Listed some crap on eBay

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I recently came to the realization that I have too much crap. I would normally stress about it for a few days and then forget about it, but since we are planning on moving my office to our unused formal living room we now have to work to clean out both rooms. Most of the stuff will either be organized and put away properly or donated to Goodwill, but some of the items were of value and not needed so I put them on eBay.

I uploaded 15 listings last Sunday evening, and at midweek three items have sold. I put everything as “buy it now”, however for some reason most of the items probably won’t sell until almost the end of the listing anyway. Included in the listings were 52 CD wallets I got for free from Shop4Tech.com and Google Checkout, several iPod shuffles we got for free from a Hedgestreet.com promotion, CPA video lecture review CD-ROMs, and assorted items purchased for little or nothing after rebate.

Here’s a list of all my items. Take a look and if you see something you like, buy it. I don’t need the stuff and I’m tired of moving it around.


May 24, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

IRS notice? Don’t pay just yet!

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Unless you filed an extension or are one of those kooks that have come up with some justification why the US Constitution doesn’t allow the federal government to levy an income tax, you have probably already sent in your tax return for this past year. If you are unlucky, you may get a nice letter from the blood-sucking IRS that there was an error on your return and you owe them more money.

However, as this article from MarketWatch illustrates, don’t be so quick to just write a check to make the problem go away. Turns out that the IRS has sent out quite a few notices in error, particularly from the service centers in Ogden UT and White Plains NY. Most of the reported issues so far have been related to “unreported” income from state and local income tax returns when including state and local tax payments in itemized deductions, but then having to back those payments out from allowed deductions due to being subject to the AMT.

Moral of the story: just because the folks at the IRS are evil doesn’t necessarily mean they are smart. Double-check any notice you receive claiming you owe additional taxes, and if you are right don’t hesitate to fight it.

May 23, 2007 Posted by | Taxes | Leave a comment

Voice recognition for Customer Service lines sucks!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Ok, if there is one thing that drives me up the wall, it is the voice recognition systems that you now have the navigate through when calling many customer service numbers. Am I the only one who finds the idea of being forced to talk to a machine insulting? It is like they are saying “hey, you aren’t important enough to talk to a live person, however we think you should have to talk to a machine that won’t be able to help you.”

I much prefer the good old fashioned “press 1 for this, press 2 for that” to having to speak to a computer. It just seems a lot more efficient to me. Plus if you are calling from the office, this way the entire office doesn’t know your business.

I realize some people might actually prefer the voice recognition system, but how about giving users the choice in the opening menu. If they can do “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”, I think this is a reasonable request.

May 17, 2007 Posted by | Customer Service | Leave a comment

Bad advice from Dave Ramsey

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I spent a good part of this afternoon on the road, so I did something I don’t do very often. I listened to talk radio, specifically the Dave Ramsey radio program. Now, I am not extremely anti-Ramsey like some bloggers. I think Ramsey gives relatively good advice, provided that you understand that the intended audience is (or at least should be) the relatively uninformed that have already gotten themselves into financial trouble. In my view, his advice isn’t to send you to the top of the highest financial mountain, but should get you at least to sea level.

A prime example of this is his system of paying of debt. The basic concept is that you making a listing from lowest to highest of all of your debts and then work at paying them off, starting with the smallest debt and working upwards. If you know anything about accounting or finance this makes you cringe, as the system does not take into account the interest rate charged on these debts. In a financially prudent process, you would pay off the highest interest rate debts first since those are the ones that are incurring the most interest, ignoring the amount of the balance. Why would you pay off $1000 in debt over five accounts at 0% interest when you are incurring interest at 20% on a single account with a balance of $1000? But for the intended audience that has already proven they have trouble handling their finances, the system works because of the psychological effects of seeing more bills completely eliminated help the person keep with the program, although in the end you pay more interest than if you had paid the highest rate debts first and stuck with it.

Anyway, the bad advice from today was a question from a caller about a collection notice received on an old debt. The caller indicated he had received a letter for an old debt that was written off by the credit card company eight years ago, and asked if there was anything to worry about. The debt had been on his credit report and had recently fallen off because of age. Ramsey’s response was that this was a debt that needed to be dealt with immediately and encouraged the caller to contact the collection agency to settle at about 10% of the value of the debt.

BAD ADVICE! At this point, the debt is essentially uncollectable because of the age of the account. That’s why it fell off the credit report. Although it might sound counterintuative, if the debtor makes any payment of the debt it could cost him nearly, as the new activity will essentially make the account active again allowing the creditor to put it back on the debtor’s credit report. Even if he pays the account in full, it will still be listed on the credit report indicating the account was turned over to collection but later paid. If the debtor does nothing, it would probably never appear on the credit report again.

I am all for personal responsibility and paying one’s debts, however the potential negative effect on the person’s credit make pursuing a settlement a bad idea.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | Education, Tips | 1 Comment

The retirement of the future? Sounds like crap to me!

