Archive for Common Cents

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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I’d call this a pro tip

I hadn’t seen it before. It’s a restaurant ticket, pretty much like any other, except that at the bottom it calculates the “suggested gratuity” for you at three fairly standard rates: 15 percent, 18 percent (“GREAT!”) and 20 percent (“WOW!!”) On the $43.50 check used as illustration, 20 percent is given as $7.99; since 20 percent of $43.50 is in fact $8.70, I’m assuming they’re figuring it before taxes. Me, I’d probably round it up to $9, because that’s just how I roll.

The chap who actually got this particular check, however, left quite a bit more:

It’s common to leave a nice tip for restaurant waitstaff who do a good job. But one man went above and beyond with his restaurant gratuity, leaving behind a $3,000 tip on a $43.50 check for a struggling waitress.

Mike, a resident in New York City, left the massive tip for a waitress who was facing some hard times. “This woman had been serving us for almost a year now. She’s a lovely individual, and she talked about how she was served an eviction notice last month,” Mike told ABC News.

Mike, who asked to remain anonymous, made the tip as part of the ReesSpecht Life foundation, a pay-it-forward movement started by teacher Ray Specht after the tragic death of his 22-month-old son. Mike asked the waitress to not “let ‘Pay it Forward’ end with you.”

Not all of us can afford to part with three grand on just such an occasion, but it’s heartening when someone can, and does.

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How big an Apple?

At $130+ a share, Apple’s market capitalization is on the far side of $750 billion. Is it possible that the company could make it up to a trillion? Bill Quick says yes, but:

I think Apple — barring some sort of economic collapse — will be the first trillion dollar US company. That said, the time to start looking around for alternatives will be when the market consensus believes that Apple will remain on top forever.

Yep. Things that can’t last forever — which includes pretty much everything, really — won’t. Still, it will take a lot to dislodge a company that’s sitting on nearly $200 billion in cash.

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Undeserved appreciation

Want to see someone’s jaw drop? Tell them that the computer for which they paid $1000 won’t bring twenty bucks at a garage sale.

Nor is this phenomenon limited to computers, either:

I’ve run into adamant, intractable private sellers on three different occasions in recent weeks, and I’m finding their mental attitude almost incomprehensible. In each case the seller argued along the lines that he’d paid X for the article in question, and therefore he wanted to recover as much of that price as possible. The fact that the same article could be bought, brand-new, for a significantly lower price was irrelevant as far as he was concerned.

And even if you can’t get a new one for cheaper, the old one is still not worth what it used to be:

I’m seeing this crop up in more and more areas of the market right now, including housing and vehicles. Actual market values are ignored as sellers demand unrealistic, unreasonably high prices. Some of them are just plain greedy. Others seem to be conflating the price they paid for something with an emotional investment in it. They’re trying to recoup that emotional investment, rather than the item’s actual present monetary worth. I can understand someone who needs cash wanting to get the best possible price, but the market sets that price, not the individual. If he demands too much, he’ll get nothing at all.

Among the worst offenders are people who wrecked their almost-new $30,000 cars and are horrified that the insurance company totaled it and handed them a check for $18,500. These are kin to the idiots suffering from “buyer’s remorse” and want to trade the car they had for 72 hours even up for another one of a different color or some such horsepuckey. In vain will you explain to them that the moment there’s a new name on the title, it’s a used car.

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A time-killer in its own way

What does this tell you about Thunder-Jazz?

Yep. At some point during the third quarter, I turned down the sound and started the long annual trudge through the financials. It doesn’t take that long — I finished the Federal before the end of the game, and the state return is pretty simple — but the local roundballers should not consider this an endorsement, if you know what I mean.

