Saturday, August 23, 2008

Schiesty Tricks in Today's Economy

It seems like prices are rising, fees are increasing, new fees are being added. Penalty fees, convenience fees, late fees, unexplained "taxes" you name it.
In this economy where everyone is squeezed, the nickel-and-dime game is on! ...and banks lead the pack. Let me point out a few I have run into:
1. The check you wrote does not show up in your account until after paycheck comes in, but overdraft fee assessed anyway because the bank claimed they received the check the day before. (California Coast Credit Union- my mom)
2. You use your ATM card to withdraw cash and it goes through. You find your account overdrawn and charges assessed because the bank has automatically enrolled everyone in an "overdraft privilege" program. (Bayport Credit Union)
3. You try to use your check card as a debit card most places so you don't have to worry about charges coming in later, only to find out that your bank is delaying the posting of your debit transactions. You haven't kept the receipt so you now have to guess when balancing your account. (Bayport Credit Union)
4. You go to the zoo and notice the parking lot is crawling with meter maids- even though the parking is free. Upon closer inspection you find they are writing tickets for expired registrations, broken lights, missing front license plates, etc. (San Diego Zoo/San Diego Police Parking Enforcement)
5. You have a cell phone plan that includes unlimited text messaging, titled the "Select" plan. You upgrade your "Select" plan to the one with more minutes and being seeing charges for megabytes downloaded. Turns out, they changed the fine print of the plan to count data usage separately, rather then using your minutes as it had before. (Verizon)
6. You take your wife to the doctor at the hospital complex. You park in the garage and get your ticket, but your doctor doesn't validate tickets even though they lease an office in one of the buildings the parking garage serves. The gift shop downstairs won't validate it because you didn't buy anything from them. So you buy something and it get validated, and find out at the attendant booth that it is only good for 30 minutes free. (Sharp Grossmont Hospital)
7. You go to a fast food place for a hamburger combo, which is $5.99. You ask for cheese, and the price of your combo ends up at $6.69. You ask why cheese is 70 cents and are told they put two slices on your burger. You ask for one slice only but they don't seem to listen or revise your total. You pay the $6.69+tax and pull off, and find that your burger only has one slice of cheese. (Burger King)

It doesn't help when your boss says you can't do half-lunches anymore because the payroll needs to look good, or when the place that was going to give you $50 for a blood draw calls and cancels because they have decided they have too many people (Covance).

Thank goodness I am not doing business with an airline right now... unfortunately it will only get nastier out there, I fear. One must have the precision of a lawyer to avoid getting gipped these days... it means reading the fine print and asking the unlikely questions BEFORE doing business.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Bible Laugh

In my Bible reading today, I couldn't help but laugh at the following passage:

II Kings 5:5b-7 (NRSV):
"He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.""

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fry's and Air Conditioners

If you live in a major California city, you know about Fry's Electronics. Recently I was shopping for a casement window A/C and happened to notice an 8000 BTU unit for $299. This is actually a good deal for a casement window unit. Next to it was a 10000 BTU unit for $399. Now, I had just been all over the internet trying to figure out air conditioners and what was on the market and recommended, but I couldn't remember if 8000 BTUs was enough. I thought to myself, surely they have a BTU/square foot chart to jog my memory.
Well, they did. However, the numbers didn't look right. The BTU ratings seemed high for the square footage. Immediately skeptical, I walked out of the store, planning to get online again and check the numbers.
When I checked, my suspicions were confirmed. The Fry's chart underrates by about 100 sq ft- just enough to make you buy a level higher than you really need. Slick!
I went back to Fry's for the $299 8000 BTU unit, and am sitting in comfort as I type!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Accessing the Hidden Service Menus on your Cell Phone

Your cell phone has a hidden service menu that will allow you to perform tests, modify what types of networks to connect to, setup the GPS, and other advanced functions your cell phone company doesn't want you to see! For many LG phones, the code is ##programXXXX where XXXX is the model number- so for my LG VX5300 it is ##77647265300 then SEND then the passcode which is 00000 for Verizon.
What about your phone? A handy pdf provided by the Digital Antenna company covers them all from the iPhone to the Moto KRZR. This document is designed to help you find out your signal strength and in doing so gives you the codes to the advanced menus.
This info may also help you get out of your cell phone contract- by forcing your phone to always roam. Few cell phone plans charge roaming anymore but the cell phone company still incurs charges. By setting your phone to always roam and use networks other than your home network, you quickly rack up costs for your cell phone company, which after a while will terminate your contract because of it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Impossible to Live without Credit?

Our economy is rigged so that is it almost impossible to live without credit, unless you are starting life with a big pile of $$$ (read "wealthy family").
I am 30 and have no debt except for a car payment. I am the sole breadwinner for my wife and I. After bills and food and gas is there enough to save? Maybe $40 a payday, but that goes to incidentals.
Now I suppose I could make a lot more money if I had a degree. Guess what that would do to me? Put me in debt! 20-30 years of payments. I more than likely would be as tight as I am now.
It makes sense to me why people take on student loans and get deep in credit card debt. It is the easy way to comfortable living. But it is a juggling act of minimum payments with no end in sight.
To balance all this out, I have a God who provides for me. While it is wise to save, He understands our situation and will provide as necessary. I just hate the fact that debt seems so completely necessary in our society.