Consumer Issues

September 7, 2009

Wishtunes

Filed under: product review — Tomi @ 3:48 am
Tags: , , , ,

Our friends at Pomogo have just launched a new iPhone app, “Wishtunes”.

Wishtunes allows you to track and bookmark your favorite music, movies, books, websites and more. You can search for the items on your list (wishes) with a single tap on Google, You Tune, iTunes, Netflix, and other major websites. Think of it as a wish list that allows you track reviews on an item prior to purchase making you an informed buyer. What more! Wishtunes lets you tweet or email your wishes to share recommendations with your friends.

Wishtunes also allows you to backup your data to the web.  For just $1.99, Wishtunes is a great app for a great price.  Buy it now from http://www.itunes.com/apps/wishtunes

August 9, 2009

Kudos to Championship Chess

I came across this chess program for teaching children the fundamentals for the game of chess and I must say I am really impressed.

Searching for a program to introduce my kindergartener to the game of chess, I found their website and decided to try their program.  I found their approach rather interesting and basic and thought it just might work.

At first, just because I didn’t know anyone who had used it before, I chose to buy their very basic product thinking to myself that if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t have invested too much in it. For $20 the basic product included the workbook – Color my world Chess (a coloring and sticker book with dot-to-dot exercises to help young children identify the chess pieces) as well as music CD which puts the moves of the pieces into a song so it is easy for the children to memorize.  Needless to say, even my two year old can identify all the pieces now.  I am really glad I tried this product out. 

I am so excited about it I have since ordered more of their workbooks.  All the workbooks can be purchased with companion DVDs.  Though I only bought a few of the DVDs, overall, I am impressed by the ease of use of these products as well as the simplicity with which it passes the message across to the children.   I have shown  the product to the some of the scholastic chess teachers at my children’s school as well and they have also found it impressive.

So here goes the Kudos to Championship Chess for a great product.

For more information, check out their website www.championshipchess.net for more information about their products.

April 26, 2009

Beware of Telemarketing/Promotional “Offers”

Most people avoid telemarketing calls and I am one of those.  I avoid picking up calls when i don’t recognize the number in a bid to avoid telemarketers. As talking with them (i believe most most people agree with me on this) can be a waste of valuable time.  However every once in a while you pick up a call from a familiar number, usually a current service provider and realize it is a telemarketing call. 

Sometimes i have had some great offers but lately,(probably due to some kind of desperation on the part of some service providers because of the economy),  not only am i getting more telemarketing calls but the offers have lengthier terms and details you really have no clue what you are agreeing to if you do accept them.  Well I learned this the hard way.  Last December, I got a telemarketing call from DirecTV  offering me 4 free months of the movie channel as a way of making me upgrade from my current programming package which they were discontinuing.  I’ve used Directv since 2005. (I actually had them before that but disconnected briefly for about a year in 2003.  Anyway, i’ve used them steadily since 2005.  I even got a 4 anniversary gift from them this year).

Well back to my point.  The call came during the holiday season, without school and work for a few days, i decided to take them up on their offer.  There was rarely anything good to watch on TV most days anyways, so having the movie channel would give us options at least that was what I thought.  what i discovered was that having the movie channels did not really present the options i had imagined. Not only were all the movie channels showing the same movies but  also most of the of the movies were repeated over and over again across the different channels.  I saw no point in keeping the channels anymore and so finally i logged on after the 4 months trial had expired to cancel the movie channel. You can expect my surprise when I realized that a premium sports channel had been added to my packaging for a whopping $75 a month.  In these times! I was horrified. 

I quickly clicked on the remove link but while I could remove the movie channels I had in fact authorized with a simple mouse click over the internet, I needed to call in to get the channel which I had not authorized to be removed.  I immediately picked up my phone and called them requesting not only for them to cancel the channel but to offer a refund for the months already billed since I did not request this channel. What I was told was that the offer back in December had included the channel and I had authorized it.  My efforts to explain that the woman I had spoken to back in December had not made mention of this charge and that since I do not even watch the NFL I could not have requested it was in vain.  Even though i had not watched the channel in all 4 months, the 2 different representatives I spoke with remained adamant and refused to refund the charges which according to them was legitimate.  I do understand that it was possible that the channel was included in the offer but then the lady who had presented the offer did not explain the full terms and details so I had been drawn into their web of deceit. 

