College Degree On A Dime: Better Yet, Some One Else’s Dime

In 2018 Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and Returning The Favor was quoted saying “…We’re lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back so they can pursue jobs that no longer exist…”.

Mike continues to promote skilled labor education; where tuition is more affordable plus the time between enrollment, graduation and full-time employment is shorter than the traditional 4-year College or University. The conjecture is that not everyone should go to college. Which, of course, is true.

However, it is also true that not everyone is cut out for skilled labor. The word skilled worker means a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity, special training or a gift for mechanics in which a person has competence and experience.

Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for that either. We need skilled tradesmen, but we also need people that can crunch the numbers, read market trends, handle the human resource and design the products and services that we all need.

So… how do we educate people for non-skilled labor without putting them into $70,000 worth of debt for a $35,000 per year starting wage? It’s anecdotal evidence, but I’ll tell you how I earned my Associates of Arts degree, my Bachelor of Science degree and recently a Master of Science degree while spending a meager $10,000 of my own money.

In the summer of 1980, I enrolled at a local community college to study for an associate degree. My parents co-signed with me for a $10,000 student load and off to trade school I went. Two years later I have an Associates of Art Degree, but alas no job offers of greater than $10,000 per year. So, I go back to my parents’ home to regroup.

Thankfully, mom had a friend at the Nebraska Job Service who helped me to parlay my technical degree and the experience of a summer job as a grain inspector into my first full time real job. 3M hired me into their Quality Control department as a Quality Inspector.

3M invested in my formal education in the fall of 1993 when I was approached by my boss about finishing my bachelor’s degree. 3M supported 100% of the tuition and books.

In December of 1994 I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Upon delivering proof of graduation to my boss, within days I was given a healthy raise in pay. That was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

The bachelor’s degree has gotten my foot in the door for many job interviews, which in turn has become several well-paying and satisfying jobs over the years.

One year after being hired by Hubbell Incorporated, my boss informed me that we have a tuition reimbursement program in the company. She encouraged me to utilize the program for continuing education in Quality. I told her that I’d always wanted to study for a master’s degree and she enthusiastically supported the idea.

In the fall of 2017 Hubbell Incorporated, approved my master’s degree program. In November of 2020 I finished a Master of Science in Management degree. That’s 3 college degrees, plus three Professional Certifications that were paid for by employers for a grand total of $10,000 out of pocket expenses.

The bottom line is: You don’t have to go into great debt or obtain a full ride scholarship to get a degree at reasonable cost to you. It can be on a dime…well, on someone else’s dime if you keep your eyes open and make the right moves as opportunity presents itself.

Lowest Legal Prices?!

If you grew up in Wisconsin this picture declaring proudly that beer can be purchased at the ‘lowest legal price’ is common place. However, as a transplant to the great state of Wisconsin, this sign always draws my attention and my disdain. In Wisconsin there is a law dating back to 1939 called the Unfair Sales Act or commonly referred to as the Minimum Markup Law and it includes much more than beer sales. The law applies to all products, but not services.

In a nutshell, this law prohibits merchandisers from selling anything below the total cost incurred by the retailer or wholesaler for buying, transporting, taxes and any other cost incurred to bring the product to market. In other words, a business is not allowed to sell below cost to attract customers or most and other reason like dumping slow moving inventory.

The state claims that doing so “is a form of deceptive advertising and an unfair method of competition in commerce.” Really?!

There have been a few unsuccessful attempts to eliminate the act. Most recently in late 2019. However, the attempt was to mask a plan to raise the state gasoline tax by an additional $.08 per gallon. I’m guessing they were hoping that consumers would not notice the increased tax if the price before taxes went down. Talk about deceptive and unfair methods…

I’m not a fan of big brother, so I don’t want to see a maximum markup law either. Letting the free market of supply and demand set pricing is good by me, but I digress.

This law is overdue to go away. Let’s hope it happens sooner, not later.

