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Guess who has to pay out over $700 this month for being a complete and total moron. ME! That is right folks I F’d up in a hard way yet again in my life.0 It just goes to show you that letting your guard down when a salesman comes to your door is bad news.  The other half is just me being a complete and total idiot. I couldn’t have picked a better time of year to mess up either, it is Christmas time and I am tacking on extra costs. I provide this story as evidence that no matter how cautious you think you are, you can always mess up and cost yourself some money.

It Sounds too Good to Be True

I haven’t had a chance to explain my hatred of cable companies yet but lets suffice it to say my only option has been Satellite television do to some very large problems between me and our local cable provider. I will say that DirecTV was an awesome service to have and their customer service people were the best I have dealt with. Unfortunately I live in the south where thunderstorms are common and the mere presence of a thunderhead would cause the HD to go out and the heaviest rains would knock out the regular channels. I was willing to accept these inconveniences due to my storied past with cable, then there was a knock on my door.

The fateful knock came at around 8pm, that should have been my first clue. It was a guy from AT&T who had recently, using magic, installed fiber to my house and they were offering TV service, phone, and blazing fast internet. To me this was the ultimate jackpot because it wasn’t the local cable company and it wasn’t satellite. To be perfectly honest that was all it would have taken for me to agree to a switch, this guy however was offering me the first month free. To quote him “Our service is so new we want you to run both your existing service and our service for one month and let us know what you think. We will give you one month for free just to compare the two.” Holy crap I thought I hit the jackpot. This is where spideysense should have gone off but it seemed to make sense to me for some reason.

The internet they were offering was 18mb down, compared to my current 3 it was heaven on earth. We chatted about prices and if I wanted HBO et al. I didn’t need HBO or any movie channels I just wanted HD, a DVR, and super fast internet. The guy then explained how the AT&T DVR is a whole house DVR so if I had multiple boxes in the house I could watch my recordings from the DVR on any TV. It just kept getting better. The deal itself, he said, just required that I get the home phone (voip), internet, and TV bundle and they would give it for free for 30 days. After the 30 days if I wasn’t happy I could cancel at no cost to me. I thought damn this is a good day. I hastily agreed to the whole shabang, I mean it was 8pm and this guy was eating into my wifey time. We were locked and loaded for the next month.

They came out and hooked me up, I tried it out for a week and was happy with it so being frugal, thank god, I canceled my old service. They said I was under contract but it was almost up so I only had to pay an $80 fee which was the equivalent of one months service. I didn’t have a problem with it since I was getting a month free from AT&T so I ponied up the cash and went on about my business. Fast Forward to Wednesday of last week. I got my first new bill notification via e-mail. I wasn’t worried, I knew it would be expensive because I had bundled things that were previously separate. What I wasn’t prepared for was a $395 bill. Further examination showed I was being billed for the first and second months of my service. WTF! The sales guy said my first month was free.

It is never good to start your relationship with a  necessary call to the customer service department. I called them up and explained my situation, the first person I talked to said I would have to talk to the rewards department and quickly transferred me to them. I hate being transferred by the way. After going through my diatribe again the rewards lady concluded I was referring to the $200 reward they are offering. She said you only get the reward AFTER you have had the service for 30 days and then it takes 4-6 weeks to process. Holy crap my wife is going to kill me at this point. Add to that the fact my “reward” had never been input into the system and I am not a happy camper. She entered the reward and said it could take up to 4-6 weeks, meanwhile I am saddled with a $400 bill. I tried to explain my frustrations but the rewards lady said I would have to talk to Customer Service and she didn’t have the ability to transfer, WHAT!

So I called back, to make a long story short the customer service rep, who was very nice, couldn’t do anything for me and she politely offered to let me speak with her supervisor. I spoke with him for a bit and he concluded there was nothing they could do for me as I signed the agreement, he said he was very sorry and that he would make sure the salesperson was identified and dealt with accordingly. I then decided to reduce my services to cut my costs he not only obliged but offered discounts to cover my current cable service at the reduced cost. I appreciated that and I parted ways, still owing $400 but with the understanding of where I failed.

