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Archive for November, 2006

Rebate Time

November 28th, 2006 at 02:08 pm

I know many people don't bother with MIR (mail-in rebates) but I have faith that "the system" returns my money about 99% of the time- as long as I follow instructions to a T. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered I should send out my rebate form for Comcast cable services. Their "free modem/router" promotion is due November 30th. I had to wait on mailing it because they required copies of two months cable bills, and I'd only ordered service September. Judging from some reactions to Comcast, I am a bit apprehensive they'll mess this rebate up, so I made copies of everything....but I'll try to stay optimistic.

I'm lucky I remembered this rebate. Do people have systems for tracking rebates? I do keep open rebates in a folder; my mom will write it on her calendar. Other people actually put together spreadsheets in Excel. And what do people generally do if the rebate doesn't arrive?

An Alternative Thanksgiving Meal

November 22nd, 2006 at 02:55 pm

Two words: Hot pot!

My family never really held on to the turkey tradition. Most years, my aunt would bravely roast the turkey, but she is a decidely bad cook (both Chinese and American dishes) and the turkey always came out dry and tasteless (though we all love her for hosting dinners for the past 10+ years). Then somehow I took over the turkey tradition, and thanks to many cookbook consultations, my turkeys have always come out fine (whew) though it stressed me out having to rush back from school and buy all the groceries (usually one day in advance-yikes).

Unfortunately, there was never enough people to partake in the feast. These past few years, it has been just my parents and myself, sometimes my grandma (who is another horror story in and of herself). So about two years ago, my mom suggested we ditch the turkey and just make other foods. One year we made dumplings. This year will be hot pot.

Very simply, we heat up a broth (diluted chicken broth with some Chinese cooking wine), let it simmer, than throw in thinly sliced meats (they'll cook faster), shrimp, veggies, sometimes fish balls or assorted seafoods. The typical "dipping" sauce is called "sa cha" which is sort of like Asian BBQ with black bean and other spices. We crack a raw egg and mix it with the sauce.

I love hot pot because there's always the hot broth/soup to sip in between bites. Plus at the end, we throw in bean thread vermicelli (mei fun), let that soak in the soup, and then slurp it up! Yum!

I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! Eat well!

Bathroom Humor

November 21st, 2006 at 02:27 pm

*Warning* This really does qualify as potty humor:
http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/gadgets/poop-soap-216106.php

Now if I haven't grossed out your morning, I wanted to hear some people's ideas on some savings in the bathroom. One concept that I could never really grasp was what to do with leftover soap slivers. Sure, the most common thought is to mush them all together into back into a gigantic blob, but that has never worked for me- the big blob simply starts disintegrating back into the individual chunks when I proceed to scrub myself.

I have thrown all the chunks into a soap dish and just kept adding water to it, but this is apparantly unsightly for guests and family. Another alternative is to throw slivers into a bottle, add water, shake the heck out of it, and use this as sort of liquid soap.

Any other ideas? Or do people find the price of liquid soap is just as cost-effective as chunka chunka bar soap?

Why you SHOULDN'T get a job

November 20th, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Found this rather, ah, interesting article the other day. I don't know exactly who this Steve Pavlina guy is, or whether he's writing tongue-in-cheek, but he has some pretty strong opinions as to why people *shouldn't* get a job:
http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/07/10-reasons-you-shou...

It would help tremendously if Mr. Pavlina got off his high horse. His tone is that of disdain towards those of us "bovines" who actually hold a 9-5 job. Among other things, he uses such enlightening adjectives to describe job-holders as "morons," "idiots," and "co-slave."

His most valid take-home message is that ideally, we should earn income by providing value to others. In other words, start our own business. Well. I will be the first to admit that entreprenurship is not one of my strengths. Not everyone has the training or innate knack for it. It's not a fault or an insult; not everyone can be a doctor, or a policeman, or detective or journalist.

