Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Power of Persistence

About a month ago, I found my "perfect" black shoes. They were perfect until they started to jam my left knee each time I wore them. So I stopped wearing them.

Then I called the store I bought them at, explained my problem, and they said they wouldn't take them back. The guy said they'd only take them back in perfect, unworn (wearing around the house was ok) condition. "We're not Nordstrom's," he said. I said, "Well, you're a store that advertises itself as selling comfortable walking shoes, and these clearly aren't. So, I've paid $130 for a pair of useless shoes, and you won't take them back?" Him: "That is correct." In the end, he was a jerk and nothing happened.

Then, I called corporate customer service. The guy I talked to there said I could mail them in and I would get a check by mail (I originally paid cash for the shoes).

This all happened a couple weeks ago. I've spent an inordinate amount of time in my primary client's office, and I haven't been able to get to a post office. Since nearly a month has passed, I decided to try and call corporate customer service again, to make sure I wasn't going over any time limits they had for returns.

Corporate customer service is closed for the weekend.

So I called the original location of the store I went to, with the intent of asking them if there was a time limit for returns by mail. I briefly explained how I needed to mail the shoes since the other store wouldn't take them, and...the guy started laughing.

Him: "Of COURSE you can return them!"
Me: "To the store?"
Him: "Of course."
Me: "But the guy at the location I bought them at said I could only return them if they were unworn."
Him: "That's nonsense. The shoes don't work for you, you can return them."
Me: "Can I return them to your location, instead?"
Him: "Yes. Just ask for me. I'm L**."

I explained that the shoes did have some normal wear (even though I wore them maybe five times), and he said that was still ok.

In the end, a little persistence, mixed with a little delay in getting to the post office, is saving me postage and hassle. It also goes to show that just accepting what one person tells you isn't the wisest course of action. I had been quite surprised that the first guy said I couldn't return the shoes (there isn't anything about returns printed on the receipt). Then, instead of calling another store, I called the corporate customer service number I found online.

Sadly, this is why I don't like talking to most customer service reps in the first place -- they just don't know basic things and correct procedures, and it also takes far longer to get any/correct information from them. So often, recently, whenever I call a customer service number, I end up talking to someone who doesn't know what they're talking about, and it takes upwards of five minutes to re-explain and have them still not understand. Then, once I get to talk to a supervisor or manager, everything is resolved in under a minute. Which just goes to show the people on the front lines are often mis-informed or just don't know -- and this is why I don't trust them when I'm told something against what I expect.

So now, I get to go to a group yard sale a friend is participating in (since I don't have to go out of my way to find a post office open on Saturdays), AND I will be getting a refund on the shoes.

Persistence and not accepting what just one person tells you pays.

Last Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

So, my article How To Be An Entrepreneur was included in this past week's carnival of personal finance, hosted over at Daily Finance and Marketing News.

Go an check the other articles out!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dilemma: What Do You Do When You *Could* Pay Off Your Debt?

In doing my weekly finances this evening, I just fully realized that if I threw all of my cash savings at my remaining debt, it would be about 90% gone. Gone. Gone.

Part of me has a huge temptation to throw my condo downpayment fund, my travel fund, my emergency fund, my (shudder to consider this) IRA fund at my remaining debt.

Though, I'm sure I've mentioned how uneasy I am when I have no cash savings on hand. I become very, very uneasy.

I'm taking on a special project next month for my primary client, and I will be in their office five days a week for the entire month. I will, thus, be earning more than I have as my estimated weekly earnings (which is a static amount for all weeks without holidays or planned time off), and be able to pay down more of my debt.

After a number of months of feeling like I was just slogging away at my debt, and not getting anywhere fast, I feel like it's all gone in to hyperdrive. I haven't been working that much more than normal. I attribute paying off the one credit card and being hyperaware of not using that credit card for anything (it's the one I keep in my wallet, and use in pinches) as part of why this is happening. I think another part is that with the one credit card at zero, all my debt money is going to only two accounts -- credit card #2, and my student loan. And I should mention that if I were to snowball my student loan, it would disappear well before the end of this year... I haven't decided on whether or not I will snowball my student loan, as I recently received a notification that the yearly interest rate went down 2% points, and is now around 5%.