I should have known better than to accept the deal at face value. There were warning signs all over the place that this guy didn’t really know what he was doing. For the techie types he event tried to convince me that the upload and download speeds were equal. It if fiber he says, they can’t keep you from having 18mb up if you have 18mb down. Honestly I laughed in his face when he said that, but it should have been a clue that things may be fishy. I would say get the story on the deal and call the company directly to confirm, don’t buy from the door knocker because he is just trying to make a commission and will tell you anything.

For Those who do Math Well

For those of you who do math well you are probably wondering about the other $300. That is actually just my own utter stupidity. I was traveling for work last month and forgot to pay the utility bill. So added to my $400 SNAFU I now have a power bill double it’s normal size with a late fee added in. Sad thing is all they had to do was call me and say hey buddy you didn’t pay and it would have been paid in a heartbeat. I feel worse about the fact it went unpaid than I do about the cost.

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I have decided Christmas does some crazy things to people. I am certainly not excluded from this grouping either. Do you remember when the Wii and the Xbox360 hit the shelves and no one could get their hands on one. The things were popping up on eBay and selling like hot cakes for way more than product was worth. This years version of the madness is the Zhu Zhu pet which retails at $8. When I started writing this article you could pick up a Zhu Zhu pet on Amazon for just under $34. That is around a 425% mark up for a furry fake hamster. This has me wondering what exactly a Zhu Zhu pet is. According to Toys R Us

Each Zhu Zhu Pets Hamster has its own unique personality and whimsical sounds! Loving mode: Pet them, love them, hear them squeak and chatter. Explore mode: Let them scoot, scamper, bump and boogie across the floor or through their Hamster Habitat. Collect the whole Hamster-riffic gang and all the Zhu Zhu Pets Hamster accessories to make a Humongous Hamster city!

Sounds like a decent toy for $8, but at $34 you are getting ripped off. I had a real hamster once and it was a rip off too. Like I said in the intro to this post I am just as guilty as everyone else.

Last year for Christmas we wanted to get our son a train set, not like an electric train but one of those wooden jobs you sometimes see in bookstores. We had the one picked out and we decided to wait a little bit to buy it. Well the next time we went to the store they didn’t have any in stock. We checked both stores in our area, plus Atlanta. No dice they were completely sold out. In addition they were sold out online so we couldn’t even go that route. As a last ditch effort we contacted my wifes mother in California who was able to locate the set at a store near her. We agreed to have her purchase the train set and we would pay the cost to ship it out. The train set was around $120, shipping was $150. Go figure we paid twice the price so he would have it on Christmas morning.

This brings us back to the question, How much are you willing to pay to see your child’s face light up on Christmas morning? Apparently I am willing to pay quite a bit but what about you? Are you footing the bill to get a Zhu Zhu pet this year or are you going to wait until the hype dies down?

Photo: (annia16)

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Purchasing a home is one of the most rewarding times in many people’s lives. It can also be one of the most stressfull. The build up to buying a house is huge, you have to scrape and save to get the money together for the down payment. The search then starts for the best rates on your impending mortgage and figuring out what you will qualify for.   Then you enter the hunt for the perfect house, the home to meet all of your wants and needs. Buying my first place was probably the proudest moment, aside from the birth of my sons, in my entire life.  I had achieved something no other child in my family had, I bought a house. At the age of 23 I was now a home owner to say it was amazing was an understatement.

Once I closed escrow and took ownership the fun started. You move in and start to arrange furniture the way you want and get things situated exactly right. Then once the couch is perfectly positioned you go to plug in the cable box only to realize there isn’t a cable, there is no wall plate, and all you have is black box that flickers. This is when the sleeper costs start to really add up. Something has to be done to get your perfect TV,  in the perfect place, in your perfect house. Guess what that is going to cost you money. If you do it it won’t be that bad but to pay the Crapcast guy to do it you are out like $100. This is just an example of the sleeper costs that you don’t think about or take into consideration before you buy a home, here are a few more.

