Monthly Archives: April 2010

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The whole story begins way back in in October of last year when I went to the mall and picked up three new pairs of jeans.

Though I settled on Levi’s on that specific trip, the Gap has historically manufactured my favorite and best fitting jeans.

The Gap discontinued my “style” years ago but I still pop in everytime I visit the mall just to check and see if they’ve made a comeback. So far, no luck on that front.

But I did notice a jacket that I liked. I picked it up. I looked at it. I walked away. I walked back. I picked it up again. Basically, I did everything but try it on.

The price was $129.50.

Too much, I told myself.

I didn’t like it *that* much…

Then, a few weeks ago, I happened to open one of those “junk” emails that I get every so often from the Gap. It was advertising something that I had no interest in but it succeeded in getting my to visit their website.

That’s a win for them…

So, anyway, I see the jacket that I liked months earlier in the “Sale” section for only $69.99 (apparently down from $98).

I thought about it, oh, for maybe 45 seconds, and then I bought it.

Around a week later it arrived in the mail — I tried it on — and it was one of those fat guy in a little coat scenes.

I’d ordered size large.

Now, I know that pretty much none of you out there reading this know how big I am (three apples high — read the about section, will ya?) but in the grand scheme of things, I’d say that I’m a medium sized person.

I’m not small.

And I’m certainly not large either.

But a large-sized jacket from the Gap, well, let’s just say that they’re stuff isn’t exactly “true” to size. It never has been.

So we all piled into the car earlier this week to return it to our local Gap store.

When we entered the store, I saw that they too had the same jacket on a sale rack for — get this — $29.97.

Even better, they had an extra large available (which wasn’t available online).
Oh man…

I was like, uh-oh, what do we do?

I want to exchange this one for that one but I paid over twice as much for the one in the bag.

This would have to be a two step process — I was going to return this one, get the credit, then come back in later and buy the other one for less than half the price.

Yep, that was the plan.

My wife thought I was crazy — just make the return and buy the bigger one all in one shot, she said…

I wanted to play it cool, though, so I made it as if I hadn’t even noticed that they had the exact same jacket on sale for half the price and sauntered up to the counter to make the return.

After punching in a few buttons and scanning my receipt, Warren, if that was indeed his “real” name, lisped out that my account had been credited $74.19 (including the tax) and my wife, Duncan, and I made a hasty exit.

We walked around the mall for around a half hour and then my wife — now acting as a secret agent — went in to the purchase the jacket again in the larger size.

“Warren” was sharper than I’d expected. He was on to our scheme and made it *very* clear to my wife that this one was NOT returnable. He even used a highlighter (pink, of course) to make it overly clear on the receipt.

Doesn’t matter, though — this one fits.

Now I know we didn’t do anything wrong — it was all totally legit — but it still felt sneaky.

I mean, I went in to return a jacket and walked back out with the same jacket and nearly $45.

I dunno, it was very satisfying but felt wrong at the same time…know what I mean?

All told, though, by not buying the jacket back in October, I saved just short of $100…and that doesn’t happen very often…unless you’re a tiny size and gravitate towards ugly colours that you can regularly find on any clearance rack anyway…

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When it comes to my finances, I like to think that I tend to attack my debts aggressively and, for the most part, follow the same line when it comes to my savings and investments too.

But this morning, my wife and I pulled a 180.

We sat down with a mortgage broker and discussed re-financing our mortgage — and not the cash-out variety so as to renovate the first floor of our home (which is desperately needed).

Nope, this was purely a defensive maneuver.

I want a lower monthly payment and I want to eliminate PMI.

That’s it.

Now, of course, we only filled out the application and all that this morning so who knows if it’ll actually come to fruition but it seemed like the right time to, well, play some defense.

See, financially, I think we’re pretty darn close to the best position we’ll ever be in — on paper anyway — with two comfy incomes, retirement accounts where we want them (and growing), over $20k in the bank, lots of equity in our home, and zero credit card debt between us.

Now most of the time I’m not one to prognosticate but I’m also not going to say that we’ll be exempt from any, I dunno, financial disasters in the future… and that’s why I want to take advantage of the situation I find myself in now, you know, before we finally cave in and buy a minivan…

This move could potentially cut my mortgage payment down to around $510 per month. I’ve made monthly car payments significantly higher than that.