What Mr. Pavlina fails to emphasize is that starting your own business is a job in and of itself. He brags about making $9000 (or "update: $40,000 a month as of 10/31/06") just from his own blog/website; he also dangles the unfortunate bait by asking, "Don't you think your life would be easier if you get paid while you were eating, sleeping, and playing with your kids, too?" Then he goes on to briefly describe "passive income" via websites, investing, or starting a business (*ahem! Who the hell says starting a business is "passive???"). These are the sorts of infomercial poison that entices Americans to shell out thousands of dollars for those "lose weight fast!" diet pill scams. Imagine! You can lose weight by just taking a pill and then sitting back! You can also make money just by starting a blog and then sitting back! Watch the money pour in!

Wrong. As many of you who make income from websites or selling on Ebay or providing a "service" as a side job, it is a job in and of itself that requires some time, effort, and management. In fact, for many, these "side jobs" eventually become full time work. I cannot imagine anyone simply sitting back and having money magically pour in (though that would be nice).

Lastly, what offends me most is how he ignores and alienates those of us who work and who actually enjoy working for our corporations and companies. We choose to work a salaried job and we enjoy doing so. And in the end, that makes us feel proud, too. THough unlike Mr. Pavlina, we don't need to go insulting other people to justify our work ethic.

Happy Friday!! (and indeed it is)

November 17th, 2006 at 02:36 pm

Dealing with Eloan had made me feel physically ill, so I'm ecstatic to say I FINALLY got an email response with my long-lost security answer! I have access once again! Whew ^_^

My List of 21

November 16th, 2006 at 09:31 pm

What a great way to pass time as I wait for my 500+ report to print:

1. As a child, I had frequent nosebleeds; so often, in fact, that I refused to go to sleepovers because I was so embarassed.

2. During one of my first piano recitals, I got nervous and ended up playing at warp speed, skipping all the repeats. I was on stage for less than a minute as a result!

3. I hate the taste of rootbeer

4. The first time I ever ate cream cheese (I was in 10h grade....c'mon, I grew up very Asian) I thought it was so delicious, I ended up eating three entire bagels smothered with it

5. In an attempt to "Americanize" my sister and myself, my mom used to insist we eat some sort of fast food once a week. Mostly White Castle or Roy Rogers. Funny how I can't stand that stuff now.

6. On that note, I can't stand the taste of most melons, except watermelon.

7. I also don't like cherry vanilla ice cream.

8. I learned to swim when I was little when I accidentally fell into the deep end of a swimming pool, with all my clothes on. Then you couldn't get me out of the water!

9. I don't believe this story, but my parents almost took the wrong baby home! There was a couple with the same last name as us who had a baby boy at the same hospital where I was born. My dad said he realized something was wrong when he noted how loud that baby was....I was a very quiet baby who rarely cried.

10. I'm still very quiet and introverted

11. I still get carded. Yay, Asian genes.

12. Thanks to my mom, I obsess a bit too much about my skin/complexion. If I get a pimple, I put every homemade concoction known to fight acne onto it.

13. Unlike most women, I don't really crave chocolate. I think it tastes good, that's about it.

14. I was quite the goody-two shoes in school. One day during my senior year, two friends and I decided to leave campus for lunch. When we got back, the principal was waiting for us. My friends actually got off the hook but I didn't, I suspect, because she wanted to set an example of how "tough" she was to ALL students, even the most obedient (usually) ones

15. I've been known to lie about my education, playing it down significantly because I always felt people viewed you negatively if you sounded too smart

16. Unlike most American-born Chinese, I can speak Mandarin fluently and fool people into thinking I'm from Taiwan. However, my reading and writing level is about that of a second grader's =(

17. My family has a fear of me drowning (despite me knowing how to swim). I think that's because one time when we were rafting, I fell overboard and got swept half a mile downstream by the current. I was perfectly fine, not scared, but my dad dove in after me to try and "save" me. The last time I went boating with my sister, she kept a firm grasp of my shirt!

18. I once dislocated my jaw while yawning! As a result, I can't open my mouth too wide, something that not all my dentists quite understand.

19. I've fallen down and tore open the skin on my knees several times, one time requiring five stitches. This is from regular old RUNNING, not skateboarding or anything, mind you. People can't believe it when I say I just tripped and fell and got stitches.

20. I once got hit by a golf ball (my sister flubbed up her swing). It hit my chest area, not hard, and I was laughing up until my mom came up to me and started rubbing my breast in front of everyone!

