Archive for Common Cents

Clear that lot

Because you can’t spell “sales gimmick” without GMC:

GMC Sierra sale ad from mid-November 2015

I like that. A deal on models “in stock the longest,” although it’s limited to the oldest 10% on the lot. Still, that could be a hell of a lot of trucks in pickup-crazed areas like, well, the United States of America, with the notable exception of San Francisco, which has no GMC dealers.

This ad, incidentally, was found on Equestria Daily. Ponyville, I’m sure, has no GMC dealers.

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There is no shortage of terrible credit-card offers out there, and if you were reading this site way back in 2002, you may have seen a reference to a deal offered by First Premier Bank of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which struck me as something less than wonderful. Said I at the time:

The terms for this card range from not too bad (18.9 percent APR, 25-day grace period on new purchases) to stiff ($50 annual fee) to preposterous ($119 “acceptance fee”, $72 annual “participation fee” over and above the $50).

As it happens, they’ve sent me their latest offer, and it has improved in one regard: the grace period on new purchases is now 27 days. However, the annual fee has gone to $175 for the first year, $49 thereafter, and there’s a “monthly servicing fee” of $14.50, which, they are careful to spell out, is $174 a year. And the APR? Thirty-six percent.

I’ll give them this much: none of this is in Extremely Tiny Print, and everything I’ve mentioned is explained when necessary. Still, nothing moves me to accept this “pre-approved” account.

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Embrace the brokeness

You want to know what’s really killing the blog? The lure of micropayments:

[I]t’s essentially impossible to have any discussion about blogging without that discussion turning toward, not blogging, but rewards for blogging — readership and pagerank and ads and Adsense clicks, and all of those numeric metrics that can add up to making more money from ads or selling products or selling the blog itself.

Many bloggers chase that reward, focusing the entire blogging effort on increasing their Adsense payments from enough money to buy a burger a month, to enough money to buy a burger a week. The entire value of what should be a joyous creative-effort is reduced, in perception, to a few dollars. And if the reward stays at a few dollars, or in fact never goes above a few pennies, they feel stupid, like they’re suckers.

Even when a blogger doesn’t actually care about money, the measure of a blog is still often based on the measures that produce money — readers, page views, pagerank.

Yeah, I watch those measures myself. But I assure you, they don’t make me a dime. In fact, my current stat service costs me $100 a year, more than the cost of actually running the site after I cash in my various referrals and kickbacks. Still, in an average month, I will churn out 15,000 words and lose about a tenth of a cent on each and every one of them. Since I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years — well, I must be making it up in volume, right?

If I were going to monetize (Jeebus, I hate that word) this stuff, I’d do it the hard way: bind it into a book or three. For the moment, though, while it’s certainly time-consuming, it’s not what I’d call budget-depleting. And if push comes to shove, I can always borrow the five most important words in the English language: “Hit the freaking tip jar!”

Oh, wait. I don’t have one of those, either.

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Worth less than nothing

Some people may sympathize with these folks, but I don’t:

I read that banks collected $30 billion in overdraft fees last year. That’s like $100 from every person in the country. I can imagine that there are a few flakes who have so much money they can be careless with it, and if they run up a thousand dollars in overdraft fees a month it’s no big deal. But there aren’t very many of those folks. I’ve had a couple or three overdraft charges in my life, and I life to think that I am not out of the ordinary. To make up for all the people who keep track of their money and for all the ones who don’t even have a bank account, there must be a bunch of people incurring $1000 worth of charges a year, like one person out of ten. I just don’t get it. Doesn’t $1,000 mean anything anymore?

It’s worse than you might think. With the general decline in check usage and a concomitant increase in payment-card usage — at 42nd and Treadmill, our business is now about 70 percent plastic — about the only people actually paying these fees are the few remaining check writers with no money and the people who get charged for using their overdraft protection. Deadbeats without overdraft protection have their debit cards declined, and we see about fifty of them a week. For one of the nichiest of niche markets, that’s a hell of a lot of people who are, to borrow a Briticism, totally skint. This wouldn’t bother me so much if they’d take that first decline as a warning, but they don’t: I’ve seen people present the same bad card — or worse, a whole portfolio of bad cards — week after week. Once is a mistake, maybe; twice is stupidity; three times is fraud.