A few days later, i logged on to my account again and realized that despite our conversations, the representatives i had spoken with refused to remove the channel from my programming package.  If they were not willing to refund the charges the very least would be for them to ensure that I wasn’t been billed for the channel anymore right.  So I called back and requested for it to be removed again.    The representative i spoke with this time was much nicer and even more reasonable she took care of everything.  However, this time I did learn my lesson about telemarketing calls – Like the adage says “there’s no free lunch” so really nothing is really absolutely free hence my conclusion: no matter what he/she says, never trust a telemarketer.  Here is where I’m at now with regards to promotional and whatever they choose to call it “offers”.  If a service company has anything new to offer me, they should put it in writing and mail it to me.  If i read it and I am interested, I’ll follow up with them; that way we both save each other’s time and resources.  If the companies are not willing to do that, then they probably have nothing to offer in the first place.

March 8, 2009

Credit Repair

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 3:41 am

Repairing your credit could be quite challenging especially at a period of time when the economy seems very much unfavorable to both the consumer and the creditors.  Even then, with determination and lots of self discipline, you can rebuild your credit.  Below are a few steps to get you going. 

  1. Negotiate. If you have an outstanding balance, ask if you creditors can cancel or reduce the interest if you will be paying the full balance.  Also, ask if late payment records could be taken off your credit. Not all creditors would agree to this but it never hurts to ask especially if this is the first time and you’ve been a long term customer.
  2. Don’t give up. If a collecting agency would not cooperate with you, call the creditor directly and see if you can work out something with them.
  3. Check all statements and always review your bills .There are sometime mistakes that can work in your favor for example a charge that should not have been made. Being able to pick out mistakes is often favorable to you when you are working on repairing your credit since it creates room for negotiations.
  4. Review all EOBs from your health insurance make sure you are not paying twice. Make sure your are being correctly billed and check the dates. Sometimes, you might find that you have paid to your doctor, more than what your EOB (explanation of benefits) states as due in a case like this talk to both the doctor and the insurance company with regards to getting a credit.
  5. Pay up your credit cards as soon as they are used. Weekly if possible. Most credit card companies these days have online account management which makes it easy to track the charges. Paying immediately not only helps save on finance charges, It also helps in avoiding lateness on your bills remember late payments affect your credit score.
  6. Use the same card for all bills if paying by credit cards this way you have all your payment in one place and you can pay it off all at once.
  7. Check out the competition. Don’t be afraid to switch companies.
    1. Telephone – check out VOIP. The cost of this service is cheaper than the traditional companies and the offer some options and flexibility as well
    2. Cell phones – switch to a lower plan or pay as you go.
    3. Compare cable/DSL/ satellite for TV and Internet service.
    4. Compare the cost of having separate individual plans to having bundled services for all your needs at a low monthly fee.
  8. Monitor your credit report. Late payments are sometimes erroneously recorded. The early you can detect the mistake the better it would be for you.
  9. Buy what you need and not what you can afford. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
  10. Shop at a bargain. Register and shop at warehouse stores (Sams club, Cosco, BJs etc). I find that shopping for perishables at warehouse stores isn’t sometimes cost effective especially for people with small families. I recommend that you shop these stores for canned foods and non perishables like paper goods (toilet paper, kitchen towels), laundry and kitchen detergents, cleaning agents, diapers, Canned foods etc. For perishables like fruits and meats clip coupons and shop at regular stores.
  11. Shop around and compare prices from store to store – easier done on the Internet before you go out the house. That way you can plan your route.
  12. Use a spreadsheet or personal finance software (eg. Microsoft money, quicken and quick books (for businesses) to track your expenses most of them have a feature that enables you create a budget.
  13. Be organized. Keep receipts, file bills etc for cross reference.  Also, keeping a record of your expenses helps in identifying where you spend your money and sometimes, you might find stuff you can do without and reduce your outgoings.
  14. Make payments online and save on stamps and envelopes.
  15. As a way to keep up with your bills, avoid direct debit except on fixed outgoings like insurance, mortgage, gas and electric ( Most gas and electric companies will let you go on an equal payment plan). 
  16. Do your own taxes – invest in Turbotax and it’s deductibles (to keep track of your deductions) or other similar products.  No one knows your situations as much as you do, just by sitting down to review your deductions, you might be able to find deductions that could have otherwise been missed. You can have your documents review before filing and the cost for this as well as the cost of the software is also deductible.
  17. When starting a new service – some companies will take down a deposit in lieu of credit check when trying to repair your credit, this might be a good option to take as the frequency of credit checks also affects your overall score.

