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Thank G I don't have to deal with Verizon

March 1st, 2010 at 07:21 am

Subtitled: No wonder older folks don't like the internet / computers / modern technology. (Not much finance here, mostly rant)

Been visiting mother 2 states away and she asks me to help her with Verizon combined bill. She has the company take the money directly from her checking account for their monthly bills. On it is multiple credits and debits that don't make any sense, especially since she didn't change the phone or internet service in many months. Years ago I worked in utility billing, so I understand this stuff about as well as anyone, and I can't figure out what they're doing.

So I have the idea, hey, why don't we acess your bill history online, maybe that will give us a clue (Baaaad idea).

Before I start, let me say I build interactive business web sites for a living, so I was appalled at what I went through.

What all happened? First we try to register on a weekend. We go all the way through the registration process, just to have it say at the end, "sorry we're not able to register you now". You do NOT let someone go through a process if it is not available at the end. We try a few times over the weekend with the same result. No explanation as to why, or when we can register. That is insane.

Next we got registered Monday morning. We get on their site which is filled with a bazillion advertising and whiz bang thingies, but we just want to review bills, which is what the paper bill says we can do. When we go to the registration site it also says we can review bills online. We go to the manage account section, go to view bill, and all we get is the internet portion of the bill, and nothing about what was automatically taken out. WTF is this?

Then I find a link that says oh, if you have a combined bill, click here to access it (why we have to do it this way I don't know, but okaaaay). Try this link and immediately it asks me to log in again. WTF #2? You do not build a site that asks a user to log in again and again. That is really bad design.

Ok, we log in again, only to be put back at where we were before. WTF #3? (I don't think this one needs any more explanation).

OK, lets go the FAQ. There it has a section on what to do if you want to pay or view your bill. I go there and am told I can view and pay my bill online. How? No directions, just a link that says click here to go to view the bill. Guess what??? I am asked to log in again. (%#@#@!!!) After I do that, what happens? I am taken back to where I was when this all started (AGAIN). WTF #4. Who makes answers to FAQs without instructions on how to do basic things? I mean, really, who is this incompetant?

I do more searching and come across a link for a demo site that is supposed to show you how great it is to use their site. Ok, I try that one. What happens? Well nothing actually as the page never loads anything. Try it again 10 minutes later - nothing, half hour later - nothing. Well I have to admit, the demo does show how useful their site is.

My mother (& I) give up at this point and just decide calling will have a better chance to find out what the F they're doing.

No wonder older folks don't use the internet. They want it as a tool, not something whiz-bang. And when the basics dont' work, well of course they're going to go back to paying with checks, using stamps, and having the same more expensive slower life. And where I live I have the option of Verizon or another provider for service (thankfully I don't use Verizon!).

Its Baaaaaack!

February 9th, 2010 at 05:51 pm

For those who can't guess, that is the snow is back. Yowza, I got back in to the office for the first day this week, and already we're closed again for tomorrow. As a salaried dude, this sure don't make me sad. The local forecast was for 10+ with the majority of it coming from midnight to 8 AM. For this evening (6-midnight) the forecast was for 1 to 4 inches. Well after two hours (6-8PM) there was already 3 inches on the driveway, and it hasn't slowed down.

The only bad part about this (other than MORE snow shovelling!) is that I had signed up for a singles dinner for Thursday night, and its on the other side of town. This is making me wonder if they'll be able to have it now (and if I can even get there!).

Oh, and btw, the winds are supposed to pick up tomorrow as well. As I've told my relatives up north, we've now become the new snow belt.

Someone on the Washington Post site had the best comment for the start of tonight/tomorrow's storm - "All hands brace for impact!"

Thanks for nothing Disney

February 2nd, 2010 at 05:19 pm

And I really do mean that.

As part of my DRIPs I own some Disney stock, not too much, in the range of $1500 worth. Anyway, about two years ago Disney was buying part of some radio network called Citadel Broadcasting. Instead of just buying what they wanted, there was some type of stock swap involved (supposedly to cut down on stockholder taxes - though I didn't buy that even then). So because of this I became the new owner of 4 shares of Citadel's stock (which I think was $6/share back then). So I looked at this and said do I want to pay a stockbroker to get $24 less whatever commision I would have to pay (probably most of the $24), or just keep the junk. So I kept the 4 shares.

Now it looks like I should of just sold them and got whatever money I could (basically the stockbroker would have made money, not me!) I got a letter today that the company is now going into Chapter 11. At least I didn't lose much money with that fiasco, but couldn't they have figured if the number of shares was below a certain number (say 50?) they would just give the shareholders money instead as it wouldn't be practical?

So as I said, thanks so much for thinking about us small shareholders. Its great to know you really care. :P

I wish I could have had advice like this

September 3rd, 2009 at 07:30 pm

Warning: This is (mostly) non-financial related. (But the guys out there should like it!)

OK, you've been warned.

Ever see those interviews where they ask the person, if you could give your younger self advice, what would it be? Well here is my advice to my younger self, pretty much word for word.

Click here to enjoy! I know the guys on here will know its true.

And here is another great one, just read about this guy's blind date, its even worse than anything I have put up with! A very good story!

Oh well, at least I can laugh about it now. As well, continuing to sell more books online (for the last 45 days I have sold 30 books!) also helps. More money - more space.

