Monday, December 27, 2010

Found Money?

Yesterday a friend of mine excitedly told me she 'found' $280. She was organizing her papers to do her taxes and she found a statement from her brokerage account when she sold a few shares of stock last January 2005. The check for the proceeds was still attached to the statement. Of course, the check had expired, but a quick phone call to her broker resulted in the promise that another check would be sent to her.

What bothered me about this story is that my friend was ecstatic over the 'found money.' She should have been furious at herself for the oversight. In fact, it should be considered lost money given the fact that she lost the opportunity to pay down a debt or to earn interest on the amount.

When I have money owed to me, I jot it down on a little post-it note next to my computer until I receive the funds. I do this for refunds, rebates, personal loans, etc. If I return an item to a store and received a refund slip for my credit card, I put that next to my PC and check my online credit card activity every few days until I see the refund appear. Currently, my little list looks like this:

IRS refund $295
Amex credit $25
Qwest Wireless credit $75
Personal Loans $528
Best Buy rebate $13
Chase Visa cash back reward $100

It doesn't matter how big or little the amount is. If I'm awaiting payment, it goes onto the list. I hope I never let a $280 check slip by unnoticed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Asked for a Refund and Got One!

Two years ago when I moved into my condo, I ordered cable from Comcast. The technician made a site visit to my condo. He hooked up my cable and asked me which cable outlets I wanted to have activated. I have four outlets, but I had no idea at that point where I was going to locate the TV so I chose two of the four outlets to activate. Comcast charged an activation fee for each outlet.

I recently decided to rearrange some furniture in my condo and in the process, I decided to move the television to a different room next to an outlet I had not paid to have activated. So I called Comcast and asked them to activate this new outlet. They quoted a $22 fee and said it required another site visit. The technician arrived and looked into my cable box and informed me that my condo is wired for cable to be all 'on' or all 'off.' So all my outlets were activated. Grrr! He charged me the $22 for his site visit, which I signed off on. So yesterday I wrote a pleasant, terse and to-the-point e-mail to Comcast requesting refund of the $22 fee, and expressing my displeasure with being charged false activation fees two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised when Comcast immediately refunded the $22 fee! Hurrah! Score one for the good guys!

I believe I achieved a quick resolution for the following reasons:

  • I put my complaint in writing
  • Instead of just complaining about the issue, I stated what action I wanted them to take ("$22 refund of the site visit fee")
  • I was professional and unemotional in my e-mail
  • I thanked them in advance for their prompt attention to the matter
  • I included my pertinent account information so they could investigate the matter and make a quick decision

The next time you feel you were unjustly charged for something, follow these simple rules for putting your request for a refund in writing. It never hurts to ask!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Take the Pain Out of Brown-Bagging Lunch

I have lunch with the same group of coworkers every day. It all started when one of the women joined weight watchers and started to bring her lunch. I always had brought my lunch and just ate at my desk. So we starting getting away from the office and eating together. The third coworker had always popped out to pick something up and she would bring it back to her desk. We invited her to eat with us and she felt inspired to start bringing her lunch as well. She brought her lunch two or three times, then fell back into the habit of buying a sandwich or salad then joining us.

I think the reason she didn't stick with it is that she would always prepare her lunch either the night before or in the morning. If you are tired or running late, preparing lunch for the day is the first thing that falls off the list. I have always made a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and carted everything into the office fridge on Monday morning. Here are my tips on how I make this work for me, a very picky eater:

  • Most frozen leftover dinners seem to taste funky after I've nuked them in the office microwave. So I make fresh lunches on Sunday that do not need to be frozen to still be good on Friday.
  • I do not include chicken or beef in the meal, to avoid the funky-by-Friday syndrome. So I stick with beans, tunafish, boiled eggs or nuts to supply the protein.
  • I don't care for the taste of bread that has been refrigerated, so I never bring a sandwich (picky me). To minimize the time and complexity of preparing lunches on Sunday, I eat foods that require little or no cooking.
  • Favorite meal #1 is a huge green salad consisting of any combination of protein (see above), artichokes, beets, corn, onions, roasted red peppers, blue cheese or feta, and fresh cracked pepper. I keep bottled balsamic vinaigrette in the office fridge and dress the salad just before lunch.
  • Favorite meal #2 is couscous. I saute a diced onion and garlic while I prepare 1/2 cup whole wheat couscous. Add navy beans and a combination of raw vegetables (tomato, zucchini, asparagus, etc) then toss in some crumbled feta. You can nuke or eat at room temperature.
  • Bring some fruit and crackers, and after just a few minutes of preparation on a Sunday evening, you have lunch for 5 days!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Words of Wisdom for Your Simplicity Journey

If you are considering making a lifestyle change toward a more frugal, simple life and you visit blogs like mine for ideas and inspiration, I have an important tip to make that first step MUCH easier:

Ignore other people's opinions.

This is much harder than it sounds. But you'll get the hang of it. When you go against social norms, friends and family often will not hesitate to provide unsolicited opinions about your choices. Chances are your friends and family simply want what they believe to be in your best interest. The trick is not to dismiss an unsolicited opinion, nor should you argue your point. Simply say, "that's a good point," or "I'll have to take that into consideration." Then happily continue your merry little frugal/simple ways.

This post is inspired by my family's continuing puzzlement over why I haven't acquired all the regular status symbols associated with a successful professional in her mid-thirties. I have no upscale car, no large house full of gorgeous furniture, no flat-screen TV, no walk-in closet full of shoes and purses. Rather I have a 1-bedroom condo furnished in Ikea's finest, a ten-year old TV held together by twist ties, only two purses and less than ten pairs of shoes. When my family waxes philosophical over my life, I have perfected the art of smiling, nodding and saying, "perhaps that's something I'll consider in the future..."

Monday, December 13, 2010

CSN Stores Giveaway

The recent CSN Stores Giveaway on Seattle Simplicity has been completed. I want to thank everybody who entered. There were over 25 valid entries on my post. The winner has been notified by Email, and will receive a $45 gift certificate good for any purchase at CSN Stores.

I hope that new readers will continue to visit my blog. For those who did not win, I encourage you to check back for new giveaway contests in the future.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

How I Simplify Retirement Planning

I am a big fan of Vanguard funds. I was first attracted to their low fees and index-fund approach. As I started researching what kind of asset allocation to use for my IRA, I was thrilled to discover Vanguard target retirement funds. Vanguard has created retirement funds that are comprised of an assortment of their index funds, properly allocated based on your target retirement date. The asset allocation within the fund is adjusted for you as you near your retirement date. You never have to rebalance your money.

If you are interested in learning more about the Vanguard target retirement funds, visit the Vanguard website and review the prospectus.