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Bank of America is Crazy

February 16th, 2007 at 02:43 pm

I wrote this entry about Bank of America, not as a rant but more as an FYI that banks are not out to be your best friends.

Bank of America must have read it and decided they wanted to win me over. Because they've been giving me not one, not two....but FOUR bonus checks for opening a new account, when I should only have received one.

I've never had a really bad experience with BoA; I certainly don't *love* them, but they have so many branches in the towns I've lived in that I decided to stay with them out of convenience. Now they're giving me all these bonuses and it makes me happy, sure, but then I think, "What sort of wonky tracking system do they have on their computers????"

Being the honest person (yes, my conscience kills me) I actually called BoA service rep after receiving the third and fourth checks. The most recent call was, in fact, last night. The rep did her thing on the computer (who knows, maybe she was playing Doom or Minesweeper) and then asked me did I, in fact open a new account? I told her, yes, and then she was like, "Well, those are your bonuses!" She clearly was of the mindset that I was a nutter, but after I'd asked my barrage of questions to cofirm that these bonuses were legit and did not contain hidden traps (such as signing me up for some credit card or "protection" services or marketing scheme) she pretty much said, "If you insist, then we can deduct the amounts from your account."

And I decided to just keep the money.

Stay tuned for any updates in case Bank of America decides to pull a 180 on me and demand a refund!

Move over, Elmo DMX, Here come Toy ATMs

February 6th, 2007 at 06:52 pm

My parents and I recently received, via email, a rather unusual request from my older sister. She wrote, "(when you come visit in May) do you think you can bring that popular toy ATM? The kids would love it." An ATM?? Did my little nephews and niece not want a PS3 or Elmo-3000 (or whatever its called) instead? Befuddled, I conducted a quick google search and discovered much to my surprise that the toy ATM was one of the most popular toys for Christmas 2006.

Reading into the article, I noticed some points that were a cause of much concern:

"Unlike in a real ATM, a cash drawer opens in the toy ATM, allowing an avaricious child to grab every last cent and run." Hoooooo boy, I'm sure the writer of the article meant that to be tongue-in-cheek humorous, but I sure don't like the image of a bunch of greedy little kids. But, as the inventor of the toy, Michael Searl, points out, "If nothing else, we are teaching them one simple concept: You gotta make money before you take money out." In other words, ATM doesn't automatically put money in your account; money has to be put into ATM by a human being, first.

The question is: Who's going to provide that money?

According to the item's description at the Toys "R" Us website, the toy ATM is meant for ages 8 and up. Hmmm, as I recall, I was still a pigtailed grade school kid at that age, more concerned with making friends than making money. Then again, kids these days are maturing at a (frighteningly) rapid rate. But still, the minimum work age is years beyond the tender age of 8. Thus, the main source of "income" for an 8 yr old is gonna be.....dear Mom and Dad.

Yes, despite claims that the toy ATM will teach kids financial responsibility, it's still going to be up to parents to enforce good financial habits upon their kids. Ideally, the child will perform some chore or task. Mom and dad will "reward" them with an allowance. The child would then take it and deposit it into the ATM. Later, when the child needs money, he/she will go to the toy ATM instead of to Mom and Dad.

Yeah, right. How many people instead see the following scenario develop? Child gets a rather overwhelming allowance from mom and dad, for doing nothing. Child races to the ATM toy to deposit the money, is not satisfied with the balance displayed, and runs back to demand more money from mom and dad. Why? Not just because child needs those Air Jordans, but because child feels "entitled" to more. Child sees ATM as money-access vehicle to be kept full by mom and dad.

Maybe I have a rather negative POV; my opinion is skewwed since I do not have children. But here's what I think needs to be done in order for a child to fully benefit from playing with the ATM toy. Mom and dad need to teach the child how much money is "enough" for the child. Somehow, parents should instill in the child a realistic view of how much money the kid needs, not how much he/she wants. For example, if the child sometimes stops by the Wawa for a snack, then having $10-$20 in their ATM toy should be a sufficient. If the kid is whining, then parents might show the kid the cost of monthly utilities and mortgage, compare that to junior's weekly hot dog and soda budget.

If parents avoid making their own "contributions" in excess of what their kids earn to the toy ATM- if the child is given full responsibility for what goes IN (and thus comes out) to the ATM- then perhaps the toy can be effective in teaching kids that in order to spend money....you gotta save it, first.

