Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Featherbrained Insurance Claim

Sorry for the lack of posts folks. I took a break last week to mourn the passing of my dear cat, MJ. Now, I'm just a bit overwhelmed at work, trying to get my stuff up-to-snuff for a December audit.

Anyhow, I always thought I was one of those people who don't develop emotional attachments to objects. I learned otherwise today when I thought I lost a three-stone diamond necklace that my mom gave me several years back. (Some of you may already know that my mom has a bad habit of giving me expensive gifts that she can't afford.)

This morning, I reached into my jewelry rack to wear my diamond necklace. When I saw that all of my necklaces were there except that one, I mentally accused my pet sitter of theft. My pet sitter had been taking care of MJ during my business trips in August and September and I thought to myself, "I bet she snuck one necklace out, thinking that I won't notice! I can't believe I'm such a sucker!"

I was fuming mad until I vaguely recalled that I may have worn the necklace after the pet sitter's services ended. I wasn't sure, but I started to think that I may have worn the necklace when I got my monthly massage earlier this month. I sort of remembered putting my necklace carefully into my purse before my massage. I just couldn't remember whether it was my diamond necklace or not.

I tore my purse inside out, hoping to find the necklace. Nothing. Maybe it fell out of my purse inside my apartment? Nyet . Maybe it spilled onto the floor of my car when I braked hard? Nope.

I finally gave up and concluded that my necklace was lost forever. I felt really bad not being more careful with it. How could I have not noticed that I was missing the necklace for nearly a month? It made me sad to think how my mom would be extremely disappointed when she learns that I lost her gift. (Especially since she probably went deeper into debt to buy me the necklace.)

I was suddenly obsessed with replacing the necklace with something similar. I called my renter's insurance carrier and made a claim. (Note: Regular homeowners/renters insurance policies limit jewelry coverage to $1,000. I was lucky that I increased my jewelry coverage limit to $2,500/item, $10,000/total about a year ago.)

The claims rep was pretty helpful as well. I learned that the difference between a "mysterious disappearance" (which is not covered unless I have a "floater" on the item) and "theft" (which is covered) is that I need to know where I last put the item. Since I was pretty sure that I last put the necklace in my purse, the claims rep considered my lost necklace a covered loss. She suggested that I make a police report which is generally a requirement for theft losses.

She asked about the value of the necklace. I knew my mom bought the necklace from Macy's and a similar necklace is currently retailing for $1,200 on Macy's website. The claims rep verified the cost and settled the claim for $1,305 (includes tax). Since I have a $500 deductible, my insurer agreed to cut me a check for $805.

I was bummed that not only did I lose my necklace, I'm going to be out of pocket $500. But when I went to my local brick-and-mortar Macy's store, I discovered that the similar necklace is currently on sale: 30% off, additional 10% off and another 20% off. I could get a similar diamond necklace for $657.72 (incl. tax) - - a net profit of $147.28! Cha-chiiiing!!

That's when I suddenly had total recall:

(1) I was convinced that my pet sitter couldn't have stolen my necklace since I was wearing it during my final business trip. I even have photographic evidence of it!

(2) I also remembered I was using my computer bag as my purse when I got my massage. Could the necklace still be in my computer bag?

Sure enough, when I got home, I discovered my necklace was in a side pocket of my computer bag. Doh....

I immediately called my insurer and canceled my claim. Truth be told, I'd rather have my mom's necklace than to keep an undeserved check for $805. And perhaps maybe it's not the necklace that I'm attached to. Maybe I just love it because it came from mom.

P.S. Dear Pet Sitter: I am TRULY sorry for thinking that you stole my necklace, even for a moment. All I can say is that I panicked. I will try to do better to not be so accusatory in the future...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shtinkykat is Now Without A Cat

I put my cat MJ to sleep today.

He stopped eating on Saturday. He ate a little bit Sunday morning, which made me wonder whether he was just being finicky. But he stopped eating and drinking all together.

