An alternative plan to Koran burning on 9/11…

Many of you may have heard about the pastor in central Florida (Florida, of course!) who is calling on folks to mark the nine-year anniversary of the September 11,, 2001 terror attacks by burning copies of the Koran.

Yes, because book burning has such a rich, storied history of success in our country, does it not?

The head of the controversial church says he is not deterred by protests, death threats or warnings by the top U.S. commander that his plan may put the lives of US military forces at risk.

And why should he be?  After all, he’s getting his fifteen minutes of fame, isn’t he?

But I have a better idea.

Instead, buy this book, written by a high school buddy of mine:

Apropos title, isn’t it?

He won’t care if you burn it, and it won’t put the lives of our military at risk – though Jihad may go after him personally.  But he won’t care – he needs the cash.  And a ranking on Amazon higher than #6,989,111 will help  his ego.

And about Red Fred, the poor tense fish, Bob reports that Red Fred, “…had to be committed to the Sunnydale Home for Tense Fish a few years back…His behavior had become too aberrant, and I had found that he was operating a small crystal meth lab under the rocks…He will be missed by all…”

Indeed he will.


Well, might as well enter a carnival…

Back before I stopped blogging, I would enter posts I like in blog carnivals.  Blog carnivals are kind of like blog magazines, where 10 – 30 or so bloggers submit articles for consideration that are either included or not, and the carnival host chooses their picks as the best that week.  It’s a great way to find a bunch of great posts, and get introduced to new blogs.

The other day I entered my post No One at AmTrust Bank Seems to Know Jack About Their Minimum Balance Policy in the Carnival of Money Stories, hosted at Eventual Millionaire this week.

There are some terrific articles over there, so go check it out!

Thank you, random visitors…

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a long time.  I began to feel constricted by my own mandate to post daily.  I had less time, what with all of the volunteering I began Son’s school as he entered kindergarten.

I just didn’t wanna.

And it wasn’t my only my own blog I neglected.  I have about fifty blogs in my Google reader, and went months without reading a single entry.  Not other finance blogs, not coupon or bargain blogs, not  even my friends’ Mommy blogs.

I’m doing even more volunteering this school year, chairing a very important advisory committee, and taking on the Room Mom responsibilities in Son’s classroom.  But I’m finding myself wanting to write.

So, yesterday I signed into this blog.  And I was shocked to see that even after months of inactivity on my part, anywhere between 80 and a few hundred people a day have continued to stop by, reading a post or twelve.

I was shocked.  Guess I may have written a decent article or two, huh?

So, here I am.  Probably not daily.  And I’ve started reading others’ blogs again.  I see I’ve missed a ton of great stuff.

And thank you, especially to those who continued to visit.  And  please, come back often.

No One at AmTrust Bank Seems to Know Jack About Their Minimum Balance Policy

This post has a long prologue, so I can catch you up on things since I effectively stopped posting last year.  It’s only a partial summary, but it helps to understand why I was asking about the Minimum Balance Policy in the first place.  For those of you uninterested, skip to “Here’s the meat of the story:”.

I’ve written before about how much I hate bank fees.  And I’ve written about how I use my bank accounts to manage my bills and save money.

A lot has happened since those posts were written, but you may be glad to know that I still use my bank accounts to manage my bills and save money, and I still hate bank fees.  And have had no trouble with both.

But, the economy has affected us all.  It’s been almost a year since pay cut #2.  We’ve moved since then, rented out the townhouse, and are looking for ways for me to make some money to help our bottom line.

August was a particularly tight month, and things are only going to get tighter.  We have a large property tax bill due in November, and there’s Christmas, too.   Plus, in order to keep our wonderful, reliable tenants we had to reduce the rent $100 a month.  Sigh.

As I was paying bills last month, I was very much afraid I’d have to take money out of our Money Market to meet our obligations.  But after collecting some past due fees from a couple of clients, and getting paid $75 to taste butter in a focus group, I was pretty sure I’d make it.  Just.  But I’d likely have to “borrow” a few hundred dollars from the Money Market account, just to be safe.

