Posts Tagged money

Move Your Money

Do you have your money at a big bank? Move it!

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Golf, anyone?

A few years ago, I took the plunge and purchased a (weekday-only) membership at the golf course near my house. I had been considering it for several years and then they offered a special, low-initiation deal. Effectively, it cost about the same as it would to play once a week at any of the slightly cheaper courses in the area, plus, any guests playing with me got a slight discount such that the cost of their round would be comparable to the other courses as well. And, of course, I could stop in and play 9 holes after work for free. (Or late afternoons on weekends, which was included in the weekday membership.)

Nice theory. In practice it didn’t really work out. It wasn’t too bad in the summer, though I rarely did better than break even for any given month. And even though it’s possible to play golf year-round in Texas, the early morning golf that I typically play isn’t very pleasant during the winter. And, of course, it does rain on occasion. Really, the only thing that kept me going with the membership was the fact that without it we would really have to play a differnt course, which would be much less convenient.

Well, for various reasons I didn’t even play once last month. I did play yesterday, but I just didn’t feel it. I decided to cancel my membership, so I turned in my 30-day notice before leaving the course. I think that’s probably going to turn out to be pretty good timing as winter approaches. Plus, even though it’s a nice course, and plenty challenging, I’m kind of tired of playing the same course more than 90% of the time.

To be clear, I still intend to try to play golf at least once a week, even though my game has really fallen apart over the last few years. And, if history is any indication, playing at other courses has a very good chance of allowing my game to return to its previous glory — or at least rise from the depths in which it has floundered lately.

Now I just need to try to get some good use out of my last month of membership. Anybody wanna play some golf?!

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Online Purchase Fail

burning moneyIt was my fault. No question about it.

It’s not like it was my first time ordering products over the Internet. I’ve been doing that for longer than my nearly-12-year-old daughter has been alive.

Sure, I’ve had the occasional issue where I accidentally paid too much because I didn’t properly consider the shipping cost. I’ve ordered things that I ended up rarely (or never) using. I’ve even gotten caught up in an online auction to the point where I paid slightly more than retail price for something, even before including shipping.

But about three weeks ago I managed to pull a trifecta of ordering the wrong products.

First, I accidentally ordered the wrong Blu-Ray player (Panasonic DMP-BD60 instead of Samsung BD-P1600, in case you care). Luckily, I was telling a friend about this order and this led to me realizing my mistake in time to cancel the order. (The Samsung was priced a bit higher than I wanted to spend, so I didn’t end up ordering it.)

Then, in the same order I ordered two pieces of equipment for my pool in an attempt to save a few bucks. But it turned out that neither of those was the right piece, either. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize these mistakes until the components arrived — and in the case of one of them, not until I had removed it from the packaging.

I suppose I could send the unopened one back, and perhaps the opened one as well. But I’m thinking I’ll just take them to the pool supply store and see if they’ll give me something for them when I buy the correct components. Shipping things back is just too much trouble.

Lesson I should learn: Do a better job of verifying components.

Lesson I actually learned: When in doubt, just buy it at the store.

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Cruise Highlights

Friends and coworkers keep asking how our cruise was, and my answer is generally along the lines of “meh”. However, the more I think about it the more I realize that that answer really isn’t fair. The vacation itself was actually very nice and relaxing and I had a wonderful time. The ambivalent feeling I have is really because I wanted the cruise to be something special. Instead, I came away thinking that I would have enjoyed a resort more.

As always, the devil is in the details. First, there’s the money. For an “all-inclusive” deal, Carnival sure spent a whole lot of energy trying to nickel-and-dime their guests. From the “Soda Card” I bought to the photo prints they offered for sale to the threat of fees if you lost any towels to the very over-priced bar drinks, it was difficult to not spend additional money.

Next, there’s the issue of time in ports. There simply not enough of it. The truth is, I’m sure there are many people who really enjoy the ship-board activities: drinking, hanging out by the pool, gambling at what passes for a casino and, well, eating. But I’m not really one of them. Well, except for the eating part. Then, when we finally get to a port and can leave the ship, we have to be back in time for the ship to leave port by 3 or 4 PM. I’d much rather leave at around sunset. I think those extra three hours in port would be very handy.

There are other things, like the food selections available at certain times of the day or even the specific foods unavailable during regular meals in the dining room, but I think that’s enough negativity. After all, I really did enjoy my vacation. My favorite parts were driving a 6-speed Jeep Wrangler around Cozumel and watching flying fish jump out of the wake from the ship and re-enter the ocean tens of yards away. (Look closely at the last shot below and you can see one of them.)

Here are some of the highlights from the pictures I took. (More can be found on my photo album site.)

Oh, and about the Canon 18-200 mm IS lens for which this trip was the real test? The results are mixed. I love the versatility of the lens and had no trouble with focus accuracy or speed. However, there was quite a bit of vignetting and pincushioning in a lot of the images. It was the only lens I took on this trip, so all of the images above were shot with it. The question I have yet to fully answer for myself is whether I am happier with this lens than I would have been with a compact super-zoom camera like the upcoming Canon 200SX IS. I think the answer is yes, but I’m just not certain. Without these two issues, the answer would be a definitive yes. Now, I think I’ll have to take another look at that camera when it comes out, along with its competitors.

The other result of this lens test is that I am that much more interested in the Canon 70-200 f/2.8.

PS: If you haven’t stopped by my photo blog in a while, please do so. Thanks!