Musings on Commuting

January 28th, 2007 at 07:44 pm

Despite the fact my workplace is 5.5 measly miles from where I live, I still commute using my car. I've racked my brain trying to figure out alternatives, but each option gets blocked by things that are beyond my control. Public transportation? No route that goes even remotely near to where I work. Running? In addition to logistical problems, such as no showering facilities and the fact I need to wear a suit most days (or I could meet clients wearing my jog togs and get a kick of their reaction), there are no sidewalks on the road, no shoulder, no grassy margin, heck even no ditch to run in, but there are lots of blind corners and crazy fast drivers. Biking? No bike rack at work, no elevators either, and no place to hide the bike from clients in my office ("Why don't you hang your coat here on my bike, Yamamoto-san?").

Carpooling would be the only feasible option, though everyone at work seems to live in their own little world of different work hours/habits. And quite frankly, I don't want to be the one holding up the carpool at 6PM....or the one waiting in the lobby impatiently.

So I drive that short distance, and I feel bad and spendthrifty. But the purpose of a car is to drive it, correct? In the meantime, I do pay attention to the conventional bits of wisdom about conserving gas. I don't put the pedal to the metal the instant the light turns green. I keep vigilant gas price watch on the three local stations. Since my commute is so short, I don't bother adjusting the temperature in my car; in summers I open windows rather than use a/c, in winter I use elbow grease to scrape clear the windows rather than blast the heater. And though I hate doing it, I check the tire pressure every once in a while, since I've learned the hard way that if I just relied on my own eyes to judge, then my tires would be flat before I took notice.

In the end, driving to work may gnaw on my conscience, but it is the only reasonable option for me. I should look on the bright side and sing praise for the fact my commute time is so short and unstressful. Besides, driving to and from work does have one hidden perk- I get to sing along with the radio as loudly as I want!

My mind is on investing

January 25th, 2007 at 02:25 pm

It's strange; the other day I went shopping with a friend and though I saw some nice cashmere sweaters on sale, I talked myself out of buying them. And yet, a few days ago I contributed $1000 to my Roth IRA and also put $5000 into my brokerage account to purchase some mutual funds. That's $6000! It's not exactly pocket change (well, for me it's a huge sum).

Why is it I would hesitate so much on $100 worth of clothing but not think twice about putting $100 into an IRA? Either way, the money is out of my hands and spent, but I think with investments, I am pretty confident that money (and hopefully with added interest)will still be there for me to use at a later time. It's just money put on hold while a sweater is money gone bye-bye into the hands of Macys or whatever store. That money is gone. Poof.

While it's very noble of me to have a good sense of investing for the future, what I am slowly becoming more aware of is the negative impact it has on my spending for the Present. In one instance, I recall hesitating to buy toilet paper, of all things!, even though I needed it, because it wasn't on sale. Yes, call me a Stingy Scrooge because in that situation, I was being a Miser to the extreme.

Investing is great but sometimes you have to spend money for the present. There's basic living needs that simply must be met! Otherwise, it's like I'm thinking too much for the future and not living in the Present.

"2 for Tuesday" deal- Petco

January 23rd, 2007 at 01:40 pm

For today's two-for deal, ebates is doubling the cashback at Petco, for a grand total of 12% cashback. That's gonna plump up your "Big Fat Check" quite a bit. In case you are an online shopper who isn't familiar with ebates.com, I highly suggest you check it out (that is, unless you like spending extra money on stuff)
*****

I wanted to thank everyone who commented on my long rant yesterday. It feels good to vent sometimes....

I do think that when I go to drop off my rent check this week, I'll casually inquire about the installation of satellite dishes, just to see what the real policy is (though that's really more for my own curiousity and vindication).

Welcome to your "Twenties:" Big Financial Shifts Ahead

January 20th, 2007 at 04:35 pm

So you've made it through your undergrad years and, if you're crazy like me, you went back for more edjumacation so you'd have some letters to stick after your name, but FINALLY you've emerged, blinking and confused, into the Real World. Time for your first test:

"Assume you are an average 25 year old with $25,000 debt (on account of your student loan) You have been given a lump sum $10,000 and the following four choices:

1. Invest it for your retirement funds.
2. Save/invest it for your future home.
3. Save/invest it towards your child’s/children’s future college education.
4. Pay part of your student loan debt."

Wow, is there a fifth choice- "Depends on your personal situation?" Take a look at your 20-something yr old buddies; some of them are married, some of them have kids already, and some are still chilling in grad school. Even myself, I don't fit in to the "average 25 year old" as defined since I don't have any student loans.