Books, books (and oh yeah, books)

August 29th, 2009 at 10:23 am

A sorta rant here, as I try to extricate myself from the overwhelming piles of books left with me from my ex. While this wasn't her only problem, it certainly contributed to her complaining she didn't have any money. She kept buying books, reading a few pages, then buying more books. I know because they are like new, and I often find book marks in them, usually somewhere within the first 50 pages.

Previously I could return some to Barnes & Noble without receipts and get store credits (I was able to get DVDs there for over two years without paying for anything!), but that isn't an option now. So I am selling on Half.com, and this month I have 15 sales (on top of another 25 sold earlier this year). I still have almost 150 listed, and I am still digging out books and listing them when I get the time. Plus I have probably another 200 in boxes that I already checked and won't sell for enough to bother with, so I either sell them at a yard sale for a pittance, try Craigslist, or give them away. Ugh.

I used to like reading books, and I do like to get some money from selling them, but this has really turned me off of books.

OK, rant over. And as an FYI, the sales for this month totalled about $75, so at least that's something worthwhile.

Squeaking by on $300,000

August 16th, 2009 at 08:06 am

Yes, that is the title of today's front page story in the Washington Post. Of course they understand how it will sound absurd, so in the story they go over the numbers for this family living in their own named house on Long Island Sound. The Post has been doing a number of stories on how the recession has been hitting people around the country, with people ending up in some really bad positions. But wow, this one sure comes at it from the other direction.

A few highlights:
A live-in nanny.
$75,000 in child support.
Her bonus will only be 90% of what it was last year.
She'll only make $50,000 on investments this year.

I don't want to be judgemental, but you can read about it here!

Ahem, any sympathy?

I expect to be single a very long time.

June 22nd, 2009 at 02:00 pm

Damn, if that isn't a depressing title, I don't know what is. As has been reported here by other single guys, meeting single women with, well shall we say common sense and some manners, is so near impossible that it really has effected me mentally this past month. (oh, plus the fact I was going through the dirt and junk of my father's estate this weekend didn't help.)

Before this month I just concentrated on family issues and meeting someone was sorta outta sight, outta mind, which seemed to work for me. But with my life getting back to normal (finally) it is just getting to me being alone all the time, and this time its affecting much more than it ever did. You go online at these match making sites and all you get is obvious scams its ridiculous. I hear its the same for women, but I just don't buy it. And worse, I live in a supposed area of many more single women than single guys. Really? Are they part of the packs of girls doing their best Valley Girl impersonations in the malls while they spend, spend, spend? If so, man, shoot me now.

And to end this on a somewhat better point of view, I have been trying to keep up the with P90X regimine (see my last post) and now I splurged on one (and only one!) of their high priced recovery drink mix canisters. I'll be trying it this week and coming back with a review. And btw, I have lost almost 10 pounds in two weeks, and there is starting to show signs of the workouts.

Well wish me luck, I haven't given up yet. Is expecting a reasonable woman my age too much to ask?

Save some money, cut your grass

June 12th, 2009 at 07:57 pm

Boy, its been a long time since I wrote anything here. Alot of crud going on in my life, and that sort of leads to the title of this. While I was out cutting the grass tonight, I did what I always do, sorta get into a mental zone, let my body go on autopilot to do the work, and let my mind go through a little self analysis. OK, maybe a lot. Anyway, as I was going over the mess of my life at the moment, I realized this is probably much more productive than going to a psychiatrist (Actually I am very much against going to one, unless you have severe problems ... but that is MHO). And of course the cost is $0 too.

My alternate title for this was going to be "I'm living in a Billy Joel song". Basically the song is (and I'm guessing the title here) "Only the good die young". Everyone "good" in my life in the past year has either died or gotten very ill. Not looking for sympathy, but really, for so many years I had so little of this go on close to me, and then wow, WTF happened? OK, I gotta stop going down this road.

One last thing - not to be an advertisement, but if you are looking at workout routines, and see the one called P90X, OMG is that insane. I thought I was in, well... maybe passable shape. After doing this for a few days I feel like a wimp. If you're not in so-so shape don't try it - I think they have an easier (and older) version called P90. Thats good to get started - I was using that as I found it at a yard sale last year. If I can keep up with this P90X, even if I don't do it as hard as they make it out, I have to get in better shape. I'm hoping I will be able to walk ok tomorrow morning. Aghhhhhh!

What are they spending their money on?

September 29th, 2008 at 02:04 pm

I know its always easy to criticize people and their spending, but really, how can some people not have a lot of money saved up? The local newspaper have this series where they are trying to get people out of debt. The current group are military folks, but this one couple, sheesh. They are making, according to the article, around $16,000 per month, but have terrible credit card bills, tax bills, etc... I have to give them credit for what they do for a living, and putting themselves up for scrutiny, but really!!!


Sorry, just a little rant.

I had an OMG moment last night

September 16th, 2008 at 01:08 pm

... and I don't have them very often. (oh, btw, it has nothing to do with the stock market insanity either).

Background: In the past two plus years I have been getting myself knowledgeable about everything financial. I read items on the internet, finance mags, newspapers, and while I am not into day trading or other esoteric things, I am trying to build a solid net for retirement in around 20 years. I really thought I knew everything (or had a decent grasp anyway) of all things dealing with personal finance. I have co-workers that ask me questions now, I know so much on the subjects.

