Friday, March 31, 2006
But even if a product isn’t designed by the manufacturer to wear out or break after a certain amount of time, it’s hard to resist the temptation to ‘upgrade’ and replace everything that we own. We all want the latest and greatest.
I confess that I’m a serial purchaser when it comes to computers. I’ve owned (or partially owned) at least 3 laptops and 5 desktops, going all the way back to 7th grade when our family purchased an Apple IIe. That might not sound like a lot compared to other gear heads. But in my mind, a personal computer is still a luxury…something I don't really need…because I always had access to a second computer, whether through work or school. I'm sitting here typing this post on my new laptop, but my work laptop is sitting there in the other room. As a point of comparison, my best friend just purchased her first computer 3 years ago. And even then, it was a used computer that she bought off of a friend of a friend.
So, my question to you is this... are you a serial purchaser? If yes, what to buy and replace every year? Is it your cell phone, car, computer, TV or PDA?
As of yesterday, I've netted a total of $159.98 (after expenses) on the sale of 32 items over the course of the past two months. Here are some relevant facts and figures.
Amazon.com marketplace fees = $102.21
Total revenue deposited to my account = $239.45
Expenses = $79.47
- Shipping (via USPS Media Mail and UPS) = $73.03
- 8.5" x 11" Bubble Mailer Envelopes (25 pack at Sam's Club) = $6.44
All told, I must have spent at least 20 hours uploading each of the items to amazon.com (i.e., writing accurate descriptions), packaging the items, and then dropping them off at the post office on the way to work. Was it worth it? Yes, in the sense that my mostly unread books found a new, more appreciative audience, and I now have more space on my bookshelves to gather more dust ;-)
As for what I would've done differently? Nothing, really. I'm glad that I resisted the temptation to sign up to become a Pro Merchant. It would have saved me $.99 in fees for each of the 32 items. But at a cost of $39.99 (or $19.99 per month) for the 2 month trial period, I would have had to have sold 40 items to have recouped the cost.
I know that a lot of folks prefer to sell things on eBay or half.com. But I think I've had decent results with amazon.com.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
I think the difference is that I schedule my bill payments online, directly through the website, rather than inputting them into Quicken first and then uploading them to the website. Using the one step update, Quicken will automatically download all of the scheduled payments. And then once the payments are actually made, Quicken will match up the entries and 'clear' the transaction. So, it's been a fairly seamless process for me. I haven't really noticed any difference between Quicken's bill payment service and the bank's payment service. And I certainly wouldn't pay $9.95 for the privilege of using Quicken's bill payment service. But maybe someone can enlighten me on this one. Perhaps Sharon has an older version of Quicken or hasn't set up her accounts properly?
Sharon also complains about the longer 'float' with Chase (i.e., the fact that Chase withdraws the funds from her account earlier than Bank One did). Well, I hate to break it to her, but the majority of banks are doing the same thing. And on the flip side of the coin, Chase can do more payments through electronic funds transfer (vs. paper checks) than Bank One ever could. Instead of having to schedule some of my payments 5 days in advance, I can do it 1 or 2 days. So, the float works both ways.
As for the comments that other folks made about chase.com's inferior website design, I wonder if they've actually visited the site recently, because with the new improvements, it was "rated the best retail banking Web site among 29 banking competitors by Keynote WebExcellence Scorecards."
Anyway, I thought I'd share with you some highlights of the new website's enhanced features from an article that was posted on our intranet site:
- An aggregated view of all Chase accounts, including mortgages.
- Free Security Alerts. The site will let customers know if there are possible security concerns, such as a change to a password or user ID.
- Intraday account balances. Balances on Chase.com are updated throughout the day.
- Enhanced online bill-payment. More bills can be paid through electronic transfer rather than paper check on Chase.com, meaning faster payments.
- The ability to quickly view more account activity. Chase.com users can see 90 days worth of checking and savings account activity without having to view a past account statement.
- Small business account enhancements. People with small business accounts will be able to manage those accounts and their personal accounts under one log-on.
I don't know of any folks my age (Gen X) who are involved in either a geh or an investment club. But I do know of some folks who were a part of a 'giving circle', which is similar in concept to a geh in the sense that a group of friends pool their resources together to raise capital. But instead of lending the money to individual members, the circle functioned as a mini foundation, distributing money to worthy causes.
Every month or so, the group would meet to talk about various charitable organizations they wanted to support and why (e.g., goals, values, impact, efficient use of resources, etc.). If, at the end of the meeting, they were in agreement on one or more organizations, they would arrange to have some of the money from the collective pool of funds transferred to those organizations. It's a novel twist on an old concept.