So how would I answer the question? To quote my parents, "No debt is good debt." I was taught at a young age that the big consequence of borrowing money is you have to pay it back eventually. And with interest rates and late fees, you may end up owing much more than you originally borrowed. Sure, loans such as student loans and mortgages are viewed by some as "good debt," predicting that the ends will justify the means (education will get you a higher paying job, a house will turn out to be an investment that appreciates in value over time) but there's still going to be that negative value hole in your financial balance sheet.

If I had $10,000, then I would definitely use it to repay any outstanding debts; though I have zero student loans, I'd then choose to pay any high credit card balances, since credit card APRs are notoriously high. But in the spirit of this question, I would choose #1. I'd max out my Roth IRA and 401K contributions, then spend the rest balancing my stock portfolio. My reasons? I feel that I should contribute towards my retirement, now, while I have less priorities in my life. I don't have kids and I just started a new job, so for now, to put it bluntly, I only have to take care of my monthly bills/expenses, and the rest can go towards investing towards retirement. Eventually, the time will come when I need to change my financial goals, to pay for my childrens' living, education, housing, etc.

Credits: Much thanks to Golbguru, for hosting the Festival of Under 30 Finances!!! Check out Golbguru's awesomely funny and honest personal finance blog, www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com to learn more. Sometimes there's cool giveaways, too!

My (secret) Money Saving Tip!

January 18th, 2007 at 01:54 am

Sometimes, you can save money just by speaking up and asking flat out for a discount. Don't believe me? Try it out and you'll see. Don't just limit yourself to yard sales and flea markets; many brick and mortar stores may offer you a discount as well, especially on open-box items, high-price items, or items with visible dents/blemishes (of course, first check to see if it works). If you buy in bulk or you shop/eat often at that store, ask for a bulk discount or if there's a frequent shopper/diner card.

Still tongue tied? If you are a college student, ask if there's a discount for students. Belong to AAA or AARP or any affiliation? You might qualify for a discount as well.

Don't be mean or demanding! Ask in a nice, polite manner and remember to smile. Even if you get denied, don't take it personally. Thank the merchant and then go on with your business. In the end, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so...just ask!

A Tale of Two Households

January 13th, 2007 at 03:10 pm

Great weekend reading at MSNMoney. Two articles, one in which the author chooses to live below her means (12K income) and another that chooses to live above their current means (150K income):

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
A reporter choose to divorce, return to school, and reduce her yearly income to 12K. And yet she continues to donate $20/month to church because she realizes there are those who live on much less income than she does.

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
"Scraping by" on $150,000/year? Read about a family of 5 who have trimmed away the premium cable, the STarbucks latte, the soccer camps- but still want to keep the horse and the two vacation rentals. They seem a nice enough family, but to me, if they choose to keep those luxury items, then they should be prepared to make even more severe cuts in their other spendings. Still, an interesting comparison to the first article.

Fun Money Memory- 1

January 10th, 2007 at 12:14 am

Can you still recall the very first thing you bought with your own hard-earned money?

For me, I started babysitting in 7th or 8th grade. Wasn't concerned so much about the amount I got paid then by the fact I had a job! After a few sitting jobs I had $50. I couldn't wait to spend it, and the timing couldn't be better- it was my parents' anniversary. I hopped onto my bike and pedaled to the nearest shopping plaza, which contained a Hallmark store. Went inside and for whatever reason, the very first thing I bought was a candle for my parents. A candle, of all things. For my parents who I've never seen light or enjoy smelly candles. I can't even remember the smell other than "generic perfumey-ness." It was pretty, though, and blue (my favorite color) and about $20 bucks. I carried it home proudly.

When it came time to present the gift to my parents, I realized my mistake. They were pleased, sure, but even I could not miss the "huh??" look on their confused faces. If I had to do one of those "Mastercard commercial" interpretations of the whole scene, it would be something like this:

Price of candle: $20
Price of card: $3.95
Inherent worthniess/appropriateness of gift (from parents point of view): $-000000000000
Fact that daughter spent her own money for a gift to parents: Worth putting the candle onto the coffee table as centerpiece for the next 6 years (until daughter broke it by accident)

Happy Returns

January 4th, 2007 at 01:30 am

Tonight, I made a stop at Target to buy some new sweatpants since I found a large hole in my old ones (actually I'd tripped and fallen but that's another tale of klutziness for later). Grabbed a pair on sale for $17, went to purchase and the durn things rang up at $29.99. Whoops, I'd already run the credit card through. So I got sent to the Happy Returns line.