That said, I was... well stunned... by what I read last night. I'm a numbers guy, so it takes something major to get my attention. It was in the latest edition of Money magazine (sorry, no links are avaialable yet, Page 122 - Oct. 2008 issue). It basically describes how if you are retired, have a pension or other source of income that will give you say 25K per year, for every extra dollar you "earn" (and money you withdraw from a retirement plan will be taxed as "earn"ings), your effective tax rate can very easily be 46%. And that is based on current rates, it could go higher! I spend years saving money, and then the gov't takes half! OMG! Not if I have anything to say about it.

OK, I'm calm now. Its a money mag, so what do they recommend? One word - "ROTH"! I fortunately have two old 401k's I can move into a Roth account. There is the tax hit involved, but the more I ruminate this, the more I am convinced that the next year or two I will be setting up some major Roth roll-overs.

Seriously, if you are planning on having any moderately decent retirement, you need to read this.

Just when you thought they couldn't get dumber

September 11th, 2008 at 02:12 pm

... I read article like this...


I'm not in the market for a new car, mine does just fine at 36MPG. But jeeze, if I was looking for a new car, I would have to wonder what the people in charge at these companies use for brains.

Its not like this is some car they hope to make, they're making it ... NOW ... and yet they refuse to sell it.

I'm sorry, I know they're dumb, but some days I still get surprised by it all.

Some people just don't get it

January 3rd, 2008 at 06:08 pm

Actually this is hardly anything new to most people reading these finance blogs, but I thought this was funny/amusing/sad (take your pick). I had this thought before, but dealing with the sharp cold snap here on the east coast, it brought it back to mind.

This past summer I was visiting relatives up north, and since I had a free Saturday morning with my son, I decided to travel about with him and check out the yard sales. Nothing extrordinary there, we picked up some items at good prices, at some places they wanted way too much and left. My total expense was probably $15. Odd part was there were two places, many miles apart, that each had a sign up saying they were selling items so they could pay their heating bills this fall.

You know, there are people who would feel so sad for people in such a situation, and its certainly isn't funny. That said, as I stood at each place, looking at table after table after table of - I'll be kind and call it junk - I wasn't sad for them. The only thing in my mind was to ask them if they could be that stupid. "You don't have money? Well, duh, take a look about, here's your money. Don't buy half of this and you would have enough to pay multiple winter heating bills."

I knew better and kept my mouth shut, but jeeze, no wonder some folks don't have money. They do it to themselves.

I didn't know the cruise was free.

December 8th, 2006 at 06:25 pm

Also, this can be subtitled "or how I got tipjacked." Trust me, that does make sense, you just need to hear the whole story.

Last night, in the near hurricane winds of a cold front moving through (think 30 mph winds with below freezing temps), I went on a dinner cruise where I had won a cruise for two. The paperwork said "taxes and gratuities are not included", so its not like I wasn't prepared, but.... At the end of the meal I get the bill, and I give the man the certificate. He comes back a few minutes later with the bill, and very, very pointedly describes how I need to write down the gratuity for the bill, and the amounts have been calculated "for your convenience", and he would return. Well on the left are the what I thought were "recommended" tip rates, all calculated very nicely. When I am given recommended tips I am not a happy camper. If I want to be told what to do I can go back to living with my mommy, thank you very much.

The rates were 15%, 20%, and 24%. The calculated tip amounts are there as well, and they are based on the whole charge for the cruise and dinner ($80/person). Hmmmm, when you use percentages, isn't tipping supposed to be based on the charge for the dinner, not the trip? You mean the cruise was free??? (yeah, right) Anyhow, I am there with a bit of a quandary. I felt that basing the tip on the tax and overage ($15 total) wouldn't be right, but those amounts were exorbitant. While the service was nice, I get better service when I do my mystery shopping at restaurants. And that type of meal I could normally get for around $40 maximum, probably less. I talked with my date and she agreed what they are expecting is too much and so I put an in between amount for the tip, based on the realistic $40/meal amount.

Shortly after the guy takes the credit card, he returns very "concerned" that I didn't understand how to tip. He explained how the tip should be against the whole expense, not just a lower amount. He keeps this up and says something about not being able to put it into the computer that way. I ask him if he is saying that the computer won't accept a non-standard tip. Instead of answering he starts in again to explain how the tips are calculated on the standard charge for the cruise. Here I am, I have a Bachelor's in Mathematics, a Master's in Computer Science, and I'm having to listen to this drivel on how to calculate percentages. I was so tempted to explain to him I was willing to go and reprogram his computer so he would never have to enter tips into his system again if it would help him.

While I think my date would have liked for me to tell him that, I decided valor was the best part of getting the h*** off the boat, and just circled the 15%.

I hate to come across as someone that wants to find something to complain about. The trip was nice, the food was good, and they sure kept the boat warm. My date agreed that it was nice, but there was no way she would spend the amount they expect people to pay for that trip. And she was more than happy to leave as soon as possible after their poor performance. While its not likely, if I ever win this from them again, it goes onto craigslist for sale. Once was enough.

As a postscript, we had a fair amount in common, talked the whole time and really did enjoy it. She said she would be happy to go with me when I do my next mystery shop assignment. While I don't see us ever getting into any serious relationship, it is nice to have someone you can talk with and relate with in a casual setting.

