Funny about Money

Simple Living = Frugality = Peace of Mind: Personal Finance and Stress Control

June 28, 2016
by funny
0 comments

Why Your Insurer Asks about Your Dog…

Doobie cropped

Why? Why, Lord, why?

Why does a prospective insurer ask you if you have a dog and, if so, what kind of dog it is before issuing you a homeowner’s policy?

Well, the obvious answer is that some breeds have a reputation for biting — no matter how much you love pit bulls and other kinds of molossers, you can’t deny the statistics. Dogs bite: some 4.7 million times a year, leading 800,000 humans to seek medical attention, of whom 386,000 will need emergency treatment. A third of all homeowner’s liability claims result from dog bites, at an average cost per claim of $32,072. Every year, the insurance industry shells out over a billion dollars for dog-bite claims.

Figures related to breeds can be confusing — even the placid golden retriever has been responsible for dog-bite fatalities, although a 2000 CDC report showed pit bulls and Rotweilers accounted for 67 percent of fatal attacks.

My son, a claims adjustor for a major US insurance company, once remarked that the most serious injuries insurers cover result from dog bites.

So, on the surface, it sure looks like dogs are a menace on four wheels feet, eh?

Well. Yeah. However…

The problem, IMHO, is not so much the ferocious dog as the stupid human. What we’re looking at here are statistics largely related to human stupidity.

Dogs allowed to roam loose or walk off the lead
Dogs that have been abused
Energetic working dogs cooped up in someone’s house or apartment
Dogs that have never been adequately trained
Dogs not given enough to do to work off energy
Dogs left unattended outside in a yard, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month
Dogs bred to fight
Dogs bred as “guard dogs”
Dogs whose innate aggressive tendencies have been encouraged
Children not taught how to behave around dogs
Adults who don’t know how to behave around dogs
Kids allowed to tease dogs
People who get drunk or stoned around dogs, putting themselves at risk
Humans who overall lack good sense

Oh yeah — and the occasional hapless burglar.

If you look at media reports — many of which admittedly are dramatized by way of selling papers and baiting clicks — you see that the vast majority of dog attacks involve some degree of  human stupidity.

Leaving a tiny infant accessible to a large dog.
Keeping pit bulls with young children in the house
Having six dogs around an 87-year-old woman
Keeping a male pit bull, a female pit bull in heat(!), and a 12-year-old in the same house
Keeping dogs (time after time after time!) that had previously demonstrated aggression
Chaining dogs outside in yards
Letting dogs run loose around a neighborhood or in rural areas
Allowing small children to approach food-defensive dogs while they’re eating(!!)…one could add “keeping food-defensive dogs at all after a child is born”
Attempting to feed strange dogs
Keeping six pit bulls(!) around the house
Mother sleeps through attack that kills 7-day-old infant sleeping next to her in the bed (what do we drink? what do we snort? what do we shoot up?)
Mother sleeps through dachshund chewing both legs off an infant (ditto)
Keeping nine dogs with a three-month-old baby
Starving dogs until they attack to obtain food
Leaving six-month-old baby alone with large molosser-type dog
Bringing nine-day-old infant into home with five molosser dogs
Interfering in a dog fight involving pit bulls, armed with a garden rake
Allowing six-year-old to try to ride a pit bull like a horse

Oh god. You could go on and on.

A tiny minority of these reports involve people who are just going about their business and dogs that have never been a problem and apparently never were abused. But about 99.9 percent of the cases entail some kind of stupid behavior on the part of the humans involved.

This brings us to the stupid human incident of the day. No: to the two stupid human incidents of the week.

Stupid Human Incident the First

At this time of year, the corgis and I have to leave the house by 5 a.m. if we’re to get in anything like a dog-and-human walk. So a couple of days ago, we’re out the door shortly after the crack of dawn. About a half-mile from the house, as we enter Richistan (the upscale part of the ‘hood to the east of us), we come upon our neighbor Josie and her daughter with their three Chihuahuaoid dogs.

Josie has the hilarious custom of rolling one of the Chihuahuas around in a baby carriage, on the theory that even though the critter is too old to walk very far, it loves to go out and get fresh air. This is very cute, and as you can guess, Josie is imbued with a degree of charm.

Okay, so Josie y su hija, also a grown woman and, to boot, a law-school graduate, are standing around schmoozing with a neighborhood fixture, a sweet and lonely old guy who amuses himself by driving around and feeding the local cats. If you pass by while he’s out of his car sprinkling cat food on the pavement, he’ll waylay you and feed a treat or two to your dog.

