Is Verizon FIOS Pricing Misleading?

Verizon is offering a fantastic deal on high-speed Internet connections. But the firm is leaving existing FIOS customers out in the cold. Totally.

We’ve had FIOS service at the Frugal, Wealthy and Wise House since 2012. Currently we are paying $74.99 per month for a 50 Mbs network connection and a phone line – no TV package, of course. (But $74.99 does morph into $87.59 after the extraneous fees are piled on.)

Last week, I encountered this offer (above) on Verizon’s website: a phone line plus a so-called Gigabibit connection for the same price I am currently paying: $74.99 a month.

Folks, this is a network connection 20 times faster than my current connection for the SAME price.

Now I can understand that Verizon is running promotions to attract new subscribers. If they were offering, say, 75 Mbs for 74.99 per month to new customers, I could deal with it. But we are talking about a difference of 20 times the network speed. Here’s what that looks like on a graph:

Intrigued (and miffed), I took action. I did what any Frugal and Wise individual would do. I called Verizon for a better deal. But it was all for naught.

I communicated with three customer service agents that day (one by messaging, two by phone). All three thanked me for being a ‘long-time Verizon customer’.  Yeah. Right. And they certainly would be glad to set me up with a Gigabit connection for… a mere: $124.99 per month plus taxes and fees. That’s 67% more than a new customer would pay. Is this because I am such a loyal, long-time customer???

Is Verizon purposely pulling a Bait and Switch?

I’m no a legal expert. But this I do know. Verizon is continually sending out mass mailings and newspaper stuffers heralding their great FIOS deals. These promotional materials reach both FIOS and non-FIOS households alike.

The Final Straw: Stonewalled by Ms. Johnson

The last customer agent I spoke to was Ms. Johnson. (I don’t know which of the many Ms. Johnsons at Version she is; she refused to provide her first name.) Presumably, Ms. Johnson had the authority to make pricing concessions. No such luck. She completely stonewalled me. I inqured about getting a smaller network speed increase for the same monthly fee. Would not do. I mentioned that I had a blog on personal finance, that my experience with Verizon would be posted and that I would also be contacting the CEO of Verizon as well as registering complaints with numerous state and federal regulatory commissions. Ms. Johnson absolutely refused to do anything. But she did assure me that I was a ‘valued Verizon customer’. So, Ms. Johnson, I am being true to my word.

Why is Verizon so intent on alienating its existing FIOS customer base?

Taking such a hard, uncompromising stand with current FIOS customers can’t be good for business. And telling current customers that they are valued is pure bunk.

At this point I see no option but to take this cause directly Frugal, Wealthy and Wise readers, Verizon senior management and the appropriate regulatory agencies.

A Call to Action
  1. If you are not a FIOS customer but have FIOS available to you, go for it! The FIOS Gigabit plans are great deals!
  2. If you are an existing FIOS customer left out in the cold, press Verizon for a better deal. Call 877-359-7871 and mention that you are interested in a gigabit internet package. Insist on speaking to someone who has the authority to provide you a better deal. The more folks doing this, the better. If you are successful, post here!  We would love to leverage and replicate your success.

This is not a one-off rant. I believe that existing FIOS customers deserve a bit of accommodation. Future postings will be document next steps taken with Verizon.

I’ll be in touch real soon. Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE Do-It-Yourself Auto Maintenance

Photo credit: Infinite Jeff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Dear Readers,

In the original post, I was remiss by not mentioning another inexpensive, easy, yet essential maintenance task: changing your wiper blades.

Think about it. How many times have you been caught driving in a rain or snowstorm and…. the wipers are terrible. You can barely see out the windshield!

Plan on changing wiper blades at least twice a year; one of those times should be in the Fall, after the intense summer sun but before inclement winter weather. Mark it on you calendars.

A pair of wiper blades will cost $20 – $40 depending upon size and type. Bosch, Rain-X, Anco and Michelin brands get good ratings – you might also want to check a recent Consumer Reports review at the library. Don’t forget the rear wiper blade on your van or SUV. Granted they are not as critical and usually last a bit longer.