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On average, we’re broke

Like you need a headline that tells you that:

The average American took in $44,569.20 last year, according to data released Tuesday by the Social Security Administration. It marks an increase of 3.5 percent from 2013.

Still, 67 percent of wage earners made less than or equal to the average. Median compensation came in at $28,851.21 for the year, up from $28,031.02 in 2013.

I can remember when twenty-eight K seemed like a fairly tidy sum.

(Via Fark.)

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Not much to overextend

I can’t say I’m too awfully surprised by this:

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning.

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website “It’s worrisome that such a large percentage of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

Me, I’d like to know what kind of emergency manages to cost only $1000.

That said, I’m not one of the 62 percent — but I’m not so far away that I can justify bragging about it. I am, however, over 59½, which means that if something Dreadfully Terrible comes up, I can tap the 401(k) without the early-withdrawal penalty, though this is not something I particularly want to do, and besides it takes a couple of weeks for Girls Just Want To Have Funds (not its real name) to cut a check.

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How much is that in bits?

There’s plenty of disagreement among fanfic writers in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe as to how much a bit “really” is. Better we should ask the basis for those bits, inasmuch as our own humanoid currency is sort of questionable these days:

[W]hen you hold cash, it’s supposed to lead back into something tangible. Whatever someone has assigned value to and can’t readily be carried, portable money substitutes for. Precious metals, for whatever reason someone decided they were worth something. Jewels, perhaps. (Humans have a certain weakness for shiny objects. Ravens with slightly improved grasping digits and lower impulse control.) You can’t ask the government for that backing material any more, at least locally. There are still silver certificate bills in circulation — they were supposed to be pulled, but collectors and dusty rainy-day stashes occasionally release a bill or two — but unless they’re crisp enough to resell as that collectible, they can only be used for their face value. The value we’re all basically lying to each other about because as long as we all lie, the system remains more or less intact.

Once upon a time, the United States ran on silver. Then gold. (Today, possibly debt.) The currency must lead back to something, even if that thing doesn’t exist.

And what might that thing be in Equestria? Think power. Herewith, a possible basis:

If the name “bits” hadn’t been assigned to us, I would count Equestrian currency in sols (or lunes). Because there are times when currency leads back to labor. You clear my fields for eight hours and I’ll give you four chickens. However, I really don’t feel like keeping those clucking menaces around, so here’s a piece of paper which you can present to a man in town, and he’ll give you the chickens for me … on such small things do economies grow.

And the ultimate labor is that which makes Sun and Moon keep working.

What’s Equestria’s ultimate promise to the world? We will keep the cycle going. And that’s about as strong a backing for a monetary system as you can ask for.

So if I was working on this, I would have the money powered by pony labor, with the sisters at the top of that scale. Ultimately, money is traded out to the other nations with the understanding that the palace will maintain the orbits. Oh, there are other forms of ponyhours being traded out: send us these goods and we’ll dispatch pegasi to adjust your weather system. Access to magic — especially that which the other species don’t have — gives a nation some powerful leverage in the world economy, although some of that is countered by what said other species can bring to the table. But at the far end of the chain … there is a simple promise. What backs Equestria’s economy is the most fundamental labor to exist in that world, performed four times per cycle — or there is no cycle at all.

If this doesn’t make sense, imagine trying to explain currencies in this world, most of which have value only because large institutions with stores of arms say they do.

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Chipping away at your PIN

As of October first, there’s a liability shift:

Under the newly implemented regulations, if a business does not switch its credit card processing machines over to the new EMV cards or if a credit card issuer does not provide new EMV chip cards to its customers, in the event of credit card fraud, the responsibility for loss will be on either the credit card issuer or the retailer, whichever has not complied with the new law.

Scammers, of course, have seen an opportunity:

Ingenious scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, are taking advantage of the situation by contacting people by email posing as their credit card company informing them that in order to issue a new EMV chip card, they need them to either update their account by confirming some personal information or click on a link to continue the process. This is a case of you are in trouble with either option.

Which is, of course, a new way to fry the Same Old Phish.


Lots more bits

Hasbro, having learned that it can easily sell stuff with double-digit price tags to pony fans, is now upping the ante:

The newest line of My Little Pony toys is definitely not for kids.