One of the Chihuahuaoids is a mean little bastard. It threatens to attack anyone who comes within ankle-biting distance.

So when I see this clutch up ahead, I veer out into the street to get around them, it being a little early in the morning to enjoy breaking up a dogfight.

Josie & company take the opportunity to slip away.

Naturally, Old Guy pursues me and my dogs.

He asks if it’s OK to give the dogs a treat. I say, “I wish you wouldn’t.”

This is far from the first time I’ve asked this guy NOT to give Milkbones to my dogs.

Why am I such a Scrooge that I don’t want some random guy giving my dogs treats? Let us count the ways…

  1. They are corgis. Looking at a Milkbone causes them to put on a pound. Possibly a pound per glance.
  2. They have their own treats. Load them up with Milkbone calories, and when I reward them with their treats for this or that achievement they get too many extra calories.
  3. Ruby is all over the guy, jumping up on him and totally out of control. I do not want her to get the idea that strangers will give her treats for jumping on them.
  4. My dog is not your teddy bear.

Ignoring “I wish you wouldn’t,” the old guy grabs a Milkbone out of his car, snaps it in two uneven pieces and tosses them to the two dogs. Ruby grabs the largest piece, which is about 2/3 of a Milkbone made for a Great Dane.

Forthwith, she starts to choke.

Actually, she’s having a reverse-sneezing attack, a common spasmodic condition among corgis. A mild incident looks like this:

When it comes on her with this thing in her mouth, unsurprisingly the crud goes down the wrong way.

Now she’s choking and horking and choking and horking and choking and horking and choking and horking. I realize I’m going to have to get her to the emergency vet — at five in the morning! — but we’re a half-mile from my house and that facility recently moved. I’ll have get her back to the house, look up the veterinary, figure out where the place is, and drive her down there. Meanwhile, my dog is choking to death.

Cassie’s lead tied to a belt loop, I snatch her up off the pavement and start hiking home as fast as I can go. About the time we get to the point where I think I simply can NOT carry her another step, she finally stops heaving.

This has gone on for a good ten or fifteen minutes. But once the spasms stop, she recovers well enough to walk the rest of the way home.

You realize: not only have I told this guy repeatedly not to give my dogs Milkbones, but this is not the first time such an episode has happened! Is there a reason the guy can’t remember that she had a spasmodic attack the last time he handed her a “treat” over my objections?

See what I mean about stupid  humans?

So I figure that as long as it’s hot, Cassie and Ruby and I will have to stay out of our favorite part of the ‘hood, since this guy haunts at sunrise.

Stupid Human Incident the Second

So this morning we head south and end up in the park.

I know better than to enter the park at dawn because a LOT of people let their dogs run off the leash there. There’s the constant risk of a dog fight, because these folks don’t seem to understand that the leash laws protect their dogs and them as well as their fellow citizens who pay taxes for the privilege of using the park, too.

It looks clear, though, so I figure we can stroll through one quarter of the park, then come back around and loop through the ‘hood to the south of the Funny Farm, easily racking up a mile or so on the way home.

But naturally, pretty quick along comes an old guy with an aged black lab wandering around loose. Very nice dog: it’s too old and too mellow to argue.

So I’m standing there chatting with him, when along come some dog-walking friends from the Richistan Trail with their strange and funny-looking mutt.

This adorable dog, which is about the size of the lab, is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. It has champagne-colored curly fur all over and weird blond eyes. I mean, its eyes are a sort of pale transparent tan, very light.

Before they rescued it from the Humane Society, it had been abused. It’s afraid of people, especially men. They’ve been socializing this dog over the past year or 18 months, and the critter has come a long way.

One thing they do to try to convince the dog that it should be happy is take it to the park and let it run around on about a 50-foot lead. The dog loves this, and the interaction it has with other people and their dogs seems to be calming its neuroses considerably.

The old guy wanders off with his lab, and we’re standing there chatting. The ill-trained Ruby wants nothing more than to jump all over this dog (as she jumps all over everyone and everything). Dog is afraid of other dogs, too, but has pretty well overcome this fear and seems to recognize she’s playing.

As I’m about to go on my way, the dog takes off for a romp, dragging this long leash behind. He’s run around me and now wrapped my feet like a Maypole.

And when he shoots off across the park, he yanks me off the feet before his humans can stop him.

I manage to avoid falling on the ground, which has just been irrigated and is your basic pool of mud. This is good, because I have osteoporosis in one hip and would likely have broken that hip if I’d hit the dirt.