Blades are sold in 1′ increments. Google the blade size for your make and model. Alternatively, AutoZone, Pep Boys and Amazon have searches by year, make and model. Note the the driver side and passenger side blades may be different lengths.

Installation is usually straightforward. If you are unsure, find a YouTube video for your particular car. So there you have it. Do your car and yourself a favor by regularly replacing your wiper blades.

fotor.com

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

Do-It-Yourself Auto Maintenance

Photo credit: Infinite Jeff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Modern automobiles do not require significant maintenance. Meanwhile, the days of the ‘shade tree mechanic’ are over, as fewer maintenance or repair tasks can still be performed by individual owners. Nonetheless opportunities still abound to save on auto maintenance.

  • First and foremost, become familiar with your car’s maintenance schedule
    Photo credit: wistechcolleges via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

    This is usually found in the back of the owner’s manual. Don’t have an owner’s manual? You should be able to get a maintenance schedule for your make and model online. Even if you have a mechanic do everything on your car, you still need to be familiar with the maintenance schedule.

  • Cabin filter – modern cars have a cabin filter for the ventilation system. It is typically behind the glove box. Trust me. It does get dirty! Here’s a photo of one from our Subaru: So…. the Subaru dealer charges $60 to change it. A replacement filter from Walmart or AutoZone costs $15 – $25. It takes 15 minutes to change it: 5 minutes to watch the YouTube video on how to change it and 10 minutes to actually do the swap-out. Savings: $35 -$45! P.S. vacuum out the leaves and debris before inserting the new filter.
  • Air filter – generally quick and easy to change but it can be a bit messy in the engine compartment. Be careful not to scrape your knuckles. If you can’t figure out how to do it, watch a YouTube video.
  • Oil changes – oil changes are often a loss leader for auto shops (be on guard if the shop recommends a bunch of other repairs while you’re in for an oil change).
    Photo credit: swainboat via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

    The opportunity to save money by doing it yourself is not as significant. But maybe you want to bond with your car. Be warned: it can be messy; it’s often difficult to access the filler plug or oil filter without a lift. And it’s absolutely essential that you recycle the used oil, not pour it down the drain or gutter.

  • Other repairs – we once owned a 1994 Infiniti J-30 (list price new: $37,000). We bought it for $8500 when it was 9 years old and kept it for 11 years.) A power window motor went out. I bought a used motor assembly on Ebay for $40 and it took an hour or so to replace. I’m sure a dealer would have charged at least $500 for the repair!
  • YouTube is Your Shop Manual – not sure how to do something on your car? There’s probably a YouTube video out there that will show you the way! Even if you decide to take the car to the shop, it’s still worthwhile to have an idea of what gets done.
  • Subaru Window – building on the point above, the driver’s window on our Subaru lost its automatic function and wasn’t working properly. A YouTube video pointed out that it simply needed to be reset rather requiring repair. It was a 30 second fix.

A car is a major expenditure for most households. Yet, if a modern car that is well maintained, it should last 150,000 – 200,000 miles – or more. Keep yours in good condition and save a bit of money along the way by doing the simple tasks yourself.

Photo credit: ATOMIC Hot Links via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

Photo credit: ATOMIC Hot Links via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

It make a whole lot of sense. And limiting what we send to the landfill saves money!

Photo credit: edkohler via Foter.com / CC BY

This Saturday April 22nd is Earth Day – the 48th celebration since 1970. I don’t consider myself a tree hugger but, I am greatly distressed by how much stuff we as Americans throw out every year. Believe it not, we discard 1600 pounds of trash per person per year!

