Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Deep Fried Cars

Forget the Prius or the Insight or the Honda Civic hybrids. I want my alternative fuel car to run on vegetable oil, the kind that you use to deep fry twinkies and onion rings (what you've never had a deep-fried twinkie?).

My grandma, always the first to know of the latest technological innovations, told me she had heard about a company that was selling kits to convert your car so that it could run on vegetable oil for only $800. I did a quick search on google and found the website she was talking about.

The company, Greasecar, sells a self-install kit that converts your car to run on plain old vegetable oil. You don't even have to pay for the vegetable oil because most restaurants have to pay a disposal fee to get rid of the vegetable oil they use for frying. If you could find a good local restaurant that uses lots of cooking oil, you could convince them to give it to you for free to save them the hassle and all you would have to do is filter the oil. Assuming that you pay $100 in gas a month, the kit would pay for itself in 8 months.

I was almost ready to buy the kit when I realized that the kit can only be installed on diesel engine cars. Boooo! I knew I should have bought the diesel Jetta!

Most diesel cars available in the U.S. are either older models Mercedes, big pick up trucks, or newer Volkswagens. I definitely don't want an older car that will have to be in the shop all of the time, I am not necessarily a pick-up truck kind of gal, and even though I already own a Volkswagen, I don't think I could trade in my Jetta for a diesel version without acquiring more debt.

My deep fried car project will have to wait for now but as soon as I get out of debt and I have some savings, I'll be looking to trade my car for a car that will relieve me from being at the mercy of gas prices. And gas prices aside, wouldn't it be cool to tell people your car runs on cooking oil?

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sticker Shock

Against my own advice, I ventured into the murky depths of the mall today. I normally try to stay as far away from them as I possibly can but I suffered from a temporary lapse in judgement. First of all, I was searching for a birthday present and thought if I could walk around the mall I might get some ideas on what to buy. Second of all, my clothes have started to get that too-tight look that means that my body is expanding against my will. It is a sick cruel joke my body plays on me; every time I try to lose weight I end up gaining weight. Maybe I should try to gain weight in order to lose weight? And, it has been ages since my last hair cut and I felt the need to splurge on a nice cut and color.

The good news is that even though I went to the mall with every intention of spending money, when I looked at the price tags I almost fell to the floor in shock.

"HOLY bejezus, $130 for a pair of jeans???"
"$40 for foundation makeup? $28 for blush? Bless their souls; they have lost their damn minds!"
"They want me to pay how much for this serving tray? That must be $9, not $90."

These were my inwards conversations as I made my way through the mall, just aching to spend some money but not quite THAT much money.

The worst was when I went to go get my haircut. I had bargained on about $150 for a cut and color. Boy, was I ever wrong. Thank goodness I asked before I took a seat in the chair! Apparently, haircuts at this salon run from $85 for a "Stylist" to $135 for a "Creative Director" and anywhere from $145 to $205 for a color. I tried to maintain my calm and composure while she was explaining their pricing, and as soon as she looked away I ran as fast as I could.

Have I really been not shopping for that long? When did everything get so expensive????

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

More HSBC Drama

Let me just clarify a few things in regards to HSBC. I misread the FAQ's on the HSBC site in regards to the fees for bank transfers. This is what their site says:

*No transaction fees if you transfer money into your HSBC accounts from your non-HSBC accounts
*A $3.00 transaction fee will be charged for each outbound transfer from your HSBC accounts to your non-HSBC accounts

At that point I had stopped reading because I was ranting and raving about the $3 fee. If I had maintained my compusure and continued reading the line below, I would have seen this:

*No transaction fees will be charged for HSBC OnlineSavings, Domestic Private Banking or HSBC Premier customers .

Now, tell me, does it make sense to have this on a whole separate line. If I were writing these FAQs I would have written it like this:

A $3.00 transaction fee will be charged for each outbound transfer from your HSBC accounts to your non-HSBC accounts (No transaction fees will be charged for HSBC OnlineSavings, Domestic Private Banking or HSBC Premier customers ).

This would imply that the 2nd and 3rd bullet points are related. Or better yet:

A $3.00 transaction fee will be charged for each outbound transfer from your HSBC accounts to your non-HSBC accounts*

And then a little note at the bottom explaining the conditions of who pays and who does not. I mean, its really not that important but it would have saved me the heart attack.

