Monthly Archives: December 2014

Oh Christmas Tree: Playing the Post-Holiday Sales to Your Favor

I love the holidays.  I’m a big fan of decorating for Christmas.  My Christmas tree is especially dear to me.  For decades I’ve been buying one ornament each year that truly symbolizes something that I did that year.  For example, in 2003 I added a Nittany Lion ornament because that’s the year I started working at Penn State.  Decorating my tree is like taking many different trips down memory lane.  It fills me with joy.

Tree farm

When I was a young child my family used to go out together and chop down a tree to decorate our home.  But as time passed and life grew more complex, my parents bought an artificial tree.  It still provided the joy of decoration, but lacked the magical odor and texture of a real tree.  I swore that when I grew up, I would have a real tree in my home.

But life doesn’t always go the way we plan.  I lived in a series of small apartments that didn’t allow for real trees.  Then when I finally bought my own house, I didn’t have anyone to help me with a real tree (and I just wasn’t up to the challenge of setting up a real tree without assistance).  So I’ve had a few smaller artificial trees over the years.  About five years ago, I accepted my fate and bought a really nice 6 ½ foot pre-lit artificial tree.

Now, finally, feeling that I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of my nice artificial tree and knowing that I have assistance for setting it up, I think I’m in a place where I’m ready to move to the world of the real tree.  So next year, I’m getting a real tree.

Why not this year?  Well…I could do it this year.  But I lack infrastructure.  A real tree requires a stand.  And lights.  And frankly, I’m just not willing to pay pre-Christmas prices for these things.  The single best day to purchase holiday items at a low price is December 26.  I’ve been doing this for years with my holiday cards and wrapping paper.  I go out to the stores the morning after Christmas and all of the holiday items are half price.  It’s a fabulous time to stock up on those holiday items I use every year.  Cookie cutters.  Holiday decorations.  Gift bags.  Bows and gift tags.  And this year my mission will be a tree stand and several strings of LED lights.  I’ll buy them at half price on December 26.  I’ll put them away with the rest of my Christmas items.  And next year I’ll be all set for my first real Christmas tree in decades.

Sure…I would have loved to have a real tree this year.  But the money I’ll save will make the wait worthwhile.

Help! My credit card has been compromised!

Credit card fraud

It seems like just yesterday that I had to have a new credit card issued because of the Home Depot data breach.  And now my new replacement card has been compromised as well.  Only a month after I finished changing all of my auto-billed payments to the new card, I have to do it all over again.  In the greater scheme of things, I really can’t complain.  I’m still a little stunned by the number of things that went right in my recent credit card fiasco.

The first thing that went right is that I was using a credit card rather than a debit card.  Credit cards offer greater protection against fraud than debit cards.  If this had been a debit card, the money in my checking account could have been tied up while the issue is being resolved.  Because it was a credit card, I can’t be held liable for more than $50 in fraudulent charges.  And I’m extra fortunate because my credit card provider is refunding all of the fraudulent charges.

The second thing that went right is that my credit card provider recognized that an unusual charge had been made and contacted me right away.  Wednesday night I received a text message from Chase asking if I had made a charge for $50 at a grocery store in New Jersey.  I had not.  I called Chase and we went through all of the recent charges, and found (thankfully) a total of only two charges, $108 combined, that were fraudulent.  Chase then shut down that card immediately so no further charges could be made on that account.

The third thing that went right is that I’m very aware of my credit card activity and I monitor it online almost daily.  I had looked through my charges the morning before the fraud occurred, which saved a lot of time on the phone with Chase.  I was able to just say, “Everything through yesterday was my activity,” and we only had to review one day’s charges.

The fourth thing that went right is that I have other credit cards.  I use my Chase card instead of cash most of the time in favor of reaping the reward points.  I like the convenience of using plastic instead of cash.  And when my card was shut down, that could have left me at a loss for a couple of days until my new card arrived.  Luckily, I have another rewards card that I generally only use at stores that don’t accept Visa.  I was able to just use that until my new Chase Visa was delivered.  A backup plan is a very good thing.  I also have another card that I do not keep in my wallet…just in case my wallet is ever stolen.  I always want to be prepared.

I don’t know exactly how my card info was stolen.  My card itself is still in my possession.  I figure it must have been either a skimmer that I didn’t notice when I swiped my card (though I always try to look for those), or it may have been a less than honest employee at a restaurant or convenience store who skimmed the card when it was out of my sight.  Regardless, the result is the same.  I feel somewhat violated because someone stole my credit card information.  But I have experienced no financial loss…only a minor inconvenience.  A lot of things went right for me in a situation that could have been much, much worse.

The Great Cord-Cutting Experiment: A Year Later

cord cutting 2

Back in September of 2013 I decided to cut the cord.  No cable TV, no satellite.  Just internet.  At the time I thought of it as a temporary state.  A money saving measure.  It was an experiment.  I’d see how long I was ok without TV, and when money flowed a little more freely, I would get my cable back.

More than a year later, the great cord-cutting experiment is my lifestyle.  I have serious doubts that I’ll ever have cable again.  Comcast regularly tries to tempt me with deals that make it sound like for only an extra $9 per month I can keep my current internet service and add basic cable plus HBO.  And I keep saying no.  Because I know that the $9 per month will quickly expand into a much higher number.  There will be an equipment rental fee for the cable box.  There will be taxes and other fees.  There will be the looming temptation of DVR service and high definition picture.  There will be the higher electric bill that comes with having a cable box.  And the reality is I just don’t need it.  I’m doing just fine without cable.

Before I cut the cord, I was spending about $150 per month for my combined cable and internet service.  Now I spend $66.95 per month for my internet service.  That’s it.  No taxes.  No fees.  No equipment rental.  I know how much that bill will be, always, and it never bothers me to pay for that mid-range high speed internet, because it works well for me and I use it a lot.  I still have subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu+ and Amazon Prime (all things I was paying for before I cut the cord).  And I did pay $50 for a lifetime subscription to PlayOn and PlayLater (which makes it easy for me to watch CBS shows on my TV through my Roku box—I’ll never understand why CBS won’t play nice with Hulu!).

Live sports and award shows were the most worrisome point for me when I cut the cord.  But I’ve found that I can stream lots of games broadcast on ESPN3 through my Roku.  And many other events (e.g. the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards) stream live on the web, so it’s just a matter of connecting my laptop computer to the TV for those rare occasions.  Not a big deal.  I sometimes toy with the idea of adding an antenna to try to pull in over the air broadcasts on the major networks, but I don’t think it’ll be necessary.

I think the future is going to move in my favor.  HBO has announced that they are going to start offering a stand-alone streaming subscription (no cable required!) in the near future.  And while I don’t feel a need to have HBO in my life, this excites me because other major players will follow.  My dream is to have a streaming subscription to ESPN and to the Big Ten Network…but right now these things are only available with an accompanying cable subscription.  But it’s starting to look like there is a possibility that someday my dream will come true.

I admit that I’ve had some weak points.  I paid about $25 each for season subscriptions              to Doctor Who and The Walking Dead through Amazon.  I visited with friends and with my favorite brewpub to get a look at a few Penn State football games that I couldn’t stream.  But compared to the $83 per month I’m saving by not having cable, I’ve come out way ahead.  It’s no longer just an experiment.  It’s a lifestyle.