Hasbro Inc. and Integrity Toys, Inc. are collaborating on a “high end collectible” series called <3 My Little Pony, exclusively designed (and priced) for adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. These fans are colloquially called Bronies, a mostly adult, male Internet-spawned fandom with an unusual cultural position which is nearly as mainstream as My Little Pony itself.

And I suppose it’s nice to be acknowledged:

“There’s a tremendous adult market,” Integrity Toys spokesperson Carol Roth said in an interview… “The reality is most My Little Pony collectors are in their 20s to 60s and possibly even older than that.”

Well, we do have more disposable income than do the grade-school girls in the putative target audience.

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Look in the Basement

A small piece of my biography:

During my days in New England, I discovered something called Filene’s Basement, oddly enough underneath a Filene’s store. Items relegated to the Basement were marked down some startling amount, and further markdowns were taken if they survived ten, then twenty, days. After 30 days, anything left was donated to charity. I learned to keep well back as shoppers fought each other for items on Day 29.

“Fought,” incidentally, is no exaggeration. It was fierce in there sometimes.

Weirdly, Filene’s Basement, at least in its latter days, was not owned by Filene’s, but both companies ended up dead. And while Filene’s isn’t coming back — Macy’s made darn sure of thatthe Basement will return as a Web storefront:

[T]he chain is back from the dead, re-launching next week as an online-only business that will have the familiar mix of home goods and apparel that customers remember from its previous incarnation. Even “Running of the Brides,” a blowout wedding gown sale at which women were known to throw some elbows in the name of nabbing the perfect dress, is being reintroduced.

Filene’s Basement was always known for having an unusually loyal customer base, so many shoppers will likely welcome its return to the marketplace. And yet their new position as an e-commerce store may make it difficult to replicate perhaps the most beloved part of shopping at the old Filene’s Basement: The thrill of the hunt.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem the same. Still, you gotta, or at least I gotta, root for the Basement. I’m still mildly buzzed that Montgomery Ward 2.0 yet survives.

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Speaking of loops

This supermarket chain stands firmly against the vigorous circular motion:

One probably should not assume that J. Random Customer actually realizes this.

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We serve further

I mentioned that I was testing out the new American Express Serve card, a prepaid debit card with the usual Amex bennies and a meager $12 annual fee (billed at $1 a month), and there are ways to avoid that fee with certain usage patterns.

Now comes a variation on the Serve theme: good old-fashioned cash-back bonuses. The news release:

American Express announced Serve Cash Back, a new prepaid debit Account option that will earn Accountholders 1% cash back on purchases. Consumers who spend in line with the 2012 – 2013 U.S. Department of Labor national averages for gas, groceries, dining out, clothing, transportation and entertainment using the Serve Cash Back Card could potentially earn more than $400 annually when earning 1% cash back.

For those who do spend that way, this sounds like a pretty sweet deal. I don’t. And the cash back is somewhat offset by a higher fee: $5.95 a month. Still, people allergic to debt are likely a growing market, and you can’t blame Amex for wanting a piece of it.

Historical note: The original green American Express card, still available for $95 a year, is a true charge card; you pay it off each month. I ran with one of those throughout the 1980s. It is curious to me that I still remember that card number, but can’t remember my current one.


Non-current currency

Roberta X had a bill to pay, and apparently they only take Roman sestertii or something:

The savages! They have no way to pay it online! Dear merciful heavens, do I have to write and mail a check, like some kind of animal? I’ll call them, or — if they haven’t quite made it out of the 19th Century — telegraph. Gads.

Mind you, in the late 19th Century, the mail arrived — and went out — twice a day. Western Union wired cash anywhere, not just for scams; in fact, their system was foolproof for the time. I could probably have hired a boy on a bicycle to deliver a check in a sealed envelope and bring back a receipt.

Then again, a proper Web-based payment system may be beyond these folks:

I just called their office, at 8:06 am, only to have a much dumber robot tell me to call back later, between the hours of eight am and seven pm.

The most charitable assumption is that the person in charge of the answering machine was late. It gets worse quickly after that.

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Discouragingly stationary

The bank with which I do the vast majority of my business — not one of the big chains, but big enough — has been serving up a perfectly legible online-banking interface for the last five years, which fit nicely onto my screens. It apparently did not fit nicely onto people’s phones, though, so they’ve unveiled a new interface aimed directly at those who swipe rather than those who mouse around.

