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Saving You Money through Simple Methods

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Current Strategy: Exactly What I am Doing! Stop Everything You are Doing and Act Now! Hint Southwest Companion Pass!

Here’s a link to the 50,000 point offer!

Let’s face it, with the internet there is always a deal to be had.  Many times it’s extremely difficult to determine where a “deal” falls on the spectrum of “meh” to “stop everything you are doing and act now (SEYADAAN)!!!”.  The problem with this scale that I just created is that a deal that is “meh” to you may be “stop everything you are doing and act now!!!” to another geyser.  If a hack existed to save $25,000 on a new BMW M3, this would mean nothing to the majority of us because we are not in the market for a $40,000 car, even if it is normally $65,000.  However, to the guy who is pulling up to the BMW dealership with $65,000 in $20 bills in his lap, this is a “stop everything you are doing and act now” moment.  If pulling over and doing this imaginary deal would save this bloke 25 grand he would be a fool not to use it.   This is a problem with many blogs, deal sites and other resources that are out there.  In an effort to reach more readers you must create broader content and post things that do not appeal to everyone equally.  This is not a good thing or a bad thing really, it’s just something you must be aware exists.  Sometimes I will post an opportunity that you will want to jump on and sometimes you will sit out.  One way that I am going to attempt to clarify great all around deals is to let you know which opportunities I am using myself or those that have me grabbing the ear of family members trying to get them to join my cult.

The first opportunity is one that I have already started acting on, but is a process over the next 3 months.  As you may already know my Southwest Companion Pass is set to expire on 12/31/2014.  You can click to read more about it, but in summation anyone holding a “Southwest Companion Pass” gets a free flight for their named companion anytime they book one.  It doesn’t matter if you book with cash or points any ticket you book instantly offers the opportunity of adding a companion. Since you are only allowed to change your companion twice it is not as useful for the tinder and grinder set that would like to have a different companion at the drop of a hat. This is the perfect deal for families or couples (couple does not need to be romantically involved) that travel together.  Once you earn your companion pass it is good for the rest of the year you earn it and the entire following year.  Therefore, if I earned the pass on October 31, 2014 I would be able to use its benefits for November, December and the entirety of next year, 14 months of the perk not expiring until December 31, 2015.  That’s a hella sweet deal, but if I can hold off just 2 months and instead earn the pass in January of 2015 it will be good for all of 2015 and 2016 which gives 24 months of use.  So, what am I doing to achieve this benefit?

Currently, Southwest is offering 50,000 rapid reward points to sign up for their credit card, all you need to do is spend $2,000 in 3 months to earn the bonus.  On the application you simply fill in your rapid rewards account number from Southwest.  If you don’t have one go sign up for one, it’s free and you do not need to fly or be flying anywhere soon.  Fill in that account number on the application.  After you spend your $2,000 you will get 52,000 points (50,000 bonus and 1 point per dollar spent).  These 52,000 points will be good for over $700 worth of airfare!  Keep in mind that you do pay a $99 annual fee for the card (which does not count toward the $2,000 spending requirement so make sure the balance in 3 months is at least $2,099), so in essence you’re getting over $600 worth of airfare for free and this is without even scoring the companion pass.  The trick is to hold off hitting your $2,000 until January 1st.  If your points hit in December the points needed for a companion pass will reset on January 1st.  In order to get the companion pass you need to earn 110,000 points in one calendar year.  So we get 52,000 points from a credit card where will the other 58,000 points come from to earn this?

The way I will do it is to sign up for the business version of the Southwest Credit Card which is offering the same terms.  It will cost another annual fee up front, but will earn you an additional 52,000 points.  Just be certain that when signing up for the second card you put the same Rapid Rewards account number on the application.  If you don’t do that you will be sorry.  If you leave the account number off of the application one will be created for you.  Now that you have earned 104,000 points you will still be short by 6,000 points.  In order to earn these you could do a number of things including using your Southwest credit card to charge another $6,000.  You can go to southwest.com and use their portal to earn points.  Booking a hotel or rental car through their website can also earn additional points.  If you get to the 104,000 point mark it would be nearly criminal to not figure out a way to get the other 6,000 points you need.

