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Archive for July, 2011

VERY SAD!

July 30th, 2011 at 10:14 am

I am sure everyone goes through this on some level, but I had the luck to grow up in an always more popular area - which means old buildings are torn down and new housing is put in every single chance given.

Anyway, my dad sent me a news article this morning that said the skating rink where I grew up is closing. TOMORROW. That, by itself is sad. But, then there is the inevitable "The building will be razed and 100 single homes will be built." Something like that.

*sigh*

They already tore down the music store my middle school teacher owned, where I learned to play piano, and where I taught piano through college. That was hard. Now when I drive by all there is are houses.

Both these places mean about as much to my childhood as the house I grew up in and the schools I attended.

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I had already committed to a no-spend weekend. & I wasn't thrilled with the idea of being spontaneous to go there one last time (had been meaning to take the kids for ages).

I was also planning to work tomorrow.

BUT, on facebook, I saw a childhood friend was in town and might go there with her kids today. It's not anyone I was overly close to, but went to the same school grades K-12. Our high school was so huge, there will never be a reunion. This is the best thing I got. There may be others there.

So, I e-mailed her and asked what time she'd be there. Will consider it from there. Looks like we might be VERY spontaneous. I'd invite my dad along, visit my folks for dinner, and then drive back because I need to work tomorrow. Dh got *the virus* and I took some time off work this week to run the kids around, etc. So, have to make up 3 hours or so this weekend.

I am not going to bother if no one I know is going. I think I am more intrigued by the reunion factor. I'd probably rather remember the place as I did in my childhood. So, will see...

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I went to aerobics this morning and was craving a smoothie the entire time (Was hungry!). My smoothie maker has been a bit finicky lately. So I kind of set it aside a few weeks ago. I decided to give it a whirl today - had frozen strawberries, watermelon and bananas. Plus some yogurt and juice. Ah - hit the spot perfect! Smoothie maker was very well behaved today.

I will probably put one on my wish list for Christmas. A nicer one. This one was real cheap - but does so much better than a blender (in my opinion). Then I don't have to be too rough on our old/cheap blender. Anyway, I bought it when I had intense cravings for fruit during my last pregnancy. I don't really care much for fruit, plus it wasn't exactly the kind of calories I needed to sustain a pregnancy (all I wanted was FRUIT)! & so I bought the smoothie maker and started making yogurt smoothies to cure my cravings and get adequate protein and calories. (I had made smoothies before, but didn't want to put my blender through that every single day!).

Now that I know it was a great investment and we use it all the time, and since it is not working up to par any more, I am ready to invest in a nicer one!

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LM qualified for a focus group. Sometimes the kids get money, toys, or both. Today it is just a toy. But, it is his first focus group, so will be interesting. (BM has done several).

It's funny how it all kind of ebbs and flows. I don't think dh or I have done one paid focus group this year. BUT, the credit card rewards have been REALLY lucrative (& far less effort)! It's just funny to me how when some income streams are slow, others speed up.

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Work aside, and spontaneous trip aside, we had little planned but to lounge by the pool all weekend. So plan A is lots of driving and reunion-ing today. Plan B is a low key lounge by the pool weekend. (Work and focus group duties both over by noon!)

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ETA: Did not go, since heard line was out the door! Will stick with the no-spend weekend.

Approved!

July 30th, 2011 at 07:04 am

Dh is usually immediately approved for ANY credit card offer. *I* usually have to wait for a call (Fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts). That said, I am getting kind of aggravated at Chase for checking my identity every single time. I am a current customer with a current account using the same address, etc. To be fair, my account was very inactive when I applied for the last card. But, this time I am just aggravated. Seems overkill to me! (It would be one thing if I applied under a different address and e-mail).

{I've personally never found any one to ignore the fraud alert - maybe that is more of a department store practice? I don't know - you always hear that credit card companies don't care or pay attention - but my experience has been opposite - kind of overkill}.

ANYWAY...

Since dh is already an *authorized user* on my Chase Freedom, and he wasn't immediately approved, I thought we might have to call and beg to get this card. Big Grin

So, I Was relieved to see the approval today! Was one whole week.

Phew.

That's a $200 cash bonus.

