Why Saving Money Makes Me Angry

Everybody has a money saving gimmick, but I’d rather spend more than jump through the money-saving hoops.

Last Saturday I decided to buy a regularly priced $30 item at JoAnn’s Fabrics since it was on sale for $15 and I had a 20%off coupon. I made this decision after checking the price at Michael’s since it was still cheaper at JoAnn’s even though I had a 50% off coupon. Michael’s price on the same item was $30. It seemed like a good, logical plan until I started shopping.

  • First stop, JoAnn’s – the employee could not find the product.
  • Second stop, Michael’s – don’t have the first choice, but a substitute is available, if I’m willing to wait in line behind twenty other customers.
  • Third stop, another JoAnn’s – first choice not available.
  • Fourth stop, another Michael’s – first choice not available. Who cares? Get the second choice. Use the 50% coupon. Get out of there! No, check the fine print, the coupon is not good on this particular product. Who cares? Just buy…but then I realize I can go back across the street and save $15.
  • Fifth stop, back to JoAnn’s #2 – buy the second choice. No, they won’t take the coupon either…same fine print.

The lesson? Don’t read the sale ads. Don’t clip the coupons. Go to the store. Buy the product you want. The $15 saved wasn’t worth 2 hours of my time and the additional gas used to drive all over the county and the increase in my blood pressure.

I’m tired of being asked if I want to apply for a credit card so I can save 15% on the day’s purchases. No, I do not want a Target Card or a Gap card or a Loft card.

Then after I make a purchase, I receive a coupon good for $20 off a purchase of $50 or more IF I return in two weeks. No, I’m not coming back in two weeks.

I hate reward cards! I don’t want to carry a card for Walgreens, CVS, Staples, or Winn Dixie so I can take advantage of the sale price. I don’t want to join the Hilton HHonors or the Wyndham Rewards Loyalty Program or the Choice Privileges program. If I have to carry your card and play your game to get the discount, I’ll just shop somewhere else.

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Really? A rewards card for gas?

And guess who’s NOT camping in front of Best Buy to save money on a TV or computer? I won’t shop before noon to get the doorbuster price. I won’t even step foot in a retail store this coming weekend. Saving a few dollars isn’t worth the aggravation. I’d rather buy less.

I don’t like to pay more than necessary, but I’m really not interested in the money saving schemes of retailers. Do me a favor. Price your products so consumers can shop without playing games. I don’t enjoy playing games when I have no chance of winning.

It’s no wonder more and more shoppers are making their purchases online. A lot less frustration.

Don’t Panic! Stay the Course!

With the news of the stock market roller coaster this October, it’s easy to see why people panic and either stop contributing to retirement plans or worse yet withdraw their money. So far, thirteen times this month, the stock market has made triple digit swings, both positive and negative…making it difficult to remain calm.

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However, it’s important to stick with your plan. You’re invested for the long term. You’ll be fine. Try to relax. My plan calls for throwing those monthly statements in the drawer unopened. This is how I’ve survived market volatility in the past so I know it works.

Of course, it is important to rebalance your accounts every year or two, but this is not the time. Wait until things calm down and then re-evaluate your plan, diversify, and make sure you have the cash you need in the short term while you wait for a market rebound.

I figure if Warren Buffett can lose $2,000,000,000 (that’s right, 2 billion) in 2 days and not panic, I can weather the storm even with retirement close at hand.

You’ll survive this market, and you’ll encounter many more times when you’ll want to bury you’re money in the back yard, but don’t panic! Stay the course.

143

Mom

 

Employ the 50-30-20 Rule

I’ve always found preparing a household budget a challenge. The categories of spending seem to be never ending. Mortgage payments, homeowners insurance, property taxes, car payments, auto insurance, gas, tolls, auto club, groceries, electric, water, sewer, cable, Internet, cell phone, child care, entertainment, clothing, vacations, savings, loans, medical insurance and bills. The list goes on and on.