Found money, rants & more (Long read)

November 19th, 2006 at 06:46 am

Dang, its been a while since I posted anything. Of course I have excuses Smile By the way, instead of splitting all these stories up, I left them all in here. So this is a loooong post.

My computer died on me about a month ago and I have been trying to restore my system. I have everything working but my wireless router connection Frown Hopefully that will be resolved soon.

Rant #1) I will never, and I do mean never, buy anything from Tiger Direct again. My old computer was from them and it had more problems than I could believe. I would fix one thing from them, and others would start. And previously I bought a computer from them, only to find out they sent me the wrong parts (the CPU wouldn't work with the sent motherboard - even though it was a package deal!). When I called, the rep even said that yes, they knew they sent the wrong CPU. I didn't ask why they didn't contact me, that instead I had to spend a month researching the problem before I realized it was their fault. I'm a patient customer, but thats it with them. No more.

Rant #2) I got to read an article in the paper today that I was stunned to read. In the business section, this person said it was ok to tithe at your church before paying your debts, even if you are in bankruptcy. Click here to read. Now I am no fan of credit companies, but if I was owed money and instead the money was being sent to a church and they couldn't pay me, you might actually see the steam coming off my head. Some people may disagree, but I see that article as worse then irresponsible. Unreal.

Rant #3) I bought my new computer at Circuit City. While there a nice guy helped me with some questions I had about this computer, and after he headed off to do some stocking, I decided to get the computer. As I couldn't find him again, I caught some other guy, and yes, he could do my order. Seems this one was the manager of the store. As we're going through this he asks if I decided on the extended warranty. "Oh I don't know, what is it?" Now I knew I wasn't going to get it, but I thought I should hear it out anyway, just in case. Well this guy was surprised I didn't know about it, and went through the details, giving me lots of reasons, and even antecdotes of why it was the best thing ever to do. I declined (multiple times!), and at different times the guy was muttering how he was upset the other salesman didn't bring up the warranty and that he would have to talk with him. If I wasn't in a bad need to get the computer I would have walked out then and there. Its bad enough how pushy they ask salesmen to be about those things, but to go on how he would have to deal with the salesman in front of a customer, that was just plain stupid. Triple Ugh.

Found Money #1) I was checking my online credit card bill, and saw I had over $40 in cash back, which surprised me, as it should have been less than $10. After checking the numbers, I realized it was from my computer purchase. Discover has quarterly specials where buying from certain retailers would give you 5% back. Well I signed up and forgot, figuring I would never go to those stores. Well one was Circuit City, and thats where I got the computer from. So good for me!

Found Money #2) I found out last week that for the branch christmas party there will be a gift exchange where the presents should be $20-$25. I'm not a big fan of doing this, but it makes other people happy, so ok I suppose. Well I was out seeing if there were yard sales yesterday, and I found only two. But one had a nice item, still in the original plastic wrap, and I got it for a dollar. I thought I could use it for the swap, and last night I checked the only store it sells at, and it goes for $20. Score! (ok, not found money, but it avoids spending money, so it works for me)

Found Money #3) I stopped at the book store last night. When I drove up I could have sworn I saw a shiny dot as I went in to park. I got out and didn't see anything at first, but then I saw it. A quarter right next to my tire. That plus some pennies found in the store and shoot, there's money everywhere!

Frugal doesn't always work) While at the book store I went to use a free coffee coupon I had been sent. I'm not a coffee drinker, but after talking at the register I found I could only use it on coffee or tea (not hot chocolate - damn). Well I thought lets try the coffee. How bad could it be? Ugh. It was a cappachino, and I could only take a few sips before I gave up. When I got home I drank some fruit drink then used mouthwash to get the taste out of my mouth. I think that will be my last coffee for the next decade.

Why do they send me this stuff?) If anyone remembers, I like to get credit cards so I can get start up rewards, or 0% money for investing. Well I keep getting these preapproved stuff from different companies, especially now from Capital One. I guess pre-approved means I am breathing, because I sure am not approved. I applied to Capital One, and got a letter back saying I wasn't approved, and gave a list of reasons why. I'm not complaining, its their money. The reasons probably make sense to them, but come'on, why are you sending this junk out if you're just going to reject me anyway? Stuff like this is why I don't have much sympathy for credit card companies. Dumb, dumb, and dumber.

More found Furniture) During yesterday's yard sale travel I came across one of those fibre-board with fake wook laminate shelving system left outside. You know, the type with four shelves that sell at Wal-Mart for maybe $50. It was too large for fit in my hatchback, but then I realized I could take it apart and I could fit the pieces in. (Get out the tools time) It was in great shape (almost new) and the people even had left the extra hardware inside in a bag. While taking it apart the person came out and we started talking some. Then she offered me a matching unit if I would come back in a few weeks. She was very happy someone would take them, and gave me her name and number. Hey, that works for me.

