My virtual mailbag is turning up questions and situations that I doubt are exclusive to only the writers. We all face the same kinds of problems and situations, so I hope that these few letters I answer today will have far-reaching answers and solutions for many of you. Or provide a little entertainment.
Sucked in by Groupon
Dear Mary: What do you think about Groupon and similar coupon plans? The deals are often very good, but they generally are not for items that I have planned to purchase. They seem to encourage unplanned, impulsive spending. Melissa
Dear Melissa: My opinion of Groupon is that the company preys on people who are prone to react impulsively, tricking them into buying stuff because it looks like such a great deal, whether they really need to eat out at a fancy restaurant, hire four hours of maid service, or have an exquisite family portrait taken at the beach.
Groupon and other similar social networking coupon companies that flood your email box with daily offers, ranging from spa treatments to knitting lessons, are clever, albeit somewhat devious.
Don’t ask me how I became so knowledgeable about how this Groupon thing works, and how it’s impossible to maintain a normal relationship with Groupon. Just don’t. You can believe me when I tell you that the only way for some of us to deal with the monster known as Groupon—and others of its ilk—is to unsubscribe.
Not so fast
Dear Mary: We are retirees with a retirement account at a major financial services company. We have IRAs and Roth IRAs. These money market accounts and mutual funds were originally sold to us about 10 years ago on a “no fee for life” basis. This quarter, the company charged us a custodial fee on three accounts. We invested in these because they were “free for life” and we’ve never been charged a fee in the past. When we called to inquire, they said they changed the minimum requirement.
Is there a way we can extricate ourselves without incurring more fees? We no longer have a financial advisor because our original advisor, the one who advised us to purchase these products, retired. Marcia, California
Before you do anything, you need to consult with a professional who can look at your accounts and advise you, so that you do not suffer unintended consequences. I am not that person. I can tell you that whenever you deal with tax-advantaged money (IRAs, for example), you risk triggering a taxable event.
Regarding banking and investing, the days of the free lunch are over. Banks charge fees for everything, so we must adjust our expectations and get used to a new normal.
Your letter indicated that you were charged a custodial fee of 1.1 percent. I do find that to be quite reasonable. If I were you, I would call and ask Customer Service to connect you with an adviser who can look at your account and answer a few questions. Given the fact that you are retired now and will be counting on these funds in the future, this is not a good time to “go it alone.”
On a positive note, you are to be congratulated for having had the foresight to fund retirement accounts at least ten years ago, and you still have those accounts alive and well to carry you through the next ten and beyond!
Dear Mary: Hope you can help. We washed an expensive LuluLemon sweatshirt only to discover, after drying it, that there was a Chapstick in the pocket of another item in the washer. Yikes! It now has oil/grease-like spots on it. Any suggestions on how to remove them? Adele, Pennsylvania
Dear Adele: This sounds like a great job for Lestoil, one of my favorite heavy duty grease and stain removers You can find this product in some home improvement stores, like Home Depot. I’ve seen it at Walmart, and for sure you can find it online.
I’m hopeful that Lestoil is up to this melted-on, waxy situation! This is how I use it on the toughest of laundry stains: I pour Lestoil into a spray bottle, then liberally spray the stain. Then I roll up the item and set it aside for at least 24 hours. That really gives Lestoil time to penetrate and break down the stain. After that time, I launder the item according to its care information, which I’ll bet LuluLemon has sewn right into an inside seam of that sweatshirt.
Depending on how set these stains are from that trip through the washer and dryer, it could take a repeat of this process to achieve full success.
One last thing. Always test first in an inconspicuous place on this garment so you will know exactly how any stain treatment is going to react with the fabric.
Hope that works!
Dear Mary: I have a problem with birds in my yard. They perch on my deck railings and leave droppings all over the place. It’s a big mess to clean up, and very unhealthy. How can I deter birds from perching on my deck railings? Lori, Michigan
Dear Lori: I feel your pain. We’ve dealt with problematic pigeons at the Hunt house in the past, and nothing―not even the installation of little spikey things where they love to sit―could send them away until they were good and ready to leave. They just figured out how to make themselves at home by settling in between the spikes.
I have no idea if you are dealing with starlings or blackbirds, or some other feathered friend. I dare not suggest that you lace peanut butter with something toxic so they just fly away to die. My mailbox could not withstand the barrage of anger generated by that kind of sure remedy. (It’s a joke, people.) So, of course, I will not do that.
Instead, I suggest you look to technology. Many people with similar bird problems report that the Bird-X Balcony Guard Ultrasonic Bird Repeller does work and will give you back your deck. You plug this little box in, and it emits a piercing sound that only birds can hear. It takes a little time for the birds to become sufficiently annoyed actually to leave, but given enough time, they will.
Reviews on the product are mixed, but my readers with similar issues to yours who have used this device, tell me that patience is the key. You won’t get great results overnight, so plan for the long haul. You can get this gizmo from Amazon for about $35, which I can imagine will be money well spent.
Thank you from the author
Hi Mary: I just wanted to say thanks for the really nice article in The Epoch Times. It’s an old book but I think it’s more valuable today than when I wrote it because it worked going forward.
Anyway, I appreciate it as well as what you do to help people live more frugally. Best regards, Allan Roth
Dear Readers: It was a such a nice surprise to hear from Allan in response to this EC post from a few months ago: Want to Become a Successful Investor? Channel Your Inner Second Grader.
As for his reference to The Epoch Times, selected EC posts are syndicated to hundreds of print and digital newspapers around the country, of which The Epoch Times is one. I am not certain, but I believe that publication publishes EC once weekly.
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