Personal Finance 
3
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Be Wary of Unsolicited Phone Calls

Telephone PhishingRecently I’ve been getting a lot of strange unsolicited phone calls from 800 numbers claiming to be my cell phone company or my bank or my credit card. In many cases, the calls are legitimate. If it’s a credit card company, they’re confirming some card activity and offering all the sensitive information. However, I’ve also been getting some suspicious ones at all. This last week, I had a phone call from someone who worked for a timeshare. I wasn’t interested in flying down for a three day, two night getaway in Florida and when I asked where they got my name, I got the “oh reception is breaking up *click*” That really put me on edge.

Then, a few days later, I received another phone call from someone telling me I was eligible for a promotion related to my “credit card that ended in…” and then rattled off four numbers (that matched a credit card I actively used). Again, when I asked them for their company name or how they found me, I god the “reception is breaking up *click*” treatment.

Lesson of the Day

If a company calls you out of the blue, be on your toes. Phishing isn’t limited to email, people lose sensitive information all the time because of phone calls like the ones I’ve been receiving. If a company calls you and you’re on the National Do Not Call Registry, get their information and file a complaint.

Whatever you do, don’t give up any information. If it’s really important, you can call them back at a published corporate phone number. Have them annotate your record.

Search

Lastly, if you’re curious, do a search of the number. When I searched for 877-671-1851, I discovered, through 800Notes, that it was Sprint trying to sell me a promotion (which matched what the CSR was trying to do). While you can’t trust everything you see online (anyone can put up a website that says their phone number is legimate), it can give you a good idea.

(Photo by _М и р К о__)


 Shopping 
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Chances Of Winning Cardboard Box Giveaway: 0%

The other day my friends, my wife (who is also friend but unless I give her a shout out I get shouted at), went to the 16th Annual Safeway BBQ Battle (official site) down in Washington D.C. and had a marvelous time. The annual event is a ton of fun, only $10, and part of the proceeds goes to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington’s Metropolitan Police Club Houses – so it’s a win-win-win. Besides gorging ourselves on free samples and celebrity chef demonstration food, one of the interesting things I saw was a table giving away a $500 Target gift card. I wish we had taken a picture since the sign was distinctly unprofessional and the table was even less so.

If you’ve ever gone to a mall and seen the tiny stands announcing a sweepstakes giveaway of a car or incredible vacation, then you’d recognize the tell-tale cardboard boxes with the pictures of the vacation or car. Instead of a picture of a fancy new Prius or a beach in Aruba, picture a Target gift card with a big $500 on it. That’s what the table consisted of, about a dozen of these with plenty of people signing up.

Despite the convincing sign, I bet there there is a 0% chance (ok ok, maybe a 0.0001% chance) that you’d win a $500 gift card to Target if you entered. Many of those sweepstakes contests are affordable techniques to capture your name, phone number, and address for a mailing list. The surprisingly thing is that they often tell you right on the box (they are required to). By entering, you are subscribing to the XYZ Product/Timeshare Mailing list and allow XYZ Product/Timeshare to contact you even if you are the Do Not Call list.

The chances of you winning that cardboard box giveaway: 0%.
The chances of you receiving annoying phone calls during dinner offering a fantastic timeshare vacation offer or test trial of some crazy new product: 100%.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.


 Cars, Insurance, Personal Finance 
26
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Does Marriage Affect Car Insurance Premiums?

When I was younger, I always thought that there were two things that really made a big difference in your insurance premiums:

  • Turning 25,
  • Getting married.

Everyone always told me that my premiums would drop when either one of those things happened because they were strong indicators of safety. Right before I turned 25, I recorded my premiums and then compared them to the premiums after I turned 25. I discovered that my premiums fell by a whopping 20% just for turning 25.

So, when I got married to the most wonderful woman in the whole wide world this year, I thought my insurance premiums would fall as a reward for making her an honest woman. As I went to make adjustments to my policy last week, I discovered there was no field for marital status! I’m not a rocket scientist but something says that I won’t be getting another insurance discount because I can’t even tell Geico I got married.

I went to Kanetix, where I did a series of comparisons to see how personal details affected your premiums, and that form had marital status (quite detailed options too) so I’m surprised Geico didn’t care. Is this true for other insurers as well or was I looking in the wrong place?