That’s a difference maker.

Now this won’t mean that I’ll cut out the weekly payments or even the total amount that I send towards the mortgage anyway — it’ll just be a piece of mind thing knowing that I’ll really only “need” to pay $510…

This all, of course, hinges on an appraisal.

(insert scary fanfare here)

For long time readers, this causes me great anxiety

The guy said that it “could” be waived and I’m hoping my financial info and stellar credit are enough to make that happen but if not, well, we might be having some quick and dirty drywalling on the horizon…

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Building my Credit.Okay — so it seems that inactivity has reared its ugly head. I had two plastic casualties since the last time I did this — nearly a year ago.

As a result, I sorta “lost” $29100 in credit.

I’m not worried about it though, I mean, I hadn’t used (or even planned on using) either card for a number of years…

Still, though, there isn’t *any* good news to report here.

I “lost” two cards and the rate on one of my remaining cards went up.

Here’s the updated list:

Bank of America Business MasterCard
Originally an MBNA account before they were bought out by Bank of America, I opened this account in March of 2005 when I started to divide my personal and business expenses and keep track of them separately. Turned out to be a great move as it was shortly there after I realized how much money I was bleeding on business expenses. I do not carry this card, but automatic payments are set-up for my monthly business expenses.
Current Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $26620 (No change)
Rate: 9.9% (No change)

CitiBank AT&T Universal MasterCard
I opened this account in April of 2007 utilizing a 0% for 12 months offer. I wrote a $6000 check to myself, which I originally dropped into my ING Direct savings account to jump on the “arbitrage” bandwagon. Shortly afterwards, I pulled the money out to finance the siding project. Now paid off, this is the card that I carry in my wallet for regular expenses.
Current Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $9500 (No change)
Rate: 16.990% (No change)

Chase Bank Visa Card
This was one of my first credit cards. I opened the account in 1998 and it was one of the cards that I ran up a considerable balance on before I got my act together. The highest it ever went was $12905 and that was in October of 2005. By August of 2006, I’d eliminated the balance, but continued to use the card for gas and the occasional purchase. Balance was always paid in full each month. In June of 2007, I took advantage of a 4.99% for the life of the balance offer to fund the siding project. In 2009 I put a big sticker on the front that says “GAS ONLY” to remind myself that I’m only allowed to use this card at the gas station. So far, it’s worked.
Current Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $19200 (No change)
Rate: 18.24% (Up from 13.24%)

Bank of America NHL MasterCard
Another of my original credit cards originally opened through MBNA in 1997 for a free t-shirt. This is another card that I mananged to run up a 5-figure balance on. In May of 2004, it topped out at $10915. By November of 2005, I had wiped the balance out. Now I have my internet service provider automatically bill to this card each month, and like clockwork, I pay back the $42.95 automatically on the same day using an autopay set up from the MBNA days. I do not carry this card and have not carried a balance since November of 2005.
Current Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $14000 (No change)
Rate: 15.99% (No change)

Bank of America Platinum Plus Signature Visa Card
Originally opened in March of 2005 as a failed plan to use balance transfers to consolidate balances at a lower rate. At first I transferred $5000 to this card. Evidently, not having learned my lesson the first time, I transferred another $5000 to this card in March of 2006. Luckily the rate was only 6.25% for both transfers. I wiped out the balance, which topped out at $6925 in March of 2006, in January of 2007. I do not carry this card and haven’t used it since January of 2007.
Current Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $0 (Poof! This account disappeared!)

LendingTree Bank of America GoldOption Loan
This was a loan for $10000 I took out in December of 2002 to, again, consolidate a few balances and put some much needed cash in my hands. At the time, it was LendingTree.com that found me the loan at 9.9%, and when the big check made out to me came in the mail, it was from MBNA. After a couple years of paying it down in regular $226 intervals, MBNA sent me a credit card attached to the account and started treating it like a credit card. With each month, the rate would rise another half percent or so. Not cool. I made my final payment in March of 2005 when the rate had climbed to 13.24%. I do not carry this card.
Balance: $0
Credit Limit: $0 (Poof! This account disappeared!)

