Monthly Archives: March 2011

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I keep hearing about how banks have started, well, raping their customers with sneaky fees and I like to think that I’m diligent enough when it comes to my finances to dodge them but, once again, Bank of America has dinged me with an unannounced fee that I’ve never once had to pay in the past.

This is the second time in just 3 months that I’ve been assessed a “new” fee.

Last time it was a $14 charge, billed a Monthly Maintenance Fee, for letting my balance go under $1500 when the previous floor was $750. I must’ve missed some fine print on the back of some flyer stuffed in my with my statement or something…

They hit me twice with that fee. Twenty-eight bucks for nothing…

This time the fee was only $3. Some might call that nickel-and-diming and not that big of a deal but in reality, that’s 60 nickels or 30 dimes. That’s some serious change.

This time they call it a Check Image Service Fee.

Bank of America Check Image Service Fee

So, remember when you used to get the actual checks that you wrote back with your statement each month? That stopped years ago and then they started printing postage stamp sized pictures of the checks written on your statement. Now they’re charging for that, apparently.

Okay, whatever, that’s fine.

I can imagine that there were some substantial costs involved in actually stuffing the original checks into envelopes. Those days are long gone and I’m sure the banks have seen tons of savings as a result.

Scanning the checks (which they have to do anyway) and printing them on the customer’s statement costs, well, essentially nothing. Maybe one extra page per statement and a tiny bit of toner. For a bank, that’s the cost of doing business.

Kinda like the free lollipops if you actually set foot inside a branch — if they even still offer those…

The thing is, who writes checks anymore?

They’re trying to capitalize on a service that’s rapidly going extinct anyway…

In short, I know that they’re really just trying to push their customers to go paperless in some kind of “green” initiative which, I’m sorry, is just stupid.

Newsflash: Paper does grow on trees.

But what *really* rubs me the wrong way about this fee is that I didn’t write ONE SINGLE CHECK during my past billing statement so there are no check images…

What’d I get for that thee bucks?

Nothing.

Why am I still with this bank?

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Wow — only 8 more days to go until we add another smurfling. Where does the time go?

Well, February was supposed to be an extra frugal month but it turned out to be the complete opposite.

One thing came up. Then another. You know how it goes…

Same old story.

That’s okay. I’m cool with it.

Here’s where the damage was done last month…

  • $11971.10 : Land Rover
  • $498.72 : Mortgage
  • $300.96 : Natural Gas
  • $214.39 : Business Expenses
  • $201.00 : Dentist
  • $184.34 : Babies-R-Us
  • $183.63 : Electricity
  • $172.70 : Gas
  • $156.00 : Hockey Jerseys
  • $135.64 : Allstate Insurance
  • $123.96 : Cable/Internet
  • $113.02 : Taxes
  • $112.21 : Water/Sewer
  • $104.97 : Macy’s
  • $80.00 : Cash
  • $30.34 : Finance Charges
  • $10.00 : Bank of America Transaction Fee

All together that’s $14592.98.

Hardly frugal.

But if you take the car purchase out of the calculation, it was pretty much the same as January and I’d consider that month pretty frugal.

I think I’m off to a pretty good start this year…

Okay, breaking down the irregular expenditures: the car has been covered, the dentist is pretty self explanatory (since we’re not carrying insurance anymore — a wise move), we have a baby on the way which explains the Babies-R-Us spending spree, the hockey jerseys are my vice, I went to Macy’s for new jeans cause I’ve lost tons of weight since my last denim purchase, and the transaction fee was for getting a cashiers check to pay for the car.

Wrapped it all up in one sentence this month. Maybe I should start tweetering instead?

You may have also noticed how much I spent on gas this month. No, it isn’t because the price of gas has gone up — it’s because this new car drinks gas the way my wife drinks Diet Coke.

And speaking of Diet Coke — did you know that it recently took the number 2 spot in soda sales (behind regular Coke) knocking out regular Pepsi?

Yep, Coke is it.

At one point early last month I mentioned in passing that we’d dropped our dental insurance.

So, was it good idea? Well, let’s look at the numbers for 2010…

Had I enrolled in the dental plan offered by my primary employer, I’d have had $38.41 withdrawn from my paycheck.

I’m on a bi-weekly pay schedule so if you multiply that by 26, the total in dental expenses for the year would be $998.66.

(I think we pay more than that per month for health insurance — but that’s another story…)

The $998 value is a bit deceptive, though…

Dental insurance doesn’t cover everything — not sure if that’s the norm or if the insurance we’re offered just sucks but in years past (when I was carrying dental insurance), I’d still have to pay for things like fillings, root canals, and crowns out of pocket.

Perhaps I wasn’t paying the full percentage but, still, the grand total dental expenses definitely exceeded the insurance premiums coming directly out of my paycheck.

For the sake of simplicity, though, let’s just pretend the $998.66 premium covered everything.

Now, I didn’t carry dental insurance at all in 2010. I still went to the dentist twice per year — I’m pretty sure I even had a cavity filled. My wife still went on a regular schedule as well.

We never turned down a service — it was just like it’s always been except the bill came directly to us.

Total damagage for the year? $490.00

So using the unrealistically conservative $998.66 value, we saved over $500 by droping dental insurance.

Definitely a wise move.

Now, once Duncan and Duncan II are old enough to be going to the dentist, well, we might need to re-evaluate the numbers.

Coverage for the entire family (using 2011’s numbers) would set me back $1530.10 per year and still not cover many of the, what I’d consider, basic procedures.

I dunno — still seems like a raw deal.

