Satisfaction: Your Basic Consumer Right

Statistically speaking, chances are slim-to-none that you consistently avail yourself of the most fundamental of all financial principles—to get what you pay for.

According to Donna McCrohan, author of Get What You Pay For or Don’t Pay at All, only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers let a business know when they are unhappy with a product or service and then follow up effectively until they are satisfied.

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One can only conclude that the rest of us throw good money down the drain for clothing that doesn’t fit right and appliances that don’t live up to their promises. We prefer to cram the stuff into closets and cupboards rather than take the time and effort to request a refund or satisfactory replacement.

When the dry cleaner ruins a favorite shirt we gripe to a friend instead of the dry cleaner’s owner. Or when the coffee grinder doesn’t grind, we mumble under our breath and don’t even look for the customer service 800 number, which might well be printed right there on the infuriating little monster.

I can only conclude from all of this that 96 percent of us complain about shoddy workmanship or inferior service but never get around to requesting the work be redone or negotiating a fair and reasonable adjustment. We give up too soon—or more likely, don’t even get started. Read more

How to Stop Making Bad Decisions

I saw the funniest sign recently. But it wasn’t funny for long because I started to think about it. Suddenly the humor melted away.

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Ouch! Those 15 words hit hard. I’ve made my share of bad money decisions in my life. 

I’ve come a long way from that dark season of my life. I am determined to not go back, but also to not live with regret for what might have been. Instead of living with my eyes on the rearview mirror, I want to stay focused on the present with eyes toward the future. Which begs the question: How can we stop making bad decisions when it comes to money and personal finance?

Get smart. Despite the fact that research from the University of British Columbia released in November 2013 found the smallest part of the human brain is integral in the decision-making process—and the fact that we do seem to repeat our mistakes—it is possible to become a better decision-maker. With practice, awareness and a bit tender loving care for yourself, you can learn to make better choices. I’ve had lots of feedback from readers of this column who tell me that over the years, they feel as though they have gained the equivalent of a degree in personal finance—one random 500-word column at a time. Read more

What Do You Need to Be Happy?

When a University of Michigan survey asked people what they believed would improve their quality of life the answer given most often was, “More money.”

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In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim asked, “If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?” The number one response at 64 percent was, “Greater wealth.”

A University of Southern California study found that greater wealth didn’t translate into greater happiness for many of the 1,500 people surveyed annually over three decades. USC economist Richard Easterlin said, “Many people are under the illusion that the more money we make, the happier we’ll be,” but, according to the study, that isn’t true.

We know from other well-respected studies that fewer Americans are “very happy” today than in the 1950s despite having far more money, bigger homes and more stuff. In 1950 there were 3,000 shopping malls in this country, by 2000 there were 45,025. We have more money, we have more stuff but clearly, greater affluence has not translated to greater happiness. Read more

When Life Happens

Dear Mary: I’m in a quandary. I can’t see the forest for the trees. By some coincidence, my washing machine finally died after my having babied it for 18 months. Within a week, my dishwasher, refrigerator, and screen door all announced they were on their last legs.

On top of that, a pipe burst and water leaked for weeks underneath my yard till we got a $670 water bill. A plumber ripped up the yard and fixed the leak ($450), and the Dept of Water and Power gave me a bill for $220 (a usual water bill is $45). Two days ago in the rain storm, my car wouldn’t start. Turns out water got into the hybrid battery which may cost $5000 to replace. Property taxes are due next week.

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I have paid off one credit card, am existing on the other, and my Contingency Fund is nowhere near able to handle the cumulative disaster that has become my life. I managed to pay the property taxes, but I’m not sure how to prioritize or what to do next. It’s so overwhelming, I feel paralyzed.

It’s so surreal that all of this has happened in such a short period of time. I have one dollar and some change in my purse. Do you have some advice for me? I need some structure and a light at the end of the tunnel. I still have a young teenager at home I need to provide for. Thanks in advance for your wisdom. Amy Read more

Gratitude: The Antidote for Greed

Gratitude is more than pausing once a year to offer up thanks. It’s more than a snappy word that rhymes with “attitude.” I am told that of all the human emotions, gratitude is the most powerful.

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So powerful is gratitude, it can obliterate fear, hopelessness and doubt. Gratitude can heal a broken heart, slow the aging process and restore broken relationships. Gratitude creates hope and hope brings joy. It is in joy, not fear, that we can find strength.

Greed is the enemy. Never in this history of our country has so much meant so little to so many. The easy availability of credit has allowed us to live beyond our means. It has encouraged greed to creep into every area of our lives. Some call this affliction Affluenza—an unhappy condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

The more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the more it takes to feel satisfied. The more credit we accept the farther we slide into debt. Read more

Clutter’s Last Stand

What would we do if we actually had to use everything you own, including all that stuff in the drawers, cupboards, closets, shelves and boxes in your kitchen, bedrooms, living room, basement, attic, garage, rafters, driveway, patio, side yard, and cars?

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Could we do it? It’s not likely.

Instead, we pack it, stack it and pile it away–even pay rent to store it–and keep accumulating even more. More stuff dilutes the quality of our lives.

Every possession carries two price tags—the original purchase price and the continuing toll. That second amount is paid in upkeep, time, maintenance and storage. It can charge its toll in anxiety, depression, relationship conflict, financial distress and even impaired function.

Moving and storing clutter

I’ve done it. Perhaps you have, too. I’ve packed it all up and paid someone to move it to a new place. “I’ll sort it there,” I told myself. Years later, I’m still hounded by unpacked boxes which I’ve moved from one house, one floor, one room or just one side of the closet to another. Read more

A Cheapskate State of Mind

I’m sure I could lecture about frugality and living below your means until my face turned blue, write until my computer exploded in a fit of rebellion and still not achieve the impact of a success story like this one from Kelly D.

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“Shortly after my husband and I were married, the first credit card application showed up. At first I was dead-set against filling it out but after a little coaxing from my husband I gave in. Of course others followed shortly.

“Each time we had an emergency–car repairs, unpaid taxes, a weekend getaway–we’d pull out a card. It all seemed so easy. Before I knew it we had three or four cards that were all nearly charged to the limit.

“We tried setting up a plan to pay off the debts. The money was always there on paper but somehow I didn’t ever see it in the account. My husband and I would tell each other things would be much better once the next raise, next promotion or next job came along. Somehow it didn’t ever work out that way. That was how things were our first five years together. Read more

When It Doesn’t Pay to be Cheap

There is a predictable progression many of us go through as we make a decision to stop living beyond our means. We get cheap. In fact, some even call us cheapskates—a label that personally I enjoy because it proves that I’m not the person I used to be—a credit-card junkie and a totally whacked out spendthrift. 

Some rights reserved by erix!

Some rights reserved by erix!

It didn’t take long for me to adopt a mindset that if cheap was good, then cheaper must be even better. As noble as that thought might see—and it pains me to admit i—that is not always true.

Sometimes the cheapest option ends up costing the most. It’s a wise person who can see the big picture not just the cash outlay on the front end.

Case in point: Our house was in desperate need of paint. Spending thousands of dollars to have it painted made me queasy. So when one of the bids came in much lower than the others, I jumped on it. I figured paint is paint. We’d get the house painted and still have money in the bank.  Read more