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Archive for September, 2012

Reappearing Deposit

September 27th, 2012 at 11:22 pm

After two more visits and another telephone call to the US, we finally got a call from our local agent that we could come in to pick up our money.

At this point you may be thinking "he got resolution," and - eventually - we did, but the story has quite a few twists in it. Please, read on to see what I deal with over here in Dubai.

During the call, the agent said, "The German bank only sent XXX amount, so you won't be getting back your whole transfer payment."

Needless to say, I disagreed fervently, and even eventually mentioned, "Not only did you not perform the service that was contracted, you had my money for four weeks. In actuality, you should be paying me interest, not cutting my refunded amount."

I decided this was better discussed in person, and went into the office where I made my initial transfer, along with my copy of the contract. Again, they said that "since the money has already been converted to US currency" I'd only be refunded the amount of the returned deposit, less fees for the conversion, fees for the new conversion back to local currency, and less the fee for the initial transfer.

No deal. I said again that they were going to give me the entire amount for failure to perform according to the contract. The agent made a call, and said, "OK, we'll refund the whole amount."

Again, the story does not end there.

The agent then started working with another agent, going through the drawer, counting money in their machine, filling out forms... basically spending more than five minutes before having me sign 3 different forms (without a lot of explanation), and finally handing me a bundle of money and saying, "Goodbye."

I then counted the money right there on the counter where I was given the money. Stashed right there in the middle of what was more or less a pile o $250 dollar bill equivalents was a single $125 equivalent. I pulled it out, and put it with the other bills of the same denomination and kept counting.

I came out $125 under the amount I was due. They then made another big show of balancing the guy's drawer, even going to the point of grabbing a briefcase from the back full of $3.00 bill equivalents, and finally gave me the balance I was due.

My wife, who was there at the time, asked me if I felt they shorted us on purpose. My answer, "Definitely. That's why they made the big show. They saw I never did anything but count the money. They only needed to recount it themselves to see I was shorted. They showed no surprise or suspicion that I might have shorted them. The whole refund show was a fabrication to try to get us to walk away without counting."

I got all my money.

No, I won't be using this shady group ever again. Instead, I'll be paying the bank more, for more security.

Things I've Learned

September 23rd, 2012 at 04:42 pm

Like most Americans, I was never really taught about finances. I was shown how to balance a checkbook, but when it comes to investing, saving, credit, or myriad other financially-related items, I was completely ignorant. I knew so little, I didn't even know where to learn about any of the things I knew I was deficient in.

I've always been smart. Why was it I knew nothing about money? Because I was so ignorant, I didn't even know where to start looking to get the information. Due to this, most things I know about money, I've learned by doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. This post is to illustrate my mistakes, and the corrections I now make as I pass 50 years of age.

Buy Quality
I used to shop around for the best prices on furniture, appliances, on everything, really. My idea of a good deal was finding something that cost less but did the same job.

What I have learned from this mistake is that spending $200 three times over 6 years is actually more expensive than spending $500 once in 10 years. Find items that are well-made using good materials. Solid wood furniture is worth at least 3X what the glued sawdust furniture you get at Wal-Mart costs, and even 10X more if you buy something with a dense grain. It will just last longer. Same with buying a name-brand, researched refrigerator or car. Buy something that is well-made, but feel free to buy used or to bargain for the price.

Everything is negotiable
When you find that the TV you're looking at getting to replace your old TV is the last one they have and a display model, you should be thinking, "Opportunity!"

Managers are busy people. They have to be concerned with all of their employees, their stock levels, their profit, their sales compared to last year, and customer satisfaction, among other things.

Managers don't really have time for every customer, so they are more inclined to find a fast answer, as long as it balances a few of their objectives. Due to this, they are more inclined to cut a few percent off a sale so they can get back to their "real" duties. So, when making large purchases, find a reason to call the manager and ask for a discount.

The last item or a display item are ideal for this. If you have kids, your stuff will be scratched or damaged cosmetically at some time. Go ahead and purchase something that's gently damaged cosmetically, especially if the damage "doesn't show." The side of a dryer can be scratched or slightly dinged, but you'll never see it, for instance. Ask for a discount. If you get it, you just "made" money.

Get Yours
The first two houses I sold, I had to make realtor-suggested improvements before I put the house on the market. These were little things, but I realized that I could have paid for these improvements earlier and lived with the better house rather than preparing a better house for my buyer. Now, I make improvements and repairs and upgrades as soon as I can.

Get Paid for What You Do
This is similar to the paragraph above, but it doesn't pertain to salary or wages. What it means is that you should make improvements that pay you back.

I spent $25K at least 5 years ago to install insulation and other improvements in my 1950's bungalow. This is a no-brainer, but most people in my neighborhood have not yet done it. I now save at least $200 per month on my energy bills (in the Houston summer). I figure I'm no more than $15K down just counting the insulation. If you add the AC unit, radiant barrier, ridge vents and windows, I'm no more than $5K down on my improvements. On top of this, my house value is at least $40K above where it would have been without the improvements. The longer I keep the house, the more money I'll "earn" on these improvements.

