Archive for August, 2008

So… Worth the Money

This afternoon I spent eighty minutes getting pampered and massaged at the The Sanderling Spa in Duck, North Carolina. The masseuse assured me that the massage would boost my immune system, improve my overall circulation, and balance my chakras. I don’t know about all that, but when the massage was over I did feel like a large, oiled noodle.

The total cost was $204. The stone massage cost $170 plus a $34 tip. Every year my mother-in-law gives me a gift certificate for Christmas and every fall I use it to spend an hour or two at the Sanderling. This year it covered everything but the tip.

August 30, 2008 at 10:20 PM 5 comments

Comparing Obama and McCain’s Tax Proposals

Here’s a brief snapshot of the differences between Obama and McCain’s tax proposals. Since I arrived at the beach last weekend there has been very little time to watch TV or weed through the Internet articles on the Democratic National Convention. I did catch a glimpse of McCain’s running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tonight on CNN. Add that VP choice to Obama’s VP choice of Joe Biden, and it’s easy to see that this is going to be a very interesting election.

I’m surprised by how little negative rhetoric has been used against McCain. Even Bill Clinton had good things to say about him at the DNC. I found this article about McCain’s bipartisanship particularly interesting, perhaps crossing the party lines has found McCain more supporters than naysayers.

** This article provides further analysis of the candidate’s tax proposals.

August 30, 2008 at 3:30 AM 3 comments

Fraudulent Loans Skyrocketed 42% this Year

Mortgage fraud will continue to reign in the mortgage industry as long as mortgage originators, (a.k.a: mortgage brokers), continue to work on a commission based pay structure. The commission based system is a breeding ground for dishonesty and fraud. After all, if a loan is successfully originated the broker will take home a commission check. If the loan is denied, (because the borrower’s credit or financials are unsuitable to attain a mortgage), the broker will go home empty handed. In my opinion, the commission check provides a temptation for fraud that is too great for many mortgage brokers to pass up.

A video on CNN Money highlights this very issue. The video reported that fraudulent loans are skyrocketing because ‘the problematic structure of the industry hasn’t changed. Real estate brokers and mortgage brokers are still getting paid on commission and loan originators are still getting paid according to the volume of loans they do, not the quality. That’s got the same kind of incentives and pressures that got us into the housing crisis in the first place.”

When asked about the specifics of fraud the video reported that “people are lying about their income and also misrepresenting their job descriptions and there’s also a lot more deception about outstanding debts, how much they owe and leaving them out altogether.”

In truth there is very little reason other than human decency for participants in the loan origination process to remain honest. The borrower may forge employment or debt information in an effort to qualify for a mortgage or receive more favorable mortgage terms. The mortgage broker may turn a blind eye to the borrower’s half-truths in an effort to earn a commission. By the time the loan is accepted and processed the lender is holding onto a risky mortgage, without understanding it’s true risk. Without major reform to the pay structure of the mortgage process I believe fraud will continue to plague the mortgage industry. In my opinion the first step in mortgage reform is to alter the pay structure of mortgage brokers and loan originators.

August 27, 2008 at 10:00 PM Leave a comment

Vacation Link Love: The Poolside Edition

Here are a couple of links I thoroughly enjoyed reading pool side:

  • If you aren’t already familiar with the Cheap Healthy Good blog, I definitely suggest finding your way over there. I carve out a little extra time each week to catch up on Monday Megalinks. One of the most interesting links this week: Our cupboard was bare, which describes a single mother’s visit to the soup kitchen with her three children.
  • I loved the simple post on, asking How do you start the day?. Mornings haven’t been the best for me since my medical problems began in 2005, but this post inspired me to start the day with a more positive attitude.
  • My Good Cents provided a list of interesting facts, in Did You Know?. My favorite is #1: “If you peel a banana from the bottom and you won’t have to pick the little ’stringy things’ off of it.”
  • With the housing market in a bit of a tail spin lately I enjoyed reading Housing: Frank talk from Barney Frank over at CNN Money. Frank’s thoughts on Greenspan’s refusal to regulate irresponsible mortgages is particularly interesting. Frank believes the housing market would be in a completely different state of affairs if Greenspan had banned ‘bad’ mortgages back in 1994.
  • Last but not least I enjoyed The Psychology of Happiness: 13 Steps to a Better Life over at Get Rich Slowly. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between money and happiness. I’ve written about this topic on a number of occasions, including The Relationship between Money and Happiness, Secrets of Happy People: Don’t Involve Money?, and More secrets of happy people, but I can never read enough on this particular topic.

August 25, 2008 at 11:25 PM 2 comments

Spending More to Retain My Guests

Before I head out for a long vacation I always clean my house from top to bottom. I dread the idea of coming home to a messy house. The last thing I want to do after a restful vacation is come home and clean, so before I leave I empty all of the trashcans, clean the bathrooms, sweep the floors, clean the sheets, wash the clothes, overhaul the cat litter, wash the dishes, dust the furniture and clean out the fridge.