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Nickle and Dime

I am cheap. There, I admitted it. There are a few exceptions, and there are certainly quite a few luxuries that we have that might be evidence against this. But it’s certainly present in a number of situations, as some of you could attest.

I’m am sitting here at Main Event while my kids play laser tag. At another venue (Austin’s Park and Pizza), where there is a single entry fee, I would be playing with them. But here at Main Event, you normally have to pay for each activity seperately. This does not go well for me. I cringe at each payment.

To make things worse, starting at 4pm on Mondays, they actually do offer a “buffet”-style price. But by then I will have already paid more than I want and will certainly not want to pay again. Ugh.

We would’ve gone to the other place, but a lot of their stuff is outside and the weather is pretty dreary and chilly today. Plus, they apparently don’t open until 3pm today. Even though the kids are out of school today, it’s still a school night. I wanted today’s activity to be, you know, during the day.

Oh, well, looks like this gets to be one of those oppurtunities to me tire the kids on appreciating what they get even when it’s less than they wanted. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll probably let them choose dinner as a consolation — as long as it’s somewhere fairly cheap, of course!

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How much do you tip?

I’m stealing this topic from David G. Mitchell over at SavingAdvice.com.

  1. When you go to a restaurant, how much do you generally tip?
  2. Is the percentage affected by the cost?
  3. Does the quality of service make a difference?
  4. What about the quality of adequate service? (That is, ignoring particularly poor or outstanding service.)
  5. How often do you find that you experience service poor enough to cause you to leave a reduced tip?

Here are my answers:

  1. Usually around 18%, though I’m inconsistent about whether that is before or after sales tax.
  2. Yes, though really just on the low side. I have a minimum dollar amount for the tip based on the number of people: $(n+1). Now that I think about it, it also affects the high side if I’m getting really good service — the more expensive the meal, the less likely my tip will be to exceed 25-30%, plus the service expectations are higher. Additionally, if a gratuity is included in the bill then it would take exceptional service to cause me to add more.
  3. Certainly.
  4. Not generally, though it may affect which direction I round the tip.
  5. Very rarely, actually. In fact, the only poor service in recent memory is simply slow service, and my tolerance for that is usually pretty high. Years ago we did have a server that apparently quit sometime after taking our order, but without turning in to the kitchen. A long time passed before anything happened, partly because we had appetizers. There were about 8-10 people in our party and eventually the manager came and told us that our entire meal would be comped and that we could order whatever we wanted. We came away with a positive view of the restaurant. I don’t recall what tip we left, but I expect it was pretty large since we weren’t having to pay for the meal.

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Sprinting Away

When I switched from my Treo 755p with Sprint to my iPhone with AT&T I knew I would be paying Sprint’s $150 early termination fee. I had not realized, though it did not come as a complete surprise, that I would not get a prorated credit for the portion of my billing period after the termination (which turned out to be 26 days – almost $37 by my calculations). The thing that did surprise me, however, was that the early termination fee was inflated by $12.71 in “Sprint Surcharges” (“rates we choose to collect from you”) and $10.16 in “Texas State-Sales Tax”.

I called Sprint to ask about the prorated credit and to complain about the surcharges — to no avail, naturally. Next, I sent the following email to the recently publicized dan@spint.com address:

I am writing this email after having just spoken to “Russell” from
Sprint customer service. On July 31st of this year I terminated my
Sprint service of over 10 years. I did so with the full expectation of
paying the $150 early termination fee even though I felt that this fee
should have been prorated based on being 14 months into my contract.

What I did not expect was that I would still be charged for the rest of
my current billing period (August 1 – August 24). Additionally, I was
quite surprised that the $150 termination fee was subject to $12.71 in
Sprint Surcharges and $10.16 in Texas State-Sales Tax. The sales tax may
be unavoidable, though I am surprised that a termination fee would be
subject to sales tax. However, the Sprint Surcharges are pretty clearly
described as relating to service and the termination fee is certainly
not for service.

My final bill only includes the termination fee + surcharges and taxes
because the billing period was pre-charged on the previous bill. Still,
I was fully expecting a credit for the pro-rated amount of $36.66.

 Before I pursue other avenues of grievance, I wanted to give this email
address an opportunity to resolve this issue to my satisfaction. As I
stated, I expected to pay the $150, so I am fine with that. But rather
than the $172.87 that that charge grew to with taxes, I would want my
final bill to be either $113.34 ($150 less the $36.66 pro-rated portion
of the billing period during which I no longer had service) or,
grudgingly, the same amount plus the sales tax — $123.50.

In other words, I would want a credit of $59.53, or at least $49.37.

Thank you for your attention,

After the initial canned response I received the following specific response:

I apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced. The charges
on your account are correct. Since you canceled your account during a
bill cycle then your are responsible for all charges as if you were
going to pay the bill if you didn’t cancel. If there is any other
questions or concerns please feel free to contact me.

Nice — not.

It’s pretty silly — it’s really not much money and I didn’t leave Sprint because of any intrinsic issues, just to get the iPhone. Prior to this billing issue, it’s entirely possible that a few years down the line I would switch back to Sprint. Now, however, I’m very unlikely to do so. For $50-$60, probably less than one month of future service, Sprint is all but guaranteeing that they will not have me as a customer again in the future. Of course, at the rate they’ve been going lately, perhaps they already figure that they have no future.

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