But I digress.

The question remains: if you could pay off your debt, at the expense of draining your savings accounts, would you?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Do You Know What's In Your Wallet?

As we all know, I "lost" my wallet a couple weeks ago...and then I found it.

I wrote about this, and how it would have been a much easier experience if it had turned out it really was lost, since I had very little in my wallet (which is, really, a medium-sized coin purse).

A girlfriend and I went out to lunch last week, and I told her my story, and how I'd thought of her specifically, when I thought of someone I knew with a bigger (and proper) wallet, and what it would be like if someone with a big wallet lost or had it stolen. She said that she needed to make a list of what was in her wallet, because she didn't know what was in her wallet. That was a pretty stunning revelation. As it was, she showed me most of what she had in it, and that consisted of: 2-3 each of major credit cards, store credit cards, debit cards, and then other things like a library card, insurance card, receipts, etc. She said she would have to go through her financial paperwork to re-create what was in her wallet, if she had the unfortunate experience of losing it. She also said that she didn't use all the cards that were in her wallet (and no, she doesn't have any credit card debt...seriously).

Part of me is thankful that I never developed the desire, or ability, to maintain and carry a proper wallet. I tend to carry small purses, and having a full size, fold out wallet doesn't work. I'd rather carry a paperback book than a space hog wallet. I have a half-size fold out wallet, that I used for a little while, but now it just sits in a bag and I haven't used it in years. I do have a full size wallet, that I used very, very briefly, and now it just houses my collection of foreign currency.

I just don't think it's necessary for most people to carry a large wallet. Aside from the obvious concerns about what would happen if it was lost or stolen, why carry that much information about yourself in one place? Is it necessary to carry every card that you have?

Some people think I'm cold-hearted or just plain mean, because I won't even sign a petition on the street, much less give any personal information to the people on the street who are shilling for charities. With the relative ease of stealing an identity, I'm not going to just trust people who come up to me on the street are who they say they are, and hand over anything -- especially my signature. So why should anyone make it easier for potential thieves and identity thieves, by carrying a wallet packed with so much that the owner doesn't know the entire contents?

Do you know what's in your wallet?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How To Be An Entrepreneur

You don't have to have the idea for the next Google to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship can take many forms -- from someone looking to earn a few extra bucks a month, for someone looking for a flexible part-time job, for someone who wants to work full-time for themself. It doesn't take high-flying financial goals to start a business -- what's more important is choosing what you want to do and doing it well.

Here are a few pointers to guide you along your way:

1. Believe in Yourself: If you don't believe you will be successful, you probably won't be. Clients want to hire smart, confident people. I've hired people for little jobs before, and I never respond to anyone who says "might" or "not sure" or anything less than "I can definitely do that." Most clients treat freelancers as entities they expect to be able to come in, assess the situation, and do something about it.

2. Sell Yourself: People won't hire you if they don't know about you. Advertise in a local paper or craigslist, go to a local networking event, tell everyone you know what you're doing, post ads on community billboards (depending on your service -- this can be great for dog walkers, not so great for web designers). Also, use business social networking sites like LinkedIn.

3. Behave Like a Business Owner: Learn about what you need to do about taxes. Treat your business with respect and attention. If you don't take care of your business, it won't take care of you. Be confident when you talk about what you do. Know if you need to have specific kinds of insurance for what you do. Get business cards. Create a website.

4. Know Your Market: Are there many people doing what you want to do? No? Then great, because you'll be able to position yourself well. Yes? Then you have to find a marketing angle that will set you apart from the rest of the pack; or you will just have to work that much harder. Know who your competition is, and why clients should choose you instead.

5. Know Your Value (in cold hard cash): This is related to #4. Research and learn what the going rate for your skill is in your area. When I started out as a technical writer, I used online salary calculators to figure out what beginning technical writers earned and went from there. At the beginning, my rate was a bit high for my experience (but hey, I asked for it and received it!), though now it is probably a little low (this was recently told to me by someone more experienced in the freelance technical writing/editing field, and remember: I raised my rate by over 11% earlier this year). Don't be afraid to ask for a high rate -- if someone really wants you, they can negotiate with you, so leave room in your rate for that and also know your lowest acceptable rate. You are only worth what you think you are and what you ask for. No client will ever say "Gee, Sally here is such a good worker...we should give her more money" and then do so. Instead, they thank their lucky stars they found a great worker for a bargain basement price, and hope it lasts a very long time.