One new line on the back of the 1040 is labeled “Health care: individual responsibility (see instructions)”. From said instructions:

Beginning in 2014, individuals must have health care coverage, qualify for a health coverage exemption, or make a shared responsibility payment with their tax return. If you had qualifying health care coverage (called minimum essential coverage) for every month of 2014 for yourself, your spouse (if filing jointly), and anyone you could or did claim as a dependent, check the box on this line and leave the entry space blank. Otherwise, do not check the box on this line. See the instructions for Form 8965.

You know, it would have been easier for all of us if they’d just called the damn thing a tax. After all, it’s grouped under Other Taxes on the return.

There’s a line — line 69, as it happens — for those who might be getting a credit for coverage purchased through the Marketplace, but this requires yet another form and another set of instructions. Last year, this line did not exist, but there was a blank space, baby, called Reserved.

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Your attention, please

This is what happens in its absence:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Incorrect and Misleading information on Car Finance documentation?

Well, let’s see:

I took a secrured [sic] car loan in Jan 2013 for a MINI Cooper S Turbo. This is the car on the finance documentation. I have realised since that I have actually got a base model MINI Cooper. The signed loan docs are wrong. Where do I stand legally? I was lied to at the dealership by both the Vehicle and Finance sales people into thinking I have the MINI COOPER S TURBO. Will I be entitled to a refund of the money paid so far?

It took you two fricking years to discover you didn’t have the turbo? It’s a darn good thing you’re in Jolly Old, Dickie-boy, because you’d be laughed out of an American court with a tall tale like that.

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Really really less filling

The new American nightmare is The Incredible Shrinking Beer:

I’ve been drinking Stella Artois lately, but tonight I noticed that they have reduced the size of their bottles from 12 ounces to 11. I was suspicious when the 22 ounce bottles started showing up. Now my suspicions are confirmed. The anti-fun people are still trying to put the screws to us, one ounce at a time.

They can pitch it as having 8 percent fewer calories, I suppose.

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Mehthod acting

I’ve now placed two orders with, and two things seem worth mentioning:

  • One’s order “number” is not a number at all, but three random words. Harder to fake, I’m guessing.
  • While they get a credit-card authorization the moment you place an order, they apparently don’t actually finalize the charge until the product ships.

Well, that and the fact that the product descriptions are about 40 percent nastier than Woot’s ever were.


Always be careful where you stick it

You never know when something like this may pop up:

I have no idea what the words outside the dialog box mean, but I suspect a Blue Screen of Death is either imminent or present.

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Outward buckpass

Why, yes, your personal information was jeopardized. Want to know what we’re going to do about it? Take a guess:

[B]ecause I have BC/BS health insurance … well, I wasted a good part of Friday morning on the phone with the credit bureaus getting holds/fraud alerts placed on my accounts, because apparently our information was among that in the Anthem breach. Now someone is telling me I need to contact the IRS and tell them not to process any address changes put through in my name in the next x period of time … and I just can’t. I can’t call that awful phone-tree and try to figure out whom I need to talk to and get kicked out three separate times and have to go through it again like I did the last time I had a problem. I’d hope that Anthem would do something towards taking care of that for us, or if they won’t, I guess I just file as early as I can and hope no one is going to try to use my SSN for nefarious purposes.

It would be most unkind to point out that, no thanks to a far bigger scam than mere identity theft, the IRS and the health-insurance industry are now joined at the hip. This is like Cthulhu hiring an adjunct.

We’ve also been warned to watch out for e-mail scams offering us credit monitoring, supposedly in the name of Anthem. It’s like, “You ALREADY have my personal information, this just adds insult to injury.”

A two-for-one deal! Expect Leviathan to promote the hell out of it on social media.

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Yours truly, back in ’07, griping (with the help of WiseGeek) about that nine-tenths of a cent grafted onto the price of a gallon of gas:

They took it one step further: what if the price were jacked up, not by $0.009, but by $0.0099? Another $14 million for the month, another $170 million for the year, and besides contrarian cranks like me, hardly anyone would even notice.

What if, indeed?

