Home > Archive: February, 2015

Archive for February, 2015

Shopping finds

February 21st, 2015 at 10:17 pm

I got a Macy's and BB&B gift card in the mail last week as rewards for wellness checkups, so today's goal was to go spend them.

At Bed, Bath & Beyond, I found a nifty (small) teak cabinet with door and 2 shelves above, about 12 inches square and 45 inches high selling for $99. They had the assembled display model on a high shelf but I couldn't find any in the boxes anywhere. The woman said they could order it online for me so I could take advantage of my 20% off 1 item in-store only coupon, and then it would be delivered to my door. But they were out of stock online. I asked if I could buy the display model so she checked with the manager, who said yes. With the coupon, it was $80 and it was fully assembled, another plus. It just fit in my back seat.

I also bought a liquid soap dispenser for my bathroom, to replace the one I got at the $ store which leaks every time you use it. I also got a much needed lazy Susan type spice rack with 2 levels.

At Macy's, I found a nice Charter Club sweater marked down from $129, if you believe the price tag, and with my $10 off coupon, it was just $23. Correction: The sweater was already marked down to $23 and my $10 off coupon couldn't be used because I hadn't met the minimum purchase of $30. The clerk returned the coupon to me, but it would have been nice if she had told me this because I also had a 10 or 20% off coupon which I don't think had a minimum purchase requirement. Frown

I filled up the gas tank, bought some stuff at BJs and also hit a totally mobbed Trader Joe's.

I got home before the snow started and before the water main break on the main road by me. Now it's snowing steadily and the car is safely tucked in the garage.

Tomorrow I hope to get my hair cut with a coupon, do laundry, and make a broccoli soup and a pea soup for freezing and for work week lunches.

Also today, I bought my first smartphone, a 5-inch display Android, on HSN. It comes with no contract, just pay as you go with TracFone. It comes with 1200 each talk minutes, text minutes and data and 1-year tech support, plus the cover and car charger. It cost $129.

I have waffled on doing this for a long time. I'm not a big talker and didn't want to be locked into a contract. The 1200 minutes they give you expire after 1 year if you don't use them, but if you order more minutes before they expire, they'll be rolled over and be good for another year. The least amount of minutes you can buy at 1 time is 400 minutes for $100. However, all minutes I buy will be automatically tripled for as long as I have this phone. Does this sound like a good deal to you?

My costs with this phone will be as follows:

Year 1: Cost of phone only ($130) as I know I won't use up 1200 minutes each of phone, data, text.
Year 2 and each year thereafter: $8.33 a month, or $100 a year.

So, not too bad, and I can enter the Electronic Age. Coincidentally, the cheapie basic pay as you go phone I've had for years I can't find, so perhaps this is timely as I would at least like to have a phone for emergencies when driving. I'd also like to be able to check my personal email while at the office or elsewhere, although I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who walk around mindlessly staring at their phone.

I don't know if other phones are better than my basic one, but when you turned it off and on, you had to wait probably 20 seconds for it to be on and ready to dial.

So yes, I feel a little spendy, but I'm still holding true to old habits of earning free gift cards whenever I see an opportunity, using coupons and the like. And I'm trying my best not to incur ongoing monthly costs in particular, as those seem to be overlooked but add up over time.

So for instance, although I did recently spring for the $100 a year Amazon Prime, I decided to cancel my Hulu Plus and even my Netflix. After browsing their titles, I feel they have plenty of stuff for me to watch without it being necessary for me to pay extra for another movie subscription; I can only watch so many movies at one time, and I have over 100 in my Amazon queue. I am disappointed at having to give up American Idol on Hulu Plus, but that's really the only thing I think I'll miss.

Nice way to wrap up the week

February 16th, 2015 at 09:44 pm

I've spent most of my 3-day weekend in solitude and watching movies/Downton Abbey due to the very cold weather and snow, but I did have an old friend come by for lunch today.

For the 1st time since I went vegan, I unapologetically made a vegetable soup for our lunch. (Also some guacamole and carrot sticks, some bread and for dessert, plain yogurt with fresh blackberries drizzled with honey. In the past, I would break my vegan-ism and make something with meat in it to accommodate my guest.

