Unfortunately, we got there a bit late, and had to rush through the zoo (in the rain) but we were still able to see everything.  All this guy did was sit around exactly like that and chow down.  Not a bad life, except for the whole cage thing.

One of our favorite meals in japan (though just about everywhere we ate was awesome.  This is what H got – singapore black pepper fried rice, a soup and some tiger beer.  The fried rice was so good, I immediately regretted not getting it.
Overall, we had an awesome time in japan, and the food was great and everyone was so helpful.  I really liked how easy it was to get around on the train (neither of us speak the language) and H liked the fact that it was very orderly and clean.

Wedding!

Here are a few shots from H and I’s wedding.  It was a lot of fun, and like my friends told me it sure did go by quick.  We got married in the afternoon in northern wyoming, about 30 min from yellowstone national park.  It was a beautiful day and an amazing setting.  When we decided on an outdoor wedding way long ago, I told H it wasnt going to rain, and kept saying it.  Unfortunately, I was wrong, but thankfully the rain stopped before the ceremony started (by about 1 hour).  I was happy about that, but I had told my friends that I was ready to keep saying it wasnt going to rain no matter what – I had already been saying it for too long to back off now.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day.

me and H right before the wedding.  We chose to see each other beforehand, and i’m glad we did.  She looked so pretty, and it was nice to have a few calm moments with her before the ceremony.

H before she met up with me before the ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A picture of our rings – great shot I think.

This is me and all the groomsmen – for fun I thought it would be awesome if we all had similar socks.  Not sure how they felt about it, but I dont think they minded too much.

 

 

This is where our dinner was held.  Such a nice spot.  I love the view

The ever popular ranch dog.  The owner told us he and some of his puppy friends chased off a bear the night of our wedding.

We Are Married!

While i’m honeymooning with H on the other side of the world, I’ve got a few posts lined up.  Some serious, and some not.  I hope you enjoy, and I’ll respond to comments, etc when I get back!

This weekend was the wedding, and it was such a great time.  I’ll post some pictures after we get back from the honeymoon, but this is about what it looked like:

Source: http://files.myopera.com/in-foro/albums/803793/just_married.jpg

If you’re curious, im the one on the right.

Have a great day!  H and I will be spending this finalizing stuff for our trip and packing!