In other HSBC news, I still have not received the PIN number they were supposed to send me a month ago. I called them again to see what the deal was and of course, it was more drama. After explaining to them that I had not received the PIN and that they had sent it to the wrong place before he said that he could not send me another PIN number because I recently had a change of address. "UMMM? No, I never changed my address. You merely sent it to the wrong address before." He said yes, he could see that in my file but that he couldn't send it to me because of the problem and I would have to fill out some form and fax it back to them to request a PIN change. At this point, I lost it. I normally try to be a courteous calm and collected person but if I have to call any customer service place 3 times to solve a problem, my nerves get worn a little bit thin.

So after explaining to him that I didn't have time for this nonsense I told him I would simply like to cancel my account. He then informed me that I could cancel my account if I would like, but since I had not had my account for more than 6 months I would be charged $25 to close the account. My pissed-o-meter was through the roof at that point and I told him that I wanted to talk to his boss. He insisted that his boss wasn't going to tell me anything different and that it would be a waste of my time to talk to him. Of course, I insisted on talking to him anyways and after waiting on hold for 5 more minutes his boss came on the line and told me he would overwrite the system so that a new PIN would be sent to me.

Now, let me ask you this. Why do I always have to be at my breaking point before they figure out how to solve a problem, i.e. the lady that told me there was no way I could fix my user name and password until I received my PIN until I insisted that she fix it and this turdball who insisted there was no way for me to get a new PIN without filling out some form and faxing it back to them. I don't like to be that crazy lunatic customer but by golly if they aren't going to get it done without me losing my cool, then thats not my problem.

We'll see if I stick with HSBC or not. At this point I have so much time and energy invested into this process that I might as well take advantage of the higher interest rates that they are offering. Both ING and HSBC raised their rates but HSBC's are still .5% higher than ING's but I have become quite attached to my drama-less banking at ING.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why ING is Better than HSBC

I've had my ING Direct account for more than a year now and have never had any problems with them. The sign up process was painless, when I have questions their customer service is awesome and their online site is easy to use. The only reservation that I had with ING was that some of its competitors were paying higher interest rates on their savings account. For example, right now ING's rate is at 4.15% while HSBC is at 4.5%.

I decided to at least give HSBC a try. The application itself was fairly easy but unlike ING, you have to wait for them to send you your user ID and password in the mail. I signed up for my account and waited and waited and waited. Finally, after about a month of signing up I called them and asked them what the deal was. I know I could have called earlier but I am a busy lady, like most people, and just never had the time to call them. So on a Saturday afternoon I called them and the customer rep informed me that they had forgotten to put my apartment number on the mail. AGH. That was a little irritating but what was even more irritating was that he wanted me to call back on Monday to ask them to send it to me again.

This kind of thing rubs me the wrong way. I have no idea why he couldn't just do it over the phone right then. Do people who work on Monday have special mail rights that people who work on Saturday do not have?

So after wasting even more of my time to get the problem fixed they finally sent me the info I needed. BUT when I went to log into my account the password and user name did not work. Frustrated, I called the customer support and after waiting on hold for 15 minutes I tried to explain to the customer service rep that the password and user name that they sent me did not work. She said there was nothing she could do for me and that I would have to change my password online using my PIN number. I explained to her that I had not received my PIN number (and still 3 days later I have not received it) and that I couldn't do that. She said I would just have to wait for it to come and after a few minutes of me trying to explain to her that I was entering in EXACTLY the user name and password THEY sent me and that it didn't work she put me on hold. When she came back she asked me to try it again and MIRACULOUSLY it worked.

I was relieved and perturbed at the same time. She offered no explanation of why all of a sudden it worked after she told me over and over again that she couldn't help me. If I had not argued with her I would still be waiting to be able to sign into my account and access my money. Luckily I only started off with $20 for this exact reason.

After I was able to log in I noticed that there was no way to transfer money between non-HSBC accounts. I had already given them my routing number to my checking account so I thought I could easily transfer money back and forth between the two, like with ING. Noooo, that is an additional service that you have to sign up for. Transfers going into your account are free but any transfer going out of your account is charged a $3.00 processing fee. I guess I had been so spoiled with ING that this came as a shock to me.