Fractions of a penny aren’t a significant amount of money, so we don’t really pay attention to them. That might be what the dollar store chain 99 Cents Only is counting on. They don’t exactly hide that everything in their stores costs 99.99¢ rather than 99¢, putting that information on customer receipts and even on shelf tags. Does that make the store’s name misleading, or is it okay to round down?

One customer decided “misleading”:

One customer noticed and was annoyed enough to file a lawsuit against the company, which ended with them posting signs explaining the additional .99¢ price hike. The company blamed the need to raise their prices almost imperceptibly on inflation.

But of course.

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Everywhere appeal

My younger brother (48 today), perhaps half in jest, is trying to crowdfund a vacation. I thought the idea was nutty, but I threw in a few dollars, on the basis that it might be easier for someone else to do so if there’s already something in the kitty.

Now comes this chap who’d like you to pay for his dates:

My name is Tom and I’m a 26-year-old hopeless sarcastic romantic.

I like reading as much as going out with friends, I find thunderstorms relaxing to listen to and can easily lose myself in a good film. I like sitting in busy cafes writing poetry and people watching. The problem is I don’t have a lady/partner in crime/personal femme fatale to share all this with me, teach me new things and put me in my place every now and again.

Tom calculates that it will take 13 dates to find The One, and so he’s asking for £1300. At this writing, eight contributors have anted up £222.

Update, 26 January: Things are not going well for poor Tom.


My share of the debacle

In December, CFI Care [not its real initials] made a presentation at the office, presumably to sell everyone on the benefits of the new government-approved health-insurance policy being sold us. I missed it, as I was already ill, though it was whispered to me that the old $3000 deductible was being replaced with a new $5000 deductible. I suggested that this was scarcely an improvement, and got a half-hearted shrug in return, a shrug that said “Yes, yes, we know, but what can we do about it now?”

Back in the days before bronze and silver and gold, when they were talking about Cadillac policies, what we had was basically a five-year-old Pontiac with a leaky valve-cover gasket. The office picks up my premium expense. However, I estimate my additional out-of-pocket expense, based solely on the new copay specifications, at $800. God forbid something should actually happen to me in this ’96 Hyundai with bad brakes.


Just say no to drugs

Wait a minute. Not these drugs:

Is this some quirk in New York law, or does someone simply not know how to set prices?

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The paper gets pricier

An unsigned letter from the circulation department (I assume) at the Oklahoman:

You will note that subscription rates are slightly increasing this renewal period. The increased rates are the result of the economic realities associated with publishing a newspaper 7-days a week that contains quality investigative journalism, like our coverage of the problems at the Department of Human Services, along with the extensive information we provide each day about community news, sports & events.

Has to be circulation: nobody on the news side of the business writes with so little flair.

“Slightly,” incidentally, is just over 11 percent. Then again, without going through a box of bank statements, I couldn’t tell you the last time they raised the rates, so it’s not like the price is suddenly spiraling out of sight.

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Love is grand, divorce is several grand

I suppose that at first it really didn’t sink in that Harold Hamm, big wheel at Continental Resources downtown, offered his ex-wife a divorce settlement of just under a billion dollars; anything over about fifty thou strains my comprehension. And I’ve certainly never written a check anywhere close to that, let alone to this:

Settlement check from Harold Hamm

This was the exact amount of the settlement specified by the court in granting the divorce, but she says it’s inadequate:

[Sue Ann] Arnall, a former Continental executive who was married to Hamm for 26 years, contends that her award of around $1 billion in cash and assets was inadequate and allowed Hamm to keep the lion’s share of a fortune her lawyers valued as high as $18 billion.

Harold Hamm had already paid his former wife more than $20 million during the divorce proceedings.

Hamm’s appeal contends that the $1 billion award was too steep. Hamm has lost billions tied to the value of his 68 percent stake in Continental in recent months, which his legal team blames on the sharp fall in oil prices.

