You’ve probably all heard the news that a California legislator submitted a bill that would allow the state to place digital ads on California license plates. The law has not passed and, given the stupidity of it, I doubt it will. Nevertheless, the whole idea makes me stabby.

We Don’t Need More Advertising
Seriously, we don’t need more advertising. I pass enough billboards on my way home. I don’t need to see ads on the physical cars. Then I go home and see ads on the TV. I see ads on the internet. I don’t hear ads on the radio, but only because I listen to NPR. Instead I hear watered down messages about sponsors.

The world has enough advertising in it. Leave me alone!

Don’t Force Your Ads Onto My Property
This is actually the thing that bothers me more. I already hate it when AT&T sends me text ads on my cell phone. It’s MY phone. I’ll thank you not to spam me on it.

This would go a bit further, by forcing me to broadcast ads from my car. Unless they’re giving me a free car, the answer is no. It’s MY car. I choose what goes on it. I don’t even have a bumper sticker. I think I have a dealer license plate frame on the front, but the back one was stolen along with the plate. If I do want to advertise on my car, then I should get the money for it, not the state. Why should I buy a car with my money, and pay for auto registration every year, only to have the state slap ads on it?

California Needs to Clean Up the System, Not Find New Revenue
I’m not a fan of the California legislature – on either side of the aisle. The Democrats always find new ways to spend more and more money, and the Republicans have just enough power to hold up the budget without proposing any real solutions.

Our idiotic proposition system doesn’t make things any better. At this point, some 63% of general fund spending is mandated by law. The legislators get no say in the matter. This is thanks to government by the people, who blindly vote for propositions that tie up more and more money, which gives the government less power to direct the money where it’s needed.

The first step in solving this problem would be to eliminate the proposition system. It costs the state money and the ballot initiatives usually end up doing more harm than good.

The second step is for the government to go on an austerity plan. Stop promising state employees cushy retirements and health plans if you don’t intend to save the money to do so. Stop wasting money on campaign mailers and other fluff. Stop paying legislators when they don’t pass the budget on time. Stop stealing from future budgets to pay for this year’s expenses. Stop stealing from local governments to pay for state expenses.

And finally, stop trying to foist new revenue-drivers on the people of California. For example, keep your ads off my license plate!

Finally, the US consumer is close to winning one. The US Senate has just passed an amendment that would give consumers free access to their credit scores under certain circumstances, such as denial of a loan or a job due to your credit score. (This is currently the law for credit reports.) If passed by the House, it would go into law as part of the Wall Street reform package. As happy as I am about this progress, it doesn’t go far enough.

Why Should We Pay for Credit Scores?
Frankly, I don’t believe consumers should pay for access to credit reports or credit scores. Lenders already pay for the data, which they use to make business decisions. Meanwhile, consumers are also required to pay for credit scores and additional credit reports, even though they’re based on OUR DATA, and influence our financial lives. In some cases, they also affect our job prospects.

Free Credit Reports All the Time
I realize that this would put those “free credit report” sites out of business, but as far as I’m concerned, consumers should have free access to their credit reports all the time, not just once a year as the government requires. Can you imagine a bank only allowing access to your account statement once a year? Credit reports aren’t that different, given the frequency with which they can change.

Free Credit Scores All the Time
Credit scores are almost more important than credit reports this time. When we were applying for mortgages, the lenders pulled our credit reports and scores. Yes, they looked at the reports, but the most important factor in preapproval was our credit scores. The rest of the report didn’t come into play until we entered escrow and the full mortgage application process.

Credit Scores Should Be Included with Annual Credit Reports
When I log into annualcreditreport.com to download my report for a specific bureau, the FICO score for that report should also be displayed. Not the Vantage Score or whatever other fake scores the credit bureaus are trying to profit off of. The FICO score is the only score that matters, and that’s the one I want.

The free scores for denials of credit or employment are a good start. That’s where the free credit report system started. But it doesn’t go far enough. If you agree, write your Senators and your Representative and ask them to take it to the next step. They know what I’m saying is true, but until voter anger outweighs credit bureau lobbying money, it’s not going to happen. And that, folks, makes me a little bit stabby.

