I know I’ve been a little quiet. If I were Elon Musk, I would tell you I’m currently in “production hell.” However, I’m not an eccentric billionaire doing all I can to change the world. I’m just your garden variety finance guy working as hard as I can to mitigate the damage of the early, but already devastating stages of our latest and long overdue recession while also trying to somehow continue to find and close new business, run my growing side business, continue my flying lessons, and do what I can to be there for some very dear friends who are going through some difficult times in their lives. These are all such high priorities that I’m not willing to compromise on any of them. So it has been all I can do to keep up this week and I’ve chosen to let this blog slip over losing sleep or letting my workout schedule be affected.
However, I’m going to do all I can to get back on top of everything this weekend and free up some time to get back to my regular posting schedule next week. For anyone who has been following my blog, I appreciate your interest and patience during this chaotic time. I’ve committed myself to keeping this blog going for at least a full year and I have no intention of going back on that. See ya’ll soon!
To anyone who has been checking this blog regularly and finding nothing, I apologize. I know I’ve been neglecting this for the last week or two. I’m working on something big and I expect to have good news very soon. However, I am still around and I will have a new post up tomorrow. See ya’ll soon!
I’ve learned enough to fill a book in my few years in sales
so far. But as a slightly intelligent guy (that would be Mr. Albert Einstein)
once said, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Recently I’ve been stressed out by a dramatic change in the dynamic of my
relationship with my best customer. Previously, he had always been a good
communicator and reasonably conscientious but most importantly of all, there
had been a mutual respect bordering on friendship between us that I valued very
much. We had done deals that were huge wins for both sides and had another in
the works that would have been our biggest and best yet.
But recently, that deal was derailed. My customer ran into
an unforeseen setback that was serious enough to pose a legitimate threat to
the survival of his business. To make it all the worse, it was through no fault
of his own. He experienced a substantial loss of commercial property as a
result of an apparently random criminal act. Now, if you’ve ever dealt with a
very large commercial insurance claim, you know what a nightmare it can be. In
our industry, a few month turnaround is pretty typical in a situation like
this. Given my customer’s financial position, waiting that long would have been
devastating at a minimum. And if the insurance company had screwed him on the
amount of the payout, it could have been game over.
I was not going to let him go down without a fight. Marshaling all the resources at my disposal, including my own efforts and those of people in our district office, I was able to get the insurance payout fast tracked – and that’s not all. At the end of the day, the customer got a payout so large it shocked everyone involved. And it happened in just over a month. Just like that, his business was in significantly better shape than it had been before what had looked like a terrible misfortune. It looked like things were going to be better than ever for him and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. But here is where the story takes a turn.
Suddenly awash with cash, my former favorite customer
changed into a totally different man. His payments were no longer made reliably.
The office ran into issue after issue with his account – simple things that had
never been problems before and rarely are for anyone. On my end, it became very
difficult to address any of this with him – or even to get him on the phone at
all. The part that doesn’t make sense is that while more than enough to get my
customer back on his feet, this insurance payout was nowhere near a life
changing amount of money. It wasn’t like he had just won the lottery or
anything. But nonetheless, once he had the money, it seemed that nothing else
mattered and the relationship I had enjoyed so much was replaced with one of
nearly nonstop frustration.
Through all of this, we had somehow managed to get our massive deal back on track. But whereas previously it would have been relatively smooth, it was now riddled with complications because the customer had ceased getting anything done at all on his end. Whenever I confronted him about what was going on, he was evasive and made vague excuses that usually didn’t make much sense – and again, that was if I could get him on the phone at all. I did the best I could to smooth everything over with the office while I tried to keep him from completely self-destructing. This went on for over a month but going into last week, there was still no end in sight and it was taking a significant amount of time and attention that I could have been dedicating to other activities.
Finally, I decided I had been chasing the ghost of what had been a very different relationship for too long. In this new version of it, I was treated like a tool that could be used when needed and tossed into a shed when not. And it wasn’t even producing anything. So on Monday, I resolved to conclude the deal, one way or another, by the end of the week. By Friday morning, I had made zero progress, and I realized I had had enough. I called the customer once more but there was no answer and his voicemail box, as had become the new normal, was full. So I sent him a text message that simply said “if you still want to do the deal, I need to talk to you today.” As you can probably guess, I never heard from him. And I have no intention of calling again. For most of the rest of the day, contemplations about how and why this relationship had gone so wrong were never far from the forefront of my mind.