In past reports, Chase Bank has been the big winner. BoA would cut my rates, Citi would jack my rates, and Chase would just keep on plugging along, you know, business as usual.

I guess it had to end at some point — Chase has now bumped my rate up — but BoA is still the big bad guy for dropping those two accounts.

Citi? Well, they grind my gears and I’m ashamed to admit that I *still* carry their card.

Anyway, here’s the token recap of past roll calls:

» Jun 2007 : Limit = $98500, Balance = $13026
» Jan 2008 : Limit = $108400, Balance = $8125
» Apr 2008 : Limit = $110820, Balance = $0
» Dec 2008 : Limit = $111820, Balance = $0
» May 2009 : Limit = $98420, Balance = $0
» Apr 2010 : Limit = $69320, Balance = $0

Can this be called progress?

Or just a sign of the times?

I guess I’ll have to put that Maserati purchase on hold…

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Review of MagicJackThis morning I just paid what I’m hoping was my last outrageously overpriced AT&T phone bill.

Sure, it was only $56.05, which isn’t exactly a huge sum, but grand total, we made 6 phone calls during the billing period.

That works out to almost ten bucks per call.

Obviously, we weren’t getting our money’s worth — and — that’s the cheapest rate AT&T offers. We can’t lower it.

It was time for a switch. Actually, it’s been time for a switch for years now — and we finally did it.

Now I know a lot of folks have dropped their land line in favor of their cell phone but if you’ve been reading PIAC for awhile, well, that probably wouldn’t be a great option for me.

Though, again, back in 2007 I started saving a TON on that front too…

So, anyway, we went out and plunked down $39.99 for MagicJack at Target.

It seemed like a no-brainer.

If it worked, it’d save me a ton of money each month.

If it didn’t work, well, it was a $40 experiment gone wrong.

Forty bucks to possibly save between $50 and $80 per month — that’s a gamble I’ll take every day of the week.

But like anything that’s guaranteed to save you lots of money, there are a lot of skeptics out there and they’re all overly vocal on the internet. It’s kinda sad actually.

I did a lot of research on the MagicJack (and Vonage too) and it was pretty discouraging…

If you look up a review of MagicJack, or any similar service, or anything, for that matter, on the internet, chances are, the negative reviews will outweigh the positive reviews ten-to-one.

My favorite was this one guy who called it a piece of crap and a rip-off because, as he regularly travels the world from Botswana to Mongolia, his elderly mother in Arkansas can’t make her daily call to him as if it were a local call…

Okay, how many folks can relate to that?

Not many, I’m guessing.

See, it seems that the people that call things like this a rip-off and a piece of junk are expecting a bit too much. They expect a miracle.

This world traveling MagicJack-Off actually expected to save multiple thousands of dollars each year on his very unusual phone bill by making the switch.

Sorry — that’s not realistic.

It’s kinda like how I once thought a pogo-stick was a viable method of transportation… In reality pogo-sticks are tiring and painful and you never get very far…

But saving nearly $1000 over the span of a year, well, that is realistic. And MagicJack can and will do that for you.

That’s pretty significant.

So, from a money-saving perspective, MagicJack gets two blue thumbs-up from PIAC. It provides the exact same services we were paying over 10 times as much for from AT&T.

We didn’t need to switch phones — still the same phone I picked up last year using those goofy credit card reward points — we still have caller id, and we don’t need our answering machine anymore cause we have voicemail now (it’s pretty neat too, we have it set up so that if someone leaves a voicemail, both me and my wife get an email of the recording).

This thing is great — and we don’t need to pay another dime until this time next year when it will be $20 total for another freaking year?! How great is that?

For me (the guy who rarely uses the phone anyway), at a minimum, that’s a $600 dollar savings right off the bat.

For you, well, yeah, you could hit 4-figure savings in just one year!

Take that AT&T…

Now, are there any downsides to MagicJack or is it all unicorns and rainbows?

Well… I’m not really a fan of their control panel interface. It’s got a big old advertisement for, well, MagicJack plastered all over it. It looks goofy and, well, kinda amateur. It’s unsightly.

The simple solution to that is to minimize it and just use the regular phone to make and answer calls.

