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November 2012 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

November 2012 - Posts

  • Mary Hunt Giveaway Update--We Have Two Winners!

    Congratulations to Jane Jones and happym for winning our giveaway!

    And thanks to everyone who read, watched, and entered!

  • Mohela Strikes Again

     

    You may recall that I've been less than impressed by Mohela, the bank that took over my student loan in December 2011.

    Some background: I had decided last year, just before Mohela bought my loan, to stop sending $600 per month to pay off my student debt, and instead only send the minimum payment of $360, keeping the other $240 for retirement savings. (It became clear after a single interaction with the folks at Mohela that I was willing to do anything to pay off my debt and be done with these jackanapes as quickly as possible, even if it meant saving less for retirement, at least for the moment. More on that in a moment.)

    However, despite having told my former lender that I wanted to return to my minimum payment, Mohela seemed to think I owed them $600 each month. The unproductive and frustrating argument I had with a Mohela supervisor ended with him stating that he could reduce my minimum payment to as low as $90. I tried to calmly explain that I didn't *want* to pay $90--that I wanted to pay the agreed upon minimum of $360.

    Imagine my lack of surprise when the following month, Mohela deducted a grand total of $68.04 from my account. I have no idea where that amount came from. No one ever mentioned a payment option of $68.04, and it certainly seems to be a lower amount than the "as low as $90" offer that Mr. I'm-Not-Listening Supervisor had suggested.

    No matter. I simply added an automatic $300 monthly payment to that auto-debit, because those two amounts added together are within spitting distance of the minimum I was planning on sending anyway.

    It only took another month for me to decide to send the additional $231.96 to Mohela each month rather than to my retirement. Every four weeks, I send an additional payment to them electronically, in the hopes that I can dance a jig while burning Mohela in effigy before LO turns 3. (08/31/2013, by the way).

    Fast forward to Monday. I logged onto my Mohela account so that I could send my usual additional payment of $231.96 for November, as my payment date is the 28th of each month.

    But instead of an auto-debit of $68.04, I discovered that Mohela would be extracting $353.64 as my minimum payment on November 28, which if you'll notice, is an entirely different (not to mention higher) amount. I immediately got on the phone, because I really enjoy spending an evening banging my head against the wall.

    The very nice customer support agent spent a little time looking into my account and told me that my payment had gone up because it had been determined that $68.04 per month was not enough money for me to pay off my loan in the allotted time frame. Never mind the fact that I have been sending Mohela $600 per month almost since the beginning of my relationship with them, plus an extra grand I sent them back at tax time, which means that even if I were to start only paying $68.04 per month now, I would still pay off the loan within the necessary time frame. Because clearly, that has nothing to do with the bureaucratic decision-making process.

    Ultimately, I don't give a rat's derriere that they raised my minimum payment. We'll just call it a very overdue compliance with my request as of last winter. 

    No, my problem is with the fact that Mohela did not see fit to inform me of this change.

    My very nice customer service lady (who commented on LO's adorable babbling in the background which meant that I could no longer see her as the face [or I guess hear her as the voice] of the evil empire) kept telling me that Mohela must have informed me. Well, I did receive a paper bill from them, which struck me as odd since I do everything online. But the bill was simply that--it did not explain a darn thing.

    When the nice lady asked if there was anything she could do to make me feel more comfortable with Mohela's treatment of me, I asked her to cancel my recurring $300 payment, as I budget $600 each month for my student loan and not $653.64. That was when she told me she couldn't do that.

    Of course.

    So I went back online and cancelled my $300 payment.

    You can probably guess what happened next.

    The following day, I recieved an email from Mohela informing me that the recurring $300 payment had been cancelled. (Because if there's something that Mohela is diligent about informing customers of, it's the actions that the customers themselves have taken. Lord knows, we'd have no way of knowing this stuff if they didn't inform us!)

    The email just happened to mention that the final installment of that recurring payment would be paid from my account on November 28, 2012, despite the fact that I had cancelled it on November 26. Basically, through no choice of my own, I'm paying these people $653.64 this month.

    AAAAAAAARGH!!!

    Thankfully, I have an extra fifty(+) bucks to spare to be able to pay for Mohela's cavalier treatment of its "customers." And that extra $53.64 will bring me that much closer to the day I can have a Mohela-shaped bonfire in my backyard and sing "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead."

    But man, that day just can't come fast enough.

     

     

    Don't forget to enter to win our the Mary Hunt giveaway! I'll be giving away two Mary Hunt books: Raising Financially Confident Kids and Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Just post a comment on this blog post telling me which book you're interested in before noon on Friday, November 30. (Please click that link to post your comment). I'll choose two winners at random, one for each book.