I’ve been on a slow burn for a few weeks over something my husband said. First, a little backstory. We helped found a small non-profit about ten years ago. For several years, we had to provide loans to the org to get it through some shortfalls. We’re actually still owed about $300. So, the other day my husband was speaking to one of the other board members about a current shortfall and said, “They expect Aryn and I to cover it, because we’re rich.”

Folks, I hit the roof. We are NOT rich. In comparison to the other board members, we’re certainly well-off, but we’re not rich by any stretch. The mere suggestion that we’re rich, or that he was telling someone we’re rich was infuriating. If we lived in Kansas with our income, we’d be rich. In LA? Not so much.The very idea that we’re rich makes me stabby.

What Is Rich?
In my mind, rich people earn more than $500,000 a year. According to Obama, it’s families earning more than $250,000. I know people in both camps, and neither would say they’re rich. Again, it’s partly location. In Kansas, that would be rich. In California or New York? Most definitely not.

Stretching the Middle Class
According to Wikipedia, the middle class starts at $65,000 for a family, and maxes out around $166,000. Of course, these are squishy numbers. The upper middle class is defined as a family earning more than $100,000. In my view, that upper threshold is low – in coastal states you can be well beyond $166,000 and still be upper middle class.

Why I Consider Us Upper Middle Class
I grew up upper middle class, so that’s a comfortable spot for me. I feel like we’re there. My husband was more staunchly middle class, so being upper middle class feels rich to him. We earn a comfortable income with two higher degrees between us. We also budget carefully, because we have many of the expenses associated with upper middle class families, like a large mortgage and student loan bills. We hope to start a family, so day care would also join that list eventually.

And that’s where the “we’re rich” argument breaks down. Day care, a pending increase in student loan expenses, and a car loan would eliminate our current monthly excess income. We still haven’t managed to boost our retirement savings, and we desperately need to. We’re frugal and budget carefully to afford our life. I’d be much more comfortable if we earned 20% more, but even then we still wouldn’t be rich. We’d just be able to save more.

Let’s Get Rid of the Term Rich
Why even bother calling people rich? Most people don’t define themselves as rich, even if other people think they are. So, let’s just dispense with the term, especially when discussing which portion of the population is rich enough to pay more taxes. At the very least, reserve the term for people for whom work is merely a hobby, not a requirement for living. People like Athina Onassis.

I noticed a disturbing trend yesterday: a flurry of emails in my inbox encouraging me to buy something in honor of Earth Day. To be fair, I may in fact go buy a ceramic compost pail, but I was already looking for one. I’m not, however, going to buy a discounted sweater or a marked down TV for Earth Day. At what point did Earth Day become a shopping holiday? I’m not sure, but it makes me stabby.

If Any Day Should Be Safe from Sales Pitches…
The whole purpose of Earth Day is to promote conservation of resources and being kind to the environment. Adding a trip to the shopping mall or buying new clothes online that will then need to be shipped are not ways to conserve resources or reduce your impact.

Want to let me know about a new green cleaning product? That’s more reasonable, but most of those items are greenwashed, not actually green. Save your fraudulent claims for some other day.

What Should We Do with Earth Day?
Earth Day used to be a more political movement. It saw marches, rallies, tree-planting events, beach clean-up events, etc. Now it’s just another day to get hit by more advertisements for CFL lightbulbs and recycled sweaters or attend a festival where performers offset their energy use with “carbon credits” and sponsors hawk their various recycled wares.

Let’s go back to the core idea of Earth Day – take a step back from your stuff. Take a break from consumerism. Use this day to drive less, not more. Buy less, not more. Get together with people to plant trees or clean up a park, not enjoy a meal in a restaurant that will donate $1 to an environmental charity for every meal. Instead of buying a reusable water bottle, go pick up all the disposable bottles that are littering your local park. Instead of trying a new green laundry detergent, look at ways to reduce your detergent consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that corporations are trying to be more responsible, but they’re not being responsible because they want to be. They’re being responsible because there is a profit motive to appearing green, and it impresses legislators considering restrictive new requirements.