  • Cable/Phone Installation – If you are buying a new home you are going to have to pay to have the cable hookup’s initially run from the street to your home. They generally don’t wave this fee, even if they will wave other installation fees. The fact is the cables aren’t buried to your house, just out by the street. In some cases they have to hire a contractor to bore under the road to your yard, that costs them and they pass it on to you. Used homes can sometimes get away without it as it is already “connected”.
  • Utility Connect Fees – Similar to cable if the home has never had electric, gas, or water service you may have to pay an initial connect fee. The same fee applies if you fail to transfer over utilities from a previous owner. Make sure you coordinate with the sellers so utility responsibility transfers on the day you close escrow so you avoid unnecessary fees.
  • Home Owners Associations – Commonly referred to as the busy body club, the HOA is usually responsible for upkeep of the neighborhood entrance and generally causing disdain amongst neighbors. Hopefully you were made aware of any HOA fees prior to purchasing your home. In some unfinished developments there may not be a fee until the developer actually completes the hood and turns it over. Watch out for situations like this because they could cost you in the end.
  • Paint – My first house was 1100 sq ft. I think it took me all of 3 gallons of paint to make it my own. That was a lot more than I expected. My current house is 3044 sq ft. and painting it is going to bankrupt me. Paint ain’t cheap and don’t pretend it is. If you get the cheap stuff it will probably take you ten times the coats to make it look decent and it will even out with the expensive stuff. Builder beige is only good for so long.
  • Landscaping – The Jones’ are some mean SOB’s. Their lawn is always greener, their bushes are always thicker, and their flowers are always prettier. Keeping your yard from looking like that creepy house from The Burbs costs cash. You are going to need at least three things; a lawn mower, a weed eater, and a blower. Without these essential lawn maintenance tools you will quickly be known as “that guy.”
  • Utility Bills – The amount you are going to spend on utilities is directly proportionate to the age and size of the home you are buying. The older and bigger the home the more it is going to cost you to heat and cool it. Don’t discount the number of people who are showering either. All of these factors contribute to higher utility bills. If you can I would ask to see a sample utility bill for the home you are purchasing.
  • Tax Increases – The amount you pay into escrow correlates to the amount of taxes and insurance you are required to pay on your home. If the taxes on your property haven’t been reassessed in several years you can almost count on the county/city coming out and doing an assessment. They generally disregard the actual real estate market so you can expect your property taxes to go up.
  • Air Filters – No one ever thinks about an air filter when they are buying a house but these things can be pretty damn expensive. Both my oldest son and I have sensitive allergies and require pretty clean indoor air. What this means is we have to be diligent about replacing our furnaces’ air filters regularly. When we replace them we use high quality low allergen filters. These things are freaking expensive, I am talking around $20+ a piece and I need three.
  • Light Bulbs – Yes I really said light bulbs. It would seem there are thousands of these things in my home and they were forever burning out. We have since replaced most of the incandescent bulbs with flourescent. The rule of thumb is that if it is a oddly shaped expensive bulb it lasts 1/1000th the time as a regular 60 watt bulb. In my house this stands for any bulb that requires an extension ladder to change.

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Never Underestimate the Value of Friends and Family

July 29, 2009

As I mentioned in my last update on the Cost of Having a Second Child Friend and Family = Frugality. My wife had her baby shower yesterday, and the amount of stuff we got was just overwhelming. As you can see from the photo above, there was no shortage of generosity. We even picked up […]

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Cost of Having a Second Child – Update 2

July 21, 2009

Another month has gone by with us doing very little on the baby purchasing front. Last month we bought furniture and continued to pay towards our prepayment of doctors fees.  This month we haven’t picked up very much but for a good reason. Here is the break down of our spending since the last update: […]

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