Confession Time: I Got Charged With The Stupid Tax

So yesterday I wrote about how we’re planning a vacation.  Awesome.  Well, the vacation just got $300 more expensive without a thing to show for it, and it’s completely my fault.

Yes, I made an error and got charged with the stupid tax, and what really sucks is that it’s to the tune of $300.

When planning our trip, we were working along with my in-laws as well as my sister-in-law.  We all had input at various times to things like where we were going to go, where we were going to stay when we got there, how we were going to get there, and most importantly, when we were going to go.

Everybody had to look at their work schedules.  We had to look at the availability of places that we were interested in.  We looked at the costs of flying versus driving.  There was a ton of back and forth.

So, when it came time to the booking of the flight, I went back when I should have gone forth (OK, maybe the other way around when you read on, but that way just sounded better).

Yes, I sat down to book the flight and, for whatever reason, my mind remembered a previous iteration of the week we had decided to go.  So, I happily booked the flight, received the e-mail confirmations, and was happy as a clam.

It took me a week to actually realize that something was wrong when my wife and I were having an innocent conversation about her getting her hair done, which she scheduled to occur before we left on our trip.  She mentioned the date and how it might be hectic since it was the day before we were flying out.  I commented that, no, her hair appointment is a week and a day before we are leaving.

No sooner than the words were out of my mouth and I felt the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I knew what had happened.  A dead run up the stairs and a few mouse clicks confirmed my worst fear: I had lodged in my head the exact wrong date(s) for our trip, and had booked with the wrong dates in my mind.  I checked and I even requested the wrong week off at work.

Luckily they’re not going to charge me to move my week!

So, I had previously been very happy to have found our flight and what I thought was a reasonable rate.  I had even commented that, since my in-laws were driving down, that we were avoiding the excessive fees that they’ve been piling on everything.

Yeah, not so much.

When I went to the reservation system, I found that the charge per ticket for changing flights was $150.  That’s $300.  I called Delta in hopes that I could plead my way down.  I first spoke to someone that was about as unsympathetic as could be and even hung up on me when attempting to ‘check into’ things.  Sure.  But, I called back, and spoke to a great customer rep and a great manager, but as great as they were, they couldn’t/wouldn’t help.

So, I grudgingly made the change and ended up paying airline fees that I had bragged about being able to avoid.

That’s the part that kills me is that I was able to avoid them, but with all the confusion, I skipped the step of verification.  I should have never made the booking alone where my wife, as a second pair of eyes, would have caught the mistake.  At the very least, I should have sent her the e-mail confirmations, in which case she might have realized my mistake and could have alerted me to the problem (you do have 24 hours to make a change without the charges).

I guess I thank my stars that we found out when we did, because it could have been a lot worse.  As it was, the correct flights were the same price as the originals.  I’m sure if we had discovered our error closer to the actual time, the prices could have doubled, in which case we would have had to deal with fare increases on top of the $300.

Still, I am very disappointed in myself.  It’s hugely discouraging to see a good chunk of money disappear that could have been avoided.

In short, it sucks getting hit with the stupid tax.

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Who Is Giving This Guy Money???

The city of Detroit has had it’s share of bad press over the last few years.  It’s been front and center stage to the American auto meltdown.  Home values in the area have plummeted.  Unemployment here leads the country.  It has been in the top tier of foreclosure rates for what seems like forever.  The school system was shown to be one of the worst run and the lowest performing in the country.

In other words, it’s been a mess.

I don’t live in the city but am a metro Detroiter.

In spite of all that, I still love the area I’m from.

The biggest stain, in my opinion, on Detroit’s reputation was not any of the things I mentioned above.  It was the behaviors and actions of the former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick was the ‘hip-hop’ mayor, elected as a young guy with great fanfare earlier in the decade.  He rolled in wearing diamond earrings and making it known that he was a fresh face with fresh ideas.  He was young, vibrant, and energetic, and in those ways represented exactly the direction Detroit wanted to go to turn things around.

Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, he turned out to be nothing but a crook.  He abused his office and the power that came along with it.

Among the alleged incidents:

  • A party at the city-owned mayors residence that featured strippers
  • 24×7 security detail for him and his family that cost the city millions
  • Purchase of city vechiles for use by his family
  • Firing of the Detroit chief of police for disagreeing with him
  • An affair with one of his staffers while both were married
  • Misuse of city property and funds tied to his affair
  • Involvement in bribery cases
  • Purjury

It goes on but that is a list of things that surrounded him.  What led to his removal from office and jail time was that he used city owned Blackberry’s to send and receive tens of thousands of text messages that proved his involvement in many of the items listed above.  Because it was city owned property, the messages were released to the public record.

Eventually he stepped down, served a token jail sentence, and left the state.

One of the items of his settlement was that he was to pay the city of Detroit restitution for money that he mis-used and for the cost of investigating the various things surrounding this.  Once he left Detroit, he claimed that he could not make these payments, while moving into a swanky mansion, paying for plastic surgery for his wife (who for whatever reason stayed with him), and making other massive expenses.