He defecated all over my bathroom mats during the wee hours of the night. When I pulled him away from the mat to clean, he wobbled a bit and collapsed from hunger and dehydration.

In hindsight, it was probably not the most financially prudent thing to have paid $650+ on a cat sitter while I was on business travel during the past month-and-a-half. But at the time, I just couldn't put him down when he was still eating and drinking.

It's unseasonably warm outside, but it feels really cold in my apartment right now... RIP, MJ. You were such a good friend and companion.

I looked at the balance of my dwindling pet fund - - $206.05. Yesterday's office vist cost $205 - - $45 office visit + $60 euthanasia + $100 cremation. Oddly coincidental.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looks Like I'm Gonna Start Buying I-Bonds Again

In October 2008, I started buying $25 worth of I-Bonds every month to create a tax advantaged "income stream" in retirement. I know it's not much, but since I-Bonds are supposed to "keep up" with inflation, I should be able to buy a couple of lunches every month with my I-Bonds when I'm in my 60's. :-D

Between October 2008 - April 2009, I was getting 4.83% - 5.64% APY on my I-Bonds for 6 months. But between May 2009 to October 2009, new I-Bond purchases were only getting 0.00% APY for 6 months. Not worth buying, so I've stopped.

All of my purchases have also re-set to 0.00% APY for the next 6 months and I was strongly considering just redeeming them once I've held them for the requisite 1 year.

But based upon Bureau of Labor and Statistic's new September CPI figures, new I-Bond purchases should be getting atleast 3.07% APY. My current I-Bonds will also re-set to rates between 3.07% - 3.78% on a rolling basis the next 6 months.

Since ~3.07% APY is better than anything I'm getting in any of my savings accounts, I think I'll start buying I-Bonds again after November 1. Maybe I'll buy an additional $150 to cover the past 6 months that I didn't purchase. And I guess I won't be redeeming my current I-Bonds either.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Is the Value of a Massage Service Received?

During the past couple of months, I took an extended leave from blogging to deal with chronic neck pains and insomnia by seeing a chiropractor and a physical therapist. In August, I considered adding a monthly massage into my therapy since I knew I was very close to paying off my credit card and I could afford it. (To those who are thinking I should pay down my student loans rather than get massages, let me rephrase: I could afford to pay for monthly massages without going back into credit card debt. Mmm-kay?)

One weekend in August, I went to a chi-chi resort in La Jolla that charged $130 for a 50 minute massage. The spa facilities were fancy-shmancy and I loved it. The massage on the hand could only be described as... "meh."

In September, while in Chicago, I got a massage at a five-star hotel near Michigan Avenue. (It was the only spa that would take me on a Sunday evening as a walk-in. I swear!) The ritzy spa charged $135 for a 50 minute massage. The facilities were gorgeous but again, the massage itself was, "meh."

In both instances, I tipped the massage therapists $26 and $27 respectively, notwithstanding the mediocre quality of the massages I received.

For my October massage, I was thinking about scheduling a $79 service at my chiropractor's office, but was enticed by a $49 (50 min.) massage special at Massage Envy instead. For those who aren't familiar with Massage Envy, it's a "membership spa" where members pay $59/month (or whatever price the franchisee set) and get one (1) 50-minute massage per month. Members can get additional 50-minute massages in the same month for $39 a pop. Non-members pay $98 per 50-minute massage.

I was initially turned off by the fact that Massage Envy's "spa" didn't have any showering facilities or a steam room. (Uhhh... I really think a business that calls itself a spa should at least have some kind of water related facility, but I digress.) Nevertheless, I gave it a whirl and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the massage I received. It certainly kicked serious butt of the chi-chi resort massages I previously got. I signed up for a 6 month membership.

But when it came time to pay the tip, I froze. Massage Envy's tipping guidelines suggested $14-$20, but I wondered about some of the same things that financial writer, Liz Pulliam Weston, did in this article.