Well, no, I didn’t like it much. On the upside, it’s not so different from what American Express is showing me these days, so at least I didn’t have much of a learning curve, and I suppose eventually I’ll end up with a smartphone, or at least a not-quite-so-dumb phone. I’m not going to try it on my current phone; it will probably work, but carrier charges for Web access on an account with no data plan border on the absurd.

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It’s right there on the sticker

I’ve visited actual Turkish bazaars, and they’re a lot more pleasant than shopping for cars in the States. So I applaud this tentative gesture by Lexus:

Would no-haggle car pricing make the car-buying process more pleasant, and make you feel more warm and cuddly toward car dealers and toward the brand? Lexus apparently hopes so, and they plan to test this kind of pricing at a dozen of their dealerships.

The general manager for Lexus U.S.A. announced the experiment [yesterday] at a Center for Automotive Research event. “While negotiation-free pricing is not revolutionary, we strongly believe the concept will further elevate transaction transparency and customer care,” he told his audience of people in the industry.

It helps that Lexus has already developed a (mostly) stellar reputation for customer care.

This is, of course, not new; Toyota’s #3 brand, Scion, not only offers fixed prices but allows for a whole lot of customer, um, customization. And no-haggle was at the heart of the short-lived Saturn experiment over at General Motors. Then again, Saturn is dead, and Scion sales are circling the drain, so Lexus is probably wise to limit this practice to a handful of dealers for now.

Consumerist is running a poll (see link), and the hard-bargainer types are at this writing trailing by a fairly substantial margin.

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Do it again, just a little bit cheaper

My creditworthiness having increased from zero to marginally above zero of late, the bogus mortgage-refinance offers I get in email are now being supplemented by non-bogus mortgage-refinance offers in actual snail mail. Quicken Loans sent me one yesterday, which pitched me a 15-year refi at a quoted rate seemingly far below what I’m paying now.

I was going to toss it just on general principle, but I decided to sit down and do the math anyway. Actual savings: about $29 a month.

“But it’s only 15 years, and you have a 30-year note!” Well, yeah; but of those thirty years, only eighteen remain. To me, it’s not worth the hassle for a mere seven bucks and change a week.

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Weirdest donor just now

GoFundMe has raised its maximum donation by a factor of three and then some. Why? Two words: “Taylor Swift.” Behold:

On July 7th, a young girl battling cancer named Naomi got a huge surprise when her favorite singer, Taylor Swift, donated $50,000 to her GoFundMe campaign. Naomi and her family were understandably surprised and grateful for such a generous gift.

“Taylor Swift’s donation was so generous that it required us to increase the donation limit on the platform,” said Rob Solomon, GoFundMe CEO. GoFundMe’s previous donation limit was set at $15,000, but has now been increased to $50,000. There are never any limits on how much a campaign can raise.

There’s a cancer named Naomi? And they say I need an editor. (“You do.”–ed.)

You might look at this and think “Yeah, Tay just crashed their site and offered to make up for it.” Nope:

Including gifts to other campaigns, Taylor Swift has given more than any other donor in GoFundMe history.

I fully expect the next rocket to Mars to have her name on it.

(Via TSwiftDaily.)


Captain Obvious drops me a line

Fake PayPal email is so common I barely notice the real PayPal email. And if they’re going to use subject lines like this, it’s just as well:

Balance Notification: You have funds in your PayPal account.

Well, duh. That’s what it’s for, you knuckleheads. I assume you’re wanting me to go forth and spend more, but hey, that’s not your call — unless, of course, I don’t have funds.

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Roll them all over

Few shout “We are a legitimate business!” louder than your friendly neighborhood payday-loan joint. Maybe it is. I haven’t been there. But certainly this particular operation threw away its bid for legitimacy:

The operators of a payday lending scheme that allegedly bilked millions of dollars from consumers by trapping them into loans they never authorized will be banned from the consumer lending business under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission.

