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Bank of America is Crazy

February 16th, 2007 at 06:43 am

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 10:52 am

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 11:44 am

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 06:25 am

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 05:40 am

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 08:35 am

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,

Text is www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com and Link is
www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com to learn more. Sometimes there's cool giveaways, too!

My (secret) Money Saving Tip!

January 17th, 2007 at 05:54 pm

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 07:10 am

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):

Text is http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/SurvivingAndThrivingOn12000AYear.aspx and Link is
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.

Text is http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/ScrapingByOn150000AYear.aspx and Link is
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 9th, 2007 at 04:14 pm

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 3rd, 2007 at 05:30 pm

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 06:14 am

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 05:56 am

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 11th, 2006 at 06:31 pm

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.