With the “savings” we’ll have by skipping coverage each year, we should easily be afford to pay for braces should they need them…

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Dunco in the DiscoOkay, so it’s hardly news around here that I recently purchased a used car.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m on the side that thinks that having more cars than drivers in a household is utterly ridiculous — yet, we have four cars and only two drivers.

The main reason that we didn’t trade a vehicle in while purchasing the latest is because we feel that all of our cars are still worth more to us than we’d received in exchange for any one of them.

All of our cars are paid for so the only expense involved in keeping them all are the insurance costs and the registration renewals — relatively small stuff.

All four vehicles are also pretty unique and serve a unique purpose as well. I think I’ve said it before — it’s not like we have four Honda Accords in the driveway.

That would be truly ridiculous.

The 2-seat BMW convertible is a fun summertime weekend car. I bought it at a time when it was more practical. It’s not so practical now (with a family of four in a few weeks or so) but it’s worth more to me — and will always be worth more to me — than what I could sell it for.

The 2-seat Toyota pick-up truck came as part of the package when I married my wife. Same deal — a two seater isn’t really practical for a family but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thanked my lucky stars that we have a pick-up truck.

The Scion xA, while compact, can actually fit two adults and two car seats. We can even squeeze a stroller into the trunk. Best of all, it gets over 40 miles per gallon for us.

The Land Rover, as it’s set up now, can fit three adults, two car seats, a stroller, and a whole host of other things. It’ll be our road trip vehicle — and ensure that if one person is home with the kids, well, we’ll have at least one vehicle in the driveway can fit them all at any given moment.

That’s the low down on our fleet.

Now, for why we (I) selected this Land Rover and not something else — well, price, mileage, size, and condition…

We wanted to be able to pay cash which, naturally, reduced the number of options available to us. At the high end, the price tag had to come in around $10k.

I wanted low mileage on a car that has a reputation for going well beyond the 100k mile mark. This narrowed the field even more.

It had to be able to fit all of us — and maybe end a third car seat in the future should the car last that long. So much for sedans…

And lastly, it couldn’t be a gross used car. Once you dip under a certain price level, well, things tend to get a little messy. I was looking for a diamond in the rough.

Initially I had it narrowed down, in descending order of price, to a 2006 Honda Odyssey with 80k miles, a 2004 Land Rover Discovery with 50k miles, and a 2006 BMW X5 with 70k miles.

At the end of the day, I settled on the Land Rover Discovery because it won out on mileage and size.

The price was in the middle — the Honda was actually the most expensive and the BMW was the least expensive.

The condition was in the middle as well — it’s exterior has a few dings here and there but it just looks “right” on this type of vehicle. The interior is immaculate — previous owner obviously didn’t have young children. Same couldn’t be said for the Honda.

The BMW, well, it was nice but it just wasn’t big enough. And I didn’t like the colour. Okay, yeah, I admit, colour mattered too.

The final pricetag was just shy of $11k — before tax, registration, and all of that other nickel-and-dime junk that gets added on the back end.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — Land Rovers are notorius for being in the shop all the time…

Perhaps, but there are still an awful lot more of them on the road pushing the 200k mile marker. I don’t think the same can be said for your run of the mill minivan.

I suppose that only time will tell — it could die a few months from now and end up in the shop and I’ll have made a poor decision…

If it does last even just 50k more miles, though, it’ll have been one of my better moves.

To pay for it, I took a bunch from savings, a bunch from checking, and essentially the entirety of our tax return refund to the point that we were able to pay cash for the car. No lienholder. No car payments.

In addition, though, since that pretty much tapped me out financially, I wrote one of those credit card checks to myself for $7000 just to cover this month’s expected expenses and any unexpected expenses as well.

It was a zero percent offer that’s valid through Decemeber — and there wasn’t a transaction fee! When was the last time you saw an offer without a fee attached? Woo-hoo!

To pay it back down, though I could technically just send the money right back, I’ve set up an autopayment of $175 per week.

On that schedule (which kicked in yesterday), it’ll be paid in full before any finance charges accrue and I won’t be backed unto a shoestring budget at any time.

Now I just have to cross my fingers that there aren’t any super costly repairs between now and then.

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Wow, it’s like something from the land from the land of Honalee or something.

I mean, I didn’t think a car purchase would, well, boost my net worth any. In fact, I thought it’d result in a negative month…

Anyway…

Cash:
It’s just plain magic that this is where it is — or maybe it’s that the tax return refunds came in?

Savings:
I tapped into my savings account to buy a car last month. Hey — that’s what the savings account is for, right?

Gov’t Bonds:
Chuggin’ along a few bucks at a time…

401k:
It’s really becoming more and more clear to me that it takes money to make money. A 3.5% gain doesn’t really seem very impressive until it equates to over $4k. Unfortunately, sometimes the drops outweigh the gains but not this month…

Home:
Hmmm… Maybe it’ll hit the $2k mark again? Actually, Zillow has it listed at $206500 right now and they’ve no idea what’s been done to the interior… I’m just sayin’…

Auto 1, Auto 2, and Auto 3:
Okay, this is where the big gain is this month.

Credit Card:
Am I still on track to get this back to zero by the end of the year? Maybe. That’s all I have to say for now…

Auto Loans and Other Loans:
Even with a new (to me) car in the fleet — there are still no auto loans. Woo-hoo!

Mortgage:
Same thing I’ve been saying for months… Just another minimum payment. Since the re-fi, I’ve totally flip-flopped and hopped on that bandwagon of folks that say that overpaying the mortgage is stupid. I totally agree with them — but only if your monthly payment is insanely low…

Can You Dig It?

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