So, let’s cut the corporations out again. Let’s make Earth Day a day to honor our earth and treat it kindly, not use the Earth Day coupon or snap up an Earth Day t-shirt.

I’ve tried and tried and tried to quell my stabbiness, but I was driven over the edge today by three different things. So, today, it’s a That Makes Me Stabby free for all! First I’ll post mine, then you can share the things that make you reach for the kitchen knife in the comments.

Proposed Salt Ban
How do these idiots get into our legislative bodies? First, there’s the growing movement to tax soda, because apparently soda is the sole cause of obesity in this country. It couldn’t possibly be the corn subsidies that have resulted in high-fructose corn syrup being placed into nearly every food on the planet. It couldn’t possibly be decades of poor health policy and an increasing reliance on fast foods and convenience foods. Nope, it’s the soda.

Now, a legislator in New York wants to ban salt from food preparation in New York restaurants. Salt. As anyone who cooks knows, salt is a pretty vital ingredient for cooking if you want your food to have, um, taste. But no, let’s ban it and ruin the restaurant trade, because salt is bad for you. And it’s true, high sodium levels can be very bad for you, but prohibiting restaurants from using a vital cooking ingredient is not the best way to combat that. Unless, of course, you like flat bread and flavorless food.

Medical Bills
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, my husband recently underwent surgery. Today we received a bill summary from the hospital. Total cost for two hospitalizations: $295,000. That eye-popping number doesn’t include the surgeon, anesthesiologist, or a couple of tests he received while in the hospital. After insurance reductions, the total came to a mere $106,000, most of which is covered by insurance. So far we haven’t had to pay much at all. Due to my husband’s dual coverage, we may not have to pay more than prescription and doctor co-pays.

However, if we didn’t have insurance, my husband simply wouldn’t have been able to have surgery. There is no way a family that wasn’t wealthy could afford something like this. I’m sure by the time all the doctors and physical therapy are factored in, we’re looking at $350,000. At that point, it becomes a choice between surgery and a home or retirement.

Clearly, something has to be done about the cost of healthcare and the insurance system in this country. This was major surgery, but it wasn’t life-saving surgery. I can only imagine what something like heart surgery or a transplant would cost without insurance.

For those who say, “Consumers need to be able to shop around for medical care and negotiate for the best price,” sometimes shopping around isn’t an option. You can’t shop around for a doctor in the middle of a heart attack or after a car accident. You can’t negotiate the cost of your Medivac helicopter as you’re being airlifted to a life-saving procedure.

Unemployment Insurance Encouraging Unemployment
This has long been the reason why unemployment benefits are lower than disability benefits: they don’t want you to sit at home doing nothing while collecting unemployment. You’re supposed to get off your lazy, unemployed bum and look for work.

Of course, this doesn’t always work because sometimes it’s hard to find work. Like now, for instance. Unemployment insurance has already been extended to a record 99 weeks. That’s nearly two years of benefits. However, last week one of our political parties trotted out two arguments against extending benefit eligibility (not adding to the number of weeks available): 1. We can’t afford it. (Actually, the money was already in the stimulus bill, this just gives people more time to collect it) And 2. Extending unemployment people will encourage people to remain unemployed.

Yes, because my unemployed friends just sit at home eating bon-bons purchased with the grocery store gift cards they received in lieu of other gifts at Christmas. Perhaps Congresspeople haven’t noticed, but people who are on unemployment can’t just go get a job. If they could, 99.99999% of them would. But they can’t, because there aren’t jobs to go get. Maybe Congresspeople, with their guaranteed lifetime pensions, should think about the actual state of our economy before pronouncing that extending unemployment makes people lazy.

Okay, so that’s three things that make me stabby. What makes you stabby right now?

I understand that states are strapped for cash, but I’ve heard two recent proposals from California and New York governors that strike me as going too far. It’s one thing to try to close the gap by increasing the sales tax, but another thing entirely to drive us into a total nanny state. These attempts to get more money out of taxpayers and non-taxpayers alike make me stabby.