Don't Spend your increase
The easiest way to get breathing room in your budget is to ignore bonuses and pay increases. Sure, you got $10,000 more this year over last, but if you keep the same budget, this is an increase. If you now decide you can afford that $35,000 car, you've actually lost money.

This can also be applied on a debt repayment plan. If you retire a $150 payment, use $30 to reward yourself each month - to get breathing room - rather than adding the entire amount toward the next bill. Of course, if you're like me, you only do this on occasion. When I get a bill, I put every penny I can find toward it.

I realize this sounds counter to the title, and I guess it is, but what I mean by this is to not spend all of your increase just because you can. Instead, save part of it rather than seeing all the new stuff you can finance with it. You should still reward yourself for your gains, but don't use it all for "new stuff."

I need it
This is how my wife and I decide we shouldn't really buy something. When we see an impulse buy item, we'll tell each other in a very effusive voice, "I need it!" We then laugh and walk away. Most stuff you buy in this manner is absolute crap. Why buy something you're not going to really use or enjoy?

Debt is Dumb
Debt means "I want this so badly, I'm willing to pay more for it than they're asking." The one SLIGHT exception to this is a home, but that's only if you buy below market and the value increases. That's not what has happened to most purchases made in the last 8 years.

Debt means you're impatient. I wrote a spreadsheet to show that saving and buying later saves you thousands of dollars, even at 6% payments with 2% savings interest. What it normally means is you buy later for MUCH less. What normally happens is people are too greedy and impatient to wait until they get that new car, boat, or ATV.

Just save until you can pay cash. You'll be surprised how often you then decide NOT to buy and to use the money for something "better" like retirement, a home, or college for your kids.

Do you really need a new BMW today?!

The Disappearing Deposit

September 21st, 2012 at 10:08 pm

As a continuation of my last post concerning my telegraphic transfer from Dubai to the US: I continued to go to the sending agency here in Dubai for updates, waiting enough time to prevent them from putting me off by saying the paperwork was still going through.

Eventually, I was told that the problem was at Chase Bank's end in the US.

I called Chase, and after more than 30 minutes, I found out that - just as suspected - it is the US Government preventing the deposit. Little Hitler has some power, and is illegally preventing me from moving my money. I've done nothing wrong. I've done nothing illegal. They have no right to this obstruction. My rights as a US citizen (to my property and my free use thereof) are being violated.

All of that aside, it will take Chase four more days to return the money, so I can then go to the bank in Germany to get my money... which will probably take another week or more after that to finally get the cash back here in Dubai so I can again try to get it transferred to the US so I can pay some bills. Thankfully, I keep enough emergency fund in the US to go a couple of months without immediate cash.

The long and the short of it is that I have $8,000 in electronic limbo, and I won't get it for at least a week. I have lost the use of this money for nearly a month.

Thanks, Uncle Sam. I now know the true meaning of the sentence: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

Hazards of Overseas Living

September 16th, 2012 at 02:42 am

I am a United States citizen living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Firstly, let me say that the title is not talking about the present political difficulties taking place in the Middle East. In fact, Dubai is fairly immune to such disturbances because only about 10% of the population is Arab. Most of us here are expatriates, such as myself.

The hazards I refer to are best illustrated by my present predicament. On September 2, 2012, I sent a wire transfer back to my US bank account, so I could pay my US-based bills. To do this, I need to convert the money into dollars - which costs me money. I then need to give the money to someone to send it - which costs me money. The money then arrives in the US, where my bank charges me a fee for receiving it - which, you guessed it, costs me money.

Naturally, I try to minimize the charges involved in me transferring the money. For the last four months, I have been using an agency set up to transfer money out of the UAE. This was saving me about $15 per transmittal, as I only saved money on the "sending" fee, and not on the exchange or receiving fee. The previous option was using my UAE bank for the transmitting business.

My money from this transfer has not yet gone through. Today makes 2 weeks I have been waiting. I have initiated an investigation. I believe what has happened is the US government has held up the transfer; probably waiting for me to prove I am not laundering funds from Iran. If this turns out to be true, I will be upset. The government has NO RIGHT and NO JUSTIFICATION to make such an arbitrary decision as to hold up my funds transfer. They can record it, and then investigate it, and THEN, they can bring charges if necessary.

My transaction is from me in the UAE, to me in the US. There's nothing illegal about it, and the government has no probable cause to stop the transfer. They are being a-hole bureaucrats, and this is why everyone hates government employees. They're all little Hitlers, given the chance.

So, I have several thousand dollars in limbo, and I'll have to use the bank (at a higher price) for my next transfer. The bank not only costs more, but it also takes longer... at least it takes longer if I don't count this attempt.

