I’m a big fan of Amazon but this Black Wednesday in July sucks.    I just tried to buy Amazon gift cards for the $10 promo and got a message that the deal is no longer available.  Really?   You ran out of gift cards already at 8:30 a.m?   The day has barely started and Amazon doesn’t have any more gift cards!

Almost all the other items I am interested in are sold out.  What a huge let down.   Oh well at least I got some baby wipes that I really don’t need….

amazon sucks, sold out!

amazon sucks, sold out!

 

I’ve been a big fan of Costco but lately I am starting to have serious doubts about their entire business model and practices. The latest thing may not be Costco’s fault or then again maybe it is so let’s run through what happened and you decide.

I got a call from a Norwegian Cruises agent out of the blue about a deal on European cruises. I am interested in cruising Europe this summer so I listened to the sales pitch. The agent told me I could get a mini-suite for about $5,000 for two people. I said I would think it over and call her back. I then went on to CostcoTravel.com to check the prices of that exact same cruise. The first time I just clicked through the various options and was presented with these choices:

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The price for the cruise mini-suite is about 5k but Costco will grant you a $215 shipboard credit.   The “deal” the agent was giving me wasn’t that much of a deal it seemed.  When I went back to check prices again, I then noticed a little tick box that read,

Past Cruise Traveler Fare

So I clicked that little box and was hoping to get a better deal but boy was I disappointed.   The prices for the exact same cruise actually INCREASED!

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The prices essentially went up $500 for being a loyal customer!   At first I thought maybe the price of the cruise had just gone up due to demand but I cleared my cookies on my browser and started the search again WITHOUT clicking the “At least one traveler in my stateroom has cruised before” button and got the same low prices as before.

I’m not sure who is to blame here, Costco or Norwegian for trying to scam customers like this but it certainly isn’t right.

As of right now, I feel disgusted by the whole thing and will probably just decide to do a river cruise with another outfit altogether (and NOT book through Costco) but it just goes to show you that it pays to do multiple searches in multiple ways to get the best deal.    Sorry Costco but I think you’re starting to get downright lazy in not looking out for the best interests of your customers.  I’ve had other issues with Costco that I may write about later but for now we’ll call this issue strike one.

 

A good friend sent me a link to an interview with one of Duke’s Dean of Admissions as a primer on what colleges look for in a student candidate.    I saw the interview and immediately told my friend it was 90% bullshit.    We both have kids that will be applying to college soon and I have a large network of  “people that know people” within some of the most prestigious universities and they all whisper the same thing, “Don’t bother applying, the admissions system is so skewed in favor of the well connected it would be a miracle for you (your child) to get in.”

No doubt you’ve either seen or heard of the outrageous racist rants held by OU students that happened to be members of SAE.   When I started college over 20 years ago, fraternities on campus were always doing crap like this and wasn’t limited to racism but also extended into anti-semitism, sexism, homophobism and just about any other ism you can think of but that’s what frats have long been known for and things don’t seem to have changed in 20 years and no doubt this behavior goes way back well over 60 years.

My big question to Universities is if we have such crack interviewers clearly picking out the “winners” from the losers though rigorous admissions reviews consisting of SAT scores, grades, community services, 40 dimensions of compatibility, and other feel good adjectives then how in the hell are we having these issues?

If you go over to Google News and type “college campus”  you’ll get top links talking about campus rape, campus anti-semitism, campus racism, campus crime and of course college debt.    Wow, if this is what we can expect by bringing the best and brightest to colleges imagine what the campus would be like without the crack team of admissions people doing their job!   Here’s an experiment, run “college campus” five years from now, then ten years from now and you’ll be surprised to likely see the same thing.

I told my good friend that if we actually admitted students based on what university admissions directors say they use as criteria then almost every university would be filled with students from China, Japan, India, and almost any other country with higher profile students than U.S. students but that’s not what we find on campus today is it?

I honestly don’t care about universities any more, I received my MBA from an online accredited university and have had a couple of Harvard graduates wipe out at work when I tasked them with too much work activity that they ultimately ended up quitting and going elsewhere.    I’ll support my kids in whatever they want to do but the writing is quite literally on Google News as to why not waste your time with campuses anymore.

 

i got very excited about Sling TV offering streaming TV for just $20 bucks per month. I eagerly signed up for the invite only process a few weeks ago. Today I got my invite code and called up Sling.

Unfortunately, I was told that you could only stream Sling on one TV at a time. This is a HUGE limitation that is not worth the effort. I currently have four big screen LEDs at home in different rooms and kids that will inevitably want to watch different shows at the same time.

