Archive for the ‘Finances’ Category

Ringing in 2014 with a Different Philosophy

January 1, 2014

From the onset 2014 looks to be shaping up as a challenging year.  Some is personal, some is professional some is just the fact that adulthood has more valleys than childhood (hey, let’s face it, even playing with Soviet Russian sharp edged cubes beats trying remember you are allowed to take 10 minutes for yourself).  A college friend of mine over at Mockingbird’s Nest did something in December that I thought was slightly insane: something new each day (including  the couch to 5K plan).  While I think the idea is GREAT, doing it in December is slightly insane.  But she is slightly insane plus her kids are 4-legged so she didn’t have to worry about the damn elf on the shelf drama but had the normal host of holiday insanity.

I’m not throwing down the gauntlet of insane challenges for 2014 (plus after the 5K turned into a half-marathon issue of 2013, I distinctly lack common sense).  My plans for 2014: work less, experiment more from the kitchen to pampering activities, write more, read more, pay down some of the damn student loan debt and walk a few road ‘races’, and figure out what is important and let everything else just go.  But the number one goal? Working less.  I’d be happy with a 45 hours week!  Oh, and Iceland.  I want to go to Iceland this year.

$250,000 part of the “elite”: Think again, It’s really about the ZIP code.

September 16, 2012

In fairness, both candidates have made comments regarding no cuts for households earning less than either $200,000 or $250,000 (depending on candidate) in the recent tax plan.  I’ve seen a host of comments regarding that particular line in the sand.  And then I started to wonder. I randomly picked 2 professions: A RN (with a BSN) and an accountant to make up the 2 income household.  According to the March 27, 2012 data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean accountant salary in the U.S. runs $70,130 per year.  The median annual base salary for a registered nurse in the United States is at $65,918.  This household would have a base salary for of $136,048.  Both are professional jobs that require at least a 4 year college degree.  Here are some city by city comparisons:

I used Des Moines, IA as the point of comparison: it’s fairly economically stable, Midwestern city.

To maintain the same standard of living that $136,048 would create in Des Moines, the mythical couple would need to make:

$180,527: Phoenix, AZ

$214,251:  Los Angeles, CA

$217,407:  Oakland, CA (live), SF (work)

$130,345: Birmingham, AL

$175,124:  Anchorage, AK

$161,690: Denver, CO

$237,850: Washington, DC

$142,879: Jacksonville, FL

$131,401: Columbus, GA

$175,770:  Chicago, IL

$129,273: Indianapolis, IN

$132,985: Kansas City, KS

$139,669: New Orleans, LA

$162,577: Minneapolis/St. Paul

$177,962: Baltimore, MD

$213,582: Boston, MA

$187,325: Hartford, CT

$132,839: Omaha, NE

$146,206: Albuquerque, NM

$273,400: New York, NY (all boroughs)

$134,666: Tulsa, OK

$145,961: Pittsburgh, PA

$140,326: Roanoke, VA

$254,583: Honolulu, HI

There is a real danger of a line in the sand approach to tax based on income without matrices to the cost of living factor by zip code.  Randomly picking 2 “average” jobs for a family and plugging them into the salary.com conversion shows a wide array of what the income needed to maintain the same standard of living based on region for the same job.  We can’t find relief for the vanishing middle class buy an arbitrary line.  Part of the alleged tax reform has to include an actualization of real income by region.

Still wating a response from Best Buy . . . . .

November 30, 2011

Dear Mr. Dunn, Ms. Smith and Mr. Paragi,

I am writing to inform you that I have simply never experienced such a monumental break down in customer service that I have endured for the 6 days with BestBuy.com.  While I realize many customers say they won’t shop an establishment again as a mere threat, I won’t shop with you again.  You won’t miss my business: I purchase very little in the way of electronics and when I do, I prefer to use local merchants.