21. I've had several boyfriends but have only been in love once.

Silver Lining of Sorts

November 16th, 2006 at 03:03 am

I've been ranting a lot lately, really putting myself into a down mood with craptastic Eloan. Not like me to be so negative. So I want to thank everyone for taking time to leave constructive comments and support! You are a wonderful community!!

And now, to try and find some levity in all this muck, I thought I'd mention this surprise. As per one of your comments, I actually did go to www.epinions.com, to warn fellow peers about Eloan's treachery by posting my review, and also to read the other reviews of eloan (what do you know, lots of bad experiences....should have checked here first). I actually have written reviews for this website in the past, but tapered off as I got busy with school- but I still remembered my account info.

Guess what? Epinions.com actually has a reward system! You get paid (not sure what the rate is) for the number of people who read your reviews. As people rate your review, you also earn money. Seems similar to how people can generate income from website traffic. Without me even realizing it, my account actually had a balance of a little over $10! Granted, I've had my account at epinions for two years, but since I hadn't gone out and vigorously networked/tried to direct attention to my reviews, I'm surprised I even earned that money.

I'm not saying this is some goldmine opportunity. But if you like writing and you like giving your opinions on products, movies, restaurants, websites (ahem, Eloan) etc... then it might be worth your while to put some reviews up and earn a little bit of cash.

Eloan Saga Continues....and Tips on How to Deal with Customer Service

November 15th, 2006 at 09:36 pm

Today, during my lunch hour, I called Eloan once again, just set my phone to speaker and tried to work while being on hold. The first person who answered, a woman who definitely had not had her morning coffee (remember, it was 9AM on the West Coast when I called) picked up after about 15 minutes. I half-exasperated/half jokingly said, "Finally! A human!" which I think set her off because she was very unhelpful. Took my SSN but didn't ask the other questions to verify it really was "me" (the usual mother's maiden name, date of birth, etc) so now I don't even know if she was really helping me at all. I explained my situation but got silence, then I got impatient and reprimanded their customer service, to which her responses were, "These queries take time," and "we're not here working 24/7 like you think we are." I asked if it always took weeks to respond and she actually said, "Sometimes." I then asked to speak to a manager or supervisor and was immediately transferred to someone's voicemail. It could've been the mailman's for all I know. I left a message, then called back.

Second lady answered and was helpful, maybe not sympathetic, but she did try to help. This time, I got her name and asked for a number or extension to reach her at. She seemed a bit put off by this, but gave me a different toll free # from which I've been calling....in the end, though, all she could do was put in yet another IT request ticket (ooooh this one will be marked URGENT!) and then get back to me "in one business day." To that, I laughed. I couldn't help it. Then it was sort of like, "OK....bye." Ended with a whimper, not a bang so to speak.

I'm in a Catch-22 at this point; in order to access my account (and money) I HAVE to go through customer service. So that means more phone calls, more waiting....

However, from this experience, I am learning ways to deal effectively with customer service....some are from mistakes:
-Don't lose your temper. No one likes to be yelled at.
-Keep words simple. Customer service isn't going to care if you have fantastic vocab. They just want you to state your problem as succinctly as possible. They really just want to transfer you onto someone else's head, which leads me to...
-Try and phrase things so it sounds like you want to work with them to find a solution. This is tricky because I think it's natural to believe that "asking" for help or cooperation is less effective than ordering or making demands.
-Get as much personal info as possible. I should've done this. At least, next time you call, you can throw some name(s) around. On a psychological basis, it might put some responsibility onto that person's head, forcing them to get involved now that I know their name.

Eloan My A@# (this is a rant)

November 15th, 2006 at 12:08 am

Once upon a time, maybe a month ago, I blithely opened an Eloan savings account. Call it stupidity, call it basic human error, but I did not note my security answer. Little did I know, this would be the start of all evils....

It turns out that to make ANY transaction at Eloan, you need to type in that answer. Either my clumsy butterfingers slipped and inadvertently inserted a typo somewhere, or I just can't remember the damn order of upper/lower case letters, but bottom line is, I can't remember my answer.