I don't know about you, but I just love the thought of people pooling their resources together to help accomplish something greater than what they could have done by themselves. And I especially love the give and take and learning process that occurs when people dialogue with one another about issues that they care about. In a way, the personal finance blogging community does that as well. We trade tips and advice with one another, in addition to providing accountability and moral support.
So, many thanks to all of the trailblazing pf bloggers out there. As a relative newbie to the community, I'm reaping the benefits of your hard work. And a special thanks to the experienced bloggers who have taken the time to visit my blog and post comments. I'm immensely grateful.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I find it interesting that people will easily pay upwards of $100 a month for a local gym membership that they rarely use, $70 per hour for a personal trainer, $350 to an accountant to file their taxes, $75 a week for housecleaning, $20 a week on dry cleaning, etc. But they're not willing to pay anywhere near a fraction of those amounts for psychological, spiritual or emotional forms of 'self-care'.
The point that I'm trying to make is nothing new. Other bloggers have said the same thing much more eloquently than I ever could. But it's good to be reminded about the basics...namely, that it's important to invest in yourself first. Not just your education, career or physical health, but your emotional, spiritual and mental health as well. It's more than okay to spend some hard earned dollars to see a therapist, counselor or spiritual director if it'll help contribute to a more joyful, purpose driven or goal oriented life. Sure, your net worth will take a short term hit. But the long term rewards are priceless.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Service Says No Divorce, No Online Dating
A man separated from his wife but not quite divorced is suing a popular online matchmaker for refusing to help him find a date.
John Claassen, a 36-year-old lawyer from Emeryville, filed a lawsuit alleging eHarmony abridged his civil rights by refusing to match him up. He said the company, which has an "unmarried only" policy, broke California state law by discriminating against him based on his marital status.
Claassen, who is seeking $12,000 in civil penalties, said Monday he expects his divorce to be official in about two months, but that he should not have to wait until then to use eHarmony. It should be up to would-be dates to decide whether to pass him over because he is technically still married, he said.
Is it just me or has the world gone crazy? I know of several acquaintances who started seeing other people before their divorces were finalized. And I've often times questioned the psychological or emotional wisdom of doing so. But to sue an online dating service because they won't help you hook up with unattached singles? It's not as if there aren't any viable alternatives to eHarmony.
Claasen's divorce will be finalized in 2 months. Call me a cynic, but my guess is that the real reason behind his lawsuit is that his divorce is costing him an arm and a leg.
I mentioned in an earlier post last week that I purchased a new laptop, and it arrived more quickly than I thought it would. I spent a few hours Thursday and Friday evening transferring the files from my desktop to my laptop. In the process, I learned how to use my iPod as a hard drive. Or course, over the weekend, my friend pointed out that if I had purchased a router ahead of time, I could have hooked up both computers to the same network and then transferred everything over directly. But such is life.
After doing a bit of research online, I decided to purchase a Linksys Wireless-G Broadband router. The reviews were somewhat mixed on all of the routers, including that particular model. So, rather than order the router online, I purchased the router from my local Best Buy. I paid a few dollars more for the router, but I figured it was worth not having to deal with the hassle of shipping the product back if it turned out to be defective.
The product came with an installation disk. And it was supposed to be a quick and easy setup process. After an hour of rebooting and re-installing the software, I finally gave up and called an IT friend. He tried to walk me through a manual setup process, but that didn't work. Sigh. The online user reviews at cnet.com warned me about Linksys' poor technical support. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So, I took a deep breath and dialed the customer service hotline. Of course, they were experiencing unusually heavy call volume. And they suggested that I visit their website to download their Easy Connect software. "Sets up and configures your Internet connection and wireless home network as well as diagnoses and fixes wireless adapter installation issues!" Um, yeah right. Just like the software on your installation disk?
But I was on hold for a while, so I figured it couldn't hurt to download the software and at least try it. And amazingly enough, it worked! The utility even configured my security settings. Now why didn't they just include the online utility with the product instead of the installation disk software?!?!?
Lesson learned. If you're having problems setting up hardware or software, it's always a good idea to check to see if there are any helpful updates or utilities available online at the vendor's website.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Most of the time, I can just laugh and shrug it off. My standard response to criticism is that "I have many other fine qualities." :-) Usually this happens when I go out to eat with friends, and I ask how much I owe. Thankfully, there's always somebody else in the group who can figure out the food bill in their head.