 

Good Luck

February 12, 2009

Now gas prices has dropped, what’s to blame?

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 2:28 pm

Over the last few months, with a lot of the businesses downsizing because of the economic crunch, lots of people have been let go from their work places.  With many people out in the job market, and also because companies are trying to avoid increasing their cost basis jobs are kind of hard to come by and so is money for a lot of families.  Tighter credit limitations sees more people being denied credit and generally many people out there have less cash available to them.

While the burst of the housing market has been blamed for the collapse of the economy, increases in oil and subsequently gas prices has often been blamed by the majority for the increases in the cost of living.  Prices of consumer items including groceries soared in response to oil prices and there is rarely anyone in the country who has not felt the impact of the crunch on their finances. 

I remember that around July, most gas stations around the Princeton area actually place a spending limit on their pumps and sometimes it took two different transactions just to fill my tank since the first one would only do a partial fill.  So I did understand that it cost more to transport the goods to the end user than it normally would.  Over the last few weeks, however, I found that each week, there seem to be a slight drop in the gas price and now, I can fill my tank with just a fraction of what it took to fill it five months ago.  My initial reaction at the discovery of falling gas prices was one of relief that finally, there would be a break for everyone and especially for all the families going through a tough time.

You can imagine my shock going to the grocery store two weeks in a row, now and seeing no difference in the prices in fact I did notice that some items have actually increased in price. The news that black Friday was less successful that it usually is last year came as no surprise to me and why is that so? Well if prices remain the same and people don’t have enough to spend they are bound to prioritize and there is no doubt that most would go for the bare necessities and forgo the wants.  Something sure has got to give and if it’s not the seller cutting down on their profits, then it’s the buyer refusing to pay more for an item. But here’s something I’m yet to figure out. If more and more people have lesser money to spend and gas prices are dropping, can someone tell me what’s to blame this time for high grocery prices? The economy crunch? 

November 9, 2008

Marketing Colors

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 5:29 am

It’s amazing how soon young children learn to associate colors with gender, pink for girls and blue for boys.  Whatever happened to pink and blue being just a colors?  Well maybe they are: since the woman who wears a blue shirt or pants has nothing to worry about.  On the other hand, I can’t say the same for the man who wears a pink colored shirt – he without a doubt, is sure to raise a few eyebrows .  As if having all the many choices for children isn’t making it tough enough for parents, we have to deal with the color choices too.  At first it was the boys who don’t want to watch Dora because it was a girl show and girls who felt Jimmy neutron was too boyish, but how about not wanting to take the Yokids yogurt because it is pink and girlish? I bet Stonyfield caught on the color bug because some stores now have the Banilla Yokids Yogurt which is a neutral color but since the pack also includes the pink strawberry flavor it still seems our Yogurt maker favors girls more how about a blue version for boys?  Eh, a little help for parents here.

