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May 2013 - SimplisticSaving.com

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Moving and Time Warner Cable Customer Service

On the Time Warner Cable website they advocate the ease of which they will assist someone in the middle of a move.  Certainly a move is already a very stressful time for a family.  Upon reading the information I was excited and thrilled that I would be in the Time Warner Cable service area.  The packages offered were more expensive than I was currently paying for cable and internet, but I was also getting faster internet, more HD channels, another HD DVR and free HBO, Showtime and Cinemax for a year.  Ultimately this made the few extra dollars I was paying worth it because I’m all about getting more value for my money.

I could not sign up for services online because the website prompted me to call to order.  I called the number and immediately was put in contact with someon about service.  I talked to the customer service sales operator and she was absolutely fantastic to work with on the phone.  I had been unable to see the specifics of packages online so she talked me through all the charges and fees involved.  I was a bit discouraged to see that there was an installation fee (even though the website says “FREE Professional Installation”).  The initial installation fee remained, but she did tell me that she was able to waive the Wi-fi setup fee (although I can set up my own wi-fi, I’ll let someone else do it if it’s free).  She said that my address had previously had service and that it would be no problem installing.  She scheduled a technician to come by 2 days later at 8am on Saturday.  All of the representatives are friendly enough, but their power to resolve an issue is minimal

Appointment #1

At 7:45am on Saturday morning I get a call from Justin my local TWC installer.  Not only is he very polite, but he is actually early for my appointment window.  When I arrive at the house he is already outside inspecting the cable and making calls.  He came in and informed me that he could not install the cable because they needed to run another cable line from the main line to my house.  I told him that my cousin had lived there before and told us that the cable and internet was great and never gave them any problems.  He said that the old cable did not guarantee problems, but that they liked to get the job done right so needed to run a better strand of cable.  I was fine with that and actually appreciate that a company would go out of their way to give a better quality of service.  I chatted with him pleasantly for a few more minutes and then he left.  He let us know that the cable repair would be at my house on Tuesday at 8 am (Monday was not available due to Memorial Day Holiday).

Appointment #2

On Tuesday morning my wife took off work and waited around the house for the cable company.  Once the technician arrived it was the same kind of technician that was dispatched to our home.  He stated the same thing as the previous installer that they needed to run a different line, but it would be no problem. My wife asked if there were any problems and he said, “Oh no, it’s an easy run that won’t take any time once our guys get out here”.  This gentleman was also extremely nice in dealing with us.  He called his supervisor to let her know that they had dispatched the wrong crew and my wife overheard her conversation.  She was extremely rude to both the installer and us as new customers.  She stated, “You’re gonna have to tell her to be patient and that even if it takes a couple weeks for us to get to it she can deal with it.”  The installer was very apologetic, but assured us that they had served the house before, all of our neighbors had service and that they would fix it soon.

Talking to Customer Service

After my wife heard the supervisor’s response she called Time Warner Cable.  The person on the phone was very nice and promised that someone would come by our house by the end of the day.  Nobody ever showed up, but we were given a 5/29/2013 between 2 – 4 PM appointment time.  The best part of all was that they said that they would waive all installation fees.  While installation fees were advertised as free from the beginning and only amounted to about $20 it was still really nice to have them waived.

Appointment #3

On 5/29/13 my wife took off work to be available for the 2-4 PM appointment time.  In the morning my wife received a voicemail saying, “We have talked to field techs in your area and they have told us that your area is unserviceable, you can call us back to check when service expands to your area”.  At this point we were absolutely livid.  Even though this address had Time Warner Cable a few months ago and neighbors miles away in both directions have Time Warner we are suddenly unable to have service?  Both technicians that actually visited my house said that connecting us would be no problem at all, but suddenly the people on the phone who have never heard of my street are telling me that we are not in the service area.