    Please enter!

  • Mary Hunt On Monday's Today Show

    Even though I still seem to be incapable of embedding the video, I thought you all would like to see Mary Hunt on Monday's Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda.

    She looked and sounded great!

     

    Don't forget to enter to win our the Mary Hunt giveaway! I'll be giving away two Mary Hunt books: Raising Financially Confident Kids and Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Just post a comment on this blog post telling me which book you're interested in before noon on Friday, November 30. (Please click that link to post your comment). I'll choose two winners at random, one for each book.

    Please enter!

  • What Not to Say When Boarding an Airplane

     

    Image courtesy of Pawel Drozd and Elzbieta Czerwinska-Drozd

     

    As we boarded our plane back to Indianapolis last night, we had to wait a moment before finding seats because a flight attendant who was as big around as my wrist was wrestling an enormous carry-on into submission in an overhead bin. Impressed, I said to her, "Wow, you must have amazing guns!"

    By guns, of course, I meant arms, although my choice of words probably couldn't have been poorer. My brain recognized the folly of my word choice without sending my mouth the memo, which meant I was stuck saying something incredibly stupid without being able to put the brakes on it. I was already shaking my head at myself when the flight attendant gave me a hard look and moved on.

    This is one of those times when it is actually prudent to travel with a 2-year-old. One could look from my bright-eyed kid to J's and my haggard "traveling-with-a-toddler" appearance and recognize that the only threat we pose is foot-in-mouth disease.

    I do think they moved the air marshall to sit behind us, though.


    Don't forget to enter to win our latest giveaway! I'll be giving away two Mary Hunt books: Raising Financially Confident Kids and Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Just post a comment on this blog post telling me which book you're interested in before noon on Friday, November 30. I'll choose two winners at random, one for each book. Also, be sure to watch Mary steal the show on The Today Show on Monday, November 26.

    Please enter!

  • Lowered Expectations

    The other day, while enjoying a nutritious, home-cooked lunch at McDonald's, I happened to pick up a copy of the Lafayette Journal & Courier that someone had left in my booth. Glancing idly through it, I discovered that J's and my optometrist had had to bring criminal charges against one of his employees for embezzling $50,000.

    J and I both love this optometrist. Not only is he a pretty funny and cool guy, he works with us to maximize that pocket lint our vision insurance offers in exchange for new glasses. So we were both rather upset on his behalf to learn that he had an embezzler for an employee, who's only defense was (and I quote), "No one said I couldn't."

    In talking this over, J mentioned that one of his doctors in Columbus had a similar issue. I suspect that doctor's offices have a more difficult time detecting embezzlers because it takes so long for insurance claims and patients to come through with money. I guess every doctor needs to have a really good accountant on call.

    It also made me think back on my pre-teaching career. In all the relatively lowly jobs I held from high school through starting as a teacher, my bosses often seemed to think I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I never thought of myself as any kind of model employee. I showed up, did my job, and called when I was sick. That seemed like the bare minimum to me. But my bosses would rave about my reliability. When I worked at the library in college, my boss pulled me aside one day to tell me how much she appreciated what I was doing. Considering the fact I'd called in sick four times in one semester (ahem), I couldn't understand what the heck she was talking about. Then I thought about the habits of a couple of the other library aides--one of whom didn't bother to mention he was starting the weekend early despite being scheduled to work on Friday. This apparently happened nearly every weekend.

    I now understand that most bosses have lowered expectations: "She shows up on time, stays for her entire shift, and calls in at least an hour before she's due to work. I swear, If she doesn't embezzle $50,000 from us, I'm giving her a promotion!"

    Apparently, showing up, keeping my hands out of the till, and actually communicating with my bosses put me in the upper echelon of employees, which makes me sad. (It also makes me feel better about my potential employment prospects if this whole writing from home thing doesn't pan out.)

    The optometrist embezzler is probably never going to be able to repay the ridiculous amount of money she stole. I just hope my eye doctor has better luck or a more comprehensive background check with the next clerk he hires.

     

     

    Don't forget to enter to win our latest giveaway! I'll be giving away two Mary Hunt books: Raising Financially Confident Kids and Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Just post a comment on this blog post telling me which book you're interested in before noon on Friday, November 30. I'll choose two winners at random, one for each book. Also, be sure to watch Mary steal the show on The Today Show on Monday, November 26.

    Please enter!

  • The Amazon Free-Shipping Conundrum

    When my sister was a little girl, she hoped to grow up to be Lynda Carter.

    Well, no. She actually wanted to be Wonder Woman when she grew up.