However, this year, my sister wanted to purchase a Sony Computer Entertainment America-PlayStation 3 (160GB) Complete Entertainment Bundle-98310 which, as you know, was Black Friday door buster for $199.99.  This pricing or item was not unique to BestBuy: Wal-Mart and Target also offered the same product at the same price.  My sister’s preference for BestBuy had me purchase the item for her.  I used my credit card, had it shipped to my address.  On 11/24, I received an order confirmation stating that Order Number: BBY01-429769002426 was in process and expected to ship in 0-1 days.  On Monday (11/28) I received an email telling me there was a problem with my credit card or order.  As the on-line status indicated the item could not be cancelled and was in process, I did not pursue it feeling it might be an on-line scam.

Once I received as second email on 11/29 (Tuesday), I felt there might be a problem.  I called my credit card company, American Express, and they verified an authorization in the amount of $297.47 (American Express authorization number xxxxxx) to BestBuy for my order.  At this point, I called your customer service number to inquire as to the problem (I surmised it might have been a missed CIV number).  After spending 10 minutes on hold, to be transferred where I sat on hold for another 20 minutes, my day of sheer lunacy with your company began.

1)      Call number one: I was disconnected after being on the phone for approximately 46 minutes.

2)      Call number two: after second hold time of approximately 30 minutes, I spoke to “Judy” who claimed to be a supervisor.  She opened case number 9296255 regarding the multiple issues with this order.  I asked to speak to her manager: she stated that she did not have a supervisor as she “was” a supervisor.  I pointed out to her that everybody had a supervisor, even Mr. Dunn who reports to the Board of Directors.  I asked to hold: she declined and took my number and said one would call me back “within the hour”.  22 hours later, I am still waiting for a call back. During my conversation with Judy, she explained that because my order shipped in 2 parts, my credit card had to be re-authorized.  At this point, I explained your organization is still holding a charge pending and it’s a debit system back and once all 3 items are deducted, the balance owed to you from American Express and ultimately me would be zero.

  1. I discussed with the next 3 people the lack of “ship complete” options available on BestBuy.com.  I verified this when I made the order and then again today.  I would have done ship complete as the controller and blue-ray DVD remote are of no use to me without the PlayStation.  This is a basic feature for web sites.  In the early 1990’s (fully 20 years ago), Talbots had this feature available for telephone orders.  BN.com has this available today.
  2. I do not understand the logic behind multiple re-authorizations of a credit card when the credit has already been reserved by the credit card company.  At this point, BestBuy.com is holding $279.97 AND $212.49 of my credit for an order that totals $279.97.

3)      After contacting American Express, they agreed to one-off a second authorization to BestBuy.com for $212.49 so the item may be shipped.

4)      I called BestBuy.com again and provided the credit card number: the individual I spoke with was unable to verify that the charge went through (BestBuy case number xxxxxxxx)

5)      At 2:19 pm, I contacted the customer relations department listed on your web site and spoke to a gentleman named Lee.  He informed me it was not his job to handle complaints from BestBuy.Com.  At this point, I would like to point out the insanity of listing a customer relations department on your web site that does not handle web issues.  He then transferred me to “web research”.

6)      After spending 7 minutes on hold, Amy, verified that she was unable to do anything, unable to expedite my order and unable to explain to me why there was not a ship complete option and why the dual charge/charge release was your business practice.

7)      As of 10:38 this morning, the tracking number for the controller and remote are not showing tracking information.  My order for the PlayStation is still showing as “pending” and I have an additional charge (with no credit release) to my credit card company.

I am quite disgusted with BestBuy.com on several fronts: first, my calls were routinely dropped after 10-11 minutes of hold time because the phone lines were “too busy” according to the automated reply.  Second, your employees are not empowered to provide customer service to individuals who purchase from your store/on-line shop.  Third, there is not a mechanism to re-enter a credit card number during your on-line system when you have indicated there is an issue with a credit card number.  Fourth, there is zero point of escalation for individuals when resolution is complex.

