FIVE GUYS…

April 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

Five Guys, one ORDINARY burger. Oh, and a bag of greasy fries.

It’s not global warming…

August 11, 2009 - One Response

pollutionIt’s global polluting!

I’ve heard the phrase global warming enough to know that it’s important, but something so intangible is difficult to grasp; particularly, when overshadowed by such controvery.

Right or wrong, there’s an important underlying issue that is being overlooked in my opinion. According to Wikipedia, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation caused most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century.” The article also cites “natural phenomena” as influencing climate change, but the point is that industrial times — and the associated pollution — continue to play a role.

Therefore, I move to call it “global polluting”. So, the next time you witness a debate on global warming, ask the debate opponents if they’d agree to call it global polluting. Maybe then we can make some headway.

Thank Your Customers

July 21, 2009 - 4 Responses

The dying art of saying “thank you”

Have you ever received the silent treatment from a cashier? You know, that’s when there’s no “hello”, “thank you”, or anything in between — with the exception of maybe how much you owe.

While in the checkout line at the Fresh Market grocery store today, I overheard this dialog between the cashier and a customer in front of me:

CASHIER: “8.50, sign here please”
CUSTOMER: “Thank you.”
CASHIER: “You’re welcome.”

Whoops! Who said “thank you”?

As I watched the customer before me, I wondered if she had been waiting to see if the cashier would engage in any pleasant dialog, a mere “hello” perhaps. Finally, the customer surrendered to what I call “the silent treatment” and uttered the words, “thank you”. Someone had to break the silence or show some sign of humanity.

no thanksNext in line. That was me.

CASHIER: “5.85”

Yep, that was it.

I’d reached out my hand to receive the credit card slip so there was no need for the cashier to ask for my signature; that was understood. But, the entire dialog consisted of only a number, “5.85”?

I’m almost always forthcoming with a “hello” and a “thank you”, but I managed to refrain from saying anything unless prompted by the cashier. Sort of a test to see if the cashier would say “thank you” or anything else for that matter.

So, here’s my question for the store owner:

If my business is so important to you, why am I (the customer) the only one saying “thank you”?

As a business owner, there are some things that you can do to help make a good impression:

  1. Ask your associates to thank customers whenever the opportunity arises; this is particularly important at checkout, don’t you think?
  2. Remind associates that every opportunity to make a good impression is a moment of truth. Read more about “moments of truth” in this article on How to Stay Competitive.
  3. Let your associates know that you support them and that you will happily assist them with an unruly customer, but also remind them not to take matters into their own hands. Even if a customer is unpleasant doesn’t mean that we have to be.
  4. Ask your associates to let you know if they’re having a bad day or need a break.

For the record, the grocery store that I mentioned lacks much of a welcoming committee with the exception of the Sushi Chefs. Interestingly, Sushi is the only thing I buy there.

Food for thought.

COBRA Premium Subsidy Woes

July 8, 2009 - 2 Responses

To help, or not to help: what’s it gonna be?

I am compelled to post a message regarding the COBRA Health Insurance Continuation Premium Subsidy provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. I am concerned that the subsidy that provides for a reduction in COBRA premiums is being applied too slowly by some health insurance companies. Subsequently, those who are eligible may still not see a reduction in COBRA premiums if they become involuntarily unemployed.

The Internal Revenue Service web site provides the following information for employees or former employees:

Workers who have lost their jobs may qualify for a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA continuation premiums for themselves and their families for up to nine months.

Eligible workers will have to pay 35 percent of the premium to their former employers.

To qualify, a worker must have been involuntarily separated between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Workers who lost their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008, and enactment, but failed to initially elect COBRA because it was unaffordable, get an additional 60 days to elect COBRA and receive the subsidy.

This subsidy phases out for individuals whose modified adjusted gross income exceeds $125,000, or $250,000 for those filing joint returns. Taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income exceeding $145,000, or $290,000 for those filing joint returns, do not qualify for the subsidy.

On 3/27, I was layed off from work. I then received an email from the former employer advising me that I may be eligible for the COBRA premium subsidy. They have since provided proof of my eligibility to Neighborhood Health (A UnitedHealthcare Company) who, in turn, has acknowledged receipt of such documentation. However, I have yet to see a reduction in premium after three months.

I’ve been invoiced by Neighborhood Health and paid the full amount (that is, with no reduction in premium) for the months of April, May and June. To date, Neighborhood Health has not been able to provide any indication of how soon they will start to bill anyone based on the reduced rate. In other words, if I need to maintain COBRA coverage, I may have to pay 100% as opposed to 35% of the premium until which time Neighborhood Health completes whatever bureaucratic process they’ve established.

