Funny about Money

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

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

 

June 20, 2016
by funny
1 Comment

24-Hour Siesta Time

The_sun1Well, we could say it’s finally getting a little warm here at the Funny Farm. An hour ago, it was pushing 120 on the back porch. Not quite there: on the high side of 118, maybe 119. It’s 5:30 now and the temp has cooled to 115.

As nothing, though. A little berg called Piedra, west of Casa Grande on the I-8 on the way to San Diego via San Luis, supposedly was the hottest spot on the planet yesterday, at a Mercurial 127 degrees.

Keeping plants alive is a challenge in a heat wave like this. You want to water them several times a day to keep them from dying of plant heat exhaustion, but when you do that, you drown the damn things. Even the ultra-xeric plantings around my house are threatening to keel over. I’ve covered the single rose bush that gets direct afternoon sun with strips of shade cloth and old sheer curtains, but even with that protection, its leaves are burnt. The other roses, which really are the yard’s only plants that react badly to extreme heat, are planted in shady spots and so are doing OK.

Interestingly, though, the vitex in back is wilting. That is distinctly non-good, because it has grown into a tree and it helps a lot with the pool privacy issue that I created by removing the Tree from Hell.

The one in front, however, has not wilted. So I’m a little concerned that the limp leaves have less to do with the heat than with some problem with the tree itself. On the other hand, the one in front is a volunteer. It may be a little tougher by dint of its circumstances. Or maybe it’s a different variety of vitex.

Naturally, a sprinkler head in the front courtyard broke yesterday, causing a geyser and turning a quarter of the fenced-in area into a lake. Gerardo came by in the heat to dig it out and replace it. He hates the sprinkler system Richard put in lo! these many years ago, and we agreed that when the weather cools down, he and his guys should rebuild it.

Tomorrow a repair-dude is supposed to come over and fix the barbecue, whose igniter has busted. As long as they were going to charge me for a service call, I arranged to have him clean it. That is a job, and I’m not real thrilled about having a workman laboring out there, on my dime, at 1:00 in the afternoon. I’ve thought about calling the company and canceling, but on the other hand, that could mean the guy doesn’t get paid.

I dunno. I may call tomorrow morning and suggest we put off the job till the weather cools or at least until they can get him over here early in the morning, instead of at mid-day.

Sun

 

 

June 19, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

Hotter than a $2 cookstove? Not quite…

MorningSunNo, Virginia, it is NOT 120 degrees in lovely uptown Arizona today. Ridikulous hysterical journalists!

At 2:00 in the afternoon, it’s only 118° out there. This is about as hot as it’s likely to get today. And it’s really not that extreme. Around the first part of July, temps upward of 115° are common. It’s a little early. But Mother Nature does not schedule her moods according to the Gregorian Calendar.

This morning it was only 85° out there when Ruby, Cassie, and I took to the streets (about 4:30 or quarter to 5. Back at the Funny Farm, the Human booted the Bird out of the pool and took over the territory for itself. The water was fairly cool. Showering and washing my hair in the hose was even a little chilly.

We who are a Human then cleaned and backwashed the pool, its filter having become a bit clogged after the tree-trimming venture. Before it got much hotter, the Human had the floors vacuumed and the bathrooms cleaned.

The Dogs are shedding more than one would expect at this season–it’s only been a week or so since the last House Cleansing. Usually the place can go a couple of weeks without a serious cleaning. But as tufts of dog hair drifted through the air, I realized I was going to be forced to break out the vacuum cleaner. Phhphhhbbffttt! The thing was chuckablock full of dog hair after a quickie cleanup.

Then it was on to the bathrooms.

I really, really love those Mrs. Meyer’s household cleaners. They don’t stink too bad — the ideal flavor is “bluebell,” a mild scent that smells neither industrial nor annoyingly aromatherapeutic — and they really clean well. The laundry detergent, the glass cleaner, and the all-purpose surface cleaner all work very effectively.

They also have a toilet cleaner that actually works better than Lysol (!!!), but it only comes in “lemon verbena” and “lavender,” neither of which are my favorite scents.