Calling Customer Service for an Explanation of Cancellation

I called Time Warner to inquire about the appointment cancellation and they let me know that in the computer we were listed as unserviceable.  I let them know that there must be some mistake because everyone on my road has Time Warner Cable and both installers that actually surveyed my property told me that there was no issue and we would have cable in no time.  The customer service representative was very pleasant, but ultimately a representative is only as effective as the power they are given to satisfy the customers.  There were no actual notes on our account and the representative actually looked up our neighbors addresses to verify that they do service the area.  She was unable to assist me, but left a note with a supervisor to get back with me later.

Customer Service Calls to Check Satisfaction

Even while we were fuming about the lack of results from Time Warner Cable we received a call from TWC.  The representative said, “We would like to check on your satisfaction with your recent Time Warner Cable installation”.  I told him the story from above and he then began to tell me that his computer said that my area was not in the Time Warner Service Area.  I then told him addresses of neighbors with TWC and he said that they were not in the coverage area.  The ultimate ridiculous assertion was when I gave my parents’ address (They live less than a half mile away) and he said that they do not have TWC service either.  I told him that I know for a fact that they do because I watch their TV and use their internet quite often (I am composing this from their TWC internet currently).  He advised me to go to my local “Time Warner Cable Store”, when I told him there was no such place in my area he pointed out that their was an office nearly an hour away.  Hopefully, Time Warner will look into rectifying this horrible customer service situation for me in the very near future.

Supervisor Leaves a Voicemail

We received a Voicemail from a supervisor today stating that our account was labeled as unserviceable because they would have to put an extension on our line and that it would cost $544 to install.  They also would not be able to do the work until they checked with the power company first.  My frustration has peaked and still not subsided.  First off why not tell us that in the first place and be straightforward with us about the whole situation.  Ultimately if it’s a matter of $544 to attain a customer that will spend thousands of dollars and make a happy customer they should do it.  If they had asked me about it to begin with I would have been willing to pay the fee.  It’s funny that after they offer to waive installation fees we are labeled as unserviceable and then told it is because it will cost $544 to drop a new extension.  We have lost over $544 in productivity waiting for Time Warner to connect a service we are paying to receive.

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Behind the Mind

I find writing to be a very soothing process for clearing a cluttered mind.  It is with this purpose in mind that I set forth to write this blog.  I sometimes become hyperfocused on a subject and think about it constantly.  I also tend to want to share these new ideas with those around me in an effort to relieve them from the cavernous depths of my mind.

My current obsession is meeting my goal of being a great husband and dad.  I want us to make as many memories as a family as we can manage.  I do not travel for my job and actually have not been on a flight since 2003.  My wife has never even been on a plane.  This does not mean that we do not go on trips.  We go to the beach every year, went to Disney World in 2011 and stay in a hotel more than 20 nights a year.  We have been confined to locations within driving distance.  However, thanks to recent credit card signing bonuses we have now amassed enough miles for multiple trips.

As a former accountant I have always had a tremendous interest in personal finances and learned a great deal about money.  Budgeting and money management aspects have always been fascinating, as well as the economic motivations of different people.  I am also enamored with the ability to crunch the numbers and find solutions to problems including process improvements which also interest me immensely.  Unfortunately, jobs like these are not abundant.  In fact, I actually told a former boss these interests in an annual review and he said condesendingly, “Well, maybe I should call the CEO and let him know I’ve replaced him with you.”  After that little chat I accepted another offer with a different company.

After a few years of corporate accounting I became burnt out on the mundane nature of the job.  In particular, I became frustrated with putting together budgets with the goal of cutting salaries and pay raises to the regular employees while insuring that the upper management received substantial pay raises.  The way I saw it was a 10% raise to someone making $5,000,000 is $500,000 which would be enough to give 50 employees a $10,000 raise.  I had trouble justifying the need to cut 10 employees making $50,000 a year just to pay one guy an extra half a million dollars.  I was not happy in my job and that bled over into my family life.  On top of that, eliminating “redundancies” meant that nobody had a backup for their job.  Taking a vacation took an act of congress and when I managed to get a week off I spent the next week doing 2 weeks worth of work.  When my daughter was born I left work on Friday at 5:30 and came back to work at 8:00am on Monday.  At that point I knew it was time for a life change.