The settlements stem from charges the FTC filed last year alleging that Timothy A. Coppinger, Frampton T. Rowland III, and their companies targeted online payday loan applicants and, using information from lead generators and data brokers, deposited money into those applicants’ bank accounts without their permission. The defendants then withdrew reoccurring “finance” charges without any of the payments going to pay down the principal owed. The court subsequently halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets pending litigation.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants told consumers they had agreed to, and were obligated to pay for, the unauthorized “loans.” To support their claims, the defendants provided consumers with fake loan applications or other loan documents purportedly showing that consumers had authorized the loans. If consumers closed their bank accounts to stop the unauthorized debits, the defendants often sold the “loans” to debt buyers who then harassed consumers for payment.

So weasels and jackals can crossbreed. Who knew?

(Thanks to Roger Green.)

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Holding Serve

American Express is phasing out its old prepaid card in favor of something called Serve, and I decided I’d give the new product a test drive.

Serve from American ExpressThe most obvious difference is capacity: the old prepaid card was limited to $2,250. You can stash a million, or more, on Serve. (Not that I’d have a million, but you get the idea.) All the usual Amex bennies are in play, including product insurance. And at a buck a month, it’s cheaper than any other plastic offered by Amex.

The transaction listings might perplex the newcomer. I plugged a Serve card into the iTunes Store to cover future purchases. As is Apple’s wont, and as I expected, they requested an authorization for $1 to make sure the card was good. As I didn’t expect, this dollar stayed on the listings for eight days before being allowed to expire. This is in accordance with the card’s terms, but it seems a trifle excessive.

Saturday I swiped it to get a tankful of V-Power Nitro+. Amex responded with a $99 hold. (I was expecting maybe $75.) This was reduced Monday to the amount actually purchased: $36.10. Of course, they have no idea how big my gas tank is. But I wonder how much they’re going to hold for, say, a two-night hotel stay.

Then again, this is more information than I’m used to getting from credit cards, or even my Visa Check Card. Maybe I shouldn’t complain, since things do get ironed out on schedule.

Ads displaying Amexes (Amices?) of old bore the name C. F. Frost, who, incidentally, actually existed:

Charles Frost — or Chuck, as we like to call him —-is a real person. He was an account executive for the advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather, which put together the original “Do you know me?” ads for American Express. Ogilvy and Amex thought it would be convenient to use Frost’s name on the sample ads rather than some phony moniker, which would probably turn out to be the real name of some joker in Pocatello who would sue for privacy infringement. Luckily for Chuck, the number on the credit card was not his real American Express card number.

Dear Ann Baker: Call me.


If I don’t drop dead

It appears that all American business models have been updated to include “Pester the customer as much as possible in an effort to get the sucker to buy more.” Temerity Funds [not its real name], my 401(k) “provider,” has been following this path for several years now, and it amazes them that I have a balance in the middle five figures, and not the low seven figures they think I’ll need to survive the rigors of retirement. And they’d probably be right if I were going to live to 118 or so; but I’m pretty sure that’s not happening.

What is happening is this: assuming Social Security doesn’t go down the drain right away, I’ll pull somewhere around $1800 a month in retirement income. Which isn’t a lot. Then again, the austerity budget I’d been on for the past five years left me with somewhere around $1800 a month to live on. It’s uncomfortably tight, but it is doable.

And there’s an X factor from my past. Last week I got a card from my employer in the late Seventies and early Eighties, who apparently had lost track of me and needed me to verify my existence for pension purposes. I knew this existed, but as yet I hadn’t done any work on tracing it, and I figured at best it might be $100 a month. No, actually, it’s $250, assuming retirement (as Social Security does) at age 66. Things just got slightly looser.


Don’t touch my junk bonds

I want to say up front that when they say “we,” they don’t mean me:

Maybe it’s a kind of pension envy. We worry that our retirement account is just not big enough, especially when compared to the those of the big savers. And the younger we are, the more we fret.

Almost one-third (29%) of respondents to a new Merrill Edge survey admitted they would be embarrassed if their close friends or family knew the intimate details of their finances — especially their retirement savings, checking account balance or credit score. They’re even a bit shy about how much they spent on their wedding and how much they blow every month on discretionary items.

Then there are those of us who wonder why the hell it’s anybody’s business how much was spent on my wedding. (Hint: Not much.)

[S]urprisingly, those with the most time to prepare for retirement are the most concerned. More Gen X-ers (74%) and Millennials (67%) say they expect a “stressful retirement” in their future, based on what they are currently able to save. Meanwhile, about six-in-ten (59%) of current “mass affluent” retirees — having $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets — aren’t concerned about their finances.