But overnight, things crystallized and when I woke up this morning, I felt much better. I don’t know what is going on with my customer but it doesn’t matter. I’ve given him ample time and opportunity to explain it to me and he has refused to do so. And his actions have been very disrespectful in the process. For someone who is still engaged in a lifelong struggle against the scarcity mentality, it was very difficult for me to put not just a very lucrative deal, but a rewarding relationship, on the line. But I realize now that it was my only option. I couldn’t keep throwing good resources, in the form of my time, effort, and credibility with the office, after ones that had produced nothing but failure, when there was no sign that the situation would improve.
And this way, I am giving the relationship its only remaining chance to go back to its formerly mutually beneficial form. It is very possible that I will never hear from the customer again. Maybe the account will even go bad. If it happens, I will be able to say I did everything I could to avoid that outcome. If he does call me, I will tell him that while I will continue to service his existing account, I will not pursue any additional business unless three conditions are met. One, I need to hear a genuine apology for the way things have been recently. Two, I need to hear a coherent explanation. And three, I need an assurance that things will go back to the way they had been before – with the enforcement mechanism that if they get to this point again, we will be finished doing business for good. I’m not asking anyone for perfection. This is an imperfect world and a very imperfect industry. But I am demanding, not asking, for effort and basic respect. If we can’t operate that way, then we won’t.
For too long, I tried to save a previously great relationship that was already dead. But I have finally accepted that fact and begun to act accordingly. And the result? I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I have most likely lost the opportunity to make a large bonus, and likely subsequent ones. But there again, that opportunity had already been very likely gone. And even if it hadn’t been, it doesn’t matter. There is more to every single decision I make in life than money.
Respect is the real issue. I wanted my customer to continue to give it to me but by doing all I could to protect him from the consequences of doing the opposite, I wasn’t giving it to myself. It was the wrong message to be sending to him but more importantly, I was hurting myself in a very profound way. After a long hibernation, symptoms of depression have crept back into my life recently. Looking back, the timeline matches up almost perfectly with the disintegration of this relationship. I can’t control another person’s actions, but I can certainly respond more effectively than I did in this case. I fully expect that now that I have identified the real problem and taken steps towards correcting it, those symptoms will go back where they came from.
This may seem obvious to many of you, and I will admit I’m a little disappointed with myself as I type it out and realize I should have figured it out sooner. But for me, this has been a reasonably difficult, and thus valuable lesson. It could easily be applied to many scenarios – not just the specific one I’ve described. If you run into a situation like this one, learn from my mistake. You can’t expect respect from other people if you don’t give it to yourself first. I lost sight of that this time. But having had this experience and deconstructed it, it will be much easier to avoid repeating it in the future.
I completely glossed over this with yesterday’s post but I have an exciting announcement for Health, Wealth, Power. We have a new addition in the form of wonderful pictures taken by fellow Houstonian Jean-Marc Buytaert! In addition to being such a top shelf bowler that he was recruited by one of the better teams in a drinking/bowling (note the word order) league, Jean-Marc is a phenomenal photographer – and he seems to find himself in a ton of interesting places all over the world. After seeing enough of his work come across my Facebook feed and being blown away, both by the fact that someone was posting something other than their kids, memes, or political crap, and even more so by the fact that the pictures were incredible, I approached him about contributing to my fledgling personal finance/philosophy blog. We’re all very lucky he said yes because going forward, we will have eye candy like the picture above to enjoy.