    That was why I was delighted to find this toy Wonder Woman, complete with invisible plane, which is suitable for toddlers:

    It's a perfect first Hannukah present for my niece! Because if anyone needs to own this toy, it is my sister's daughter.

    There was only one problem--the Amazon Free-Shipping Conundrum.

    You see, Wonder Woman and her plane were well south of the $25 minimum for free shipping, which meant I'd have to spend about $4 to get her to my niece on time. In these instances, I have been the victim of Amazon's dastardly plot by buying something I don't really want just to qualify for free shipping. I thought I had figured out a way to circumvent this. Now, when I find myself short of the required $25 minimum, I just save my cart and wait a couple of days. Something will always come up within the week that can be added to your Amazon order, thereby avoiding both the shipping charges and the purchase of unnecessary clutter.

    I was super pleased to find I only had to wait a day in order to find another item. While researching an article, I found several references to a Behavioral Economics book that I simply had to own: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value by William Poundstone. Gleefully, I added the book to my shopping cart, patting myself on the back for avoiding Amazon's trap.

    It was then that I noticed that the toy and the book together equaled $24.73.

    AAAARRRRRGHH!

    So, instead of again waiting a few days to find another necessary item, I ended up ordering another book by Mr. Poundstone to make sure I got everything free of shipping charges.

    It wasn't until after I had given Amazon my credit card information and closed my browser that I realized I would still have to pay shipping charges to get the toy from my house, where Amazon will be delivering it, to my niece, who happens to live in an entirely different state. If I had just purchased the toy by itself originally and shipped it to the sweet baby girl, I'd probably have paid the same amount total for toy + shipping as I will now. And without having purchased a completely unnecessary book.

    Do you see why I have trouble trusting those marketers with their wee beady eyes?

    I can't wait for Wonder Woman to get here, though.

     

    Don't forget to enter to win our latest giveaway! I'll be giving away two Mary Hunt books: Raising Financially Confident Kids and Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Just post a comment on this blog post telling me which book you're interested in before noon on Friday, November 30. I'll choose two winners at random, one for each book. Also, be sure to watch Mary steal the show on The Today Show on Monday, November 26.

    Please enter!

  • A Two-For Mary Hunt Book Giveaway!

    Image that has absolutely nothing to do with this post but that I thought was a nice picture courtesy of Thomas Hawk from San Francisco, USA

    Mary Hunt totally understands debt.

    After 12 years of shopping 'til they dropped, she and her family found themselves in over $100,000 of unsecured debt (credit card debt, that is). Over a 13-year odyssey of relearning everything they knew about money, they paid off every last cent.

    Many people would have declared bankruptcy and started over without learning a thing, but Mary felt it necessary to make good on the money they'd charged--and to make some very valuable life changes, which she now shares with others. To debt-proof our lives, Mary advises living on the 80/10/10 rule: Live on 80% or less of your income, set aside 10% for savings and retirement, and give 10% away to charity. "Giving just sort of quiets that greed," Mary says.

    With her unparalleled understanding of debt and how to avoid it, Mary has since then become a motivational speaker and writer, founding both Debt-Proof Living and Everyday Cheapskate.

    She also has the opportunity to sometimes be on television, for which I envy her. (One of my greatest and most-likely-to-be-unmet ambitions is to be interviewed on The Daily Show. Which is probably okay because I would freeze up in the presence of Jon Stewart, anyway.)

    In honor of an upcoming television appearance by Mary, I am holding a giveaway of not one, but two, of her books! Next Monday, November 26, Mary will be featured on The Today Show. (Which I will finally forgive for axing Ann Curry.) That seems like a great reason to give away some of her sanity-saving writing on debt and money.

    You have an opportunity to win one of two of Mary's books: Raising Financially Confident Kids or Debt-Proof Your Christmas. Each book has a retail value of $12.99, but they can be yours for free! Just post a comment to this blog between now and noon on Friday, November 30, telling me which book you are interested in. Two winners will be chosen randomly, one for each book.

    If you're not sure which book you'd most like, check out these blurbs:

    Raising Financially Confident Kids: "One of the most important lessons you can teach your kids is how to handle their money. Unfortunately, for most of us, giving our kids a financial education is an afterthought. Where do you start? And what if you don't feel financially confident yourself?

    In Raising Financially Confident Kids, financial expert Mary Hunt draws from solid statistics and her own hard-won knowledge and experience as a mom who made it back from the brink of financial ruin to help you teach your children how to handle money responsibly. From preschool through the teen years, every stage of your child's development is covered, including how to talk to them about money at each age, how to help them start saving money and giving it away, and how to avoid the pitfalls of easy credit and a culture built on debt.