Fortunately, my friend seemed to like the lunch I made, and he brought me a half dozen eggs from his chickens, which to me is always something special. I won't eat store-bought eggs anymore, in fact.

The leftover soup will serve as my lunch for the rest of the work week.

In a previous post I wrote about the Origami collapsible metal shelves I bought from Amazon and how I had to return them because they were damaged. When I went online, I indicated I wanted to do a return and opted for replacement rather than a refund, as I really do like these shelves.

But then Amazon directed me to drop off the shelves at a UPS store, which I've done before, but I was so annoyed they were damaged and especially upon finding a former customer's return label for the shelves (because they were defective), so I decided to call Amazon and the woman I got agreed to have UPS do a pick-up at my door, which at least would make it a little easier for me with all the snow and ice around here.

They were supposed to cal me to schedule a pick-up but the driver showed up at my door during my lunch with my friend, so that was fine with me and I gave him the package.

But after my friend left, I noticed the replacement shelves from Amazon had already been delivered and were already sitting in front of my garage, but they had somehow delivered 2 replacements instead of one! I'm guessing it's because I started the process online but then when I talked to the woman from Amazon on the phone, she probably processed another replacement without realizing I had already indicated I wanted a replacement online.

I haven't yet been charged for the 2nd set and I'm wondering if I will be. Because it's kind of a pain to do the returns, I will just keep both. They are really quite handy and would work well in the basement, garage or in a kitchen pantry, if I had one.

One big benefit of having my friend over is that I had decided I wanted to give him a tour of the upstairs, so I cleaned the place from top to bottom. Everything looked pretty good, I have to admit. If only I could keep it looking this way. Normally, when guests come over, I only worry about cleaning the first floor.

Tomorrow it's back to my regular work routine although I MIGHT wind up working from home, depending on the weather. They're calling for 1 to 3 inches, and if it's coming down steadily when I get up, I may just stay home. Right now there's just a 66% chance it'll be snowing between 7 and 9 a.m. so we'll have to play it by ear. If it's sticking to the road, I'll stay home.

Snowing again...

February 14th, 2015 at 10:35 pm

It's snowing pretty seriously now and the wind is due to pick up tonight.

I think I mentioned that I redeemed $125 in wellness incentive dollars from my employer, so today I treated myself to a Whole Foods shopping trip. They're way too expensive to make a regular habit of it, but I did find a variety of organic apples I don't think I usually see, as well as some nifty bottles of lemon and lime juice, both organic, with NOTHING but the lemon/lime juice. I used to buy bottled lemon juice for years because of the convenience factor until I realized there were other unhealthy ingredients in them. So I switched to fresh lemons/limes, but of course I never seem to have them on hand when a recipe calls for them. So the organic bottled lemon/lime juice was a "score" for me.

Somehow I didn't realize that I had NOT charged up $500 on my new AARP card. I THOUGHT I had but when I checked my account online, I saw I only charged $318 and I need to charge more to earn the $100 cash back.

So I used that card today to get gas at BJs, a few groceries there, and Petco. The statement closing is next week, I think, and it would be nice to finish up that card this week so I don't have to wait another month for the credit.

Talking about statement credits and card rewards, I cashed out my rewards from my BOA Susan Komen card and got the check in the mail today for about $25. Then I promptly closed the card as they seem to pile up in my wallet.

Since getting Amazon Prime, I've been enjoying watching Downton Abbey, starting at Season 1. I thought I had never watched it, but in truth I remembered most of the 1st season, so that must have been around the time I cancelled my cable in 2010 or so. Since I didn't remember all the details, I decided to start at the beginning, and I'm already starting season 3.

I read a story in the New York Times about how historically accurate that series is and they go into lots of detail in all the seasons; I debated whether or not I should read it and spoil for myself what will happen. I did, and I am very sad to know that Matthew, my favorite character, will die in a car accident, and that in fact was very common in those days (circa 1920) because they had yet to institute any speed limits. Also, the youngest daughter is going to die in childbirth.

After I finish Downton Abbey, which won't be for a month or so, I will also be watching the White Queen (highly recommended by a coworker) and The Great Buck Howard, also Joe, with Nick Cage. If anyone has any other recommendations for good movies, let me know. I sometimes look to see the NYT Best Movies for any given year and then look to see if they're free on Amazon Prime. A very small number are, but it's worth it to me to find them that way. Less interested in having to pay since I already am paying for Netflix and Prime.