I understand this is something Jean-Marc is currently doing as a hobby but that he has eventual aspirations of going pro. If you would like to see more of his work or to contact him about a potential project, you can visit either of the following:
Hotels offer a wonderful opportunity to make some extra money when traveling for work, and mind you none of the windfall is taxable. I personally use Marriott and Choice. My colleagues (yes, even the boss, who approves my expense reports and would seem to have reason to prefer smaller numbers) mock me mercilessly for “slumming” when it comes to my hotel preferences. But I come from a humble background and to me, it’s really not a huge sacrifice. Why those two chains? Marriott properties are where I most prefer to stay (not too fancy/expensive, but also not too “questionable,” as long as you avoid certain older properties) and the rewards program is decent. So if I’m going to pay for a hotel stay on vacation with points, Marriott is a good, solid option. Choice, on the other hand, has a rewards program that makes it number one for people who want to get PAID – during two parts of the year in particular. And if you travel to the same areas regularly, you figure out pretty quickly which of their properties are fine and which are better avoided, so that aspect of things becomes less of an issue.
The key with Choice is learning the ins and outs of the
rewards program. It is clearly designed to offer a lot of potential value while
quietly screwing as many people as possible out of much of it. But once you
know what you’re doing, it’s pretty easy to deal with. First I’m going to show
you just how valuable the program can be. Then I will discuss the pitfalls and
how to avoid them. The two parts of the year when I “choose” Choice (sorry) are
when two specific promotions are running. Otherwise, I’m at Marriott for the
better overall hotel experience.
Right now, Choice is running its “stay two times, get a free
night” promotion. It’s not quite as great as it sounds, but it’s close. A
typical one night stay (more on the significance of this wording later) will
get you about 1000 points (roughly $100 x 10 points per dollar). But during
this promotion, two of those 1000 point nights will get you a serious bonus. It
gets a little strange here since supposedly you will get 8000 points total but
in reality, you get a little more and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or
reason as to exactly how many. But regardless, you get a minimum of 8000 points
for two stays. Now to be fair, that will only get you a night at a select few
Choice properties but that’s irrelevant to me because that isn’t how I use the
points. I use them to buy Amazon gift cards, which are effectively cash
equivalents. And the cost of a $50 Amazon gift card is 16,000 points. Are you
one of the eight people who don’t use Amazon? No problem. There are tons of
other gift card options as well and I believe they’re all priced the same.
The opposite promotion is twice as good. You still get 8000
points minimum for two one night stays but in addition, some of the gift cards,
including Amazon, are discounted to half price – meaning you get a $50 gift
card for every other night you stay. The catch here is that the discount only
lasts while the promotion is running and if I remember correctly, there is a
delay of 48 hours between gift card orders. So you have to stay on top of it or
you will get screwed out of some of your bonus. But this can be an incredible
moneymaker. Back when I was spending a few nights on the road in a typical
week, I was making easily $500+ in Amazon gift cards during the approximately
two months a year this promotion ran.
This pair of promotions represents the bulk of the opportunity, but I’m all about maximizing. You can make about an extra $2-10 per stay if you use ebates (www.ebates.com), depending on how much Choice is offering when you make your reservation. On my last stay, it was 10%! Usually it’s at least 2%. Another thing that is easy to overlook is the “Extras” portion. I use it to collect an additional $2.50 Amazon gift card for every stay. There are other “Extras” options but this one is the easiest for me to monetize. Finally, if you use a proper rewards credit card to pay for your stay, you will get even more cash back. I use the Wells Fargo Propel Amex to get 3%. All of these are small on their own but together, they add up to almost $10 per stay (or significantly more depending on the current ebates rate). And other than the $2.50 Amazon gift card, you can also use them at Marriott or most other major hotel chains.