With the house in order and the newly cleaned laundry put away I went out to buy a few odds and ends for our beach house. Our vacation home gets an extraordinary amount of wear and tear in a limited amount of time. There are a couple of household items that are almost always in need of replacement. Linens fade and rip from constant washing, dishes are cracked and broken, and pots and pans are often scratched and scuffed.

The stores near our vacation home are quite costly and I know I’m bound to save money if I buy household items before I travel down south. Today I went in search of new comforters. I tried to find sufficient bedding at Burlington Coat Factory, (where I had a gift card), but none of the fabrics felt quite right.

I hated leaving the store without a blanket or two in hand. It seemed like such a waste to spend money at another store, when I could have gotten the items for free with my gift card. On one hand I wanted to save money, but on the other hand I couldn’t bear to give my renters cheap and scratchy blankets. In the end I decided I’d rather spend the money on extra soft bedding than take the cheap route.

After visiting three stores I finally found soft comforters at an affordable price at Ross. I purchased two queen blankets at $34.99 each and one king for $49.99. Last year more than half of our renters came back for a second, third, or fourth season. I like to think that it’s the little niceties, like soft bedding, that keeps luring them back.

August 23, 2008 at 3:59 AM Leave a comment

I Won! I Won!

I won two coupons in the POM Wonderful Giveaway over at My Good Cents! One for a free bottle of POM Wonderful, the other for a free bottle of POM Tea. In January I wrote a post about falling in love with POM after using a coupon to buy a bottle. After writing that post I bought ten $1 POM coupons on eBay and promptly went out to the grocery store to purchase ten bottles.

I am a huge fan of POM. Thanks so much My Good Cents for randomly picking me!

August 21, 2008 at 3:49 AM 2 comments

Verifying Receipts

I sent my husband out to Petco on Friday to pick up five, very large tubs of cat litter and an eight pound bag of cat food. I printed out a picture of the store’s sale circular and circled the sale price of the litter. I also printed out a 10% coupon, clipped a coupon for the cat food from the newspaper, and paper-clipped them all together with a gift card to Petco that’s been burning a whole in my pocket for months.

My husband graciously drove to the store after work. It’s a good thing I prepared him before for the trip. The litter did not ring up at the price listed in the sales circular, so he had to point out the discrepancy to the sales manager. Also, the coupon I printed had expired. Fortunately, the manager accepted it anyway. My husband saved $21 off of his total bill and came home with the receipt in hand to show me his efforts.

Unfortunately, when he handed over the receipt I noticed that he paid for two bags of cat food, even though he only brought one home. For some reason, I find I’m often overcharged when I use coupons. I think the coupons distract and confuse the cashiers, so I wasn’t surprised that my husband wasn’t billed properly.

Anyway, at $16.99 a bag I decided to drive back to Petco on Saturday for a refund of the money. The cashier kindly refunded the money and joked that he remembered the transaction. Apparently the sales circular and coupons stuck out in the cashier’s mind. Well that, and the fact that it took quite a few trips to get all that kitty litter out of the store and into the car.

Next time I might add an estimated total to the list of coupons and sales circulars I hand over to my husband. That way he can spot a duplicate charge before he leaves the store.

August 19, 2008 at 3:59 AM 4 comments

The Compulsion to Alleviate Stress by Shopping

In A Momentary Lapse of Reason J.D. focuses on the regret he felt after a recent shopping trip. During a particularly stressful time in his life he drove to a nearby mall and purchased a comic book he quickly deemed unnecessary. I immediately related to this post and his instinct to alleviate stress by shopping. I too have given into the compulsion.

A few years ago, after two visits to the emergency room and a number of stays in the hospital, I found myself spending hours on end with doctors who were unable to diagnose my ailments or provide appropriate treatment. My stress mounted, as month after month doctors continued to lack answers. I grew concerned about the quality of my life and the future of my health and well being.

I visited two to three doctors per week in search of answers. The stress heightened with every visit to a new physician. I was frightened of what the doctor would find and even more frightened that he/she would never discover the reason for my chronic pain and low stamina.

As a result of my initial diagnosis I was placed on anti-coagulants and went to my primary doctor’s office ever Wednesday for blood tests. After almost every visit I would head to Marshalls, which I passed on my way back home. On the first few visits I bought something new. One week I purchased a robe, the next week a fleece, the third week a soft blanket, but by the fourth week I walked out of Marshalls without buying anything at all.

I know that someone is going to ask why I would go to the store without ever intending to make a purchase. The answer is simple. For me, the act of shopping had nothing to do with attaining something new. I used shopping as a way to get my mind away from my troubles. The store was a place to escape my illness, my worries, and the questionable doctors who seemed unable to help me.

I vividly remember driving to the store after my appointments and spending thirty minutes walking around the racks. I was in a significant amount of pain during that time in my life and spending a mere thirty minutes in the store often left me weak and tired. Still, I stopped at Marshalls on my way home after almost every blood test. Some weeks I walked around the toy department, other weeks I searched for new kitchen gadgets or looked along the racks of dresses. Walking around the racks made me forget my troubles and helped me to feel normal all at the same time.

