Monthly Archives: November 2008

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Fell off the tracks...Well, I told myself that I wasn’t going to go shopping yesterday morning…

I managed that.

I rolled over to look at the clock and 4:15 am and told myself, “Nope, not getting up…”

I did the same thing at 5:34 am.

And again at 6:40 am.

See, at our house, we never even received a Walmart Black Friday flyer… I’m not sure why, maybe our mailman ate it or something, but my guess is that it was a blessing that it never arrived.

I’m not saying that I would have bought anything, I never have, but I have made it a bit of a tradition to hang out in the parking lot of BestBuy, Circuit City, and/or Walmart at unmentionable hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

This year, I slept in.

By “slept in”, I mean that I didn’t get out of bed until 7:09 am.

From there, I went through my usual weekday routine and headed to work.

The office was closed on Friday, but not really. Black Friday has always been one of those grey areas.

I sat down at my desk, checked my email, tied up a few loose ends left over from Wednesday afternoon, and soon realized that I really had nothing left to do.

It was 8:10 am.

To justify the time it took to drive in to work, I wasn’t about to leave so soon, so I fired up the internet and headed to one of my favorite game worn hockey jersey message boards.

There, right at the top, just listed moments earlier, were three jerseys for sale from the team we have season tickets for

You’re kidding me?

I’ve been looking for something from this team for nearly a year without any luck, but today, of all days, there are THREE of them for sale?! Ugh…

A few emails were exchanged, some pictures sent, and by 9:53 am, a PayPal transaction had been completed. I am now the proud owner of two of those jerseys.

So much for a frugal Black Friday, huh?

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous…

One of the companies that markets these jerseys for the various leagues decided to have a Black Friday sale of their own — which they announced in a broadcast email…

In a creative way of doing things, their gimmick was for any player’s jersey in stock who played in a game on Black Friday, the price would be discounted by 50%…

Tell me this isn’t happening.

Needless to say, at noon, as the Boston Bruins were hosting the New York Islanders, I was looking up and down the line-ups to see if anyone peaked my interest.

Thomas PockTo my dismay, Thomas Pöck (one of the few truly nice professional athletes out there) was a healthy scratch. Probably a good thing… I mean, that alone saved me a few hundred dollars…

Of course, there were a number a games to be played later in the day, but that would give me more time to rethink the decision that I’d already made to spend, spend, spend…

In the end though, I couldn’t pass it up. A fifty percent savings was too much to shrug off.

When the puck dropped at 7:07 pm and I could confirm that “my” players were playing, I added two more jerseys to the collection — one from the Columbus Blue Jackets and one from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That’s in addition to the two college jerseys I picked up this morning…

Wow, I’m gonna be holding my head in my hands when the bill comes in just like all those people who bough 50-inch televisions at four in the morning…

Crazy how quickly a sound financial plan can be derailed…

What’d that last, 4 days?

In the end, though, while I unexpectedly spent a lot of money on Black Friday, I feel that I got some great value…

I know, I know, where’s the value in shredded polyester…

But, hey, at least this year I could afford it!

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Thanksgiving Football

As we did last year, we attended the local high school football game on Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately I don’t have any exciting stories about picking up a dropped nickel.

Trust me, I was looking too…

Tickets were $6 each; a twenty percent increase over last year.

Being cheap, I found that to be a little excessive considering all of the moaning about the economy.

But the crowd didn’t seem to mind — it was a packed house as it always is. It’s crazy when you hear the roar of the crowd rival an NFL game when all they’re there to see is a high school game. Three weeks ago, the crowd would have been maybe 50 people — if it was warm out.

Thanksgiving? A couple thousand. The place is a mob scene. Parking. Nightmare.

I’d bet the kids on the field love it, though.

I mean, each year, it has that pro feel — I don’t ever remember feeling that in high school.

Like a pro game, the game is on television (public access, but still…) with real announcers from the local affiliates. They even had a sideline reporter?! The end zone was dotted with photographers with HUGE lenses, like me. The stadium even has souvenir stands — and they were open!?