What I get instead is a rope burn around both ankles:

leash burn

Doesn’t look like much, but lemme tellya: THAT HURT!

Is this their stupidity, my stupidity? Yeah: combined  human stupidity. They should’ve had their dog at heel and not let it race around until they were clear of other people and dogs. I should have been paying attention instead of yakking with my friends and letting Ruby bounce around.

Note to self: Stay out of the park, stupid!

It doesn’t leave a lot of places to walk in the neighborhood: Can’t go through Richistan. Can’t go anywhere near Conduit of Blight, which thanks to the train construction is now awash in bums and creeps. That leaves an area to the north of us, not the greatest part of the ‘hood, and a small area to the south. Boring.

About the only way to get any variety, then, as long as it’s hot, will be to put the dogs in the car and drive to the canal or take them to the Murphy Bridle Path along north Central. And between you & me, stuffing the dogs in the car, hauling them someplace, getting them out, stuffing them back in the car, and hauling them home is counterproductive. It’s enough hassle to discourage me from taking them out at all.

Hence, this rant.

Can anything constructive come of a rant? How about this…

How to Avoid Dog Bites

Never leave an infant or small child sleeping where a dog can reach it.

Close the bedroom door if the dog is at large in the house with you while the child is napping. Crate the dog or tie it by a leash to a doorknob if  you intend to nap while the child sleeps.

Never allow a child to tease a dog.

Never let a child to try to ride a dog.

Never leave a child unattended with a dog, in the yard, in a vehicle, or in the house.

Teach your children to stay away from dogs that are eating.

Crate-train your dog so that it can be kept out of harm’s way and gets a break from the kiddies. Train your children to leave the dog alone when it’s enjoying some private time in its crate.

Teach your child always to ask permission before petting a dog.

Teach your child not to wave her or his arms around when near a dog (dogs perceive this as a threat).

Teach your child to avoid unknown dogs and leave the vicinity if they see a loose dog.

Don’t allow your child to drag a small dog around, pick it up, or play “dress-up” with a dog.

Do not keep a pack of dogs in a household with children.

Never let your dog run loose. Anywhere. No, not even in dog parks. Especially not in dog parks.

Do not chain your dog outside in the yard.

Do not idiotically train your dog to be aggressive, and never keep a dog that has shown aggression toward humans.

Mmmm! Love human...for dinner...

Mmmm! Love human…for dinner…

Unless you’re an experienced trainer and you have exceptionally good sense, avoid molosser breeds. Many or most of these dogs have been bred as protection, fighting, or herding dogs; they are large, powerful, and potentially dangerous. Some are unpredictable and have a short fuse.

When you reach the age of decrepitude — say, over the age of about 60 — choose a pet dog that is not big enough or strong enough to overwhelm you. Bear in mind that you will not get any stronger as you get older, and that most large dogs can easily overpower an elderly or disabled person: not necessarily in an aggressive mode. Accidents happen…don’t invite any that are worse than they need to be.

Do not drink when you have a dog around.

Do not use drugs when you have a dog around.

Try to use common sense, forhevinsake. If you don’t have any, see if you can buy some! Maybe you can get an inoculation or something. Arghhh!

Image: Cane Corso, By Kumarrrr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1688119

 

 

 

June 26, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

What IS your freezer trying to say to you?

So I was finally reduced to cleaning out the chest freezer that resides in a back room. It was due for a clean-up when the whole stupid boob thing arose. During the year of surgeries that ensued, that chore was relegated to such a back bar that it was forgotten. And since then I haven’t much given a damn about anything unrelated to staying alive from day to day without losing what remains of my mind.

But now that I’m well again — for the moment — it seems good to catch up with the 87 gerjillion jobs, chores, obligations, and minor survival tasks that have gone by the wayside. One of those was shoveling out the freezer.

Quite a job: but it’s now done, and to finish up all we’re doing right now is waiting for the thing to cool back down into the sub-zero range so we can haul the food out of the refrigerator’s freezer, where we jammed it, and put it away neatly.

It was a serendipitous juncture at which to take on this chore: just as I was thinking about whether I want to continue shopping at Costco at all, and if so, to what extent.

How so, serendipitous? Well, because this freezer, itself a Costco product, accrues Costco purchases as a closet breeds coat-hangers in the dark. Videlicet:

FreezerFood

Click on the image for its full detailed glory

Whenever I buy a lifetime supply of meat — say, steaks or pork — I cut up the contents into meal-size portions and freeze them in individual packets, which go into small ziplock bags to be stored inside larger ziplock bags. Very handy.

