Show Me The Money, Mr. President!

Wow!!!!!!!!!!

President Bush wants to send me $1600!!!!!!!!!!

In an effort to stave off a recession, he’s announced that he wants to give a tax rebate of up to $800 to singles or $1600 per household. He wants me to go spend it to jump-start the economy. He wants to throw it at us middle-classers, because we, as a class, are so well known for squandering any money we can get our over-manicured hands on. We’re so spendiferous!

Sorry, Mr. President.

I’d loooooooooove for you to send me $1600. Heck I might even vote for you! No, wait. Oh…….that’s right. Term limits suck, huh?

Well, if you do get around to sending me that $1600, be forewarned. I’m going to be doing the same thing with this rebate that I did with the last one. It’s going right into savings. And if I did have any debt besides mortgage, that’s where it would be going.

I’m not buying any iPods.

I’m not buying a new car.

I’m not buying a bigger house (dammit).

I’m not buying a Wii, a new nose or a pair of Manolo Blahniks.

Americans need to learn to live below their means, not just at it. That means not running out and spending all of the money we get, especially before we get it. Do you know how many people were already spending this, at least in their minds, as soon as the words left your mouth?

What? That’s what you were counting on????

Oy.

Well, I’m sure there are plenty of people who will do as you wish.

Just not me.

Being Computer Illiterate has its Drawbacks

I’m a fairly smart cookie, in general. I read pretty well for a college graduate. I can do basic math in my head, so I’d know how to make change for customers without looking for the cash register to tell me. I know that the general rule of thumb in New York fashion is “always wear black.”

Computers in general are a mystery to me. I grew up in the “only really, really, really, REALLY geeky people own computers” age, and since I was utterly cool (a big fat lie, but at least I wasn’t a computer geek) I was late to the party. I can e-mail and blog and sell on Ebay and post listings on Craigslist. I can even convert a PDF to a JPEG using my Photoshop (which is really wasted on me, much to my husband’s chagrin).

I know just enough to get myself in big trouble. I don’t really get what RAM is, I don’t understand why I can’t just press a button to resize my photos, and I know nothing, NOTHING about programming. That’s why my husband called Apple when he had a problem.

That’s also why I have no idea what’s wrong with my Feedburner feed for this blog. I noticed that it was telling me I had no views, which thanks to you and my WordPress dashboard stats page I know is not even a little bit true. So I fumbled around their site a bit until I saw something about checking to see if my feed is valid. So check I did, and this is what it’s telling me:

Sorry

This feed does not validate.

  • line 525, column 1401: Invalid character in a URI: ' ' [help]
    ... =justshootmenow&ref=&feed=1" /></div>]]></content:encoded>
                                                 ^

In addition, interoperability with the widest range of feed readers could be improved by implementing the following recommendation.

line 2, column 0: The prefix “media” generally is associated with the namespace “http://search.yahoo.com/mrss/&#8221; [help]

<rss version="2.0"

Huh?

I’m literate enough to understand that there’s an invalid character on line 525.  And there’s something I could do in line 2 that would help my feed work better.  Got it.  But what to do about it?

So I click on the help links which are, apparently, written in Greek. I have no idea what’s wrong, let alone how to fix it. So if you’d like to get my feed, I recommend you just get it some other way. Which I really can’t explain to you, except that it may have something to do with the little orange thingy in the web address space…but that could be the Feedburner way…

See what I mean?

I’m so glad I have my Google reader.

    

Auto Insurance 101: Part 1 ~ Before We Shop Let’s Understand What We Have

The following information is not advice, it’s just my thoughts and opinions. I’m just a girl on the web, not currently licensed in insurance or anything else in any state. You should absolutely seek the counsel of an insurance agent licensed in your state before taking any action at all. Coverages and programs discussed may or may not be available in your state.

I read an interesting article over at Single Guy Money about Auto Insurance. He has some great tips about making sure we’re getting all of the discounts we’re entitled to, and encouraging us to shop around for the best rates.

As a retired insurance agent, I thought I’d give my perspective. In fact, I’d been meaning to do a series on different insurance topics, but I’ve been more interested lately in talking about things like politics, conserving water and my husband’s new computer. But I digress.

This is the first installment of that three part series.