Um, technically “the lion’s share” is the whole ball of wax, lions being generally unwilling to share. And no doubt Hamm’s lost a fair chunk of change in the current oil bust: market cap for CLR has dropped to about $12 billion, which means Hamm’s equity in the company is a hair over $8 billion. Still, were someone to hand me a check for a billion dollars, I don’t think I’d fuss — once it cleared, anyway.

And frankly, I think it’s weird to see that sum literally written out.

Update, 8 January: She’s changed her mind and will take the $974 million.

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Premium inversion

In the fall of 2008, I said something to this effect about my insurance bill:

For the car, that is; I’ve already gotten the notice for the house. (The car, incidentally, costs more, probably because it’s easier to steal.)

After the last few years of, um, rate adjustments, it now costs nearly twice as much to insure the house as it does the car.


Wisdom of the ages

A memory from Irving Kahn, chairman of Kahn Brothers Group on Wall Street (well, actually, they’re on Madison Avenue north of 55th, but they’re in a proper Wall Street business):

“One of my clearest memories is of my first trade, a short sale in a mining company, Magma Copper. I borrowed money from an in-law who was certain I would lose it but was still kind enough to lend it. He said only a fool would bet against the bull market.”

Magma survived long enough to be bought out by an Australian firm in 1995 — 66 years after Kahn sold them short in the summer of 1929, just before the Biggest Stock Market Crash Ever.

And Kahn remains a player in the investment market today, at the age of 109.


Canned hate

There’s a lot of yammering these days about the need for people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, much of which overlooks the obvious point that first there have to be boots.


I once knew someone who expressed opposition to the local food bank, claiming it allowed people to “continue to be dependent.” I don’t know. I volunteered at that food bank and I think most of the people I interacted with would have much preferred to have their OWN money from their OWN job to go to the grocery and buy food. And I, myself, would almost rather starve than have to go and accept food from a food bank. And even beyond how you think about the adults, most of those people had kids … and even if a person might think it’s OK for an adult, who, presumably in this person’s mindset, “could work,” kids can’t … so if their parents don’t, how are they to be fed? And yes, I know the government is supposed to do a lot of this, there’s SNAP and all that … but if it took care of everything, would there be a need for food banks? I don’t know, to me it seems very Scrooge to say, essentially, “But isn’t there SNAP? Isn’t there welfare? Let them use that…” I object to wastage of and fraud involving my tax money as much as anybody, but I still bring canned goods to food bank drives or give to various charities because I see them helping people, and even if there are some areas of government agencies where corruption looms, that doesn’t mean the grassroots groups are no better.

It’s not impossible for there to be shenanigans at a food bank, but since the folks running them tend to want to be there — as distinguished from the bureaucrat who doesn’t much care where he is so long as the retirement credits pile up — I generally accord them a whole lot more credibility than the Professional Poverty Warriors, constantly agitating for more, more, more.

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Nobody likes price hikes

Especially if there’s a good reason for one, and in this case there was:

Uber is reportedly charging its users in downtown Sydney a minimum $100, a result of surge pricing introduced in the midst of an armed hostage crisis, Mashable has learned.

An executive in the city’s Central Business District (CBD) sent Mashable screenshots of the Uber app that show the company is charging up to four-times the normal rate because “demand is off the charts.”

A hundred Australian dollars is about $82 USD.

“I have never, ever seen it at four-times [the normal rate] and I’m a 1% top Uber user,” said Matthew Leung, the user in contact with Mashable. “I understand the way the business works — higher the demand, higher the charge — but four-times at $100 minimum is ridiculous. Almost price gouging at its worst.”

Rather a lot of Twitter users chose to ignore that word “almost”; reaction was swift and almost entirely negative. Uber’s Sydney office issued a statement:

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not driving my way into that sort of catastrophe for a lousy 82 bucks.

Later, in an effort at damage control, Uber began waiving fees for riders leaving the CBD, and offered refunds to the truly distraught.