Problem is, after the late, great gut surgery, a physician’s assistant informed me that I would never again be able to eat grilled meat, fried meat, roast meat, crisply cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, or salads. Whatever I would be able to tolerate would have to be cooked into mush, puréed, or dumped out of a can. Since I had subsisted on grilled meat, grilled veggies, and salad for quite some time, as you can imagine this bit of news rather killed my appetite.

So a great deal of food that was stashed in the freezer has just sat there for the past year or so.

Recently, though, it has come to my attention that

a) salad greens make the belly feel better, not worse;
b) grilled steak, grilled chicken, grilled fish, and grilled veggies have no ill effect;
c) I no longer give a damn one way or the other, anyway; and
d) To avoid going broke at the Costco and the grocery store, I might as well eat whatever is in the house.

Hence, the freezer-cleaning frenzy.

When I shoveled the thing out, this is what I found:

17 pieces of steak
4 hamburger patties
2.5 pounds of ground bison meat
2 gigantic bag of sea scallops
3 open packages of fish, each containing several servings
1 serving of leftover barbecued spareribs
4 packages of doves
1 pair of lamb ribs from a deconstructed rack of lamb
4 pieces of vacuum-packed yellowtail tuna

All told, these came to 43 servings of fancy protein.

This doesn’t count any of the other stuff in there: the collected bags of expensive flours donated by a choir friend; the sacks of frozen veggies; the this, that, and the other.

Since I don’t eat meat or fish every day, 43 servings amounts to at least two months’ worth of dinners. Probably more.

So…what is my freezer trying to say to me?

Quit buying food at Costco!
Moron! Do not ever spend $396 on groceries in a single month, ever again!

Seems like a fairly clear message…

LOL! Clearly, I won’t have to buy any meat except the usual cheapo dog schlock for the foreseeable future (at my age, “foreseeable” does not stretch not very far into the fog).

Have you cleaned out your freezer lately? Does it have a message for you?

June 25, 2016
by funny
4 Comments

Re-budgeting

All right. It’s true: I’ve neglected the budgeting over the past some months. Years. WhatEVER. More interesting obsessions came along, and I got bored with entering every little purchase in a spreadsheet by way of keeping the spending within bounds.

The thing is, when you do that, it does help to keep your spending under control. When you realize you have enough money to get by in the manner to which you have frugally accustomed yourself and so you decide to quit with the minutiae, that’s when your spending gets out of control.

The whole stupid Costco credit card thing and the adjunct concern about having to use my debit card or checkbook to shop there led me to think about how much money I actually spend at Costco.

How much DO I spend there, anyway?  And what if I stopped buying things at Costco altogether, it being the Mother of All Impulse Buy Vendors: would monthly expenditures drop?

Conveniently, the last time Intuit “updated” its online Quickbooks, they put it way beyond my meager techno-skills. I can’t use it at all, and only keep my accounts there for WonderAccountant’s convenience. So — here’s the convenient part — I happen to have an Excel workbook in which I’ve been keeping a shadow account of debits and credits, so that W.A. can tell who checks have been written to and what for. And come the end of May, six months of said debits and credits were neatly recorded.

Ergo…it was very easy to create a spreadsheet showing all expenditures of every variety and then sort them by vendor and by category. Then I averaged expenditures for each category over six months. What I discovered was pretty amazing.

The largest monthly expense, not surprisingly, is my share of the mortgage on the house my son and I co-own in lovely central Phoenix. That’s not something I can do much about, although it is a bone of contention with the financial advisor, who hates it.

Spending May 2016

Over the past six months, maintenance of the house and pool have racked up the highest average monthly expenditure (i.e., total up all the costs and divide by 6). Four reasons for that:

The $758 bill for the pool pump repair
A couple hundred bucks on new shelving for the work shed, much needed
And, after two years of neglect, I decided to buy plants and several beautiful (expensive!) Talevera pots to revive the outdoor sitting areas and gardens where I like to hang out.
There was a plumber’s bill in there, too…

Groceries, at an exorbitant $396, run a distant second to the house & pool. That’s even more astonishing than it seems, because in fact I buy most of my food, household products, and personal products at Costco.

There are two categories for tax-deductible medical bills: Med 1 (a) comprises one-time purchases — a prescription, for example, or a dentist’s visit. Med 1 Annual covers Medigap (Medicare supplemental insurance), Medicare Part D (prescription drugs), and long-term care insurance. If you combined those two categories into one, medical costs would come in third, after groceries, at a breathtaking $335 a month.