I am not asking for a free PlayStation (although that would go a long way in taking your organization off of my blacklist) for my sister.  I do believe that your organization should do something to compensate me for my time and sheer lack of customer service provided by your organization.  At this point, I expect delivery of all 3 of my items by the end of the week and my American Express card to reflect a total charge of $279.97 with no pending debit holds from your company.

As you know, customers are exceedingly choosy about who they shop with for a myriad of reasons.  I had a choice when selecting who to purchase this item from: I made a mistake. The “bargain” that this item sold for has been nothing but a nightmare, between charge/charge backs to my credit card, unable to ship complete on web orders, employees who have lied to me and a simple inability to find out when I will receive my product.

I look forward to your reply,

(A not so) Best Buy: Tales in (missing) Customer Service

November 29, 2011

I’m sure this is karmic revenge for my friends who are tired of hearing me rail on the evils of on-line box stores.  First, let me be clear, this was my good deed of the decade as I was trying to help my sister surprise her tweeners.  It turned out to be my pro-local business, über vigilance coming back to bite me in the butt.  (Really, Santa, it was a GOOD DEED!).  My sister wanted to purchase a video gaming system for her kids for Christmas: since she has prying eyes, we agreed I’d get it for her, she’d pay me back – thus avoiding the problem of a possible false flag for credit card fraud and a surprise on Christmas morning.

Somehow, I managed to check every hour, on the hour, until this blasted thing went on sale.  I pre-notified my credit card company of out of habit spending.  I got it! I received the happy email from Best Buy saying “we will be sending this shortly”.  Great, I could see the authorization hold on my card and thought nothing of it.

Yesterday, I received and e-mail saying their was a problem with my credit card.  Since I don’t shop at Best Buy (and note, never will again), I decided to call them (being a bit paranoid about credit card scams since the on-line status said my order was pending).  I was on hold 10 minutes. .  .to be transferred to the department that handles payments for games.  Ok, seriously? It’s a CREDIT CARD.  I sat on hold for 27 minutes (thankfully, I was working on a table at work) before being told my credit card had been denied. What? I provided them the authorization number given to me by the always fantastic American Express.

So, it turns out when you have an order shipped in more than one package (and there wasn’t a ship complete option!), Best Buy re-authorizes your credit card. Each. Time.  My credit card company thought it was fraud. Fast forward 6 hours (!!!!).  I had called Best Buy numerous times: including a supervisor who when I asked to speak to a manager said she didn’t have one: I pointed out she had a boss, even the CEO has a boss, called the customer service number listed on www.bestbuy.com and was told this number wasn’t for dot.com orders (what?) and that customer service couldn’t help me.  After much frustration and a bit of laughter from my co-workers I finally found somebody who could answer my question: the order was forced through after calls between Best Buy and American Express.  The person who “researches” internet issues told me she’s had a few hundred of these complaints.  Gee, I wonder why? Charging-refunding-charging cards? All with fees attached to both the consumer and company?

I’m livid with Best Buy, I’ll be writing several individuals in the company.  But oh, did I deserve it: I knew I should have bought the damn thing locally.  And trust me, I’m not going to purchase anything from Best Buy Worse Experience Ever again.  And the kicker? People asking me what they could do to help: hint, fix my order.

On occupation and other musings

October 9, 2011

I spent yesterday thinking about why the “Occupy Wall Street” protests bother me: I usually don’t care about protests as long as they stay non-violent on both sides.  At some point I realized why I was so bothered: it’s the myth of “all people being born equal”.  While there is a tad bit of truth (everybody is born naked, covered in junk and (hopefully) crying, after that, nothing is ever again equal until the final resting place of the body.  Every thing between is a combination of luck (as most of us railed at some point, we didn’t ask to be born or pick our families), fortune and effort.