To make matters worse, I was told by one government agency (the agency name escapes me now) that there might not be any stipulation that health insurance companies apply premium reductions within a certain period of time. In other words, I can maintain coverage under COBRA as long as I am eligible, but may never be billed at the reduced rate.

Neighborhood Health has advised me that, when they process eligible claims, a credit for the additional premium paid will be applied if coverage is continued. Otherwise, a refund will be issued accordingly.

On 7/14, I submitted a request for discontinuation of COBRA coverage to Neighborhood Health effective 6/30. Once again, Neighborhood Health confirms having received all documentation required in order for me to receive a premium reduction. Unfortunately, Neighborhood Health also indicates that a refund of the excess payment will not be issued until September. On 9/14, I contacted Neighborhood Health again and they informed me that a check will be sent within three weeks.

I am extremely thankful that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 exists; however, it concerns me that eligible persons may need the premium reduction immediately, not six months later as is the case for me. ARRA was enacted to help people, but I, personally, have yet to see it.

You can draw your own conclusions about the effectiveness of the COBRA Health Insurance Continuation Premium Subsidy provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

I have forwarded a copy of this post to Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.

Comments welcome!

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Ant problems? Here’s a solution.

July 7, 2009 - 2 Responses

terroOutsmart ants with Terro!

Recently, a few ants started mysteriously popping up in our bathroom. After careful examination, I found that they were making a long trek from the den, down the hall, and into the bathroom. They probably got wind of our feline’s food or water (our cat dines in the den) and decided to explore the entire house.

ants eating terroI decided to buy a small bottle of Terro liquid. I ripped a business card in half and dispensed a few generous drops onto the card and placed it in a conspicuous location. The resulting “drop” was about a 1/2″ wide and was probably more than necessary. Before I knew it ants had descended onto the Terro liquid like vultures on a wildebeest carcass; and that’s putting it mildly. It was a feeding frenzy.

According to Stewart Clark, COO and Director of Research and Development for Senoret Chemical, “Terro works because the Borax stops the ability of the ant to digest and use food and the ants starve to death slowly. We want this delayed toxicity so the ants can deliver enough bait to the colony…”.

I’m not sure what species of ant paid us a visit, but they were small and I vaguely recall someone referring to them as either sweet ants or sugar ants. If so, our variety might have actually been the Pharaoh ant. Regardless, the ants have yet to return to the scene of the crime which I attribute to Terro.

The Terro web site includes some useful product-related Q&A and invites you to “Ask [their] Expert” questions. You can also buy Terro products on their web site or locate a store near you.

Check out Terro’s insect guide including tips for control.

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Virtual Surprise Party for Dad!

June 6, 2009 - Leave a Response

fathers_day_balloonSurprise Dad, online!

Now you can host a Virtual Surprise Party™ for Dad and your guests can be anywhere in the world. That’s right, your guests need not be in the same room, city, state, or even the same country.

Bring the entire family together online to create and present Dad with a unique virtual Happy Father’s Day card. Each of your family members will have the opportunity to add personal messages, upload photos or even videos to show Dad how much they care.

Visit www.USurprise.com today to get the party started. And, at the appointed time (June 21st), your Dad will receive a discrete email inviting him to his own virtual surprise party.

It’s FREE, includes a wonderful keepsake, and surprising Dad online will be doubly unexpected — particularly if the entire family cannot be together this coming Father’s Day.

How can Host a Virtual Surprise Party at USurprise.com! Dad on Father’s Day?

Backup Your Files in a Flash!

June 5, 2009 - One Response

flash2That is, buy a Flash Drive

I don’t know about you, but I dread the thought of losing computer data; that could be important emails, irreplaceable digital photos, important work-related documents, etc.

If you have the slightest concern about losing important data, buy a USB flash drive. They’re portable, light weight, easy to use and about the same size as the one pictured here.

A USB flash drive is a removable data storage device that you can connect to a standard computer interface such as a USB jack. And because it’s portable, you can access stored data from any computer with a USB port. You will likely find at least one USB port on any modern computer. Once the flash drive is plugged-in, the drive is immediately available for use.

I picked up a generically-branded 2 GB flash drive at Office Depot for about $8. If you’re wondering how much data you can fit on a 2 GB USB Flash Drive, check out this online tool to calculate how many files, mp3s or movie files you can fit on your flash drive!

For added security, and this is entirely optional, I use TrueCrypt to password-protect data stored on the flash drive. TrueCrypt is a free open-source disk encryption software for Windows Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. Once you download the software, you will be presented with a Beginner’s Tutorial.

Note: If you set up your flash drive using TrueCrypt, you will need to run TrueCrypt on any computer that you plan to use to access the data.