What does this all look like in practice? This week I stayed
a night under the “stay two times, get a free night” promotion. For the sake of
simplicity, I will round the cost to $100, which is usually pretty close
anyway. For my one night stay, I got: $12.50 in the form of enough points to
buy a quarter of a $50 Amazon gift card, $10 through ebates, $3 through my
Wells Fargo Propel credit card, and an additional $2.50 Amazon gift card
through “Extras.” So in total, my $100 stay paid me back $28. If you factor in
the vomit inducing amount of taxes I pay on every dollar of earned income, and
will not have to pay on this since it falls under that magical “purchase rebate”
category, that $28 becomes almost $40. And if this stay had instead been during
the opposite promotion, I would have earned half an Amazon gift card instead of
a quarter, bringing the total haul to nearly a whopping $60 with taxes factored
How can you keep the clever bastards in Choice’s c-suite
from conning you out of your rewards? First, you obviously have to register for
a rewards account. But it’s not that simple. The two promotions above require a
separate registration each time they run. So when I make any hotel reservation,
I always start with the Choice site to make sure one of these promotions isn’t
running. If it is, I immediately register and then use only Choice hotels for
the duration. Another way they can get you is the difference between “night”
and “stay.” The promotions are for “stays,” meaning that if you stay multiple
consecutive nights, you have just made a terrible mistake because your multiple
nights are only getting you credit for one half of the two “stays” required to
earn the bonus (when multiple nights would already have earned you the bonus
once and potentially more times, depending on how many there were). I believe
the extras (the $2.50 Amazon gift card in my case) run the same way. So make
sure you never stay two nights in a row in the same Choice hotel unless you’re
ok with halving most of your payoff – and if you’re anything like me, the
payoff is the only reason you’re there in the first place.
I will note that as a guy who has been to the top tier of
Choice’s rewards level and well beyond, there is very little benefit to doing
so. You get some bonus points on top of your regular 1000 but nothing else of
value. And for me, that isn’t enough to get my business over a superior
Marriott option, which is typically priced only a little bit higher. The money
is made with the two major bonus promotions. There are a couple of other
promotions throughout the year (for example, one doubles the points you earn
from a stay) but there again, they aren’t enough to move the needle for me.
There you have it. You now have the tools to make some
serious money off of your hotel stays, especially at Choice properties. Stay
tuned because I’m going to post about other ways to put your travel job to work
making extra money for you – and no, it’s not anything illegal or underhanded.
Happy system gaming and have a great afternoon!
I recently posted about how to beat the ISPs (some people refer to them as cable companies but I don’t since in my eyes, providing internet service is the only relevant thing they do) at their own game. Recently, I got the opportunity to do it for myself – admittedly the easy version since there are two options in the mighty city of Houston. AT&T bargained but didn’t get down to the $30 Xfinity is offering 60mbps internet for. And yes, I know that Xfinity is just the name Comcast created to hid behind as a result of its customer service being legendarily awful. For cheap internet, I’m willing to take the risk. What’s the worst that can happen in the year until I switch back to AT&T? For the record, Comcast is already working on answering that question, having already managed to screw things up in a couple of ways with my installation still over two weeks away. So I may be eating those words sooner rather than later. But that’s not what this post is about.
I’ve noticed something interesting in the process of already
going back and forth with my new ISP more than I would have hoped to in an
entire year. The game has gone beyond simply begging people to sign up for
cable. Now Comcast is literally offering to give it away – AND begging. Even on
the company website, the same internet speed I’m getting is being offered with
a cable package for an additional $5. But since I obviously overlooked that option,
Comcast has taken it upon itself to make sure my careless mistake doesn’t cause
me to miss out. I’ve gotten multiple emails and phone calls now in just the
span of a few days, all following the same pattern. They start out trying to
make it seem like they’re calling to address an issue with my new account,
which makes sense as a tactic since that suspicion is the only reason I’ve
answered the calls in the first place. Then they “check something out” and
suddenly announce they have good news for me. I can add cable to my new package
for only an additional $5 per month! I then respond with a polite “no thanks.”
The first rep simply let it go but not this second one.