Costco, then, at “only” $283 a month, is actually fourth in average monthly expenditures. Without the pool pump repair, it probably would move up a notch, to third — any way you look at it, homeownership ain’t cheap.

Total expenditures for the house insurance, the car insurance, and an umbrella policy average $149 a month, probably not too exorbitant in context with the other spending categories. Once you get past those top eight expenses (mortgage through insurance), other spending is fairly modest.

Can you believe that $3 average over six months of car maintenance? 😀 I forgot to take the Dog Chariot in for its oil change between December and May! It’s still running. There is no freaking way I’m buying a new car!!!!! When it falls apart, I’m trading the pile of metal in on a mule.

So…when you add it all up, if you include the mortgage on the communal house, I’m spending $3140 a month, significantly more than I can afford. Without the mortgage (which is paid from funds I don’t use to live on), my actual living expenses come to $2540 a month.

Since my net Social Security income is $1200 a month, that would seem to pose something of a problem…

In fact, in the absence of the adjunct teaching income, I use a portion of the annual RMD (required minimum withdrawal) from a large IRA to live on, but when you include the $600 for the downtown house, you come up with a total spending figure just about equivalent to the entire RMD.

Since I would like to be able to reinvest as much as I can of that RMD, pretty clearly I’m going to have to cut expenses.

The $396 on  groceries is the first candidate in that department. It’s pretty inexplicable. Presumably it’s happening because I shop a lot at Whole Foods and at AJ’s, a local fancy grocery store. I’m not buying much of the dog food in grocery stores — Costco has good prices on chicken and especially on pork. I did start buying a fair amount of my meat at WF and AJ’s, because their offerings are far superior to anyone else’s, at least most of the time.

As a matter of fact, though, yesterday I picked up a spectacular grass-fed Black Angus steak from the quick-sale shelf at the Safeway: 30% off an already discounted price. If I would bestir myself to stumble into Safeway at the right time of day on the right day of the week, I could stock the freezer a lot more cheaply than I do.

I can’t do a lot about the utilities. Even though that entry ranks among the highest, the figure you see there is pretty modest — it reflects the winter months, when I don’t run either AC or heat and when not much water is needed to keep the xeric landscaping alive. Over the summer, it’ll be almost twice that much.

Gasoline is pretty cheap, between the low prices and the fact that I don’t have to drive across the city to go to work anymore. I hardly drive at all, really. As long as prices stay down, a $50 cash card from Costco will cover that monthly budget item. That obviates the problem of how I’m going to buy cheap Costco gas without their hateworthy new CitiGroup Visa card.

Then we have the issue of the medical costs. For older Americans, this is often — maybe we should say “typically” — one of the largest expenses. The older you get, the more things go wrong with you. And Medicare, though it’s a big improvement over Obamacare, isn’t cheap. Especially when you’re permanently unemployed.

A big bugaboo for all of us old folks is long-term care. A nursing home can pauperize you in a matter of months — one hopes to die before one gets sucked into one of those places. While I was working at ASU, I bought long-term care insurance, but after I was laid off the job I lost the right (heh!) to increase the monthly payments so as to have the insurance payout keep up with inflation. That hasn’t discouraged the company from raising its premiums by bracing amounts each year, so that now I’m paying $132 a month for insurance that will not cover me if I’m unfortunate enough to get locked up in one of those places.

That’s $1582 a year. Supposing that I manage to stay out of nursing care until I’m 80 — another 10 years — if I were to put that much into a savings account, I’d have $15,820 to fork over to custodians.

Right now, today, the typical cost of a nursing home in this area ranges from $2232 to $6572 a month. God only knows what it’ll be in 10 years. Lower-end homes are real holes, so figure that if you’re lucky, you’ll spend maybe $4000 to $5000 a month — today. That’s $48,000 to $60,000 a year!

Obviously, 10 years of savings accrued by canceling the long-term care policy and banking the premiums wouldn’t cut it.

Most people don’t spend years in nursing homes. They either recover and go home after a few months or, with any luck, die within a few months.

But… Oh, yes.

But: some people end up in those places for month after month and year after year. The proprietors clean their pockets of every single asset they have, forcing them to sell their homes, cars, stocks, artwork — everything — to keep themselves in an institution. Then, once the person is utterly destitute, the state takes over…but that means moving you into one of the low-end holes the inside of which we would all hope never to see.