But today, I went to lunch with a friend whose math skills are just as bad as mine are. Of course, I didn't know that ahead of time. I let her figure out the food bill, and we wound up under tipping the waitress. Believe me, it was purely unintentional. But the waitress quickly made her displeasure known to us. She practically threw a takeout container at me, as she walked by. To make matters worse, it took us a while to figure out why she was angry at us. My friend and I literally were standing outside of the restaurant arguing about the food bill. Finally, my friend agreed that I was probably right. So, she wound up going back into the restaurant and giving the hostess some extra cash to give to the waitress. The irony was that the lower tip was probably warranted. The waitress already had a bad attitude when she got to our table. She practically rolled her eyes at us when we didn't order drinks. And she got my friend's order wrong (dressing on the side, please). If we wanted to send a message to the waitress, that would've been the way to do it.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that I am bad at math, and I need to use a calculator next time. Sure, I might look like a complete idiot next to my math whiz friends because I can't do simple multiplication, division and addition in my head. But it's better than relying on other folks to do it for me and then getting it wrong.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Despite many Enron workers losing sizable nest eggs when the company went bankrupt--and the constant drumbeat from financial advisers on the benefits of diversification--it appears many employees of large firms are continuing to pack their 401(k) plans with company stock.
In a 2005 report on 401(k) plans by Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Hewitt Associates that looked at more than 2.5 million eligible employees, company stock was the single largest holding for the average participant. Large U.S. equity funds came in second, Hewitt said.
"Familiarity tends to breed complacency," said Christopher Jones, chief investment officer at Financial Engines, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based provider of 401(k) managed accounts. "Employees feel more comfortable with the stock because they know the managers, know the CEO. ... But unlike a mutual fund, individual companies can go bankrupt, like those employees of Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing" can attest.
Even with blue-chip companies, if you compare the performance of a randomly picked stock from the Standard & Poor's 500 with that of the S&P 500 index over the long term, the index would do better two-thirds of the time, Jones said "If it declines 20 to 25 percent, that's a really bad year for the S&P 500, but individual companies go down 20 percent all the time," he said.
The performance of an individual 401(k) also depends on what is done with the rest of the money. Nevertheless, "It would be more reasonable to hold 5 percent to 10 percent company stock, and spread the rest of the portfolio, and investment risk, across different asset classes," Jones said.
For further information on how to approach 401(k) allocations, see NASD's investor learning center at its Web site (www.nasd.com).
I have to confess that I'm kind of surprised by the results of Hewitt survey. In this day and age, it's scary to think that people are investing the bulk of their 401(k) assets in company stock. Even if you subscribe to Warren Buffet's philosophy of concentrating all of your investments in a handful of good companies, the majority of Americans aren't fortunate enough to work for any of the companies that warrant that type of investment. Admittedly, we don't have the full picture on all of these individuals. We don't know for example, whether these individuals have other diversified investments outside of their 401(k) accounts. So perhaps the company stock represents only a small percentage of their entire net worth. And we don't know whether these individuals are being forced to invest in company stock or whether the alternatives are far worse.
However, if you do have a large chunk of your assets invested in company stock and you do have other choices as to where to invest it, please consider reallocating at least some of those funds.
As for me, I do own some company stock, but it represents only 5% of all of my retirement assets and maybe 2% of my entire investment portfolio. So, my exposure is minimal.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Of course, I spent the next 3 hours transferring files from my desktop computer and loading software onto my laptop. I stayed up way too late fiddling with settings and such, and I'm not even halfway done. So, I'm totally dragging this morning. In hindsight, maybe it would've been better if Lenovo hadn't been so efficient. If the laptop had arrived today, I would've at least had the weekend to recover :-)
Time to do some research on wireless routers. That's the next item on my to-do list.
It beats trying to do it yourself with one of those messy syringe-type kits.
Too bad I just purchased a refurbished black inkjet cartridge online for $23. And that was even after I used the 5% discount that I found through couponcabin.com :-)
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Okay, a bit of a rant. But a few years ago, my friend (let's call her Justine) and I went to The Bombay Company store because she wanted to buy a birthday present for another friend. There was an older woman standing just inside the door, ostensibly to greet people and welcome them into the store. When Justine and I opened the door, she gave us the once over, and then pursed her lips. No 'hello', no 'welcome to Bombay Company'. Okay, then. Justine and I did a quick loop around the store and then walked out without buying anything.
'Did you see the look that woman gave us?' Yeah. Totally rude. I'm never going back to that store.
Admittedly, Justine and I were dressed fairly casually. She was wearing jeans and a nice sweatshirt. I was wearing jeans and a leather jacket. And admittedly we weren't wearing makeup, and we both look younger than our age. But here's the kicker. At the time, Justine was an auditor at a large consumer products company, and I was an associate in private practice at a large law firm. Could we afford to buy something at Bombay Company? You do the math. Justine was ready to make a purchase that day. But based on the treatment we received, she decided to take her business elsewhere.