Here is the actual law as posted on the state of Wisconsin web site:

  • For all merchandise except alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and motor vehicle fuel, cost to either wholesalers or retailers is defined as invoice cost or replacement cost, whichever is lower, less all trade discounts, plus any excise taxes and any cost incurred for transportation and any other charges not otherwise included in the invoice cost or replacement cost of the merchandise.
  • For alcohol and tobacco products the definition of cost also includes a 3% cost of doing business markup for wholesalers and a 6% cost of doing business markup for retailers. Cost for wholesalers who operate retail outlets or retailers who purchase directly from the manufacturer includes a 9.18% markup (3% plus 6% compounded).
  • For motor vehicle fuel, the definition of “cost” relies on either the “average posted terminal price” or invoice cost (whichever is greater) plus a cost of doing business markup. Use our Motor Vehicle Fuel Cost Calculator.
  • Penalties for violating the Unfair Sales Act may include a civil forfeiture of $50 to $500 for the first violation and $200 to $2500 for each subsequent violation. Sellers of motor vehicle fuel and/or tobacco products may file a private cause of action to seek damages if they are injured by a competitor’s price.
  • Exceptions to the law are made to allow for matching a competitor’s price, clearance and final liquidation sales, sales of damaged merchandise and perishables, contracted governmental institution sales and for merchandise sold to charitable or relief agencies.

Chilly Outside? Chili Inside!

When temperatures begin to drop under the freezing mark my appetite begins to long for a nice hot soup. Chili is my very favorite soup. Bright red broth chocked full of ground meat and beans and a variety of spices prominently featuring chili peppers. The mouth waters just thinking about it!

Like most, my first taste of chili came from my mom’s kitchen. For mom the recipe included ground beef, kidney beans, pureed tomatoes, salt ground black pepper and a healthy dose of ground chili powder. Simple, straight forward, comfortable and tasty. Saltine crackers on the side for those who needed to take the edge off the chili powder.

The definition of what is and what is not chili is relative. Relative to where you live or who your family or close friends are. With most foods I tire of those who believe that some foods are not authentic unless they adhere to a rigid recipe and ingredients. Where I came from the debate was with or without beans. Here in Wisconsin the question is with or without noodles.

My opinion? I believe that chili is a soup that features the taste of chili pepper, period. Spare me the discussions concerning noodles and beans. I will eat chili with or without either.

Variations of chili can be found at most any eatery or fine diner that serves it.

The Ohio based chain of Skyline features chili in three configurations:

  • 3 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce and grated cheese.
  • 4 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce, grated cheese plus onion OR beans.
  • 5 Way with spaghetti, chili meat sauce, grated cheese plus onion AND beans.

Milwaukee based Real Chili gives you more configuration options:

  • Mild, Medium or hot pepper spice.
  • Single, 1 ½ or double helping size.
  • Beans Only, Meat Only or Spaghetti only with chili meat sauce or any combination of the three.
  • Extras include: Cheese, jalapeno peppers, onion and sour cream for a nominal upcharge.

The Beaver Dam based business Chili John’s owned by third generation owner Chris Stavropolus:

  • One option: What is in his crock.

There are many more places and varieties, of course, but these are my 3 favorite places to go for chili…EXCEPT MINE, OF COURSE.

What’s my chili recipe? I thought you’d never ask. This recipe has changed drastically over the years until about 10 years ago. The following recipe has been a favorite of my children and close friends, and it is rarely altered…much.

Here is R Dub’s recipe, try it and tell me what you think.


  • 1 pound Ground Pork Sausage
  • 1.5 pounds Ground Beef or Ground Poultry
  • 46 ounces V8 Original Vegetable Juice
  • 15.5 ounces Black Beans in mild chili sauce (undrained)
  • 15.5 ounces Great Northern Beans in mild chili sauce (undrained)
  • 4.5 ounces of diced chili peppers or 1 teaspoon ground chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Seasoned Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Dry Rub Seasoning
  • 14.5 ounces diced or sliced carrots (drained)
  • 14.5 ounces whole kernel sweet corn (drained)


  • Brown ground meats on medium heat and season with salt and half of the dry rub
  • in a large soup pot (12 to 16 quart).
  • Reduce heat to simmer.
  • Add the V8 vegetable juice and stir.
  • Stir in the chili pepper, beans, carrots and corn.
  • Stir in the remainder of the dry rub seasoning.
  • Reduce heat to low and let stew for one hour.


The V8 and the dry rub are the key to my unique and awesome flavors. My secret ingredients are Grandpa Rechek’s ground pork sausage and I’m specific with Bad Byron’s Butt Rub.

I know, I know, the chili purists will say that there is no place for carrots or corn in chili…I do not care. This soup is fabulous.

What about noodles? I cook them on the side for those who wish.

2018 Beaver Dam Pepper Festival Chili Cook Off