Coffee heat rising

Amazon: Beware this gouge!

Wow! I just tried to order a $6 bottle of 400-i.u. vitamin D capsules from Amazon.  The cause of this craving is recent research showing vitamin D deficiency may make you more vulnerable to covid-19 (and many elderly folks do suffer vitamin D deficiency), and that adequate (not excessive!) vitamin D may have a protective effect against covid-19. But the ones I have, which I picked up some weeks ago, are 4,000 i.u., a massive overdose.

Vitamin D is not entirely benign. ODing on the stuff can lead to hypercalcemia (excess calcium in the blood), which can make you uncomfortable at best or good & sick at worst; kidney damage; heart problems or even a heart attack; brittle bones, dehydration, inflammation of the pancreas; and — ironically enough — lung damage. As I came to realize this, I decided I needed to back off from this nostrum. Studies that suggest it helps fend off the dread disease indicate that 400 i.u. is about the right dosage.

Well. I’d rather not risk my life traipsing into Sprouts for a bottle of pills. So what do I do?

Of course: order them up from Amazon!

A lot of fishy stuff is going on there (heh! no doubt because commercial vitamin D is often derived from fish oil…): some ads will not allow you to see the one- and two-star reviews (which I always check before deciding about any purchase from Amazon). Others indicate that reviews are better than they actually seem to be. Hm. And of course fish oil is akin to snake oil, so I’m trying to be careful with this.

Finally settle on one from Whole Foods. Price is just under $6 for a hundred pills. I go to order this stuff, go clickety-clickety, and up comes an invoice for $25.99!


Sprouts has it for six bucks! And a three-minute drive down to the corner market.

Y’know, folks… Vitamin D is available for free. Your body makes it in response to sunlight. Wash off the sunblock, go outdoors, and sit in the sun for 15 minutes. Et voilà! Your full dose and then some.

So I try to deep-six the order…and Amazon’s system will not let me cancel it!

I try to get “Help” to find out how to cancel an order in mid-process and get nothing but useless bots. In-fukkin-furiating!

It looks like Amazon is going to charge this rip-off to my AMEX card.

So I call American Express, get a very fine CSR on the phone (this would be why we use AMEX…), and explain the predicament. She says it doesn’t look like Amazon has put a charge through yet.

Well, say I, I can’t see a way to cancel the order.

She says, Just crash out of it. If that doesn’t work, then we won’t honor the charge on this end.

It appears that she was right: it did work. After closing out of Amazon and logging back in, I don’t see the order. So I assume that closing out of an order before completing it cancels it and disappears it.

This is the first time I’ve experienced anything like what appeared to be deliberate gouging at Amazon. Whether it was coming from the merchant or from Amazon, I dunno. But it’s good to know that it can happen,.

Caveat emptor!

I Are a English Major…

…I are not a accountant! Gaaaahhhhhh!!!!!

Ugh. And Yuch! At the end of last year (that would be about four weeks ago, no?), after I downloaded and itemized an entire year’s worth of data from three credit-union accounts (each of which had several sub-accounts) and two American Express accounts, then itemized the tax-related entries, a halcyon idea fluttered into my by-then dangerously fevered little brain:

If I were to download this garbage once each month, the task would be a LOT less annoying, less exhausting, and less frustrating. Then  come next January 3 or so, the job would be done! I wouldn’t have to sit here for hour after hour after un-fuckingENDING hour struggling with that brainbanging tedious job.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Even, we might say, sensible.




This morning I sat down to whip out the January transactions.

Three hours later…

Y’know…this stuff shouldn’t be that hard. But it is. It is, because anything that is touched by computer technology is fucked up.

Example: It should be simple — right? — to download a month’s worth of data from the credit union into a boring Excel spreadsheet, the avatar of simplicity.

And it is…if you like your data bass-ackwards. For reasons utterly incomprehensible to the 20th-century mind, the credit union insists on presenting transactions in reverse chronological order. There’s no way to make the things appear in a sane order online. So you have to download all that crap into an Excel spreadsheet and then have Excel flip the order.

Not very hard. Annoying, but not hard. EXCEPT…when you’re dealing with half a dozen accounts. Then you have six times the annoyance factor, and that does present a problem.

American Express, which used to present data in normal chronological order, as I recall, has decided it must do the same.: bass-ackward So…there, too: an extra layer of hassle. Extra layer x 2, for two accounts.

The last time I did the annual tax-prep task, I had no trouble downloading data from the AMEX site. Today…no chance. I could NOT see a simple way to download the current statement to disk. Asked their customer service bot or whatever she/he/it is. Got an endless, brain-banging series of ditzy instructions. Told it that I thought life would be much easier if I simply typed the data from the printed statements into Excel. Which is exactly what I did.

Took about 10 or 15 minutes, less than the amount of time I spent grinding my teeth and wrestling with AMEX’s inscrutable website.