Trying to determine what percentage of our income or what dollar amount to budget to each category is overwhelming and therefore a great excuse to just avoid the budgeting process. But instead of avoiding the preparation of a budget, I’d like to encourage you to employ the 50-30-20 Rule to determine how best to spend your money.

You may already be familiar with this budgeting plan since it’s been featured by MSN Money, Forbes, and Mint. Senator Elizabeth Warren, known as a champion of the consumer, has spoken of the plan frequently, and while it still requires putting pencil to paper to work out a budget, by using only three categories it’s much more manageable.

Here’s how it works:

The plan divides your after-tax income or take home pay into three categories: needs, wants, and savings/debt.

50% of your income is devoted to needs – These are the expenses that MUST be paid every month like rent or mortgage payments, groceries, car loans and insurance, and minimum payments on credit cards

30% goes for wants – This category may not be an “fun” as you expect. Sure it’s going out to dinner or a movie, but it’s also other lifestyle choices that seem mandatory in this day and age. Things like cell phone plans, Internet, and cable. A gym membership, hair appointments, and make-up may seem like must-haves, but those fall in the wants category as well.

20% is for savings and debt reduction – While the smallest portion of the budget, the savings/debt reduction is extremely important. Money must be devoted to saving for an emergency and retirement, but this is also where money comes from to pay down credit cards or other debt.

In some cases it’s still a little tricky to determine the difference between a need a want. Phone service is a need, but the difference between a basic plan and a more expensive plan would be classified as a want so that one bill may span two categories. Yes, clothing is a need, but is it something you need today? If not, it may be a want. You’ll need to play with this according to your own expenses since no two people or families are exactly alike.

Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a goal. Something to work toward. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do this today, but by using the 50-30-20 Rule as a guide, you can start working toward establishing a budget that helps you accomplish what you need to do now and in the future.

I believe that by simplifying budgeting into needs, wants, and savings, we could have been more successful at an earlier age and as a result done a better job of saving.

Set a goal to employ the 50-30-20 Rule.

143

Mom

Don’t Pay Your Bills!

I know this advice may seem out of character from someone who just a few months ago encouraged you to Make a Minute for Money, but here we go again…another incident requiring vigilance.

I’m sure you’re getting tired of me warning you about fraud on your charge accounts, but since we’ve been hit again. I feel another reminder is in order. Here’s the message from Discover when I sign on to my account online:

We’re sorry that your account experienced fraudulent activity. We’re working quickly to get everything back to normal. For your added security, certain features may not be available online at this time. You might still see unauthorized activity and inaccurate information until we remove the fraud from your account.

Remember, you are never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover card.

Saturday, we received a call from the Fraud Division at Discover to verify some purchases they deemed suspicious. Over $3400 in charges at Tractor Supply in Orlando, $110 at Hess in Winter Park, and over four hundred dollars at PepBoy in Apopka.

Trans. Date Description Amount
06/28/14 TRACTOR SUPPLY #560 $117.13
06/28/14 TRACTOR SUPPLY #560 $3,301.49
06/28/14 HESS 09525 $110.11
06/28/14 PEPBOYS STORE # 544 $407.67
TOTAL $3,936.40

No, we didn’t make any of those purchases, and I’m impressed that Discover called before 8:00pm on Saturday to check on almost $4000 in suspicious purchases less than 24 hours after they were made.

No, our cards were not stolen. They’re both in our possession. I guess we’re the victim of some type of card skimming device.

Of course, we’ll cut up two more credit cards. We’ll be issued new cards and account numbers. A hassle, but not as bad as the problems caused by the fraud at Target six months ago. At least Discover caught this early.

So, today I’m reminding you to be alert for fraud on your accounts. I’m glad we used a credit card instead of a debit card when we filled the tank with gas. Our bank account couldn’t have taken a $3900 hit, and debit cards don’t have the same protection as credit cards. I’d much rather have Discover fighting this battle than me personally trying to have almost $4000 credited back to my bank account. That would be a nightmare!