Little of this and that

October 14th, 2006 at 06:07 pm

I haven't been blogging since nothing much thrilling has been going on. Some little news and notes:
Yard sales are still going strong, even with much cooler temps. In fact there have been more lately, though I can't figure out why. Got lots of kids clothes for friends for almost nothing. Got lots of soap, again for nothing or close to it. Not much for me, but maybe that means I don't need anything any more.My credit union is giving me problems now. I'm trying to transfer money to my new online banking account, but nothing is transfering, not even the trial deposits. Everything has been verified, but nothing. Now they are down for the weekend upgrading their computer system. Hoepfully this will get resolved soon Frown And now for my rant on stupid financial articles. I just finished an article saying how it is hard to determine your retirement expenses. Ok, nothing new, but the examples are dumb. First one retired at 51 and has been going cross country visiting friends for 9 years (as well as entertaining them when they visit), and now her expenses (taxes, insurance, health care) are too much. "Hey, lets retire young, and then spend my time traveling. Yeah, that should work, and cost nothing." Ugh. Another one retired at 44 years old nineteen years ago, and now taxes are too high for him. Oh gee, you think he might have retired a tad bit too early? And taxes never increase, right? Duh. And the last one retired at 65, but decied to buy a condo after renting for 10 years. She says now she forgot about the expenses of owning a home. Sigh. Actually its not the worst article in the world, here it is if you want to read it: Click hereOh, and the last payment to my ex wife for the divorce settlement went out today. Now I can put serious money into my investments - well I guess thats good news at least.

Financial Funnies

October 6th, 2006 at 06:49 pm

And no, I don't mean comics (sorry to disappoint anyone). I was reading the mail after coming home, and in it was an advertisment for how to use the bonus points on one of my credit cards. I actually do use this one for purchases (rather than 0% Bank transfers). I do so because I get 5% (or actually 5 points per dollar) at gas, grocery, and drug stores. With my purchases that qualify for the 5% cash back, I figure I can get $100 back in about a year and a half.

Anyway, I would normally get cash for the points, rather than their over-priced items. For cash, it comes in at $100 cash back for 10,000 points or $50 for 6,000 points (booooo!). Actually this didn't surprise me. But right below it was the funny part. There is a section for using your points towards paying off your mortgage with the company (it is Chase Manhattan). To get a $100 reduction on a mortgage payment with them, it will put you back 11,000 points. I think I read that 5 times. I just *had* to be misreading that. But no, that is what it says. In effect it will cost you more to use your points to pay down your mortgage with them, than it would to get the cash, and then use it to pay your mortgage. Who in their right mind would do that????

I suspect though that there are people out there that would do it. Actually I can think of a few acquaintences that might do it. Oh well, I just have to put it down to one of my philosophies, that there should be a stupid tax, and this qualifies as just that.

Water bill & more

October 5th, 2006 at 06:55 pm

Just a few thoughts before I talk about the water bill.

I've been reading some personal finance bloggers and some talk about they feel bad sometimes in that they can't get everything they want, and how savings is a drag. They talk about seeing things on TV, and wanting them badly, but stopping themselves. Well here's a thought: save money, don't pay for cable, and watch less! You'll see less commercials, want less, and live a better life. Duh. I guess you gotta give them credit for working on their finances while torturing themselves by seeing all those commercials. I think the behavior is dumb, but then again I've never been considered one to run with the majority.

I set up my latest online banking with E-Loan today. 5.5% interest, not toooooo shabby. One of these days I may hit the point where I have too many accounts to track, but I haven't seen it yet!

The dresser I rescued a few weeks ago is now finished and in service. Not perfect, though you would have to look close to notice the problems. That's the problem when you have made furniture - you notice flaws others wouldn't care about.

Finally, I got my water bill for the third quarter yesterday. I'm certainly not complaining, it was only $20.50. Now I do try to not be wasteful, but its not like I don't use water. Anyhow, with the bill was the company propaganda, including a rate hike for next year. It comes out to about a 3% increase, and I certainly can't complain about that. The interesting part was they described how this would effect an "average" consumer's bill. I am guessing a consumer means a single household. Based on the numbers I back-tracked and worked out the average usage. It is 8 times what mine was! Now my bill was for two people, but you gotta figure the average household is around 4 people. What does this average family do to use 4 times what I do per person? BTW, that average bill would be $125! You mean a lot of homes pay more than this??? Maybe this isn't earth-shattering, but it sure was surprising to me when I ran the numbers.

Financial News & Notes

September 11th, 2006 at 05:59 pm

Hmmmm, spending the weekend out of town was tiring but worth it. Of course, what does this have to do with finance? Not much, except for tracking gas prices as I made a 200 mile round trip. I didn't quite know what to think. I found gas prices where I was staying about 25 cents less than at home (it was 2.79 when I left), so I filled up when I started back on Sunday. OK, that was only 4 gallons, but I thought it would be worth it. Ooops. As I travelled, the prices kept getting less and less. First 2.49, then 2 miles later 2.43. About 10 miles later I saw 2.39. Finally at the half way point (say 45 miles) I saw one station at 2.25. After that the numbers zoomed back up to hit 2.75 near my house. As I drive a 35 MPG hatchback, I'm not too concerned about getting the absolute lowest price, but wow, those numbers were all over the place. Next time I make that trip I will pay more attention to the prices on the way there.

Today I got my Shell gas card. Real low limit for purchases, not that I care. I just want to get that $40 back after 3 purchases. With prices dropping, the gas is going to be mucho cheaper.