I did some soul searching and decided that my family and mental well-being was more important than wealth and income potential.  I decided instead of getting an MBA I would get my Masters in Teaching and become a teacher.  At the same time I also vowed that we would take as many vacations as possible and spend money on other things that bring us all enjoyment.  As a teacher I may not be wealthy, but I do feel like I make a difference and I know that I feel more rewarded.

The second part of the equation is spending more time with the family and taking vacations when possible.  We live relatively simply and have been making strides toward this goal. Part of this strategy is using credit cards and other rewards to maximize value and never turn down free money.

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“Doesn’t getting a card lower my credit score?”

Last month my sister was planning a rare international flight.  I recommended she pick up a travel rewards credit card.  The Chase Sapphire Preferred rewards 2 points per dollar spent on travel and gives a 40,000 point signing bonus if you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.  The cost of an international flight alone is about $1,500 so hitting a bit over $300 a month in 3 months is easily attainable.  Minimally all the points could be applied directly to the statement to pay for her trip. Her reply was “Doesn’t getting a card lower my credit score?”

Theoretically, it could since inquiries do negatively impact your credit score.  However, using a smaller portion of your available credit has the opposite impact on your score.

For the past few years I have only had a few credit cards in my wallet.  My primary card was my Discover Card, which earns 5% cashback on revolving categories throughout the year.  All other spending earns 1% cashback which is not really a bad deal.  For gas, grocery and drugstore purchases I had an old credit card that rewards 5% in those categories.  In February, I called Discover about my account and customer service did very little to resolve my issue.  At that point I decided I would focus my spending on other cards.  When researching online I found a plethora of very great credit cards and companies competing for my business with nice bonuses.  I pulled a few credit reports and all of them put me in the low 700s range.  I have never missed a payment and nearly all of my spending is put on a reward credit card.

Since then I have applied for 4 different credit cards and been accepted for all of them.  Over the same time span my credit score has increased substantially.  All credit scores I have checked now put my credit score at over 750 and the only thing I have done is get more credit cards (more available credit) and paid off the balances in full with each statement.  In my personal experience, applying for credit cards actually helps to improve your credit as long as you are a responsible borrower.  In no way is this meant to condone applying for credit cards wrecklessly, but if you are dilligent with your finances your credit should not suffer.

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Walt Disney World on a Budget – Dining – Part 4

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We have taken care of the major expenses involved in planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  We have paid for transportation, theme park tickets and Lodging.  If we plan carefully, those will be our major expenses, but regardless we will still need to put food in our bellies.

In many ways the food portion of the budget does not need to even be accounted for in the same way.  Whether you are sitting at home or visiting the most magical place on Earth you will need to eat.  In fact, I would argue that a family could eat just as inexpensively in Orlando as they could in their hometown.  Every budget is different and everyone shares different values.  Some people think that since they are on vacation they should be spending hundreds of dollars per meal.  Other families think that since they outlayed all of the money for the trip that they do not have another dime to spare.  I feel like there is probably a happy medium to be found.  As a family you just need to set up how you value your time.

Dining Plan

If you are staying on site anyway, be on the lookout for free dining plan option.  This rolls the prices together and really allows a family to make every meal an event.  Unfortunately the dining plan is only included in the price a couple times per year.  Purchased separately I do not find the Dining Plan to be an exceptional value.  Probably because I would not normally eat every meal at a Disney Dining establishment.  Therefore the real savings to me would be much less.  I would rather eat inexpensive meals the majority of the trip and splurge on a couple occasions.