So, what to do? After getting frozen out of my account for mistyping three times, I called the 1-866- number. Ok, turns out you can only call them during business hours (Pacific Time) so I had to wait the entire weekend. No problem. I called and got the inevitable wait....and wait....and wait...and (15 minutes later) wait....finally got a human on the line, who unlocked my account. So I tried again. Minutes later, I'm frozen out again. Alright, I call once more but this time never get a human on the line.

Next choice is to send a Secure Message which will be answered "in one business day." THAT IS THE MOST BLATANT LIE IN HISTORY OF CUSTOMER SERVICE. I did not hear back from them until 4 days later....that's actually record time, because all they did was unlock my account, not reset my security answer (or even acknowledge that) as I'd requested. Back to the phones....got a human being after 5 minutes (woah!). She unlocked mya ccount again, then "promised" to send my request to the IT department, who would "respond in one business day." FIVE days later (I have much patience) no response. And, of course, I've locked myself out once more, trying to see if I can unlock my security answer on my own.

Phone call....email....it's been nearly a MONTH since I first contacted Eloan with this problem. The last human I've spoken to was back on November 2nd. He even sent a follow-up email, again with that promise to get the situation fixed in one or two days. I've sent them three emails and just tried calling them yesterday and today. Guess what? 25 minutes of waiting each time and not a human to be found!

I'm lucky I don't need that money, it was just my savings that I'd hoped to add to, to take advantage of that high interest rate. Now I think I'd be lucky to even SEE that money again.

This is my warning to you...Maybe it is my fault in the end, but customer service should not be this horrid PERIOD.

My House Fund

November 14th, 2006 at 12:47 am

I have decided to start saving for a house- "my house", oh how nice those words sound. Right now, I live in a tiny box of an apartment, and it seriously does not feel like living. I love the idea of having furniture (right now I have the bed and an old sofa) and actual ROOMS to entertain guests. Right now, my "rooms" consist of the various corners of my apartment, and then there's the bathroom and tiny alcove kitchen. I have $30,000 in readily accessible funds, and maybe another $10,000 that I can scrounge up from recalling CDs and stuff (though I don't want to touch that) but I think I should still work/save for the next year or so. It'll be much easier to apply for and earn a loan, plus I'll have more of a safety net, so that 100% of my paychecks won't be going towards paying off the mortgage.

I told my parents this while we were eating lunch Saturday. I'd paid for lunch, but my mom had contributed $5, which wasn't used. She insisted I keep it, and said, half jokingly, "This can go into your house savings."

Every dollar helps!

Airline Tickets

November 11th, 2006 at 09:33 pm

Just a personal observation; the price of airline tickets seems to be fluctuating like crazy these days. I think that's a good sign since thus far, it's been a downward trend. I have to book a flight to Detroit in December and I'm hoping to spend less than $200 total. Seems feasible, since I saw AirTran advertising a price of $183 (for November, though). I don't think Michigan is a "hot" Winter travel destination....I should probably stop procrastinating and book my flight already!

Coinstar Update

November 9th, 2006 at 07:35 pm

For those who care, I thought I'd share my *little* experience with ye olde Coinstar machine. Blasted technology! Anyway, so I went for a walk during lunch to the nearby Acme, wherein resided one Coinstar machine. There were multiple signs posted around and on the machine, reassuring the customer that there were NO FEES!!! if you redeemed your coins for a gift card. As if to drive the point home (and encourage people) this was repeated on many of the touchscreens that guided me through the process. The machine counted my coins perfectly, to the exact dollar, then after I chose my amazon.com gift card, it showed one last time that they would reimburse me the full $25 for the gift card.

And then, the "please wait while your transaction is being processed" AKA New Screen of Death showed. So I waited, and waited, about 1-2 minutes, before I got a nice, new screen that told me, "This machine experienced an error and cannot process your gift card. We regret the inconvenience. Please be assured your money/transaction will still be processed" (or something to that effect to say they hadn't eaten my coins for nothing). Next thing I knew, it spat out a voucher for $22.78. So not only did I not get the full value gift card, but the transaction had been considered a "coin counting" transaction, and Coinstar had swallowed their tidy 8-9% commission.