It took over six months and more than thirty consultations before I finally found a doctor who could diagnose my ailments. Six months after my first visit to the emergency room I underwent surgery to correct my medical problems. It has been nearly three years since that surgery and I continue to mend slowly and thankfully each day.

When I think back on that time in my life I am not disappointed or upset with myself for wandering the racks at Marshalls. Shopping provided me with a short, but much needed escape, from my troubles. Could a therapist have done the same? Possibly and perhaps much better, but at times I simply needed to stop focusing on my worries. Shopping provided me with the chance to focus on more trivial matters, like what toys my nephew might like to play with or what lamp might match my living room decor.

Still you might wonder why I went shopping? My health was poor and in all due honesty my options were limited. When I found the strength I often walked around my neighborhood, but on many occasions I found my mind wandering into scary places I did not want it to go. In the store I was distracted by the sights and sounds and unable to concentrate to deeply on the thoughts that disturbed me. Thirty minutes in a store seemed to provide the small dose of retail therapy I needed to recharge.

I am an introspective person by nature and I will admit that I thought long and hard about returning to Marshalls after each blood test. I set limits for myself and decided that I could shop as long as I kept my total purchase under $20. It was important for me to set a limit. It helped me feel in control of my life, at a time when I felt there was very little I could control.

I would certainly feel differently about this situation if I rang up large amounts of credit card debt while I was shopping, but as I mentioned, I often walked out of the store empty handed. In my case, shopping provided me with a short escape from reality. A way to momentarily ignore my pain.

Most importantly, if you turn to shopping as a way to alleviate stress the real question is this: Why do you turn to shopping to alleviate your stress and is there a better way to alleviate your stress the next time? Looking back I don’t necessarily regret my choice, but I do wish I had found a more constructive use of that time… perhaps drawing or painting.

August 17, 2008 at 2:15 AM 6 comments

A Few Places to Get Free Gift Cards

In the next week or so I should receive four free gift cards in the mail. I ordered a $25 Subway gift card from MyCokeRewards. rewards you for purchasing coke products. In order to accumulate enough points we actually had to purchase quite a lot of soda, so technically I guess this first card is not free, but we would purchase the soda either way, so it’s nice to get a little something extra for being loyal to the Coke brand.

I ordered the second gift card from MyPoints. A lot of frugal bloggers have talked about this site. In essence, you earn points by filling out surveys and clicking on advertising emails. I ordered a $10 CVS gift card from the MyPoints site.

The last two gift cards were ordered from PostPoints. PostPoints is a reward program affiliated with the Washington Post. You attain points by playing daily quizzes, posting your resume, writing restaurant reviews and a whole host of other activities related to the Washington Post website. You can also attain points by shopping in local and regional stores. PostPoints is linked to CVS, Giant, and Shopper’s Food Warehouse so whenever you shop at either of these stores you’ll be rewarded with additional points. (Only 5 points per visit). This is the second time I’ve ordered gift cards through the PostPoints site and the cards I ordered last time arrived within a matter of days. This time I ordered two $10 Shoppers cards.

I tend to order free gift cards related to grocery stores, drug stores, or restaurants. I already know that I can save a lot of money in these areas, but the gift cards help us save a little more.

August 15, 2008 at 3:59 AM 3 comments

I Spent Twenty Cents on Dinner for Two Plus Dessert

This evening my husband and I enjoyed two meals and shared one dessert for a grand total of 20 cents. A few weeks before my birthday I signed up for Noodlegrams on the Noodles & Company website. A week prior to my birthday I received an email coupon for a free entree. I also received a Noodles & Company gift card as a present from my in-laws. So tonight, hubby and I drove over to the restaurant, used the free entree coupon to purchase my meal, and purchased his with the gift card. One yummy Pad Thai with Shrimp, one yummy Mac & Cheese with Parmesan Chicken. Total spent: $0.00

After dinner, we walked over to Coldstone Creamery, which is five steps away from Noodles and Company, and handed over another birthday coupon for a free Love It size ice cream. If you have a Coldstone Creamery in the vicinity I highly recommend signing up for their Birthday Club. You’ll be asked to enter your name and birth date, as well as the names and birth dates of any family members for whom you’d like to print birthday coupons. (Earlier this year I printed out a coupon for my Mom and slipped it into her birthday card.) The cashier charged us 20 cents for the ice cream, which I’m assuming covered the tax. My husband and I sat outside the ice cream shop on a wooden bench and shared a strawberry sundae with hot fudge and M&Ms. Total spent: $0.20.

So for a mere twenty cents we enjoyed two meals and a cup of strawberry ice cream. Tonight will be my last night of birthday celebrations for 2008. Of course, I saved the most frugal night of celebrations for last.

August 12, 2008 at 3:20 AM 6 comments

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