Yeah, I’m old school. I like to press the buttons on the phone. Besides, you don’t actually need to look at the control panel for anything anyway…

The other issue — and this was kind of disappointing — was that our area code wasn’t available.

The beauty of using an “internet” phone is that you can “pretend” that you’re anywhere. That’s what that Botswana-dude was trying to do — he picked a local Arkansas phone number so that his mom could call him as if it were a local call — even though he was never anywhere near Arkansas.

His failing was that internet service sucks in Botswana — which he laid 100% of the blame on MagicJack… What up wit dat?

The thing is, say you order a pizza from your local pizza parlor here in Connecticut or something… They’re not going to be real cool with someone placing an order from phone with a California area code — at least not until this sort of thing becomes more common which…I’m certain it will.

In the end, though, we were able to select an area code that’s also in Connecticut, though not our own, and then the exchange we wanted — so, as of now, Pants in a Can is coming to you live from the extravagant city of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Yep, Regis Philbin, Ron Howard, Pedro Martinez, Matt Lauer, and Tommy Hilfiger are my neighbors…

Sort of…

I mean, now that I’m saving so much money on my phone bill, you know, maybe I’ll be able to afford to move to Greenwich for real…

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Happy Third PIACThe “event” didn’t sneak up on me.

I’d really planned to put togther some sort of synopsis of the past year, compare it to the the previous two, and then wrap it all up with an exciting run-on sentence declaring that year four would be the most financially successful yet.

That’s what I’d planned on doing…

Obviously, it didn’t happen.

Sadly, it was because I was too busy spending money.

Yep, last month was rough — but this month will be one for the record books…

(Have I mentioned yet how great it feels to spend like crazy?)

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Spring FlowersDeep breaths…

So just one day into the month of March I joked about how I’d already spent more on that one day than I did for the entire month of February.

It made for a rought start and I can’t say that I every really recovered…

Here’s the breakdown:

  • $2000.00 : Mortgage
  • $907.20 : Auto Insurance
  • $846.16 : Capital One Bank
  • $767.99 : Used Vacuum Cleaner
  • $527.63 : Toyota (auto repairs)
  • $325.00 : Boy Scouts of America
  • $250.00 : Commissioner of Revenue Services
  • $233.54 : Natural Gas
  • $220.00 : Cash
  • $161.86 : Electricity
  • $111.50 : Cable/Internet
  • $105.70 : Business Expenses
  • $92.96 : Gas
  • $69.91 : Phone
  • $52.96 : Toys

That totals $6673.65.

The last time I spent anywhere near that was back in July of 2009 when I paid $2915 to have some trees taken down (cool video of the project here).

We didn’t do any home improvement projects this month, though we surely need to

So, here I go trying to justify the numbers line-by-line anyway…

The mortgage is what it is. For simplicity sake, my monthly mortgage payment is around $1250. The $750 unaccounted for is “extra” principle that I pay on a weekly basis.

Auto insurance, well, what can you do? I suppose I could spread it out and pay it monthly but, if I have the money available, I prefer to pay the full 6-month premium right out of the gate.

The $846.16 payment to Capital One was a payment that I made from my account to pay off my wife’s credit card. Her finances aren’t detailed here on PIAC so this is one of those few crossover moments where our money is “pooled”. The reasoning here is that last month’s tax refund went directly into my checking account so I used part of it to pay her credit card balance.

The used vacuum cleaner — well, that expense got it’s own post the minute I made the purchase. And it was worth every penny.

Ahhhh, poor Toyota. They’re getting dragged through the mud these days but we’re perfectly happy owners of two Toyotas. My Scion and my wife’s Toyota both went in for service this month and I picked up the tab for both — again, using the tax refund money.

Boy Scouts of America? Huh? Well, it was a charitable donation but there’s also a dark side to it. I got a hockey jersey in return so the streak is over…

Commissioner of Revenue Services — plain and simple, it sucks being a small business in the State of Connecticut. This is the Business Entity Tax that I get hit with each year. There’s always talk of it disappearing but it never seems to happen.

The weather has begun to turn so the natural gas bill has begun to fall.

Holy cash, Batman?! Yeah, I don’t know what happened. To my credit, I’ve still got $60 in my wallet so I didn’t actually spend all of this.