I am still waiting for approval on the $500 amazon gift card bonus. Which at this point is most lucrative - aside from the $500 cash I got from Chase. I will also find out in a few days if Chase is going to give me another $500 for the Sapphire.

I still haven't heard back from Citi on the annual fee that they shouldn't have charged me. If nothing else, dh should be up to calling Monday. But, I like correspondence in *writing.* Not that it means much to some credit card companies. But, still feel a little more substantial than another promise over the phone!

Refi Relief

July 28th, 2011 at 10:55 am

I think my cautious nature, plus other random circumstances, and continually falling interest rates, has contributed to the fact that we have refinanced more times than I can probably remember at this point!

Every time I can save 1% interest, it seems like a no brainer to refinance. (I am not talking about cash out refinances, borrowing money, blahdeblahdeblah. JUST lowering the interest rate!) But, hell if I was going to sit around and wait for something better. I didn't have the crystal ball that said rates would slide down to rock bottom the entire first 12 years+ I owned a home. I could have just refinanced once or twice to the same end - had I known!

Anyway, I was *just* seeing 15-year mortgage rates at 3.75%, and I had to salivate. They've probably been around awhile, but I completely wrote off the 15-year mortgage at this point in time. Easy peasy if we are both working. But, just a tad too much to take on without a second income.

For whatever reason, I ran the numbers anyway, on the latest and greatest. The extra push to get our balance down to $199,999 this year, seemed to significantly decrease the payment from last I checked. Probably lower interest rates, too (though just barely). We also have the cash to pay the closing costs (maybe we didn't last time I looked).

Payment? $1450 per month.

Really, it's nothing. Our initial 30-year mortgage was MORE Than that. $1500-ish. We've paid $1300-ish on FAR less income.

But, alas, I have really taken a liking to my $1125/month mortgage payment. It's really the only reason we are making progress on our other financial goals. $1450 is probably extremely reasonable considering my income. BUT, I am also paying $1000/month for health insurance. That's obviously the reason I can't really stomach what is otherwise a VERY Reasonable payment.

I decided to run the numbers as if we just paid $1450/month on our current mortgage. Any time I have done this exercise before, we come out MILES ahead on the refi. We are talking a 1.125% decrease in interest!

The verdict? Not so much this time. Huge sigh of relief!

I need to pre-pay $15,000 at some point. If I do so, the $1450 payment knocks out the mortgage in exactly 15 years.

$15,000 might seem like a lot, but once you consider the cost to refi, the hassle factor, the tying up of cash, and the $325 increase to our minimum payments, it's nothing. So we maybe have to come up with $10,000 more - than refi costs - in exchange for some huge flexibility (a LOW minimum payment).

For the first time ever, it just doesn't make sense to refi. Hallelujah!

All that said, I am excited because my goal to pay off our mortgage at age 45 seems little more than a pipe dream lately. I think *this* 15-year plan is doable, and it puts us at mortgage payoff about the time of my 50th birthday!!

Dh then just needs to work enough to knock off 5 years off the mortgage. That, plus the $15,000 I mentioned. If he never works again? I can live with the age 50 pay off. It would mean only 25 years of even having a mortgage, and we'd have our parents beat by a couple of years.

I think between gifts, overtime, etc., we can aim for the extra $3900 ($325 x 12) per year to the mortgage. I am motivated because forming the plan to pay an extra $3000-ish this year seemed like a huge pipe dream, but we are well on the way. I am motivated by how powerful thought and a plan is.

I haven't tried before because too behind on other financial goals. The last decade was definitely: *screw the mortgage - time with our kids is more important - working more would be insane anyway.*

But, today, we are at:

**Rebuilt cash savings. Should reach $30,000 by the end of the year. Have not had this much cash since the DINK years. I feel like we are getting back on solid ground.

**We are maxing out our ROTHs. $10,000 per year.

**As of next week, dh has about 7 hours per week day free to work (no daycare costs). With the economy and all, I don't expect him to be working full-time next week. Hardly! But, being overly aggressive on the mortgage for one or two years doesn't really mean much as we ramp up our income. The last decade it might have left us behind in other savings goals. We might have to be creative for the next year or two, but eventually a second income will take up the slack.