I just have to wait, and hope for the best. I've heard of things like this taking up to six months to resolve over here. How would you like to "lose" several thousand dollars for six months or more? I know how I feel about it. I can't say, though, because I try to keep my blog PG rated, at worst.

Cheap, Safe Bug Killer

September 2nd, 2012 at 08:08 pm

I learned about this years ago. In the late 1980's, I was living in Houston, Texas. Our house was about 90% carpeted, and we had two dogs. One dog carries, by my approximation, 100 gazillion fleas.

At the time, there was a service that promised to remove fleas, called "Rx for Fleas." I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about using this service, as they promised to get rid of fleas for up to a year. My friend told me how to make my own bug killing mixture that is safe for pets and children. I've used it ever since.

There are two ingredients. You can buy them cheap, or you can buy them for a lot.

The first ingredient is called "Boric Acid Powder," or orthoboric acid (in powder form). You can get this in a pharmacy, where it is pure and intended to be mixed with water to make a disinfectant liquid for cleaning skin-borne bacteria. I once was prescribed this by a vet to be used to clean the eyes of a rescue kitten. As felines clean themselves (including their faces), I deduced that this acid was not harmful to pets, as advertised. The pharmacy version of Boric Acid Powder costs about $4.00 for about 4 or 6 ounces (7 to 10 grams).

You also buy this powder at a dollar store. It will be in a plastic bottle. It will be called something like "roach proof" or "roach powder" or something like that. Just look on the label for "boric acid" or "orthoboric acid." The only problem with this type is that it often has a light blue tint, as if they added a tiny bit of blue chalk from a pool cue piece of chalk. Just don't use this on white carpets, or you can buy the pharmacy version, which looks like baby powder. Anyway, the dollar store version is one pound (28 grams) for a dollar.

Before I go on to the second ingredient, let me talk a bit more about boric acid powder. Bugs are actually clean critters. They are constantly cleaning themselves by the equivalent of licking themselves clean. Therefore, anything they walk through, they ingest when they clean themselves. When they walk through boric acid powder, they clean it off by swallowing it. The powder gets into their digestive tract where it damages and kills them. I think a person or cat would have to eat like a half a cup to do the same, so small quantities such as you'd get from dust in the air being breathed in or swallowed won't hurt a healthy person, baby, or animal. I'd be careful of lizards, or someone with lung problems.

You can put boric acid powder anywhere that people are not likely to go, but bugs are likely to go. I got a "Planters Peanut" jar (the one with the metal lid held on by a plastic ring; I think it was a pound), and put a bunch of holes in the top using a nail, like a big salt shaker. I use this to "distribute" the powder. Places I've put it are: In my attic near the walls, behind electrical outlets, and onto my garage floor, especially near the walls. I use the pure boric acid, and just "sprinkle" the area. Remember, bugs will walk through it and pick up the talc. It takes very little to kill them.

The second ingredient for the carpet treatment is "diatomaceous earth." This, too, comes in two forms. You can buy it in some hardware store insecticide areas, where it was $4 per pound when I priced it. Instead, you can go to the pool supply area, and buy it for like $10 for 25 pounds (about 11 kg). It is used in pool filters for cleaning the water or backflushing.

Diatoms are really small creatures with skeletons. I don't really know where they fall in the animal kingdom. When diatoms die, their skeletons, carapaces, or shells (whatever) remain. These things are too small to make out as more than dust to the human eye, but to a bug, they are as sharp as razors. When the bug walks through a place with diatomaceous earth (millions of dead diatom shells), they get the powder onto them, and into their joints. The diatoms cut into the joints, and cause the bugs to bleed out.

Mix 10 parts of diatomaceous earth with one part of boric acid powder. This dilutes any coloring in the cheap version of the boric acid powder until it is nearly non-existent. Put about a half jar into the peanut jar, and use it as a "salt shaker" all around your house on the carpets, dog beds, or anything cloth on the floor.

Before starting to sprinkle the powder, make sure all food is covered, and clean all dishware afterward. Personally, I just keep the cupboards closed and don't have any dirty dishes out when I spread the powder around.

It doesn't take a whole lot. I'd say about half a pound (250 gms) per 1000 square feet (100 m2), maybe a little more. Sprinkle it liberally, and then work it in with a broom. Leave it messy and powdery for two days or so, then vacuum and dust normally.

You won't see any change in your bugs for a week or more; however, after about a week, you're going to see hundreds of fleas and think I've steered you wrong. Wait about three days to a week for this invasion to subside. You won't see another flea for six months or more after they subside.

This will remain effective for at least a year, with one warning: If the powder gets wet, it will dissolve and stop working. Therefore, steam cleaning or other means of getting your carpets wet means you have to wait until they are dry, then reapply.

I've used this for years, and I can personally attest to its efficacy.