I tried to remain calm about it. Since the voucher clearly stated it must be redeemed at that Acme within the same day, I took it to customer service. I phrased my complaint to say I'd attempted to redeem for a full value gift card, but had gotten my coins sorted/counted instead, and I'd like to get the remaining $2.22. The woman tried to help me by calling Coinstar and explaining the situation and Coinstar rep did agree that I should get the full amount since it was a machine error. However, for whatever reason, Acme could not give me the $2.22 and I have to wait for Coinstar to send me a check to that amount.

The Acme lady then told me the reason the transaction failed was most likely due to the fact the machine uses the store phone line to call out to the Coinstar HQ/computer core, to process everything. And if that line is busy (ie; a cashier is running a credit card transaction?) then the machine fails to complete the transaction.

So...overall, I'm not happy with Coinstar, but I think some of it is the fault of that Acme store. I have no doubt I will receive the check in the mail, which for me isn't the biggest inconvenience to not get all my money at once, but Coinstar failed to give me what I'd wanted in the first place. I think in the future, I'll look to other options as suggested by you, the readers, such as banks and credit unions who offer free coin counting; or maybe I'll make a donation; or maybe just chuck it into a fountain and make lots of wishes!

Coinstar

November 8th, 2006 at 05:43 pm

You've probably seen these machines already in some local supermarket- mean, green, coin counting machines. I watched
Coinstar in action once when a friend emptied out his big tin of coins. His reward was a cash voucher good for use at only at that same supermarket. I also noticed a 10% commission fee, which I felt was pretty hefty. It has been brought to my attention now that Coinstar offers other payout options, some of which do NOT take a commission fee. The goodies include gift cards to Starbucks, Borders or Waldenbooks, itunes; or "ecertificates" to amazon.com (and other retailers that I'm forgetting). I am debating between getting a Starbucks card (a personal indulgence reward) or the amazon.com reward that will be useful for Christmas shopping. Hmmm....

Overall, I feel Coinstar has made the right move in the right direction. Instead of being just a conduit for those who are too lazy to count up loose change in their piggy banks (and ending up costing you some money to boot) you now get a useful counting service that reimburses you 100% for all those pennies and nickels (and quarters/dimes) that you so faithfully saved in the jar.

Pay Day and Random Ramblings

November 8th, 2006 at 12:47 am

I totally forgot today was Payday! I immediately set out to pay my credit cards (I always pay the full amount), then mentally subtracted out $1000 to cover rent + utilities. That still leaves me about $1000 to "play" with- and the best part is, we get paid again on the 22nd. The rent isn't due until end of the month, so I could transfer the whole $1000 into my Ing and/or eloan savings accounts. I'm also pretty happy because I got notice that one of my CDs is maturing, which is perfect timing to cover my upcoming trip to a friend's wedding.

I've slowed down on the spending- whew! Already have my mom's Christmas gift, and have been getting creative collecting little things to put together as gifts for friends. For example, Sephora was having this goodie bag promotion where they give 11 sample items + bag with a $50 purchase. I also have been slowly but surely "deconstructing" and taking apart some old jewelry and reusing the parts as "new" pieces. Oh, and of course I'm going to bake cookies. Makeup, some bling, and sweets- perfect girly gifts ^^ I also have the perfect packaging- these cute, foam bags that were on sale in the $1 section of Target. I'm so glad I started Christmas shopping early

Service with a smile?

November 7th, 2006 at 01:09 am

One day; two different cashiers and contrasting attitudes/exchanges.

The first- rude cashier at the local bagel store. I only had $5 and sandwiches cost $4.85 +tax, so I could only opt for a bagel. She asked if I wanted cream cheese and I glanced at the prices. Couldn't help but do a double take when I noticed that the additional cream cheese made the price jump from 60 cents to nearly $3! I asked how much plain cream cheese cost and the cashier huffed really loudly and didn't answer. She kept rolling her eyes as I told her, just a plain bagel, please. Yes, I even used "please." She then snatched my $5 and gave me a bunch of change....in loose coins. I again nicely asked if she had any bills instead and again I got the eye roll, the huge sighs, and the "You Piss Me Off" attitude. She dumped the handfull of coins in my hand(s); I again asked if I could have bills instead, and this time the woman SLAMS the button, ejecting the coin drawer out at high velocity, grabs my coins (dropping a bunch on the counter and floor) and then gives me bills. What a horrible woman. Thankfully, I saw the deli helper wrap my bagel, so the cashier didn't have a chance to spit on it or anything.