This is a deal that I am already acting on currently and have advised my parents to look into as well.  If you’re thinking, “our family doesn’t fly” well it’s likely because it costs too much.  At minimal, even without the companion pass these cards offer value.  Keep in mind that with the companion pass we were able to fly our family of 4 to California for just over 60,000 points.  That’s only slightly more than you receive from signing up for one card.  As always, with Southwest, even when shopping using points always wait until sales are best and fares are lowest.  On their sale last week their shortest distance flights were $49 each way, which meant a roundtrip ticket would only cost < 5,000 points.  Assuming you had 110,000 points you could take 22 roundtrips, if you earned the companion pass that would translate into 22 roundtrip tickets for you and 22 roundtrip flights for your companion.

 

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Does Saving Money Save You Money?

Clearance Deal of the DayCould not live without!  (never used)

 

When you read a blog about saving money, you already possess the most important aspect needed, proper mindset.  Financial awareness is a key component in saving money over the long term.  It’s very easy to think that saving a dollar here or there is no big deal.  For instance, I always use those credit cards which give me the highest return on every purchase.  I have an American Express Blue Cash Preferred card that gives 6% cashback at the grocery and I will use it every single time.  My wife on the other hand will go to the grocery store and just grab any card available.  Her rationale is that if she is only spending $20, that card would only save $1.20 so it’s no big deal.  However, every trip to the gas station, grocery store, or other retail establishment offers a chance to save.  The way I see it is that if I’m going to be making the purchase either way, why not put it on a credit card that will reward me for that purchase?  Why use cash when I can pay with a credit card and get an instant discount a discount that comes after I shop for the best prices and use cashback portals!

The biggest problem for many of us comes from trying to save significant amounts of money by purchasing things we otherwise do not need.  The “Extreme Couponing” craze is one such example of this as those people who follow these methods clip every coupon every week.  If I can buy a can of beets for 10 cents each why not do it?  Because nobody likes beets, they’re garbage, they taste gross and you just wasted your money! This is the opposite of not using your discount when the amounts are small.  You use the discount on items that are deeply discounted, but do they offer a value to you?  If you were some kind of masochist with a beet addiction 100 cans of beets is a fantastic deal and likely saved you about $100, but if you are a normal human being then you probably would have been better off burning the $10 you spent.

This phenomenon is not only present in the extreme couponing circuit.  In fact, every trip to Target provides an opportunity for those demons lurking on the endcaps to claw at your soul.  As you walk the perimeter of the store you see the red homing beacon that are the red clearance stickers.  They sing to you from the cream colored shelves like Sirens in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Powerless over the possibility of saving tremendous amounts of money you are pulled into their orbit.  Assuming you are not currently reading this while at Target, let’s speak rationally about these fine deals.  Clearance items are only a deal if these are things you would normally buy anyway.  If you have been looking for a bedding set, and had decided on one that was $300 and you find one on clearance for $50 this is a superb deal.  By contrast if you are walking down the aisle and see 80% off a camo beer coozy that says , “My neck may be red, but I’m well read” don’t buy it.  Actually, you’re probably getting this ironically, you can go ahead and get that.  The point is that these items that are “only a dollar” really tend to add up over the course of the year.  In fact these can add up far faster than the “only a dollar” rewards my wife loses when she fails to use the right credit card.