Food in the Parks

The most important thing that everyone should be aware of is that you are allowed to bring in your own food and drinks into the parks!  You could even pack some cans of soda and get a free cup of ice at any concession stand throughout the park.  It’s pretty easy to make a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, toss in some granola bars and be on your way.  We bought a big thermal bag at Sam’s Club prior to our trip.  In the morning we would wake up, put some frozen water bottles in the cooler with our snacks and be on our way.  It’s hard to beat the low cost of packing your own lunch.

Having said that, there are times when a splurge is quite nice.  We were able to go to Cinderella’s Royal Table when we visited and thought it was amazing!  Next time we go back we will probably do that again or visit Belle and eat there.

When we went to Hollywood Studios we stopped at Pizza Planet for an afternoon snack.  One great tip is to order a kid’s meal with pepperoni pizza instead of cheese.  This is not even on the menu, but when they substitute the pepperoni for cheese they also give an adult size pizza.  The kid’s meal includes a drink and a cookie yet costs less than the adult pepperoni pizza.  It’s definitely a win.

Bring Your Own Food

Walt Disney World allows you to bring in outside food and beverages.  We bought a fashionable cooler bag and froze bottles of water.  We then packed in extra snacks and Cokes.  You can get a cup of ice at any concession stand and then have an ice cold beverage.

Conclusion

I believe that absent a great deal for the dining plan the best method is to pick and choose meal options.  Eat breakfast in the hotel for free, pack a lunch, pick up some fast food and a few nights do something special.

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Dave Ramsey Modern Day Snake Oil Salesman / Financial Guru

In my formative years my attention was easily captured by loud, on-air television and radio personalities.  If they had such platforms they must be the smartest people in their profession right?  After I made countless billions of dollars following Jim Cramer’s shenanigans on “Mad Money”, I then sought out personal financial advice beyond investing.  I changed the radio dial and found Dave Ramsey with his strong voice and superior attitude, plus he was rich so he must know the best way to manage money.

After further examination, I found many flaws in the Dame Ramsey logic and philosophy.  But he wrote a book, so he has to know the best way, right?  What do I know though, he has way more money than me.  I recommended my brother get a reward credit card with a lucrative signing bonus for spending rather than a debit card.  His question to me was, “Doesn’t Dave Ramsey say that people shouldn’t have a credit card and use cash or a debit card?”  I asked him to explain the difference between spending money on a credit card and paying it off every month and spending it on a debit card.   The only thing I know for certain is that the math that I use to make financial decisions must be different from the math used by the financial guru.

Advocating Luxury Spending

Budgeting can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.  You can break down every dollar spent for every category (Clothing Budget) including allocating expenses into subcategories (Cut-off Jean Shorts).  Most importantly to climb out of debt is to maximize the difference between income and expenses.  This means cutting out any luxury expenses.  Certainly Dave Ramsey demonizes many of the luxury expenses that I agree with cutting out.  However, he still advocates a 10% tithe to church and charitable donations (versus 5% for utilities).  Giving to charity is luxury afforded those who have met all other obligations.  If you are in debt and cannot adequately provide for your family then you should not be considering trying to support others.  I understand that giving money to charity is nice, but it is also a luxury.  This is one of those luxuries that does not seem luxurious, it just seems like the right thing to do.  However, if you are focusing on climbing out of debt your money could be put to better use.  Let’s assume that you make $48,000 a year and give $400 a month to church, that amounts to $4,800 a year.  Let’s assume you owe $10,000 on a credit card paying 12% interest, if you are currently trying to pay off the loan in 3 years you will pay $1,859 in interest over the 3 years.  Instead you could spend the extra $400 a month paying off the credit card and you would save $1,089 in interest ($1,857 vs. $768), and pay off the credit card 1.7 years sooner than under your current schedule (3 years vs. 1.2 years).  If you’re still set on giving the 10% away make an IOU and keep track of all the charity you did not give.  As you can afford it, you can increase the charitable donations.  This also has tax implications as well since it would be better for most tax filers to donate to charity in a lump sum.

