Why do Seniors get Discounts? Who Cares? Go for It!

Honestly, I’ve never understood why senior citizens, as a class, get all kinds of discounts. Why not people in their thirties . . . or forties? Evidently marketers have figured out a rationale for this type of promotion. Here’s an example of a unique discount. Last weekend the Consumer Gal and I went to a reunion in L.A. We checked a Sheraton Hotel near where the event was taking place. The price for the room was $195. With an AAA discount, the price was lowered to $149, an almost 24 percent discount. When I inquired if there was a better discount for AARP members (AARP is open for membership to anyone over age 50), they told me that the first night would cost $195, with the following night costing the last two digits of my year of birth. So, for example, if I were born in 1961 (no, I’m not revealing my birth year), the two nights would cost 195 plus 61. The average for the two nights would be $128. In other words, the older you are, the less you pay for the additional night.
The reason this makes little sense to me is that the average 23-year-old has a lot less discretionary money than does the average 60- or 70-year-old. In any case, being a “senior” is like living with a coupon taped to your back. But since that is the way of the American world, let’s take a look at some typical discounts available to seniors (and even younger folks).

Discounts abound. Perhaps my favorite discount is the U.S. National Park Service America the Beautiful Pass. If you are over 62, this is the best tourist value in America (next to New York’s Staten Island Ferry, which is free for everyone) at 10 bucks . . . for life! You, and up to three passengers in your car, can visit Yosemite (my favorite by far,) Yellowstone, Glacier and every other venue in the vast, wonderful park system at no charge, once you have forked over the initial 10 smackers. It also provides other assorted discounts in the park. You can get the card at any of the venues. Some states also offer discounts for their parks.
If you are over 60, you can get a 20-percent discount card at Elephant Bar locations. Applebee’s has a 10 to 15 percent discount at participating locations. It’s coffee for a buck at Denny’s for AARP members.
At Ross Dress For Less Stores it’s dress for even more less (???) with 10 percent off on Tuesdays for those over 55. Kohl’s offers 15 percent off on most Wednesdays for those  over 50.
Virtually every movie theatre discounts tickets. Jiffy Lube locations give 10 percent off to 60-plussers, with some even offering discounts to those over 50.
Check out baseball park policies. I recently learned that my beloved New York Yankees – yes, the same villains who sell some seats for thousands of dollars – have five-dollar senior discounts for some seats two hours before game time.
There is a succinct point to all of this. All kinds of businesses offer all kinds of discounts. So before you shop, ask. There are three essential ways to go about doing this. Call the business and ask; visit the business’s web site; or, when you get there, ask if there is a discount policy for seniors. This has worked for me a bunch of times.
And now, here is the tip of tips. There is a web site that consolidates much of this information for you. It’s www.seniordiscounts.com. Check it out. You need not pay for any of its additional serivces.

Happy shopping!


What’s with Those Direct Marketing Commercials that Offer a Second Item . . . for Free?

What’s with Those Direct Marketing Commercials that Offer a Second Item . . . for Free?