First she acted shocked that I don’t want to pay $5 for something I’ll never
use. Surely I must just not understand the value proposition. But after her
attempts to explain it to me failed, her tone did a sudden 180. Instead of a
Comcast rep, I found myself more or less listening to a girl scout begging me
to take her unwanted product. She even offered to give it to me for free. That’s
right, folks. The market has spoken so loudly and clearly that cable has been
reduced to a throw in. Of course, Comcast makes more money on advertising when
its subscriber numbers are higher so it makes sense that this would happen,
much like magazines that threaten you with “last issue if you don’t subscribe”
and then just keep showing up anyway when they were never requested, nor paid
for, at any point. That’s the inevitable conclusion when your “product” is
nothing but a big, steaming pile of regurgitated garbage and propaganda, packed
tightly between pages upon pages of advertising copy. And that’s exactly what
I must admit, this has me smiling from ear to ear. The
market has acted in a rational manner by opting out of paying for something
that has no value and the price now reflects that. The market is nothing but
the collective actions of all of us and thus, it follows that apparently we as
a society aren’t quite as stupid as I had feared. Now I don’t harbor any
illusions that this has happened because people aren’t spending hours a day with
their eyes glued to tv screens. On the contrary, I recently read that the
average person spends FIVE FUCKING HOURS A DAY doing so. I don’t know about
you, but if I were on my deathbed reviewing the way I spent my time on this
earth and I realized I had spent a third of my waking hours doing nothing but
having my mind driven by other people – people who mostly just want use my
emotions to manipulate me into buying crap I don’t need or voting for someone
who doesn’t actually give a damn about me – I can’t imagine the agony I would
Alas, people most certainly are not rejecting wasting a huge
portion of their lives or allowing themselves to be manipulated by those least
qualified to do so (assuming anyone were at all). But at least they are wasting
their lives in the most efficient way possible. And if I can’t have people
doing the right things to move themselves forward in life, I’ll settle for them
doing the wrong things without paying for the privilege. Who knows? Maybe
streaming won’t be profitable enough to support the creation of so much garbage
in the long run and more people will turn off their tvs and, I don’t know, look
at each other and attempt to speak. Or go outside. I know, I’m the crazy one. I’ll
go back to being quiet now. But in the words of one Abraham J Simpson, “I’ve
had my moment.”
In my bank account basics post, I said you should never use debit cards and I promised to write a follow up post with my reasons. I’m a man of my word so here I am delivering on that promise. I’m following up quickly because this is very important. There is absolutely no reason to have a debit card at all much less use one. I ask banks not to order one when I get a new checking account and if they insist on doing so anyway, I shred it the minute it shows up without ever activating it. This is because as I will explain, debit cards aren’t just useless; they are not safe. I know, they also serve as ATM cards. So plan ahead. Keep whatever cash you might spend in a month in your wallet and replenish it when it runs low. Actually, do people still use cash? I’ve had the same sixty dollars or so in my wallet for as long as I can remember. Anyway…
As a little change of pace, I’m going to try a list format
today. So without further ado, here are my reasons you should never use debit
1. They are dangerous.
With a debit card, any criminal that gets ahold of your card,
or more likely your card information, has direct access to your bank account. The
minute that happens with your debit card, a clock starts. If you report the
situation immediately and no fraudulent charges have been made yet, you aren’t
liable for anything. Of course in many cases your first indication of fraud
will be a fraudulent charge so you aren’t likely to be this lucky. If there are
any fraudulent charges made and you notify the bank within two business days,
you are only liable for the first $50 – still not a disaster, but more than I
want to be paying for some asshole’s actions. If you miss the two business day
mark but you do notify the bank within sixty total days, you’re on the hook for
the first $500. Keep in mind that this is by far the most likely scenario. And
finally, if you fail to notify the bank for a full sixty days, you are liable
for ALL fraudulent charges. Ouch.
Now compare that to what happens with a credit card. You are
liable for up to $50 but the vast majority of banks waive that because being
able to advertise “zero fraud liability” is a bargain at that price. That’s
literally it. You sleep easy knowing that when (yes, that’s WHEN, not IF) your
card information is stolen/hacked/etc, your problem is limited to the
inconvenience of a short conversation with the bank’s fraud department and
waiting a few days for a replacement card to show up.
2. Direct access to your bank account affects more than just
I stay in a lot of hotels and when I check in, I usually see
a sign informing me that if I use a debit card, a hold will be placed for more
than the total expected cost of my stay to cover incidentals. I have no idea
how much more because I don’t use debit cards. But it is enough that they
almost always have a sign and I’m guessing that’s because they get a lot of
complaints otherwise. This hold likely won’t be released until you’ve paid the
final bill upon checking out and that’s at the earliest. I wouldn’t be
surprised if it takes a day or two after that. And keep in mind that with a
debit card, this means you literally don’t have access to this money even if it
is in your bank account. If you’re not maintaining a high enough balance to
account for this, you could literally wind up overdrafting because of it and
no, neither the bank nor the hotel is going to pick up your overdraft fees. I
often see similar signs at gas stations and I’m sure there are plenty of other
businesses that do this too.