“Mass affluent?” GMAFB. Mass effluent, maybe. If I got eased into the Lonely Financial Zone this week, $50,000 would last me maybe through the 2016 election, after which anything left would probably be confiscated. (For all I know, it might be confiscated before the election; Washington is not to be trusted on such matters.)

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Inflation gone undetected

About 2006, the woman who’d been doing my hair for the past several years took off for points unknown, and inasmuch as it was a ten-mile-plus drive to the shop where she was working — for a while she’d had her own shop — I started looking for a new shop, and eventually found myself going to a unisex shop on the northwest side. By no coincidence, this was the same shop Trini was using. The tab was $14; I handed the guy a twenty and said “Swap you one of these for a one.”

Eventually, reasoning that the price had surely gone up, I simply handed him a twenty and let it go at that. And this worked just fine until this past weekend, when I popped open the billfold and said, “You know, I have no idea what this actually costs anymore.”

“Eighteen dollars,” he said.

I reached for another bill, but he bade me close up the wallet. “You’re fine,” he said. “See you in a few weeks.”

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Pining for the Zambezi

The Zimbabwean dollar is dead. Not resting, dead:

Zimbabwe is phasing out its local currency, the central bank says, formalising a multi-currency system introduced during hyper-inflation.

Foreign currencies like the US dollar and South African rand have been used for most transactions since 2009.

Local dollars are not used except high-denomination notes sold as souvenirs.

And this is the final exchange rate before it rings down the curtain and joins the Choir Invisible:

From Monday, Zimbabweans can exchange bank accounts of up to 175 quadrillion (175,000,000,000,000,000) Zimbabwean dollars for five US dollars.

Higher balances will be exchanged at a rate of Z$35 quadrillion to US$1.

This is still chump change — or, I guess, the inverse of chump change — next to the post-World War II megahypersuperinflation of the Hungarian pengő, which was killed off in 1946 and replaced with the forint, deemed to be worth 460 octillion pengő.

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Two bucks chucked

I am seldom happy to see something from the Oklahoma Tax Commission in the day’s mail, especially since the one thing I can expect from them in June — the card for this year’s vehicle registration — showed up promptly on the first.

I slit open the envelope. and there it was: the green debit MasterCard the state uses to dispense income-tax refunds. Well, okay, fine, but I wasn’t anticipating a tax refund; in fact, I sent them a check for a sum in three figures back in the spring.

Perplexed, I dialed up the inevitable 800 number and went through the entire activation sequence. Apparently on Monday the state decided to credit me with $2.00. I don’t know why; I didn’t make any computational errors on my return. The Tax Commission’s Web page was down yesterday for maintenance and supposedly hasn’t been modified since late May, so I’m betting a finger on some unsteady hand pressed the wrong button and sent out several thousand of these to unsuspecting taxpayers, and no one has figured it out yet.

In the meantime, I have $2 on this card. I think maybe I’ll buy a couple of non-current MP3s with it.

Update, 21 June: I spent it on this eight-minute track:

I’m thinking a companion piece to FGTH’s Two Tribes.


Fees less simple

About five years ago, American Express, about the last people on earth you’d expect to do such a thing, introduced a refillable debit card with no monthly fee. I saw this as a reasonable way to stash away a few bucks, and got one.

More recently, Amex introduced a new card with just about all the bennies of a “real” Amex card, called Serve. Users of the old card have not migrated en masse to the new one, perhaps because it costs a buck a month, unless you load it via direct deposit or otherwise stash $500 in your account. (The $1 fee does not apply in three states.) So Amex stopped accepting applications for the old card last year. I decided I’d switch, but only when the time was right.

Well, the time is now right: Amex is imposing a $4.95 monthly fee on the old card, starting this fall. I’ve ordered the Serve, and I’ll report on anything weird that happens.


No future for you: priceless

WFMU headlined it this way, and I can’t possibly top that:

But why? The bank’s director of cards explains:

“In launching these cards, we wanted to celebrate Virgin’s heritage and difference. The Sex Pistols challenged convention and the established ways of thinking — just as we are doing today in our quest to shake up UK banking.”