6. Deliver a Quality Product/Service: Take pride in what you do. As I've mentioned before, I only had to search for my first client. Contacts I have on Linkedin and a previous client have referred me to other people. While those referrals haven't yet generated business for me, it's free advertising. People are more likely to hire someone with a good recommendation from a peer, because it's expensive and time-consuming to find someone on your own.

7. Consider getting started by volunteering your services: If you need experience on your resume and are having difficulties finding clients, consider helping out a non-profit. This will give you experience, a line item on your resume, and you'll also meet similar people (who may be able to steer you towards some work -- the more people you meet=the more possibility of finding work).

8. Do what you have to do to get started: This is related to #7. For me, I had writing experience from when I worked at the hi-tech company. Yet when I wanted to go freelance, that wasn't enough for my resume, and the temporary agencies I went to wouldn't give me writing or editing jobs. So, I sought and created writing experience. I found some very small jobs via craigslist, and wrote some articles for a couple websites that pay for content. The websites paid shockingly small amounts, but I was able to add links to those sites, in addition to the links for the very small jobs (because they were also for websites), to my resume. Suddenly, my resume started looking like a proper writer's resume. At the end of my first month of searching, I was able to get one of my agencies to talk to a client and pitch me as a copywriter for them. I didn't get that copywriting job, but I started to get the agency's attention. As we all know, I ended up landing my own client, and I've not worked as a regular employee since then. The point is: I didn't have the experience, but instead of moaning about it, I went and did something about it. I didn't make much money that month (not even enough to pay my rent), but I acquired more line items and samples for my resume, and that landed me attention. It's not just experience, but initiative, that will get you where you want to go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Carnivals

Eek. So while I've been swamped with work recently, I did manage to get a few posts up, and they made their way into the Carnival of Personal Finance and the Carnival of Money Stories.

Last week's Carnival of Personal Finance was hosted over at Squawk Fox, and today's Carnival of Money Stories is hosted over at Broke Grad Student.

There are lots of great posts, so go and have a look!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wallet: Found (and the Beauty of Simple Finance)

Yes, I bow my head in shame. I found the wallet.

Somehow, it got kicked under my bed. And yes, I did look under my bed yesterday. I think the wallet had been hiding behind the area rug and the leg of my desk chair.

It made me realize, though, as I sorted through the things in my wallet, that I really need to take business cards and such out of my wallet from time to time. I have several cards from people and shops and I realized I didn't have all that information recorded elsewhere.

Sigh.

I do have renewed faith in my good luck charms, and that's a nice thing.

It was a huge sigh of relief (and awe) when I saw the wallet just lying there. Yesterday was partially a hellish day because of the presumed loss of my wallet. Though, I realized that living a "simple" financial life is hugely beneficial. I mentioned to a couple people [yesterday] that I'd lost my wallet, and they all groaned. They all assumed I had tons of cards to cancel, and were all surprised when I said I only lost one credit card, one debit card, and my identification card.

Lesson learned: not having a wallet filled with plastic minimizes potential loss minimized and time spent cancelling cards. As it was, I spent maybe 45 minutes on the phone yesterday, talking to my bank, my credit card company, and a couple related phone calls. I did have to spend about two hours at the licensing office, for my new identification, though I would've had to get one in a few weeks anyway (it expires on my birthday this year, and that is only about three weeks away).

In all, having a non-consumerismistic (is that really a word?) lifestyle made the pain of losing my wallet a great deal less painful than it could've been. I have a girlfriend who has a much larger wallet than I do, with more credit cards, and I shudder to think of how much time it would take to call all those companies and banks...and then how much of a hassle it would be to not use those, since I'm pretty sure she definitely uses plastic much more than I do.