The Frugal and Wise would do well to chant the mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

Reduce

  • Limit your purchases – buy only what you need or will use. Avoid impulse buys. For major purchases, wait a day or two before buying. Sleep on it.
  • Return purchased items that are not needed or used – how often do we buy things that never get used? Return them and get a refund! Be aware that some retailers place time limits on accepting returns.
  • However, when you are in the midst of a home project, it may make sense to overbuy materials, rather than make countless trips to the hardware or home improvement store. But be sure to keep receipts and return the unused materials when your project is completed.
  • Cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions that rarely get read
  • Avoid spoiled food – ponder this statistic: 40% of all food in in the US goes to waste! That’s around 240 pounds per person annually. Don’t overbuy foodstuffs that end up rotting in the ‘fridge. Many items can be frozen if they are not to be consumed right away. And serve smaller portions!
  • Get a Doggie Bag when eating out – restaurant portions tend to be huge. Eat what you want and get the rest packed to go. You’ll have something to look forward to for lunch the next day.

Reuse

  • Plastic bags from stores – reused them as trash can liners. Depending upon their size, plastic trash bags cost 5 – 20 cents each, or more. The plastic bags from the grocery store, department store or Bed, Bath and Beyond are free! (And what else would you do with them?)
  • Take-out and doggie bag containers from restaurants – many to-go restaurant containers are quite substantial. The container that held your Hot’n Sour soup could well be pressed into service storing leftovers.
  • Used Paper from the Office – bring home one-sided printouts and reports from the office. Print on the other side at home. A ream (500 sheets) of 8 ½ x 11 paper retails for around $7.50 or 1 ½ cents per sheet. Just be sure you don’t bring home anything of a confidential nature. And that you know how to load the paper in your home printer (generally, printed side up)
  • Turn food scraps into pet treats – our dog loves: broccoli stems, carrot tops, asparagus stalks and sweet potato skins. We’ve stopped buying him doggie treats from the pet store.
  • Make cleaning rags out of worn-out T-shirts – why buy packets of cleaning or dusting rags?

Recycle

  • Sell unneeded items on Ebay or Craigslist – this would be for items valuable enough to warrant spending the time and effort to sell. For Ebay, be aware of the fees for listing, payment processing and shipping.
  • Donate – put together a collection of clothing and household goods for Goodwill, the Salvation Army or Purple Heart. Declutter and get a tax deduction!
  • “Rescue” trash picks and donate – see something perfectly fine out at the curb but you don’t need it? Rescue it and put it into your Goodwill collection to up your tax deduction.
  • Compost grass clippings and leaves – don’t throw them out. Both are great sources of nitrogen to fertilize your lawn. They can be finely chopped with a mulching lawn mower or composted. Why throw away perfectly good (and all-natural) fertilizer?
  • Same for coffee grounds and egg shells – coffee grounds are a source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They can enhance composting (This assumes that you brew coffee at home rather than buying a four-dollar latte on the way to work.) Egg shells are a source of calcium needed for flower and vegetable gardens.
  • Appliances and electronics – Best Buy and Staples accept a variety of electronic items for free recycling and Best Buy recycles appliances as well. Best Buy will also recycle unwanted TV’s and computer monitors for $25. Check with your electric utility about deals to recycle your old refrigerator. PECO in the Philadelphia area will haul away your old freezer or ‘fridge for free and pay you $50!
  • Recycle hazardous materials and motor oil – never throw out hazardous chemicals. Many communities offer collections stations. Some filling stations or garages will accept used motor oil.
  • Put stuff out at the curb – got stuff not good enough to sell or donate but too good to throw out? Put it out at the curb for ‘recycling’ by fellow trash pickers.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful for reducing expenses, consumption and clutter. Please share your ideas for reducing, reusing and recycling.  Cheers, Paul

Photo credit: Michel Filion via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

Update on My Trash-Picked Weber Grill

I am happy to report that the Weber Grill I trash picked two weeks ago is ready for service!

Details: It’s Weber Genesis Gold Model B manufactured in 2004 (model 6240001). It retailed for $550 – the equivalent of $720 today. (BTW it’s rare for Weber grills to be discounted from list price, maybe for end of season closeouts or model discontinuations.)