For some reason, most people believe the idea of equality.  Ok, let me say this.  I don’t. Equality is a myth.  We all do not posses equal talents (if we did, would there be awe in the innate talents of some people?).  Where are we failing as a society? Has anybody ever seen a kid’s baseball game where all the kids play?  There is something for having every kid have an at bat and in the field but learning that as a person you are not good at something is, I would argue, is one of the more important lessons of childhood.  There is failure when there is failure of effort: NOT failure of skill (I’m speaking about children than people like, oh heart surgeons).

The ideal of a utopia is just that: an ideal.  Can the world be made more equitable? Yes.  But don’t for a minute think we are all equal: we are all unique and with different opportunities.  Our goal should be to maximize the potential.

But on the student loan side: here is a simple solution.  Before being allowed to take out a student loan, parents and students need to take a course demonstrating where they have to pass a test understanding the loan repayment and the needed income (net) to repay, rent a home within a 10 mile radius of the 5 most populated areas for alumni and receive information on the average monthly loan re-payment for graduates in the past 10 years.  Right now, students have to show they know the ‘evils’ of alcohol before enrolling at schools such as the University of South Carolina and Texas Tech.  How about mandating a valuable skill before handing over the fees?

Mindless tips and other “helpful” suggestions

April 25, 2011

I spent part of the weekend doing the search-for-actual-good-job-hunting-tips. I spent MORE time laughing. I’ve decided that either people are far dumber than I actually think (which is scary. . . given my thoughts around most of the species) or there is a genuine lack of unwillingness of anybody from HR people, to placement agencies, to college career offices to say “yes, the economy sucks. if you lose your job, unless you are a renter with in-demand skills (the great unknown), chances are you are screwed for a bit of time.”

Let’s face it: the unemployment rate is roughly 8.5% in the “official” count.  How is unemployment calculated? Good question. I thought it was social security numbers with money paid in – those who are claiming divided by the number of people with social security numbers who are over 21 (or a similar matrix, let’s face it, we are never going to capture the true number with things like maternity leaves, medical leaves, stay at home parents, people who return to school after working, etc) but a way to get the number that is a close approximation.  Nope.

This is from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics – that is the federal government’s department RESPONSIBLE for determining such things as unemployment. This method they have used since 1940 (or longer than my retired parents have been alive):

“Each month, 2,200 highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees interview persons in the 60,000 sample households for information on the labor force activities (job holding and jobseeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households during the survey reference week (usually the week that includes the 12th of the month). At the time of the first enumeration of a household, the interviewer prepares a roster of the household members, including their personal characteristics (date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, veteran status, and so on) and their relationships to the person maintaining the household. This information, relating to all household members 15 years of age and over, is entered by the interviewers into laptop computers; at the end of each day’s interviewing, the data collected are transmitted to the Census Bureau’s central computer in Washington, D.C. (The labor force measures in the CPS pertain to individuals 16 years and over.) In addition, a portion of the sample is interviewed by phone through three central data collection facilities. (Prior to 1994, the interviews were conducted using a paper questionnaire that had to be mailed in by the interviewers each month.)

Each person is classified according to the activities he or she engaged in during the reference week. Then, the total numbers are “weighted,” or adjusted to independent population estimates (based on updated decennial census results). The weighting takes into account the age, sex, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and State of residence of the person, so that these characteristics are reflected in the proper proportions in the final estimates.”

The federal government says this sampling is effective – reality? As a line from The West Wing (paraphrased): No, there aren’t more poor people, we are just counting them correctly.  Which administration wants to be known as the administration that actually discovered MORE unemployed people.

The site continues to explain how these “highly trained” samplers obtain their data:

“Mrs. Jenkins tells the interviewer that her daughter, Katherine Marie, was thinking about looking for work in the prior 4 weeks but knows of no specific efforts she has made. Katherine Marie does not meet the activity test for unemployment and is, therefore, counted as not in the labor force.”