I initially wondered whether a $12 tip (i.e., 20% x the regular member's price of $59) would have sufficed as a decent tip? But why should the mediocre massage therapists at the chi-chi resorts get double for the same service? On the other hand, since I don't enjoy the same luxe facilities at Massage Envy that I get at the tony resorts, doesn't that mean I can tip less?

After what seemed like an eternal internal debate, I left a $17 tip. I justified the tip based upon prices that other non-membership "day spas" (that also lack showering facilities) charge for a 50 minute massage. The prices in San Diego range from $65 to $80, so I think a $14 to $17 tip is quite appropriate for a 50-minute massage. (Liz Pulliam Weston's neighborhood really has $39 massages?)

This begs the question: Can an establishment really set the perceived value of a service delivered? I don't think so. I compare places like Massage Envy to car washes that offer cut rate prices at the expense of their employees. Just as I do at car washes, when I think an employee may be underpaid, I tip based upon the value of the service I think I received, not what I was charged. In other words, I tip beyond the 20% standard. I really can't be angry at Massage Envy's tipping guidelines since it benefits the therapist, not the franchisee.

But now I'm starting to regret - - if I suspect an establishment isn't paying its employees a decent wage, maybe I shouldn't be patronizing the business at all... *Cr&p*

Nothing New In My Credit Report

I did my quarterly free credit report check through and pulled my Experian report. I didn't get my FICO score since the jerks at Experian decided that they would no longer sell FICO scores to consumers. Just on principle, I refuse to pay good money for Experian's bogus FAKE-O score.

I'm not surprised that I didn't find anything weird in my Experian report since I'm getting AAA's free identity theft/credit monitoring service.

I just found the same ol' (emphasis on the 'old') negative items that will fall off my credit report by next year. I'm hoping my FICO score will improve to around 800 early next year since my credit cards are paid off and most of my negative items will disappear. *Fingers crossed*

Experian credit report prepared for
Your report number is
Report date: October 10, 2009

7 Total Potentially Negative Items

Five (5) Private Student Loan Accounts
90 days past due as of Apr 2003

60 days past due as of Mar 2003

One (1) Law School Perkins Loan Account (Paid Off)
60 days past due as of Jan 2003
30 days past due as of Jun 2003, Dec 2002

One (1) Macy’s Account
30 days past due as of Nov 2003

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Am I Supposed to Return the Money?

The biggest problem with a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is that you have to use up your pre-tax contributions by the end of the year (or some other date determined by your employer), or you lose it. I generally squirrel my FSA contributions through June and then try to exhaust it over the remainder of the year.

This year, due to chronic neck pain and headaches, I started visiting a chiropractor who is outside of my health insurance network. Because he is outside of the network, my insurance only pays 70% of the chiropractor's fees and I am responsible for the remaining 30%. Fortunately, I've convinced my chiropractor to waive my 30% portion of his fees.

My insurance company (and FSA administrator) is unaware of this side deal I made with my chiropractor and has paid me all of my FSA contributions for the year to apply towards the 30% chiropractor fee.

Am I supposed to return this money to my FSA administrator? Or in the alternative, am I supposed to tell my FSA administrator that my chiropractor has waived my portion of his fees?

Part of me says, "Yes," since the FSA money was being paid to me to apply specifically to the chiropractic fees. On the other hand, the money is mine and I've actually been using it to pay other health care costs like cold/flu medication, inhaler, lozenges, cold sore ointment, etc. It's not like I'm using my FSA money to buy jewelry and clothes. If I'm called on it, I can always produce receipts to prove this. I do feel guilty that I'm earning interest on the money, though. (Ooooh. A whopping 1.7% on $255!!)

What would you do?

Monday, October 12, 2009

TMI Monday - - Thank Goodness I Have Health Insurance

** Warning: Adult TMI content below, not suitable for children. **

If I ever had doubts about whether I should remain single for the rest of my life, a recent date removed all reservations. I swear, my love life resembles a Farrelly Brothers movie.

What does this have to do with health insurance? Let's just say a recent out-of-town date ended with a visit to the ER. And don't worry -- it had nothing to do with domestic violence, injury or illness. It was just a tragicomic, embarrassing debacle.