If you watch much television, you are familiar with those adds that promise a second item for free. The bonus offer usually starts with, “But wait! If you order now, we’ll send you a second widget . . .  for free!” Then, in a somewhat more muted voice, and stated very fast, is the phrase, “Just pay processing and handling.” Aha!
Let’s parse this marketing technique, using the ChefDini as an example. About that name, my best guess is that it’s a Houdini reference. The ChefDini is a food processor without all the inconveniences of an electric processor because you crank it by hand. Wow!
It’s $39.99. But wait! We’ll send you a second ChefDini for free. Just pay additional processing. Processing costs $7.99. So when you order, you end up paying $53.97.
Why do they do that? Here’s why. Putting a second item in the box costs the vendor just pennies for shipping. The balance of the additional $7.99 means they are still making a profit on the second gadget.
The Ped Egg is a small grater that has an integrated container. It removes rough skin from feet. Price? 10 smackers. Gimmick? $6.99 shipping and handling. Handling? Really? When I go into a local store, how come they don’t charge me for handling? So, sure enough, you can get a second Ped Egg free. Just pay shipping and handling. So when you order a 10-dollar Ped Egg, the yolk is on you (I couldn’t resist). It ends up costing you $23.98.
If you send any of this stuff back because you don’t like it, guess who pays the return postage. Yep, you do. But here’s the unkindest cut of all. They refund the purchase price but not the processing (or shipping and handling) costs. So, in the case of the Ped Egg, you send them 24 bucks, they refund 10 dollars, and you also lose the return postage. Let’s say you pay five bucks to return the stuff. You are now out 19 dollars and you have zero product.
Some malls have As Seen On TV stores where you can buy the direct marketing products that are “not sold in stores.” The trouble with these outlets? They typically charge a 15 percent restocking fee. Here’s the pitfall. You buy a product for, say, $20. You decide the product sucks – or at least doesn’t meet expectations. You bring it back. They charge you a restocking fee of 15 percent, which means you get 17 bucks back. The store keeps three dollars. Then they put the item back on the shelf. So you are out three dollars and they keep their profit anyway.
The bottom line:
Don’t buy direct marketing products from TV. It’s too risky. The two items I ever bought that were both junk. Wait for the products to come to traditional retail stores. If that doesn’t happen, it’s probably for a good reason.
If you decide to buy at an As Seen On TV store, have them cross out the restocking fee notice on the bottom of the receipt. If there is no notice, but a sign posted in the store instead, have the salesperson right on the receipt “No restocking fee” and sign it. If they won’t do it, repeat after me: “Sayonara.” (Hasta la vista or ciao will suffice.)

You may be out of Warranty, but not out of Luck

The product you bought is broken. The limited warranty has expired. And you are as exasperated as hell because you think the piece of crap should have lasted longer. Well, fret not. Try these approaches.

********DISCLAIMER – Although I mention several brand names in this column, this is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation. This is based on my personal experience with these companies and is no guarantee of future success or failure********

Almost three years ago I bought an Armitron digital sport watch at the Mervyn’s going-out-of-business clearance sale. The watch looked great and cost only 18 bucks. It came with a limited warranty that covered the watch’s internal movement. Last June, immediately after being felt up by a TSA officer at San Francisco Airport, I boarded a plane to New York and proceeded to strap my watch back onto my wrist. The strap
came off in my hand. I discovered that it wasn’t the strap that broke, it was the watch case. The plastic case had broken apart.

Considering that I only wore this watch when traveling or participating in sports, I was particularly irked. I reckoned that I had worn this watch perhaps 200 days in less than three years. When I returned home to San Jose I called Armitron in New York. The agent told me that only the movement is covered by the warranty. I conceded the accuracy of the statement and got off the phone. But the more I thought about it, the more the inequity of this situation ate at me. Why on Earth should a watch case ever fall apart?

A few days later I called Armitron again and asked for a supervisor. I left a message on his voicemail and lo and behold he called me back. I explained what happened and made my case about the case. He felt it was reasonable to expect a watch case to last more than three years. He asked me to send him my watch so he could inspect it. A week later a new watch arrived in the mail.

I called the guy and left a message on his voicemail. I told him that I appreciated the great customer service and that he had won me over as an Armitron customer. After all, one good turn deserves another.

Before I make my point I’ll tell you a related story. I regularly attend an upper-body class at my local health club. I usually leave the class a little early as the cool-down and stretching part of class begins (I do my own stretch routine after doing a few more independent exercises). I noticed that as time went by, my Reebok sneakers were not helping me sneak out of class. They started squeaking – louder and louder each week. The squeak was coming from inside the shoes’ soles.

I called Reebok, explained my problem and the customer service agent asked me to send them the shoes. About a week and a half later I received a new pair of Reeboks. They lived out their lives without a peep.

Here’s my point. If a product fails way before it reaches its reasonable life expectancy, speak up. A good manufacturer will do the right thing. And what is there to lose? After all, the worst thing a company can say is, “Sorry.” (Okay, they could also tell you to go pleasure yourself – but how painful would that be?).

If you are the type of person who is easily daunted, I can only say don’t fear the daunt. Most customer service reps are polite, even if they turn you down. And the sooner you take action, the sooner you will get the intended request off your mind and – I guarantee – you will feel great about standing up for yourself. Go get ‘em tiger.

Why Couldn’t Older Generations Have Been More Aware of the Environment?

You may have seen a version of this tale as a forward in your email or while browsing the Internet.

I feel the lesson here is more relevant than ever. So I present it for your entertainment and edification with a comment at the end.


