Reevaluating D.I.Y.

For the past four years I have mowed my lawn. It’s not a completely flat surface. There is a slope on three sides of my property. Mowing my lawn myself has had its benefits: (a) I have toned up, (b) I have received tons of compliments about my beautiful looking lawn, (c) by using a battery powered Neuton Power lawn mower, I was “green” – not burning fossil fuel & the quieter mower did not disturb my neighbors  and (d) after the upfront cost for the mower, I saved money.
Although I saved money, mowing the lawn was very time consuming.

This year I began experiencing a few aches & pains while mowing.  And I began thinking, I’m the only one on my block still mowing my own lawn. Even one of my male neighbors stopped mowing himself and hired someone to do the work.

So, I have tossed in the towel, raised the white flag. As of last Thursday I have hired someone to mow and edge my grass every two weeks at a cost of $55.00. My mother remarked how this two person lawn crew mowed  & edged my grass in about 30 minutes.

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In contrast, it would take me a good 3-4 hours to mow, edge , sweep & bag.

Sometimes it is really worth it to pay someone else to do the work.  🙂

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Why America’s fiscal hole is SO BIG: #3 the abuse of government benefits

Did you hear about the $41 ice cream cake? You didn’t?  Okay, below is quoted portions of the May 18, 2012 op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal entitled “Food Stamps and the $41 Cake” by Warren Kozak.

Recently I had to run into [a high price grocery] store and, sizing up the three lines, chose to stand behind a woman with one item in her cart.  It was one of those large ice-cream cakes.  When the checkout person said “Forty-one dollars,” I wasn’t the only one who blanched.  The shopper’s son, around 12, repeated it as a question: “Forty-one dollars?”

I quickly calculated that the woman’s cake was eight times more expensive than the kind I make at home to celebrate birthdays.  The mother ignored her son’s question.

She took out her benefits card, swiped it through the machine, and they were off.  My turn.

I stood there, wondering what lesson the young boy takes away from this transaction.  Does he grow up with the faintest understanding of delayed gratification – that you have to earn your money before you can buy candy – or, in this case, an ice-cream treat? I wondered how we arrived at this point as a nation.  I also felt like a chump.

The vast majority of Americans – Democrat, Republican or Independent – will readily help someone who cannot make ends meet in a bad economy.  Americans want a hungry child to be fed.  I know this because in on other country do people donate more to charities.  Americans still go far beyond what our taxes already pay for to help the less fortunate.  We have been blessed with overabundance in this land, and we are a very generous people.

But over the last four decades, our government has quietly done away with almost all of the restrictions once placed on food assistance.  SNAP cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can be used to purchase practically anything with the exception of liquor and cigarettes.  These cards are also openly  and illegally sold for cash, which allows the recipient to buy anything they want, including cigarettes and liquor.

Yes, there is indeed a problem.  Why spend $41 on an ice cream cake?  This woman could have spent less buying a cake and ice cream.  And obviously, she’s getting more than enough in benefits from the government toward food if she has the luxury to spend a chunk of her food stamps on an ice cream cake.

I agree the government needs to “crack down” and clearly define what type of foods may be purchased with the SNAP card. Fruits and vegetables, meats and bread.  Not a fancy dessert.  If the mother wants to purchase such a cake, she should pay for it with her own earnings.

Getting items for free & cash back!

This scenario occurred last Friday. Went to REI. Found two REI women’s fitness caps. The original price was $22.50 per cap but they were marked down to $6.83 per cap {yes, The Money Heifer loves a bargain}.

Finding nothing else  I wanted, I headed to check-out. The cashier informed me I have an earned dividend totaling $21.65 and asked if I wished to apply it to this purchase. I responded yes. I knew my two caps cost less than the dividend and figured I would use the remainder of my dividend at a later time.

The two caps plus sales tax totaled

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$14.48. I then heard an unexpected sound of the cashier register opening. The cashier gave me $7.17 cash, the remainder of my dividend.

Wow, that was unexpected.

Don’t believe me? See attached photo.

Follow-up to Learn from my mistake: DON’T PRE-PAY BALANCE OF MEDICAL BILL

After posting my experience on this blog, I called my mother and summarized what had happened.  She advised me to contact the credit card company.  What?  I charged the bill on 30 March 2012 which USAA received on 31 March 2012.  And I already paid the amount owed.  My mother said the credit card company may dispute the overpayment on my behalf.  Hmmm, worth a try.