 Personal Finance 
2
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Final Moving Weekend & Weekly Links

Today concluded the fourth consecutive week of my friends’ moving (though I missed the first week because of my wife’s birthday) and I think we’re all moved out. What’s interesting is that three of the four couples were moving into new homes they had purchased, which decreases the likelihood that they’d be moving in the next few years. Consequently, that meant only one couple moved into another rental so we’ll probably be moving them again next year. :) We’re all in our late twenties, so it’s natural that more of us are entering the ranks of homeowners, it’s only a matter of time before the rest fall in line. :)

One other surprising item is that of the four, I believe only one dared to rent a U-Haul truck and that was today. Even more surprising is the fact that they had no problems; that’s surprising considering the deluge of comments on my I Hate U-Haul post written nearly three years ago. Maybe U-Haul has cleaned up its act but I doubt it. I’ll still never rent a U-Haul truck.

Weekly links after the jump.


(Click to continue reading…)


 General 
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Madame X’s Money Match Personals

Madame X emailed me the other day to tell me about a clever idea she had – to offer up personal ads so that readers would be able to meet one another (here’s how to participate) and perhaps make a love connection. Or they could just meet up, have some coffee, and make a friend connection. Either way, it’s a fun way to meet some new people on the internet that doesn’t require a credit card. :)

Her series is called Money Match and so far there have been two people profiled. As you’ll soon find out, while Madame X is a New Yorker, participants don’t have to be.

The first participant is someone Madame X dubbed SuperCop and he’s been a state police officer since 2004.

The second participant, including photo, is a frugal lady named “IM” from Chicago. “Im a frugal girl at heart who loves nice stuff but loves her bank balance a little more. Im 28 and already own two properties, one investment and one condo. All of that was only possible by saving and not falling prey to crazy consumerism.”

It’s a cool idea, I hope it takes off!


 Personal Finance 
4
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Enjoying the Ridiculousness of Consumerism

I’ve always enjoyed watching Chappelle’s Show and its brand of edgy sketch comedy. A lot of it is racially charged but one of my favorite sketches was a parody of MTV Cribs. If you’ve never seen MTV Cribs, it’s a show where you enter the lavish houses and lifestyles of your favorite rock stars, sports athletes, musical performers, and other famous and ridiculous rich people. It tickles the voyeur in you as they give you a tour of their crib and you wonder in amazement. The show itself is quite entertaining but the Chappelle’s Show version shines the light of truth on how ridiculous it really is. If you haven’t seen an episode of MTV Cribs, check it on out on their site and then watch these videos.

Warning: Chappelle’s Show is not for the faint of heart or those easily offended. There is a lot of racial language and themes and you probably will be offended by something in it. Especially if you like dinosaurs. Please consider yourself warned.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Personal Finance, The Home 
9
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Lessons Learned Replacing Our Roof

Earlier last week we finally had our roof replaced to the tune of $4,450, which included replacing all the plywood, shingles, installing a ridge vent (all standard stuff), and replacing the facia board on the front of the house. The replacement was absolutely necessary right now, and probably overdue for quite some time, because there was a leak. A couple months ago we had to tear down some drywall in my office, I’m staring at the gaping hole right now, and toss out the waterlogged insulation too (we waited this long because of weather and the wedding).

One of the unfortunate parts about replacing your roof is that you can only passive enjoy it. It’s not like granite counter tops that you see every day, it’s not like carpeting that you can feel under your toes, and it’s not like windows you open with ease. It just sits atop your house, protecting you from the elements, and the only time you remember it if it leaks and hopefully it won’t do that for quite some time.

Spending $4,450 on something, anything, is always difficult and here are some lessons I learned in the process.

Importance of 3+ Quotes

When I started, I didn’t know how much the job should cost. If I accepted the first quote I received, $5,750, I would’ve easily overpaid by $1,300 for the same exact product (minus differences in labor installation). I’ve always made it a point to get at least three quotes for anything I get and I usually try to get five. On this project, I only received three quotes ($4500, $4750, $5750) but I felt comfortable enough with the contractors to move on from here. (I bolded the initial quote of the company I worked with, A-1 Roofing KangaRoof).