In line at the store, the cashier advised the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.” The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Former generations did not care enough to save our environment.”

Coke, Seltzer, and Pepsi deposit bottles

He was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day. Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store apartment building, and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go half a mile.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have disposables. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a screen the size of a sheet of typing paper, not the size of a SUV. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you. When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their  pens with ink or inserted a refill instead of buying a new pen. And they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the bus, trolley or streetcar and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into 24-hour taxi services. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn’t have the green thing back then?


This piece is sad and nostalgic for me. I have an assortment of memorabilia in my office shelves. They include old Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola deposit bottles, old seltzer bottles (in New York and other cities there were seltzer men who would deliver and retrieve syphon bottles), and some antique refillable lighters; not disposable ones. In other words, I guess I’m part of that generation that remembers when recycling didn’t have name; it was a way of life.

Should businesses be allowed to ban kids?

(Reprinted and edited with permission from www.enoughof.us)

Outdoors at McDain's

McDain's Restaurant

Would you take a toddler to an evening at the ballet? A cocktail lounge? The library  (excluding the children’s section)? If your answer is “yes,” perhaps you should  think twice about it. And if one of those venues were to say, “Sorry, no small  children allowed,” would you understand?

If your answer is “yes,” or even “maybe,” then why shouldn’t a restaurant have the  right to do the same thing? That’s exactly what McDain’s Restauarant in Monroeville,  Pennsylvania did starting a few weeks ago. While some folks think it’s unfair,  we believe that when you decide to become a parent, you have to accept the  drawbacks along with the advantages.

When I go to a local salad bar restaurant, I expect that we’ll be waiting in line while parents negotiate  what stuff goes on the kids’ plates, dodging kids all over the place at the  dessert bar, and listening to loud – if not screaming – kids at the next table.  It goes with the territory.

But when my wife and I go out for a pleasant – even a romantic – evening, we feel we’re entitled to not be harassed, harangued or hectored by a rampaging romper room refugee. Mike Vuick, McDain’s proprietor, said that he had to draw the line at age six for diners, because his
staff would often get dirty looks when asking patrons to control their offspring. “I decided that someone had to dig their heels in on behalf of all
these frustrated customers on this issue, so I did.” The result? McDain’s is drawing new customers.

As one patron put it, “We decided to go out to dinner to a place where we can enjoy ourselves without being assaulted by the screams of
kids.” According to a Today show report by NBC’s Janet Shamlian, several movie theatres are banning kids, PG-13 and R ratings be damned. And no more infants in first class on Malaysia Airlines.

Parenting expert Michelle Borba explains the change in attitude this way: “Way back when, it was, ‘Kids should be seen but not heard,’ and we stressed obedience. Right now it’s more connection with our kids. That’s the good news. But we’re also a little less likely to say, “No.”

But why are businesses becoming less tolerant of boisterous babes? “27 million couples have decided not to have kids,” says pop culture expert Lola Ogunnaike, on Today. “They call them DINKS – “Dual Income, No Kids.” Well, guess what. They also have a lot of disposable income. And marketers are waking up and realizing, ‘Hey, this is a segment of society that’s not being addressed.’”

In a survey, we asked parents this question:

“What would you think of the idea of designated childfree zones for people who would rather be in environments where there are only adults (examples: restaurant sections, movie theatres, park areas)?” (We wish we had left out the word “sections” when referring to restaurants.) The result was that 62.5 percent of the parents were fine with the idea and only 22 percent felt “no way.” The rest were not sure. So acceptance of this type of policy seems to be fairly reasonable to parents of toddlers.

If you are going to have children, you should assume responsibility for the inconveniences that entails, including the inconvenience to others. We should all, at the very least make an effort  to get along and accommodate each other. But just as it goes without saying that people without children need to accommodate those with kids on a regular basis, having kids means that parents need to consider potential inconvenience to others before schlepping their offspring just about anywhere on a whim.

Why I’m not Shopping at Amazon (& O.co) and why you Might Give This Some Thought

by Orin U. Unphare – Guest blogger

Why is Amazon.com smiling?

First, let me lay it all out. This is not my real name. I am using a pseudonym because I fear retaliation from Amazon. Why? Well, first, as far as companies go, it is an AMAZON. Second, it is known for retaliating, which is why I’m walking away to begin with.