Pink does suit most girls as blue does boys but it sure makes things difficult for grown ups. I tried buying a birthday present for a boy and that was when I realized how much easier it was finding something for a girl than for a boy. It just happens that dolls and pink stuff seems to be more readily available almost everywhere.  Also for parents who have both gender of children, it does often seem like the little girls get more stuff which doesn’t seem fair but what to do, when there are little or no other options?    Here’s a plea to manufacturers and marketers, how about getting some more neutral stuff out in the market or at the very least if the color pink and blue continue to rule, a little more blue out there would be nice is besides the color of the sky.

October 7, 2008

THE “TIPPING” POINT

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 8:47 pm
Tags: ,

 Tipping as I understand it is supposed to be optional and entirely at the discretion of the giver. In fact, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines tip (also frequently called gratuity) as a gift or a sum of money tendered for a service performed or anticipated. I find it rather amazing therefore that these days tip giving has ceased to be discretionary but has rather become more of an anticipation on the part of the receiver so much so that they do not care whether they perform a service or not worthy of a tip.

 

For example, a lot of  restaurants now automatically add a 15% gratuity to your bill if it’s a group of 6 or more it doesn’t matter what the constituent of the group is.  A case in point my family went out to dinner with my mom (there was in our group of six 3 adults, 2 preschoolers (we ordered 3 adult meals which was shared meals with the preschoolers)  and a 3 month old baby who was exclusively breastfed.  When the bill came an automatic 15% gratuity had been added to our bill (for our use of table space I guess) but to make it more interesting underneath the total was another tiny line for “Tip”. Obviously the gratuity goes to the restaurant and the actual tip added  to the subtotal of the actual cost of meal and automatic gratuity is what goes to the waiter or waitress. 

 

The other day a friend went in for lunch and right outside the restaurant windows, were employees carrying placards “stop stealing our tips” a message addressed to the owners of the restaurant. On further investigation, we discovered that employers are beginning to consider tips as part of the wages received by the employees thus in a bid not to overcompensate, some of them simply aren’t paying good enough wages to these people leaving it to the client to bridge the gap. 

 

While I have no hold back on the giving on tips, I prefer that it be given to duly deserving people and not just to anyone who feels like they have a right to it.  The other day we ordered delivery and the food came in 1 hour later than the promised delivery time rather cold.  We complained to the driver but rather than apologize,  he matter of factly stated “I lost my way and when we handed him a $1 tip, the guy goes “ I won’t accept that, “ according to him he’s gone to too much trouble delivering the food $1 was too small.  He insisted on having more added to the receipt rather than accepting a $1. Another delivery guy not only insisted on been paid the tip in cash but said we looked too rich for a $5 tip on a $20 delivery order. I thought that was astounding until a friend mentioned that fact that at her hair salon you had to put the tip for each individual in a labeled envelope before actually putting it in the tip box and when she innocently asked one of the individuals why you can’t drop a sum for everyone to share in the tip box the abrupt reply “you obviously have never had to work for tips in your life”. 

 

Though the tipping issue is most obvious in the restaurants, the unreasonable expectations on tips is going on everywhere.  Another example is the porter at the airport who goes in search of someone who could break a large note for change and not only does he bring the individual over to us, he takes the larger bill then hands us the change automatically keeping what he believes was commiserate to the level of service he’d offered. 

 

Personally, I have reached my own tipping point and I am done with the giving of tips to undeserving people.   As a matter of principle, these days, I do not give a tip unless I am genuinely impressed by the level of service received.  Over the summer, I got a nice lady who came to babysit for me, she played with the children and even made them dinner.  She was so good to them that I gave her a tip bigger than what I had paid the agency for her time.  That was someone who was deserving of a tip and I had no guile in giving it to her. But when we went to a restaurant and the attending waitress not only got our orders wrong but also slammed the food down then forgot to refill our drinks, I refused to give her any tip she was so nasty afterwards and complained loudly to the cashier “ they didn’t give me any tip”.  My friend did say that she gives 1cent  in a case like that so that she would not be tagged a stingy person but like that old age adage little drops of water makes the mighty ocean as far as I am concerned even 1cent is valuable it has to be deserved. 

 

People have to understand that it pays to treat other people with respect and it seems the only way to get the message across is to speak a language they understand. 