If you’re one of the “most people,” then obviously long-term care insurance is not the best of all possible bets. But if you’re among the unlucky — and the woods are full of them — then LTC coverage will stave off the evil day that you’re completely broke, keeping you in a halfway decent place until you die. Unless, of course, you’re very unlucky, indeed.

It’s a gamble: one in which you bet against an insurance company that you’re going to lose in the game of life.

So, reflecting on this state of affairs, I gazed upon the spreadsheet and wondered where I can cut costs.

Number 1: I’d like to try staying out of Costco for the next six months, just to see what happens. I might go in there to pick up the lifetime supplies of toilet paper and paper towels — it’s such a luxury not to have to buy those things every time you turn around.

It’s a little hard for me to believe the grocery bills would go up if I quit buying things in Costco, especially if I would stick to Fry’s and Safeway for food and household items.

Amazon seems to be soaking up rather more money than one would desire. I could cancel the Amazon Prime — and why are they gouging me for something called “digital services” when I’ve never even been able to figure out how to download a movie from their cloud??? It would take a lot more Amazon orders than I make to save the equivalent of the monthly cost for Amazon Prime.

Shopping a little more consciously would cut the grocery bills. In the past I’ve cut routine bills simply by being aware that I need to be careful and by keeping close track of how much I’m spending, and where. I should be able to cut at least $100 from the cost of grocery-store junkets.

I could go back to the habit of never eating in restaurants. Period. Doesn’t seem like a $35 saving really justifies never, ever eating out. But…maybe. Every little bit helps.

If I drop the long-term care insurance, that will save $132 a month. But I think the commensurate risk would be unacceptable.

The only way to cut the really big expenses — house and pool, taxes, insurance — would be to move out of this house. A place without a pool would still require maintenance, but not as much. If I moved to Sun City, property taxes would drop by two-thirds and insurance would drop by half. However, utilities would rise, probably by 50% to 100%: Sun City is served by the rapacious Arizona Public Service, whose power bills are extortionate. Those houses out there were built before power cost much, and so they’re poorly insulated and expensive to air-condition.

And of course, we do have to deal with the fact that I don’t WANT to live in Sun City.

So WTF? Do I have a plan?

Yeah.

  1. Avoid Costco. Buy a cash card once a month for gasoline, and while there pick up a month’s worth of dog meat and restock paper goods as needed.
  2. Also stay out of Whole Foods. Purchase “organic” frou-frou at Trader Joe’s and Sprouts. Buy more food and household items at Fry’s, Target, and the new neighborhood Walmart down the street.
  3. Don’t buy any more clothes of any description.
  4. Next time an expensive repair happens to that pool pump, replace the thing.
  5. Quit eating in restaurants.
  6. Keep track of expenditures on a weekly basis. Budget specific amounts for categories and try to stay on budget.
  7. Dump the Amazon Digital, whatever that is.

If I could spend $240 a month less, that would bring my living expenses down to $2300: equivalent of my net Social Security plus net former adjunct earnings ($1100, prorated over 12 months). If The Copyeditor’s Desk keeps chugging along the way it has of late, it can disburse $1100 a month, allowing me to live on SS plus earned income.

Then the only part of the RMD that would be consumed would be the $600 a month for the downtown house, and that would leave a substantial amount of the RMD, after taxes, to reinvest in savings instruments.

June 24, 2016
by funny
3 Comments

Brexit Repercussions

Stellar SCM logo e-mail(17)(1)Chatting back and forth with the money managers at Stellar Financial Capital Management, here in uptown Phoenix. Eventually they came forth with this interesting rumination:

From the tone of the global markets today, not many investors were expecting the result of the referendum of the United Kingdom’s (UK) membership in the European Union (EU).  Voters had to know that an exit vote would have a negative short-term impact on their financial wellbeing, and were willing to trade that to go it alone, so to speak. Immigration became a key issue in the debate amid concerns that the UK government was unable to control in-migration, as membership in the EU ensures the free movement of people between member states.  Immigration issues may well have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Never a member of the Eurozone (political, economic, and currency union), the UK is a member of the EU (political and economic union), which is largely based on trade and freedom of movement throughout Europe. As a result of the UK vote, that relationship is set to be adjusted within the next two years. One outcome may be to shed the political and economic union associated with the EU and retain trade benefits (the UK has 120+ European trade deals) through a continued association with the European Economic Area, where it has been a member since 1994.  This would put the UK in a similar situation to Norway, which not part of either the Eurozone or EU. But the devil will be in the details of how the EU negotiates the exit plan for the UK.   An unintended consequence of the vote may be that Scotland and/or Gibraltar have second thoughts about remaining a part the UK, as both of those regions voted to stay in the EU.