Before we shop around for auto insurance we should make sure we are being charged correctly for our current policy. We want to make sure that our current insurer is rating us correctly, both in our usage of the vehicle and the discounts we’re getting. So, let’s pull out our Declarations Page, call or visit our current insurance agent and ask the following questions:

1. What are my current coverages? Sometimes Declarations Pages aren’t so easy to understand. We not only want to know which coverages we have, we want to know what they do for us.

2. Are any of these coverages possible duplications of coverage I have elsewhere? Although they can’t really answer this question for you, they can help you figure out if you do. Do you have AAA? Then you may not need their coverage. Or their coverage may better suit your need. Have excellent, broad health insurance? Perhaps you don’t need Medical Payments coverage, or perhaps you should keep it if you often transport your friend who has none. Don’t work? Then you might not need the lost wages coverage under your Personal Injury Protection.

3. How do you show me using the vehicle? Is it rated as going to and from work, or for pleasure driving only? Most insurers only ask about your usage of the vehicle when you first take out the policy, so if you’ve had a change in your circumstances (changed jobs, stopped working) then chances are you’re not being rated correctly. Realize, though, that they could be undercharging just as easily as overcharging you.

4. What are my current discounts? Every company has their own discount programs. These discounts are applied after they’ve already given us the base rate. We need to ask them about all of the discounts they offer, and how we qualify. Some common discounts are:

  • Multiple Policy – having more than one car insured with the same company
  • Multiple Line – having more than one type (auto and homeowners, for example) insurance with the same company
  • Accident Free – not having a claim for a specified period of time with that company
  • Good Student – typically a 3.0 or higher GPA, usually as a full time student, and only up to a certain age
  • Vehicle Discounts – Airbags, alarms, VIN etching
  • Defensive Driving Discount – voluntarily taking a defensive driving class
  • Age-based discounts – Over 50 , single head of household (my company rated young single parents that lived on their own as if they were over 30 – a huge savings)

Now that we know our policy is rated correctly, let’s get quotes to make some changes. We may or may not make any changes, but let’s make sure we’re getting the most bang for our insurance buck.

1. Get quotes to raise deductibles on any coverage that has one. Find out how much can be saved by going to the next highest deductible. For example, if the current policy has a $250 deductible for Collision, get quotes for $500, and perhaps even $1000. Then weigh the savings against our ability to pay more out of pocket and our risk tolerance. I know lots of people who take high deductibles on everything, take the savings and put it in the bank in a “deductible fund” so the money is there if needed.

2.Get quotes for more and less Bodily Injury and Property Damage liability coverages. Get quotes for at least one step up and one step down from where we are now. For example, if the current liability limits are 50, 000 per person/100,000 per accident get quotes for 25,000/50,000 and 100,000/300,000. If we can double our coverage for, say, $50 more per year – and we have assets enough that we could use that additional protection, would that be worth it?

Okay. Now we’re ready to talk to other insurance companies. That’s the subject of Part 2 of the series, so look for it soon!

Frugal vs. Sensible, and Which is Which?

I have a choice to make, and I’ve got to decide which of my choices makes the most sense, frugal or not.

My son slept in his crib-converted-to-toddler-bed until yesterday, when we trekked it across the state to a friend who will have use for such a contraption in about 5 months, give or take.

His new bed is an Ikea loft bed with a slide, inherited from his older cousin who at 8 years of age has sadly outgrown such coolness.

Ikea Slide Bed

Really, could any child have a more rockin’ bed?

So, we need a new twin mattress to make the bed complete. I am not one to purchase previously-owned mattresses – at least not from someone I don’t know well. The decision to buy new was easy.

What’s not so easy is deciding what quality of mattress to buy. After perusing the internet and visiting several local stores, I have narrowed my choices to two:

Option 1 , from a non-national company that is unknown to me. According to the salesman, that’s because they spend no money on advertising. Yeah, right. The quality of that bed I’ll rate as “okay”. Not good, not horrible. Price: $99.00

Option 2, from a national company that is not unknown to me. The quality is a step up from the other – somewhere between “decent” and “good”. Price $149.00

The difference is “only” $50, but here are the factors that keep this from being a no-brainer:

  • My son is three, and according to many sources doesn’t “need” a high quality mattress.
  • He will use this bed for about five years.
  • When he graduates to a new, conventional bed we’ll most likely get him a full-sized bed, not twin.
  • If we were to find a use for the twin mattress we’d have to purchase a foundation/boxspring.
  • If we keep the bed for five years, the difference is only $10 a year – less than $1 per month.
  • There’s something to be said for quality.