Basically, it’s an event even if you’re not on the field and that’s why we go each year.

I guess you could call it the SuperBowl of our town. Seems that everybody goes — though I strangely didn’t recognize anyone there.

On the downside, going to the game also means that we miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade each year. My wife is not happy about that.

And for the record, the team in white won the game. Woo-hoo! They represent our side of town!

Lowered my Mortgage PaymentNo, it’s not what you think…

Each October, on the anniversary of my mortgage, Countrywide runs an escrow analysis to ensure that they’ve put enough of my monthly payments aside to pay for things like city property taxes and the premium on my homeowners insurance.

This past October was no different, in that they did an escrow analysis. Totally expected.

Unfortunately, the results weren’t in my favor like they have been in the past — not sure why I didn’t mention it back in October…

Anyway, the short of it is that my monthly mortgage payment increased $78 — due entirely to the assessment done on my house in 2007 which resulted in an increase in my tax bill. Lucky break for the city, you know, doing a city-wide assessments when the market was at it’s all time high…

Anyway, not that big of a deal, I mean, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s just a little bit of an annoyance knowing that another $78/month (or $936/year) isn’t hitting the principle. Whatever — it’s not the end of the world.

It’s like I’m paying the cable bill twice or something.

The last time my payment went *way* up, the following October I received a check from Countrywide. It was an escrow overage check. Somewhere along the line, numbers were incorrect and they were collecting too much from me for an entire year.

While the check was a pleasant surprise, I was a little bothered by the fact that they had continued to over-collect for, well, 11 months when my property taxes hadn’t increased enough to justify the bill hike and my insurance premium had remained steady.

Though they paid me back, with interest, I still felt a like I’d been ripped off.

I just chalked it up as something where, once they do their escrow analysis, that’s your payment, set in stone, for the next calendar year. I dealt with it.

So this year, when I caught wind that my payment was going up, but knowing that I was going to be switching my homeowners insurance (and lowering the premium paid from escrow), I was a little ticked off.

Terrible planning on my part. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked this…

My mortgage payment was supposed to go down this year, not up!

I paid the November mortgage bill. And the December bill.

But then when Countrywide paid my homeowners insurance premium when I’d asked them not so, I saw an opportunity to do something about making sure that my payments wouldn’t go up again next year — or ever, barring any tax hikes.

I wanted to pay my insurance premium myself — take over the responsibility from Countrywide and, in turn, lower my monthly mortgage bill.

I went back to their online customer service page, where I’ve had so much success in the past. Not.

Here’s the message I sent:

I sent a message yesterday asking Countrywide NOT to send out the premium payment for my new homeowners insurance, but today I noticed that my transaction history has been updated and the payment has already been sent (dated Tuesday).

That’s fine — I’ll call them and have them accept Countrywide’s payment instead of mine.

In the future, next year, I’d prefer to pay the premium myself instead of having it built into my escrow account through Countrywide. How would I go about changing that so that this double payment scenario doesn’t happen again?


And here was their (prompt!) response:

Thank you for your recent Internet inquiry addressed to the Customer Service Department.

Our records reflect that we did not receive an e-mail from you in November 2008, the last e-mail received from you was on September 22, 2008. This is to confirm that your insurance information has been updated with an annual premium of $633.00, effective from November 11, 2008 to November 11, 2009. A payment has been disbursed from your escrow account to your insurance company for $633.00 on November 18, 2008.

As per your e-mail we have reviewed your account, your loan meets all the criteria for the deletion of insurance from the escrow account. We have hence deleted insurance from your escrow account as you asked. We have analyzed your escrow account on November 20, 2008,your monthly payment effective January 01, 2009 will be $1,226.7. An Escrow Review Statement has been generated and will be mailed to you, please allow approximately 7-14 days for receipt via U.S. mail.