(Warning: serious sarcasm ahead) And my last item (and only other item in the mail box) is an "offer" for a "smart banking package". FYI, this offer is from HSBC. Lets see, what all does it offer? Interest checking is highlighted. Of course to avoid monthly fees you need to have direct deposit, and have at least $3000 deposited. OK, not terrible, though not appealing. Sooo, reading the fine print, what is the current rate with the checking account? An APY of 0.15%. That's right, if I were to deposit, ummmm $10,000, I would be able to get $15 after one whole year!!!. I could get a whole half tank of gas! Who needs those silly 6% CDs when you can get rates like that? Then it mentions you can have free internet banking with Bill Pay. But in the fine print it states that this service is free to all HSBC customers. Well, that certainly makes this offer sound appealing. It comes with other things like home equity line, which according to their own numbers would cost from 8% to 10%. Be still my heart. Oh, and to top it off, it comes with a free debit card - truly stunning. LOL. Even the one thing that sorta sounds appealing - one free night for two at a Marriot hotel has a serious flaw. Reading the fine print shows that they will report the cost of the hotel room on an IRS form 1099. After you pay taxes based on the "no discount" rate, it will cost little less than getting the room at discount. Sheesh. Seriously, this might have been a decent offer 10 - 20 years ago, but come on guys, this is 2006. (On second thought, I wouldn't have been impressed 20 years ago either.)

The good, the bad, and the ugly

August 23rd, 2006 at 07:40 pm

(I don't care if anyone has this phrase trademarked, I'm using it anyway!)

Just a quickie on some of my financial doings of late:

The Good:

Got another $5.5K in 0% BT funds for 19 months. Ok, it won't get me rich, but given I can get a 6% CD right now, that means I can make another $27 / mo. I think this puts me up close to $175/mo. free money on those things right now. The first one I did runs out next April, but this one runs out April 2008!

Last weekend's yard sales were another odd set. Mostly nothing, yet I came up with two train sets (my weakness) on the same day (I rarely find one all year). A small scale one for $3, and a big scale set for $15. Not fabulous deals, but not bad. That and a few toys for kids was it. Hey, its better than buying junk that you find out you didn't really want anyway.

The Bad:

I've gotten a few credit card offers this week, every one ranks as an "ugh". Each one offers some special thing like you can get rebates on purchases and free airline lounge availability. Of course there is a yearly fee on each card, so you have to do a lot of work to break even, and much more to make it come even close to a cash back card. Noooooooooooo thanks. Unless my job requires me to fly 20 times a year (ain't happening), these cards definitely aren't worth it to me.

Last weekend I went to the book store to use some store credits to buy a DVD set. The computer went haywire (I think) and said that the card I used had so much money on it, it paid for the set, and now had more on it then when I gave it to the cashier. I was honest and told the guy at the register that can't be right, and I would use another store credit to pay for it. He insisted that it said it was paid for and I shouldn't worry. ~shrug~ Well that was different anyway. (OK, this is good, but its sorta disconforting when the system can screw up that way. The next time might go against me.)

The Ugly:

And then I get a letter from the IRS saying I wasn't eligible for a "damaged spouse" portion of last year's IRS refund. The letter made no sense, as it only told me I wasn't eligible as I didn't withhold more taxes than I owed. Well they did take my refund (meaning I did pay more), so I don't know WTF they're talking about. I used the form exactly as they described, showing I should get about $200 back. The letter said I could appeal for up to 6 years. I dunno, but I am considering it. Maybe I really shouldn't get the money, but it would be nice if they sent along a real explanation as to why!

The above is my 2nd argument with the IRS. The first was maybe 20 years ago. They came back months after I filed and said I did not include earnings from so-&-so, so my taxes should have been $X more, and now I needed to $X more plus another % again. Turned out they were right, though I never got the paperwork from the employer, and had forgotten about it. However they couldn't be bothered to notice that meant I also under reported my withholdings. I had to write back to point out their mistake now. Finally they agreed and I sent in money, but only about 25% of what they were originally looking for. Gotta luv that superior IRS work. :P

Can I be an "expert" too?

July 25th, 2006 at 05:46 pm

You know 'em. The ones you see on TV, hear on radio, read in the paper. The "expert" on ... well whatever it is they're talking about. Sometimes they're an expert due to their life experiences, sometimes its due to education (quite often dubious, but let's give 'em the benefit of the doubt). Then there is the ones that for the life of me I think they pick off the street. The ones that like to hear themselves talk.

I can hear you thinking, "What got this rant started?" As well you should think that. So what was it? I tend to listen to "Marketplace" on NPR radio each evening (ok, usually 2-3 days each week). They often will have someone read a little one to two minute speech on their thoughts on the economy or sometimes just anything at all. Today they had a .... ehm ... "wonderful" commentary by some woman that thinks she knows how to save. What's her secret? Its to save money on the big ticket items and ignore everything else.

Her advice? You spend $4 on a latte every day? No problem. Brown bagging a lunch? Why bother? Giving your husband a haircut? Boy are you missing the big picture. Is someone telling you to save money this way? Roll your eyes (but only when they're not looking.)

She is the co-founder of some "group". If I start a group, can I be an expert too?

Lastly, I should say that when the time comes up, "Yes - Oh holy Yes" you should pay attention to the big ticket items. You certainly can get a big advantage when the big ticket items come up. But ignoring the rest is stupid, stupid, hello is anyone home? stupid.