It’s far too easy to base your savings off the MSRP rather than what you truly value an item to be worth.  A better exercise would be to look at these clearance items and ask, “Do I need it? Do I really want it? Would I buy it anyway?  What is it worth to me?”.  So if you walk past the endcap and sunscreen is on sale at 75% off go ahead and pick some up because you probably need it and if you don’t buy it now you will buy some day.  If you walk past the aisle and there is something you have always wanted, but price has kept you from buying it then I think this is a fair purchase.  The Suze Ormans of the world would disagree and advise you to only buy absolute necessities,  fund your emergency savings, fully fund all retirement accounts and then with anything leftover spend money on your wants.  My opinion on this is that sometimes you need to spend some money on the things you want.  So if there is a lamp or shirt you think looks great buy it.

The problem with these deep discounts is that we often go overboard on these clearance items.  In the haze of getting a great deal we often make purchases of things that we do not need or even really want.  As I am composing this my wife came in the door with 3 big bags from Target.  She purchased an $18 lifejacket for $5.38, not a bad deal since our kids will need a lifejacket next year and if she did not make the purchase on clearance we would have paid closer to 20.  However, she also purchased a rug which was on sale for $7.50, she wanted a rug, but I have a feeling that all things equal she never would have bought this style.

My wife happened to be the person who peaked my interest on this topic.  She said, “I used to never look for sales and just buy things I wanted.  I think that I spent less back then than I do now.”  Her hypothesis was that when you go into a store and do not look at prices (but have limited funds) you only purchase things you really want.  Both of us have been guilty of going to Target and buying multiple items, especially clothing, which were on sale.  When my beautiful wife last cleaned out her closet there were multiple items new with tags.  Just as bad there were countless items that she wore only once.  She is not the only one guilty of this either.  I have gone into the store at certain times of the year and bought 5 pair of shorts, but only ended up wearing 3 of the pairs and only a couple times.  Once it’s time to wear them again I’ve undoubtedly gained or lost weight making them useless.

Rather than buying multiples of things you like a little, buying one thing that you really love can be a better deal.  At the beginning of the summer I bought one pair of golf shorts for regular price, but only bought one pair.  I wore these shorts a couple times per week all summer long.  At the end of the year they were 50% off so naturally I bought 5 pairs!  Yet I have worn each pair only once.  One pair is still in my closet untagged.  Basically I spent $20 and wore the shorts 30 times (60 cents per wear), but spent $50 on the discounted shorts and worn those only 5 times ($10 per wear).  So even though my closet looks better with more choices, I’ve likely wasted money overall.  Of course the best option would have been to buy only 1 or 2 pair on clearance and then wear them and I’m saving money.  The problem with clearance deals is they usually don’t work like that.  You end up overspending on things that you don’t need because you feel like you’re saving money.  Unless we think about this consciously we are all subject to doing it.  Which brings me to the question, does anyone want to buy a case of corn on the cob holders?  Accidentally bought too many.  Asking for a friend.

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Could You Live on $800 a week?

Recently on Real Time with Bill Maher there was a heated political debate (is there any other kind?) between those members of the panel.  One of the guests, Nicolle Wallace, believed that the minimum wage was fine where it is and that the government should let businesses decide what employees should be paid.  Then Mr. Maher posed the question, “Could you live on $800 a week?”,  Nicole Wallace look shocked and answered jokingly yes, immediately responding with “of course not”.  Keep in mind that $800 per week is $20 an hour which is far beyond the $10.10 that was being talked about.  $800 per week is about $42,000 per year which is not a king’s salary by any stretch, but also represents a much greater standard of living than our current minimum wage earning families.  Nicolle Wallace laughs that she cannot live on what amounts to double the proposed minimum wage and apparently sees no problem with this reasoning.

On the surface these words and actions may not seem overly callous, but to me they cut deep.  People who have no trouble following this line of thought obviously have a sense of entitlement that I cannot fathom.  Ms.  Wallace sees $42,000 a year as a paltry sum of money that the mere mention of living on that amount is laughable.  From her vantage point everyone is paid what they are worth and she is worth more.  She would never even have to entertain the notion of $42,000 a year, much less the $21,000 per year that closer represents the proposed minimum wage.  She imagines that the only people who make minimum wage are high school kids and those too lazy to go out and get “a real job”.  Perhaps those people making less than $10 an hour enjoy making such a small sum of money and find it hard to give up such a great gig.  These people are not only earning these low wages, but expected to live off them and often support a family.  I’m sure they would relish the opportunity to make $800 a week, not laugh at how living on it is unrealistic.