            To be honest, I got fed up with Amazon a while back when I discovered it sells fur. Fur is a needless product that involves the tormenting and killing of animals. Amazon sells fox, raccoon and rabbit fur.

But now Amazon is retaliating against the State of California because the Golden State feels it’s unfair to sell stuff to  people here without collecting sales tax, the same sales tax that every business in the state must pass on to the government. It seems that our state throws money around for crap like schools, hospitals, roads, cops, firefighters, mental health and junk like that. How arrogant.

  Internet-based retailers already have a pricing advantage over brick and mortar stores because they don’t have to . . . well . . . have brick and mortar stores. No buildings, no land, no sales clerks, no business taxes, no property taxes, yada yada. But with most California communities charging taxes of more than eight percent in order to pay local and state bills, Amazon and other Internet retailers can undercut local business even more by saving their California customers eight-plus percent. As Bill Dombrowski of the California Retailers Association puts it, “This is nothing more than some companies trying to get a competitive advantage though a tax loophole, and now we have closed it.”

            So Amazon and Overstock.com (now going by the sobriquet O.co; I guess the J-Lo and A-Rod thing has spilled over into the Internet retail arena) feel they don’t have local retailers tightly enough by their cojones, so they have decided to get even with California.

Overstocked or undertaxed?

            How? As you may know, these retailers often do business with affiliated retailers all over the country. Since Amazon and O (not to be confused with Oprah  whatsername’s magazine) and other Internet businesses that meet certain criteria and that are affiliated with businesses in California, they must turn the sales tax over to the state. Instead, Amazon and O have opted to sever all relations with their California affiliates. In other words, they have found another way to screw greedy California, which is laying off more public employees than it can count.

            Well I have had enough. And this isn’t easy for me. I have bought some stuff at O.co for a fraction of what it would have cost me locally. I did that because there are some items that sell for outrageously inflated prices at retail locally. But that is fair competition.

            Now you may say, “Why should I give a rodent’s behind about California’s problems?” How’s this for an answer: According to the June 30, 2011 San Jose Mercury News, Amazon has pulled the same maneuver in Illinois, Arkansas and Connecticut, cutting out its local affiliates in those states. It is also suing New York State over similar legislation. U.S. Supreme Court, here we come! And with the current “Big Business Rules!” court, I wish all these states good luck. You’ll need it.

            As for me, taxes are what pay for essential government services. So if the big Internet boys won’t play – make that “pay” – fair, they can shove their businesses up their assets. I’m shopping elsewhere.

            Give this some thought. Your state may be next. And your local mom-and-pop may be steamrolled out of business.

Why are we so Willing to Ingest Poisons?

I no longer eat peaches or strawberries unless they are organic. It’s not until I start wolfing down cherries by the handful that I feel it’s really summer. But I wash them like dirty underwear. Why? Fear of poisoning myself and inducing cancer as a result of pesticide ingestion. Strawberries and peaches are the worst, but all fruits without peel-away skins or rinds scare me.

It’s also why more and more consumers are buying organic produce. But modern society has poisoned so much of our immediate personal environments that we are polluting ourselves voluntarily, without being aware of it. i won’t go into a diatribe on the all the sweetened, fatty, processed crap we diabetes-destined Americans eat. At least we know that we’re inflicting that garbage upon ourselves.

Household Chemicals

According to a University of Washington, Seattle, study published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review (I love their comics section), nearly a quarter of all chemicals emitted by 25 tested scented household products are classified as toxic or hazardous. But wait, there’s more! Over a third of all the tested products emitted at least one chemical identified as a possible carcinogen. So where are these fragrances to be found? Try detergents, fabric softeners, disinfectants, and air fresheners (SC Johnson’s website uses the term “Air Care”). How can filling the air with chemicals “freshen” it?

            In other words, a fart isn’t going to do you in, but fighting the odor enough times might. Why in the world do we need to make things smell at all? Keep your house clean, open some windows and clean with baking soda or unscented products.