In contrast, when I was in graduate school, I needed to buy an interview suit. So, at a friend's suggestion, I went to Nordstrom. I was wandering around the petite section, looking hopelessly lost and confused, when an older saleswoman came up to me and asked me if she could help me find anything. I told her I was looking for a black suit, one that I could wear on multiple interviews. But nothing too trendy or expensive. She sized me up with one look and then found two suits for me, both of which were very much on sale. After trying on both suits, I decided to go with the cheaper one. When she finished ringing up my purchase, she gave me her business card and told me to call her if I ever needed to buy another suit. Again, I didn't have any makeup on, and I was in student attire. You can be sure that I went back to Nordstrom and looked for that saleswoman after I graduated from school and entered the workforce.
The moral of the story is that appearances can be deceiving when it comes to wealth and purchasing power.
Booking must be done through the Web site, which was launched Wednesday. At least three or four seats on each one-way trip are available for a $1 fare. At the upper end, one-way fares will range from $9 to $27.50, depending on the city.
It should take about nine months to see whether the pilot service catches on. If it proves popular, the company may introduce the double-decker buses used in Britain, because they can hold 93 passengers, as opposed to 55 in standard motor coaches. As well, the program will be expanded to other U.S. regions and Canada.
Condo - my sanctuary. There are times when I hate home ownership (like when my faucet started dripping and I couldn't figure out how to fix it myself). But at the end of the day, it's a blessing to have a place to call my own.
iPod mini - I mostly listen to NPR podcasts and soothing, inspirational music. And yes, mom. I'm careful not to keep it on too long because I don't particularly want to lose my hearing.
Mountain bike - in terms of stress relief, nothing beats a long, quiet bike ride along the lakefront.
Kirkland Anodized Aluminum cookware set - much cheaper than All-Clad or Calphalon, although I wish that the frying pans had a second handle on the other end, since they're pretty heavy to pick up with one hand.
All-in-one printer, fax and copier machine - no more running to Kinko's to copy or fax one page documents.
Digital camera - these days, it's soooo easy to share photos with family and friends. Just point and shoot, upload and then email the link to everyone.
Cell phone with web browser - they locked down our computers at work so we can't access our personal email accounts. People still send me messages on my yahoo account and expect me to respond immediately. Sigh.
Palm PDA - no more random scraps of paper. My calendar and contact list, all in one. Quicken software - at times, it drives me crazy. But it's easier than doing everything via Excel. Electric, cordless kettle - it heats up water faster than a microwave and shuts off by itself. How cool is that? A must for tea drinkers like me.
Senseo coffee pod machine - for a quick, single shot of coffee in the morning, it can't be beat.
Cordless phone with dual handsets and speaker phone - if you're like me, it's easy to lose track of where you put the cordless phone. With two handsets, you're sure to have one somewhere close by ;-) And with a speakerphone, I can listen in on conference calls and type at the same time.
Method cleaning wipes - no harsh chemicals and biodegradeable.
The Kite Runner - beautifully written, yet incredibly sad. The one novel that I enjoyed reading the most in 2005.
I admit that I'm somewhat of a gadget geek and a gear head....comes from having an older brother who was really into that kind of stuff. Anyway, these are just a few of my favorite things :-)
How about you? What are your favorite things?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Anyway, they really make it easy on consumers to contact them. Right there, on the back of the bottle, they list not only their website address but their email address as well.
So, late last night, I sent a nice, friendly email to email@example.com. First I complimented them on their cleaning wipes. Then I explained my frustration with their laundry detergent and asked if any other consumers had expressed similar concerns.
This morning, I went to check my email and low and behold, a marketing manager at Method had written me back. She indicated that they had received little (if any), negative feedback about the efficacy of the detergent. So, she was wondering if maybe it was just a bad batch and asked for the lot number. She also asked me for my street address because she wanted to send me some coupons for some free products. Cool beaners. That was really nice of her.
Anyway, I'm hoping that the bottle really did come from a bad batch because I'd really like to see this company succeed.
Anyway, Jamie is known throughout the company and on Wall Street as a ruthless cost cutter. But what I didn't know is that Jamie is just as frugal at home as he is at work. "At home, spying a not totally empty bottle of ketchup in the trash ignites an explosion. At one point Dimon was appalled to see that his daughters were using bushels of towels--so he imposed a strict quota of one a week. He's so frugal that, to the shock of family and friends, he continued to wear T-shirts with the Citigroup logo long after Citi had fired him." This is a man who earns millions of dollars each year.