If I was posed the same question I would respond affirmatively because I know that I could survive on $42,000 per year.  However, if someone asked if I could live on $400 per week I would honestly say that I could not do it.  If I were asked additionally if I think everyone should be paid at least enough to make $400 per week I would agree and find it difficult to argue otherwise!  I think I am setting the bar pretty low at half the wage you scoff at the idea of being able to live off.  The minimum wage needs to be a wage that is large enough to cover necessities, including health insurance and food.  If you are viewing twice the proposed minimum wage as not enough to cover your life expenses, but feel comfortable with others trying to support a family on that do some self reflection on why you feel so entitled.

Do not get it wrong or try to spin my words, I am not saying that everyone should be earning enough money to own a yacht or be Jay Gatsby.  I am not even advocating a wage that supports lighting imported Cuban cigars with $100 bills (much less $1,000 bills).  However, in a civilized society we should at least have some minimum standards in place for those citizens who go to work for us every day.  Not only do these workers make more in their jobs, they are less reliant on government supplementing income and have more money to spend in the economy.

I look at money as a necessity for life in the same way that I view drinking water.  If someone asked me if I could live on 4 glasses of water per day and I say, “of course not”, it seems like I have a pretty good barometer of what should be the minimum available to sustain their life.  If I was then asked if half that amount should be the minimum water consumption I feel confident that I would want people to earn an amount of water that would at least support their life.

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Philosophy on value? Pay the Least Anyone has Paid.

I recently overheard a salesman tell a potential customer that for their budget they needed to lower their expectations.  This kind of mentality drives me absolutely crazy.  Obviously there are situations where people have champagne tastes on a beer budget.  In these cases it’s absolutely reasonable to lower expectations to be more aligned with your budget.  For instance, if I go to a car dealership and expect to get a brand new BMW for the same price as a used KIA, then I probably need to adjust my expectations with reality.  Usually though, if you do your research, you will realize that there is always a better deal to be found.

The couple that I observed were looking for the biggest television that they could get for their money.  From what I gathered they had about $1,000 to spend and did not want an off brand television, they also wanted an LED.  The salesman basically told them that the biggest they could get was a 50 inch.  They seemed to listen to him, but were disappointed.  He presented, as fact, that they either needed to lower expectations or raise their budget.  I knew from personal experience that this was just a blatant lie.  I just purchased a 60 inch LED television for $847 after taxes and everything.  I have seen cheaper televisions this size, but my goal was to maximize value.  On that particular day the salesman was not lying to the couple as there were no great deals going on, but the point is that the better deal will come to those who wait.

It’s easy to just assume that you could sacrifice quality at the expense of value, but this is a false choice to make.  If I go to the grocery store today and bananas are $1.90 a pound unless I cannot wait another moment to buy bananas I will forgo them because I know the price will fall.  The grocer will not come over and say, have you thought about dry beans instead?  I know what I want and I know what price I want to pay.  I will buy bananas at 38 or 48 cents a pound, but even at 58 cents per pound they are not out of the question.  I think the same holds true to many purchases.  If I am looking for a vehicle and want to spend $8,000 and find a used Honda Pilot that books for $14,000 on sale for $9,000 I will still consider this car even though it is 25% over my budget because that extra $1,000 will get me an extra $5,000 in value.  In this example I am making the assumption that the car is really worth 14k, but the seller is motivated.  My point in this exercise though is that even with a budget number in mind it’s good to stay flexible.