Rather than deal with that headache, I have often to not sign up for the trial at all much less the service.

The rep told me in the future they may offer multiple steams and I told her that I may sign up in the future when that happens.

I just had the most mind blowing experience with Bluebird American Express.   I have finally spoken to the world’s dumbest customer service rep in the world!   A few weeks ago, I decided to do a sweep of my Bluebird account and have the funds send directly to me.   Since there is a fee for taking money out using an ATM and since there is usually so low dollar limit like $300 or so, I usually opt to take $1000 or more at a time by writing myself a check through BillPay.

Well it’s been two weeks and the bill has yet to arrive so I called up to find out where the check is and the agent was quite literally the world’s most stupid person.   She insisted the check would have gone out and been received within 1 to 2 business days and I kept telling her that was not humanly possible because the address was a residential address and not a business much less an electronic funds transfer.   The agent could not conceptually understand these basic components of banking and how money moves from point A to point B.     I even tried to walk her through how if a check or any piece of paper is mailed out of New York to say Arizona or New Mexico, it cannot possibly get there in one day or two using the regular mail system.   If you’re using FedEx or overnight service, of course, but not if you’re using the USPS without paying some hefty fees which I doubt Amex does to send a check out.

I ended up wasting 20 minutes with her on the phone and was no better off than I was when I started the conversation.  I’m going to wait a few more days to see if the check arrives but if it doesn’t I’ll need to put a stop payment on it and I’m dreading how long that will take with these brain dead agents on the phone.

I was excited when this service first got started primarily as a way to transfer funds to my kids accounts but I’m probably going to end up closing all my accounts after I clean up this mess.  I just can’t trust my money with a bunch of idiots.  This is very surprising given it’s Amex but it is a product targeted for the “Walmart” shopper and not higher income individuals so maybe I should have avoided it altogether the way I avoid Walmart.   I feel sorry for the poor people that use this service and may have difficulty with English because the rep was so stupid that anyone with even a small problem with English would have no way of communicating with the rep!

I’m in the market for a new car and I’m open to all options.  I really would like a luxury car so I’ve been checking out Audi’s, Lexus, BMW’s, and Cadillacs but I saw an ad for an Equus made by Hyundai and I thought I’d do a test drive.   What lured me there was the promise of a 10 year warranty for the vehicle and as most readers know, I have a tendency of buying vehicles new and driving them for 10 years before I sell them and move on to something else.

Before I went on a test drive however, I googled “Hyundai 10 Year Warranty” to see what the internets have to say about Hyundai and I run across this financial website with a post entitled, “America’s Worst Warranty – Why I Will Never Buy Another Hyundai” and proceed to read it and the 200 or so comments posted on the site.   There is also this site dedicated to complaints about Hyundai as well.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed one bit with Hyundai after reading all the complaints but I show up to the dealership anyway to do the test drive.   The car actually drove fairly well and I was really impressed with the leather interior so supple and soft I thought they must have skinned babies and used their skin  to make the seats in the car.   I ask them about the blog posting and the 200 or so complaints and the various other sites I found on the internets.   The kids at the dealership don’t really know what to say which said more to me than anything else.

I say “kids” because not a single one of them seemed to be over the age of 25 and the one thing about “Millenials” and younger generations is that they hold no loyalty to the Corporate Hegemony of the world.    If these sales people and manager had been in their 40’s or 50s or older, they would have spun themselves as hard as they could to get the “right message out” and that’s what I loved about my interaction with these kids.

In any event, I told them that I probably wouldn’t be buying the $62k Equus marked down to 50k special for me and they understood my reasons:  too many bad reviews on the internet = no sale.   Ironically, they all understood how the ratings systems worked on Yelp and Amazon and agreed with me that if something has anything less than 3 or 4 stars on a 5 star scale it’s not worth wasting money on and they agreed.

As for the other dealerships (Audi & Lexus), well I’m dealing with old timers there so I’ll need to bring my best game to the match.

As some of you know, a couple of years ago I gave my kids an ultimatum.   If you want iphones you must give up cable TV.   Every year since I gave them this ultimatum I offer them the chance to give up their phones and get cable back but every year they refuse.    Watching TV on our Roku and Apple TV devices is now an ingrained way of life for the whole family.   Generally speaking, we’re usually a season or two behind the current season since I just finished watching the last season of Breaking Bad as an example.