The judge, thankfully, didn’t buy it.  In fact, the judge was so angered that he ordered Kilpatrick to move up a big chunk of his payments.  Kilpatrick pled poverty (from behind the doors of his 5,000+ square foot rental).

So, when a $75,000 payment was due last week, did Kilpatrick make the payment?  No.  He didn’t pay up a penny, claiming that he ‘didn’t have the money’.

The part that amazed me, though, is that $40,000, or just over half, was paid on his behalf by supporters and private donors.

That’s right.  This guy used the city property and bank accounts like it was his own for the taking, admitted guilt on many accounts, agreed to pay restitution, then threw it back in the face of everyone by living like a king while claiming poverty, and yet there are still people willing to open up their checkbooks to the tune of $40,000?

I don’t get it.

My guess is that these are people that he could have been involved in ‘shady’ deals with that are afraid that Kilpatrick could turn on.  That’s just a hunch, but would it really be too far a stretch?

Did I mention that there is a federal investigation into his dealings, with the possibility that he was bribing companies to get awarded city contracts while he was mayor?  He could possibly be charged in a RICO (rackateering) suit, which is the same type of suit that often brings down organized crime families.

Sounds like he got $40,000 in hush money if you ask my opinion.

The saga will no doubt continue to play out.  As much as I want to see this guy punished for his criminal activities and his blatant disregard for every citizen that he was entrusted to represent, I hate seeing the further blemishes that this brings upon the city and surrounding region.

But I still can’t get over the fact that there are people out there willingly giving this idiot money.  Unbelievable.

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When Good Deals Go Bad! Massive Price Increase On Costco / Kirkland Diapers!

My wife and I went to Costco last month planning to purchase some diapers.  We’ve been Costco members for a couple of years, and were just recently blessed with the opportunity to purchase diapers.  We’ve been impressed with the price benefit that the Kirkland Signature brand (Costco’s store brand) had offered on many products in the past.  We’d also heard many great things about their prices on diapers, so we decided to take a look.

I was shocked when I found that their unit price per diaper was, for just about every size, higher than the national brand (Huggies) that they sell.

I did some digging and found that they’ve recently raised prices on their diapers.  From the historical prices that I’ve been able to dig up, it looks like the prices have gone up anywhere from 26% to 33% across the board.  This chart speaks for itself:

Really, Costco?  For a store that prides itself on value, especially for the Kirkland product line, this is shocking.  My family and I have become more and more trusting of Costco, and the Kirkland line, and this is a good way to erase a good portion of that trust in one fell swoop.

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Can You Really Save Money On Utilities By Cutting Back?

When you Google “saving money on utilities” you get 18,700,000 results.
This is obviously a very well written about subject.
However, the rationale behind the most recent water rate hike by the City of Detroit for water (Detroit provides water to the city and most of the outlying suburbs) made me wonder how much money we can truly save by cutting back on utilities.
From the Detroit News, here is a summary with two reasons as to why water rates went up:

Customers are set to see bills go up about 8 percent, an amount Detroit Water Department officials say is needed to bolster declining revenues and counter surging interest rates on money the system has borrowed for capital improvements.

The reason for the declining revenues? Lower consumption.
People in the Detroit area have been cutting back water usage. With the economy in a downturn, people are trying to cut back the non-essentials. Whether it’s letting their lawns go brown or taking quicker showers, the average water usage has gone down.
So, how are people rewarded for their ability to use less? They simply get charged more.
See, the water company depends on a certain amount of revenue a year to cover costs. If they don’t meet that revenue, they can’t pay for the employees, for the electricity, for the maintenence of the infrastructure, and all the other costs that it takes to deliver water to millions of households.
It then begs the question as to whether you can really save money on utilities by cutting back? I suppose the ‘above-average’ saving household could still save, but if you if you cut back by the rate at which consumption drops, you really won’t save money. Yes, you’ll be preventing your bill going up even more than if you hadn’t cut back, but it is still discouraging to reduce consumption and see your bill come in the same. Or more.
And, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this type of pricing model holds true for just about all utilities. Electricity. Gas. I would guess that they all have a level of expected revenue that they will figure out how to cover, no matter what.
So, is it worth it to cut back?
Despite evidence that I’ve presented, I still say it is.
Why?
First, I think that it’s important to preserve our natural resources. Bottom line, the water and the electricity use natural resources that are limited in supply, and also can cause pollution, global warming, and other problems with our planet. Reducing usage will only prolong the life of our precious Earth.
Second, it does slow down the increase in hit that you’ll feel in your pocketbook. The argument could be made that the utility companies would raise the prices even if demand didn’t go down. In that case, your out-of-pocket costs would rise even faster.
And, quite honestly, even when I’ve ‘cut back’ on usage in the past, I’ve never reduced the budget that I expect to pay for utilities. Simply because I expect that costs will continue to rise. I might not budget an increase over time, but I guess I have sort of accepted the fact that the utilty companies, by and large, are going to collect what they feel they need to no matter what. Short of getting ‘off the grid’ altogether, which simply isn’t possible for the majority of people, we simply have to try our best and hope for a delicate balance between increased costs and cutting back.

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