When I research prices for an item, my goal is to find a good price and then buy the item for a great price.  If I am looking at a TV I do not want to compromise, but I want the item I want cheaper.  Basically, I want to buy any item at the cheapest price anyone else might have paid.  It’s not that I think I am special, but I do think that if a company can sell a product to one customer at a certain price, and make a profit, then why shouldn’t I get it at the same price?

This is true of products where I use the MSRP and average price as a guide, but will research to find a better price.  Then I try to adjust my expectations accordingly and take advantage of sales.  This is especially true of hotel rooms and car rentals.  My wife and I stayed in a hotwire low priced hotel one night for 40 bucks.  We were not completely satisfied, but for the minimal price it was hard to complain too much.  The next morning at breakfast I overheard another couple saying that they had paid $90 per night and to extend another day would be $105.  This made me a bit angry.  I was certainly glad I scored the hotel room for such a low rate, but if I had been the person paying $90 and a guy next to me paid $50 I would be livid.  I actually let the guy know that if he booked on hotwire he could get the same hotel for $40 and he did just that.  The point I am trying to make is that a better price may be available and it may not even be too difficult to find.  It’s not that I am cheap, but I absolutely want to maximize value in every dollar I spend.

I look at it as a value ratio that would be measured by a simple formula of quality / dollar.  I want to get the most quality, taste, or value per dollar that I spend.  When I buy a car I want to get the best car that I can buy for the money.  When I buy a house I want to get the best $ per square foot, without skimping too much on fixtures.  If I can get a plane ticket for $150 roundtrip why would I pay $300 for the same trip?  These are all adjustable expectations and some are clearer than others, but the point remains that I want to stretch every dollar that I spend. I’ll spend a little more for a little more quality and sacrifice a little quality if it can save me a lot of money.  Overall, these are decisions that every individual makes, but if you are mindful of value maximization you are better off in the long run.

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Now until December 31, 2014 any Flight Booked on Southwest is Buy One Get One Free!

You read the title correctly folks, for the next 16 months any flight that I book on Southwest will include a free ticket for my wife!  Unfortunately, this does not apply to everyone, but only applies to very valuable customers such as myself.  As I have tried to make clear throughout every post of this blog, I am not particularly affluent.  I do enjoy traveling, but the fact is that I have not been on an airplane in about 8 years and my wife has never flown.  This makes having the ability to fly so inexpensively even more exciting for me.  Yesterday, I signed into my Rapid Rewards account and found the following:

Southwest Companion Pass Earned

 

As the above photo states there are two ways to earn a “Companion Pass”.  Method A, requires making 100 “qualifying flights” during one calendar year.  As I have already stated, I have made 0 flights in over 8 years.  The other method is slightly more attainable.  Method B, requires you to earn 110,000 rapid reward points over the course of one calendar year.  That is the one I did.  As you can see above, I have accrued 110,519 points.

 

How did I do it?

Obviously that sounds like a ton of points and it is, but there are definitely some shortcuts to take to get you there quickly.  The first thing that I did was sign up for two Southwest Credit Cards, each one had a 50,000 point bonus.  After meeting the $2,000 spending I had 104,000 points in my account!  Gathering the next 6,000 was not quite as easy.  I continued to use my credit cards to gather points at a rate of 1 point per dollar spent.  This earned me 2,116 additional points (I would have much rather signed up for another credit card and received a nice bonus).  I also used the Southwest shopping portal this earned me 303 extra points.  I could have really maximized this method, but it seemed that I always waited too long when a great reward came along.  Some of the best included 9 points per dollar at Staples and 6 points per dollar at sears.  I was going to buy a TV from Sears and that would have earned me the 6,000 points no problem.  I messed around waiting for a big reward total and then feared I would miss getting the pass in time for my flight.  Although transfering points from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count toward the pass, transfers from Hyatt do count.  I transferred 8,000 points from Chase to Hyatt, then those 8,000 points turned into 3,600 Southwest points.  Not a great ratio compared to Chase’s 1 to 1 ratio, but still earned my pass.

