The Good: Got two rebates this past weekend, and not just for a couple of bucks; one was the long awaited Comcast rebate for $89.95, the other was $26 for a flash drive. Nothing like more money in the bank.
The Bad: Was this close to making a purchase online at smartbargains.com. They're having a suit and shoe sale, and I actually do need a suit for spring/summer, but geez, three items in the cart and it's already zooming upwards of $200. The only thing that prevented me from making the purchase was the 15% coupon code I tried to use wouldn't work. So I didn't buy anything....which might actually be construed as "good." But this just goes to show, it takes months to save but mere minutes to spend.
And now, The Ugly: My electricity bill came and it was $189. No joke. For my ridiculously small apartment. I had been trying to get away with not using the heater, but when I started shivering while in bed (and bundled beneath two comforters, a flannel blanket and my heaviest winter coat) I started keeping the temp at 62. I did raise it as high as 65 when my parents visited (and they still complained about the cold), but basically have kept it somewhere from 60-62. What this month's elec. bill is telling me is, in order to keep my apartment at a temperature that is barely tolerable, then I have to pay the price. And what a painful price to pay....
(I did do the plastic window wrap thing, blocked the draft beneath the front door, in case you were wondering. Is it possible there's just something intrinsically wrong with the heater itself, and could I ask the maintenance to "fix" it- whatever needs to be fixed?)
I miss North Carolina!
Viewing the 'Rant Time' Category
The Good: Got two rebates this past weekend, and not just for a couple of bucks; one was the long awaited Comcast rebate for $89.95, the other was $26 for a flash drive. Nothing like more money in the bank.
There are three gas stations that I pass on the way back home; since all are along the same street, they tend to have the same prices. However, the Mobil's in my area (and it seems throughout New Jersey) have been converted into a brand called Valero. To attract more business, they've been having discounted gas, sometimes 5-10 cents less than the competitors.
Recently, I went to fill up my gas tank, in anticipation of the snow storms. I chose the "new" Valero station since it was 5 cents cheaper than the other stations on the road. I paid by credit, since my card offers rewards for gas purchases, and the transaction went as usual. While waiting, I witnessed an exchange where a lady came up to the attendant and said, "Remember me?" The guy sort of grunted. The lady went on to say, "You double charged me last week for XX dollars, remember? I thought we'd cleared it up but I checked with my bank and now it turns out you've charged me AGAIN."
Though my ears caught the gist of their argument, I can't say it set off any warning bells. Maybe I am naive but I figure credit/debit mistakes happen, but the chances of them happening are pretty low, so this was just another isolated incident. Well, a few days ago, I went online to check my credit card balance and saw two identical charges for something weird called "Diamond Express" and both charges were for the amount of my last fillup. After I realized "Diamond" was in fact Valero/Mobil, I thought, how ironic.... I decided to go to the gas station the next day to try to resolve this.
I approached the attendant: "Excuse me, sir, remember me?" He sort of played dumb but when I shoved the receipt in his face, his expression changed into the "Oh, s***, not again" guilty look. We went in the office where he allegedly canceled the double transaction, but I was on pins and needles all day, waiting to rush home to check whether the cancelation came through on my credit card. It did. Whew.
Since gas stations are indepedently owned and operated, I'm not advocating to boycot ALL Mobil/Valero stations- just ranting against this particular station. I will encourage people to double check their gas receipts. I've noticed nowadays that you don't need to sign for many gas transactions which then causes many people to stop paying attention to the total price. Add to that the fact that drivers don't pump their own gas in NJ and you increase the chances someone won't pay attention to how much that gas fillup really cost.
Stay alert. Or do as my parents have always encouraged me to do, which is to pay for gas with $$cash.
It's a big surprise comparing cost of living between where I used to live, North Carolina, vs. New Jersey. I had a 700 sq. ft. apartment with water/sewer included for $605 down in NC; here in NJ, I could barely find any apartment for less than $1000. Not to mention utilities are hardly ever included in Jersey rents, plus a lot of places want you to buy insurance, insist you cover your floors with carpeting or rugs, and a whole bunch of fees that make me go, Whaaaaaat?
Anyway, I am getting used to paying the water/sewer/trash and electricity bills, though I still want to know what is the "norm" for an apartment my size. Talking with neighbors, it seems I'm in the same ballpark. I honestly don't understand the water bill; my actual water usage is pretty decent (at most $5) but the sewer portion of the bill is always $25 or more. What exactly am I paying for? The amount of times I flush toilet?