Fabric Cleaning

            Now let’s move on to your clothes. Or better yet, you may want to move out of them. Microbiologist Myron W. Wentz is concerned about

Fabric softeners and cleaners are available unscented

one of the most common chemicals used by dry cleaners. Perc – short for perchloroethylene – is used to saturate fabrics in the cleaning process. After the clothes are cleaned, a residue of perc remains in the fabric. Researchers have linked perc exposure to liver and kidney damage and to cancer in laboratory animals (personally, I link lab researchers to cancer in animals). Even short term exposure has been known to cause headaches, dizziness and elevated pulse rate. California is one of several states that is requiring cessation of perc use by 2023. (Hey, why so impulsive?) Dr. Wentz recommends removing dry cleaned clothes from their bag and hanging them in the garage or outside for a couple of days – even longer if they still have a chemical odor – before wearing them. (Apartment dwellers, evidently you’re on your own.) He also recommends using a barrier layer like a T-shirt between your skin and dry cleaned clothes. Better yet, find a “green” dry cleaner that uses non-toxic cleaning agents. www.greencleanerscouncil.com is a good source.

 I’m a big fan of wrinkle-free, or what we used to call “wash and wear,” fabrics. At least I used to be. According to Wentz, beware of clothing and other fabrics that bear labels that say “wrinkle free,” “no iron,” “permanent press,” “stain resistant,” “static resistant,” or anything similar. Such fabrics are made with perfluorochemicals (PFCs). The problem with these chemicals is that they don’t readily wash out of fabrics and they are easily absorbed into the body through the skin. They actually accumulate in body cells. They can also be inhaled (Stephen King, are you paying attention?). Scientists have found a relation between PFCs and reproductive and developmental toxicity and cancers of the bladder and liver.

Wentz recommends natural fibers such as cotton, linen wool and the like. Even nylon and polyester contain harmful chemicals. Feeling scared? Maybe you need a good night’s sleep.

            But before you hit the sack . . .


            Many mattresses are made with highly flammable polyurethane which is treated with flame retardant. The trouble is, such mattresses were treated with a variety of chemicals that are highly toxic. Dr. Wentz recommends replacing your mattress if you bought it before 2005 if it contains any polyurethane. If you buy a mattress that is synthetic, let it air out for a few days outside your house; the garage is OK.  And top it with a natural latex or natural fabric topper. Otherwise consider buying a natural latex – as  in rubber – or wool mattress.

Sleep tight and don’t let your underwear bite.

How can all of Those Insurance Companies be Cheaper Than Each Other – and a few More Tidbits?

 How can every company have the lowest auto insurance rates?

Progressive Insurance spokesperson, “Flo,” (Where the heck does she work anyway? It looks like a Jean Paul Sartre version of hell.) says

Oh no! It's Flo!

Progressive will save you hundreds compared to other insurers. So do the GEICO Gecko, Allstate’s Dennis Haysbert and 21st Century.

Well, according to J.D. Howard of the Insurance Consumer Advocate Network – quoted in the newsletter Bottom Line Personal – it’s all about tweaking what it is they’re talking about. If Allstate gives divorced women in their 30s with full time jobs the lowest rates in Kansas, they may claim they “can” save you 300 bucks compared to other insurers.

Others may save you money by cutting out certain coverage or raising the deductibles or lowering the maximum benefits.

I find that a great way to find excellent coverage and lower rates is to take these steps:

  1. Check Consumer Reports for the highest rated companies in terms of consumer satisfaction;
  2. Go to a web site that offers rate comparisons, like Insweb.com or Netquote.com;
  3. Go to your state’s insurance department web site and check to see which insurers have the fewest complaints.
  4. Call your three top choices to see what deals they offer. But be sure to compare identical coverages and in terms of deductibles and limits.


You can also check satisfaction results at the web site of the consumer satisfaction research group, J. D. Power (jdpower.com).

            Oddly, in my own case I have found that AAA gives its members no particular breaks. They have always offered me the highest premium quotes of any company to which I have compared them.

  Lost your credit card?

            If you have lost or misplaced your credit card, or wallet here’s what to do. If you think you have not lost it somewhere “out there,” but merely misplaced it, let me tell you what I recently did when I couldn’t find my card during a recent visit to New York. I called the credit card company to report my concern. They offered to merely put a stop on the card, disabling it until I could determine if it was truly lost.

            In order to determine if anyone else used the card I asked for the last transaction for which it had been used. June 8th at Big Daddy’s Diner, was the reply. “Doh!” was my response. I must have left it there when I had dinner with my buddy Paul.

            I called Big Daddy’s and sure enough they had my card. Case closed.