Because I have so little plastic in my wallet (my second credit card is never in my wallet, since I signed up for it strictly for a balance transfer), my liability in the event of my own carelessness, or in the event of theft, is greatly reduced. I've had credit card checks stolen before, and it was a MAJOR hassle to get those cleared up. There were repeated phone calls to the credit card company, affidavits to sign for each check used, and just general headaches from all the time it took me to monitor everything and make sure the credit card company was doing what they were supposed to.

So, I'm inordinately pleased that my supposed lost wallet was a victim of my carelessness in putting it where it was supposed to be, and from me kicking it under my bed. I'm also pleased to realize just how much less painful it was, since I only had the two cards to cancel.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Lost My Wallet

I've done something I don't think I've ever done before: lost my wallet. It happened on Sunday, though am just now realizing it, since I worked from home all yesterday and never left the house.

I used something in my wallet at a grocery store Sunday night, but lucklessly, they don't have it. After my shopping, I walked home. The wallet is not anywhere it should be, or in the bag I was carrying, so I can only presume it fell out of the bag I was carrying when I was walking home. I didn't walk by anyone, so I know it wasn't pickpocketed.

Since more than 24 hours have passed, I think the odds of me finding it lying on the street are remarkably remote.

I can also only hope that whomever found it doesn't mail it to the address on my ID card, as I haven't lived at that address since 2004... A good reason to keep it up-to-date... Even more remotely, it would be remarkable if the person Googled me and found me that way -- they wouldn't find this blog, but they would find me on a couple social/business networking sites and would be able to contact me through those.

So, in the wake of having no plastic and only my passport as identification, I'm thankful I have my closet stash of cash. Otherwise, I would be SOL for getting downtown to get a new ID today, and then going to my client's office.

There hasn't been any activity on the debit or credit card, so that's lucky. I know what it takes to dispute charges, and it's not pretty and it's not brief. I also think I only had maybe $20 or so in US cash (I also had an Argentine 20 peso note), so I'm not out much there (remember, I tend to use cash far more than plastic).

I also found out that the local police precint doesn't even take reports of lost/stolen wallets. That was a surprise.

My only hope now, is that someone found it and turned it in to the police (I have a call in to the evidence officer).

There's still a remote chance it will turn up somewhere in my disorderly room, though I doubt it. My wallet is one of the things I always know the location of.

The good luck charms I carried in my wallet (it was actually a large coin purse) obviously didn't help me much on Sunday... Though, I'm quite sad to have lost the Turkish eye I bought in Istanbul -- it may have protected me from the evil eye, but it didn't protect me from losing my wallet...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tales From the Air: Ignore and Endure

On my flight home a couple weeks ago, I had the unpleasant experience of sitting close to three under-5 children. They were travelling with their father, who had a reprehensible parental attitude towards his children. Needless to say, I was the one who said something to the kids (twice) to get them quiet (the father didn't say boo to me either time, and actually looked surprised the first time). While I think his behavior was extremely rude, inconsiderate and tacky, I realized that the father was doing exactly what so many people do with their finances: ignore and endure.

I know a lot of my credit card debt is travel-related, though I can't tell you how much. I can't tell you how much is from travelling I've done in the last four years (since my mini-retirement), and how much is random purchases along the way. After getting incensed at the father's lack of control over his kids, I realized that until I started my debt eradication plan, I had the same attitude towards my debt -- I paid more than the minimum, shivered when I charged a little too much in a given month, wondered if it would ever be paid off...and then stopped thinking about it once I'd made the monthly payment. With my first credit card, I remember realizing that when I saw that I'd charged more than I'd paid, and couldn't pay off even the amount I'd charged that month, that that was an undesirable thing. Yet, I just ignored the obvious (I was spending beyond my means and not getting anything really useful out of it), and enduring the interest payments and the shackles of credit card debt.

On the flipside of all this, I've started to realize that my spending habits are definitely different [since I started my debt eradication plan] and that I'm not so wanton with my spending. I really do think my mind has absorbed the Buy Quality and Don't Buy in Excess that I've been striving for this last year or so. When I was on vacation, I did see a pair of shoes very similar to what I want, but they were horrible quality. In the past, I may have easily bought them as a stopgap until I found what I wanted. Now, I just sighed at finding what I wanted but with supremely bad materials and workmanship, and moved along.

In the end, I've realized that I no longer ignore and endure, and I'm pleased with that.