The other item worth noting in the article is the huge disparity in salaries between heritage Bank One and JPMC employees before the merger. "Regional bank managers at J.P. Morgan earned around $2 million -- five times the $400,000 that comparable Bank One people made." Wow. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have felt too good about my job if I were a regional bank manager from the Bank One side. Even if you account for cost of living adjustments, JPMorgan employees were way overpaid, and according to Jamie, they knew it. "'I'd tell people they were way overpaid,' Dimon recalls, 'and guess what? They already knew it.' The kicker: Most of the managers stayed on despite the cuts."
The article is pretty long but well worth the read. The man is definitely a fascinating individual. It'll be interesting to follow his career in the next few years. And as a JPMC stockholder, I really hope he succeeds in vanquishing his competitors ;-)
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I've been thinking a lot lately about how to declutter and simplify my life. I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been trying to clear out some space on my bookshelves by selling some of my books and CDs on amazon.com.
Along those same lines, Madame X at My Open Wallet wrote a fascinating post entitled How I Live in 242 sq ft. In it, she says "knowing that I don't have much space for stuff really makes me think about whether I really want or need to buy it, and I think it does have a significant effect on how much money I spend!"
Well, that got me thinking about some of the stuff that I wish I hadn't purchased. I don't really buy things on impulse very often. Even small items tend to be thoroughly researched beforehand. But sometimes, even after I've gathered all the relevant research and data, I still suffer from buyer's remorse. I guess no matter how many product reviews you read, it really just comes down to personal taste.
Here's a partial list of stuff that I own that didn't quite live up to the marketing hype.
Stearns and Foster Pillowtop Mattress - very expensive and way too soft. I wake up with a sore back. So now I just sleep on my side. Sigh.
CD/Radio Alarm Clock - I never use the CD or Radio. I wake up to the normal buzzer. Go figure.
Bimmer - see my post on Keeping Up with the Joneses. Also, since it's rear wheel drive, it's a helluva ride in bad weather. There's a really steep incline into my parking garage. When it's snowing heavily outside, I just put it in second gear, offer up a brief prayer and then floor it.
Leather tote - it's way too heavy, even when there's nothing in it. Add a laptop and a couple of files, and it's impossible for me to carry.
Patio furniture - I don't spend a lot of time on my terrace, other than to water my plants or do some grilling. I live in a high rise condo building. On most days, it's just too windy outside. And with city noise from the el and freight trains, it's not exactly peaceful or conversation friendly.
Bread machine - I used this a lot when I first bought it, but the cost of ingredients starts to add up. And the loaf starts to get stale pretty quickly. I think I'd rather just buy a loaf of bread on sale at the grocery store.
Satellite TV - okay, technically I didn't purchase this. It's part of my monthly condo association fees. But I rarely watch TV. So, this one really bugs me.
Method concentrated laundry detergent - this stuff is marketed as being environmentally friendly. Too bad my fluffy towels come out feeling stiff as a board when I use it. I've tried rinsing my clothes twice and adding more fabric softener. Nothing seems to work.
Middlesex - I know that this novel won the Pulitzer Prize, but I honestly could not get into this story. I made it halfway through the book before I finally gave up and called it a day.
Okay, that's it for now. I may update this list at some later point in time. And tomorrow, I'll try to list some of the things that I'm actually glad that I purchased.
According to the Standard MasterCard Platinum Guide to Benefits, to get coverage on a purhased item, the item has to "have an original manufacturer's warranty of twelve (12) months or less."
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, the Lenovo ThinkPad Z60t comes with a standard three (3) year manufacturer's warranty on parts and labor.
The Visa Guide to Benefits (for standard cards, mind you....not platinum) indicates that their Extended Warranty Protection "doubles the free repair period under the original manufacturer's written U.S. repair warranty up to one (1) additional year on eligible warranties of three (3) years or less." Now that's more like it!
Life takes Visa!
This comes to mind because of the recent actions in the U.S. Senate that attempt to "crack down" on energy companies because the price of oil is so much higher than it used to be and because one large oil concern, Exxon (XOM), is reporting very large profits (after many years of modest earnings).
The crackdown takes the form of preventing oil companies from merging or at least making it much harder for them to merge. The idea is that the energy companies have been fixing prices at artificially high levels, and if they merge, they'll just do it more.
The only problem with this idea is that it's based on a totally false premise. The energy companies don't set the price of oil or of gasoline. The prices you pay for heating oil or gasoline aren't set in boardrooms in Texas but in trading rooms at commodities markets all over the world.
Gas prices aren't set in shadowy conferences in shooting lodges, but in rooms of people shouting or punching computer keys in London, New York, and Tokyo. Oil is a world commodity like tin or copper or rubber or coffee. The price is set by traders anticipating supply and demand.