The second- supermarket cashier. It is the after work rush, there are two people in line in front of me who had rough transactions. One guy tried to pay for a carton of eggs with a very large bill, and the cashier girl had to get extra change; guy gets angry at the delay. Next, a woman tries to pay with a credit or debit card. Does it too fast before the whole transaction is done, so is asked to swipe it again. Woman throws a fit at the poor cashier. Then, me; I expected a sullen, pissed off cashier but instead, the girl smiles and greets me! She rings up one of my items but the sale price does not show up. I kindly asked about it and the girl redid it, giving me the correct price. At the end of the whole transaction, she even says to me, "I like your coat!"

Service with a smile; such a forgotten concept. So cherish those small moments when you encounter them.

Dumpster Diving: Yay or Nay?

November 3rd, 2006 at 01:30 am

Wow, after the response from my last posting (in case you missed it, I was questioning whether I could still use my student ID to get discounts) it seems there are many strong opinions out there about the ethics of frugality! Just to perpetuate the fun, and hopefully open the floor to some good discussion, I thought I'd throw a new topic out. So, the topic for today is dumpster diving.

Personally, I am conservative about this and would only pick up someone elses' "trash" if it happened to be something I really needed; for example, someone in my old apartment complex threw out some nice woven baskets and I took them, cleaned them a bit, and used to for storage and even as gift packaging. But that's about as far as I'd go. In other words, if it's out on the curb, and no one is around AND it is something I will use, then I'll (timidly) take it.

I have read stories of some peoples' amazing dumpster finds- expensive, working computer and computer parts as well as electronics found in the dumpsters of those well known electronic giant superstores, for example. Incredible....and a bit worrisome, in my mind. Again, if the person needed to fix their computer, or their friends, and they found the working part in the dumpster, then I am less conflicted about it. But if they are just grabbing this stuff and reselling it to make a profit....eh....ok, I sort of see it as an act of "revenge," sort of "sticking it to the man" (or in this case, electronics store) and beating them at their own game. Still....

What I find intolerable is when dumpster divers take advantage of the situation. There are certain people who scour yard sales and the like with only the intent of reselling things for profit. On one forum, I was angered when one woman bragged about returning to people's yard sales when they were over, offering to buy up all their unsold clothing for a ridiculously low price (like $1) and then going straight to ebay or a thrift store to make a profit. Smart, some people will say. I say, sordid. What about donating that bag of clothing to the homeless or battered women's shelter? What if the family holding the garage sale needed that cash to pay some debts or bills?

Every dumpster diver has their own story and situation. I'd be interested to know what other people think.

Is this cheating?

November 1st, 2006 at 02:21 pm

During my starving graduate school years, I learned the value of asking for student discounts. The most obvious (and used) place for this was at the movie theatre, where we paid only $6.50 as opposed to $8 (still overpriced methinks). One thing I was pleased to discover was local restaurants and even some take-out pizza/fast food places would throw us poor, hungry students a small (10-20%) discount. But the biggest Plus for me was using my student ID to get discount tickets to events (sports, concerts, clubs). Many times, prices would be slashed by 50%!

Now, a student no longer but still retaining my out of state student ID, I am wondering if I can still get away with the discounts. There is a classical performance in New Brunswick (let me know if anybody wants to attend with me!) and I am tempted to see if I can get away with using this "trick." I'd most likely be asked why I am in NJ if I'm allegedly attending Duke University, and I could lie and say I'm just visiting for the weekend. Am I being silly for pondering the ethical issues of lying? Or am I being smart? Or cheap, trying to shave off some costs of a $22 ticket?

***Thanks for the comments! I wasn't comfortable with the idea to begin with and this confirms my moral beliefs ^_^