They should call it the Anything BUT Happy Line. There were only two cashiers facing a phalanx of customers. I overheard one ask the other, "Did you call for backup?" and the reply was, "You think someone's gonna come help us???" True, I think working the returns registers, especially the week after Christmas, is one of the least desirable places to be on Earth.

But to be honest, the line moved slowly, but people were patient and seemed to be getting their returns. I noticed everyone was clutching a receipt in their hot little hands- VERY important, as we shall see. Now, the lady in front of me was exchanging a purse, did NOT have a receipt, not even a gift receipt. From what I overheard, they tried to process her return using her drivers license. Uh uh. Nope. The lady turned red. The cashier asked if the license had expired. The lady turned a darker shade of red as she showed them it was still valid. The cashier then asked if she'd made other returns using her license. Yup, turns out she'd made two prior returns (at Target, I think).

Warning bell! Target has some sort of policy against allowing people to make returns without a receipt, something like only two returns per year. Sort of a big slam in the face for not keeping your receipts. The policy sounded a bit harsh to me, but who knows, stores need to protect themselves against shoplifters. But boy oh boy, would I hate to be in that poor lady's shoes right now. She was upset, but she also made a rather funny comment about her addiction to buying ugly purses.

Moral of story: Treat your receipts like Gold and hold on to them.

****
$20 challenge update: Ran 5 miles (tripped and fell, resulting in hole in sweatpants and truncated run) in the morning and walked 2 miles during lunch. So 7 x .09 = .63 added to the pot. I did drink three thermosfuls of water but bought a soda at Target, so that doesn't count.
Total: $50.66

Free Stuff and a Contest

December 14th, 2006 at 02:14 pm

Recent haul of free goodies that came in the mail:

-Dove deoderant
-Luna breakfast bar (which tastes absolutely HORRIBLE- don't buy it!)
-Downy fabric softener
-some feminine products
-Pills for lactose intolerance
-Razors (what happened to them just having simple names? Why must it be like Mach XXXXL or Vibrance GTO? Razors are starting to sound like car models)

And....I won a contest! Sadly, I declined the prize. I somehow won $300 towards (get this) laser hair removal. This woman from a hair removal clinic called several times to try and schedule me to come into one of the clinics in the city, but I wanted to know prices first. So she asked what hair I wished to remove (tehe) and I picked the smallest area I could think of - eyebrows. Well, after asking her several times (she'd avoid direct answers) not only did I find out that EACH session was about $300, but I'd have to go in for multiple (4) treatments to get rid of my sparse facial fuzz. So in the end, that $300 doesn't go towards much. The woman was defiinitely trying to push me, so I nicely told her, Thanks but no thanks. Better for me to let the prize go to someone who wants it!

A New Way to Look at Money

December 13th, 2006 at 01:56 pm

To those who commented on my last entry- THANK YOU!!! It is really amazing how much my mind felt at ease after reading your ideas and words. Sometimes it does take one sentence or thought to change your outlook on things.

In short, I feel I've been looking at money the wrong way. As many of you pointed out, "spending" the money on my future house is a form of investing as well. And not to mention, an investment I'm sure to enjoy and have fun improving.

And quite frankly, what exactly is money? Money is really just a means to an end; you save money towards some goal and then you spend it. That's all it really is. Not to get all philosophical, but if I ignore my own values and needs, I'll start to see money as something to amass and collect, rather than to put to use (in a good way).

To illustrate the need to be able to see money "as it is", in a recent episode of "Survivor" the contestants were given $500 each to spend at an Island Auction. Money? On a deserted island? You can already see the irony. One of the contestants, Jonathan, realized the money for what it was "worth" in that context- playing chips, nothing more. He therefore bid rather freely and ended up with some good eats and beer. In the real world, spending what he did for a pizza and beer would seem ridiculous, but in that gameshow situation, it was well worth the price. What else could you do with that money, bribe the ocean to spit out some fish for you? Another item up for auction was a mystery item that "would give you power in this game." One contestant, Yul, instantly recognized the worth of that word, "power" and thus encouraged his teammate to bid away for that item. When the teammate ran out of money, he lent her some of his. I was rather surprised that no one else seemed willing to use their cash. And why were they hoarding? I suspect many still thought of money as $$$$ and wanted to save as much as they could.....but again, when you're stuck on an island in the Survivor situation, what good will money do for you?