As for electricity, sigh, winter bills amount to about $50-55 per month. Just for heating my stupid little apartment. On one windy day I noticed the blinds lining my balcony door were blowing around wildly, indicating there's a crack somewhere. Closer inspection revealed my sliding door does not shut entirely. I've had a service call in but they really can't do much, the door shuts "all the way" according to them. Sigh again. My dad told me to buy those sealing strips but it seems weird, sealing up a doorway, but maybe it'll help to insulate.
Winter is really affecting my wallet and my mood....
Months ago, I thought my goal was to own a house by August of 2007. Now it seems my mind has changed. Argh! Why is it so hard for me to make financial plans? I keep saving for "it" but I haven't identified what "it" is. I'd been stashing my savings into easier access money markets and CD's, because I'd anticipated needing to make the large down payment on the hhouse this summer; now I want to start putting more money into my long term accounts- the Roth IRA, brokerages, 401K.
If I had a crystal ball, I'm sure gazing into it would be like trying to peer through swamp water.
It's so easy to say, "I need to pay my car insurance now," and then reallocate funds to pay it off in one quick payment. Or I can think, "I'm going to take a vacation in three months" and then I start up a short term "vacation fund." Short term goals are a cinch, but long term goals? Since "House 2007" seems to be falling through, should I just rename it "House 2008" and try to shape my savings plan around that?
I think I may have made an enemy of my downstairs neighbor. We moved in around the same time (late August) but have just been "nodding acquaintances." She's also Chinese, though probably about 5-10 years older than I am. I initially made friendly talk but she didn't reciprocate so I left it at that. Her parents live with her and they also don't speak to me if we happen to run into each other.
A few weeks ago, my parents came to visit and I think my neighbors heard me speaking Chinese, because suddenly my neighbor began to speak to me, just a bit, but in Chinese. She still wasn't buddy-buddy or anything, but she'd say hi and how was your day? type of stuff. Until this weekend, that is. Unexpectedly she came knocking at my door and I invited her in. She seemed nervous and kept making small talk, so I tried to be extra friendly and offered tea and snacks.
Then she came to the heart of the matter; she asked if I would mind if she had a satellite dish installed, so they could receive Asian cable TV stations. I said that was a matter to ask the apartment complex people, not me. Then she said, would I mind having the dish installed off MY balcony?
My immediate reaction was, if she were a close friend or relative, then I wouldn't hesitate to say Yes. But she's a relative stranger, and to me, asking that sort of favor, which involves me as a third party including all sorts of responsibilities, is really pushing the "kindness to strangers" policy too far. I first asked her if she'd tried placing the dish just outside and seeing if she could receive signal. She said my balcony was blocking the sky; I told her to try moving it out from under my balcony. She said I was higher up so I should receive better signal. I then blurted out that no matter what, satellite signal comes from teh sky no matter what, doesn't matter if you're on the ground or the 6-10 feet higher up where I am on the second floor.
That sort of pissed her off, me being direct (and she probably thought I was being obstinate). Then I said I wasn't comfortable with having people enter my apartment to install the dish. She said they'd use a ladder and do it outside. Then I asked what things I'd be liable for. She didn't understand the word, and I couldnt' really get the point across because I was using Chinese; I was trying to explain possible legal issues and stuff, like if the dish broke or fell off my porch, what in the contract would prevent me from being blamed, stuff like that.
then she tried to appeal to me personally. She said her parents were bored and really wanted to have that cable TV installed. Sure, I felt badly; one of my priorities is to take care of my parents. Still, using that tactic was a bit sneaky, makes me look like a total bad guy. I asked her more about her parents and then she revealed they were returning back to China at the end of next month! So she'd only be having dish satellite installed for one month? Yes. I then told her there were options to download/watch Chinese broadcast TV and movies online, or they can rent videos from our local Asian grocery store and library. She then got angry and said I was not a considerate person.
Did I do the wrong thing? My main concern was the basic issue that, since my property (balcony) was being involved, then no matter what, I would have some responsibility of whatever was on it or attached to it. Never mind the fact I felt it was rude for the neighbor/stranger to presume she could pressure me into agreeing, and then for her to result to pity and then bullying tactics. Still, I tried to say No nicely and I still end up feeling like the bad person. Makes me just want to throw up my hands and scream (Aiya!!!).
