Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Credit Card Tips

Related to my Trip Booking Tips on credit cards: I thought I’d let you know my credit card strategy for life in general.

I have multiple credit cards. Not too many, but enough to spread the risk around. Or rather keep the damage limited if something does happen.

I have one credit card that I use for swiping at physical locations (grocery store, gas stations, etc.) The problem is reduced by the new chip cards, but there are still plenty of opportunities for skimmers to steal my information from swipe machines. Which means that I don’t use this card for other things, especially recurring charges.

I have another card I use for online transactions. This is the number I enter just about every time I buy something online, so I have it memorized and haven’t touched the actual card in months.

If I were doing it right, I would have a third card for recurring transactions. But I don’t want to juggle too many cards, so I put these on the online card.

And one more thing: if I know I’m going to be going to a restaurant, I take enough cash so I don’t have to use a credit card. I’m suspicious whenever someone takes my credit card away where I can’t see it. Plus, it makes leaving the restaurant easier – I don’t have to wait for the waitress to come back with my card. I just hand her the cash (bill plus tip, rounded up to the nearest dollar), tell her it’s all set, and then I can leave whenever I want.

A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

Proverbs 1:5

Trip Booking Tips

Another thing I do is not trust telling someone my credit card information over the phone. Booking websites, yes. Most of those are automated and there’s no chance for a rogue employee at the establishment to walk away with my information. Losing information to hackers is a possibility, but that’s at another level. I can’t do anything about that.

My credit card was compromised a couple years ago. The CC company caught on and did not fulfill the fraudulent purchase, but I still had the hassle of cancelling that card and getting a new one. No, that wasn’t the hassle. The hassle was remembering all the places that used that card for recurring transactions and updating them with the new card info. The monthly transactions weren’t that bad – just a glance at the previous statement told me those. But there were some annual transactions that were trickier to find. And one I didn’t find until the company notified me that they were denied.

I have a pretty good idea of what happened to get into that mess. It happened shortly after I called a place to book a reservation. It was a smaller operation, one that did not handle reservations online. And it was a seasonal operation, meaning that a lot of the staff were college age, or maybe even high schoolers. My guess is that I happened to get one of the untrustworthy ones. He probably entered my information into their booking system and also wrote it down for himself to use later. Maybe he tried to use it himself. Maybe he was just a runner who got paid to gather information for someone else. Doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that I now use a Virtual Account Number if I have to give a credit card number over the phone. Not every CC company has them (mine does but my wife’s does not. Yes, we have separate cards. For risk mitigation purposes).

When I see that a place says “Call for reservations” I go to my CC website and generate a VAN with a limit slightly over the expected cost and an expiration date just after the expected time. I tell the VAN to the suspect place, so if my CC is compromised, I can tell the CC company those are not real purchases and I don’t have to do any more damage control or scramble with giving a new CC# to companies that I do want to have it on file.

He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.

Proverbs 20:19

Mail It In

I received a medical bill. I recognized the name of the medical establishment, and I recognized the charge. And that’s good for them, because if I just read what they were asking, I would have thought it was a scam:

image of music clip

I’m going to assume it’s just a poor choice of words, or someone wanting to type as few words as possible, or something benign rather than an actual scam.

I do hope no one takes their words literally and mails in their credit card instead of their credit card information.

Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, But the one who gathers by labor increases it.

Proverbs 13:11

Bill Delay

I received a bill from a medical facility. Along with the bill was this letter, which was trying to explain why the bill was sent about 3 months after the procedure:

scan of a letter from a laboratory facility to explain why the bill was sent late

Text of the letter:

Dear Laboratory Patient:

We apologize for the delay in the release of your bill. X installed new computer software. Due to circumstances beyond our control, there were delays in interfacing the new system with some insurers. This work is now complete and patient bills are being processed. Once again, we are sorry for the delay.

Should you have any questions please contact us at XXX-XXX-XXXX or email: x@x.com

Thank you for using X.

I thought about waiting 3 more months, then sending this response along with my payment.

Dear Laboratory:

I apologize for the delay in the release of your payment. I installed new computer software, as opposed to non-computer software. Due to circumstances beyond my control, there were delays in interfacing the new software with my bank account. This work is now complete and invoices are being processed. Once again, I am sorry for the delay.

Should you have any questions, too bad.

Thank you,

Patient

But I didn’t.

For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice.

Genesis 43:10

Costlier Baby

The last time we had a baby, he cost as much as a good used car. This time, 2 years later, the costs went up about 1 grand – still within the realm of a good used car (or cheap new car). I suppose you could say that the baby was free – it was all the other people who were costly.