Not too anarchist, one assumes: the cards carry an interest rate of 18.9 percent.

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Dryness and the profit therein

An item from last fall:

BC Clark Jewelers, founded (as every Oklahoman already knows) in 1892, instituted a program in 1998 called Pray for Rain:

When you buy your engagement ring from BC Clark Jewelers and it rains (or snows) an inch or more on your wedding day, BC Clark will refund you the price of your engagement ring up to $5,000. Just ask one of our 140+ Pray for Rain winning couples!”

So in sixteen years they averaged about nine winners a year. Then the Rainiest Month in History befell them:

According to Mitchell Clark, Executive Vice President for BC Clark, they had another Pray For Rain winner on Tuesday, May 19, and five more winners on Saturday, May 23.

That makes 14 winners in the last four weeks, and 17 in total for the year, Clark said.

And the year isn’t even half over.

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Target pays up, sort of

This arrived in email Sunday:

If You Shopped at Target from November 27 through December 18, 2013 or Received Notice That Your Personal Information Was Compromised, You Could Get Money for Losses from a Data Breach Settlement.

A Settlement has been proposed in lawsuits against Target Corporation (“Target”) relating to Target customers whose credit/debit card information or personal information was stolen as a result of a data breach that was first disclosed on December 19, 2013 (“Target Data Breach”). Target’s records show you are included in this Settlement and may be eligible for a cash payment. Visit for more information or to file a claim.

Who is included in the Settlement? You are a member of the Class if: (1) you shopped at a Target store and used your credit or debit card from November 27-December 18, 2013; (2) you provided your contact information to Target before December 18, 2013; or (3) your bank, credit card company, or other financial institution issued you a new credit or debit card shortly after December 2013 and informed you that your old card may have been compromised. If you received a notice directly about the Target Data Breach, you are a Class Member.

What does the Settlement provide? The $10 million Settlement Fund will provide payments to consumers who have had losses caused by the Target Data Breach. If you are included, you can choose between two types of payments:

* If you have documentation, you can receive reimbursement of losses up to $10,000. These losses include unauthorized, unreimbursed charges; certain costs and fees; and lost or restricted access to funds among other things.

* If you do not have documentation, you may be eligible for an equal share of the Settlement Fund remaining after payment of claims for documented losses and service payments. For example, if the total of service payments awarded by the Court plus documented claims adds up to $1 million and 300,000 Settlement Class Members submit valid claims without documentation, you will receive $30 from the Settlement Fund. The amount of actual payments will depend on the amount of claims received.

I fall into classification (2): I presumably had this stuff on file, but did not actually charge anything at Target during the period in question, and have incurred no losses as a result of the breach.

Oh, since you were curious:

Target will pay any attorneys’ fees and expenses awarded by the Court to Settlement Class Counsel separate and apart from the Settlement Fund. Settlement Class Counsel’s Fee Request will not exceed $6.75 million ($6,750,000).

Is there a separate wing of law school where class-action suits are studied as a specialty? And how much extra do they charge for tuition?

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Avoiding the supermarket

I grew up thinking that all these New York folks carrying a single bag of groceries down the street had the right idea: every day, fresh and new, doncha know. This was, of course, long before I had to start shopping for myself, and I learned the wisdom of going as little as possible:

[S]hop with a list and go once a week for your main trip. Go more than once a week only if you have to restock on a necessity (such as milk in our family), or if you’ve run out of a critical item (cat food!). You may be able to cut your grocery trips to every other week if you have a large refrigerator and pantry. This does mean that you don’t take advantage of each week’s loss leaders but that may not matter as much as avoiding the store altogether and spending even less.

If you are forced to make that emergency trip, then make yourself buy ONLY the item you need. Walk into the store and do NOT use a buggy, which would encourage you to fill that empty space with impulse buys. Don’t even take one of those carry baskets. Carry baskets, small carts, and large buggies: each one lets you put more stuff into it so you buy more stuff. If you hand-carry what you need, you’ll buy less.

It’s a rare month when I show up at the supermarket as many as six times. Most often, it’s a Saturday trip for regular restocking, and a trip to Braum’s about every third Wednesday to silence that damnable craving for Rocky Road. Then again, the only one eating around here is yours truly, so I always know what I need to buy and what I’m already out of.

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