  

 

 

September 26, 2008

Expired or Not?

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 1:50 pm
Tags: , ,

Expired or Not?

 

With the recent increases in gas prices, and the mortgage slum, a lot of consumers are implementing different methods to cut gas expenses by limiting driving time as well as experimenting with others ways of cutting their living expenses.  For example, more and more family shoppers are going into the store with a list for items needed in the homes in a bid to cram all shopping need into one visit. Instead of daily or weekly shopping trips, many are choosing to stock up for a few days, for some it’s weeks and for some it’s months as a means to save on gas costs.  Also many are going in to discount warehouses for the first time, some clipping coupons to get more items per trip while cutting reducing the costs.

 

The efforts of the consumer are however frustrated by the manufacturers who it seems is unsympathetic with their offerings of confusing listings of expiring days on items available for purchase. Going from one aisle to the other in a regular grocery store, you’ll be amazed at the differences on the listed expiring dates on the items.  There is – use by, best by, best before, sell by, buy by, use or freeze by, enjoy by and then there is the one that has different days for different localities like the sell in NY by and in NJ by which you see mostly on milk.

 

A basic analysis of the different prints:

 

Use by: this is the most plain and easily understandable of all it tells you exactly when to use the item and after the listed date, you discard the unused portions.

 

Best before: I’ve often wondered if this means the item is still good after the date stipulated or if and if it’s only at it’s best before then.  I often thrown it out by the date but then sometimes I wonder if I could be saving more if I use it after the dates since I’d actually finished a box of cookies once afterwards noticing that the expiring date was 2 months prior to my consumption date. I’ve also bought bread once that got moldy two days before the listed date.

 

Sell by: This you find more on meat. Obviously the listed date is for the retailer but if I as the consumer buys the item on the exact same date listed and then change my mind for my recipe and I don’t use it that day but plan on using it the day after, would it still be ok?

 

Use or freeze by: this is as confusing as it can be. If I don’t use by but buy it and decide to freeze it would it still be okay to use if in 6 months or let’s say it gets tossed into the bottom of the freezer and I don’t get to see it until the next year. Would it still be okay to use it?

 

Finally, the use in NY by and in NJ where usually, the date in NY is an earlier date than the NJ date This begs the question why is there an earlier date. Obviously, certain laws limit the shelf life of these items in NY but the same law doesn’t apply in NJ.  It does makes one wonder if the people of NJ are being used as guinea pigs for an experiment. Why don’t we just have the same date for everyone???

 

True these manufacturers have laws governing their conduct but where exactly does that leave the common man.  The retailers offer on sale some items a few days before the printed expiring date and some don’t even notice that some items on their shelves are past the said expiring date.  As a rule I try to go for the item that is farthest from the expiring date but using online grocery delivery service, I get items within a day of it’s expiring date and the time I’m trying to save by not going into the store in the first place is wasted because I would have to go into the store to exchange it eventually.   Wouldn’t it be fair if the FDA mandated the use of same statement of expiring by all manufacturers? It would certainly help a lot of shoppers coordinate their shopping if only they understood when exactly the useful life of the item expires. Thus there would be no confusion and shoppers would really be able to save time and who knows it might be a major step in saving the environment from that dangerous Carbon Monoxide exhaust culprint that’s contributing to  GLOBAL WARMING.

September 21, 2008

The five hour Window

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 2:10 pm
Tags: ,

Ever had to deal with the five hour window? You know, the time frame giving by delivery men when you purchase items and by repair men too?  When we moved a few years ago I had to deal with so many five hour windows – appliance delivery, furniture delivery, phone installation, Satellite TV installation.  Just name it.  Everything had to have a five hour window however since we were just settling down, and everyone was on vacation, it was easy schedule for delivery at that time as someone was certain to be home.