I booked my flight for October back in June when the prices got very low.  With the 110,000 points in the account I was able to book flights from Louisville, KY to San Diego, CA for 18,000 points round trip.  If my wife and I were the only two flying we could fly across the country for 18,000 points total.  We spent another 18,000 points for my daughter’s ticket, but it’s still pretty amazing that a family can fly across the country for 36,000 points especially when those points all came from signing up for a couple credit cards.  Each card had a $100 fee, so we will be able to take 3 round trip, cross country trips for $200 bucks.  If we leave the kids at home we would get even more value.

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School Supplies Breaking the Bank? You’re Doing it Wrong.

“…She will spend an estimated $600 this year on school supplies and uniforms for her two children”.  – Kentucky Standard This quote appeared in my local newspaper and I could not help, but think that she was doing something wrong.  A typical school supply list can be found for about $30 – $40.  This means that this lady estimates that she will spend another $260 per child on direct school costs.  Even if we assume that this student has no other clothes to wear and everything needs to be purchased new $260 is still a nice sum.   Without seeking out deeply discounted sale prices I could find polo shirts for $10 each on any given day.  If she followed my advice to buy when things are on sale she could purchase them for half that amount.  Currently on Old Navy.com they have boys polos for $5 each.  Even if she bought the boys 10 shirts each she would only pay $50 per boy.  Uniform Khakis and Navy Blue pants are both $10 right now, so assuming 5 pair of those she would only spend $50 on pants.  I am sure the boys already have shoes, but shoes can be easily found for $40 or casual canvas shoes for $10 (I bought a pair of each yesterday running shoes $40 and canvas shoes $6).  Let’s do our math.

School Supply List         $80

Shirts                            $100

Pants                            $100

Shoes                             $80

I estimate that she could spend $360 a year on these items, buying extra loose leaf paper, pencils, pens and notebooks now and she would still pay less than $400.  I feel that my estimate goes far beyond necessity.  Each boy will not need 10 shirts or 5 pair of pants for one school year, but I still allowed for this amount.  Also she overpaid on the typical school list by about $10 per student.  The point to remember is that there are almost always savings to be had if you are vigilant and aware.  You know all year long that your child will be starting a new school year in the fall.  Buy things throughout the year when they are on sale.

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Identifying and Stopping Your Disguised Luxury Category

When you read the word “Luxury” what kinds of things immediately come to mind? Yachts, diamonds, private jets, private islands and other extravagances likely take shape in your mind’s eye.  All of these items are fine examples of luxury in celebrity terms.  The term luxury to the common man does not need to be quite as lavish.  The term luxury as I am addressing it concerns an item or service that is not a necessity.  Food is a necessity, but dining out is a luxury.  Clothing is a necessity, but $100 jeans are luxuries.

Looking over budgets of other people and examining my own spending habits I have picked up on a strange trend.  It seems like almost every person has at least one category where they are unfazed by their spending.  We all share a common category, in gasoline, that relates to my observation.  We can buy fuel efficient vehicles and change our driving habits, but ultimately when it’s time to fill up our gas tanks we pay whatever price is asked of us.  This is because gas is viewed primarily as a necessity.  In my family I have found this category is food.   I can go back and forth in an internal dilemma with myself before making a $15 purchase, but for some reason spending $15 on food never really phases me.  My wife has the same ability with food, but also has no trouble buying new clothes even when she would not spend otherwise.  Other people may smoke a pack of cigarettes every day, even though this is a $1,500 per year luxury they don’t even flinch.

The main point in finding these categories that you spend easily is to allow yourself to prevent unnecessary expenditures.  This is the category that needs more vigilance to keep expenses at bay.  Also, you can use these categories to buy other great things.  For instance, at one point I had a phone that would shut down, not get service much of the time and just be generally inefficient.  I wanted a new phone that was $250, but found the expense to be excessive.  Then I looked at my spending and realized that I could cut my food spending by $10 a day by eating at home more often.  After one month that would save me $300 compared to the previous month’s spending.  Even though each meal only lasted for a few minutes I had no problem spending that money, but a phone that I use everyday needed to be justified.