    Money can't buy your children happiness. But giving them the skills to manage their money will allow them to take control of their future and work toward successful and satisfying lives."

    Mensch here: I love that she draws on solid statistics. Maybe that's just the geek in me, but I really appreciate money writing that uses hard numbers to explain things.

    Debt-Proof Your Christmas: "Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also one of the most stressful--and most expensive. Expectations run high and it's tempting to whip out the credit cards to create the perfect Christmas for your family, with lavish meals, new decorations, and the latest, greatest gadgets and fashions for everyone on your Christmas gift list. But you don't have to overspend or go into debt to have a fabulous holiday.

    Financial expert Mary Hunt shows readers how. She helps readers assess their financial situation, commit to no new debt, and think creatively about their gift list. With Mary's guidance, readers will identify what has caused them to overspend in the past and approach this Christmas with a plan and a new attitude toward holiday spending. This just might be the best gift you can give yourself and your family."

    Mensch here: You only have to read my rant from yesterday about Black Friday to know that I agree about dialing down the money hemorrhaging each holiday season. Just say no to the all-consuming message that nothing says I love you like crippling debt.

    Basically, I think Mary and I would get along just fine. I look forward to watching her on The Today Show next Monday, and I hope you'll take the time to see her, as well. And please comment to win one of her books!

  • Top Ten Reasons Why I Don't Venture Outside on Black Friday

    1. Waking up at 4 am after a tryptophan-induced food coma is cruel and unusual punishment. Really, I feel like Mussolini did something similar to people he didn't like.

    2. Those Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches aren't going to make (and eat) themselves!

    3. I don't trust myself to behave. No, I don't mean that I'll start macing people to get clear access to Incredible Deals!!! I'm more likely to get frustrated by the thronging crowds and start shouting "this is a consumerist perversion of a lovely sentiment! You don't need to buy cheap electronics to show people you love them!" I can't imagine that will go over well, and I'd rather not find myself Tased by store security just one day after Thanksgiving.

    4. We live in the future! You can find many of the same deals online, and there's no need to change out of your Thanksgiving-gravy-stained pjs to shop.

    5. I don't trust retailers or marketers, with their wee beady eyes. (Considering the fact that my mother is a career retailer and my sister makes her living as a marketer, I need to tread lightly here. Guys, you know I don't mean you, right?) Basically, I know that all of the doorbusters and so-low-you-can't-believe-it deals are just methods for getting customers in the door. Because once customers are in the door, they're already committed to shopping. After all, they got up at an ungodly hour to take advantage of that wonderful sale on whatever Thingamagizmojig is necessary to holiday happiness. The fact that said Thingamagizmojig is sold out within nanomicroseconds of the doors opening because the store only stocked 10 units at that price doesn't mean you're going home empty-handed, dadgummit!

    Retailers and marketers know how we think, and I prefer to outwit them by simply barricading myself in the house on Black Friday rather than get suckered.

    6. Crowds make me nervous. If you want to see me hyperventilate with claustrophobia, place me in the middle of a crowd wherein everyone is a little more inadvertently "friendly" than average newlyweds manage to be, and you are able to smell both the last meal of and the type of deodorant worn by every individual in the group. (Bonus hyperventilation if deodorant is considered optional by various members of the crowd.) My rule of thumb is that if I can't easily do a Sound of Music/Julie Andrews arms-outflung spin in place, I'll be removing myself forthwith.

    7. Baby, it's cold outside. My complete and utter wimpiness when it comes to cold weather is rather ridiculous considering the fact I have lived my entire adult life in the midwest--although I clearly could have made worse climatological living choices. (I remember a Minnesotan of my acquaintance in college wandering around campus in a tee-shirt and down vest in -10 degree weather describing the bone-chilling air as brisk, which made me decide that as nice a place as Minnesota must be, it is likely my own personal Hades for at least 10 months out of the year. Although I hear the summer is lovely, and if it falls on a weekend, you really should visit.) Just as I refuse to wake up at 4 am for Incredible Deals!!! I also refuse to subject myself to line-waiting in freezing November weather for such deals. I'd rather pay extra money and be warm, thank you very much.

    8. It's too much work. The other thing I know about Black Friday is that the hype can sometimes be enough to make the sales seem out of this world--when actually, the prices aren't that great. I feel like I'd have to research every product I was interested in just to make sure I was really finding the best deals--and I'd particularly feel that way if I had to drag my rear end out of bed early in the morning just to freeze it off before getting into the store. That all sounds like effort. Feh.

