Review of October 2009 Goals / Setting November’s Goals

Here’s the goals I set for October.  With the month drawing to a close, let’s see how things went:

  1. Get back on the treadmill – I still haven’t gotten up to my full 5-day-per-week routine, mostly because of a cold I had earlier in the month, and some foot issues that arose after failing to ‘ease into things’ properly once back on, but I’m on three times a week, and I’m happy with that, enough to call it a success.
  2. Sell a car / buy a car – Well, I’m happy to report that this afternoon, I sold my car!  I actually did make it happen through Craigslist, despite all my complaining.  The person actually turned out to be a very nice lady, and her and I hit it off from the first exchange of e-mails.  Just as I’d been frustrated with the selling side, she’d been frustrated with trying to buy a car, having found some lemons and people that seemed less than trustworthy.  So, both her and I consider ourselves very lucky.  Though I don’t have the new car yet, it’s all lined up for Monday, so I’m considering this one a success.
  3. Winterize around the house – I never got to this, but am moving it to the next month.  I actually read a cool news clipping about how you can use incense to determine leaky spots, so I’m planning on incorporating this tip, and I’d also like to wash the blinds when doing this, so the scope of the project has been reset.
  4. Donate – Since we never got the bigger car, this didn’t happen.  But it will before I get my garage re-organized for the winter.
  5. Figure out our Netflix plan – We haven’t made it over to the library but I will be by sometime soon as I have a book on hold that I’ve been anxious to read.  We’ve actually been pretty busy, so the low movie plan has worked out perfect, plus some good stuff has shown up on the On Demand section of the DVR, so although we didn’t achieve this, so far there’s no impact.

November Goals

  1. Winterize – See above or last month
  2. Donate – See above or last month
  3. Figure out our Netflix plan – Also carried over from last month
  4. Finalize our Christmas budget – Most of this is done, but we need to finalize it
  5. Get a head start on Christmas shopping – Things just seem to move faster when you have a kid, so I’d like to be over 50% done with our shopping by the end of the month.  Let’s see how it goes
  6. Enjoy the holidays – Can you believe that the holidays will be in full swing in a month?  

My Brush With Identity Theft

I’ve never had my idenity stolen. I’ve read many of the horror stories that come along with it, but have never had to go through that.
But, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t come close. Or at least feel like I came a little close. Because there was one time where someone came pretty close, or at least a little too close for comfort.
A few years ago, I went through my mail, and there was what appeared to be a bill from UPS. I don’t make any shipments, and when I do, I typically pay for them at the counter. The bill was for a few dollars.
So, I thought nothing of it and threw it away.
A few weeks later, I got a second bill, again, not for very much money, but for a larger amount, but still under $50. Again, I discarded it thinking it weird that I was getting bills for something I didn’t use.
They got my attention a few weeks later when they sent another letter indicating that if I didn’t pay my balance, I would be turned over to collections. So, I immediately got on the phone.
My conversation went a little like this:
Me: “I’m calling about a bill that I got for a bunch of packages.”
UPS: “Yes, we need you to pay that.”
Me: “I’m confused, I didn’t send any packages using UPS.”
UPS: “But it has your name and address here.”
Me: “While that’s true, I didn’t ship any packages. In fact, the ’ship from’ location for all of these is in California.”
UPS: “Yeah, and?”
Me: “I live in Michigan. How would I have shipped these packages from California?”
UPS: *long silence*
Me: “How would someone have opened an account with my name and address?”
UPS: “Well, that’s all you need to open an account.”
Me: “You don’t need a credit card? A social security number? A drivers license?”
UPS: “No.”
Me: “So, anybody could just find someone elses name and address and open an account and start shipping packages, and UPS is OK with that?”
UPS: “Yeah, seems a little strange, doesn’t it?”
Me: “So, you’re going to take those charges off my account, the one that I never opened, and close the account, too, while you’re at it?”
UPS: “You’re sure you never opened that account or shipped those packages?”
Me: “Positive.”
UPS: “OK, then, we’ll take care of that.”
Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it? Now, this was a few years ago so I’m really hoping that UPS does not simply allow accounts to be created in such fashion. It seemed that before, you could just create an account and start shipping with it. Granted, the number of shipments was small, so I’m guessing (hoping) that for bulk shippers, they would have required a line of credit.
But, really, who knows?
At the time, I didn’t really think much about it, but it was about as close I could have gotten to having my identity stolen without it actually happening.
It taught me a few lessons though:

  • Pay attention to your bills – I simply threw the bills out because I knew that they weren’t mine, but if I hadn’t, who knows if UPS would have somehow been able to find me and put a blemish on my credit report. It doesn’t seem likely since they didn’t have my SSN, but then again, I would have thought it pretty unlikely that they would open an account without somehow verifying the person opening the account.
  • Be careful of your personal information – Keep your personal information, especially things like account numbers, drivers license numbers, and other key information, safe.
  • Check your credit report – I check my credit report (and my wife’s) every four months, using our three free reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. After this, I have always kept an eye on it to make sure that every single creditor is someone I know. So far, I’ve had no surprises.
  • Check your balances often – Did you know that the longer you wait before notifying a bank or credit card company of fraudulent activity, the more you’re responsible for? I try to check my balances every day or two days on my bank accounts and credit cards.

Any other tips on preventing or dealing with identity theft? Any close calls?

Seven Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Dad

It’s been just under two weeks since God blessed us with Baby Beagle, and there have been a lot of changes. Here are just a few of the things that I’ve learned since the arrival of our son.

  • How to change a diaper – I actually never had changed a diaper before. Let me just say that you catch on pretty quickly.
  • You need more diapers than you could have ever planned for – Baby pees and poops more than I think we had ever thought possible. I actually went out on my first ‘diaper run’ late last week as we were running low on his size.
  • Hours seem to simply disappear out of the day – I think that once a baby comes, the laws of time change and there are only 21-22 hours per day for parents. It’s the only way that I can explain how every single day since the arrival has seemed to end much more quickly than they did in the past.
  • Don’t plan on getting things done with any sort of efficiency – My wife will love this one. See, before the baby came I had this list of things that I wanted to get done in the week following coming home from the hospital. A lot of different projects for the house, the cars, and my blog were on the list. I figured that the baby needs attention but since it sleeps 20+ hours per day, there will still be plenty of time to get things done, right? Wrong. Somehow there is always something to do, whether it be laundry, dishes, changing towels, planning for bath time, whatever. I got a few things done from my list, but probably 25% of what I had hoped. Still, the week off was amazing and time that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
  • Sleep schedules change – Gone are the days of sleeping through the night, at least for a while. Feedings and diaper changes are the new order of business. Our son is actually doing very well at sleeping in his crib without fussing, and about going back to sleep once the business is taken care of. Still, I was unprepared for what a drastic change would occur in sleep patterns.
  • Everything changes in an instant – Oh, I knew well in advance that things were going to change once the baby arrived, but nothing could prepare me for how much it does and just like that. Your entire heart opens up, your priorities are completely shifted, and your joy and awe reach heights that you could never have thought possible, all in a heartbeat.
  • Mrs. Beagle is amazing – It’s true that men could never go through the pain of childbirth. My wife is a truly amazing woman for carrying our son, delivering our son, and how she now takes care and loves him in a way that only a mother can.

What a blessing!

A Great Customer Service Experience At Kohls

I love posting great customer service experiences. It’s common to post negative experiences, but I find positive customer service stories just as helpful as negative ones. Here’s a wonderful shopping experience we had at Kohls on Saturday.
We stopped into our nearby Kohls, as I needed some new shoes and shorts. When it comes to athletic shoes, I have found that Nike shoes are the best for me. They size right on my feet, they last a good amount of time, and I am very comfortable in them. I’ve had mixed luck with other shoes, some good and some bad, but Nike always comes through.
As we were armed with a 30% off Kohls coupon, we quickly found the shorts we wanted and then headed over to the shoe section to look for shoes.
We narrowed the search down to three pair that I liked, but they didn’t have my size in any of them on the floor.
I found an employee, and he checked the back, but they didn’t have any there either. He brought another employee out who informed me that I could call Kohls.com from the back of their store, and if they had them in stock, they would ship it to me for free.
So, off I went to the back of the store to use the courtesy phone near the customer service desk. I called and spoke with a very friendly woman, and she was happy to walk me through the process. They did have the style in my size, and I was even able to give her my coupon code for additional savings!
After it was all said and done, I paid exactly what I would have at the register, and I’ll have a pair of shoes delivered to my doorstep within a week.
How does it get any better than that?
Oh, it sort of does. If, on the off chance they don’t fit, I can simply return them to a Kohls store for a refund or exchange. I don’t have to go through the hassle of sending them back.
I love this type of service, and I wish Kohls publicized it more. We’ve walked out of the store on several occasions when they didn’t have something in a size or color that we wanted. If not for the great customer service yesterday, I would have probably walked out shoeless (except for the ones on my feet) or with a pair that I was less happy about. Even though they have to pay shipping costs, my guess is that they realized that a sale with a little less profit margin is better than no sale at all.
Thanks, Kohls, for offering that, telling me about it, and making it an easy process!