Oh, and finally, if anyone from NPR is reading this, I just formed the "High Impact Saving" Group (tm). If you need an expert commentary, don't be shy to ask.

(Oops, almost forgot, here is the link:

PS: Perhaps I shouldn't.... aaaaaaaaah, I can't help myself..... but her group is the "business talent group". Just what exactly is their talent???? (bad blogger, baaaaad blogger)

Just who do they think they are going to get?

July 10th, 2006 at 07:53 pm

OK - Big warning here, this is *not* a finance entry, so you may want to skip this one.

You've been warned.

OK, you're still here. Well, as the title says, I am a newly single guy. As I am not a bar person (ok, a sorta quiet professional - go figure), how is a man to meet women? Well I was looking online at the personals from the local paper (Its a large city paper). While I admit I was hopeful I kept my expectations in check as I read. And its a good thing I did.

What did I find? Well the women occassionally sound ok, but often not. I can accept that, I mean if you are expecting perfection, you are going to be lonely, right? But then they often state what they want in a man, and I just shake my head after reading it all. After I read the laundry list of traits they want I realize they want to meet a woman, not a man. A woman that looks like the Marlboro man. Are these women totally clueless? I asked this of a few women I do think highly of, and they agree that what they are expecting to find is crazy.

I wouldn't want to go out with these women - I would want to run the other way ... fast. Ugh, I should be ok and find someone for me, but when you read that ... I can't think of a good word for it.... it sure can get you discouraged.

OK, back to the regularly scheduled finances. Wink

They gotta make it difficult, don't they?

June 30th, 2006 at 06:28 pm

I arrived home and after dinner looked at the advertisement from Safeway. There was a promotion for spend $10 on 4 twelve-packs of Pepsi, get $10 back with a mail-in rebate, and the same offer from Coke. I live a mile from the store, so I head over, and pick up the needed items. Of course instead of rebate forms available, they are supposed to print out on the coupon sheets that print at the register.

Well of course this register the machine is in such disarray only one side of the prinout works, which makes it useless. OK, Safeway prides themselves on the best customer service, I'm sure they'll see my problem and fix it. At the service desk I get a "sorry, but we can't print these out again. And we have yet to get any forms from either of the distributors. Call the number on the receipt (Customer Service) and they should help."

At home I call the number and get put on infinite hold. After 10 minutes the dog goes beserk as someone is at the door, and of course I hang up the phone. Solicitation, ugh.

After this I decide to hook up my phone next to the computer, and get online and do work while I wait. I call, and get put on hold again. This time 15 minutes go by, then I am abruptly disconnected. Well this is fun. I call again, only to get a message that the service number is now closed for the day.

Hmmmmm, I don't go to Safeway very often, and at this rate, it could be some time til I go there again.

Life's a [fill in the blank]

May 5th, 2006 at 08:23 pm

I believe life is what you put into it. I really do. Yet... there are times like now where the saying above really fits. While I don't have as large circle of friends and relatives as many do, of those I do have, perhaps the nicest relative died of cancer a few years ago, and now I am visiting this weekend the nicest friend, who looks to be suffering the same fate.

I know, "nice-ness" shouldn't determine who has to suffer this type of fate, but #%$# it all, it just ain't right. Neither one led any type of life that should have led to something like this. I guess you need to say to yourself at least I had people like this in my life for as long as they were.

Renting out the right way (and the wrong way)

March 15th, 2006 at 07:06 pm

I was reading various blogs, and a few discussed the stress of getting a renter for their (house, apartment, basement, ...). As I have a renter in my home now, I thought I should put my two cents in on the subject.

Since I have moved back to the US from living overseas (13 years ago) I have had renters in my house for 3 of those years, plus I have had renters living next to me often.

I have not had problems with renters in my home yet. One of the things I do is consider do I want to restrict the number of people renting from me (that is, charge a high amount) and take a chance, or charge less and and be picky on who I rent out to. So far I have gone the conservative route (charge less) and it has worked for me.

When I lived in my old townhome the neighboring home was rented out by this immigrant car salesman. When I saw him, which was seldom, he would always be friendly, and talk like he knew what he was doing. Well he would charge a high rent, and could only get people in that place that couldn't rent elsewhere (ie. had issues). They would cause a ruckus all the time, get visits from the police, and finally trash the house after living there for a year and move out. Mr. Brilliance would come in, fix up the house, and look at me like "Why are you upset with me?", and do the same thing over again. He wouldn't make any money because all his profits went into fixing the place after each set of renters left. I tried to explain it to the wife, but she thought her husband knew best.

About a year after I moved out I heard that the guy finally sold the place after losing so much money on it. I know people here wouldn't be as stupid as that, but it is painful when you have to live next to that nonsense.

As for my current renter, I advertised for less up front, and picked who I wanted, not who I could get. He likes the lower rent and decent location, and make a point to pay on time and even helps on any projects around the house (which has been rare).

I guess my point is, like investing, going the slow and steady way is the way to earn the most in renting out your real estate.

Making the best of a bad situation

March 11th, 2006 at 10:16 pm

This is just a little thought for the day.