We have provided a breakdown of your monthly installment, which will be effective with your January 2009 payment:

Principal and Interest Payment : $817.27
City Taxes ($1,912.09 semi-annually divided by 12) : $318.68
P.M.I contribution monthly : $85.15
Reserve 16.60% : $5.27
Total Monthly Payment : $1,226.37

The Reserve item is an amount equal to 16.60% of the total amount of your escrow payment for the year that is collected each month. The Reserve amount is collected to ensure that the account has sufficient funds in the event that your tax and/or insurance bills increase. When we analyze your escrow account we will adjust the reserve amount based on the actual bills paid.

Thank you for communicating with us electronically, we appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

Hmmmmmm… I love that they mentioned September 22. Too funny.

The PMI line still irks me, but what can you do?

And really, I’d love to know what “criteria” my loan met for the deletion of insurance from the escrow account. I never could get an answer on what criteria I had to meet to drop PMI


In the end, though, I got what I wanted (a lower payment — lowest since 2004!) and earlier than I’d expected, so that puts a smile on my face.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Over-the-counter Primatene Mist is the official inhaler of Pants in a CanFirst, the good news… Countrywide has updated my homeowners insurance carrier, correctly, and paid the premium.

To semi-regular readers, that’s old news

Now, the bad news…

I received a letter in the mail over the weekend from an insurance inspection company. (insert threateningly scary fanfare here)

My wife tells me not to worry about it but I’m having a lot of trouble putting it to the back of my mind.

I’m really susceptible to anxiety attacks — basically I stop breathing.

Not entirely, but I essentially bring on an asthma attack (like a stereotypical four-eyed nerd) and, on occasion, I’ll even break out an inhaler.

Yeah, it’s extra dorky and not something I’m proud of.

Most of my anxiety stems from things that I have no control over.

Scratch that.

It comes from things that I have little control over — thankfully not things like a huge decline in the stock market, rather stuff like the possibility of, well, losing my job or having my homeowners policy cancelled (again) which is why this letter is such bad news.

On the bright side, in comparison to my previous carrier, the FAIR Plan, the letter clearly indicates that it will not be an intrusive inspection.

In fact, it even states that I don’t even have to be present…

How about that?

That’s a HUGE improvement over past inspections where they’ve come in and essentially banged on every one of my walls to see if they could damage them or something…

One year, the inspector they sent out had to be pushing 400 lbs and he stomped up and down my basement steps not once, but twice. I was a little worried and, frankly, upset because it seemed to be a little excessive.

No, my house wasn’t built for 400-pound men — and being that I’m not even half that, I never expected to be.

If anything, he should be the one who can’t find insurance…

Okay, I’m getting off-topic…

Really, he was physically trying to break my house.

Every Geological Engineering Major has one!Further, while inspecting the exterior of the house, he pointed out some crumbling mortar in the brick foundation and then struck the brickwork with his geologist hammer, knocking the face of the brick off.

In shock, unsure of what to do, I said nothing, but seriously, he just struck my house with a pointy hammer.

What the hell is up with that?

Anyway, this one shouldn’t be anything like that but the way this one works, well, I’ve no idea when it will happen or how it turns out. If it happens to be raining the day they come out, they probably won’t even get out of the car…

I just have to sit and wait, then pray, that I don’t get a follow-up letter from the inspection company or the insurance company delivering any bad news.

Based on past experience, if I make it to January without anything, it will be smooth sailing from here on out and I’ll be able to take a deep breath…

And really, I’m trying to tell myself that I’ve got nothing to worry about.

New roof, new siding, new foundation… but who knows, maybe they’ll freak out about a crack in my driveway or a sinkhole in the yard…

Really, what if?

It’s those unlikely “ifs” that are driving me crazy…

Where’s that inhaler?

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Green means GO!

Yep, it’s time to start getting serious about saving. I’m not entirely sure why we weren’t able to go all gung-ho in November (or even October, for that matter…), but now that December is around the corner, we really need to get started.

And though we’re heading into December and there will undoubtedly be some Christmas expenditures, we have to stop putting this off.

Here’s the plan:

    1. Save 50% of the take home.

That’s it.

Pretty simple, huh?

The idea is simple. Being able to actually do it might not be so…

In a nutshell, to get the ball rolling, I’m pretending that I get paid twice a month (instead of bi-weekly) and that there are 4 weeks in a month.