Where I think Hulu does a GREAT job is bringing new shows and content from around the world.   I can now watch shows from the UK and Latin America that I’ve never seen before.   My current crop of shows that I enjoy watching include PramFace, The Booth and the End, Endgame, and a day doesn’t go by when I find something new that I haven’t watched.  I’m getting ready to start watching British TV show “In the Thick of It” soon which promises to be quite funny.

Perhaps these shows are available on cable TV or perhaps they are not, the one thing I am sure of is that I can’t stand paying for 100 channels of ESPN or 100 channels of cartoons when I barely watch sports or cartoon TV.   Even better yet however is that HuluPlus always has the shows I want to watch when I want to watch them, I just click a button and it streams it to my TV, no need for DVR, no need to schedule recordings, no need to worry about running out of disk space, no need to do anything but just click to watch.

If you want to save some money, try dumping your cable TV, there are more and more options everyday!

While this is a personal finance blog, I do on occasion stray into a few tangent subjects.  I hadn’t thought too much about the whole Edward Snowden fiasco but as I watched Edward Snowden tonight on NBC, I began to see this guy as more of a HERO than a ZERO.    I don’t know the full details of what he did other than to reveal the incessant spying the U.S. Government has on its own citizens taken from a page of the old Soviet Union “how to spy on your citizens” manual but he seems to have done the right thing.

The most important thing I learned was not to google Rangers scores or more importantly don’t use any google products at all.  This guy definitely deserves some level of clemency.  Let’s face it, he’s already done hard time by living in Russia!

The real question now is which politician will stand up for liberty and which ones will continue to carry water for the gestapo state.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, which I spent at home, I watched an old show on TV that I hadn’t seen in decades, it’s a TV show called the Price is Right.   The premise of the show is for people come up and try to guess the prices of items to win various prizes then vie for a chance to enter the “ShowCase Showdown” for a chance to win a few more prizes.

During the summers of my youth, I watched this show almost daily and was always in awe of the prizes.   A funny thing happened as I was watching the show and the famous spinning of the big wheel to determine who gets to go to the showcase.  The host, Drew Carey, notified the contestants that if they land on the 1.00 mark, they’d win a whopping $1000!   Whoa….wait…what?  Just a measly $1000?

The show started in 1972 and I don’t know if the jackpot for landing on the 1.00 was $1000 back in 1972 or not but by the 80s I’m pretty sure that landing on the 1.00 awarded you a $1000 prize.    I went back and did the calculations and adjusting for inflation at 3% per year for 42 years (1972-2014), the Showcase 1.00 should payout $23,701 today in inflation adjusted dollars.   To be fair, the jackpot does offer $25,000 if you hit the 1.00 mark twice but that’s what the jackpot should be for just landing there once if all things were kept equal and consistent.   You can think about this another way, how much groceries or gasoline do you think you could have bought with $1000 in 1972 with what you can buy today?

In today’s world where wages are stagnant and minimum wage barely pays for substandard living, it’s important to understand the real enemy: Federal Reserve fictitious interest rate policy to inflate currencies.     Dim-witted people that call themselves “Republicans” or “Democrats” with hopes of working through a “political process” to solve problems don’t ever seem willing to handle the real cause of all economic problems.   Don’t expect any changes any time soon for as long as clowns are in charge, that ShowCase jackpot will continue to be worth $1000 and people will laugh in a decade or two when $1000 buys a can of Coke.

 

Cable TV is undergoing some strange turns lately but it is a good indication that cable TV has become relatively worthless.   I keep seeing commercials from Comcast and AT&T which highlight the benefits of their service.

For Comcast, it seems to be how many shows you can record at once which seems to now be four.  Really?  You have enough free time to watch four shows?  Presumably, if each show is an hour that’s four hours of TV to put on your “to watch” list and that’s just one day.   If there are seven days in the week and you’re recording 4 shows at once per day then that’s 28 hours of TV shows in one week.   Are Comcast customers clamoring for this nonsense service?   How much TV do these people watch?

For AT&T, it seems watching TV everywhere anywhere with either that wireless receiver so you can take your $3000 65″ LED TV outside in the patio to watch your favorite show or Mark Cuban walking around with his ipad watching TV every step of the way like a stoned idiot.

Let me give both Comcast and AT&T customers a hint, you can watch most of the shows from around the world on a little box called a ROKU with subscription to HuluPlus, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.    These three services will cost you less than $25 per month (assuming you already have internet) and there is no need for a “magic box” that you can take outside to your patio or one that can record 5x shows at once.    And while I haven’t tried Chromecast, the new FireTV from Amazon or some other new products, I’m sure they offer way more than either Comcast or AT&T.

 

 

 

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