Wait a minute: in a court that would be hearsay.  Mrs. Jenkins’ doesn’t KNOW what her daughter did or did not do: shouldn’t the correct tag be “unknown status” (let’s put it this way, how many parents really know if a teenage kid put in a job application or not? I’d hope more than I think is probably true. . . ).

Another issue: according to the 2000 census (I can’t find the breakdown for 2010), there were 105,480,101 HOUSEHOLDS according to the US Department of Census

In short? The US Government for the past 71 years has been calculating the unemployment rate in some backwards manner by which they interview (at the maximum) .006% of households in the US. Yup. I feel real secure in the data.  But then again, one of the sites I read said that if you have been unemployed for more than 6 months, you are unemployable.  I think I’ll file that under how the federal government calculates the data.

But since I can poke holes in the data, does anybody have a job for me that uses these sort of skills? I’m sure it’s valuable.

(not so) Extreme Couponing

April 21, 2011
Love the chocolate bargins!

Love the chocolate!!

I admit . . . I caught a few episodes of extreme couponing. First, I don’t get the concept of *needing* to purchase 91 bottles of mustard  even if you could get them for free or .25/each.  I don’t.  I understand buying a few, keeping them at home and donating the rest to charity endeavors like food banks, youth groups for fund-raisers, etc. Some of the people had them in basements (maybe they save them for families when they are burned out of their homes … I don’t know).  Not so surprisingly, I became riveted by watching people spend 30 hours a week, to obtain $800 of groceries for $18.31. I love a bargain as much (or more) as the next person.  Yup, I clip my coupons and combine them with sales – for things I *need*  (8 large containers of laundry detergent? not so much!).  I completely grasp using coupons to save money.  I used them, plus ones that are doubled last combined with sales to receive about 60% off and what was missing? Fresh fruits, fresh veggies.  Some times it IS fun to find the bargains out there …. I’m just not sure that spending 30-50 hours to buy a vast amount of foodstuffs is something to be celebrated.  Honestly? It seems like OCD meets hoarding .
 
But, for the record, the pic above is my $3.53 candy stash from CVS courtesy of a sale, CVS reward bucks and a coupon.  I’m happy about that! :)

Bean Soup

March 27, 2011

Ah, Sunday: the day I throw things in the crock pot in hopes of making enough food to make it through the week.  My current obsession, mostly since it still is freezing, is soup. Somewhat simple to make, inexpensive and well, easy to re-heat (a key), I tossed a few this weeks version in the crock pot this morning before a day of hoops, job hunting and the other mundane tasks that have filled my life.

I opted a quick Google search on the history of bean soup (I mean, I know of the must always be served in the Senate thing) – a few interesting tidbits: Apparently, in 1565 the Spanish Explorers and the Timucua Indians gave thanks and broke bread together over a bowl of bean soup in St. Augustine, Fl.  There is a Bean Soup Festival (seriously) that started as an event for Civil War veterans in Bannerville, Pennsylvania.  Looking back (albeit via pretty shoddy research standards), the variations of bean soup are an indigenous creation to the Americas.  Who knew? I much prefer bean soup to turkey.

15 bean mix

15 bean mix

 

Here is my ultra-simplistic recipe:

One bag of 15 bean mix

16 oz baby carrots

28 oz crushed salt free tomatoes

28 oz water

Soak beans overnight.  Drain, rise.  In crock pot, add beans, baby carrots, tomatoes, stir in water. Cook on low for 10 hours.  Freezes well. I discard the seasoning package in the bag. It is over salted and the masks the natural flavor of the beans.

Crown me!

March 17, 2011

So, after the power of Yelp was explained … I went to see the owner of the dental practice about my well documented trails of my tooth.  I have a genetically pita narrow back jaw.  Any dental work in the back molars causes pain.  Any. I warn dentists of this issue routinely. 