    9. Shopping is stressful. And that's before you add the sleeplessness, the crowds, and the cold. I'm not one of those women who goes shopping for fun. Don't get me wrong--I enjoy a good spree as much as the next person. But holiday shopping can be tough. Finding the right gift for everyone is already a little overwhelming. Add in the Black Friday shenanigans, and it just sounds like enough to make you curl up in a ball and start sucking your thumb.

    10. There will be a Top Gear marathon on BBC America on Black Friday. Nuff said.

    I do know that Black Friday is a beloved family tradition for many people out there, and I am glad you can enjoy it. You're welcome to enjoy my part, too, because my goal is to not set foot outside the house on Friday.

    (I always try to go for achievable goals, particularly when I'm stuffed with turkey.)

  • Running Update #19: Illness Really Threw a Wrench In the Works Edition

     

    You may have noticed that this week I seem to have gotten away from my grueling schedule of writing for a full half hour every day except weekends.

    This slacking on my part has been because of the young man. LO saw fit to share his daycare germs with the family. And while I have often described illness as the creeping crud, this truly has crept up on us. Here it is Saturday morning, and the boy is basically back to normal, which means he'll get to watch movies to his heart's content, while J and I lie around on the sofa and try to figure out how to get stuff done while still prone.

    The crud has also thrown a wrench in my running rhythm. As of this past Monday, I had run 384 miles for the year, and 30 miles total for the month of November. Not bad for not even reaching the halfway mark in the month.

    Then the crud struck.

    I have run exactly 0 miles since Monday, and each day brings me closer to the end of the month--at which point, I am supposed to be at 427 miles to have any hope of reaching my 2012 goal.

    Feh.

    So, here's hoping for a speedy recovery from the crud. And that I can figure out how to run while lying on the couch.

  • Increase Your Savings Rate by 1%

     

    Jim Blankenship over at Getting Your Financial Ducks in a Row put forth a blogger challenge for those of us in the financial blogosphere. He is a financial planner, and he worries about the rate at which we Americans are saving (5% on average). So he suggested that we bloggers offer up a challenge to our readers. November is right about when most employers are going through their benefit cycles, so now is the time to amp up your retirement savings. And Jim has a very doable amount that he suggests we start with: 1%. So if you're not contributing anything to your retirement, start by putting aside 1%. If you're at 6%, up it to 7%. It may seem as though 1% will not make a big difference--after all, 1% of a $50,000 per year salary is only $500. But that's $500 you don't have to find later, $500 that will be earning compound interest, and $500 that you're probably not going to feel the loss of. Not bad for a paltry 500 bucks.

    If you're not sure how to find that extra 1% to put aside, LO and I have come up with some ideas:

    From the Source: Find Extra Money in Your Paycheck

    1. If you get a raise this year, have 1% of it go towards retirement. This is a great way to not feel any pinch while still being responsible with your retirement.

    2. Adjust your withholding so that there is more available in each paycheck to go toward retirement. If you get a big tax refund every year, you're basically giving Uncle Sam a no-interest loan. It won't take much of a change withholding-wise to get about 1% more each paycheck, which you can turn over to your 401k. Then your paycheck stays about the same size, and you can still get a modest return come tax time.

    Frugality Matters: Reduce Your Expenses

    3. You can likely find $500 in your budget over the year ($42 per month) that you can cut without feeling it. Some examples: one dinner out per month, your cable bill (Netflix is better, anyway), filling up on gas when you commute alone (because carpooling is awesome), etc.

    4. Pay off your debt, but keep paying yourself. You're used to the equivalent of a car payment or a credit card payment or a student loan payment being part of your monthly budget. Once that debt is paid off, just keep the amount going out the same, but have the money deposited in your retirement account instead.

    Save Your Pennies

    5. A good old fashioned piggy bank or change jar is an excellent way to "find" money. Those loose quarters and pennies that might otherwise get lost in the couch cushions can add up quickly, particularly if you are a cash envelope family.

    Attitude Shifts

    6. I remember talking to a fellow teacher years ago who claimed she didn't save for retirement because she wanted to enjoy her money while she was young. Foolishly, I refrained from slapping her silly, which I regret to this day. She definitely needed an attitude adjustment. Saving for retirement is not giving something up. It's providing yourself with a gift. One that no one else is planning on giving you. It can be hard to find extra money in the budget, but giving your future self a 1% gift in 2013, and adding 1% each year, will cause a minimum of financial pain. And to be honest, can you think of a worthier cause than your own golden years?

    To see other blogs in this series, please check out:

    A Dozen Ways to Increase Your Savings Rate on Getting Your Financial Ducks in a Row.


     

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