I go back and forth because I regret tying too much cash in the mortgage, in the past. That said, I also feel defeated at how little progress we have made on the mortgage since having kids. I just need to find better middle ground. (In addition - seeing way too much under-employment once hitting age 50 - in the family and such - even before economy really went south. I feel extra motivation to be mortgage free by that age. Age 45 goal comes from the wish to be mortgage free before kids start college).

If interest rates stay low, though, I wouldn't be surprised if we take on a 15-year mortgage if we have an income boost. Though I always caution taking on more mortgage than needed, the flip side is we are talking about extremely reasonable territory with these LOW interest rates. The more we pay off, the more reasonable the 15-year payment is.

Credit Card Offers

July 28th, 2011 at 09:30 am

I really need to start reading all the credit card offers that come in the mail (versus throwing them in the trash)!

My $300 cash or $500 gift cards from Citi will not come easy. I set aside the offer we got in the mail but didn't look at it until AFTER I applied for it. Doh! Lesson learned. Offer in mail waived annual fee. (Lord knows what other awesome deals have come through our mail that I never looked at. Seems if "available to everyone" offers are enticing, then direct mail ones seem to be even better).

Anyway, I thought we were doing very well on budget this month (sick and homebound for a week was a LOT of it). So was surprised to see the Citi credit card uptick $200. I was thinking we may spend $50 more this month - on gas and food. I wondered what on earth dh had bought, and quickly narrowed it down to $175 in fees.

Ugh!

Dh got my germs and he is sick - card is in his name. He is not up to calling them today! Maybe for the best. Citi is easy to deal with over the internet (good secure messaging, etc. - last time I had a Citi card I never once had to call them. I did a balance transfer online and then asked for a cash refund - did it all to invest the cash at 5% or 6%. SO EASY). So I sent them a message how I didn't appreciate being charged $175, after they told me over the phone a couple of weeks ago that they would charge me $0. $125 annual fee + $50 authorized user. I didn't catch the $50 authorized user part until after I applied (have NEVER been charged for that before). So dh asked them to take me off. They told him he didn't need to - was no charge. Of course they charged him anyway!

Since the credit card closed 7/25 or so - it won't affect my budget in the interim. I will just pay the 7/31 balance minus $175. Thus far, that is more than the balance on the 7/25 statement. So, phew. I'd usually be more insistent that they remove the charge from the statement they added it to, but this way I can just focus on getting it reversed. I don't really care when - as long as it is SOON.

I think this is a hassle factor we brought upon ouselves in some regard (applied for the lesser offer). I generally equate these one-time offers with "5 minutes to apply" and maybe "15 minutes to close the card." If that. Generally no hassle in between. Earning $200 or $500 for 20 minutes of my time? Seems like a steal for me.

This one - I just have to work a little harder for.

Lesson learned - I'll start paying more attention to credit card offers! I could kick myself for not checking the mail offer first and just applying under the "no fee" deal in the first place.

Unemployment

July 26th, 2011 at 05:42 pm

**Just found out family friend was laid off from AAA after 12 years or so. Job outsourced to India.

My dad has been struggling with unemployment most of his 50s. But, he is well prepared for early retirement, and doing just fine.

It hit me when my dad mentioned to another friend that this guy is 60. We were bemoaning his fate and how ill prepared he is for unemployment. But, for whatever reason, I compartmentalized him as much younger in my mind. When my dad said he was 60, it was just like, geez.

My dad and his friend could probably hardly be more opposite, financially. It kind of changed my mind from "poor guy," to a slight "tsk tsk." His situation was entirely preventable, really. Forced retirement at 60 is probably tough for most anyone. But "hardly a penny to my name" at 60, is pretty riduclous.

Will be interesting to see how it pans out. I won't be surprised if my parents end up helping him out.

I just read unemployment is ticking up. I see it, as I have several friends/relatives/acquaintances getting laid off from LONG TIME jobs - in recent weeks.

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Check out this article:

Text is http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/business/help-wanted-ads-exclude-the-long-term-jobless.html?_r=1 and Link is
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/business/help-wanted-ads-e...

The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk:

The unemployed need not apply.


Really, really obnoxious and sad.

I can't really complain about my lot, but reading this, it looks like the odds of my spouse returning to the workforce any time soon? Pretty slim. It's ugly out there. Of course, I am far more worried about friends who have been out of work a long time, etc. But, yeah, it's just UGLY out there.