California: Catch Speeders on Red Light Cameras
Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal is to reconfigure red light cameras to catch speeders, too. For those going 1-15 miles an hour over the limit, the fine would be $225. For those going more than 15 miles an hour over the limit, the fine would be $325. Now I appreciate the goal of reducing speeding, but I have a problem with the fine kicking it at 1 mile an hour over the limit. Speedometers are not that exact. AAA even offers speedometer testing because they can be off! My car was routinely five miles per hour off until I got a new timing belt. I don’t think it’s fair to penalize people for speeding if they don’t even realize they’re speeding! Rules like this should start at least 5 miles per hour over the limit. It’s what most cops do, and the cameras should be the same.

New York: Taxes on Non-Diet Sodas
Today Governor Patterson announced a proposal to add another $1 tax to cigarettes and a 15 percent tax on non-diet sodas.  He says the second one is necessary to combat obesity. I don’t necessarily have a problem with taxing cigarettes because states do often bear the burden of smoking-related health costs once smokers enter the Medicare system. There is no such thing as safe smoking.

You can’t put non-diet sodas in the same category. Millions of people drink an occasional soda without getting fat. Should I have to pay extra for my one soda a month because I don’t like the taste of diet soda? Are we going to put a 15% tax on candy bars and fast food, too? What about potato chips? Pizza? Doughnuts? Sugary coffee-beverages? Heck, let’s just tax everything that isn’t a vegetable. The root of the problem is the way people in our country eat, not a specific food item, so taxing one food item will have no effect on obesity. Those people will just eat or drink something else to get their sugar fix.

States need to learn to balance their budgets without introducing poorly-considered fees in the name of the public good. Is a soda tax really going to close New York’s budget hole? How about those red light cameras? I doubt it.

If you live in California or New York and disagree with these proposals, make your voice heard. It’s the only thing that will stop the stupidity. Or suggest your own stupid tax. Here’s one: let’s reconfigure the red light cameras to catch people texting or talking on the phone while driving. I’m sure the Governor will love that one until he gets the bill for his wife’s tickets.

Just when I thought we were finally making progress on that whole TARP debacle. Another bank paid back the money, and taxpayers were informed that we really hadn’t lost all the much money on the bailouts. I thought “Yay, we finally catch a break.”

Enter Congress, stage left. The audience heaves a great sigh. I get stabby again.

TARP Redistribution Is Not a Good Plan
Call me cynical, but I wonder how much of this plan is designed to shore up Democrats running for re-election in 2011. And I say that as a Democrat and a supporter of Barack Obama.

I don’t disagree that Main Street is ailing. I don’t disagree that small businesses are suffering. I don’t disagree that we need to create jobs.

I do disagree that redistributing excess or repaid TARP funds are the way to do that. Mostly because I never supported TARP in the first place. The only portion of the stimulus I supported was infrastructure improvements, which creates jobs, which enlarges the tax base. Even with the TARP redistribution only includes a puny portion for infrastructure.

Small businesses do need help. They need it in the form of the small business loans that banks still aren’t issuing. I don’t know how the government can force banks to start lending again, but loans are what businesses need. Loans and customers. Customers will come when they have jobs, but the businesses need the loans so they can hire people in order to produce the things that the customers will want. It’s a vicious cycle, and none of the current initiatives will fix it.

Let’s Pay Down the Debt
My first thought was that we should pay back the loans that the TARP money came from, but it turns out the money came from Treasury Bills. Those have a fixed maturity date, so we can’t just repay them now. We can, however, pay other debts. So why don’t we do that? No, it won’t affect Main Street, but it will be good for the economy and good for our grandchildren, who will be stuck paying the bill for our sins through their higher taxes.

So, rather than borrowing more money to pay this year’s interest on our debt, why don’t we use the TARP money? The interest on our debt is $383 billion. The TARP money is just over two years’ of interest. That’s $700 billion less that we have to borrow to cover our debt. The debt is currently $12 trillion. Not borrowing $700 billion wouldn’t make a huge dent, but it’s still 5%. I think many people would be happy to reduce their debt by 5% without doing anything.