One thing that has improved is the timing of the bills. Two years ago, it took months for the hospital and doctors to send me their bills. This time, it took them only weeks.

This post is for all of you who were wondering how much it costs to have a baby these days. And if you weren’t wondering, maybe you are now. And “have a baby” does not mean raise or care for a baby – it means “deliver in a hospital”. And this does not include C-section, which would cost significantly more.

This post also does not list how much I actually paid. I am listing here how much the hospital and doctors charged for the whole thing. They sent those bills to my insurance company, which in turn reminded the hospital and doctors that they had worked out a deal so they will be paying only so much. Of that amount, the insurance paid some and I paid some. And the part that I paid came out of the medical account, which is funded with pre-tax dollars.

Here is the breakdown of the bills:

Wife:
$8000 for the hospital stay
$3000 for the doctor’s services
$1100 for the anesthesiologist (epidural)
$750 for the anesthesia itself (epidural)

Baby:
$2400 for the hospital stay
$255 for the circumcision
$200 for a hearing and wellness check

Total: $15,705 (US dollars)

Having a new child: priceless

Just like last time, it cost $255 more to have a boy than a girl. But I’m still betting I’ll come out ahead (no pun intended) in the long run.

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

Luke 1:14

Check Your Prices

Two recent experiences have taught me the lesson that you should always check the per-unit price:

Light Bulbs

I was in the store to buy light bulbs. There was a pack of normal light bulbs, and there was a pack of double-life light bulbs.

The double-life light bulbs are supposed to last twice as long as normal light bulbs. At least that’s what the packaging said.

I was tempted to buy them, because then I would have to change (and therefore buy) light bulbs half as often.

Then I noticed the price – they cost more than double the regular bulbs.

So I could spend $2.48 twice or $5.48 once for the same amount of light-years.
(what? that measurement is already taken? How about light-hours? Okay.)

I went with two packs of the normal bulbs.

“New and improved” might mean a price hike.

“Chocolate” Syrup

Yes, I added those quotes on purpose. The syrup has “real chocolate flavor” not necessarily “real chocolate”, so I feel those quotes are appropriate.

My kids are going through a chocolate syrup phase right now, probably similar to the Nestle Quik phase that my side of the family went through about a dozen years ago.

At the grocery store, I reached for the larger container of Hershey’s syrup. For some reason I felt like looking at the price. And I compared the per-ounce price to the smaller container. The smaller bottle had a better price.

The large one (48 oz.) was $3.79 and the smaller one (24 oz.) was $1.75.

“Buy in bulk and save” might not apply to whatever you’re buying.

All in all, I saved about 81 cents on those two items by buying the smaller or worse item. If I were paid by the hour, that probably would not have been worth my time to stop and do the comparisons.

Every little bit helps, I suppose. But there has to be a point at which it’s not worth it.

What’s a good threshold for saying “ah, skip it” and just buying an item without comparing prices (either within the store or between stores)?

Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense?

Proverbs 17:16

Taking Stock

Today’s post will be rather boring for many people, so feel free to skip it if you want. I’ll understand.

I don’t gamble in casinos, but I make up for it by playing the stock market. Any day now, I’ll pick the right stock and be able to retire early.

I’m not a day trader – more like a week or month trader. And it’s not much of a gamble, because I’m not risking a lot on it. I play with about 5% of my retirement money. And since a normal retirement would be 30 years away, I have some time for playing.

I created a stock screener at my online brokerage. Normally, I would sift through those results and see if any stocks looked interesting enough to buy. But then I got a different idea:

What if the number of stocks returned by the screener meant something?

and not necessarily the stocks themselves.

I guess I was hoping that my screener was inadvertently a leading indicator. So I graphed the number of stocks from my screener against various indices, in order to see if I could find some correlation between the market and my screener.

For the last year (actually March 2010 to March 2011), I ran that screener near the end of each trading day. I missed a few days, but got most of them. You can certainly see a trend:

graph of stock screener results compared to stock index prices

Unfortunately, all it does is mirror the index price. The number of stocks approved by the screen goes down as the stock market goes up, and vice-versa. While interesting, it doesn’t tell me anything I couldn’t know by looking at the market data without my screener.

Also unfortunately, it doesn’t tell me what the market is going to do.

Maybe I’ll fiddle with the screener and keep up this hobby of mine. There’s not much of a net loss (or gain), so I suppose it’s harmless.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 5:10