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Defending the rush

There are two types of people who object to Black Friday, says Bark M., and he has a refutation for both:

First, you have the “don’t ever spend a dime because you’re going to be old someday” people. Let me think … would I rather die with $5M in the bank, or would I rather enjoy my youth? Has anybody ever been sad that they bought their dream car? Has anybody ever regretted a trip to Europe? There’s a difference between charging yourself into oblivion and simply enjoying your money while you can. I’ve been guilty of overspending a bit at times, but I have priceless memories that made it worth it. Yes, I put my kids’ Disney trip on a credit card (SHOCK). No, I didn’t pay it off immediately (DOUBLE SHOCK). Do I regret it? Not one bit.

I’m already old. And while I didn’t go shopping that day, I am allergic to crowds, and I’m still working on getting myself out of the hole. Still, I can’t dispute this premise: the only person who regrets buying his dream car is the one who overspent to get it. See next paragraph.

Second, you have the “I don’t need or desire material things” crowd. Sorry, but for ninety-nine percent of people, that’s nonsense. The people who say that are mostly the people who can’t afford the material things. Yes, I know you have an uncle who looks dirt poor but could pay cash for a Maybach anytime he wanted. Yes, I know what you think of people who make $40K a year and lease 320is. But you can’t tell me that there isn’t something that you could buy RIGHT NOW that would make you happier, even if only short term. Other than non-emotional things like toilet paper, everything I buy, I buy it because I enjoy it.

If you ever run out of toilet paper, it suddenly becomes emotional. Trust me on this.

I wrote this three years ago:

Now admittedly there are a few gadgets I covet now and then, and I still buy the occasional book or “record” album. But, to rework a phrase of Barack Obama’s, I’m starting to believe there’s a point where you’ve accumulated enough stuff. I have a whole room full of stuff that I haven’t been able to get organized in eight years, and I am loath to add to it if I can help it. (Is it really necessary for me to have every issue of Entertainment Weekly? It didn’t matter so much for the first few years, but with issue #1200 imminent — well, you get the idea. I blame Jeff Jarvis.)

Note: EW is now well into the 1400s.

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You’ll buy it anyway, suckers

When Matt Rutledge founded Woot back in the early 21st century, he chose to refrain from the usual fawning product descriptions: often, in fact, the merchandise was described with references to small flaws or implications of unsuitability for the intended purpose.

But Bags O’ Crap aside, I don’t remember anything as ferocious as this paragraph at Rutledge’s today:

The only headphones in the world where you can drop the price by $60-$80 and they’re still overpriced. Unlike most Beats deals on Black Friday, these are the current model, the Solo2, not the old Solo or Solo HD models. We’re told they get the bass balance better than the notoriously bottom-heavy original Beats headphones. But you can get better headphones for the same price or less. We still wouldn’t pay this much for Beats even if Dre himself threw in a quarter of chronic from his personal stash. Let some other chump pay for those relentless Beats ad campaigns. They’re just headphones. Not good enough? We’d say we hate to disappoint you on such a special day … but the truth is we actually sort of enjoy it.

For the record, they were selling these nominally $200 headsets for $120, and as of this writing, had moved 572 of them, meaning there were about 50,000 site visitors who weren’t interested.


Pray for snow, maybe

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!

Five grand is a lot to have to cough up, but it’s nothing compared to this:

In what one Chicago-area Buick dealership is calling a “White Friday” sale, customers who buy any brand new Buick or GMC vehicle on Nov. 28 and 29 will have the chance to get all that money back come Christmas, reports the Chicago Tribune.

The catch is, it has to snow six inches or more on Christmas Day, a measurement that must be recorded at the O’Hare International Airport weather station.

Snow? In Chicago? Is that even possible?

The chances of getting any amount of snowfall in Chicago on that day are between 40% to 50%, according to the Illinois Climatologist office, much less an entire six inches.