Am I crazy for thinking this way? Am I not seeing something? I just don’t see how spending more money on tax credits is better than paying down debt that will saddle all of us with higher taxes down the road. We can’t just keep kicking this can down the road. It’s time to pick it up and put it in the trash.

First there was Black Friday, which has been around for a long time, but wasn’t a huge epic world’s bestest ever deal until about a decade ago. Then came the internet, and three years ago Cyber Monday was born. This year it’s been expanded to Cyber Week. You guessed it: that makes me stabby.

Let’s Stop the Fake Hype
I get it. Retailers are desperate. They got used to people buying too much stuff and spending too much and going into too much debt. Now we’ve stopped cold turkey and retailers don’t know what to do with themselves. So, the deals they are a comin’.

But why do we have to put a fake name on it? Why call it “cyber week,” which might as well mean, “Hey, it’s December, with three weeks to go before Christmas and you have presents to buy. Can we entice you with a sale?” But that’s too long and clunky, so they make up this fake story that this is the week when everyone is shopping and every store is offering deals, and you should be taking them up on it.

The truth is Cyber Monday isn’t the busiest online shopping day of the year. Green Monday is (the first Monday in December.)

But, Yes, You Can Find Good Deals on Cyber Days
Yes, you can find good deals on these “cyber days.” We didn’t take advantage of any Black Friday deals because we value our lives, but we did snap up a $400 laptop to replace our 7-year-old laptop at a Sunday “pre-Cyber-Monday” sale. That same laptop was still on sale for the same price yesterday. I also took advantage of a Cyber Monday deals to snag discounts and free shipping on gifts people wanted, as well as on necessary software for that new laptop at more than 50% off. I didn’t, however, go on an online shopping binge or spend more than I budgeted to take advantage of the deals. And I still only bought the items on my Christmas list and household needs list, but for less than I would have in the store.

The Trick is That the Deals Go On
The Free Shipping offer is already good for the whole month. True, the hottest items won’t be marked down, and the markdowns may be smaller as the season progresses. On the other hand, the hot items were never marked down and you shouldn’t be buying something just because it’s marked down. Cyber Monday has been extended to Cyber Week to bring you new deals every day. Next year it will probably be all month long.

The Best Holiday Shopping Strategy
Find the right gift, find the best price you can during the time you’ve chosen to shop, and then stop. Don’t go back to the mall or back to the online stores hunting for more, better deals. You got the right gift, the recipient will like it, you’re done. I’ve bought roughly a third of my gifts already. I’m just waiting on a few gift lists, and should be able to complete my shopping online the next day. I aim to be done by December 13.

Did you get sucked in by Black Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? Did you log on and shop on Cyber Monday, Cyber Tuesday or Cyber Every Other Day of the Week? Don’t you wish we could just go back to calling it the “holiday shopping season” and forget the hype? Really, do the retailers make more money with these huge deals and the push to shop early? I stop shopping when I’m done, but maybe other people return to the stores for more deals.

First, let me say I don’t drink coffee. Can’t stand the stuff. Not even coffee ice cream. I will buy an iced latte once every few months, but it took me nine months to use the last coffee gift card I received. (That leads me to another question: why do my friends, who know my husband and I don’t drink coffee, give us coffee gift cards?) Anyway, I’ve been seeing a coffee commercial for the last two days that makes me stabby: the Keurig K-Cups.

Cheaper than the Coffee Shop, but Still Expensive
One person in my office campaigned for us to buy a Keurig and the single-serve cups to go with them, but was overruled by HR when they discovered that these K-cups cost at least 50 cents each. Fifty cents to brew coffee yourself using an expensive machine.

The High Price of Convenience
True, fifty cents could be more economical than brewing a whole pot if you only drink one cup of coffee a day, but there are cheaper options. If you’re that person, just pour yourself a cup at the office. In most offices, coffee is free. If you drink 2-4 cups and coffee isn’t free at work, invest in a cheap French press and brew it yourself for less than ten cents a cup. It takes slightly more work than popping the K-cup into the brewer, but a French press is a lot cheaper.