Here’s why I believe the previous owner put it out at the curb:

A hinge on one side was broken. The hinge was part of the side endcap casting.

I contacted Weber. The end cap is not available by itself; I would have to buy the entire top lid assembly for around $250 with tax and shipping – but at least they stock parts for a grill made 13 years ago!

I have to admit that I seriously considered ordering a new top. Instead, I came up with this makeshift solution:

I fabricated a new hinge out of an aluminum angle bar and bolted it to the lid (it’s painted black). There was little to lose by trying. The grill also needed new caster wheels.

This past weekend I cleaned and polished it.

The burners and checked out fine. With the lid closed, it gets up to 600° F in a hurry!  I also got this cover on Amazon; it’s half the price of an ‘official ‘Weber grill cover.

So, with a little bit of effort, someone else’s trash has been transformed into.. …well, maybe not a gem, but at least a semi-precious stone.

Keep a lookout, folks; you never know what you treasure you might find hidden out in the open! And I do promise you a trash picking post real soon.

Also, here is a great article about a couple who rehabbed a Weber grill they purchased from a thrift store for $50. They put a whole lot more effort into theirs than I did into mine but, their’s looks like it just came from the showroom floor!

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

 

A Million Bucks Ain’t What It Used to Be

Sadly, times have changed; a million dollars isn’t what it was.
Photo credit: voxeros via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Once upon a time, one million dollars represented the hallmark of rarified wealth. But due to inflation, the value of a million dollars has been greatly diminished.  Today, one million dollars might provide a comfortable, middle class retirement, assuming it’s supplemented by Social Security and one does not retire in a high-cost region of the country. Indeed, a million-dollar fortune 100 years ago would amount to $21 million dollars today!

Facts about Inflation
  • Inflation is a reality that must be factored into your long-term financial planning
  • Excessive inflation can be devastating but moderate inflation is a sign of a healthy economy. And inflation is definitely better than its alternative: deflation. Why? Think Great Depression.
  • Over the past 60 years, inflation has averaged 3.80% annually. At that rate, prices double (and the value of a dollar is cut in half) every 19 years. (Here is a link to an Inflation Calculator. Also, recall the Rule of 72 for estimating when money doubles.)
  • The effects of inflation are quite uneven. For example: healthcare and college education have far outpaced the general rate of inflation. (see chart below)
  • On the other hand, prices for many items, particularly electronics, have sharply declined. In 1965, RCA announced the first color television set for under $400 ($399.95); that would be the equivalent of 3,100 dollars today. The IBM PC introduced in 1981 sold for $1565; this would be roughly $4400 now. Today a vastly more powerful desktop computer – or a flat screen high definition TV — can be had for under $500.

Here is a chart that tracks inflation on various goods over a twenty year period. The average or composite rate of inflation 1996-2016 is 55%
Take Aways and Recommendations
  • Be warned: just as investments can grow exponentially, thanks to the power of compounding, the impact of inflation also grows. Over time, the buying power of a dollar will erode. (For the power of compounding, refer back to Pennies a Day)
  • Inflation is a major threat to retirement – particularly for those depending upon fixed-dollar payouts such as pensions and annuities. One advantage of Social Security is that its payments are indexed for inflation. However Social Security income by itself is not sufficient for most folks in retirement.
  • Plan for inflation in retirement by keeping a portion of your retirement funds in investments that potentially outpace inflation, such as stocks.
  • The Frugal and Wise are not early adopters of new technologies. They are cheap adopters of technology. There is a huge premium to be paid for being the first with the latest gee-whiz gizmo. Wait a couple of years and watch prices plummet. (Being a cheap adoptor of technology will be the topic of a future FW&W posting.)
  • Don’t despair that a million bucks ain’t what it used to be. Or that you are nowhere near accumulating such a sum of money. No matter what your income or stage of life, beginning today, diligently save, invest and patiently watch your nest egg grow over time.
Photo credit: Howard County Library System via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

I hope provides some perspective on inflation.

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold