Consumer Issues

September 26, 2008

Expired or Not?

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 1:50 pm
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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.

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September 21, 2008

Dealing with Medical Bills.

Filed under: consumers — Tomi @ 1:40 pm
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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.

September 20, 2008

Cultivating the habit of financial discipline

Filed under: consumers,finance — Tomi @ 9:01 pm
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Financial Discipline requires both focus and self discipline. Attaining self sufficiency and wealth requires determination as well as hard-work. Below are some guidelines for developing a habit of financial discipline.

1. Limit your credit options. It is often said that the more credit you have access to the better it is for your credit. This is only true if you do not use the credit. However, if you have the habit of using up your credit, then the best option for you if you are determined to cultivate financial discipline is to limit your access to credit lines. Pay cash for the things you need. Whatever you cannot afford to pay cash for, either save up for it or forgo it. If you have to take on credit, try to limit it to capital items like a home which tends to appreciate in value.

2. Before buying a home, take the affordability challenge – 2x income and never go above that

3. Buy what you need NOT what you can afford

4. Think long term. Payoff and cancel excess credit cards newest cards first. Hold on to older cards as they give you a longer credit history. Canceling your credit cards might affect your credit score in the short term but the longer you go without dependence on credit lines, the better your credit score.

5. Invest excess cash. It is much easier to spend money that is readily available.

6. Save as much as you can. Clip coupons if you must. Compare prices for bargains. Try eBay.

7. Get organized, pay your bills on time. Sign up for email bill notifications (if you check your email regularly) otherwise try phone alerts – for bill payment notification. Set up bill payments on quicken, Microsoft money etc or set up auto pay via direct debit with your service provider.

8. Get rid of stuff you don’t need.

a. Donate and get a tax break (some charities will pickup from your home)

b. Sell it on eBay

An added bonus is that you get some free space around the house.

9. Learn to negotiate – you may be eligible to cut interest rates on your credit card. Call up your credit card company often (they won’t call you to tell you of your eligibility)

10. If you can’t make a payment some companies will let you skip a month without reporting to the credit bureau but only if you have previously paid on time.

11. If you have no rewards on your card, ask your credit card company to switch it for a rewards card, usually you get a new account number but if it’s the same company, the history from your previous card is transferred to the new card ex. Length of account etc. Some credit companies offer you cash back which you can get as a cheque or apply towards your payment.

12. Register for rewards = points, cash back etc. store cards (not credit cards) sometimes give you discounts on groceries (Vons, Albertsons, Shoprite, Ralphs, Wegmans etc). Most grocery stores these days have rewards cards which you register for free. For example the Shoprite card helps you earn cash back for Upromise eligible products and also when linked to your continental airlines Onepass account, gives you 1 mileage point for every 2 dollars spent (after the first $250 upon registration). It also offers your free cash for purchases on baby items via its own program called the baby bucks point and give you access to free turkey or ham – Thanks giving and Easter.

13. Have excess cash? Open a CD if you have money available now but which you would need at a specific later time. CDs usually have higher interest than regular savings. Some banks like Bank of America also offer risk free CD accounts though with a lower interest rate than the fixed CD the risk free CD gives you easy access to the money without penalties.

14. Go for quality rather than quantity when buying the stuff you need.

15. To cut your living costs, try discount shopping. Try wholesale clubs (Sam’s, Costco, BJs) especially for non perishable items. For perishable items, the wholesale clubs might not be worth it except you have a large family. For items like for clothes (Marshalls , Ross, TJ Maxx),for shoes ( try the discount aisle at DSW, famous footwear and payless shoes amongst others). Some of these stores even have home products and Walmart as well as Target are always a cool place to go for reasonable priced items.

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