Last year I had a crown done out of sheer need. It added to the credit card debt caused by a lack of a job (think 2K for a tooth).  Within 6 months, it had fallen out (the permanent one … who knows how many temp ones did, I lost count).  I finally yelped about the horrific experience because, well, they treated me like dirt.

I wasn’t looking forward to today. Another few hours in a dental chair with me trying not to cry. Ok. What a difference a person can make. First, the owner was VERY apologetic – took the time to review my dental records and immediately said I had a narrow back jaw which necessitated the creation of space between the teeth and then adjusting the upper molars (removing about 1mm from the top) to match the bite.  When they had called me and said they’d “fix it for free”, I thought the original crown. I said I couldn’t afford that (I can’t). He said it would be taken care of for free. Yup. FOR FREE. It was their error the first time; the crown wasn’t done correctly taking into account my jaw. The reason the crowns were popping off in part was due to a bad fit. The tale of local businesses and social media sites.

I disliked blasting them on Yelp (I updated it!!!!), but truly appreciated the willingness of the business owner to do what was right for me even though it was extensive work.  Of course, he sort of won me over with using a numbing stick on my cheek before the 4 needles.

Here is to hoping the temporary one stays on until the new one comes in … until then, I’m just loving the fact that somebody did the right thing when it was brought to their attention. It happens far too little.

2 years and giving up

March 17, 2011

I’m going to start by saying I’m not angelic. I’m not even really a nice person.   I laugh at reality shows when I know I shouldn’t (but seriously, after 12+ years of Survivor being on CBS, how can you be surprised at eating bugs anymore?).  I eat meat. I curse. I think some people have zero grasp of reality and mistake “a hard life” for “not getting what they want when they want it.”

8 years ago I made the single biggest mistake of my life. I’ve been paying ever since. Nobody died. Nobody was hurt. No local, state, federal or international laws were broken.  After earning a useless graduate degree 5 years ago,  and because of the second biggest mistake of my life, it’s one I’ll never get to use, I’ve worked such thrilling jobs as a temp job for a non-profit where the owner/ruler/person in charge wanted us to call him King (really), had 6 surgeries, worked for a retail company that laid me off after I refused to back down about seeking medical treatment (Shh, big secret, don’t use your employers health insurance in a recession) and in the past 2 years have had a temp job where I had to explain 8th grade government to a person who wanted a database of all elected officials as well a few others here and there.

Because I saved money, because I don’t live above my means, I’ve held on to my home. Yesterday, I lost it: in the take no prisoners sort of way. I called my student loan company to try to defer payments: I can’t pay them any more. I’ve paid them ON unemployment.  Because I no longer qualify FOR unemployment, I’m not unemployed and therefore not eligible for deferment.  So, I was screwed for paying them while ON unemployment because it was the right, responsible, ethical thing to do.  Never mind our multi-million dollar bailout of this company.

I’ve heard just about everything:

“Work fast food or retail”: Hi, I’ve been rejected by Starbucks, McDonald’s and a few others as I’m over qualified.  I’m willing to work there despite the toll on my body – see my previous job and the every 3 week nerve burning injections on my back because standing exacerbated the fractured discs caused by decades of artificial hips.

“Move”: Aside from not being able to probably even sell the condo, I can’t. I live in a state that allows me to purchase health insurance and doesn’t recognize pre-existing conditions. I can’t take the risk of moving to another state and being without health insurance.

“You aren’t doing enough”: Right. The volunteer work, career fairs, job network stuff plus nearly a thousand resumes aren’t enough.

“Pray harder”: go. to. hell.

“You need to cut back more”: I enjoyed my heat at 60 during winter in the northeast.  I like sitting in the dark. I’m a wild fan of variations of rice, beans, eggs and cheese.  And I really like going without the only pain medication that works.

Just once, I’d like somebody to say “I know things are sucky, what can I do for you?”  Instead, I’ll just figure out how to find enough money to keep paying for what I need.  And since I’m an ass, a list of those who never bothered to see if I was ok.