Except for Husband’s paychecks (which are direct-deposited into checking, I deposit all money into our Statement Savings account.  I don’t keep a great deal of money in there – it’s mostly used as a way station for money on it’s way  to the checking account, our Money Market (which is our long-term liquid savings), or to pay our mortgage).  I got in this habit years ago when I did keep more money in there so that I didn’t have to worry about check holds and could transfer cash into my checking account  after depositing my dark-ages paper paycheck (no direct deposit for them!).

Here’s the meat of the story:

That Statement Savings account now has a $250 minimum balance, which is pretty standard in the industry.  I’ve not given it much thought, but I’ve also been careful never to go below that threshold.  But when paying bills last week I forgot to transfer the “loan” of the extra few hundred dollars from the Money Market to the Statement Savings.  Luckily, I realized this on September 1st – the  day my mortgage is deducted from the account, and the day that my balance would have fallen below the $250 threshold.  And, luckily, it was around lunchtime, well before the end of the business day.  And to make it even more lucky, I realized it when I was on my way to the bank to deposit the rent checks into that account, so it wasn’t in the least inconvenient to handle it.

I was handing the deposit to the teller when I realized I had a few questions.  Would I get charged a service fee for going below the $250 threshold if I made a deposit before the close of that business day?  In other words, if the automatic debit hit my account at 1:15 pm and I made a deposit bringing me over the $250 requirement at 1:20 pm, would I get hit with the charge?  Or is it based on the balance at the end of the day?  I was told that I COULD get charged the fee.  There was no way to know, as it was automated.  Really?

And, what if I deposit checks?  Would the checks I deposited be counted as meeting the minimum balance requirement, even though they were as yet uncollected?  Does the bank give the client the benefit of the doubt in the limited scope of meeting the account’s minimum balance requirement?

If the check deposit I was making would suffice, I wouldn’t need to transfer cash from the Money Market.  But if I was required to keep an available balance of $250 – not simply a balance of $250, then the transfer would be necessary.

The teller, when asked, told me the balance had to be available.  That didn’t make sense to me, as it would seem that the bank would say what they mean and mean what they say, and I was pretty sure the word “available” was nowhere in this particular part of their fee disclosures.  I seemed to remember words that go something like “must maintain a minimum balance of $250…”, NOT “must maintain a minimum available balance of $250…”.

So, I asked very politely where it was written that we had to maintain the minimum available balance.  I wanted to know not only so I could know whether or not I needed to transfer money, but also because I thought it very important that THEY should know.

The teller called the manager, who tried to be helpful, and  recommended that I was “better safe than sorry.”  She offered to deposit one of my checks without a hold, effectively removing the necessity for me to transfer any money.

Very nice of her, and completely unnecessary, because the answer was much more important that my particular situation – which would have been easily taken care of regardless.  The offer of the one-time accommodation meant that the manager didn’t know the answer, either.  And I was never shown the disclosure, even though I’d asked twice.

Both the manager and  the teller seemed perplexed that I really, truly wanted an answer to these questions.  I was not angry, I was not belligerent.  I was quite pleasant as I explained that I felt it was important to get the answers, so I would know.  And they would know.

Seeing a long line, I assured them that they didn’t need to find out right that second.  I would welcome a phone call later, once they received an answer, most particularly to the question:  Is it minimum balance of $250, or minimum available balance of $250?

I did receive a call back from the teller near the end of the day.  She told me that it was available balance.  I asked, again, to see where that was written.  She hemmed and hawed for a few moments, and wound up telling me that she spoke to several people and they all indicated available balance, but they didn’t really know.  And, frankly, didn’t seem all that eager to find out.

How can they not know?!?!?!?    Someone must know!

So, now, I must find the answer.  I am off to the Consumerist, and  to try to find some bigwig AmTrust email addresses.

And I’m asking you, my dear, neglected friends.  Do let me know if you know, if you know someone who knows, and/or if you agree with me that it’s important to know.

Deal of the Day September 4, 2010 – VitaTops Coupon Code


Those of you on Weight Watchers may be aware of the low-point masterpiece that is VitaTops.  They are currently offering a coupon code for 10% off.  Enter MMMYY3QyQ at checkout for the discount.