            If you cannot track down your card in a similar fashion, here’s what to do. If your card is missing, put a stop on it. If your wallet is missing, file a police report in the place where you lost it and get a copy of the report.

            Let each company from which you had a credit card in the wallet know that your cards are missing and file fraud alerts with the three credit reporting companies: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

            Notify your local department of motor vehicles so it can flag your file so that it becomes more difficult for a ne’er-do-well to impersonate you, and so that you can get a new license. Get a new debit or ATM card from your bank.

 Best Buy’s worst buy?

Best Buy has a great promotional offer going . . . not! Afraid your new state-of-the art electronic doo dad will soon be outdated? Fear not. Best Buy will buy it back within two years, four years for a TV. According to ConsumerReports.com all you have to do is pay upfront for the “protection;” $70 for a laptop, netbook or tablet; 40 to 60 smackers for a cellular phone; and 60 to 350 bucks for a television set. An item returned within six months gets 50 percent back; between 18 and 24 months you can get 20 percent back, depending on condition; and for TVs more than two years old, they give you 10 percent. The refunds are in the form of Best Buy gift cards, the idea being that you apply the refunds to a new purchase.

            Before you go for this “deal,” think twice, or thrice. In effect, you are paying for insurance with a very limited benefit.

            And remember, whoever holds the money has the power.

Some Cool Consumer Tips

            I l-o-o-o-ve when I run across cool stuff for consumers. Here are four new factoids that might help – or at least interest – you. 

1 – You know those nutrition labels on packaged foods that tell you about calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, and the like? Well I think they Typical Nutrition Facts lbelare great. Better than great. They’re Gre-e-a-a-t! (I’m not sure if Tony the Tiger spells it that way). I check out what I buy to put into my body. And while I do not eat meat for a variety of reasons, here’s some good news for those who do. Starting January 1, 2012, raw meat and poultry will be required to come with nutrition labels; at least the most common cuts and ground meats will. If this is stuff you’re cut out for, check out the regulations at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/98-005P.htm.

  1. 2 – If you have purchased HDMI cables for your cool electronic equipment (or, as I like to call it, all that electronic junk that we think will make us happier but just drains our savings and makes our retirements that much more bleak) like flat screen TVs Blue Ray players and the like, you know how damned expensive they can be. I have seen them ranging in price from 15 to 40 bucks. It’s a damned cable for Pete’s sake, not that I even know who Pete is. So I did some fishing (not “phishing” or phooling around). And voila, I found a pair of six-phoot cables for less than six bucks, including shipping! There they were on display at Overstock.com, which I now believe is simply O.co (great, another thing to remind me of Oprah Winfrey). So you can spend less than three smackers for each cable (in a pair) or you can get them in a fancy box for 10 times the price. My 3-buck cables work great, thank you very much.

3 – Have you ever checked out government web sites for money that may be owed to you? If your answer is “no,” what are you waiting for? Most states hold money that is coming to folks for a variety of reasons. The most common types of unclaimed property are:

  • Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
  • Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends
  • Uncashed cashier’s checks or money orders
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Matured or terminated insurance policies
  • Estates
  • Mineral interests and royalty payments, trust funds, and escrow accounts.

California’s unclaimed property URL is http://www.sco.ca.gov/upd.html. I once found that the Consumer Gal had a modest amount of dough coming her way. Do an online search for your state. In addition, the IRS has nearly $165 million in unclaimed refund checks lying around somewhere. There are 112,000 taxpayers who have not received their 2009 refunds due to mailing address errors. So think back . . . “Hmm, did I ever get that refund from last year? . . .Doh!” If you are missing one, update your address at www.IRS.gov.

4 – Have you ever gone to an emergency room only to discover that the staff thinks that 27 other people’s emergencies are more emergent than yours? So you sit around for hours until you forget why you are there. Well, guess what. A lot of hospitals are okay with you going somewhere where the wait time is shorter. To find out a hospital’s wait time, check its web site or call the hospital. If you have a life-threatening emergency, make the call on your way to the hospital of first choice, providing you are not the one driving. Better yet, first call for an ambulance, then start calling or surfing for emergency rooms.

If you’re not Complaining, Quit Complaining!