Three quotes will give you a good idea of how much the job should cost, which created a range of $1,250 from $4750 to $5750. In an ideal situation, I would’ve gotten five but I wanted to get a roof installed as soon as possible (Lesson here: Try not to put pressure on yourself, but don’t be too relaxed about it).

Negotiating Price

Of the three contractors, I felt that Maurice of A-1 Roofing KangaRoof had the best mixture of personality and professionalism of the three. He wasn’t a polished salesmen, which I thought was a plus, but he gave me all the information I needed to make an informed decision that his company was the best of the three (and he didn’t insult me with a “special offer today of $X, have to sign today!” type of offer). Since I decided I was going to work with him, my next step was to make it a financially smart move. I called him up and told him that the next competitor, a firm recommended to me by someone I knew, had given me a quote of $4500 for the job and asked him to beat it. I actually asked him for $4400 and we met halfway. Once the numbers were right, I signed.

I’m hardly a seasoned negotiator but I don’t think price is the only important factor in a contracting job. I decided I wanted to use Maurice and A-1 Roofing KangaRoof if the numbers made sense, which they did, but I also know that in home improvement contracting there is a bit (or a lot) of wiggle room available.

Here are some other lessons regarding price:

  • If it’s a larger company, they have more freedom in the price because they perform more jobs. There’s also less downside risk that the firm will do a poor job to cut corners because referrals are very important to contractors.
  • Don’t go with a small company unless it has very strong referrals and growing. On a roof with long warranties, we have a 10 year labor warranty, it doesn’t help if the business stop operating in three years.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate the price and use every tactic you can think of. Clearly the best one is to use other quotes against the one you want, but you can also use delaying tactics (“Oh, I’m not sure I’m ready yet…”). They want your business, they are willing to take a little off the price to do the job now (hence those “special” offers).

Referrals Are King

I don’t know how the commission structure of those companies work but when I looked up whether I should tip the contractor, I was surprised at what I found. On one contractor forum, everyone (after joking you should tip 15-20%) said that tips aren’t necessary and aren’t expected, but to refer more business to them if the job was well done.

Here’s my referral for Maurice of A-1 Roofing KangaRoof: This guy went above and beyond for me. I mentioned to him that I had squirrels running up the side of the house and into the attic before the roof was replaced. I asked if his guys could screw in some wood in there to close off the hole (I realized the squirrels would eat through it but I wanted a temporary solution) and he recommended I get some quick setting mortar instead. It turned out that his crew was one shingle square short and had to return the next day, so he showed up the next morning with quick setting mortar to plug up the hole for me. I can’t speak highly enough of him and if you’re in the Baltimore-Washington DC area, make sure you give them a call as one of your three-plus. Maurice’s number is 410-746-4227, tell him Jim from Columbia sent you and he’ll give you a good deal (I don’t get anything for referring people and I have no idea if you’ll get a good deal but it’ll be fair).

Summary

We’re very pleased with how the roof turned out and it came in at a reasonable price. It was one of the things we knew we had to replace in the near term (5 years) when we bought the house three years ago and one of the last things on our list of needs. I think we’ve moved onto our wants now, which might include a kitchen remodel in a few years or something else. As my friend Fred at One Project Closer has always told me, you’re never done, you’re just one project closer.


 Travel 
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Low Cost Weekend Ideas: Visit National Landmarks

Mt. RushmoreMy wife and I, along with everyone living within a stone’s throw of Washington D.C., benefit from an abundance of national landmarks. Within Washington D.C. there are over eighty national landmarks, many of which are clustered around the Mall. In one trip, you could see dozens of our nation’s great treasures absolutely free (and if you do come to the Mall, practically every museum in the area is free too).

If you live elsewhere, don’t fret. There are over 2,460 landmarks in the United States. New York takes top honors with a 256 according to Wikipedia, with Delaware bringing up the rear with five. In Maryland, there are 71 and we’ve only gone to one of them – the Bollman Truss Railroad Bridge (by accident too). You could go to one landmark each weekend and be busy until the end of next year!

Check out your state and find a piece of America’s history to explore this weekend!

(Photo by Dean.Franklin)


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