[I]f we keep punishing the companies that in good faith give us the energy we need to power our lives at market prices -- which sometimes give them a big profit and sometimes give them a small one -- eventually, they'll go away. Or they won't have the ability to do their jobs as well because of all the restrictions we've put on them.
Food for thought. If the federal government decides to crack down on U.S. oil companies, you can be sure that international oil companies won't be sitting on the sidelines and twiddling their thumbs.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I just rented the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice this weekend, and it’s interesting to note the contrast in cultural norms between late 18th century British landed gentry and modern society. I found it fascinating that everyone in the story knew exactly how much everyone else was worth in terms of annual income and dowries (e.g., £10,000 per year for Mr. Darcy, £5,000 per year for Mr. Bingley and £30,000 for Georgiana Darcy).
I'm thankful that we no longer discuss annual salaries or inheritances on a regular basis and that we're no longer judged as eligible or ineligible for marriage on the basis of those two criteria. Realistically speaking, finances do play a part in certain relationships. But most of my friends married for love instead of financial security and social status.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
In 1999, I bought a women's rechargeable electric shaver from Hammacher. About a year later, the AC adapter started to malfunction. I had to move the cord 'just so' in order to get the darn thing to turn on or recharge. Well, towards the end of last year, I finally got fed up with the temperamental beast and decided to purchase a new one.
About 2 months after I purchased the new shaver, I was browsing the Hammacher website for some gift ideas, and I stumbled upon their lifetime warranty. So, I decided to send them a friendly email, to see if they could help me replace the AC adapter for my old shaver. Within 2 days, I received a response from a customer service rep in Ohio. After a couple of email exchanges, she was able to look up my order in the system using my old street address. Although they no longer carry my old electric shaver, she said that she would still try to locate an AC adapter for me. If they had one in stock, it would arrive in 5-7 business days. Otherwise, the part would be shipped directly from the vendor and it would arrive in 2 weeks. Now that's what I call customer service!
Too bad I didn't think to contact Hammacher before I purchased the new shaver. Ah well. It's nice to know that some stores will still stand behind their lifetime warranties. Admittedly, these stores usually charge higher prices, so you're not exactly getting a bargain. But given the trend towards shorter manufacturer's warranties on the one hand and expensive extended warranties on the other, sometimes it's worth paying a premium in exchange for some great customer service and peace of mind.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Costco Checking Authenticity of Picassos
One of Pablo Picasso's daughters has questioned the authenticity of a drawing listed for sale on Costco Wholesale Corp.'s Web site, and for two others already sold over the past two years as works by the iconic Spanish cubist.
"Picador in a Bullfight," a drawing listed at $145,999.99, was removed from Costco's Web site this week after Maya Widmaier-Picasso questioned its authenticity certificates, and the certificates for the other two works.
Costco has begun probing their authenticity, Jim Sinegal, chief executive of the nation's largest wholesale-club, said Thursday. "We're still trying to ferret out where we're at on this thing," Sinegal said. He said the company had thoroughly researched the authenticity of "Picador in a Bullfight" and the other two before they were offered for sale.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
And just to clarify (in response to the anonymous commenter who thought I was trying to get something for nothing), you do have to pay $1.49 for each CD ($1 plus 49 cents shipping).
Time to upload the rest of my 'want list' and 'have list'. Once la la actually sends me my mailing kit, I'll be able start shipping out CDs!
Here's what it had to say about Chicago, a bubble sitter where prices may have peaked:
The Midwest hasn't had the kind of dramatic price increases as cities on the two coasts and those in the Sun Belt. As such, Chicago isn't as susceptible to a pricing bubble as some of the other major urban areas of the country, the real estate pros say. However, the ratio of housing costs to income in the market far exceeds that of other markets in the state and job growth has been sluggish. "The big challenge in Chicago is work-force housing," Gollis says. "We're always looking at likely income growth and affordability growth or lack thereof."
Surprisingly, San Francisco is in the same category:
With a median home price of nearly $720,000 at the end of 2005, according to the NAR, San Francisco remains one of the country's most expensive cities to live in, outpacing even Honolulu and New York City. Housing prices are unlikely to decline because of short supply -- surrounded by hills and its famed bay -- there's just nowhere else to build anything less expensive in the city. But realistically, there aren't that many people who can afford to buy at those prices, which should keep prices from going much higher.
For example, I've been eyeing the Lenovo Thinkpad Z60t for the past few months. And last week, one of my friends mentioned that he'd ordered one for his wife through his mother-in-law's employee purchase program. I asked him about the pros and cons of that particular model and if I could actually take a look at the laptop when it arrives. For me, the feel of the keyboard is pretty important. Thankfully, he said 'yes'. But more than that, he offered to send me the link to the employee purchase program because it clearly states on the email that you can forward the email onto family and friends. Yippee! That's a $700-$800 discount off of the Lenovo web price!