Is The Sunday Paper Going The Way Of The Dinosaur?

Recently, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, the two major newspapers in the local market, announced that they would be making drastic changes due to the decline in the newspaper industry, as well as the economy. Both papers have been producing the daily paper for decades upon decades.

In the 1980’s, the papers combined a lot of operations including printing and distribution, though they had separate writers, columnists, and editorial staff. That move, at the time, was seen as somewhat dramatic, but it has since been applauded and probably saved one, if not both, of the papers. Many cities, in the meantime, have seen at least one of their major papers shut down.

Still, the papers took another revolutionary step in the last couple of weeks. Instead of doing seven day home delivery, they are now cutting back to three days. The other four days, you either have to purchase the paper at a newsstand, pay to have it delivered by mail, or read an electronic edition that displays the pages on a computer screen just as if you were reading the paper. With any paid subscription, you get seven day a week access to the complete digital edition. They also have the ‘traditional’ free web versions which are supported by advertising.

I’ve been a subscriber of the Sunday only Free Press for a few years now. I enjoy sitting down and reading through the bigger edition, and I also find that the coupons and advertisements pay for themselves.

But, with the change to three day home delivery, I’ve found that the Sunday option to my Free Press subscription is no longer available. They are forcing subscribers that want home delivery to take all three days! Right now, my subscription rate is locked in until the end of the year for about $5 per month, or $1.25 per Sunday edition. This is a savings off the newsstand price of $1.50. But after the end of the year, my price will jump to $12 per month. I consider this a $3 per copy charge.

Why?

Because even though I’m getting two extra days, I don’t want them! Let me say that again: I don’t want the extra two days of print editions. I only want my Sunday Free Press! I don’t have time during the week to read the extra editions. Most of the time since they started delivering them, it goes right into the recycling bucket. While I’m happy to have recycled, it still seems like a big waste to produce something that customers don’t want.

The funny thing is that I’ve e-mailed them about this, and have also read through the many editions of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ that they publish regularly during the transition. Not once is the lack of a Sunday only option mentioned.

I hope that they correct this by the time that 2009 ends. I have a feeling that there a lot of subscribers in the same boat that I’m in. We are currently purchasing the paper because the price makes sense, and ‘putting up with’ the extra two days of delivery. But, once the price jumps, there could be a mass exodus of subscribers. If that happened, I would simply cancel my subscription and plan on going to the gas station on the corner to pick up the paper.

Still, it’d be much easier if they gave this customer what they want, and not force an option that is undesirable at a higher cost. I don’t think I’m the only ‘dinosaur’ that wants the Sunday paper, am I?

Farewell County General: How Much Has Changed In 15 Years

Tonight is the finale of the NBC show ER, and I thought I’d take a moment to look at some of different things that have happened in the time since the show debuted in the September 1994.

Gallon of Gas
Then: Approximately $1.15
Now: Approximately $2.00

Dow Jones Industrial Average
Then: Around 3,800
Now: Around 8,000

Money Beagle’s College Education
Then: Just starting the third year
Now: A distant memory

Sitting President
Then: Bill Clinton, pre-blue-stained-dress
Now: Barack Obama

Barack Obama
Then: 33 and Lecturer at Chicago University
Now: 47 and President of the United States

Gallon of Milk
Then: Between $1 and $1.50
Now: Between $2.50 and $4

Movie Tickets
Then: $4 – $5 on average
Now: $8 – $10 on average

30 Year Mortgage Rate
Then: 9%
Now: 5%

Unemployment Rate
Then: 5.9%
Now: 8.1%

UAW Membership
Then: 750,000
Now: 490,000

Months Since Black Monday Stock Market Crash
Then: 83
Now: 257

Popular Web Browsers
Then: Mosaic (neither Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator had been released yet, and Firefox and Opera were still years away)
Now: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera

Average Cost Per Megabyte of Hard Disk Space
Then: $0.95
Now: $0.0011
(that’s 863 times higher back then)

OJ Simpson
Then: Everybody thought he did it
Now: Well, OK, some things never change…

I wonder how much things will change in 15 years…one thing’s for sure, there probably won’t be too many shows currently on TV that will make it that long….though I’m counting on The Simpsons still going strong!