Cash in my Wallet = Danger

December 12th, 2006 at 02:31 am

Unlike many people, I end up spending even more money if I pay for things using cash than if I use credit card. This odd phenomenom started during the two years I worked in NYC. There's always delicious street vendor foods or some deli/coffee shop along each block- multiple chances to duck in and grab a little something something. Now, if I yank out my purse and realize all Ihave are credit cards, I pretty much can't buy those tempting goodies, since those stores tend to have a minimum amount for credit card transactions (and street vendors don't take cc's). But if I have the cash....off it goes towards buying the random snack and coffee, and before I know it, the cash is all gone.

Even now, when I"m not working in New York, I will use my credit card to purchase groceries, but then I'll end up brownbagging lunch and/or cooking most days of the week. If I don't use the credit card, then I'll tend to shy away from making "large" purchases (each grocery trip is about $30-40) with cash at the grocery store and instead buy lunch every day (minimum of $5/meal) and also stop off at some restaurant/take out place on the way home from work every night and purchase a bunch of food (minimum of $10/dinner). So that means about $75+ worth of meals if I don't do the grocery shopping but keep cash in my wallet. But that's just my mentality.

Am I Being a Grinch?

December 5th, 2006 at 12:54 am

I chose not to participate in my company's Christmas "Pollyanna" Gift Exchange. Is it because I dislike my coworkers? Not really; I think everyone is easy to work with, though for the most part, we each stay in our offices and do our own jobs. It's just that I think sometimes gift exchanges aren't as "pollyanna-esque" as we'd imagine. I saw and heard more than a few coworkers complaining about the name of the person they drew for the gift exchange. Even going so far as to ask to exchange names. Why? Simply because of the "popularity" factor, I think. People would complain especially if they didn't know who the person was. Made me feel sad inside...then again, I might just be too sensitive towards these things.

I always try to think the best of people, which is my achilles heel because I tend to get my feelings hurt easily. Oh well, I just felt like ranting a bit here.

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.

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 ^_^

One Year Ago....

October 27th, 2006 at 01:44 pm

I was finishing writing up my thesis; my professor had accepted a new position and was playing politics and "reorganizing" (meaning kicking us out) the lab. I was stressing because I still had one paper "submitted" but not yet published, and I would've liked to have it published so I'd have some additional support for when my committee convenes to decide if I can graduate on time. In the midst of this stress, my relationship with my boyfriend was falling apart. Basically, he moved, I stayed. End of story, though we did try the long distance thing.

Financially, I wasn't even really thinking about the future. I received a stipend as a graduate student, and I'm happy to say saved a good chunk of it by making automatic deposits into savings. I had no student loans to pay off, my car was all paid for. So I really haven't faced any sorts of hardships.

Fast forward to teh present. Still renting, still have a significant chunk of cash in savings that I don't feel like touching. Don't need to, since I'm bringing in a regular paycheck. Am enrolled automatically in the company 401K/pension plan. Basically....I still don't feel any financial hardship. I suppose that's why I'm challenging myself to save up for a house or townhouse next year....the next step is to tackle mortgage jargon and that sort of thing.

*Sigh* It's tough transitioning to "adulthood" =)

Eloan or -----?

October 23rd, 2006 at 02:05 pm

Eloan has jumped to the forefront of internet savings rates, now offering 5.5% with a minimal balance of $5000. I have had my savings sitting in IngDirect for the past 5 years and now am sad to see how far behind they're lagging (only earning about 4.3%). I'm tempted to open this new savings account....but I'm hesitant because what if this starts the vicious cycle where I am constantly opening a new savings account as new banks start competing to raise their interest rates? Would I be better off putting money into a CD- something that offers a definite future deadline to decide where to allocate my savings, taking into consideration my changing financial needs?

Help! I also don't want to become some crazy person, worrying too much about the "best" place for my money and keeping a frantic eagle eye on interest rates...

A Sorta Savings Weekend

October 22nd, 2006 at 10:41 pm

Ok, so I found my mom a cashmere sweater for Christmas- online, though, so there's always inherent risk of it being a shoddy product. Also, after speaking with her, it seems I may have jumped the gun a bit; she was telling me how she liked purple or teal blue colors for the fall. I had bought her a black sweater. Err. Well, it's still early enough to return and search for other gifts.