It took me a few times to get the TrueCrypt software set up properly to where I was being prompted for a password before I was able to access the drive, but I eventually figured it out and it was well worth it! I backup a specific group of work-related files regularly and I’d say the whole process takes me less than about 2-3 minutes to complete.

It’s cheap, fast AND easy!

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15 Ways to Save Money

May 30, 2009 - 2 Responses

1. Maximize Your 401(k) Contributions

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, determine your maximum contribution and sock away as much as you can! A 401(k) enables you to defer current income taxes on saved money and earnings until withdrawal. Some employers even include a matching contribution. There’s a tax penalty for early distribution, but don’t let that stop you.

2. Contribute to a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA

If your employer does not offer a 401(k) plan, consider opening an Individual Retirement Account. Take some time to learn about the differences between the Traditional IRA and Roth IRA and determine which is better for you. There’s a tax penalty for early distribution.

3. Inquire about Pre-Tax Health Insurance Deductions

I’ve heard that it may be possible, in some instances, to have health insurance premiums paid from pre-tax dollars resulting in a lower taxable wages at year-end. You’ll need to inquire of your employer and research accordingly.

4. Try TurboTax® Software Package

For 2008, I decided to try TurboTax Home & Business. I saved over $200 on tax preparation and I’m confident that I maximized my return. TurboTax provided the perfect prompts to help me identify eligible deductions. Give TurboTax a try!

5. Check out BOA’s Keep the Change® Savings Program

Bank of America’s Keep the Change program is a great way to stash some quick cash and the bank will even match some of your savings. They’ll round your check card purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference from your checking account to your savings account. While the service is free, be sure to maintain minimum balances in your accounts to avoid service fees if applicable.

6. Avoid ATM Usage Fees

ATM usage fees are commonly assessed for non-members of the bank. The next time you’re looking for an ATM, consider this option: Look for a local drugstore, buy something for under a buck and request “cash back”. That’s usually the same or less than an ATM usage fee. Heck, I’d buy my kid a small toy for $2 and request cash back before paying a $2 usage fee. Try not to buy things you don’t need or that cost more than the typical ATM usage fee of course.

7. Ask Your Bank to Waive Late Fees and Overdraft Fees

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re charged a late fee or overdraft fee, don’t be afraid to ask for it to be waived. In some instances, banks (and other creditors) may take your account history into consideration and give you a break.

8. Ask Credit Card Companies to Lower Your Interest Rates

If the interest rates on your credit cards are high or simply not competitive, contact your credit card companies and request a lower a rate. If your payment history is good you may be offered a lower rate. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

9. Monitor and Improve Your Credit Score

Credit scores give lenders a fast, objective measurement of your credit risk. Your credit score plays a big role in whether you are granted credit or receive competitive interest rates. Be sure to make payments on time. Late payments can adversely impact your credit score and making last minute payments by phone might incur a service fee. Request your free annual credit report and consider opting to receive your credit scores— there are several.

10. Eliminate Credit Card Debt

Try to make more than the minimum payment due on your credit cards. Otherwise, you’ll pay a tremendous amount of interest over time. A credit card calculator will help you find out how long it will take to become debt free and how much you’ll pay in interest by making the minimum monthly payments. If your next statement reads “zero” amount due, but you still have a balance — make a payment anyway! Here’s a great strategy on How to Eliminate Credit Card Debt.

11. Put Lavish Living On-Hold and Pay Off Debt

Dining out, spending money on clothing that you might not really need, and traveling — to cite just a few examples — can easily add to credit card debt if you’re not careful. The next time you’re planning a night out, consider alternatives (such as eating at home and renting a movie) and make a quick credit card payment. They key here is to act quickly; go online and login to credit card account, decide how much you will have saved by modifying your plans, and make a payment equivalent to that amount. Your outstanding credit card balance will be reduced much more quickly.

12. Save on Groceries

It’s high time we stop paying high prices for groceries. You have to shop smart and compare prices. One way to do that is to calculate price per ounce. This will tell you if 96 ounces of ketchup (or a crate of toilet paper from a membership warehouse club) is really the better buy. You also need to know things like “buy one get one free” is usually a bad deal and that a 99 cents price tag is a marketing trick. By the way, buying 96 ounces of anything is not a good buy if large amounts go to waste. And use coupons for items you need only.

13. Mortgage Loan Modifications

Depending upon your situation, you might be able to obtain a lower mortgage rate with a loan modification. Check out this article headed, “Obama launches mortgage rescue plan“. My mortgage company indicated that there is no charge for a loan modification and to be wary of any company requesting a fee for this service.