A couple of days ago, in the absence of any immediately pressing editorial assignments, I succumbed to a frenzy of house-cleaning and went so far as to — hang onto your hat — clean the walls and woodwork.

The difference is amazing. I actually was thinking it was time to have the house’s interior painted. But scrubbing down the walls, which was energetic but not all that difficult, made such a difference that I think the paint job can be put off for awhile longer. Thank goodne$$.

I’d like to condition (not to say “oil,” which one should not…) the leather furniture and also oil the kitchen cabinets. But laziness trumps industry at this time of year. It’s been quite a while since I’ve applied orange oil to the kitchen woodwork…it’s quite a job, and until recently I haven’t been up for “quite a job.”

Orange oil, FYgeneralI, is really nice on furniture and real-wood cabinetry. It’s even better than lemon oil, and it smells better, too. I wouldn’t use anything else on the wildly expensive Thomas Moser creations that litter my house…but it also does wonders for the pine cabinets that Satan and Proserpine installed in the kitchen. (But DO be careful if you have light-colored wood or, of course, on untreated wood).

***

So lest you think  all this domestic energy signals a benign climate here in the Valley of the We Do Mean Sun…consider. Two hapless souls, both young people, dared to challenge the desert in all its summer severity, with dire consequences.

A pair of young men  took it upon themselves to hike the Peralta Trail, a parched and shadeless track through the Superstition Mountains. They left at 7:30 in the morning — about two hours too late — and failed to carry enough water with them. By 1:30 p.m. one of them, a 25-year-old, was gone.

And today another  young person — a 28-year-old woman — collapsed on a trail in one of the city’s mountain parks. It was only 9 in the morning, at which time the temps were around 95 or 100 degrees, and her party was only about a mile from the trailhead. Not likely she would have succumbed to heat exhaustion and dehydration after just a mile of hiking, especially since she was apparently quite fit. More likely she has some unrecognized physical condition.

I’ve hiked the desert in 100-degree-plus heat and, evidently, not died. But. I carried phenomenal amounts of water with me (you don’t even want to know how much a gallon or two of water weighs), and I stuck to the washes, where tangles of riparian brush and trees provide a lot of shade. If you simply must do any such foolish thing, you have to carry a great deal more water than you think you’ll need — and that probably will not be enough. And you have to hit the trail right at dawn, not a minute later.

Alas. Our imports from other parts of the country seem to have no clue.

Please. It’s hot here. Stay home. Don’t come to Arizona in the summertime.

Sun

June 18, 2016
by funny
10 Comments

Caveat Emptor: Amazon as Consumer’s Pal

All your base are belong to us!

All your base are belong to us!

So on the corgi forum where I hang out, I’ve read about this harness that hooks to the leash in front, instead of up at the back. The strange positioning of the leash clip discourages your dog from surging forward and dragging you down the street.

Perfect, think I, for Ruby the World-Class Iditarod Champion.

Yesterday I happen upon a new-to-me locally owned pet store, which just opened next to my habituated Trader Joe’s. When I go in to shoof it out, I run across one of these exotic harnesses. Naturally, I buy it: size medium. The cost: $39.99.

I put this on Ruby early this morning, when it’s cool enough to walk — along about 4:30.

Amazingly, it works as advertised: Ruby walks right along with me. Right from the git-go! She does not try to haul me to Yuma.

But, even though I tighten it as much as possible, it just doesn’t fit Ruby. In fact, it’s so loose she manages to climb out of it.

Luckily, Cassie heels as a matter of course. So I take her collar off her and put it on Ruby, who would take off for Yuma on her own if she got free for an instant.

Back at the Funny Farm, I happen to look up these Easy Walk harnesses on Amazon, by way of seeing what commenters have to say. And there, what should I find but that the things are going for $23, and one vendor is offering it for $17.99! Free shipping, one and all.

Well sh!t. I am royally irked.

I take the thing back and tell the manager the it’s too large. She says do I want an exchange or a refund. I say a refund, I guess, since I can get it for $17 at Amazon. Not looking even faintly surprised, she says, “We match prices.”

I think, Isn’t THAT sleazy? You’ll rip off your customers as long as they don’t wise up, hm? But since I’d like to have one of these things and not wait several days to get it, I exchange it for a size small.