I know I vowed to hold off on "me" spending, and I've been good, not having lusty dreams (haha) about a certain handbag. But this weekend I dropped by one of the great thrift stores in Trenton, NJ, and came away with two pairs of boots and two awesome (if I do say so myself) plaid wool skirts for $20 total! The skirts were definitely a good find- I noticed a couple of women "stalking" me as I was holding onto the skirts. An aisle later, one of the women came to talk with me- very nicely, I might add- asking if I was really going to purchase the skirts. I almost felt like giving one to her! But...oh....I admit, I was a grinch. In the thrift shopping world, it really is finders keepers.

Otherwise, spent money on gas (lucky car) and was going to finally buy a spare tire for my car, but my dad told me he had an extra tire! All I had to do was come get it. So smart, dad, a way to get me to come visit =)

Weekly Roundup of Savings (and Mishaps)

October 15th, 2006 at 03:30 pm

Yeah yeah yeah, the week isn't exactly over (if you're weird like me and consider Monday as the "start" day) but it's been a milestone week. It was my first week at the new job as a medical writer! Lots of science/brainwork (data analysis, science talk with clients) and also lots of time where I just....sat around and "read." First weeks are never truly exciting, it's more like, "Oh yippee! You want me to help you edit this table of contents? Awesome!" But compared to my last job (marketing consultant) this job is better pace, less stressful, and much much more secure. (and it's funny how it just sort of fell into my lap. Yay, networking really works!)

Anyway, what does this have to do with savings? Well one humongous benefit to the new job is my commute is approximately 10 minutes. That's right, total mileage is only 5 miles one-way. If I take small roads, it is actually 4.6 miles according to Mapquest. This had made me seriously consider attempting to run to work. Have not ironed out the details...it's not so much the thought I can't shower at work as it is the condition of the roads. There are very clear paths and sidewalks for about half the distance, but the remainder is horribly narrow roads with no shoulders. No lawns, either, just rock or gutters/long weedy (and most likely tick infested) grass. One potential shortcut is marked "Private" so I don't want someone shooting me for trespassing. Grr...must be some way to work things out.

Many people celebrate their first week (and first paycheck) in some way. I am only human, I met with friends for drinks. What I did NOT do was go on a shopping spree, though I was this close to buying more clothes online. What stopped me was the shipping fee; I had narrowed my choices down to about $25 for two sweaters, but the shipping was $5.95. That's 25% of the total price. Insane. If I was really desperate, I could run to that store in the mall and buy things, for ZERO sales tax (thanks, NJ). To avoid further temptation, I deleted the tempting email containing the sale and coupon. Unseen and out of mind. Besides, the money was put towards my little night out celebration =)

Lastly, my poor electric thermos/hot water dispenser died. I feel it was due to the fact I unplugged it everytime I left the house, and shoud've just left it plugged in. So, no more instant hot water, and what horrible timing with the cold weather approaching. I can't get it fixed since my parents brought it for me from Taiwan. So it's either $100 for a so-so one from the local Asian market, or $20-30 for a thermos (the kind coffee shops use) from Bed Bath and Beyond. Probably will go with the thermos since I still wonder how much electricity those dispensers use up to maintain the temperature of the water inside....

Happy New Week to All!

A "Sale" is not always a Sale

October 5th, 2006 at 09:43 pm

Just because an item is "on sale" does not mean you should automatically buy it. In most cases, it is simply a lower price from it's original outrageously inflated retail price, which means it is now at "regular" price- not much of a deal, is it?

Another scheme by stores is to hang up signs that scream, "Up to 70% off!!!" but when you go inside, you find most things are only discounted a couple of bucks. If you search hard, you'll find that one damaged/irregular open-boxed item that is the sole 70% off item in the "sale." See, the stores weren't lying....but you still get tricked into shopping.

Coffee Kick

September 27th, 2006 at 01:57 pm

I'm fortunate to not be the only coffee drinker in my small office; someone always makes a pot in the mornings for all of us to share. One way I've found to enjoy my morning cup even more was to add instant hot cocca (with calcium! smart) to sweeten my java. Usually half a pack would do, and voila, "gourmet" coffee that costs pennies.

Morning Inspiration-2

September 26th, 2006 at 01:20 pm

Brush your teeth before dressing.

It is not worth it to wear a nice suit or your favorite dress and then get a glob of toothpaste on it. Also, you'll avoid the -ahem- "wet nurse" look (ie: leaning against damp counter).