The month of February has been extremely snowy and very, very cold. We'll have lows of -7 for the next few nights and a high tomorrow of just 17. I hate this weather, but the thought of soon seeing my colorful tulips come up right in front of my house warms my heart.

During my errands today I picked up some wild sockeye salmon (breaking my veganism) and I shared it with my cat Waldo, who was in heaven. Luther isn't really interested in "real" food.

An Amazon delivery that really takes the cake

February 13th, 2015 at 10:09 pm

First off, I really like Amazon. I find they have great customer service and return policies. While I have received a number of items damaged over the years, they generally do not hassle you about getting a return or a refund.

For this reason, and because they have such a great selection and (sometimes) better prices, I've been buying more stuff through Amazon, and everything else being equal, I'll buy from Amazon because I trust them more.

However, the Origami collapsible metal shelves they delivered today had a little surprise extra inside the box.

Aside from one of the metal rods supporting the middle shelf being broken, which meant I had to return it, I found the most shocking was a return label dating back to 2012, apparently for this same set of shelves. The buyer was a woman who lives in New Mexico; her full name and address appeared on the label. She bought the shelves from HSN in October of 2012 and then returned them for a refund because they were "defective." I assume because of the same broken rod I saw.

Somehow, instead of taking this out of inventory, Origami decided to try selling it again, not through HSN but through Amazon this time, and 3 years later, I'm the unlucky one who got it.

A really big warehouse goof, I'd say.

The packaging was also non-existent. Basically, it was metal shelves shoved inside a cardboard box and shipped that bubble wrap, even paper stuffing inside to cushion it or keep it from jostling around inside.

I might also add that Amazon rejected my online review because I talked about getting the other customer's return label inside the box. They want you to stick to talking about the product. So who knows how often this really happens, because you'd never read it about it in the customer reviews.

We've got an awful lot of snow and ice around here on roads and sidewalks, with a forecast for more. And below zero temperatures, so I don't relish the idea of having to return this thing.

I called Amazon to complain and she did at least agree to have UPS come to my house to pick it up.

I really like the shelves otherwise. I once tried buying some other shelves you had to assemble and because everything is machine made, the screws simply did not not fit inside the holes and i couldn't put it together.

These shelves require no assembly other than putting the casters on the bottom (another nice feature). The whole thing unfolds with hinges. So yes, I did go for a replacement instead of a refund and I really debated that for a while, and may be still am, because given how they ship it, what are the chances the replacement will again be damaged in some way?

The shelves did get very high reviews. I want to set these up in my basement to store extra grocery inventory.

Aside from that, I'm glad the weekend is here. I got out of work at 3 p.m. and hoped I'd feel motivated to run my errands this afternoon instead of tomorrow because the snow will start mid-day, but as I knew would happen, once inside my warm little home, I didn't want to leave again. All my coupons were here so I couldn't just go straight to my shopping errands.

I was happy to see I've already earned $125 in wellness incentive rewards for getting a physical, my flu shot and biometric screenings. I redeemed these for gift cards at Macy's, Bed, Bath & Beyond and, as a little splurge, at Whole Foods, world of obscene prices. Whole Foods is one of my little errands tomorrow.

I'll be able to earn another $125 for the year by knocking off a few other doc visits.

State healthcare exchange got it wrong

February 7th, 2015 at 12:32 am

I could have easily finished my federal tax return last week except that I needed to wait to receive my 1095-A form from the CT healthcare exchange.

I got the form yesterday, but it was very, very wrong. I only had health insurance through them for the 1st 4 months of the year; after that, I became eligible to sign onto the private, much cheaper health plan offered by the agency that hired me for the contract job that became the perm job I have today.

Unfortunately, the 1095-A they sent me indicated that I had insurance with them for 11 of the 12 months of 2014.

I have to take some responsibility for why that happened. They kept sending me premium due notices and I assumed (wrongly) that when I didn't send payments in, they'd know I didn't want the insurance anymore. I would have called them except their hours of operation, 8:30 to 5 p.m., were the exact same hours of my bank job, and it was difficult, and I was very reluctant, to find ways to steal away in stairwells in order to make a private call. I scribbled a cancellation notice on one of the bills and mailed it back but apparently that didn't do anything. On their website at that time, they had no Contact Us form so I couldn't cancel that way.

