Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Alas, poor Credo, I knew them

December 23rd, 2010

cellshiftOh, pinko angst. I cancelled my Credo phone accounts today. Political and economic wisdom has it that we have competition in telecommunications — choice, price and other consumer options. We have liked Credo’s politics though for many years. I grieve.

In case you are not as pink as I, know that Credo puts a lefty twist to cellphones. It is part of Working Assets, and some of its profits go to liberal causes, which you can specify. We have done that for many years, and with the Sprint network that Credo uses, before…a total of, I think 15 May Days and 15 Christmases.

Surely I make too big a deal of this. I have tried and tried. We suffered. We went to their support folk and more. Like the spring runoff with a narrowing river and maybe a whirlpool equivalents finally tipped me today.

My box of causes and catalysts contains:

  • No reception in our house.
  • Credo’s rates have crept up from about 16% cheaper to penny-for-penny matches of the biggies.
  • One son lost his.
  • One son washed his.
  • We did not insure against loss or clumsiness.
  • Visitors with other networks can make and receive calls in our house.

Since August 2009, in our new house, we can’t get or receive calls on our Credo cellphones. Yet visitors on other networks can. So, basically we have not been getting what we paid for on the family plan, maybe 33% of value since the move. We can use the phone when we are outside. It has reduced us to acting like working smokers in taking our cells out in the cold and wet and dark to use them or waiting like a college student of old for the dorm wall phone to be free.

I tried Credo once more and waded through their asinine voice support system (about five minutes to get to a human when even pressing 0 does nothing). After getting cut off during a hold the first time, I got an impatient sort the second. I complained and he said it was obvious that I should cancel the lines. He put me through in a few more minutes of hold to someone he said would do that. Instead, she tried to troubleshoot by switching a roaming setting from Home Only to Automatic, to have the phone use any network’s towers. It barely boosted the bars (from zero to 1 inside) and would not allow calls.

On the money side, Credo also matches the other networks in oppressive contracts, where really the sensible choice has become a two-year contract. If you have a single phone, the no-contract deals are fine, but with a family, they aren’t. So, I’m faced with buying out two contracts at about $150 each. Otherwise, replacing two pretty new phones would run at least that much, and more like $175 or $200 each with Credo.

Verizon was typical of the competing offers. I looked online and figured I’d trot to the closest (BJs in Dedham). That way, if I wanted, I could come home with phones the same day.

Sure enough, while Verizon doesn’t have a current deal here to buy out a competitor’s contract (amusingly enough, Credo does), I got:

  • Three free phones.
  • No activation fee.
  • On-the-spot cancellation of Credo.
  • Retention of the existing numbers.

I got ’em. They work. To the point, they work inside the house.

When the boys came home, we huddled. Each decided the $5 a month for the total insurance coverage was a good bet. I think I hid my surprise, as I’ve had the same feature phone for five years and it is still perking. I don’t lose them, nor wash them, nor drop them, nor, well, act like a normal human. I confess I’m finicky or cautious or both.

After my research, online, by phone, in circulars and ads, I’m OK with the result. Yet, again, I do like Credo’s politics. I did enjoy the monthly whiff of self-righteousness and do-gooder behavior. I went over a year huddled outside to use my phone and finally passed the point of diminishing…diminished…returns.

I wish Sprint’s network was better around here. I wish Working Assets or someone like them would do the same thing on Verizon.

I’ll have to atone by increasing my personal social action instead of my small contributions through Credo.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherCredocellphonesVerizonsocial action

Dolor and Sense

July 16th, 2010

abecentSkipping pennies was and remains a teen amusement. Yet when I was in high school a dear friend a little older than my mother wove an entirely different tapestry and forever changed my mind.

She was Evelyn Justice, my biscuit lady. We had known each other from my elementary-school days in Danville, Virginia. She worked for the dentist we used and became a family friend. She was surely the kindest and happiest person I have ever known. We were sad when she and her husband moved to Plainfield, New Jersey.

Jump to high school and my mother moved us to that same city. There, I would walk across a broad park and a few more blocks to her house. She was a master biscuit maker (look and feel; no measuring) and glad to oblige me.