Special thanks to new blogger Helter Svelter, who found this deal!

Tiger Woods, Bimbos, the media, Gloria Allred and the Kindergarten teacher. Who’s the biggest Asshat?

Tiger Woods has received a great deal of much-deserved censure lately.  Much-deserved from his wife, at least.  Don’t get me started on the bimbos he hooked up with.  You knew he was married, ladies.  You reap what you sow, asshats.

Do I have a ton of respect for anything but his golf game?  Nah.  He’s an asshat, too.  But do I think the general public has a right to be indignant about his personal life just because they bought a car or a drink or a set of golf clubs  just because Tiger endorses it?

No.  The general public is acting pretty asshat-ish, too.

The media and their intrusive, constant coverage of every aspect of Tiger Woods’ life?  Super dee-duper asshats.

But they are not the ones who have inspired me to post, and put me in the untenable position of feeling compelled to sort-of defend Tiger Woods.

The inspiration is actually Maureen Decker, Tiger Woods’ Kindergarten teacher.  She  is the latest to demand an apology from Tiger, but it isn’t because Tiger seduced her.  Or because he mixed the blue and the green paint.

It’s because she says Tiger lied when, in a book and several interviews,  he said,” I became aware of my racial identity on my first day of school, on my first day of kindergarten. A group of sixth-graders tied me to a tree, spray-painted (the n-word) on me, and threw rocks at me. That was my first day of school. And the teacher really didn’t do much of anything. I used to live across the street from school and kind of down the way a little bit. The teacher said, ‘Okay, just go home.’ So I had to outrun all these kids going home, which I was able to do. It was certainly an eye-opening experience, you know, being five years old. We were the only minority family in all of Cypress, California.”

The teacher claims it never happened.  She claims she spoke to other teachers, the principal and the school board president who all say it never happened.

Did it?  Perhaps yes, perhaps no.  It certainly could have.  Just because the teachers and administrators don’t see something (because teachers see everything, don’t they?), or recall it nearly thirty years later, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Is there anyone amongst us that doesn’t have traumatic events from their childhood  that have greatly influenced the beliefs they have about themselves, others or the world in general – events that other participants in the very same event have no recollection of whatsoever?   Even within your own family?

I do.  I distinctly recall being 4 years old and waking up to discover I’d been left alone in the house.  Terrified, I called the Operator, near hysterical.  My then-sixteen year-old cousin, who’d been charged with watching me, had walked down the street to buy some cigarettes.  His  Mom got home before he did, and despite the tongue-thrashing he got from her he has no memory of this incident today.

I sure do.

So, yeah.  It very well could have happened.  And he could have made it up.  Just because he cheated on his wife doesn’t mean he did.  So, the teacher is a minor asshat for being so  sure that it didn’t  happen when she really has no way of confirming that it didn’t.

And just because the disgustingly opportunistic Gloria Allred  is the teacher’s attorney doesn’t  mean the teacher sincerely doesn’t remember.  But the fact that the teacher hired the disgustingly opportunistic Gloria Allred makes my sympathies lean towards Tiger in this case.

I really have no respect for the disgustingly opportunistic Allred.  She gives me the willies.  She always defends asshats.

The disgustingly opportunistic Allred should really have a press conference and apologize.  For being such an asshat.  The biggest asshat?  You be the judge.

This is what happens when one is up with a five year-old at 6 am on a Saturday, and one turns on the news.

A Man With Integrity

My mother has been visiting us for two months, and today is her scheduled flight home.  We spent the morning packing and enjoying the sunshine, and then she and I went to lunch and did some shopping.

She decided to leave her purse at home, as we’d had to pack several items into it to save weight in her suitcase.  She did take her wallet, though, which was a cause of concern for me.  See,  Mom has memory issues.  Lots of ’em.  So I was worried that she’d  forget it somewhere.

We’d been to Target, and she put her red wallet under my purse in the red cart (yeah).  Only I’d bought something.  As we walked out of the store I left the cart right outside the doors, grabbed my purse and bag and we walked to the car.  I didn’t give her wallet a thought.  Neither, apparently, did she.