Unstuck in time, is what we are. Sorry, young pups: but this 21st-century world you’ve inherited is some precinct of Hell.

Why I Bank at a Credit Union…

A fine Day from Hell in every way: at five in the morning, temp on the back porch in the 90s and air so thick you need a spoon to breathe it. It rained during the night, so that did cool things off. But. Ugh.

First order of the day’s business, once business establishments opened, was to run up to the credit union and try to find out why all my accounts are scrambled.

Ugh, indeed!

You’ll recall that to reset my grip on the finances, I decided to use Costco cash cards and my existing credit union cookie-jar accounts to create an “envelope method” approach to budgeting. Purchases at Costco would stop when the current cash-card was used up ($300, though I may drop that to $200). And (as usual) set-asides for 2019 taxes & insurance, for incoming Medicare and Medigap reimbursements, and for an emergency fund would be doled out, monthly, among three credit-union savings accounts.

These accounts have always existed. You can make as many savings accounts as you choose at my credit union, plus your checking account. So I’ve always had an account called “Emergency Savings,” one called “Mayo” (for the medical reimbursements), and one called “T&I” (for tax & insurance).

At the time I make this decision, I figure I’ll live on my 401(k)’s Required Minimum Drawdown (or try to), and transfer all the Social Security payments into “Emergency Savings,” an account whose balance had dwindled to a little over five dollars. To accomplish this, I get on the phone and talk with a credit union’s CSR. I ask this person how I can arrange to auto-transfer the gummint’s monthly electronic deposits from checking to the account branded “emergency savings.”  SS payments come in unpredictably, roughly depending on what cycle the bureaucrats use to send them to you. Mine arrive sometime between the first and about the 12th of the month. I explain that I’d like this money set aside to build an emergency fund and I’d like not to have to do that manually whenever the SSA gets around to sending the money. She says she will make it so.

Good. Days go by.

Now I do some more budgeteering — and I realize that there’s no way I can possibly live on the RMD alone. While I probably can avoid suctioning up all the SS income, I’m going to need at least $500 a month of it. Probably more. When I go online to arrange an automatic transfer of $530/month, I’m astonished to discover the “Mayo” savings account has disappeared, and the chunk of dough set aside in there to pay the Mayo’s next bill has disappeared with it.

The money to cover medical bills has been moved over into my regular savings account (which I’d dubbed “Emergency Savings,” but which has been renamed “Share Savings”).

When I go to double-check the scheduled transfer of the SS funds, I can find exactly no trace of it.

So. You know better. I know better. We all know better: Never do your banking over the phone.

This meant I had to drive to the credit union, collar a manager or assistant manager, and find out WTF is going on.

  1. What happened to the scheduled transfer of the monthly Social Security deposit into Emergency Savings?
  2. If it didn’t get arranged, why not?
  3. If it did get arranged, why doesn’t it show as a scheduled transfer? Where did the transfer that was supposedly arranged go? Is that monthly deposit going to disappear into limbo?
  4. If it did not get arranged, can we arrange it? Can we be certain that we’re not duplicating a scheduled transfer that doesn’t show even though it  supposedly was made?
  5. Can we arrange an auto transfer on the 20th of each month from Emergency Savings (holding the SS deposits) to checking, enough to make ends meet?

Oh, those lucky people! We need to start a U-Tube Video series: Here She Comes Again!

So I get up there and discover…

  1. If a scheduled transfer was made from the CU’s environs instead of by you, you can’t see it in the online “scheduled transfer” function. (Naturally! Why did I ask?)
  2. He doesn’t have a clue what happened to the “Mayo” savings account.
  3. He suggests it would be simpler to transfer the difference between the total SS monthly deposit and the amount I need  into the “Emergency Savings” account. Keep whatever is needed in checking and transfer the rest to the savings account.
  4. He will rename “Emergency Savings” as “Mayo,” leaving the amount for the medical bills in that account rather than transferring them around.
  5. And he will create a new “Emergency Savings” account to hold a little over half of incoming Social Security deposits, leaving the rest in checking to cover cash flow. We hope.

Sounds OK, right? He says what I see at home is different from what he says on his monitor. He suggests I send him a screenshot, after I get back to the Funny Farm, so we can check that all this is working.

And so, off I go to retrace the 8.2 miles of my steps back to the house: it required driving 16.4 miles and about 90 minutes of my time to accomplish this.

A check-up revealed that we had it almost right. We ended up with…

  • a checking account  (Balance: one year’s worth of RMD plus a few bucks)
  • a savings account (“Emergency Savings, 00.” Unfunded)
  • a savings account, (“Taxes & Insurance, 60.” $8408)
  • a savings account (“Taxes and Insurance, 61.”  $538.95)

So what has happened is that the set-aside account to cover medical bills was redundantly named “taxes and insurance” rather than “Mayo.” But at least we have an account into which to stash Medigap and Medicare payments.