The UK represents about 4 percent of global GDP, so the global financial market reaction is likely more a reaction to the potential ripple effects amongst other EU and Eurozone members. Financial markets hate surprises, and the S&P 500 finished down about 3.50% on the day (about even for the year), and the STOXX Euro 50 index finished down 8.50% (down about 12.5% for the year), and “safe havens” (US Treasuries and gold) finished higher, about what one might expect. This will be at least a two year process between the UK and the EU, so nothing besides emotions will change quickly.

The markets went from calmed to concerned virtually overnight, and there are good odds that the impact of Brexit is now priced into the market. There are now better odds that US monetary policy remains loose for the time being, as collateral damage is assessed. Not to make light of the situation, but with the British Pound Sterling at $1.36, a London vacation may be in the cards for some.

And, if you’re with me (or not!) in feeling that this development has bilious implications for the future of American politics, you should read this extraordinary essay by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A brief out-take:

The political center has lost its power to persuade and its essential means of connection to the people it seeks to represent. Instead, we are seeing a convergence of the far left and far right. The right attacks immigrants while the left rails at bankers, but the spirit of insurgency, the venting of anger at those in power and the addiction to simple, demagogic answers to complex problems are the same for both extremes. Underlying it all is a shared hostility to globalization.

He has a lot more to say on the issues, and he does know what he’s talking about. You really need to read the piece.

June 23, 2016
by funny
7 Comments

Brexit…

Holy sh!t.

Y’know what really worries me about this?  If the Brits could do something that stupid and self-destructive under a populist, xenophobic impetus, so can we. In the xenophobia department, our racism “trumps” theirs, any day.

We could end up with Trump in the White House. All of a sudden, it doesn’t look at all unthinkable.

Hope you had your assets positioned for this eventuality. I know my guys have moved out of some stocks into bonds…but maybe too little, too late.

Conversation at this morning’s business networking breakfast suggested (hopefully?) that US markets may benefit because money will move out of Britain, much of it in our direction. That remains to be seen, IMHO.

June 23, 2016
by funny
10 Comments

Citigroup Charges Costco Bill on Inactive Visa Card!

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Costco’s Big Move from American  Express to Citigroup’s Visa card went into effect two days ago.

I detest Citigroup and would not do business with them if they were the last bank on earth. The immediate cause for this disdain had to do with a charge that I needed to challenge, which led me to discover that Citigroup’s customer service doesn’t suck because Citigroup doesn’t have customer service. At that time, I canceled the Citigroup Visa I had and determined never to have anything to do with Citibank or Citigroup again.

So as you can imagine, I was dismayed when Costco announced it was dropping American Express, whose customer service is stellar, and replacing it with sh!t Citigroup Visa. I do not want to lose AMEX, so I sign up with them for two new cards, one for me and one for the S-corp, and figure that after the Costco Amex cards expire, I’ll pay with a debit card or a check if and when I shop at Costco.

Paid the last personal Costco AMEX bill on April 27 and the last corporate Costco AMEX bill on June 2. Balance on both cards: $0.00

Meanwhile, Citigroup sends me shiny brand-new Visa charge cards. The first to arrive, I dropped into a file folder, figuring maybe I should keep it, just in case. The second, for the S-corp, arrived two or three weeks later and got stuck in the pile of paper that mounds up on my desk like a sand dune until I shovel it off. Today I haul out the shovel and what do I find in one stack but this card, still stuck to its piece of paper.

I have never called the 800 number to activate either one of these cards. I decide I should cancel them both, given the ever-present chance of hacking and fraudulence.

But now, naturally, I can’t find the file folder where I deposited the first card. So I don’t have the card number. Maybe, I think, the guys at Costco’s customer service desk have it. Maybe they can even cancel the cards from their end.

Remember: neither of these cards has ever been activated. Hold that thought.

So I schlep to Costco in the 111-degree heat, hike across the 160-degree parking lot, and pounce the unsuspecting Costco CSRs.

😀

Not surprisingly, they can’t cancel either card. But they do come up with the last four numbers of the missing card. With this bit of data, they think, I should be able to cancel the missing card, especially if I tell a Citibank Visa CSR that it’s missing.

That, of course, is assuming I can get such a person on the phone. The piece of paper to which the corporate card is still stuck has NOT ONE CLUE to how to reach a human being. Nor does it show a snail-mail address. But the desk manager there does find a flyer that has a purported customer service phone number.