I try to evaluate what is important to me on a regular basis and can create short term goals for myself.  If I can cut these menial luxuries then I will have money to spend on the luxuries I really enjoy.  If I could save $10 on food or cigarettes I would have an extra $3,650 every year that I could put toward new phones, vacations or other aspects of life that are more fulfilling than spending money to fund bad habits.

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The Most Important Financial Tip (and Weight Loss) You Will Ever Read

 

 

The most important financial tip (and weight loss) you will ever read! This same advice can be generalized to other aspects of your life and help you there too!  This one tip can even help you manage money, lose weight, reduce stress and become a more informed person! This sounds like a late night infomercial claim made by a greasy guy (probably sporting a pony tail) in a cheap suit, but it’s actually the truth.  For my money this is a tip that I would be absolutely lost fiscally if I did not do this.  The answer of course, as you have probably guessed, is winning the lottery.  Then when you win the lottery hire a dietician and personal trainer and you will look great!  Unfortunately there is no easy fix such as this that is 100% foolproof even having great sums of money (I’m looking at you M.C. Hammer and Mike Tyson) is absolutely useless if you do not follow my real financial tip.

Make that cheddar

 

Let’s imagine that we have some weight to lose.  You go to your doctor and say, “I’ve been trying to lose weight for a month and have not lost a pound”.  Assuming that this doctor does not go immediately to some weight loss drug or recommend lap band surgery what will she need to know?

She will ask, “What have you been doing to lose weight?”

You will obviously reply, “I have been eating really good and working out”.

At this point is where there is a problem because your data are flawed.  Many people who are unsuccessful at losing weight or reshaping their body do not know what “eating really good” is in the first place.  I remember for about 3 hours 10 years ago I had a six pack.  This was achieved through disciplined exercise and eating.  I remember at a work potluck I remained in my office.  One of my co-workers came into my office devouring a giant slice of cake, “Hey you need to get some food back there”.

I said, “No thanks, I brought a lunch.” As I ate my grilled chicken breast and broccoli secretly wanting to eat some cake and other baked goods.

She responded, “Come on, you don’t need to eat that, you’re not even fat”

This exchange was immediately reminiscent of the old Head and Shoulders commercial where the woman says, “You use Head & Shoulders?  But you don’t have any dandruff?!?!?!?” and the guy says, “Exactly”.  Knowing that his lack of dandruff was due to his diligence in choosing a shampoo that kept his scalp flakes at bay.  Equally important when I lost weight and had a six pack was making my goal and sticking to it.  I knew that eating healthy food and exercising were very important to implement my plan.  However, when I was starting I did not realize how unhealthy I was in the first place.

It is impossible for a doctor or accountant to develop a plan for you based on “I have been eating really good and working out”.  We need to have a detailed account of what we have been doing as it relates to the aspect of our life that we would like to change.  If you come to your doctor with a baseline of all the foods you have consumed and exercise you have done she can help you from there.  It is too easy to say that you have been eating really good, but leave out the Coke you drank or maybe you are eating “Fat Free” cookies thinking that these are healthy snacks.

Using Financial Software

Since May 2004, I have tracked every dollar I have earned and spent.  This is the most important financial tip I can share!  With more information available one can make better, informed, decisions.  If I am not tracking my spending and spend a few bucks on lottery tickets every few days that is no big deal.  Where did all the money in my wallet go?  If I am recording every dollar I will see that I am spending $500 a month on lottery tickets, then I know where I need to cut expenses.   This is a drastic example and I would hope that if you are spending six thousand dollars a year on lottery tickets that you are at least cognizant of this wasteful spending.  This record keeping is useful in multiple ways.  Obviously it allows me to track the money I have made and how that money has been spent.  In many ways it also acts as a personal diary.  I can look at a few consecutive transactions and recall specific events of a day from nearly 10 years ago.  Sure, I already have a fantastic memory, but if I allow myself a few pieces of information it allows me to be transported back to that day (YMMV).