So, there you have it.  I haven’t decided yet, so I’m definitely taking suggestions.

Which, really, is the more frugal option? Which is the more sensible option? And are they mutually exclusive?

I can’t wait to see what you all think!

Hey Legislators! Let’s make a Minimum 24-hour Jail Stay Mandatory

Eighty-four minutes. That’s how long Lindsay Lohan “served” in jail as part of her plea deal related to her guilty plea on drunken driving charges last year.

Eighty-four minutes. I’ve had longer prison terms in line at the DMV. And, really, how is that any different? We both sat in government offices, both of us subject to the whim of government workers, and we both got our pictures taken (though I’m sure hers came out better).

I just think these in-and-out terms are ridiculous. I understand that there are programs to reduce overcrowding, and that they give time off for good behavior. I don’t like but accept that there are these teeny-tiny itty-bitty sentences, which are more statement than punishment.

But really, no one should ever be allowed to serve less than twenty-four hours. People convicted of crimes that have jail sentences should have the  experience of the  bars closing behind them. They should have to sit in a cell and reflect, even if only for one full day, on what actions they took that landed them there. They should have to poop in jail. They should have to at least attempt to sleep on a too-small, too-hard cot. They should have to hear noises in the night that they didn’t make, and wake up disoriented. They should have to experience a day in jail so they can, hopefully, decide never again to make the choices that got them there.

Eighty-four minutes isn’t going to do that for anyone.

It seems perfectly reasonable and logical to me.  Legislators, are you listening?  At least, those of you who aren’t in trouble yourselves?

American Idol Shows A Kinder, Gentler Simon Cowell

At least to their faces…

I’ve been greatly looking forward to this year’s American Idol.

I watched both episodes of the auditions, and I have to say that I’m whelmed. Not overwhelmed, not underwhelmed. Just whelmed.

There was the usual collection of good, bad and truly horrible singers. There was a freak or two (Paul Marturano, the creepy Paula-stalker guy who sang, “If she were a bathtub, I’d caulk her.”  It was a joke, right?  Right?) and lots of background on various hopefuls.

Some of the backstories even brought me to tears, like Angela Martin, mom of a girl with Rett Syndrome. Ugh. Great voice, and I’m glad she got through. There were several people with potential to do well, but to me no absolutely fantastic standouts.

I could not help but notice that Simon went very easy on most people. He was downright kind to Temptress Brown, a truly horrible singer with a very sad life. She takes care of her morbidly obese mother, who is on oxygen and has a myriad of medical problems. Heck, watching that backstory had me starting a diet today.

And she wasn’t the only one. There were several people who had terrible voices and non-Idol looks that were really excited and enthusiastic and…horrid. He let them down easy. He was kind, and gentle, and showed a compassion I didn’t know he possessed. As a fellow human I was touched. After all, when I think about these contestants as people, and that they have to go home and watch themselves being poked at, I empathize with their humiliation.

Still, I must admit I was slightly disappointed. Part of me enjoys the poking, because I agree that they are horrible. Part of the fun of the audition process is watching Simon tell people what we’d tell them if we were there and had the guts. And lack of compassion. And tact. I especially enjoy it when the person is arrogant.

I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

In our real lives we don’t talk that way to people, and for good reason. Can you imagine if you worked in an office full of Simons? Or went to a mall full of Simons? Or married into a family of Simons? Or even just knew Simon?

On the other hand, I like to think I have enough of a grasp on reality to know that I have a lousy voice. I could not carry a tune if it was in a suitcase. With wheels. And a porter. Really, are some of these people that tone deaf? Do the dogs in their neighborhoods not howl? I know my abilities, so I won’t be appearing in any reality shows involving singing contests. Or beauty contests. No cooking contests, endurance contests, grace contests or dancing contests. As my sister once told me, “Extreme Makeover. Now THAT’S a show I could be on.”

You Don’t Have To Be Gullible To Be a Victim of a Check Scam

There are lots of news items and articles about Identity Theft, and for good reason. It’s the fastest growing crime in the US, and the more technological breakthroughs there are the more ways there are to steal your identity.

Scary.

Identity theft isn’t the only thing to be wary of. Thousands of people have become victims of Check Scams, and the numbers are growing every day.

Back when I was dealing with InfectionsRUs, I got to watch a bit of Judge Judy and the People’s Court. I was surprised at the number of people who were being sued because they got a friend to cash a check for them, and when the check bounced (it was counterfeit) they didn’t reimburse the friend. As I was sitting there, coughing up lungs all over the place, I couldn’t help thinking that all of the litigants were idiots. Come on! Who is that gullible?