Still, if the dealership had to fork over $32,000 — the average vehicle transaction price these days — for, say, 30 buyers, we’re up towards a million dollars. (Dr. Evil recommends taking out some insurance.)

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It’s a floor wax and a credit card

Top Ten reasons to choose the NBC Saturday Night Live MasterCard:

  1. It’s usable at thousands of locations, and you’re not
  2. Endorsed by Morgan Fairchild, your wife, whom you’ve slept with
  3. Terms and Conditions require you to party on, Garth
  4. It’s cheap enough, it’s pretty enough, and doggone, people like it
  5. Provides standard services at enclosed retail compounds
  6. Samurai payments!
  7. Who’s in your wallet? Could it be … SATAN?
  8. Honored by Da Bears
  9. Double rewards for ignorant sluts
  10. If you ever want to cancel, Sinead O’Connor will come to your house and rip it in half

(Prompted by Costa Tsiokos.)

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More mettle in your plastic

I, of course, carry a Plywood Card:

I remember my father telling me about the Amex Gold Card when I was a kid. “It has no limit,” he said, in the tones that an earlier generation used to describe the bomb at Hiroshima, “you could charge a Rolls-Royce on it.” When he eventually got one, I was deeply disappointed that he didn’t immediately charge a Rolls-Royce. Given that our local dealer had precisely one Rolls-Royce in stock, however, and it was a fucking Camargue, I no longer resent him for not doing so.

I get the sense that the Platinum Card is now what the Gold Card used to be. My Platinum Amex doesn’t seem to have any limit, although to be fair I’ve never tried to charge a Rolls-Royce. I have had a couple of days where I made five figures’ worth of charges to it in a single day, an action that prompts panicked phone calls from my Visa Signature card issuer, and I had no trouble doing so. Lately I’ve been thinking about downgrading to the Gold or even the Green card, however. I’m not really living much of an upscale life.

Only once did I ever get a phone call on even a Green Amex, presumably because I’d gone beyond my high-side-of-normal thousand-a-month usage.

And once upon a time, some Middle East arms dealer, visiting Boeing, is supposed to have bought a plane on impulse and paid for it with Amex.

Not that this sort of thing matters, of course:

Which brings us to the point of high-end credit cards: impressing retail personnel. But if you’ve ever worked retail, you know that you don’t care about what stupid credit card the customer has. So maybe the point of a high-end credit card is to imply that you don’t know how little the retail people care about it, because you’ve never worked a retail or foodservice job and therefore wouldn’t know that kind of prole-ass detail. Very meta-impressive. I think.

So maybe it’s to impress the person behind you in line at the counter.

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You can’t get much more inauspicious

A few days back, I quoted both Bill Quick and @SwiftOnSecurity on the future of CurrentC, billed as a rival to ApplePay. Neither was what you’d call favorably impressed. But CurrentC has now taken the first step towards becoming a Real Payments Company. They’ve been hacked:

CurrentC, which is a mobile payment system backed by the Mercantile Exchange (MCX), sent out an email to its pilot users stating that an unauthorized third party had obtained email addresses of some of its users, the MCX confirmed to CNBC in an email statement.

“Within the last 36 hours, we learned that unauthorized third parties obtained the e-mail addresses of some of our CurrentC pilot program participants and individuals who had expressed interest in the app. Many of these email addresses are dummy accounts used for testing purposes only. The CurrentC app itself was not affected.”

This does not mean, of course, that no one will ever break into ApplePay; but when you’re trying to sign up clients, this is not the sort of wording you want on your prospectus.

(Via Matthew Green.)

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This will end in tears and/or bankruptcy

I mean, just look at it:

Long before Apple Pay, big brick-and-mortar retail chains were conspiring to sidestep the typical 2% to 3% fees they’re charged by credit card companies when consumers pay with credit. A company called MCX (Merchant Customer Exchange), spearheaded by Walmart, was started to build a mobile payment solution that would become an app called CurrentC that’s preparing to launch, but is already in the app stores.