More Credit Cards!

July 26th, 2011 at 10:41 am

These rewards are completely out of control!

I just applied for Southwest Rapid Rewards card. A $99 annual fee + ONE purchase = $500 Amazon gift cards.

I usually write off any card with annual fee (when it's not waived first year), off the bat. BUT, I have made so much cash this year off credit cards, it was a very small gamble.

Rewards round up:

$600-ish deposits to ROTH IRA (Fidelity AmEx)
$1000 (maybe?) cash - not sure if Chase will honor second $500
$300 Cash - Citi
$200 Cash - Chase
$500 Amazon gift cards - Southwest Chase
-$99 fee

=$2500

If Chase flakes out on full $1000 cash, I am still up $2000 for VERY little effort.

I am not sure if I will be approved for this Southwest card - since it is another Chase card. I decided to apply, and ask them to close my Chase Freedom - *if* they deny me for that (too many Chase cards). Was going to close it anyway, but figured it was easiest to do it this way.

I will probably redeem these rewards and close all of these credit cards (4 cards - 2 for the each of us) before I consider any more reward cards this year. I think 4 *extra* cards is about my limit. Should be able to close them all by end of September, and to start anew.

{CAVEATS - we tend to charge most our bills anyway (so we don't have to do anything extraordinary to meet purchase minimums), we ALWAYS pay the balance off monthly, and our 800-ish FICOs seem unaffected by semi-frequent card opening and closings for cash rewards. Once one-time rewards are earned - we immediately close those credit cards. I was blessed to be taught how to handle credit cards versus just fearing them. That said, I don't recommend utilizing these deals if you can't treat your credit card like a debit card, or if you have to rack up expenses that you wouldn't otherwise. Then, it's no deal...}.

Camping

July 25th, 2011 at 07:40 pm



Nope, I didn't change my mind and go camping. But, the fam did go without me.

Sounds like they had a blast.

From a frugal standpoint, doesn't get much cheaper than a camping trip. But look at that amazing beauty! This is just a couple hours from our home - in the Sierras.

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I can't believe that summer has only 2 weeks left! I kind of equate summer with slowness, because work is pretty quiet this time of year. BUT, I suppose it's nice not having to deal with *school* stuff 2 months of the year.

When the kids are older, we might appreciate the short summers, but for now - it just goes by way too fast!

Seeing the pictures reminded me that we promised BM to go back on that big hike by family camp. Probably something we will do in September. We have time this weekend, but after being so ill for an entire week, I hardly feel up to anything like that.

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Next weekend will probably be a *take it easy* and stay close to home kind of weekend.

Weekend after that we are planning a little vacation in San Jose. Nothing really set in stone - but several things we want to do. Maybe a day trip to the beach, or a hike. A day at the water park, etc.

Our anniversary is 2 months away, so we should probably think about booking a room in Napa for that weekend. Was what we decided to do (something different and pretty close to home). Well, I better start figuring something out!

Heck, our Napa trip is about 2 weeks before our So Cal trip. Best get that figured out, too.

Credit Rewards Update

July 23rd, 2011 at 11:08 am

**Hit $3000 spending on the Chase Sapphire. Closes in a week or so - will see if I get my points on that statement.

If I get my check, will donate $250 to school and add $250 to the mortgage.

**Hit $600 on the Citi card (need $1000 or $2000). I think I will just aim for $2000 to keep it simple. (Dh got a $1000 offer in the mail after I applied - but it's easier to just stick with the $2000 than to deal with a cc company which may or may not honor anything they tell us!)

Anyway, I just set up the health insurance to pay on that card next month. Which means I just need another $700 or so. Probably will hit it by mid-August and be done with that card.

Reward = gift cards galore.

**I just applied for a Chase Freedom in dh's name. I already have one, so easier just to apply in his name to guarantee approval. But, we only have to spend $500 to earn $200 cash back. EASY MONEY. IT may pail in comparison to the $2000 or so I am expecting from our 3 other cards this year, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not so often an easy $200 reward like that comes along. I'll take it!!

Will probably put the $200 to the mortgage.

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No, we have never opened up so many credit cards in such a short time, for rewards, in our lives. This year has been unreal. I am usually only in the game for more rare/lucrative cards. Maybe once a year or so, on average.