One afternoon though, Evelyn was still upset from what she had experienced walking home. She had been just behind three guys from school — my school. They gouged pennies from their jeans and with one in hand, they took turns skipping it along the sidewalk.

She was aghast and transported to earlier times and distant places. She had grown up in a tiny town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The region, including her family, was among the hardest of the hardscrabble during the Great Depression. Few had much and no one had anything to spare.

To Evelyn, one U.S. cent, one one-hundredth of a dollar, was real money. A few pennies could make the difference of the family eating OK that week. Every cent was precious. The family coin jar was a shrine.

In Plainfield, nearly four decades later, she was riven by the puerile pleasures of those young men. A penny by itself didn’t count for much to them, so little in fact that they could use them as disposable toys. Those guys did not share in family fears of want and deprivation. They did not save, remake, repair and conserve.

She said that she followed behind them, picking up every penny they threw away. She didn’t care if they thought she was a crazy old lady. She knew what a cent had meant and still meant to her. She didn’t really need a palm of pennies, but she would be damned (a word she never would profane the air with herself) if she would let them literally throw away what had been so powerful to her.

She asked me and I was able to say that I never engaged in skipping pennies. Yet when she asked I realized that it would not have been out of the question for me. I had never been presented with the activity. Plus, I had never been wasteful. I had earned money selling vegetables, being a paperboy, life-guarding, and on and on. I made my own money and quite literally did not throw it on the street.

My mother said that she realized in college that she had been shielded from the Depression. Her father had a full-time job on the B&O Railroad for 48 years, including those when many were unemployed and hopeless. He also grew one or more one-acre vegetable and fruit gardens every summer for fresh and cannable food. He sold Chevys on the side.

He also had a tailor shop and made clothes for the family. That led to a story my mother told on herself. She was always embarrassed to be wearing clothes her father made rather than store-bought dresses, skirts and blouses. She was short but long-waisted and could hardly wait to be fashionable when she was away from home. She rushed with her spending money to buy off the rack and was flabbergasted. Nothing fit. She had lived her life in tailored clothes!

Even so, like many of the WWII generation, raised by those who navigated the Depression for their families, my mother carried that mindset. She taught us as she had been thought — respect objects, whether they be food, clothes or pennies.

So in Plainfield, Evelyn had me tearing up with her. Her tales of how a few pennies might mean subsistence or the rarest of the rare, a treat, brought me beyond my frugality. In our nation of plenty, even in these hard times, we toss much, thinking nothing of what it means to those who have nothing or what it might have meant to other Americans.

You’ll never catch me skipping pennies. That’s a lesson that went from Evelyn to me to my three sons and now to you.

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As the Crank Turns: Wine Edition

February 12th, 2010

Regular readers here know I came to my crankiness and harrumphing by nurture. Yet, I think I could ease off a bit — if only the world didn’t delivery so many catalysts.

A recurring one rebates on cases of wine. When I get stiffed, I just can’t let it go.

The most recent exchange was over a zin, Gnarly Head, that we like here and buy even when it isn’t rebate season. It was the usual problem and after having been burned more than once, I am on the ready with safeguards.

That’s quite a bit of drama for a small setback. Then again, I was raised by a crank to be a crank. I figured on this one that even if I had ended up losing out on $28 of the $30 due me, the annualized amortization would  be about 8¢ a day. That wasn’t the point.

To the non-drinkers and spendthrifts, it works like this:

  • Once or twice a year (generally Thanksgiving/Christmas and around mid-year) some moderate-priced U.S. or Aussie vineyards offer rebates.
  • These tend to be a couple dollars off on a bottle or $20, $25 or $30 off on a case of 12.
  • A few are obnoxious, requiring the bottle bar-code labels with the inherent soaking and scraping. Most take a clear receipt with the date, price and product.
  • Squeeze your information onto an itsy-bitsy form on slick paper and mail it to a fulfillment house.
  • Wait a month or two and get your rebate…or part of it.

The trouble comes when the house sends a check for one bottle when the rebate should be for the case. While some may find it silly to chase small amounts of money, cranks don’t.

The facts include that I don’t deal in guilt. I don’t take it and don’t give it. I’m a resolution kind of guy.