Oh My Goodness, the Waste!
This is the part that really got me stabby: the waste. Each of those single-serve cups is also a single-use cup. When you’re done brewing your one cup of coffee, you throw it out. That cup is made of plastic with a plastic and foil lid. Then the cup also contains a filter. So, you throw out a filter and plastic. According to various sources, that plastic isn’t recyclable. Coffee filters are at least a natural fiber.

Are We Really that Lazy?
Frankly, these K-cups make me sad for us as a country. Are we really so lazy that we can’t brew a pot of coffee the old-fashioned way? Is it too much effort to find a solution that will let you brew a small pot without a lot of plastic waste? Here, I’ve solved it for you. Buy one of these small French presses. I do actually own one of these. It was a gift from my mom because she likes to drink coffee when she visits. It’s easy to use and pretty quick. If I, a non-coffee drinker, can go to this slight effort to save money and the planet, surely those of you who consume a lot of coffee can do the same.

Let’s end the madness of the single-serve packets of coffee of anything else. Stop buying 100-calorie packs – make your own with zipper bags. Stop buying travel sizes unless you’re planning to travel. These small steps toward reducing packaging are the start of saving the planet, and it will be pretty nice to your wallet, too.

Last week, the news was abuzz about that Bank of America and Citigroup had followed through on their threats to impose new annual fees. Several other banks rushed to announce that they won’t be imposing fees. The very idea that one of my cards could slap me with a new fee just for having the card in my wallet and not using it really makes me stabby.

My Policy about Annual Fees
I do pay an annual fee for my miles credit card from American Express. I also receive above-average benefits and service from them. I knew about the fee and agreed to it when I signed up for the credit card. At the time, I also needed a credit card for Costco, and decided that accruing miles was a good trade-off, so I’d opt for the miles card with a fee instead of a fee-free card.

I refuse to pay an annual fee for the rest of my credit cards. They don’t provide me rewards or additional services of any kind. All of my husband’s cards except one, his oldest card, are fee-free. So far, they’ve always waived the fee when he calls to ask. If they refuse next time, we’ll cancel the card.

Why the Bank Thinks We Should Pay Fees
So far, we haven’t received a notice that we’ll be charged a fee, but we’re in the “high-risk” group. High-risk meaning that we rarely use the card and pay it off in full every month that we do use it. Apparently they’re not making enough money off people like me. Honestly, if I don’t use the card, how much money does it cost to keep me around?

I understand that credit card issuers are strapped, but they chose to extend too much credit, which allowed some customers to take on too much debt. The banks did this so they could collect over-limit fees and late fees and interest and a slew of other fees. The fact they’re getting busted for their greed is not my problem. I paid off my debt. I’m a responsible card user. They make billions of transaction fees. They don’t need an additional annual from me.

The Annual Fee is a Punishment
Basically, banks are punishing their responsible customers for being responsible. True, they don’t stand to lose much if I leave, but they do stand to lose a lot of money if hundreds of thousands of responsible customers leave due to annual fees. I really don’t think they’ve thought this through. Punishing responsible customers will only result in an increase in the percentage of irresponsible customers in their credit pool. How is that a good idea?

What I Plan to Do
If we do receive a notice or spot the charge on a bill, our first step will be to call and ask to have it waived. With one card, we’ll point out that we have multiple other accounts with the bank and have been good customers for over two decades. With the other, we’ll point out that we’ve been good customers and do spend some money with them.

If that doesn’t sway them, we’ll simply close the accounts. Yes, our credit scores may take a hit, but we already have so much credit that I’m not terribly concerned. The dip will be minimal and short-lived. We still use substantially less than 30% of our available credit, even without two of our credit cards.

I agree that the way Americans use credit has to change, but banks should be encouraging responsible credit card use, not looking for new ways charge us fees. Especially if customers accepted the card when there wasn’t an annual fee attached to it. They can’t just change the rules in the middle of the game. Well, technically they can, but it’s bad business. I’m pretty sure they’ll discover that soon enough. Then they’ll be the stabby ones.

Have you been slapped with a fee? What did you do about it?

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