We drove to Office Depot so we could print her boarding pass (still no working printer in my house), and as we pulled into the parking lot she suddenly realized she’d lost her wallet (Yes, you were smarter than me and saw that coming.  Whaddya want – a medal or a chest to pin it on?).

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh crap.  We’re supposed to leave to take her to the airport in 90 minutes!  If we don’t find her wallet that means we don’t have her drivers license.  No drivers license, no board plane.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh CRAP!

We looked all over the car, then I drove back to Target.  We looked in all of the carts in the parking lot, and we asked at customer service.  I have to say that the Target employees  were AWESOME.  Three employees helped check carts.  The security guard reviewed videotape to see if we could tell which customer took our cart.   I was walking around the store asking women to lift their purse (or their child) so I could see if there was a red wallet underneath, in their red cart.

Mom was paralyzed with self-loathing and dread.  I called Husband and asked him to meet us so he could get the thumb drive and go print the boarding pass, in hopes we’d find the wallet.  Fun stuff.

A half hour later, while we waited for the security guard to look for the person he saw on the videotape, Mom gets a call from a friend.  Mom is telling her she can’t talk, but the friend says, “No!  Someone found your wallet and called me!”

Mom was too shaken to talk, so I talked to her.  A man said “his nephew” found the wallet, and he’d called 3 or 4 people before he’d found this particular friend, who knew Mom’s cell phone number.  I got the guy’s name and phone number and called him.  He was friendly, mentioned that he saw Mom was from Connecticut and he was from Massachusetts, and told us, too, about “the nephew”.  I thanked him, then explained that we had to leave shortly to take Mom to the  airport.  Could we come pick it up?  He agreed to meet us, gave us his address.

As Mom and I drove over there I told her not to count on her money being there.  After all, the nephew (if there truly was one) did not walk back into Target and turn the wallet in to the employees there.  He brought it home.  That right there made me suspect that the money – and perhaps the credit cards – would be gone.  After all, he could always claim that the money was gone when he found the wallet.

But as long as her drivers license was there, we would be happy.  We’d just consider the lost money a “stupid tax”.  I know I’ve paid plenty of  money in stupid tax over the years myself!

The man met us at the entrance to his apartment complex, handed over the wallet and said, “This is exactly how my nephew gave me the wallet.  Was there money in there?”

I looked through the wallet, noticed that the license and credit cards were there but the money was missing,  and told him yes, there’d been money.  Mom said she’d had about $60 (though we later realized that she only had $40).   He gets on his phone, calls the nephew and tells him to give back the money.

At this point Mom and I are so relieved that she can get on the plane that I’m about to thank the guy profusely and just leave, but he tells me to wait.  He asks me to follow him to his apartment; he’d get the money from his wife and they’d get it back from the nephew.

Uh huh.  I am still skeptical at this point.  What’s he up to? Is this guy trying to set me up?  I reluctantly follow him, and I call Husband.  I tell him what’s happening, and I tell him that I’d rather he stay on the phone with me “just in case.”  He tells me not to get out of the car or go into the guy’s apartment.  Well, duh!

A few minutes later, Husband still on the phone, the guy emerges from his apartment, walks over to the car and hands my mother a wad of cash.  He says, “My nephew had this, and he says that’s all that was in the wallet.”

Personally, I don’t care if it’s $4 or $40.  I’m completely shocked, and  thrilled, and in awe of this man.


He chose to:

1.  Contact us – taking several phone calls to do so;

2.  Meet us;

3.  Believe us about the money;

4.  Be willing to give it to us out of his own pocket, if necessary;

5.  Demand that his nephew own up.

And all of it really had nothing to do with us.  Helping us was a by-product.  This guy couldn’t have done anything else.  Because integrity, like fidelity,  is personal.  It’s about him, not us.  His values.  His beliefs.

I was near tears as we thanked him, said G-d bless you, and drove away.  Despite all of the politicians and Tiger Woods’ and Kardashians, we need to remember that there are still plenty of people who do have integrity in this small community we call the world.

I’d say that nephew, and all of the other people in his life, are even luckier than we were today.

Safe travels, Mom.

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