In contrast, I think of how successful Scientology has been in taking a neurological theory, engrams, for a long, well-paying ride. That would be when something bad happens, you are gun-shy and alter your behavior, often to your detriment. I see the effect of this as right now on the 12-month anniversary of falling on black ice and breaking two leg bones. I am cautious about patches of slickness. Then again, I don’t hide inside nor do I shake in terrorized anticipation of a recurrence.

I don’t need galvanometers, auditing or paying tens of thousands of dollars to get a grip.

gnarlys.jpgSo it is in a much lesser way with tricksy rebates. I have learned to scan my receipt and form into a PDF doc, just in case. I firmly believe that the fulfillment houses are not crooks trying to cheat us plonk tipplers. They don’t benefit by shortchanging strangers. More likely, they handle thousands of squint-producing forms a day. Some they toss into the wrong bin for rebate level. Meh.

I can cite two recent cases, both with successful conclusions. I’d much rather feel as though I had won a tiny battle than been wronged by a bad old vineyard.

In the middle of last year, a Ravenswood deal went awry. I got back $5 on the three-bottle rebate instead of $30 on the case. I didn’t send my complaint to the fulfillment house’s P.O. box, rather I used the customer-service page on the winery’s site.

The head of customer service called me a few days later. She had gone through Lord knows how many forms, found mine, apologized and had a $25 check winging to me. She was very pleasant.

Likewise, but with a twist, I got $2 back on Gnarly instead of $30. When an on-site message to them got no response, I went to parent winery Delicato Wines‘ site, clicked around quite a bit to find the big shots and wrote a USPS-delivered letter to CEO Chris Indelicato. I included a printout of the receipt, rebate form and sad little $2 check (one of the pair cropped above; click for a slightly larger view of them).

We ended up with a nice little email exchange as well, including:

Thank you for the letter you sent regarding your Gnarly Head coupon.  I am a coupon guy myself and nothing makes me madder than when I don’t get my money on a deal.  Although we have a coupon company that has dropped the ball ultimately it is our responsibility to get you paid.  The Gnarly brand manager will contact the coupon company this morning and you should receive your money shortly.

Always time to do things twice but never time to do things right the first time.  Thanks for drinking our wine – we appreciate every single customer we have the quality will only get better going forward.

Cheers

I got my $28. To the point, both companies seem to understand customer service. Not only am I happy to keep buying Gnarly Head, but I’ll surely be trying more of the vinyard’s products. Nice is generally free and pays back.

For me, the pittance for the stationary and the 44¢ for the stamp are a lot better than getting to feel wronged.

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The party…isn’t

November 12th, 2008

warbonnet.jpg

The director of engineering in the feathered war bonnet is the unfortunate image we relive each end-of-year. Back only about a decade ago, vice presidents of serious companies felt free to humiliate themselves at huge corporate parties. In this case, the fake Village People shouting out Y.M.C.A. were neither noble nor really even fun.

That surely is one good effect of the decline of the drunk-in events disguised as corporate rewards, as reported in the Financial Times. It appears as though a lot of companies have eliminated their holiday do. As Barclay’s CEO Rich Ricci put it a memo to staff, “In the current difficult environment for our industry and for the economy as a whole, which affects not just financial services firms but our clients as well, it is not appropriate for us to do anything that might be seen as inappropriate by any of our stakeholders.”

You can be forgiven if your cynicism flashes there. For all the world, it is appearances that matter. We can suppose that if the financial world stirs at all, it’ll be champers and fish eggs all around again.closed.jpg

In fact, the FT piece provides a hint of the waggish rebellion of our betters. The thousand-person extravaganza may be temporarily gone. However, in New York as one example, there has been a flood of 20 to 30 person private-room functions instead. The swells can still party like it’s 1928, but hoi polloi and mere middle managers don’t get to play.

Of course the great joke here is that those who cannot be denied and surely must deserve the luxury behind the closed door are the ones who led to our current economic chaos. Those who gambled with the corporate resources, making terrible marketing and design decisions, who counted on a never-ending growth spiral, and who blissfully took fliers on unsecured loans are still entitled.

Meanwhile, as it is with the hives, the queens live on while the worker bees succumb to the winter. At the bottom, the party’s over for the time being.