So today I got routed to 4 incorrect phone numbers and sat on hold each time before sitting on hold for 45 minutes at the correct number. The girl informed me I should have the corrected 1095-A in about a week. I'm not at all counting on that being true given how they manage their phones but it would be great if I got it in a timely manner.

I had been somewhat anxious to file my return quickly (as I usually do) because I've been hearing lots of stuff about an uptick in tax return fraud, and a friend of mine had it happen to him; he filed his return and it was rejected because someone else already filed a fraudulent return in his name.

I recently changed my mother's electricity provider for the "Generation Charge" portion of the bill. Electricty has been deregulated in CT for years in an effort to bring down costs. It's a pain in the ass because while you can easily compare plans and costs on the state website, some plans have a fixed price, others have a variable price, all at different terms, some have an early termination fee, yadda yadda yadda. So you have to be careful what you sign up for and it always takes a month to go into effect.

I had put my mother on a fixed rate plan with Public Power which was good til November 2015, and while theirs was the lowest cost plan at the time I signed up, I have since found much cheaper plans around, so I switched my mother to Town Square Energy, even though she will have to pay a $50 early termination fee. I did the calculation and figured she'll save about $22 a month moving to the new plan, based on her current usage, and since the plan i believe is also good at that rate til November, she will make up the $50 fee in a few months.

But already Public Power called her, trying to get her to switch back. She didn't even realize it was Public Power and thought she was talking to CL&P, but I called the number they had given her and when I called it they answered "Public Power sales team." She was all upset because they told her that her power could be shut off and apparently were doing the hard sell I know they do because I've dealt with them before.

So I called and verbally told them as my mother's POA to take her name off their call list. I also filed an online complaint with utility regulators because I don't need salespeople harassing my 80-year-old mother, who is easily confused. (She has Alzheimer.)

Between straightening out the incorrect 1095-A and then this, I was in a pretty foul mood today at work.

Then when I got home I get a bill for $751, what I presumably owe for the lab/bloodwork from my physical. My stupid doctor's office filed the claim with Aetna, who I used to have, instead of Cigna, who I now have. This doctor's office has messed up bills at least 3 times before. They are so careless and clueless. So annoying.

I decided to return both the cute boots and the handheld steam cleaner I bought from HSN. I'll have to pay a $6 return fee or something like that, but I will get most of my money back. The steam cleaner was mostly useless. The boots hurt my foot.

Started taxes, got stuck

February 3rd, 2015 at 01:12 pm

I've been doing my taxes by myself for years, after getting tired of paying my accountant $300 or so for what I felt was a fairly simple return. He had me collect all my paperwork in an orderly little folder anyway, so I figured I could model successive tax returns on ones he'd done before, consulting with the IRS 1040 instruction booklet as needed.

Being self-employed created the need for several more schedules/forms; it was always such a hassle and of course I worried something in there might trigger an audit. So I happily decided not to do any more freelance work in 2014 now that I'm working f/t at the bank.

I relished the thought of simplifying my tax return, which I did. So Sunday I was making steady progress getting through the return, filling out all the little worksheets and schedules for itemized deductions and luckily i didn't sell any shares of my sole remaining taxable mutual fund so I didn't have to deal with capital gains or losses.

But then I got to a new line item, and a new form, for people who got a subsidy via the healthcare exchange. What I didn't realize initially is that I needed a new form, the 1095-A, to complete the new Form 8962. The IRS instructions weren't exactly crystal clear, considering this is all brand new, but it appeared that my healthcare exchange is supposed to mail me the 8962. I called them up and they confirmed I should get it and that they were a little behind schedule due to the recent snow storms.

So that will delay completion of my return, but I already knew that I'd have to pay back the $1200 in subsidies I got for the 3 months I was getting healthcare through the exchange. But I also could tell that I overpaid my federal taxes via both the agency that hired me for the contract job and the bank I work for as a perm employee to the extent that I should not owe ANYTHING to the IRS and in fact may still get a refund of about $500!