Still wondering how much the competition will heat up and if there will be more for the taking in 2011.

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{CAVEATS - we tend to charge most our bills anyway (so we don't have to do anything extraordinary to meet purchase minimums), we ALWAYS pay the balance off monthly, and our 800-ish FICOs seem unaffected by semi-frequent card opening and closings for cash rewards. Once one-time rewards are earned - we immediately close those credit cards. I was blessed to be taught how to handle credit cards versus just fearing them. That said, I don't recommend utilizing these deals if you can't treat your credit card like a debit card, or if you have to rack up expenses that you wouldn't otherwise. Then, it's no deal...}.

Rough Week!

July 21st, 2011 at 04:01 pm

Gah!

Kids both had a mild virus recently, so when I felt it coming on last Thursday night, figured it couldn't be too bad.

One week later, I feel chewed up and spit out. Still not 100%, but getting there...

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The kids' party was excellent, so I hear.

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I also get to miss that awesome concert tonight. Frown I suppose I could go if I really wanted to, but think I rather rest up. If nothing else, throat is REALLY sensitive and don't think I could take any smoke, etc. A co-worker walked by with some perfume on, and about knocked me over. Hard to describe - but it just feels TERRIBLE as those chemicals are breathed in and make contact with my throat.

Dh is a SAINT and has taken care of a very grumpy/sick wife all week.

For whatever reason, I planned way far ahead more than usual on the kids' party and it was far simpler than usual. All that said, dh and I were annoyed when we asked his mom to whip up box mix cupcakes (we were at hospital hours before party) and she wanted to buy some at the store. Rolleyes I told dh, "I rather make them right now, in my ill state, than buy that store bought crap." LOL. But had cleaned the house well ahead (some night before admittedly, *just in case* because felt sick by then). Dh had made some salsa and hummus ahead of time (for adults). The only thing we cut was the watermelon since I knew no one else would want to slice it. I figured it was a small sacrifice. (Don't ask me how on earth I am designated watermelon slicer. I hate knives and have no idea what I am doing - but everyone seems to think I do it well?) Someone made cupcakes for us, and we bought cheap pizza, as planned. Entertainment was all arranged. So, it went off without a hitch. If not for dh's family, I think he would have cancelled. So thank goodness for them coming up a little early and helping.

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From reading all the posts lately, I can tell you all took our heat! We have never had such a PLEASANT July in Sacramento.

That said, I've been home sick running the A/C pretty hard. (The cool air feels good - well - it helped). Plus, we usually only run it downstairs most the day, but have had many days where we have been running it both up and down stairs all day. So, will see if low heat July really comes with any electric savings. Oh yeah - and how much electricity does it cost to run a bounce house for 8 hours? Will find out soon... I suppose if nothing else, it will all even out in the end.

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Frugal activities for July:

**Cancelled camping trip this weekend. Pretty bummed about it, but need to recover. Camping doesn't sound fun at the moment! Of course, dh and kids could go with my dad, but I think dh is exhausted and just wants to stay home.

**Dh will enjoy $5 concert tonight and will probably meet awesome musician. Sounds like a very intimate setting and dh was on his mailing list so is on his *guest list.* Will see what that entails!

**Library event this week - meeting lizards, snakes and all that.

**Train museum membership even next week. We invited 2 sets of friends (can bring 6 guests) and will see the awesome musician who totally flaked out on our party. (He came through with free substitute who worked out pretty well).

Still like his show - would just never hire him again. Anyway, free substitute was his mentor and did many of the same tricks - so worked out as well as it could. In the end - happy to see him perform somewhere else. Especially, free.

**In addition to all of the above, it is still good pool weather. But, geez, have we not been there since the 4th? Maybe I will feel up to the pool this weekend?

**Oh yeah - dh took the kids to see Harry Potter opening day (BM's birthday). IT costs $15. $5 x 3. So, was a nice little splurge. (I could care less - so didn't even want to spend $5, myself. I am happy to watch it on Blu Ray some day). They just went to a low priced matinee - didn't even have to wait in line. Midnight before or later that day would be another story!

Ugh!