While I’m chatting with the Costco guys, I ask the manager if the membership fee is automatically charged to your credit card (since I haven’t been dunned at the cash register for awhile, this thought has crossed my feeble mind). He says that can’t happen unless you’ve specifically arranged to make that happen. I don’t recall having done so, but anything’s possible.

I drive home through the 111-degree heat and call that number, not expecting much. Citibank’s 3-step MO is to give you a) a recorded message telling you how busy they are (you, of course, being a prole, have nothing else to do but wait on the phone), then b) put you on hold for ten or fifteen minutes, then c) disconnect you. It’s almost impossible to get through to a person, and when you do, the poor wretch usually can do nothing for you.

Don’t believe me? Check it out! If that’s not enough for you, there’s far, far more.

But evidently Citigroup has tried to clean up its shoddy customer-service act for Costco, at least at the outset. It only takes about eight or ten minutes to reach a person, though that’s after I’ve called twice trying to make my way through the punch-a-button maze. This guy indeed is able to close the personal credit card account with nothing more to go on but the last four digits.

I should’ve told him I’d lost both the cards. But nooo…I cannot tell a lie! What is the matter with me?

When I give him the corporate card number and say I want to cancel that, too, he says he has to give me to some other CSR to do that. So again I wait about ten minutes till another guy comes on the line. Again I have to explain why I want to cancel: i.e., “I wouldn’t do business with Citigroup again if it was the last bank on the planet.” This is the fourth time I’ve had to say that today.

He says the card is now canceled, but I owe them $59.73.

Sidebar: Citigroup contrived to purchase American Express’s loans, so whatever might have been outstanding on the canceled Costco AMEX card is now an outstanding debt to Citigroup. Willy-nilly.

I say I don’t think so. The balance on the AMEX card was zero when I paid the bill and nothing has been charged on it since.

He says — get this! — the $59.73 charge is for the Costco membership!

WTF?

That means that Costco was able to charge a bill on a Visa card that has never been activated!

I say, I do not want my Costco membership automatically charged to any credit card and I did not ask to have that happen. Take it off! If (I think but do not say) I actually had arranged to auto-charge the membership fee, I would never have put it on the corporate card, because my son’s membership is on it, too. He is not on the corporation’s board and not an employee or contractor.

He says I’ll have to go back to Costco, have them issue me a refund, and then pay them with some other tool.

I schlep back through the 111-degree heat (the sky is clabbering up: it’s getting humid). I trudge across the 160-degree asphalt again. And I again pounce the customer service desk guys.

It takes some doing to explain to them that Citigroup engrossed this charge after the AMEX card had a $0 balance and so could not have transferred it over as an outstanding debt. It means that the membership fee must have been charged to the Visa card, since there was no way to charge it to the defunct AMEX card. The manager soon sees the issue. He agrees to issue me a refund on a card that has not been activated(!).

Amazingly, this works.

I now try to pay the membership fee on my debit card. But the payment won’t go through. Costco’s swipe machine won’t accept my PIN!

Understand, yesterday I racked up $80 at the Whole Foods on that card, with that PIN. I propose to pay with a check. He suggests I just not enter a PIN and it’ll charge as on a credit card.

Despite knowing that when you choose that option, the credit union’s debit card racks up debt on a Visa card (undoubtedly goddamn Citigroup’s), I decide this is the path of least resistance. I know it’s asking for trouble, because I’ve never once seen a bill from the CU after this has been done. But I think let’s just get this over with!

So pretty clearly I’m not going to be able to buy gas at Costco with my debit card. This a major inconvenience, because they have the best price on gas in town, and because their nearest gas station is much safer for a vulnerable single woman than anyplace else in the central part of the city. Oh well. I guess I can buy a cash card once a month or so and use that.

Or not. There’s a limit to how much unnecessary hassle I’m likely to put up with.

But the point here is that they somehow managed to charge up $60 on a credit card that was never activated.

Entertainingly, I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed this adventure: a current of pure rage is streaming through Costco’s website. A lot of people are saying Citibank is trying to charge them for transactions that they had already paid on their AMEX bills! So I guess I’m lucky $60 is their only unpleasant surprise.

If I find I can’t use the debit card to buy gasoline, I may look into Sam’s Club. Their website suggests their stores are very similar to Costco’s. Problem is, this area is liberally salted with Costco outlets — there’s one near every one of my beaten paths. To shop at Sam’s Club, I’d have to go quite a distance out of my way.

That might not be a bad thing, though. If you don’t shop in warehouse stores, you can’t spend copious amounts of money in warehouse stores…