Electricity, Cable/Internet, Business Expenses, and Gas are what they usually are. The phone bill, however, will be different in the months to come. We switched to MagicJack in March so the phone company is a thing of the past. I’ll post more about that later.

The last entry was from a trip we made to Amato’s Toy Store. It’s an old fashioned toy store (no Barbie’s, Bratz, or video games) and I bought Duncan his first Lego set, his first Playmobil set, and a cool wooden puzzle. Again, totally worth it.

So, yeah, all together I spent a ton of money but nothing seems overly extravagant — besides, maybe, the vacuum.

But give me a little credit… I bought it used!

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    Infant US Passport PhotoOn Saturday morning, we loaded into the car and headed to our local post office to get Duncan his first passport.

    In this ludicrous “everyone is a terrorist” society that we live in, even a little guy who can’t even walk needs photo ID just to cross the border into Canada — a country he’s already a citizen of.

    Go figure.

    Anyway, having called our local post office on Friday to ensure that they were processing applications on Saturday, we were dismayed (outraged, actually) to see sign on the window stating that “We’re not doing passports today.”

    No further explanation.

    Great. Eighteen hours earlier we were told they’d be open. When we show up, they’re not. Nice.

    So we high-tailed it to another post office roughly 15 miles away — another BIG post office — in a predominently Puerto Rican neighborhood and thankfully arrived with 15 minutes to spare.

    It had a bit of a different crowd than we’re used to and we definitely stood out but, you know what, they were OPEN like they were supposed to be.

    The dreadfully-bored woman working in the “Passport” office was wearing sweatpants with writing on the back side. It didn’t seem very, I don’t know, official?

    It would have been funny if her butt said something like USPS or something but it didn’t… I don’t know what it said — her haunches weren’t exactly the type I wanted to take a second look at…

    Seriously though, a representative of the US Government can wear sweatpants to work? Really?

    Anyway, she was pleasant enough, I suppose, though she had that typical government employee attitude of “I don’t have time for you” even though you could tell she hadn’t really done any real work so far that day. You know what I’m talking about — it was like the DMV but on a federal level.

    Either way, she took the picture (I think it looks pretty cool in Jason Bourne sort of way) and took our money so I was content and mailed our application off.

    In the end, I had to write a check for $60 to the Department of State, which seems fair, and another $40 check to the US Postal Service for, well, I’m not really sure.

    Seems a bit hefty if you ask me…but what can you do?

    Now to get him a Canadian passport, you know, since he’s a double agent…

    I’ll keep you posted on how that goes…

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    April 2010 Net WorthA day late and a dollar short…

    Okay, okay, okay… It’s actually over a week late and over a grand short…

    Let’s see… Where to begin?

    I don’t really know. Plain and simple, I just spent too much last month and it shows in this update.

    It wasn’t just the vacuum or even the car repairs, auto insurance, and business tax payments that I mentioned in that Pink Snowman post…

    Yes, I’m still plugging the Pink Snowman.

    He’s still awesome.

    The post may have been terrible but the picture, well, a picture is worth 1000 words. That explains why the post was lacking. Seriously…

    I couldn’t measure up.

    Anyway, here’s how things went down:

    Cash:
    What can I say? I spent a lot of money in March and I’ll detail it all in the next day or so in my spending report. Really, though, this looks a lot worse than it actually was since my starting point was inflated due to having just received my tax refund.

    Savings:
    The interest rate sucks but I’m throwing more and more into savings each month. Someday I’ll actually do something with it!

    Gov’t Bonds:
    The interest rate doesn’t suck so bad here. I’ll re-evaluate where I’m going with these as the end of the month approaches and the rates are on the verge of being updated.

    401k:
    I think I just might hit 6-figure mark this year. Woo-hoo!

    Home:
    D’oh!

    Auto 1 & Auto 2:
    Hmmmm… now that Toyota has discontinued the Scion xA model, it appears to be going up in value! How about that… ;0)

    Credit Cards, Auto Loans, and Other Loans:
    Zilch. Zero. Nada.

    Mortgage:
    Still cranking along sending in $175 extra per week. You want to pay off your mortgage (or anything) quickly? Weekly payments are the way to do it…

    Can You Dig It?

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