So that's good news, although I will want to adjust/increase my withholdings somewhat so not so much tax is withheld. I wish I knew of a more precise way to do that; it always seems like something of a guessing game, but right now, I have just 2 withholdings, I believe. I guess I should just increase that to 3 and see what happens?

The weekend, winding down

February 1st, 2015 at 07:06 pm

Spoiler alert: This is a very mundane post.

I usually do all my running around errands on Saturdays so i can chill on Sunday, but I just couldn't motivate myself yesterday to leave the house.

I did decide to sign up for Hulu Plus, so I'll be paying about $17 for both the Hulu and the Netflix I already have; that's close to what I paid for cable TV 5 years ago but can no longer get at that price. I really like that I can cancel either subscription at any time, and pick it up again later.

So yesterday I watched about 5 episodes of American Idol in a row. Smile I do like watching the amazing talent and all these young kids so full of dreams and energy, and I do also get a kick out of seeing the talentless sing too.

Best Buy could not make the Samsung TV I ordered from them available via my pick-up, so I cancelled the order and bought it via Amazon. I had only ordered through Best Buy because I worried the TV could be damaged in transit but I'll take my chances now. I don't like Best Buy in general. I did go today and pick up the Roku stick I ordered with the TV, so I'll just have to wait a few days to get the TV delivered.

In the meantime, I decided to move my bedroom TV to my office. I noticed that ever since I started watching TV again, in the bedroom, that I was having more trouble going to sleep because I was lounging in bed for hours beforehand and my back was actually bothering me a little.

So the TV is now set up in my office and I brought up a very sturdy vinyl lounge chair meant for outdoor use. I cleaned it up and put a throw and pillows on it so it will be quite comfortable watching TV from it. I don't like watching TV downstairs in winter because it's noticeably cooler down there.

So it's a little crowded in here between the TV, computer desk and computer, and another desk I work from too, but it works for me.

When the new TV is delivered, I'll have to move my current one again to the kitchen and the new one will go in the office. It will be a half inch too big to go in the kitchen space.

Aside from picking up the Roku stick today at Best Buy I also stopped in at Trader Joe's, Shop Rite and BJs, both to renew my membership and also get some cheap gas at $2.05 a gallon. Lovin' those prices but there's ALWAYS long lines. I intentionally got up and out the door EARLY today to see if I could avoid lines at the pumps, but they don't open til 10 a.m. anyway and at 10:15 a.m. I still had to wait in line. No way around it unless I go on a weekday, which isn't possible.

Trader Joe's is another store that's always unpleasantly crowded on weekends, but it wasn't too bad when I got there today around 9:20 a.m.

We're expecting yet another snow storm tonight into tomorrow, so I'm pretty sure I'll be working at home Monday. On Tuesday I will work at home again because I have a doctor's appointment, but that's not til 3:30 or so, so I will have to have the driveway cleared Monday night and Tuesday morning before I settle into work on the laptop.

The only other thing I wanted to do this weekend was start my taxes, and I guess I still can although I'm not sure I'm motivated enough. I also haven't done anything about this week's lunches, but seeing as how I'll most likely be working from home 2 days this week, I'll only have to worry about 3 days and can probably pull something together quickly, like quinoa and beans, a bean burrito or even a big bowl of mixed veggies.

The handheld steam cleaner I bought from HSN is a bit of a disappointment. I really thought it could improve my attempts at housekeeping, but it seems mostly good at cleaning cracks or crevices, like the seam between the kitchen counter and the backsplash, for example. It also was okay at cleaning the vinyl lawn chair webbing, but scrubbing was still required. The webbing is not a flat surface but has a pebbly raised texture to it so dirt/mold gets stuck in those little spaces. To be honest, I got just as much dirt off it by simply scrubbing with the super-absorbent chamois cloths I have; I'm not sure the addition of steam did a whole lot.

I tried it on smudges on my kitchen cabinets and my stainless steel trash can, and it didn't very well on those at all; I'd have better luck with a Mr. Clean bleach sponge on the cabinets and a brillo pad on the stainless steel. It also did little to clean my glass cooktop on the stove; the special bottle of cleaner I use for that does a better job. I haven't tried the steam cleaner on my bathroom shower grout and tiles; apparently, very hot steam alone will not eliminate buildup or greasy stuff without scrubbing.

I will keep it. I'd also like to try it on inside of car and see how it does.