Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The KISS Principle vs. Getting the Best Deal

I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm enrolled in way too many rewards programs. In addition to clipping coupons, I try to remember to use my Entertainment, Member (from the local NPR station) and AAA cards to score additional discounts. For online orders, I have to remind myself to click through to the website through Upromise.com. And my wallet is overflowing with loyalty cards from grocery stores, drug stores, boutique clothing shops, sporting goods stores, movie theaters, warehouse clubs, local coffee shop, etc. Every time I decide to leave a card at home, I inevitably wind up needing it. It's true that some stores will look up your loyalty reward number using your phone number, but I don't like giving out my phone number when strangers are standing nearby.

And lately, I've been having trouble keeping track of the various program benefits. In other words, when and how I'm supposed to be using these darn cards? Last week, I forgot to hand the cashier $4 worth of coupons that I had stashed in my wallet for my planned trip to the grocery store. And a few weeks before that, I forgot to use my Discover Gas Cashback Card to pay for my new set of tires. I could've gotten a 5% rebate on that $750 transaction.

So, I'm reminded of the KISS principle. Keep it simple, stupid. At what point do you decide that enough is enough? In my case, the law of diminishing returns is definitely kicking in. I spend way too much time and effort trying to figure out how to get the best deal, only to find out afterwards that if I had done this or that I could've saved even more. Maybe I need to extend myself some grace and resign myself to the fact that I'm always going to wind up leaving some money on the table. Otherwise, I'm simply going to drive myself absolutely nuts. Yes, there are bargains and discounts to be had out there, but I just don't have the time or the energy to take advantage of all of them.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Never Hurts to Ask

In one of my posts yesterday, I mentioned that I was assessed a late payment penalty on my credit card. I called Chase, and after looking at my account, the CSR reversed the charge. Today, I was assessed $24 in finance charges on the remaining balance, even though I sent in the full payment for last month's bill. Technically, because my payment was overdue, I was carrying a balance for 5 days at most. I called up Chase this morning, and again the CSR agreed to reverse the charge because of my "great payment history."

The moral of the story is that it never hurts to ask. I'm glad that they were willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and reverse the charges. But admittedly, it helps to have a clean credit history.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How Much is a Bachelor's Degree Worth?

According to a recent AP article in the Chicago Tribune, a bachelor's degree is worth about $23,000 per year.

"That is the average gap in earnings between adults with bachelor's degrees and those with high school diplomas, according to data from the Census Bureau. College grads made an average of $51,554 in 2004, the most recent figures available, compared with $28,645 for adults with a high school diploma. High school dropouts earned an average of $19,169 and those with advanced college degrees made an average of $78,093."

Pretty amazing, when you think about it.

Scroll all the way down to the end of the article for statistics on the number of individuals with high school diplomas vs. bachelor's degrees, broken down by state. IL is slightly above the national average. I thought it would have been higher.

Danger of Point and Click

The other day, I was downloading my credit card transactions into Quicken, and I noticed a $39 late payment fee. What the...how did that get in there? I do all of my payments online, and since it was a direct bank to bank transfer, it should have taken only one day to arrive. So, I looked back at my statement and at by bill pay history. D'oh! For some odd reason, I'd scheduled the payment exactly one week after it was due. I'm guessing that I clicked open the little calendar next to the scheduled payment date and just clicked on the wrong date. I use my credit card as a debit card, in the sense that I pay off my balance each month, so I don't get charged any interest. But I started panicking a little bit when I realized that I'd missed the payment date because I had an unusually large balance on my card this past month. I was worried that I was going to be socked with not only the late payment fee but interest as well.

I called up Chase card services and was transferred to a call center in India. I explained the situation, promised to send the payment the next day and asked that the late fee be waived. She said she would look into it. A minute later, she came back on the line and said that since I was a valued customer, she would go ahead and waive the fee. I didn't want to push my luck, so I didn't ask her about waiving the interest on the 5 days the payment was overdue. I'll probably have to call again in a week, once my statement is posted online.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that you should not enter your bill pay transactions when you're tired and groggy. And you should always double check the payment date.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Free Senseo Coffee Pod

If you own a Philips Senseo single-serve, coffee maker, click here for a free coffee pod sample of their Sumatra blend.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Two Milestones

I celebrated the achievement of two significant milestones this week. The first is that I turned 35. The second is that thanks to the recent bull market, my net worth shot past half a million dollars. Woohoo!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

$750 Later...4 New Tires

I went in to Cassidy Tires this afternoon on my lunch hour to get my tires balanced for $50 and came out 2.5 hours later with four new tires. Apparently, the first owner of my car replaced the OEM tires with really cheap Goodyear tires that weren't exactly meant for a high performance luxury sedan. And the speed rating on one of the tires didn't quite match the other three (something that my mechanic had already pointed out to me). Hence the unstable ride that prompted my visit to the tire shop.

Anyway, I called my mechanic afterwards to give him the scoop, and he basically told me that I'd been taken to the cleaners. So, not quite believing him, I hopped onto costco.com and checked the prices. All of the options for my car would've required a special order, and the prices were pretty much in line with what I paid at Cassidy. But just to make doubly sure that I'd gotten the right tires at the right price, I hopped onto tirerack.com. The exact same tires were definitely cheaper online, but taking into account shipping costs, I really wouldn't have saved all that much money. And who wants to haul 4 tires over to a repair shop? As an added bonus, I read through the user ratings for my tires, and they were all very positive. Apparently, these particular tires provide superior performance in wet or snowy conditions.

To be honest, my car has always had terrible traction. I figured it was just normal since the car has rear wheel drive. I even thought about selling the car because I had such a horrible time with it last winter. But on the way home from Cassidy Tires, it started to rain. So, I decided to do a mini road test, and I purposefully took a few corners at high speed to see if the tires would hold. Sure enough, they did.

So, although it was an unplanned expenditure, in the long run, I probably saved some money. Because with new, grippier tires, I just eliminated one of the main reasons for trading in my car. And it all started out because my mechanic says that he doesn't do tires....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cheaper at a Brick & Mortar

After ruining a couple of shirts, I decided that it was time for a new iron. So, I hopped onto Wize.com, a user review aggregator site, to do some product research. I was about to order the Black & Decker Digital Advantage Iron from Amazon.com. But on a whim, I decided to check some of the brick and mortar websites to see if I could find it for a reasonable price. I really wanted to use the iron this weekend, but I'm too cheap to pay for expedited shipping.

Well, sure enough, Bed Bath and Beyond had the iron at the same price. So I swung by the local brick and mortar store this afternoon and used one of my 20% off coupons. They seem to send me one every other week, and they always accept expired coupons. So, even when you take into account 8% sales tax, I wound up paying less at Bed Bath than if I'd ordered it from Amazon.com or any of the other online retailers that were featured on pricegrabber.com and shopping.com.

So, sometimes instant gratification can be a good thing :-)