And as FMF reminded us in his post, it's always good to find a new home for things that you don't need. Thankfully, my parents already have dibs on my desktop computer :-)
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Once you set up an account, you can easily send an email to family and friends to ask them to link to your account. Like any rewards program, you simply create a login id and password. Then you register your credit cards and/or grocery store cards, and every time you use one of them at a participating company a percentage of your spending is deposited back into the linked Upromise account.
Some of the participating companies are ones that I already frequent (e.g., ExxonMobil and Bed Bath & Beyond). Others, not so much. But there's also a handy remindU software tool that you can download onto your computer, so you can automatically get credit for purchases at an online retailer's site if you forget to click through the Upromise site. Also, you can purchase gift cards online at Homedepot.com and get 4% back!
In terms of privacy, there's no need to worry that your friend or family member is tracking your expenditures. All they see on their statement is the aggregate amount contributed from all of their friends and family members.
Also, you don't need a Citi Upromise credit card to create an account, although it definitely makes it easier to build up points, since you can 'double-dip' (i.e., get points from Citi as well as from a participating company).
Anyway, if you have some friends who don't already have children or nieces or nephews of their own, feel free to invite them to link to your account.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Ask lenders to report your credit limit.
Ask your banks and credit-card companies to list your credit limit if it's missing on any accounts on your credit report. If you don't, Fair Isaac may assume that those accounts are maxed out even if you haven't borrowed to the limit. This simple step could improve your score by as many as 50 points!
Monday, March 13, 2006
13 episodes will teach children about basic financial responsibility.
Working pro bono, Buffett will play himself in a coming 13-part DVD series, "The Secret Millionaire's Club," produced by Burbank-based DIC Entertainment Corp. The 75-year-old grandfather plays an animated version of himself who offers his wisdom with the kind of down-home delivery that has made Buffett a folk hero to investors."
An educational approach to money and investing struck me as a very good idea," Buffett said in an interview.
In the series Buffett offers advice to a group of children who want to raise money to ward off an unscrupulous developer aiming to shut down a youth center in Buffett's hometown of Omaha. The children auction some valuable baseball memorabilia they discover in the club's attic. After paying off the club's mortgage they turn to Buffett for advice on what companies they should invest in.
The stories, aimed at children 8 to 12, reflect many of Buffett's investment preferences. The kids invest in an ice cream franchise and a candy store. Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owns International Dairy Queen Inc. and See's Candies Inc.
His skepticism toward risky technology stocks also shows up in another episode, when kids pull the plug on investing in a company fraudulently claiming to have invented a self-charging battery.
A few weeks ago, a friend posed an interesting question. She and her husband recently purchased a beautiful, spacious townhome in the city. In the weeks and months before the closing, they talked a lot about not wanting to be 'house poor', so I'm assuming that whatever they spent on the house was well within their financial means. Anyway, being the gracious and hospitable people they are, they wanted to throw a big open house/housewarming party for their extensive network of friends. Most of these friends are people that they haven't seen in quite some time. And they wanted to be able to talk to their friends without having to run back and forth to the kitchen. You know how it is when you're hosting a party. So, rather than serve cold finger food for 6 hours, they were thinking of hiring a caterer to not only prepare the food but to serve it as well. But would that send the wrong message to some of their friends, many of whom live on more modest incomes?
Personally, I don't really see a problem with hiring caterers. Several of my co-workers have done the same thing. But given some of the attitudes of our friends, I could understand her concern. Having said that, I pointed out that the house alone says something about where they're at financially in life. Would caterers necessarily add to or detract from that impression?
Anyway, that got me to thinking about stuff that people feel conflicted, or even embarrassed about owning. For me, that would be my car....a 7 year old, european luxury sedan that I purchased used at CarMax over 3 years ago. The car is in great condition, and people often mistake it for being newer than it is. Chalk it up to having a car enthusiast for an older brother, but I always wanted a German-engineered vehicle. I naively thought that people would look beyond the car and not make any broad generalizations or false assumptions about my general character. So, it came as a surprise to me when some of my acquaintances made some cutting remarks to me about the car. Sometimes I feel guilty for owning/driving it, even though I spent less on the car than many of my friends did on their late model Japanese sedans. And often times I've thought about trading it in for a more modest looking car. But when I mentioned it to my mechanic and my financial planner, they both advised me not to do it because I would lose a lot of money on the transaction (I've taken really good care of my car). But I do feel the pressure to conform to my friends' expectations. So, isn't that the same thing as trying to keep up with the Joneses, but the flip side of the coin?