3. Debit cards aren’t very “rewarding.”
I’ve already written a post detailing how I get paid back an average of about 3% on anything I am able to pay for using credit cards. That’s not counting the churning, which gets me free flights or cash in $500-700 chunks. You always want to be looking for extra sources of income and simply using credit cards for purchases gives you a nice one that requires almost no effort and is tax free to boot. I believe debit cards do offer very limited rewards but nothing close to the bonanza credit cards do. This is because the transaction fees charged to merchants by the banks are legally limited and thus, there is less kickback money available. So by using debit cards, you are literally costing yourself money.
4. Debit cards do not help you build credit.
You need a credit score for lots of things now and
rightfully so. If you don’t pay your bills on time, that is directly applicable
for a creditor or a landlord but it’s also helpful information for insurance
companies, employers, and many other entities that may be considering doing
some sort of business with you. Why? If you don’t handle your finances
responsibly, there is a strong likelihood that you make similar choices in
other areas of your life. Or put another way, credit reflects character. Yes,
people run into unfortunate circumstances sometimes. But those things happen to
all of us. If you’re handling your finances well, you have built a nice buffer
of resources and you can weather the storm as long as it isn’t something
totally catastrophic. There are certainly cases where people get hit with
something very few could withstand but those are outliers and far more often,
this is simply an irresponsible person making excuses. Long story short, credit
scoring isn’t going anywhere because the concept is sound even if the execution
occasionally isn’t. Debit cards don’t build credit in any way, shape, or form;
credit cards do. P.S. I think I’m going to have to write a post on the ins and outs
of credit scoring. Stay tuned.
5. Debit cards don’t give you an interest free loan.
Don’t misinterpret this; in no way am I advocating carrying
a balance on a credit card. Ever. But when you use a credit card to pay for a
purchase, you are not billed until the statement date. At that point, you have
at least twenty days before your payment is due. This means that depending on
when in a month you make a purchase, you get an interest free loan of anywhere
from 20-50 days. To anyone who understands the time value of money principle
(there’s another post to write), that is a sweet deal! Mind you the bank is
betting you will fail to pay the full statement balance by the due date and
then…well, you know what happens then. Pull your pants down, bend over, and by
the way, they’re fresh out of lube today. But if you’re following the credit
card rules I included in my credit card post, this will never happen to you.
And consequences of irresponsibility should not concern those of us who are
6. Debit cards don’t give you rental car insurance, extended
warranties, price protection, and all sorts of other extra benefits.
This may seem like a minor point until you buy something for
$399 and it’s marked down to $299 two weeks later. If you used a debit card to
make that purchase, tough luck. But if you used one of the many credit cards
that offers price protection, you’re a phone call, a simple form, and some
processing time from getting your hundred bucks back. If you rent a car, most
credit cards include insurance so you can laugh when the agent generously
offers to charge you some exorbitant amount “for your peace of mind.” Make sure
to verify that your card offers this first though. Credit cards offer all kinds
of little goodies like this that debit cards do not.
In closing, I know there are people who use debit cards
because they’re afraid of overspending on credit cards. But the answer to an
alcohol problem is to fix your thinking and habits, not to stop drinking
anything and instead start taking in fluid only through an IV. In another
manner of speaking, don’t try to get rid of your disease by bleeding yourself
like they did in the revolutionary war era. Hurting yourself more is not going
to help. Credit cards are the adult method of paying for things. Basically,
think of them like condoms; they require just a tiny little bit of thinking and
planning ahead but they also protect you from being directly exposed to some
really bad things. The only flaw in that analogy is that condoms turn down the
volume a little whereas credit cards actually enhance the experience of paying
for things. Enough fun for today. Please, shred your debit cards and start
managing your finances like an adult. I promise it is much more rewarding than
making excuses for not doing so.