The other day, I was in RiteAid when I noticed some confusing sales tag in the aisles. Certain skincare items were on sale this week; to promote these items, there were yellow shelf tags reading "$1.50 savings" posted (more or less) below the item.
But what happened when they attempted to do double coupon savings? RiteAid often has clip-out coupons within their print ads; if you're lucky, your desired sale item might get this additional discount. This week, for example, Eucerin lotions price were cut by $1.50; there was also an in-ad coupon for additional $1.50.
You'd think RiteAid would print one sticker that read "$3.00 savings!" but instead, RiteAid got lost in confusion. I saw one sticker which read the following:
-$1.50 In-Ad savings
0.00 total savings
What it should've read:
+ $1.50 In-Ad savings
$3.00 total savings
I saw yet another tag (on the same shelf, no less):
-$1.50 Less with In-Ad Coupon
XXXXXXXX (no total "less")
Why all this tagging variation? Why the emphasis on being Good Student and adhering to the rules of addition/subtraction of negative numbers? Or is RiteAid following the strict rules of English rhetoric that say the words "less" or "savings" imply subtracting from a number?
It seems RiteAid is being a bit too smart for their own good!
How in the world did I accumulate all this? And not just talking about the pile of purses or closets of coats and clothes, but about the rest of this "stuff?" I have about 6 large boxes of random stuff which I can't believe made the trip up from North Carolina with me when I moved. I mean, these boxes are filled with gift wrap, bags, pens and pencils, empty notebooks, random funny artifacts, postcards, more random artifacts, batteries (do these expire?), and old computer parts (zip drive, anybody?)
I honestly have to start using up this "stuff" or else have less emotional attachment to it. It's actually a bit upsetting, to be honest, lots of these items are replacable, like candles, stationary, envelopes, office supplies. But when I was moving, I sold off things such as kitchen appliances and furniture which I now regret selling. Those bulky items were sold for the sake of being able to pack my apartment into my car without renting a Uhaul. Sure, they are replacable, but did I need to fillup my cargo space with those other items?
Every January, people surge to the local gyms, determined to get a jump on their vows to get in shape for the new year. Gym memberships spike sharply in January, bolstered by the legions who are out to lose those holiday pounds (and then some). As I was stopping by the pharmacy last night, I glanced across the shopping plaza at local NYSC, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the big banner which read, "JOIN NOW FOR $20.07*!!!"
"WOW that is a phenomenal deal!" was my first reaction. But what was the catch? I went home to dig around some more on the internet and boy was I surprised to learn the true cost to joining the local NYSC:
$20.07 is just the cost of "joining." Remember that little asterik? The very, very fine print revealled, "Monthly charges and $49 processing fee also apply." Hmm, so it costs only $20 to say you'll become a member (isn't talk supposed to be cheap?) but then $49 to sign and push around papers? And what about those monthly charges? Not too surprising, the NYSC website did NOT have an easy-access page that listed monthly fees, but after a Google search, I finally discovered it to be $89/month.
So, in total:
$20.07 + $49 + (89*12) = $1137.07 for a 1yr gym membership! And who knows what other hidden fees lurk within? Locker rental, personal trainer or dietician fees, daycare, not to mention the penalty fee should you decide to break the contract.
$20.07? I think I'll run clear of that "deal."
Another thing to watch out for when traveling out-of-state are sneaky tricks at the local gas stations! Beyond the obvious, such as how many of us New Jersians sometimes sit like dunderheads in our cars, waiting for an attendant to come out (note to self: most states require you to self-serve and pump your own gas), different states may have different gas filling protocol. Some might let you pay at the pump, some require you to prepay. And then some try to pull a fast one on you to make you buy more expensive gas:
I am referencing this post from "Money, Matter and More Musings" because he has the cold, hard pictoral evidence of gas stations switching up the usual "left to right" order of increasing octane grades typically seen at the pumps. The worst I've seen (and nearly used!!!) was once, the diesel line was the leftmost pump, and it was not only the same color as the rest (usually diesel is green or bright red) but even the sign saying "diesel only" was the same b/w lettering as the other signs. Urgh.
As of now, I believe you still have to physically punch the big "87" or "89" or "91" signs/buttons to get the gas flowing, which should automatically alert you to any potential errors. But if the mixup of ordering L-to-R is part of some ultimate "Fooled ya!" plot, then pretty soon they will do away with the extra push-button step (and thus many impatient people will happily pump away, pleased they are saving some precious seconds of their time, but NOT realizing they are, indeed, pumping away some extra $$$$).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.