He doth protest too much

(c) www.consumerguy.com

Complaining can be evaluated in two basic ways. You complain because you are a complainer – it’s just part of your personality – or you complain because you are mad as hell (for a valid reason) and you are just not going to take it anymore.

    I must own up to being a bit of the former. But I am also a lot of the latter. Some consumers don’t complaint because they just don’t have the moxie. But I haven’t been shy since I hit puberty (except around approaching females, but that ended when I met the Consumer Gal). For some, complaining isn’t worth the effort and upset. But allow me to explain why – if you get the short shrift in a consumer exchange – it often pays for several reasons. First, you get to feel that you have justly prevailed, in contrast to feeling like a wimp. Second, you get money, or some other consideration, back, which allows you to pay for more stuff.

            Let me give a few examples of the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways I have complained to great success.

            For the first time in our lives, the Consumer Gal and I decided to give the post-Thanksgiving “black Friday” early morning sales a shot. We got up at 3:30 a.m., went over to Sears and got in line to buy a name brand, 46-inch flat screen television for 500 bucks. We waited patiently in line for 20 minutes at the cash register, paid for the TV, went downstairs to the pickup area and waited interminably. The clerk then told us the TV we bought wasn’t in stock. We went back upstairs to find a manager and told him of our plight. He went into the warehouse and came back 10 minutes later to tell us he found the set and that we should return back to pickup. After a short wait we got our television.

            The receipt had one of those requests at the bottom that asked for us to log onto the Sears web site in order to let Sears know about our shopping experience. I did so and explained how disappointed we were. A few days later I got a call from a store manager; the very same one who found the missing set. He apologized and credited our credit card with 75 bucks. So what’s better, being pissed off, or being pissed off and getting 75 smackers back?

            Example number 2: We ordered a range and a microwave oven at a regional appliance chain store. We were promised delivery on a particular day within a four hour time window (don’t you just love those?). I won’t go into the whole story, but they didn’t have the microwave and they didn’t let me know until the last minute, even though the appointment was made five days before scheduled delivery. I got a hold of the customer service rep at the store. She apologized, rescheduled with a two-hour window, and gave me a 50-dollar refund.

            But this is my favorite, and it is an object lesson for all of you who are afraid to put your foot (feet?) down.

            We were flying from Anchorage to San Jose, changing planes in Seattle. Due to a mistake on the airline’s part, we arrived late in Seattle. We ran to make our connecting flight. And even though we made it to the gate before the plane pulled away, we were denied boarding. It seems the airline did not bother to hold connecting flights five minutes so the delayed passengers from Anchorage could make their connections.

            We went to the customer service desk where we encountered disinterested and surly personnel. They informed us that the remaining flights to San Jose were full. And so were flights through other connecting cities. And so were flights on other airlines. Some of the passengers in similar circumstances settled with airline by accepting a meal voucher a hotel room.

            The airline would put us up in a hotel. Our baggage, however, was lost. I asked the agent if they would please deliver the baggage to the hotel. “We don’t do that,” was her response. They would notify us when the bags arrived and we would have to return to the terminal to retrieve them – at our own expense.

            Fortunately, one of my best friends lives in Seattle. They picked us up and took us to retrieve our bags and we were able to have dinner with them.

            Upon returning home, I called the airline and asked for compensation. They expressed compassion as deep as window frost and denied our request. I filed in small claims court for, well, to be honest, I can’t remember how much, as compensation for our air fare, the Consumer Gal’s salary for the day of work she missed and miscellaneous expenses. And guess what. Voila! The airline called me. They wanted to make the law suit go away. I demanded the following:

¨       Reimbursement of court costs;

¨       A flight to Fairbanks

¨       A connecting flight to Victoria, BC

¨       A return flight home

The airline’s agent said she doubted she could do that. I asked her to think it over. It’s either my way or the court way. She capitulated. Our next vacation was a trip to Fairbanks, from which we visited Denali National Park. Then a trip to lovely Victoria and a flight home. Beautiful.

My point is, it’s the complainers who make the difference for consumers. I am unhappy with my cable TV service about 25 percent of the time. I pay a full cable bill about . . .  well . . . 25 percent of the time (don’t ask why I don’t change providers – it’s a long story). When they screw up, I demand compensation. And I get it.

So when you get crappy service, complain. Don’t just sit there, unhappy, frustrated  . . . and complaining.