July 15th, 2011 at 05:38 pm

Well, the only reason I agreed to spend $150 on a magician for the kids' party is it was a super cool magician that we were super excited to invite to our private party.

So, I hadn't gotten any confirmation and nothing in the mail (as he said he would send), so I Called to confirm the party time (Wednesday) and make sure he had the correct address.

He called me back and left a message all was well. THEN, called back Thursday to say he had a scheduling problem and would not make it. He was sending some other guy (who looks like no amateur). He left a message about this. For reference, we are pretty easy to reach. He happened to call when I Was on the phone at work or something, both times.

Ugh! I was so annoyed, and then he didn't call back for 24 hours!!! So he called and left a message today that the show would be free. MEanwhile, party is tomorrow.

Rolleyes

I honestly thought he was joking at first, when he left that message. I am so aggravated on so many levels! It's 5pm Friday night and we still haven't talked to him so I GIVE UP!!!! I had initially wanted to make clear we didn't hire *a magician.* We hired *the magician* and he has some really upset kids. Wondering if he could just come later or whatever.

But, no word, and so I give up. I ordered a bounce house rental. I now have this fear that no one will show. Not happy at all with the experience. Will probably never hire another private entertainer again.

So, we could have delighted with the free show (which I can look on the bright side). BUT, I have to get some backup entertainment. I don't want to figure out how to entertain all these kids if no one shows.

Plus, I am sick today. Am worried I will be sick tomorrow. All the more reason I *need* to keep it simple.

Anyway, all the above said, it is only supposed to be about 80F degrees tomorrow - which is about 30 degrees cooler than usual. This is probably the only bouncy house the kids will ever get, accordingly. I don't even think they'd rent to us in 110 weather - it would be like an oven! I will save $50 over original plan, in the end. & will (maybe?) get a magician and a bouncy house. I can look on the bright side when I Feel better!

Bounce house place - I was able to reserve online at 5pm, the night before. I even found a coupon code for $10 off. The kids get 8 hours of bounce bliss. So far, so good with that! Is a positive turn of events.

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OF course, to top off my day, I am sure some co-workers are rolling their eyes at my Friday sick call today, but I feel like hell. Someone called me and woke me up around 1pm from my office - for something VERY non-important. !!! What the heck?? The family was gone watching Harry Potter and I had turned off the ringer in the bedroom, but I think subconsciously I was keeping an ear out in case the magician ever called back.

& yesterday just really sucked all around, so I am pretty cranky!!

Hopefully tomorrow I can report back that the party was super awesome, and who cares about that magician anyway!

Hanes Update + Credit Update

July 14th, 2011 at 11:59 am

So, I e-mailed Hanes July 4th to ask for 20% discount towards an order that I placed just hours before their big "20% off site-wide" sale on the 4th.

(Mental note: Never shop day before big holiday?)

So, I didn't hear anything.

I kept thinking:

#1 - That I really should call them. That they may ignore my e-mail, but I may get farther on the phone.

#2 - That I have been spoiled by Amazon. (Last time I live chatted a Zappos rep and got an immediate discount applied - and it was in reference to a return that I hadn't even returned at that time).

Apparently, laziness paid off.

Yesterday (9 days later???), I got a reply that my account was credited.

Thing was, it wasn't.

About 24 hours after I got the e-mail, the credit showed up on my account.

My AmEx card shows credits in process, but apparently Chase doesn't. It never showed up "in process" - just showed up as a finalized transaction today. TO be fair - maybe it had been credited when they said it had.

Anyway, so though the customer experience leaves a little to be desired, I saved myself $5 with one simple e-mail.

Woohoo!!

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In other news, I am starting to drown in credit cards. Big Grin

Usually, when dh and I sign up for one-time bonuses, we just get one card in our name - stuff like that. Since these bonuses were so HUGE - we had to spend a little more to get them - so put each other as authorized users on each card.

I currently have like 8 credit cards sitting in my *dead* pile. Dh's old cc he never uses, 2 sets of Chase cards I need to close eventually, and our regular AmEx (2 copies) which are on hold until we earn our Citi bonus. (Is that 7?). Plus we both have 2 credit cards in our wallets?

I don't think I've ever had this many credit cards at once before. Yeesh!

They will mostly be closed, cut up and gone, soon enough. Just want to get my rewards first!