Using the bottom line from one paycheck, I’m dividing by 4 (for the number of weeks in my version of a month) and transferring that amount into my ING account each Friday.

That works out to 50% of my monthly income transferred to savings over four weeks (to lessen the blow).

Can I do it? In addition to the $400/month I’m already transferring there in place of my former car payments? Yikes!

Maybe this is a little too amibitious…

We’ll see…

So far, I’m 2 weeks in to a test run and things are going relatively smoothly.


Of course, I haven’t had to pay a mortgage bill yet either…

That could be the red light at the next intersection.

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Dr. PepperUgh, the Dr. Pepper offer gets even more lame than I’d originally thought!

So, their site has the link up for your FREE Dr. Pepper now, kudos to them, but there’s some fine print that I think needs a little more highlighting:

Allow 4-6 weeks for coupon to arrive. Coupons will expire on Feb. 28, 2009.

So, not only is it weak that they’re only offering the coupon for 24 hours (on a Sunday too), but now you need to wait until mid-January to get your coupon in the mail and then you don’t have much time to use it…

And don’t forget that they just collected all of your mailing address info too. Yep — you just signed yourself up for countless mailing lists. Congrats. Enjoy the junk mail.

The next time they feel the need to run a silly promo to garner some publicity, I think they should steal a page from the Taco Bell folks who provided nearly instant gratification; no questions asked — if you like mystery meat-paste tacos…

Or maybe not, the publicity part has already worked for Dr. Pepper and my guess is that they don’t want to get into the business of handing the product away for free anyway…

And really, does anyone really like Dr. Pepper? I mean, I’ll drink it over any Pepsi product, but I can’t say it’s ever been my first choice either…

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Axl Rose when he was somehow still cool.Guns N’ Roses were last relevant when I was in high school. That was a long time ago.

It was right at the beginning of my sophomore year that they released the albums Use You Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

On bus rides to Cross Country meets, it was as if everyone was listening to one or the other on their Sony Discmans.

I didn’t even have a real CD player at home yet, so I felt a little left out — that was okay though, I was a MUCH bigger fan of Metallica anyway like the metal-heads except I was never a metal-head… Made for some lonely bus rides…

Anyway, it wasn’t long, we’re talking maybe a week, before Nirvana came around and squashed them both…

In the case of GNR, I’d say that Nirvana all but eradicated them…

Until now…

Their long awaited album titled Chinese Democracy is set to come out tomorrow.

Yes, tomorrow!

OMG! OMG! Can you feel the excitement!

I, for one, am not that excited. Actually, I could care less — I just think it’s funny that something that has been talked about and hyped since I was still in high school is coming out now. And still has some hype…

I mean, why? It’s pretty apparent that it’s going to bomb.

Kinda like that last INXS album… How’d that song go? “It ain’t pretty…

No, it wasn’t…

But there is one good thing about GNR’s album release…

Dr. PepperDr. Pepper, in a silly sort of promo betting that the album would NEVER actually be released, said that they would give everyone in America a free Dr. Pepper when/if the album ever came out.

Tomorrow’s the date and Dr. Pepper is sorta pulling a fast one by only offering the coupons on their website for 24 hours (LAME!), so don’t forget to head over to and print out your coupon.

But wait for tomorrow.

There isn’t any mention of the promo there yet.

Again, lame… like the album.

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Debt Free...again!So remember that ill advised $1500 “convenience” check that I wrote to myself as a birthday present and used to pay down the principle on my mortgage in a failed attempt at having my PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) removed?

Well, sticking to the original 15-week “set it and forget it” payment plan, it’s officially gone as of this morning.

My credit card balances are all $0, just like they were back in March

It still hasn’t sunk in yet.

And I’m not sure it really will.

It didn’t the first time…

I’ve found that saving (instead of paying back) is really, really, really hard

So much so that I’m considering writing an even bigger check (the kind that come with your credit card statements) to myself, transferring it into my ING savings account, and then paying down the subsequent balance like I’ve become so accustomed…

Roundabout way of operating, I know, but it’s just a thought…

Can You Dig It?