So far, everything with HSBC has been a problem. Don't you sometimes wish that you can send people bills for the time they have wasted in your life? Instead, I'll have to pay the $3 to take my $20 and put it back into my ING account.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pay Day Advances

Today I was hit up by someone wanting to put an ad on my site. Normally, this would be a great thing because hey, if I can sell advertising space on this blog then I can pay off the debt even faster, right? But when I checked out the site I thought to myself that these people must be delusional or on crack to think that I would ever link to them on my site.

I'm not going to say who they are, but they were one of the many pay day advance companies that rip people off when they are probably already in a bad financial situation to begin with. Let's say you are behind on your bills and don't get paid for another week. You need cash NOW so you find one of these cash advance places that will give you the cash you need now. Nice of them huh? There's only one small catch: they will charge a teeny weeny amount of interest, in this case an APR of 391%. No, not 3.91%. Three hundred ninety one percent.

Holy moses! 391% APR? Are they out of their minds? Why not just ask them to give up their first born child?

At first when I looked at the site they said you can get up to $500 in your account tomorrow for only $15 per $100 borrowed*. "Not terrible" I think to myself, "but ahh, what is this * about?" I read down in the small print that finance charges are calculated every 14 days which is equivalent to a 391.07% APR. Very tricky bastards!

It makes me sick to think of paying that much interest. And think about it. If you are already hard up for cash before you get paid, when you do get paid you will have to pay back that loan and your next paycheck is already gone. Then what do you do? Take out another pay day loan? It would be like being in a never ending cycle of debt, digging a deeper and deeper hole that you will never be able to get out of.

So just don't do it! I know I am probably preaching to the choir here but people should avoid pay day loans like they are the plague. If you need cash, ask a friend. Do a balance transfer. Get another job. But whatever you do, don't get a pay day loan!

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Free brain food

I randomly came across this site on Wikipedia, ThoughAudio.com. They offer free MP3 downloads of classic books ranging from Plato, to Ayn Rand to Sun Tzu. I was subscribing to Audible but canceled my subscription because I wasn't commuting to work anymore. I started missing the service because I do listen to the books from time to time when I work out or when I go to sleep at night, but now there are tons of books I can listen to for free! Hooray!

Also, if you were looking for free ebooks, there are lots of books available from the Project Gutenberg. I personally don't like to read books from a computer but it's fun to know it's there. I'll probably still just go to the library and get the books, for free!

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Paper or Plastic? I Say Neither!

The other day I splurged and made a big purchase: two canvas grocery shopping bags for $2.50 each. I had gotten so annoyed with the huge pile of plastic and paper grocery bags accumulating under my sink. I must have a stash under there that would last me for years to come but I just can't throw them away because I feel like that is such a waste. So after thinking about it for a while I took the plunge and made the $5 purchase.

Today I took them to the store (Trader Joe's) and was pleasantly surprised to learn that every time you bring your own bags to the store, whether they be bags from a previous trip or the canvas reusable ones that I had, they will enter your name into a monthly raffle for a $25 gift certificate. I'm crossing my fingers that I win.

So far, here are my advantages:

1) No more messy bags under my kitchen sink.
2) Chance to win free food.
3) Reducing waste and pollution.

I was doing a little research on the environmental effects of paper and plastic bags as opposed to using reusable bags and found this on the EPA website:

"* In New York City alone, one less grocery bag per person per year would reduce waste by five million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs.
* When one ton of paper bags is reused or recycled, three cubic meters of landfill space is saved and 13 - 17 trees are spared! In 1997, 955,000 tons of paper bags were used in the United States.
* When one ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil are saved.

Many grocery stores now offer for sale sturdy cloth grocery bags. Some of these stores even give you a little discount (e.g., five cents per bag) if you bring your own bag. So, keep a stash of reusable bags in your pantry or if you drive to the store simply keep them in your trunk."

Apparently, CostCo, Whole Foods and Ikea offer a $.05 to $.10 discounts per bag when you bring your own bags and of course Trader Joe's has the monthly raffle. Who knows, your local grocery store might have a discount too.

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