Monday, April 12, 2010

Your Money or Your Chocolate

AAIIIEEE! Hi Gang! Sorry I've been slack on the posts - I feel I've been spending all my spare time on hold with various customer service departments. Today I made sure all my investment accounts were paperless so I could avoid a $20 service fee. (In this economy I'm lucky if they make $20! The last thing I want to do is lose that!)

Then I noticed a $5.95 charge on my bank statement. I've been undergoing the hellish experience (am still not completely finished) of converting all my accounting software. I've used Microsoft Money for over 10 years. Turns out it's being discontinued. Tried to import into Quicken - got a lot, but lost a lot.

Well, one of the fancy features in Quicken is that you can set up downloads from all your financial institutions straight into the software. I had a few set up in Money, but thought I'd go ahead and do them all. Turns out the $5.95 fee is what B B & T charges to let me download my own statement into Quicken. Every other statement download I set up was free. Was there a box that popped up and said there would be a charge? Nope. The charge just appeared. I don't do that many transactions on this account - I'm not paying $72 a year to download them. ($72 can buy a lot of chocolate!)

Just be careful, dear readers. With all these different interfaces and different ways to access things, it's easy to incur a fee or a charge you don't know you're incurring. Review your statements! Most companies are pretty darn good at fixing things - but you have to catch them before they can be fixed.

I spent almost an hour on the phone with AT&T on Friday. I did that bundle thing to save money - I have a dedicated fax line, a land line, my Internet, my cell phone and my cable now with them. My bill is almost $300 a month. It has increased steadily since the bundling. So I am on fire every time I get that bill. This time I noticed that the fee I paid for long distance went from $4.00 to $9.00 (I was told I'd save $5 a month by bundling my cell phone with everything else, now they were taking away my whopping $5.00 a month saving). I know, it's only $5.00 a month, why get so upset? Because 1.) it's the damn principle and 2.) it's really $60 a year.

So I call. I start with one guy and we get nowhere. He tells me if I cancel just the long distance, I'll lose all my bundle discounts (remember that's from TWO land lines, a cell phone, Internet and cable!). I told him he had to be kidding - that it was like they were blackmailing me! He transfers me to someone else. We still get nowhere until I say I'm thinking about dumping these landlines and just going with my cellphone. Apparently that was the money statement - I get transferred to retention. Let me just tell you - retention can do something! Retention wants to make me happy. Retention works some voodoo magic and lowers my monthly bill by about $50. My monthly bill. $50. That's $600 a year. (Now that's a whole lotta chocolate! Hell, that's an airline ticket to Switzerland.)

So, I have money on the mind and here are my financial tips for you (remember, dear readers, I really am debt free - no mortgage, no car payment and no credit card debt):

1.) Take good care of your money - no one else is going to. All this crying about exorbitant charges and fees? Call when you see them - most of the time I can get them taken care of or at least not repeated. But if you aren't on top of things, some of them are going to be your fault. If you get charged for overdrafts and you keep overdrawing your account, then that's you not taking good care of your money.

2.) Sweat the small RECURRING stuff. People blow off $15 a month for this and $20 a month for that - well, that's $180 and $240 a year. Do you really have that kind of money to just waste? Just know how much you are really spending. A $5 daily expenditure is $1825 a year. $50 shopping every weekend? (And I bet you spend more than that) $2,600

3.) Pay attention. I don't think people pour over their bills the way I do. I catch mistakes all the time - returns that weren't credited, hotel stays that were double billed - if you aren't paying attention, you'll wind up paying for someone else's mistakes.

4.) Live beneath your means. Spend less than you make! Hello - this ain't rocket science! But apparently many people are confused by this - they buy things they cannot afford. You will NEVER get ahead if you keep doing this. I live in a townhouse that's less than 2,000 sq. feet - it's gorgeous, I love it. Could I get something bigger? Have a home on a large lot? Sure! But THIS house is paid for and I adore it. My car has almost 200,000 miles on it. Could I get a new one? Sure! Will I? Not until the cost of repairing this one exceeds its value. Just because you want something doesn't mean you should buy it. Get a grip, people! I don't care what anybody says, the government ain't gonna be taking care of you when you get old. Better start getting your act together financially ASAP.

5.) Recession may be the new normal. Are you ready for that? Got an emergency fund? What if you lose your job? What if your investments don't come back - or lose more value? Hope for the best and plan for the worst. If you can't increase your income, decrease your expenses.

And just so you won't think things are completely bleak, Harry and David still has Easter Candy on sale - CHEAP! I got lots of $7.95 candy for $1.97! You can have great candy and lots of fun for not much money! In fact, H & D had a candy tasting on Sunday - so you could have some delicious candy and not spend one penny. And it was sooooo much fun! Sign up for their e-mail alerts so you don't miss the next one!

Thanks for reading!

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