Rather than NFC, CurrentC uses QR codes displayed on a cashier’s screen and scanned by the consumer’s phone or vice versa to initiate and verify the transaction. The system is also designed to automatically apply discounts, use loyalty programs, and charge purchases to a variety of payment methods without passing sensitive financial data to the merchant.

“Dead on arrival,” says Bill Quick:

It was designed not to benefit the consumer, but enrich the merchant. The result of that calculation is usually an awful failure.

Especially if the consumer is paying attention:

Legal protections for debit transactions being decidedly limited compared to legal protections for credit transactions, Swift’s nailed it.

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The keys to the executive washroom

Embedded in a largish Bookworm omnibus post is this item:

While it’s quite possible that the CEO of a big American company gets paid 331 times as much as the part-time janitor working weekends (especially the part-time janitor working weekends in the company’s Delhi office), it’s not true that, on average, American CEOs make 331 times more than ordinary employees.

Selective sampling, of course. From WSJ:

The AFL-CIO calculated a pay gap based on a very small sample — 350 CEOs from the S&P 500. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 248,760 chief executives in the U.S. in 2013.

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for these chief executives is $178,400, which we can compare to the $35,239-per-year salary the AFL-CIO uses for the average American worker. That shrinks the executive pay gap from 331-to-1 down to a far less newsworthy number of roughly five-to-one.

I have no idea how much the CEO for whom I work is paid, but I’m pretty sure it’s less than five times what I get, and he puts in at least as many hours as I do, if not more.

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It’s not like he was broke or anything

Another day, another example of Presidential malingering? In this case, I don’t think so:

A September date night in New York nearly ended on a sour note when the president’s credit card got rejected at trendy Estela on East Houston Street.

Obama was trying to get some respite from the madness of the UN General Assembly, but suffered a common embarrassment when he tried to settle up and plunk down his credit card — only to have it rejected.

“It turned out I guess I don’t use it enough, so they thought there was some fraud going on,” Obama revealed at the new Consumer Financial Protection Board in DC.

Oddly, they’d think the same if he’d used it too much.

I spend entirely too much of my time at the workplace reviewing questionable plastic purchases, and I’m inclined to think that most banks these days will err on the side of safety, or what they think is safety, if they sniff out even the slightest possibility of fraud.

And I have one example from my own life, having had a Visa card declined at distinctly non-trendy Lowe’s. I swiped the Amex in its place; when I got home, I called up the offending bank, and they explained that their last bill had been returned to them, so they assumed the worst. As it happens, this was a few days after I’d come back from a World Tour and picked up an absurdly large bundle of mail, which did not contain said bill, so I’m guessing the Postal Service messed up that one item. Circumstances beyond my control, as it were. If it can happen to me, well, it apparently can happen to the man in the White House.

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The flamingos seem less pink lately

Apparently there is a formal index, derived from Washington’s Consumer Expenditure Survey, with an informal but nonetheless precise name:

The Tchotchke Index, it turns out, is an excellent gauge of the economic wellbeing of American households. Spending on tchotchkes — a.k.a. trinkets, junk, yard sale detritus, and the raison d’être of the self-storage industry — rises when Americans are feeling flush and falls when they are feeling pinched. Spending on tchotchkes tracks the economy’s ups and downs with the precision of other, better-known measures such as the the Consumer Confidence Index, the unemployment rate, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

According to this index, the economy continues to spiral down the bowl:

Sadly, the Tchotchke Index has plummeted to the lowest level on record. In 2013, the average household spent just $103 on decorative items for the home — less than half of the $240 it spent on this category in 2000, after adjusting for inflation. The 2013 Index is even lower than the $108 spent in 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession. An ominous sign, for sure.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I spent anything in this category last year.

(Via Roger Green.)

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