DON’T PAY YOUR BILLS – at least not until you’ve carefully checked and verified each purchase, then, and only then, pay the bill. And since it’s Monday, it’s a good day to Make a Minute for Money as well!

143

Mom

Tax Day Treats

For the past several weeks friends and family have talked about their plans for their tax refunds. Everyone seems to be trying to decide if they’ll buy clothes, something for the house, take a weekend trip, buy something “just for fun”, or maybe add to their savings.

My question…what refund? Are we the only family in the U.S. who writes a check to Uncle Sam on tax day?

Sure, we could have more withheld from our paychecks to avoid some of the April 15th pain, but we never get around to making a trip to personnel and filling out more forms so every year it’s the same. We watch everyone hurry to file their taxes, get a refund, and spend their windfall while we wait until the last minute to file and write a check to the U.S. Treasury.

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So instead of making a purchase with a refund, maybe we can take advantage of some of the Tax Day Freebies offered by businesses this year.

  • Sonny’s VIP IRS (Irresistible Ribs Special) on Tax Day. Come in for half off a rib dinner plate dinner.
  • Arby’s Free Curly Fries on 4/15. Make sure you print a coupon at Arbys.com.
  • Free shredding from Office Depot. Again print a coupon for 5 pounds of free shredding. And you don’t have to rush out today to take advantage of this offer since it’s good through 4/29.
  • Schlotzsky’s free Tax Day sandwich. Buy a 32 oz. drink and a bag of chips and get a free sandwich! Of course, since I’d have to drive to Gainesville, this probably isn’t the best deal.
  • The 1040 Tax Day Deal Chicken Meal gives guests two half chicken individual meals for $10.40.
  • Free Chocolate Chip Cookies at Great American Cookies. Free Cookies for all!
  • Ace Hardware $10 off $40 purchase with online code TXDAY14
  • Chili’s free appetizer with the purchase of an adult meal.
  • Half-price drinks and slushes all day at Sonic.
  • 15% off airfare on JetBlue (Guess this is for those with refunds!)

Numerous hotels throughout the country are offering discounts on everything from drinks to massages, but I’m not going anywhere today so I won’t be taking advantage of these offers.

Even those of you who received that nice refund check in the mail can take advantage of these special offers. Just don’t brag about the size of your check when you see me getting 1/2 price ribs at Sonny’s!

Make a Minute for Money

As I’ve been gathering receipts and financial data to take to the accountant to file my taxes, I realized I should pay more attention to finances on a regular basis instead of doing this just once a year.

It’s easy to have financial amnesia if you don’t consciously make time to check on your finances regularly. Since you work hard, it only makes sense to work equally hard protecting your hard earned money.

I’d like to encourage you to make time daily (but at least weekly) to check on your money. If you take one to five minutes a day to check on your bank and credit card accounts that would be a good start. Not only will you be alerted to possible fraud, you’ll be more aware of how you’re spending and saving. Seeing those transactions and account balances prevents financial amnesia…there’s no denying what you see in black and white.

By setting aside just five minutes daily you can better manage your money. Here’s some suggestions on how to spend those five minutes:

  • Check your bank account examining all transactions for the previous week.
  • Check one credit card account. Look for suspicious charges and verify payments. Don’t forget to check your interest rate. If it’s been raised, call and ask why.
  • Check phone or utility account. Are there unusual charges? Can you make a change to lower your bill?
  • Clean out the refrigerator. Yes, this is a money saving task. How much food did you waste? How could you change your shopping habits to avoid the waste? Or did you throw away a lot of take home boxes?
  • File, scan, and shred. (This is a big one! I sure wish I’d been doing this all year. A few minutes once a week would be much easier.)