Can you imagine? They know they’re gouging and they have the effrontery to, in effect, admit it by dropping their price to the lowest bid…but only if you’ve gone and searched it out.

Brought the “small” size home. Doesn’t fit Ruby: way, WAY too small. So now I’ll have to traipse back up there again to return it.

Y’know, I prefer to shop local. Given a choice between a locally owned retailer and some faceless mega-chain, I’ll buy things like this from the local store. And yeah, I’m willing to pay a couple of dollars more for the privilege, understanding how business works.

But not twice as much!

June 17, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

The Cheapskate Jamboree: How much is a man’s life worth?

PalmTree1Yesterday a neighbor called and asked if I could give her Gerardo’s phone number, he having recently deployed his underlings to trim the hated palm trees that flank (and contaminate) the swimming pool.

In the course of conversation, she asked how much I’d paid.

“Two hundred and forty bucks,” I said. “For four trees.”

That’s too much!” she squawked. “I only paid $30 a tree the last time.”

Let’s think about that…

A Mexican fan palm is a nasty plant. Those fronds that wave so decoratively in the breeze are lined with vicious thorns. They’re very heavy, and they do not readily biodegrade, presenting a serious headache for waste disposal companies in cities where a lot of yards have palms.

Over the course of a year, a season’s green fronds die off as new fronds grow in, creating a “skirt” of dead palm fronds around the trunk. This stuff harbors cockroaches, snakes, black widows, and termites. Also, to the eye of the gringo, it’s unaesthetic. In the springtime, the commonplace Mexican fan palm, which grows to about 100 feet, sprouts long, prolific seed wands (“inflorescences”) that drop PalmTreeSeedstiny, hard flowers into the pool and then eventually drop hard seeds into the water. The flowers clog the filter, forcing you to backwash once or twice a week — a job that should need to be done no more than once every two or three months — and soon requiring you to hire a guy to come take the filter apart and clean it professionally. The seeds also get into the filter, and in addition they BREAK your $350 pool cleaner.

So, we of the White Middle Class hire a class of fearless Mexicans who show up armed with lumberjack equipment. In 100-degree heat, these men will climb a hundred feet into the air, saw off the dead fronds (and, unfortunately, many of the live ones), and cut off the damn seed things.

Then they climb down and fish all that crap out of your pool. This latter chore alone can best be described as one bitch of a job.

All of that might be shrugged off as the life of a Mexican immigrant, hm?

No.

Trimming a palm tree is about as dangerous a job as you can take on. Every year or two, a man gets killed when he undertakes to cut back a palm.

In addition to the obvious risk of falling a hundred feet or so, you have the problem that palm fronds are extremely heavy. If one falls on you and you can’t get free of it, the thing will suffocate you in short order.

This is a common fate of those who die in the palm-trimming trade.

If you’re all the way at the top of a 100-foot trunk and you’re tied to the thing with a lumberjack’s belt, you can’t get out from under a frond that drops down onto your head and face. And nobody can get up there to help you before you smother.

If you’re on the ground and one of the things falls on you, it can knock you out and suffocate you as you lay there, if it doesn’t kill you quickly by breaking your neck. The trimmer himself can’t get down the tree in time to save your life. Assuming he notices at all.

Often you’ll see these guys working with just one spotter on the ground.

Gerardo supervises the job himself, and he also shows up with at least two other guys to wrangle the fronds as the trimmer drops them. But even then: only the trimmer has climbing equipment. If anything happens to him while he’s at the top, none of the men on the ground can get up there fast enough to help him. Without gear, only the strongest and most agile of men could get up there at all.

Forty bucks is too much to pay a man who freaking risks his life so you can have a damn palm tree in your yard? Next to your freaking pool?????

Personally, I think Gerardo is giving away his guys’ services. The trimmer is not going to get anything like $40 per tree, because Gerardo has to pay the other two guys, and he undoubtedly skims off something for his own time — or at least, he surely should. I can’t believe he charges anything less than about $200 a tree.

And even at that: is a man’s life worth $200?

PalmTree2