Well, today I got a warning from my bank about it, and I realized the problem is more far-reaching than I thought. Some of the scammers are so clever you don’t need to be all that gullible.

Who are the victims?

  • Ebay, Craigslist and other online sellers. Someone overpays us for an item “by mistake”, then asks us to wire-transfer them back the extra money. Then we find out the check was counterfeit – and we’re out the item AND the money.

I was selling a large ticket item on Craigslist and got contacted by more than one person trying to scam me. I actually set up a meet with one guy before he balked at my cash only requirement, which clued me into the scam he was trying to pull.

  • They tell us they want to buy or rent our home. They give us a check that’s too much, then ask us to go ahead and cash it and wire them the difference.

This almost happened to a friend of mine who was doing seasonal rentals on a property she owned. She e-mailed me the info and asked what I thought. I agreed with her – a scam. She didn’t fall for it, thank goodness.

  • We get notification that we won a lottery or sweepstakes. They tell us to deposit the check, but then ask us to wire them some money to cover taxes or fees or whatever else their crooked brains can come up with.

This one, to me, should have red flag written all over it. Unless you’re a professional sweepstakes and lottery enterer, you’s KNOW you didn’t win any lottery.

  • We sign up with a work-at-home company, and they send us a check or money order to deposit and ask us to help “process payments”. We’re told to keep a percentage of the money and wire-transfer them the rest.

This one is a reach for me, too. But I can see how it could happen.

  • Someone we meet in a chatroom or on a message board asks for a favor: deposit their check and wire them the money. Or they claim to be in love with me and want to come be with me – can I please cash this check?

It took me over two years of near daily communication to be willing to meet in person someone I’d met online, so there’s no way I’d have gotten into any large financial deals with them, wonderful as they may be. I’ve built friendships with people that over time turned out to be friends-not-so-much, but at least I didn’t fall for this scam.

How does it happen?

The basic premise is the same even if the details differ. Someone sends us a check or money order. They ask us to deposit it into our account and then wire them the money. They sweeten the deal by telling us to keep part of it for our trouble.

The Result Is The Same

The check or money order turns out to be counterfeit. It gets returned to our bank unpaid and the full amount will get deducted from our account. We’re responsible, because we are responsible for every check or money order we deposit to our account.

Why Did the Bank Allow You to Withdraw the Money?

Excellent question, which my bank was kind enough to answer. Federal law requires banks to make funds we deposit available within 1 to 5 business days. Just because we can withdraw cash from our account shortly after making a deposit doesn’t mean the deposited items are valid. According to my bank it can be WEEKS before a check or money order is discovered to be counterfeit and returned to our bank. By them the scammers are long gone, and we’re left holding the bag. The empty bag.

Weeks? Weeks! I wonder how many Ebay sellers have gotten checks for merchandise, even made out for the correct amount, thought they cleared and then had them bounce weeks later. Egad!

Why Didn’t the Bank Know the Check Was Bad?

Well, according to my bank their job is simply to process our financial documents. The employees may not be able to determine if a check is valid. That makes sense, really. How is our local teller supposed to know that a check written on an account thousands of miles away was written on a valid account, and signed by the rightful account owner? It’s just logistically impossible.

So, the buck starts, and stops, with me. And you.

How Do We Avoid These Scams?

From Looks Too Good To Be True: An interesting point about fraud is that it is a crime in which you decide on whether to participate. Hanging up the phone or not responding to shady mailings or emails makes it difficult for the scammer to commit fraud. But con artists are very persuasive, using all types of excuses, explanations, and offers to lead you — and your money — away from common sense.

Well, that’s makes sense. We educate ourselves. And we choose not to participate. Ever.

A Nebulizer Commits Suicide

My son is three, and he has Reactive Airway Disease, which is a nice way of saying “We’re Not Sure But We Think It’s Asthma”. They don’t officially call it asthma until they’re about four, as babies are too hard to diagnose and they hope that the child outgrows it by that age, anyway.

I was completely shocked the first time the doctor told me my son was wheezing. I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything. He was two months old, and I almost killed him by not noticing – at least that’s how I felt. Truth was, the doctor didn’t realize it either – it was as we were walking out the door that he listened for the third time – and that’s when he heard the wheeze.