Gaaaahhhhhh! So I had to get on the email, send him the desired secreenshot, and ask him to rename account 61 in such a way that I can distinguish it from the real tax-&-insurance “envelope” at a glance.


Long as I’m wrestling with money online, I decide to check to see how much AMEX thinks I owe it as of this minute, to be sure it jibes with the $130 I believe I’ve charged up.

Well. No. AMEX’s website says I owe that fine outfit $682!!!!!!

WTF??????? Have they not received the seven-something I sent them when the last statement came in?

Go back to the credit union’s site and find that they have indeed paid last month’s bill, as directed. AMEX should have received the money on or about the 5th…four days ago.

Get a chat rep online at the AMEX site. After endless waiting and screwing around with typing out the question and explaining that it was paid electronically and should have been received, I learned that yea verily it had been received. It would take another 24 to 48 hours  before that fact registered on their website.


Q. So, I ask: how much have I charged up on the card in the current billing cycle — that is, how much do you see owing right now?

A. About $126.

That’s four bucks less than my records say I’ve charged — probably because this card applies an automatic cash kickback to eligible transactions. But at least their conception of reality is now close to my conception of reality.

What a bitch of a morning! And early afternoon.

Coulda been worse, though. Just imagine if all those cookie-jar shenanigans had been happening at, say, Wells Fargo.

Needing to pick up some one-pound bags of chlorine shock treatment this morning, I serendipitously discovered a Leslie’s about six blocks from the campus (where the CU office resides). And even more serendipitously, right next door to the thing was a Fry’s grocery store….where I could buy another breakfast melon, some grapes, and a few tomatoes to restock the larder.

And at the Leslie’s, I discovered that eight pounds worth of shock treatment in bags costs about $14 less than the same amount of the same stuff dispensed in bulk. Jeez. Such a deal.



w00t! Money happens!

American Express has emitted this year’s rebate: $334 back in my pocket! Took it direct to the credit union after having cashed the voucher at Costco.

Despite the new regime of penury, I decided to try to continue putting $200 a month into a savings account for indulgences and emergencies. This will jack the $400 accrued in January and February up to $734.

I do hope that American Express doesn’t pull the widely favored stunt of instituting an annual fee. I doubt that they will, because this card doubles as a Costco membership card. I think it’s more likely that they’ll get their pound of flesh by persuading Costco to raise  membership fees and then kick the increase back to AMEX.

If they put an annual fee on the charge card itself, then I’ll drop it. If they increase the Costco membership…hmmm. That’s another matter. I do almost all my shopping at Costco. It’s extremely convenient, the gas is cheaper than anyplace else around, and the meat is very high in quality. Plus they sell a brand of jeans that actually fit around my capacious rear end.

All of which could be said to fall under the heading of “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Why would you drop a rebate card that returns $300 or $400 because the lender starts soaking you for $15? It is kind of stupid, isn’t it…

Well, it’s the principle of the thing: we’re already paying for these cards in the form of increased prices, since the banks charge retailers a stiff transaction fee for the privilege of taking payment in the form of a credit card. The cost is passed along to every consumer, whether or not that consumer pays with a card.

So I think the banks are earning quite enough without adding an extra gouge. If they want to charge users a fee for carrying a piece of plastic around, then they need to remove the transaction fee levied against retailers.

For the nonce, though, money has just happened. And I’m glad enough for that.


AMEX kickback comes through, and surprises

Nice timing for the annual AMEX credit-card kickback. This year it’s $210, which will almost make up for this month’s furlough gouges. One of our clients owes us $1,100, which hasn’t been forthcoming, but if and when that ever shows up, my half of the net plus the American Express rebate should carry me through the first three periods of reduced pay.

So far, I haven’t gotten any static from American Express, despite reports of questionable practices from those quarters. I did use the card at a Walmart before I’d heard of AMEX’s data mining schemes, but so far they have not cut my credit line. Possibly that’s because it’s a Costco card. It’s unlikely that AMEX would risk alienating a major client by slashing its customers’ credit.

Hm. I’ve spent an incredible amount of money with this thing over the past year: $18,717. Of that, $1,187 went to gasoline, $448 to eating out (really??), and $14.75 to “traveling” (huh? I haven’t “traveled” in years). “Everywhere Else” racked up a total of $15,742.

Oh, this gets better: a Quicken category report suggests I spent $578 eating out! The $14.75 was for lunch in Prescott, when I drove an out-of-state friend up there, not exactly “traveling,” IMHO. Lordie! Who would think I’ve spent that much in restaurants? I try to stay out of them, and generally restrict eating out to twice a month, max—and for lunch, never for dinner.

Eating lunch out is pretty much out of the question during the week, because the on-campus chow lines sell nothing but junk food, which I don’t eat. There are only a couple of decent places to eat within walking distance of the campus, and one of them is very expensive. So, I usually go hungry over the lunch hour, since we have no refrigerator and no place except the public toilet to rinse out dirty dishes.

Surprising. I’ll have to get a grip on that!