No Credit Cards

Dave loves to talk about how bad credit cards are for consumers, but goes out of his way to point out good deals.  I absolutely agree that using a credit card to accrue tons of debt at 15% interest is a ridiculous notion.  However, banks also have enticing bonus offers.  Such as the Chase Slate card which offers a 0% introductory balance transfer for 15 months.  Using the same scenario as above you could apply for the card, transfer $10,000 to the Chase Slate card and pay $0 in interest plus if you paid $729 per month you would have your loan paid off sooner.  Although I have heard him say that he can allow a 0% balance transfer he needs to be telling everyone to reduce their interest rates immediately.

The first time I really questioned his advice was when I was buying a computer in college.  Best Buy was offering a 3 years interest free financing offer.  I needed a computer and was going to spend $1,500 on the computer I wanted with cash or credit.  I had the cash in the bank accruing interest (higher interest rates than now) so I decided to finance the purchase.  I paid it off $50 a month and paid it off ahead of time.  Never did I miss one payment, nor did the credit card companies lose my payments or force me to spend more.  I still had the cash available to earn interest and spend as needed.

Over the past few years I have used my Discover card and a gas, grocery and drugstore reward card to earn cashback on almost every purchase.  I earned 5% cashback in specific categories, but never did I overspend to earn money.  However, I did earn a few hundred dollars extra on money I was going to spend anyway.  Sure, it has not helped me retire early, but it did allow me to have a few hundred dollars extra to spend on my family.

More recently I have captured signing bonuses of $400,  50,000 airline points ($833 worth of airfares) and other offers from credit cards just for signing up and spending money as I normally would.  Studies may suggest that people spend more with credit cards, (as Mr. Ramsey loves to point out) but this really throws personal responsibility out the window.  If you are responsible and pay off your credit card every month you actually benefit quite greatly from a credit card.

Dave likes to say that he does not know any millionaires who got rich from credit card rewards, but that is hardly the point.  To me, these reward bonuses are extra unearned income.  I can take a trip using these airline points which will provide richer experiences for my family to share.  Otherwise we may have not been able to afford to fly for a vacation, even on Southwest.  Millionaires never worry about things like this because they can just buy their own plane tickets (or plane if they have enough millions).

Debt Snowball

For those people listening to Dave Ramsey to pull themselves out of debt he advocates the “Debt Snowball”  whereby the individual pays down the smallest debt most aggressively.  The theory is that as you pay off debt you can have a small moral victory.  From a psychological vantage point this makes a modicum of sense, but from a mathematical and fiscal sense this seems absolutely illogical.  Let’s imagine that someone has debts of $5,000 at 0% interest $8,000 at 3% interest and $10,000 at 12% interest.  Mr. Ramsey would suggest paying the minimum balance on the $8,000 and $10,000 debts then pay the rest toward the $5,000 debt.  Unless the 0% interest rate is about to expire and reverting to a higher rate there is no reason to be paying this amount at all.  If you pay down the higher interest rates you will save money over the long-term.  If you are paying off $500 a month over the 10 months it takes you to pay off the $5,000 debt your other debts will have accrued over $1,000 worth of interest.

I feel like Dave Ramsey has spent so much time being a part of the rich and elite that he does not value an extra $1,000.  Whether it’s from money saved on interest rates or rewards earned through the purchases you are already going to make Mr. Ramsey finds these methods undesirable.

Selling Services to Broke (Broken) People

I am not against the profit motive, but I do think that picking the targets of profit attainment is something else entirely.  Dave’s core audience seems to be people who do not need to spend a dime on incremental expenses.  These people usually need to even cut their fixed expenses.  Yet, Mr. Ramsey seems to be more than ready to constantly recommend to his adherents that they purchase his books or come to his conferences.  As an accountant I always loved making budgets, especially creating them for individuals is fun.  The problem with this is that a Catch-22 situation is created.  Most people who need a budget cannot afford to pay for a budget and most people who can pay you are pretty good with money and can set up their own financial policy.

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