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I found this story on SmartMoney.com posing the question “What will retirement be like for GenX and GenY?”. For answers, they turned to some people calling themselves “futurists”, which I suspect is another name for the people who spend their every waking moment watching the Sci-Fi Channel.

Anyway, their vision of future retirement doesn’t sound too appealing to me. Their projection is that due to the poor financial condition most new college graduates of today find themselves in, their insatiable desire for material things, the demise in most areas of the traditional pension plan, and the idea that most in this age group will easily live to be 100, we will have what amounts to an 80-year career. The idea is that once this group approaches retirement age they will still have several decades of viable life ahead of them and not enough in savings to pay for total retirement, leading to the rise of second and even third careers later in life. They also predict an increased dependence on entrepreneurship, as this group seeks to supplement their regular paychecks with outside income to support their standard of living. Honestly, one career is enough for me, so the idea of pursuing one or two more isn’t my idea of fun.

The lessons from this scenario are numerous:

  1. Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford!
  2. Save money for your own retirement, as you can’t depend on the government or your employer to make sure you aren’t dining on ramen noodles and mac and cheese during your golden years.
  3. Avoid debt. That debt will keep you from retirement by keeping those principal and interest payments from going into your savings.
  4. Make sure the retirement savings you do have is properly allocated. If you have more than ten years or so until retirement, there is no reason you should have any more than a small percentage in bonds and debt instruments. You need that money to grow!

On the upside, these trekkie freaks do think that improvements in technology will make our lives much more pleasant. Specifically, they predict technology in our homes will help monitor our health and that advances in artificial intelligence will allow robots to do the dreaded manual labor tasks we as humans dread. This sort of reminds me of the old “in the year 2000” bits from Conan O’Brien. But to steal from another Conan bit, this whole scenario is great…FOR ME TO POOP ON! =)

May 15, 2007 Posted by | Retirement | Leave a comment

Rebate scams or user stupidity? Probably the latter

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

If you know me or have read some of the prior postings on this blog, you will know I do a lot of rebates. Simply put, the types of deals you can get with rebates are just impossible to find without them (when was the last time a retailer let you have anything of value for free, or better yet paid you to take it?). However, a lot of people complain about rebates and I will admit that sometimes undue difficulties are caused by the fulfillment companies, like the Ultra rebate center thinking that Texas is a Canadian province. However, for the number of rebates I do, I feel like I have very few problems (probably about 10% will require some type of follow-up) and have always wondered why it seems like so many people say that they never get their rebates.

I think this article from the WSJ provides an interesting theory (although they don’t have the cahones to say it outright): most people are too lazy, busy, or stupid to submit them correctly or timely. The article said that they did a test submitting five rebates, of which they only received one check. These were the causes of the ones not received:

  • Incorrectly assumed that the UPC and the packing slip were the same as a receipt. Seriously, when was the last time you received a receipt for a purchase with no price listed? If you have, that’s probably not a receipt but a packing slip.
  • Not realizing that a rebate was an upgrade rebate, requiring proof of ownership of a prior version of the software product. Did they not read the form that said in big bold letters “Upgrade rebate”?
  • Misplacing the submission materials until after the deadline had passed.
  • One company is running behind on processing their rebate claims.

So of the four rebates not received, three of them were the fault of the user, not the rebate fulfillment house. According to the article, the lone rebate that was received had all of the paperwork compiled by a T-Mobile sales rep and only required a signature and mailing. That goes to show you if you actually read the instructions you’ll probably get the rebate.

For my system to ensure you get your rebates, please see my previous posting here.

May 11, 2007 Posted by | Rebates | Leave a comment

The Reservation Rewards Scammers Speak

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

Just when I thought I wouldn’t have anything interesting to blog about today, I found this comment left on my last posting about the Reservation Rewards scam purportedly from the VP of Customer (dis)Service at Webloyalty.com, the parent of Reservation Rewards. That posting was a follow-up to my original posting here.

Dear Bloggers:

Webloyalty.com protects its reputation and monitors the blogosphere to insure information posted on our company is truthful and accurate. Through this monitoring, we found this blog entitled Chadwicks/Reservation Rewards Scam.

We would like to speak with you directly but do not have your contact information. If you are unhappy with your subscription or have any questions regarding your membership to Reservation Rewards or Shopper Discounts & Rewards, please contact Webloyalty.com Customer Service at either 1-800-732-7031 or send an email message to customerservice@webloyalty.com. One of our customer service representatives will be happy to help you.

If you prefer, please contact me at customerserviceinfo@webloyalty.com

Walter Dabek
Vice President
Webloyalty.com Customer Service

If WebLoyalty.com is concerned about its reputation, perhaps they should consider reforming their business practices. If everything is really legit:

  • How is it that a company almost no one has ever heard of has racked up 850 complaints with the BBB?
  • Why are there numerous postings around the web from bloggers about this scam, and how is it that so many people have commented on this blog posting with nearly the exact same story about unauthorized charges for a service they had never heard of or had ever signed up for?
  • Why has this scam been written about by the NY Times, Consumer Reports, and the Rip-Off Report?
  • Why has a class action lawsuit been filed against Webloyalty.com for the same business practices I have described on this blog?