I previously wrote about how I may consider dating younger men. (One matter of note: I previously referred to myself as a "cougar" but apparently, I am actually a "puma"). I was kidding when I wrote that post, but I recently hooked up with a nice, handsome young man 6 years my junior. (Score!)

Unfortunately, my romantic out-of-town date with the cub ended with a "disappearing" ... ummm.... "protection." (This apparently happens more often than one would imagine.)

We turned over the sheets, looked under the bed and looked all over. There was only one place it could be and I couldn't retrieve it myself. *Cr&p!* And as Murphy's Law would dictate, (1) it was the weekend, (2) we're out of town, and (3) it was after-hours, so I couldn't go to my regular doctor. I had no choice but to go to the ER to get it removed.

After 5 hours of waiting in the ER and numerous embarrassing explanations to the intake nurse, the intern, and the attending, I was free. (And in more ways than one, since I'm no longer speaking with the cub.)

How much did this procedure cost? According to my health insurance records:
Hospital Charge: $587.50. Insurance Paid: $537.50
Doctor Charge: $112.00. Insurance Paid: $47.17 (In-network, negotiated rate)
My total responsibility: $50.00

Thank goodness this out-of-town ER was inside my insurance network. I can't imagine what it would have cost if it wasn't.

Even with the in-network rates, I would've been out-of-pocket $699.50 for something so ridiculous if I was uninsured. I really don't know whether the contemplated health care overhaul is a good thing or not, but if it's going to reduce the number of uninsureds, I'm not so sure it's not a good thing. (Has my double negative confused you yet?)

On a side note, I also think this is a sign that I should stay away from dating... or, perhaps maybe I need to stay celibate.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Flu, Bronchitis and MLB Fever

**Cough, cough** My dang bronchitis won't go away. At least it gives me a good excuse to stay in bed and watch MLB playoffs all weekend long.

Okay, so I'm totally a fair-weather, bandwagon fan. Sue me.

Now that the Dodgers won their NL division series against the Cards, I'm totally rooting for the Angels.

I'm also happy that someone posted the old Goo Goo Dolls' version of "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" on YouTube. I'm suffering from the MLB flu...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Am Now Officially Credit Card Debt Free

I’ve carried a balance on my credit cards since 1995, while attending law school. I didn’t have an income at the time and I was living off my student loans, but I still had a certain lifestyle I wanted to maintain. It started with $20 here for dinner, $100 there for a trip to Vegas with my buddies, $10 for movies, etc. I wasn’t too worried – I’d be okay so long as I can make the minimum payment every month.

After I graduated, I had new “needs” like snazzy power suits, shoes and purses to wear to court. The increase in my lifestyle costs dramatically outpaced my income during this period. I needed to dine at Spagos -- after all, I was now an attorney. I also couldn’t possibly be seen driving a hand-me down 1986 Toyota Corolla. I “needed” to lease a more respectable car.

Even when I stopped practicing law in 2001, I wanted to maintain “the lifestyle.” Again, for no logical explanation, my lifestyle costs skyrocketed upwards with no regards to affordability. I didn’t pay attention to my balances since I always seemed to have a balance transfer offer readily available to “bail me out.”

But some time in 2005, I had one of my many “aha” moments - - my consumer debts snowballed to levels that I could no longer make the minimum payments. To add insult to injury, American Express rejected my credit card application for a 0% balance transfer.

I created a handwritten list of my debts in 2005 in a Steno Notebook that I still keep as a reminder of those dark days. My debt balances at the time were:

Private Student Loans: $57,950.98
Fed’l Student Loans: $61,364.22
Chase CC: $16,572.72
Discover CC: $10,538.94
Citi CC: $ 9,602.12
Car Lease (remainder): $1,562.16
TOTAL: $157,591.14

Oh, and let’s not forget that in December 2005, after I turned in my leased car, I took out a $25,000 car loan to buy a new car. So setting aside my student loans, my total consumer debt (credit card, car loan) as of December 2005 was approximately $61,713.78!!