Now that I need some repairs, I’ve recently had a series of the five hour window given that got me irked.  The most annoying of course was for a repair on my dryer. After clearing my schedule to be home at the stated time frame, I ended up waiting all day for the guy, then he calls 2 hours later than the stated time to tell me that he would not be able to make it that day  – he had run late at the previous job. I would have to reschedule for another day .  Of course when I did try to reschedule, I was given another five hour window and to make it even worse, they don’t work weekends.

Why can’t all these people just give you a specific time that they would be at your place and stick to time? Wouldn’t that be easier?  I’m told the reason for the five hour window is that most times jobs are schedule based on location and distance thus they tend to schedule for jobs depending on the closeness of the location and their arrival time at subsequent locations depend on when they finish from the first job.  It makes perfect sense except that there seems to be no consideration for people at work on weekdays.  How do these people expect you to be available for five hours straight? Well I think I finally figured it out – Don’t go to work on the scheduled day.  Period!.

That would seem sarcastic. But I simply can’t help it.  When trying to reschedule my repair appointment,  I couldn’t seem to get a reasonable time until I started venting my anger.  I my call got transferred from one party to the next then finally, I got to speak with the manager.  She did promise that due to the previous disappointment, she would make sure my job would be the first on the schedule for the appointed day that way I wouldn’t be waiting for too long.  Though hey did fulfill the promise, I’m left with a question what if on the appointed day for the job, the delivery man or the repair man also has his own five a window for a job at his home or office, what happens then? A vicious circle?

Dealing with Medical Bills.

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 1:40 pm
Tags: ,

The cost of medical services is often the reason why many people hesitate to go to the hospital. Sometimes situations that could have been prevented by early medical intervention are left unaddressed until they become too advanced to ignore. Everyone should be able to receive medical attention without fear of bankruptcy. Bills received after a visit to the hospital, are often riddled with mistakes and sometimes have frivolous charges included. With insurance it is possible to avoid the payment of frivolous medical charges as the medical insurance often tends to pick them out. Even then, medical billing mistakes still tend to present themselves. Unfortunately, these charges are often paid out by individuals who are paying out of pocket since most out-of-pocket payers would not know which charges are expedient and which are frivolous. Hence most times, a patient paying out-of pocket and not via insurance ends up paying way more than the patient who has insurance. Here are a few tips to use when dealing with medical bills whether you have insurance or not.

· Be organized. Keep all payment receipts, insurance EOBs and file all bills. As with all things this will help in keeping your facts straight in case you need to dispute a bill.

· Always review your bills .There are sometime mistakes that can work in your favor for example a charge that should not have been made. Make sure you are being correctly billed and check the date of service to confirm that you were indeed the patient.

· If you have insurance, make sure you cross reference all medical bills with EOBs received from your insurance company make sure you are not paying twice. Also review EOBs from your health insurance. Sometimes, you might find that you have paid to your doctor, more than what your EOB (explanation of benefits) states as due in a case like this talk to both the doctor and the insurance company with regards to getting a credit.

· Learn to negotiate –

o If you can’t make a payment some hospitals might be willing to forgo some of the payment if you can pay a percentage and some will allow you set up a payment plan so you can stretch it over a period of time and pay as you find convenient.

· Don’t give up. If a collecting agency would not cooperate with you, call the creditor directly and see if you can work out something with them.

· Sometimes you might be billed by a doctor you have not seen. Try to keep a record of who you see when you go in the hospital and ask for information about all lab tests. This way you can easily spot services for which you are billed but did not receive.

· If you receive a bill that you consider fraudulent do not hesitate to dispute it. A friend once received a bill from a walk in ER for treatment despite the fact that she did not see a doctor after a 10 hour wait – her situation was not considered urgent enough to warrant urgent treatment. She disputed it promptly (with facts of course) and never heard from them again

Finally, for those without insurance, I would advise that you acquire some form of insurance. The thing to look out for when getting insurance aside from what is covered under your insurance and what is not is how much your deductible would be. Most of the time even with a high deductible, it is possible that due to the ability of the insurance company to deny the payment of frivolous charges to the hospital, you end up paying less than you would if you had no insurance and were billed directly by the hospital for an out of pocket payment.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.