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Of course, the article doesn't tell you how you can sign up for the service, only that the service links "colleges, schools, businesses and public and private agencies." I guess we'll have to stay tuned for more details.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Here's the original email that they sent me after I'd signed up at the site.
'la la' makes shipping easy by providing you with pre-stamped envelopes and protective cases, so all you need to do is drop your CD in the mail! Simply place your CDs in one of the re-usable 'la la' protective cases and mail them using 'la la' shipping envelopes. The address of the requesting members will be disclosed to you when you agree to ship a CD.
Your first 'la la' shipping kits.
'la la' will send you a starter kit for 5 trades as soon as you list 5 CDs in your Have List or agree to ship your first CD. The starter kit will be automatically sent to the mailing address you provided during registration. Future kits will automatically be sent as you ship more CDs.
Ready to ship but don't have any kits?
For new members, 'la la accounts for the time it takes to get you a starter kit, your account will not be penalized for any shipping delays. So go ahead and agree to ship, but be sure to ship 'em as soon you get the kits...
And remember, the more you ship the more you'll receive,
I think you have to be a Chicago Tribune subscriber to view the full text of the article, but you can sign up online for free.
Anyway, back to the latte factor. To save even more money, I would need to pack more lunches and drink a lot less coffee. Hmm...okay. Nothing earth shattering, there.
But a few weeks after I took the latte factor challenge, I decided to do my taxes. And for me, part of the process involves looking through my credit card receipts from the past year. I keep the ones that I need for warranty purposes and shred the rest. Anyway, one thing that jumped out at me was that a LOT of my credit card receipts from 2005 were from the Nordstrom Rack near my office building. Now mind you, I am definitely not a spendthrift when it comes to clothing purchases. I tend to buy the classics - clothes and shoes and accessories that I think will last. But after looking at all those receipts, I realized that I had been visiting Nordstrom Rack at least once a week. And most of the transactions were small, random purchases - $10 here, $25 there. Maybe I was subconsciously thinking about the latte factor challenge. But it suddenly occurred to me that I shop at Nordstrom Rack during my lunch hour because I'm either stressed out or bored. I'd heard of the concept of 'shopping therapy' before, but I guess I never imagined that I inadvertently subscribed to it.
So, I decided to engage in some constructive behavior modification. These days, if I don't go out to lunch with a friend or coworker, I'll either read a book at my desk or take a long walk. Lesson learned. If you really want to save money, it's important to figure out not just what you're spending your money on, but when and why you're spending it.
Anyway, most personal finance books recommend that you do something similar to the latte challenge for 3 months to help you establish a budget. Personally, I think that's the better way to go. One day or even 2 weeks just isn't long enough to capture significant trends. But in the end, I did learn something from the latte factor challenge, albeit indirectly.
Question for the audience. What's your latte factor?
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Why would anyone leave a $10,000 bill in a safety deposit box? Think how much that initial $10,000 would have been worth if the original owner had invested it in an interest bearing savings account!
Anyway, I'm grateful that my checking and savings accounts are FDIC insured.
I asked the local postmaster if I should assume that the package has been lost in the mail? "Well, it's not considered lost until 30 days have passed." Hmm...okay. Personally, I think that 30 days is an awfully long time to wait for a package to arrive. What are the odds that somebody's going to find it and deliver it, now that 12 business days have passed? Anyway, if the buyer doesn't get it by tomorrow, I'm going to give him a refund. Oh well. That's what I get for not paying the extra 50 cents to track the package.
Anyway, I was all excited that I made $150 in the first ten days. So I called my mom up to brag a little bit about it. Her response? "Don't you make more than that in just a couple of hours at work?" Umm....yeah...I guess so. Thanks mom for putting things in perspective. I guess I should keep my day job.
A few years ago, there was this fly by night online retailer that was advertising a ton of stuff that was virtually 'free'. The trick was that you had to buy the product at overinflated prices and then submit a rebate form to get back the equivalent of the amount that you paid. Well, after charging several thousands of dollars worth of stuff on his credit card to buy stuff that he didn't want or need, and then dutifully cutting off the upc codes and sending in all of the necessary rebate forms, the company went belly up and my friend was left holding the bag. Thankfully, after several months of wrangling, his credit card company reversed some of the charges, since it turned out to be a total scam.
Anyway, I still have a razor kick scooter and atomic clock that he gave me, one of several that he bought from the fly by night retailer, thinking that he'd get them for free. They're both sitting in a box in my closet, unopened and untouched, albeit missing the requisite upc codes.
The moral of the story is that if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. It's not a good deal at any price if you're buying stuff that you really don't want or need.