14. Ask for Lower Rates

Contact your cell phone company, home and/or business phone company, and the company that provides you with Internet access to see if you can get a better rate. In some instances, you might simply find that other plans exist that will meet your immediate usage and requirements. If not, some companies might simply offer you a lower rate in appreciation of your business.

15. Plan a Yard Sale

Gather what you don’t need and get ready for a yard sale. Everyone’s looking for a bargain and well-managed sale can put some cash for unneeded items back in your pocket. Some folks may even be looking for items that they can repair such as a broken television of vacuum. Items that won’t fetch what you consider to be a good price can be posted on craigslist.org where you’ll have more time to try and find the right buyer.

Good luck!

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Safety 1st Lever Handle Lock

May 20, 2009 - Leave a Response

Review by concerned parent

We have the “Safety 1st Lever Handle Lock” installed on several interior doors within our home. For a good number of months, our mobile son has not opened those doors when the safety mechanism was set.

However, we recently installed the same product on another door and ran into a little problem. Our 21 month old toddler almost immediately opened the door — despite having the safety mechanism in place — and stepped right into the garage!

First, he successfully unlocked the door. (That’s why we purchased safety locks.) Then he pulled down the french door style lever which, in turn, unlocked the safety mechanism that is supposed to protect our child in the event that he is able to unlock the actual door.

See for yourself in this 8 second video…

Somehow the door lever, when pushed down, creates enough leverage to push-in the button that unlocks the safety lock. Admittedly, I am wondering if the shape of the lever on our doors might be a factor; notice the curvature of the lever as seen below.

Regardless, I cannot recommend use of the “Safety 1st Lever Handle Lock” product designed for “French Door Style Lever Locks”. Personally, I am no longer comfortable with the product.

Other reviews citing similar problems with this product can be found on the Babies-R-Us web site. I have since submitted an inquiry via the manufacturer’s web site as well as to the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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Life Insurance: Is it a gamble?

April 29, 2009 - One Response

It’s better to have it and not need than need it and not have it

Benjamin Franklin declared that “nothing is sure but death and taxes” yet more than a bicentennial later people are still in denial about their fate. Well, perhaps not about their fate, but rather the fact that they could die an untimely death.

To make matters worse, some people would rather deny that fact than cave in to the “pressure” of a life insurance agent. They would stand their ground before allowing themselves to be “sold” by an insurance agent. They’d say, “I’m not going to die.”

This is ironic and tragic at the same time:

  • You would let a stereotype placed on salespeople overshadow a decision that might affect your loved ones.
  • If you were declined for life insurance coverage you’ll will wish you had it.
  • You will die and, possibly, sooner than later.

I’ll forgo citing Death Statistics that you can look up on your own. However, let this serve as a wake up call if necessary.

You have to prepare in advance. And since none of us really know when we will meet our ultimate demise, that effort needs to get underway now — if you become ill (or die) it’s too late!

My father was a respected agent for a major life insurance carrier for over 40 years. He told me a story about a police officer that was killed in an auto accident while going to work in Washington, D.C.

My father recounts, “He drove up U.S. 1 and a car crossed over and killed him. He had no chance. I had just written a policy on him and when I came to deliver the check I was met by his wife with four children, friends and family. When she saw me she said ‘you know, I have lots of friends and great neighbors, but you’re the one I have been waiting to see. With that check I can continue to pay my note and help raise the children until they are of age.'”

Just as tragedy hit home for this family, personal loss was unfortunately not a stranger to my own…

As I recall the beautiful memories of my brother-in-law and the feeling of deep loss my family endured, I am reminded that my personal emotions remain on tap in the form of tears. My brother-in-law passed away at the age of 47 and was survived by my sister and two very young children; my niece and nephew. Needless to say, the situation was very difficult as would be for any family enduring the loss of a loved one. I know that my sister’s life was immediately turned upside down.

At some point in time, her mind would be infiltrated by thoughts concerning finances and her family’s future — loss of income, a mortgage, college education for the kids, and perhaps even retirement. I recall a sense of relief when my sister realized that her husband had purchased life insurance to help protect his family. I credit my father for having the wisdom to help others prepare and my brother-in-law for having the foresight to do so. I credit them both for loving my sister, my niece and my nephew.

I purchased my first life insurance policy at the age of 26; long before I ever anticipated any need. At 43, I know there is a need and I am prepared. I’ve never thought twice about paying for life insurance because I know that it’s better to have it and not need than need it and not have it.

I’ve never been much of risk taker which, in this case, is probably a good thing. Yes, underwriters are “betting” that you won’t die, but the only gamble is not to be prepared yourself.

L’Chaim

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