The doctor told us that he likely inherited it from one of us. Well, neither of us have asthma, but I did have some bad “allergies” when I was a kid. According to the doctor asthma was way under-diagnosed at that time, and I likely have mild asthma (Aha! Now I know why I always have horrible coughs when I get sick…).

That was the beginning of daily nebulizer treatments – four times a day when he’s sick, once a day when he’s not. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience; at first he cried bloody murder. Eventually he would sit quietly in our lap and we’d read a book or watch a movie, and as he got older was able to do the treatments by himself. He’s grown so fast!

As time goes by and he nears that magic age of four, I’ve resigned myself to the probability that he won’t outgrow this. He continues to get sick, though less often, but we’ve not been able to stop the daily maintenance treatments. A hard pill to swallow, but since there’s nothing I can do to change it, I accept it.

Just before Christmas his doctor recommended a change in medication to Advair, which is administered via an inhaler. Because he’s too young to work an inhaler on his own, we got him this nifty Aerochamber, which is so very cool my sister wants one (she’s afraid to use an inhaler).

So, now we only have to use the nebulizer when he’s sick. What freedom! It’s been part of our routine for so long. It’s made us change plans, cut visits short and filled our house with an incessant buzzing. Now we have quiet. Ahhhhhh.

The nebulizer was apparently unhappy over it’s drastically cut schedule. Distraught that it was about to be banished to the closet, it jumped off the table and started making really odd, loud noises. Instead of the closet it was buried in the bottom of the garbage pail.

Thanks for the memories, Neb. We’re getting a new model, which will hopefully stay in the box.

Counting Chickens and Eggs and Christmas Bonuses

Husband works for an advertising agency that specializes in real estate. Not surprisingly, business is bad. With all of the foreclosures in our market and everywhere, no one can afford the million dollar homes that are this agency’s specialty.

Business is reeeeeeeally bad.

So bad that they have laid off about 25% of their workforce, and are scrambling to increase their presence in other industries (something Husband and I have many times discussed is oh, about five years overdue). Really not a great idea to put all one’s eggs in one basket, is it?

Christmas Bonus time comes around. Because Husband is very good at what he does, is very reliable and has an excellent work ethic, his bonuses have always been…commensurate with his contribution. Last year spectacularly so.

As a result, when I was pondering the viability of buying Husband the new Apple MacPro computer he wanted as his Christmas gift, I factored in the probability of a nice bonus again this year. I shrewdly did not expect it to be as abundant as last year, but in my consideration hoped for it to be even half. Even if it wasn’t, I reasoned, we do have the money in savings, and he will get more freelance projects to replace what we use within a few months.

When Husband told me in mid-December that bonuses weren’t going to be paid until the mid-January pay period, I wasn’t upset at all. In fact, it is better for our tax bottom line in 2007 to defer that income until 2008. Rock on.

I went ahead and bought the new computer, and all is right with the world.

Then, today, Husband calls and tells me he got his bonus. It is 1/10th of what it was last year.

I was completely flabbergasted. There must be a mistake! No? The injustice!!!!

Then I was embarrassed. Given the state of the company, we’re lucky he got a bonus at all. Many people don’t.

Given the state of the company, we’re lucky he has a job at all.

Mea culpa.

No more counting my chickens before they hatch, even if I leverage them.

American Idol, Rock My World

My favorite guilty pleasure makes a return to the airwaves tonight.

American Idol, with all it’s drama, talent, bad notes and overdone hair (and that’s just the judges) is finally back. The talent of a few and the watching-the-train-wreck-ness of many (hello Sanjaya) will keep me listening with at least one ear for the next few months.

I started watching the first season, but not until the last ten minutes of the finale. I poo-pooed it along with all of the other pseudo-intellectuals, but decided to watch “just the auditions” of season 2 to get a laugh.

And that, my friends, was the beginning of my downward spiral into a special kind of Hell.

I love it. I love the great singers, I love the William Hungs. I love Clay’s Mini-Me, and Paula’s possibly-pharmaceutically-induced weirdness (did anyone catch Hey Paula?). I love Ryan, and I don’t care if he’s gay. I love the outrage over contestants sent home too early, the tears of the little girls in the audience, the sultry come-hither looks of the Aces and the Constantines…
And I really love my TiVo, which lets me skip the commercials.

So, please join me from wherever you are, and watch the first show. 8pm Eastern time. I’ll bring the hot chocolate.

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