One thing I haven't seen discussed often in the blogs is making the best of a bad situation. Usually it is on the lines of how to save, where/what to invest, how to get a better paying job, and so on. All excellent things to know or do. And some of them have helped me in the past year.

But what do you do when something bad happens? For me that happened a few years ago when I was laid off one day. Of course the first thing I did was apply for unemployment benefits. Next was start scouring the papers, employment centers, etc... looking for a job. But its not like you can be out trying to get a job every day 9 to 5. After a while there isn't that much you can do, but plug along and keep trying.

After a month or so I got to the point of asking "now what"? I looked at what I had available (extra time) and thought how could I make the best use of that. While different answers can come up for different people (classes, research, projects,...), I noticed my house needed a new roof. For the next four months I took my time and re-roofed my house by myself. Thankfully I had some money saved up for a rainy day, and while I would have liked to have kept the money in case something really bad happened, I looked at this as making an investment. Even if I needed to sell the house and move, I knew the ability to sell a house with a new roof would give a excellent return on the cost. It turned out to cost about $700 versus many thousands from various contracts. And by the next year I was able to get a new job (lower pay, but thankfully only a ~15% pay cut)

I guess this is just a little reminder to step back when you think something is bad and say "OK, now how can I make this work for me?"

Gawd, I hope my money will be there

March 6th, 2006 at 06:41 pm

(Warning: long story)

People here on the financial blogs talk about how to make the best retirement investments all the time. And one assumption is that the companies will be competent and get your money to you when the time comes. While that's probably true, let me pass along what I went through last year with these financial companies, and you can draw your own conclusions.

This started about a year ago when my prior employer contacted me indicating that I didn't have enough money in my money pension plan to keep it there on its own, and I would have to roll it over to a new account (to my current employer account or a custodial IRA - that may be the wrong term, but I think you know what I mean) The money had been there for 2 years with no problem, why it was an issue now I didn't know, but ok, I'll transfer the money.

Once I get the paperwork from the manager of my account I find I have well over the required amount to keep my funds where they are, and ask my employer about this.
I'm told the amount vested is not really that amount, actually less than the $5K required. So ok, I'll get what I can, roll it over, and life will go on. My larger current employer has 401ks available with three different fund companies, of which I am investing in two of them. I decide to roll over into funds controlled by company "A".

After getting help with the paperwork from the on site assistant from "A", I send the paperwork off to my old employer for them to write a check. About two weeks later a check arrives, for the whole amount of my money pension, not just the vested amount.
I wonder if this will actually fly, so I cross my fingers, give the check to the on site guy, and off the check goes (with a photo copy for me - and I needed it).

Being patient I wait, and wait, and wait (and almost forget about it). I was told this should take 2 weeks at most. After 6 weeks I contact the on site guy and ask him what is going on. He doesn't know and will check, and a day later contacts me indicating that the check was sent to the wrong department, but now will be going to the right location. Just give it another week. I give it two, and the money is still not showing up. I contact the guy again, and he indicates they have the money, but there is some problem, and it will be in my account in a day or two. Again, after a week no money. This time I contact my company's HR person for retirement funds. (Yeah, I know, I was too patient). This time I get the answer that they have lost the check, and can I get a new check from the other fund company?

Ugh, ok, so I call the prior company, give them the SOB story about what heppened. "Sure no problem, what was the account number?" I give them the number. I'm then asked for the amount of the prior check. At this point I wonder if they don't know and I could say anything and would they accept it???, but I decide not to test my luck. Sure enough a week later the check arrives (with the same amount as previously!). I give it to "on-site guy", and a week later the money shows up correctly in my accounts.

All's well that end's well, right? True... but I decide a month later to tempt fate. I have a small roll - over custodial IRA, and I decide I would like to have one less statement to look at.
After the fun with company "A", I try to roll this over into my funds with company "B", the other company I have a reitrement fund with at my current employer. As I start this, I find no better luck. Now company "B" insists I get papers from the original company I invested the funds with, so they can know it was a true 401k and is a proper roll over. Sounds good except my old company from 8 years earlier is no more. I try to have them get the information from the company holding the IRA currently. I mean, if this is so important, they should have the information, right? Well this company holding my roller over, call this one company "C", can't help them. This wouldn't be so absurd, except for the fact that company "B" *IS* company "C"!!!
If they think this information is needed, why the **** don't they have it themselves???

I'm about ready to give up on this, but on a lark I check with on-site guy from company "A", and he tells me the other company doesn't know the rules, and sure, they can put the money into my account. And this time he is going to double check what is happening for me. No problems from this point forward, and the money moves just fine.

If you've read this long winded story to this point, I hope you understand my "concerns" when it comes to actually getting my money when I retire. Intellectually I'm sure I'll get the money. Emotionally... thats another story.

Property Tax Hell

March 3rd, 2006 at 05:48 pm

Today I received in the mail evil twin of that sweet gal Ms. Housing Appreciation.

No, Ms. Tax Bill didn't arrive, but her friend Mrs. Real Estate Appraisal came. It seems my previous appraisal was a little low (actually I knew that, but I thought the system was jiggered that way). Well it came roaring back with about a 40% increase from last year. Yeah, the tax rates here are being lowered, but that ain't nearly going to compensate for this number. Live by the sword, and die by the sword I suppose.

Hopefully next time I will write something more interesting, I have too much to do tonight.

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