And, USAA has accepted the dispute!  I will get something in writing next week and will have to follow-up with my documentation.

But I wasn’t done.  There must be some government agency where I can lodge a complaint.  I don’t know the ins and outs of the local government, so I began with a prominent council member who has overseen a lot of medical services overhaul in the District of Columbia.  I spoke with a staff member of this council member.  He, in turn, referred me to the Office of the Attorney General.

I called the office and left a voice mail message.  I didn’t expect to receive a call back until 24 hours.  An hour later, I decided to log my complaint online.  In the middle of typing that complaint, I received a call from the Office of the Attorney General.  I thanked the employee for returning my call and explained that I was filling out the complaint form online. She encouraged me to finish that task and advised someone would call me later.

In filling out the complaint form I noted the account numbers on the receipt of the pre-payment on 30 March 2012 and the invoice stating that I owe $212.55 are virtually identical (on the latter, the string of numbers is preceded by two letters).  I also explained to the Office of the Attorney General that I have had tests at other hospital in the District of Columbia, such as Sibley and Georgetown, and neither hospital has asked me, as an insured patient, to pre-pay a medical bill.

Between the Better Business Bureau, my credit card company and the Office of the Attorney General, I hope Providence Hospital acknowledges its mistake and refunds me $215.34 ASAP.  If not, on to Small Claims Court!

Do you remember the commercial for Promise Margarine (I believe)  and a voice over would say, “It is not nice to fool with Mother Nature.”  Well, I hope I have demonstrated, when it comes to money, especially when you as an institution or business or individual are dishonest, The Money Heifer won’t rest until money matters are set right!

Will keep you posted 🙂

Learn from my mistake: DON’T PRE-PAY BALANCE OF A MEDICAL BILL

The Money Heifer is stemming right now.  For more details, check out the complaint I just filled with the Better Business Bureau (attached below).

About four or five years ago I pre-paid a “medical expense” at this same hospital.  When I received the statement/explanation of benefits from my insurer, the balance I owed was less than what I had “prepaid.”  I waited for this hospital to reimburse me but it never did.  The amount of the refund was less than $20, so I didn’t get upset.  But as you will read below, the amount I overpaid this time is $215.34The Money Heifer wants her money back ASAP.

And although this hospital is closest to me, I refuse to go there against unless it is an absolute emergency.

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On 30 March 2012 I arrived at Providence Hospital for a scheduled CAT SCAN.  Before this testing began, I was taken to an administrative office.  The employee, after confirming my insurance information, told me I have a balance of $427.89.  I was perplexed because I had not been treated at this hospital for several years.  I asked, you say I owe a balance?  She replied yes.  She said for the [yet to be performed] CAT SCAN.  She told me I could pay the balance in FULL, in PART or not at all.  I was very displeased about the request for money at this stage but I agreed to paid the balance in FULL.  The employee gave me a receipt reflecting total estimated charges of $1,774.00 and insurance payments and adjustments of $1,346.11, thus leaving the estimated balance of $427.89 which I paid.  After this process, I was taken to the area of the hospital for the CAT SCAN.Approximately two weeks ago I received an “Explanation of Benefits” from my insurer for the CAT SCAN performed on 30 March 2012 [that was the only service provided at Providence Hospital on that date].  Providence Hospital submitted charges to my insurer totaling $3,198.00.  My plan covered $1,417.04 and the insurer paid $1,204.49.  Thus my insurer notified me that I owe $212.55. I knew this was WRONG because there was no indication that I paid $427.89 on the date of the procedure.Today I received in the mail a “Patient Account Statement” from Providence Hospital stating that I owe “$212.55” and asking me to “PLEASE PAY NOW.”  NOWHERE on the Patient Account Statement is there ANY INDICATION that I paid $427.89 on the day of the CAT SCAN.  I called the number listed on the “Patient Account Statement” twice today, leaving two voice mail messages.  Having not received a response, I called my insurer and explained the situation.  The insurer’s representative explained the insurer would not know if I, as a patient, had made a payment. The insurer processes what the hospital submits.

    1.                                             Desired Settlement:                                            Refund
    2.                                             Desired Outcome Description:                                            I do not OWE Providence Hospital.  In fact, Providence Hospital OWES me a refund of $215.34.