In fits and starts, I ventured onto the rocky road of debt repayment I’m currently on now. It took me over 4 years, but I’ve finally rid myself of the soul-crushing consumer debt-hole I dug for myself 14 years ago. My student loan balance is still mortifyingly high (approximately $98k), but I feel the end of my debt voyage is nearing.

I’d like to say that I’ll immediately snowball my $1,053/month credit card payments into my student loan payments. But, alas, I think I’m going to give myself a “breather” until the end of the year. I’m five months ahead of schedule vs. my Snowball Repayment Plan I created in August 2008, so I think I deserve a break.

I’m planning to spend some of the money, but I’m hoping to replenish some of my earmark funds for vacation and other miscellaneous spending. I finally feel like I’m on my way towards financial freedom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

September '09 Progress Report

Holy guacamole. My last Progress Report update was in June '09??? Egads! I have been away for a long time now. Truth be told, I've been on the same ol' debt pay-down grind for the past 3 months that there really wasn't much to report. So I won't be reporting my progress for July or August. If you're really curious, you can see my July and August numbers here

Anyhoo, here's my financial state as of 9/30/09.


Starting Debt (6/31/08)

Last MonthThis MonthDIFFERENCE
Private SL$49,528.99$44,675.23$44,306.73$(368.50)
Fed'l SL$55,852.68$54,085.92$53,961.10$(124.82)
Credit Card$13,610.75$11,208.08$11,086.08$(122.00)

I'm snowballing my debt and I'm arbitraging my 0% credit card debt. Not much to report here. Just the same ol', same ol'.





The savings that is reflected here is my "emergency fund" that I am not supposed to touch unless there is an absolute true emergency.

Although my EF is going up, my "other savings" that I've earmarked for expenses (and that is not reported in my net worth or progress report) have gone down significantly.

As reported previously, my company made me travel back-and-forth to the east coast every other week for the past 7 weeks. During that time, I had to hire a pet sitter for my cat, which wasn't cheap (approx. $20 - $30/day, not including tips). My company refused to reimburse me for my pet care expenses. I estimate that I had to pay about $650+ for my cat's care.

Since I was pretty bitter about having to travel back-and-forth for something that I think is completely ridiculous, degrading and/or a waste of time, I decided to stay an extra day or two (at my expense) in couple of United Airline's layover cities. Wanna guess where I took my side trips?

These side trips probably cost me about $700 or so, including food, hotel, entertainment and ground transportation costs. I thought these side trips would make my lousy business trips worthwhile, but I unfortunately got sick and I couldn't sightsee as much as I would've liked. But I don't regret taking these trips. DC and Chi-town are fabulous cities and they were worth every penny I spent.

By the way, I also got to see the Hope Diamond before they took it out of its setting. (In case you didn't know, the Hope Diamond is currently displayed au naturel while some jeweler is making its new, more modern looking setting called Embracing Hope.)



In June '09, I reported my net worth as $10,007.87. Three months later, my net worth is 4 times higher? All I can tell you is that I certainly didn't deposit $30k into my investment accounts. I swear, the stock market volatility is giving me whiplash.

I'm not going to get too happy or cozy with these figures since it appears that the market has started to correct downwards during the first week of October. I'm praying that the stock market won't repeat the debacle of October 2008. *Fingers crossed*

The breakdown of my net worth can be seen here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I'm Back... Sort Of...

My death march travel is over for now. One thing I discovered is that I'm a total pansy. During the past 7 weeks of traveling to the east coast every other week, I suffered one physical ailment after another. The ailments ranged from the run-of-the-mill cold, zit outbreaks, cold sore flare-ups and finally the flu. I'm glad I don't have to get another coast-to-coast flight anytime soon.

I've gotten over the flu, but my chest congestion is lingering and I'm completely fatigued. I have some good news to report soon so hopefully I'll be 100% recovered by the time I report about it.

Thanks again everyone for following up. I'll be back real soon!