Why I Started this Record Keeping

In May of 2004 I bought a new computer and had a free copy of Microsoft Money.  I found myself constantly opening my wallet and thinking, “Where did my money go?”, I usually did not have an easy answer.  Sometimes I could retrace my spending, but usually I just let it rest.  Once I had the program and more financial responsibilities I decided to give it a try.  Although I spent less money in 2004 it was actually more labor intensive to track.  Most of my expenses were paid with cash which is not exactly optimal for recording expenses.

Recording Cash (Tip)

One trick that I developed at that time was to create a category called “Cash” and whatever amount was in my wallet was reflected in this account.  The first few transactions I would laboriously track all of my spending down to the penny.   I quickly learned that this was not time efficient, nor was it a viable option for long term spending.  I decided to devise a rounding system that worked for me.  If I went out to the grocery and purchased a soda that was $1.06 and I handed them two dollar bills,  I would record it as $2 and then put the change in a jar.  If I paid with one dollar bill and six cents of change I would record it as $1.  I only treat dollar bills as money for the sake of recordkeeping in my wallet.  I found that this minimalizes the work involved in recording money spent.  It also acts as a form of savings by never spending change, even quarters, I was saving a fairly substantial amount.

Recommendations

I personally use Quicken, but mostly because it was very easy to import my data from Microsoft Money which I used because it was included with my computer.  Mint is a very good free internet based platform that even includes an app for your phone.  If I were just starting out with keeping my data I would start here.  The most important thing is that you keep it in whatever manner is most conducive to you actually doing it.  You can have the most advanced financial software developed by NASA, but if you never use it then it is useless.  If you would use a notebook or ledger on the other hand you should definitely use that instead.  Maybe I am too trusting, but I link all of my banking accounts into Quicken and Mint and download these transactions every few days.  I then go through and categorize spending appropriately.

Using Data

Once you have data on your spending you will be able to use this to implement changes nearly immediately.  Another funny phenomenon happens by virtue of your own awareness you may actually spend less.  You start to make the decisions up front about purchases you may regret.

This same thing happens even more when you are trying to keep track of what you are eating. You look at the number of calories per serving and rethink even eating it.   If you are losing weight write down what you eat and round up on the servings you are consuming.  These kinds of data are not only important for getting help from others, but greatly improve self reflection.  It’s easy to say I don’t spend much money on food, but when I break down spending it becomes a little more clear.

 

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Southwest Deals Abound

If you are not a Southwest Rapid Rewards Member you should sign up now and get 750 points just for signing up!  This bonus alone will eventually be enough for nearly $15 worth of travel.  Southwest is currently offering their credit cards with 50,000 point bonuses again, which will get you at least 2 round trip tickets.  This is a very good deal, but can actually be made better with a little bit of work.

Companion Pass

I got in on the offer last time and signed up for both the Personal Premier and Business Premier credit cards.  These both offer 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 in 3 months.  Spending $2,000 in 3 months is very easy to do if you shift all spending to your card.  The annual fee for these cards are $99 each, but after the bonus and spending you will have 104,000 points.  These points count toward a companion pass!  Southwest offers anyone that gets 110,000 points in one calendar year a companion pass which is good for unlimited flying of a companion.  So if I book a flight with either points or cash my wife’s (or whoever you identify as your companion) flight is free!  So, the $198 in annual fees leaves me with 104,000 points that I can use toward travel and my wife will fly with me.  Currently there is a great sale where a trip from Louisville, KY to Denver, Colorado would only cost 10,560 Southwest points per roundtrip ticket, but with the companion pass my wife and I could both fly for 10,560 total.  This is a very lucrative bonus especially for infrequent fliers such as us.

 

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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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