Why America’s fiscal hole is so big: #2 unnecessary government agencies & departments

Who knew a public library system would need its own police force?

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Why America’s fiscal hole is SO BIG: #1 Liars & Cheaters

Read the following story on Bloomberg News today.  Disgusting!!  I think the government needs to change the procedure for people seeking disability payments, so liars and cheaters are caught upfront and not years later when it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recoup the money.

Do you agree?

Meanwhile, check out story below.

Ten Charged in Long Island Rail Road Pension Fraud

            By Bob Van Voris –             May 22, 2012

Ten Long Island Rail Road retirees were charged in a probe of pension fraud as the U.S. announced a program offering immunity to hundreds of other former workers at the suburban New York railway if they admit lying on disability applications and disclaim future benefits.

The indictment unsealed today in Manhattan brings to 21 the number of people charged in the case. In October, U.S. prosecutors charged 11, including two doctors and a former union president, with taking part in a scheme in which retired LIRR workers falsely claim disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board.

“The LIRR is a commuter railroad, not a gravy train,”U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in a statement.“Today we have criminally charged 10 more LIRR workers who planned padded retirements built on lies and greed.”

Under the voluntary disclosure plan, retirees who admit having made false statements to get disability benefits and give up their right to future payments may avoid being prosecuted or sued by the government. The program may save the Railroad Retirement Board tens of millions of dollars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s statement.

The board is an independent federal agency that administers unemployment and retirement benefit programs for U.S. railroad workers. In fiscal 2011, the board paid $10.9 billion in retirement and survivor benefits to about 578,000 people, it said on its website.

Six former LIRR workers were arrested in Queens and Long Island today, said J. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York. One was arrested inFlorida. Three others surrendered to authorities.

The case is U.S. v. Ajemian, 11-CR-1091, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Van Voris in New York at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net

My Hero: Over $90,000 paid off in seven months!

My sister sent me this link today.  I read the article about this individual’s amazing focus and I have been inspired to knuckle down and pay off my 2nd trust as soon as possible.

I have yet to read any of his blog entries (catchy title, No More Harvard Debt).

Hope you will be INSPIRED as well.

http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/05/16/student-debt-business-school/

How Am I Doing?

If you are a fan of The Suze Orman Show, this segment returned this month.  Would you have the nerve to submit all your financial information and have Dr. Suze examine it under her financial microscope?  Not me.

Spent time yesterday preparing my net worth statement. Not sure why but I failed to do this yearly analysis in 2011.  So I had to compare my May 2012 statement to my January 2010 statement.  Good news – my total worth increased by $82,542.00.  The bad news – my liquid savings dropped by $7,506.00 (basically I liquidated $6,770 in CDs from 2010 on veterinarian expenses in 2010 and 2011 on my recently departed dog).  If I include $4,926.00 emergency car fund as of 21 May 2012 (which shall be back to $5,000.00 this Friday), the drop in liquid savings doesn’t appear to be as bad (only a drop of $2,580.00).

The main reason for the increase in my net worth is my condo.  As of January 2010 I still owed $34,350.00 on the condo mortgage (which I paid off on 5 October 2010).  Also, the value of the condo jumped from my projected $150,000.00 in January 2010 (based on then existing market conditions) to $222,700.00 based on the zillow.com estimate of 18 May 2012.  On the other hand, my house was valued at $375,00.00 in January 2010 (based on then existing market conditions).  According to zillow.com as of 18 May 2012, the value has dropped to $325,800.00. 😦

In preparing my net worth statement yesterday, I excluded as assets two stocks I own (<100 shares per stock) and my retirement funds (employer based thrift savings plan and my Roth IRA).  These are not liquid savings and/or have severe penalties if I attempted to liquidate.  Thus I don’t see the point in considering them.

The best part of the net worth statement: I have two, just two liabilities – 1st trust on the house and 2nd trust on the house.  I am now working hard to pay off that 2nd trust ($47,817.00).

I would certainly get the Suze smack down if she examined my personal finances.  I am nowhere near an eight month emergency fund ($43,200.00).

How Am I Doing? Suze would give me an F.

Gone Grazing (May 2012)

The Money Heifer will be away the remainder of the week and part of next week.

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