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to the legality of the tactics used, but in my view and apparently in the view of thousands of users the tactics certainly are deceptive. I have seen the claim occasionally by Webloyalty that they sent email confirmation of the subscription to customers, however I know I never got one. If these notices are sent out, why do so many people report the first they found out about the subscription was when they spotted the charge on their credit card? The purpose of my postings is to serve as a warning to others about the tactics used to get signups and as a reminder of the importance of monitoring one’s financial records for unauthorized charges.

You may like to speak to me, but I don’t want to speak to you. There is no need for me to contact your representatives, as I have already contacted your company to demand my money back. Nothing that can be said by any representative of Webloyalty.com will change the unethical manner in which we were charged for this service.

May 10, 2007 Posted by | Scams | 4 Comments

SNL Clip: Don’t Buy Stuff You Can’t Afford

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I found this great clip from SNL. The skit is for a book entitled “Don’t Buy Stuff You Can’t Afford”. Absolutely hilarious!

Clip found here at Daily Motion

Sadly it seems this is a completely foreign concept to most people these days.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Basics, Humor | 1 Comment

Customer Service Hall of Shame

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

MSN recently ran a story naming what they called the Customer Service Hall of Shame. They conducted the poll with the help of the folks over at Zogby after a recent story on the decline of customer service at Home Depot resulted in over 6,000 message board posts. This was their official bottom 10:

  1. Sprint Nextel
  2. Bank of America
  3. Comcast
  4. Time Warner Cable
  5. AT&T
  6. Citibank
  7. Wal-Mart
  8. Verizon
  9. Wells Fargo
  10. DirecTV

Dishonorable mentions were Dell, Circuit City, Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears, and Macy’s.

I will certainly agree with AT&T. Every time I have had an issue with them it has taken at least three phone calls and a threat of a formal complaint to state regulators to get resolution on. Dell, who has outsourced all of their tech support to India and makes the automatic assumption that every person who calls is a complete moron, certainly is worthy of a mention. Same for Home Depot, where the customer service people have no clue about anything in their store.

However, in my view the people at Wal-Mart are in a league of their own when it comes to bad customer service. You search around aimlessly for the things you need, most of which aren’t where they should be since misplaced items are never put back in place by the stockers. And don’t bother asking where the item is, as the stockers will either not know or just completely ignore your presence. If you do find something on your list, get ready for the cashier, who is apparently physically unable to smile and makes it obvious they wish you weren’t there. And watch out if you want to price-match. This will completely blow their mind! But the cream of the crop is the folks at customer service. These folks rival the post office in inefficiency, and although they don’t have any clue about their own policies, they will argue to no end as to why you aren’t allow to return or exchange. If you asked me to describe my vision of hell, I would direct you to a Wal-Mart Store, specifically the location at Tidwell and US 290 in Houston.

This is part of the reason I have no tolerance for the people begging at almost every intersection in Houston. They may have no abilities or skills, but neither do the folks at your local WalMart store and they somehow earn a paycheck! Go apply for a job there!

May 8, 2007 Posted by | Customer Service | 2 Comments

AICPA: Americans 25-34 “Not Financially Prepared”

Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind has a new home at www.CheapEncounters.com!

I was reading in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of Accountancy this morning (yes, I realize it is May, I’m just that far behind on my reading) and found an interesting write-up of a study of the savings habits of 25-34 year olds. While the AICPA study found that in the last forty years average income for households headed by someone 25 to 34 had increased by nearly a third in 2004 dollars, savings and asset accumulation has not kept up. Interestingly enough, the median real net worth of Americans in this age group fell drastically from $6,788 in 1985 to only $3,746 in 2004. The mean real net worth only increased slightly from $25,115 in 1985 to $26,109 in 2004.

The executive summary published by the AICPA sums it up pretty well,

“The workforce of tomorrow is not financially prepared for the world they will live in.
Many are clearly relying on the solvency of federal programs. Many feel they can wait
until later to worry about the rest of their lives. This generation needs to be encouraged
to be more financially responsible about their future. Saving is not just about retirement.
It is about taking control of life and having the flexibility to deal with the many challenges
and opportunities ahead.”

My message to those of my generation: GET YOUR CRAP TOGETHER! Stop spending every dime you make and then some on material junk and then expect your family or the government to bail you out. I certainly don’t want the government stealing more of my money in the form of taxes to support you later on because you decided to piss your money away today on that new Mercedes you can’t afford or the overpriced designer clothes you had to have. Practice a little bit of self-control, stop worshiping at the altar of material things, and take some responsibility for your future! I’m saving my pennies for my family’s comfort down the road, not yours!

May 4, 2007 Posted by | Basics, News/Trends | Leave a comment