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These five minute check ups are a good place to start, but consider using an app like Mint to create a budget and track your spending, and using Evernote’s a great way to organize receipts and financial information so that preparing for tax season in 2015 will be a little less stressful.

Click here to read 5 Steps to Simplify Your 2014 Taxes with Evernote.

I’m making a calendar with daily financial tasks as reminders to keep me on track. Make a plan and set aside a minute for money on a regular basis.

143

Mom

 

Dear Target Guest,

If you received an email addressed to “Dear Target Guest”, it’s official…you’re one of the millions whose credit or debit card information was stolen this past November or December, and that’s the message that greeted me yesterday afternoon.

In the email, Target confirms that not only credit or debit card information was taken but name, address, phone number, and email address. Wonderful!

The email apologizes for the inconvenience, offers tips to protect financial information (although it didn’t suggest I stop shopping at Target), and provides a link to activate free credit monitoring and identify theft insurance for one year.

My initial reaction…thanks, but that should be required, not just an attempt to appease angry customers.

However, after clicking the link, I wondered if maybe this is a scam. Remember, the message says by name and email address was stolen. Is this email from Target or from those who stole my information?

I later saw a report in the news providing the same information in the email so it looks legit, but I can’t help to be suspicious.

Thanks, Target.

Go on a Spending Diet

While dieting to lose weight is no easy task, a spending diet is even more difficult. Opportunities to spend money besiege us. Another notebook, a purse, more shoes, a book, storage baskets, tools, gadgets, I could fill a shopping cart in a matter of minutes, but I’m going on a spending diet and I hope you’ll join me.

Think of the satisfaction of seeing more money in your checking account or paying off debt or saving for something special instead of just collecting more stuff.

I know for me, the use of plastic creates problems. It’s so easy to swipe that debit or credit card without even thinking. When we first married, the ATM card created problems. (Basically, a debit card, but it could only be used at the bank to withdraw cash.) Two people stopping at the ATM on any given day and withdrawing money from a single bank account was a recipe for disaster. In less than a year, the ATM card was destroyed to protect our credit.

I recently saw a report that estimates people using debit or credit cards spend 12%-18% more than those using cash, and I’m certain that describes my behavior. For years, we lived a cash lifestyle. You may remember my weekly trips to the bank with cash divided in envelopes as a budgeting tool. Credit cards served as a way to pay for big ticket items or for emergencies, not for day to day purchases.

I think we got away from the cash plan when purchasing gas required $100 or more per fill up. It also became much more convenient swiping a card at the pump than walking inside to pay, but I think I’ve come up with a plan to deal with this problem. I’m using a credit card to purchase gas, however, when I return home, I immediately transfer money to the credit card account eliminating the possibility of increasing debt with the purchase of gas.

I know many financial experts suggest leaving credit cards at home to avoid the spending temptation, but that doesn’t seem wise. What if you have a flat tire or an emergency? That’s the advantage of the credit card…just think before you swipe! Yes, I’m re-instituting the cash lifestyle but not by being unprepared for the unexpected.

In an effort to reduce spending, I plan to do the following:

  1. Use cash. Withdraw a budgeted amount every week. When the cash is gone, make do until the next regularly scheduled withdrawal.
  2. Stop shopping. Don’t go in the store. Avoid temptation.
  3. Make a list. Don’t go to the grocery or any store without a list to eliminate unnecessary purchases.
  4. Unsubscribe. Those weekly, and sometimes even daily, emails from Sierra Trading Post and the Container Store and Groupon encourage me to spend.
  5. Deposit all catalogs in the recycle bin. Don’t even open. Better yet, call to get off the mailing list and then recycle.
  6. Record all purchases. On the envelopes with the cash, in a journal, or on a personal finance program like Mint, recording raises awareness.

I know I’ll feel better with a little more cash in my pocket. Won’t you join me by going on a spending diet?

143

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

Protect Your Personal Information

Thanks, Target…your lack of security measures to protect customer’s financial information has made more work for me and millions of other shoppers. I’m checking bank and credit card accounts daily and have contacted financial institutions…just what I wanted to do over the holidays.

However, this is a good reminder that we all need to protect our personal information on a daily basis. Here’s a few steps you can take to protect yourself.

Change passwords. I’ve read that passwords should be changed monthly so I’ve got some work to do on this front. Make sure your password is strong enough to protect your account. Use symbols, numbers, capital letters, and avoid simple phrases. Check out these password tips.

Monitor bank account & charge card accounts. You should do this at least monthly, checking your statement with a fine tooth comb, but if you suspect your account could be compromised (like those of us who shopped at Target) check more frequently. I’m currently on the daily plan!

Shred. Shred. Shred. Buy a shredder and shred bank statements and bills and all of those credit card applications that litter your mailbox.

Pay for online purchases with a credit card instead of a debit card since federal laws offer more consumer protection on purchases made with credit cards. In fact, using a PayPal account may be a better alternative since it limits the number of sites with access to your credit card information. (I know using a debit card feels better than paying on credit, but you can avoid racking up interest charges on those credit card purchases by making a payment on your credit card immediately.)

Don’t carry your Social Security card. What could be easier? Just make sure you know where you’ve placed your card for safe keeping.

Order your free credit reports. Since you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus annually, if you stagger the requests, you can check every four months at no cost. (DON’T GET SUCKERED INTO USING SERVICES THAT CHARGE!) Instead order from annualcreditreport.com or from the services directly – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Consider using cash. If I’d made my purchases at Target with cash instead of a debit card, I’d have fewer worries today. Another bonus with cash, it’s a great way to go on a spending diet.

I know these things take time. I know they’re not fun. I also know I don’t have time to deal with an even bigger problem if my personal information is stolen so I’ll devote some time this week to changing passwords, shredding, and ordering a credit report. I hope you’ll do the same. This Identity Theft Prevention Checklist offers additional tips you may find useful.

Protect your personal information.

143

Mom

Hello, Ziosk!

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Ziosk

Last night we were greeted at Chili’s by Ziosk, the tablet prominently displayed on the table. The pictured specials offered additional information about menu items with a touch of the screen. In addition, guests order drinks and dessert by interacting with Ziosk instead of the waiter or waitress.

Beyond ordering options, Ziosk tempts diners to spend $.99 to play games or read USA Today at no charge. We didn’t play any games, but tried unsuccessfully to check out the newspaper. Clicking the USA Today icon resulted in the annoying spinning animation indicating it was loading, but the paper never appeared on the screen. I noticed the same screen on the tablet on the next table so there was obviously a glitch in the system.IMG_1756

The biggest difference we noticed about our service with the addition of Ziosk…much slower. Chili’s usually delivers meals quickly, and in fact, that’s the reason we stopped there for dinner last night. I can’t say for sure Ziosk results in slower service after only one encounter, but I wonder if the delay is intended to give diners time to explore the features of the tablet, perhaps order an extra drink and play some games.

Diners paying with plastic must interact with Ziosk. Our waitress explained the wait staff no longer takes credit or debit cards. They only take cash payments.

The display clearly shows all purchases and offers an option to split the bill, both good things. However, I’d like to offer a word of warning! Be careful with the tip calculator! Sure it’s great to let Ziosk figure the tip. It suggested a 17% tip, but that’s on the total bill. Diners should not be expected to tip on the tax, just the cost of the meal so that should be kept in mind. Ziosk suggested a tip of over $13, yet our dinner cost less than $25. That’s because Ziosk calculates the tip on the total bill, and since we purchased gift cards, the tip was added to the cost of those purchases as well as the dinner. Of course, it’s easy to change the amount of the tip so long as you read all of the information on the screen so diners beware!

Hello, Ziosk! I’m willing to allow you to join me at dinner, but please don’t slow down the service.