Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Watch Out For These Two Sneaky Tricks When Moving!


There are two things I really, really hate – painting and moving. I will happily fork over piles of cash for someone else to do those jobs for me. So in preparation for our move to Washington, I called up a couple moving companies to get quotes for the move. I asked for the works – not only moving our stuff, but packing everything up as well. We were able to afford this little extravagance because my wife’s job offer included a rather generous relocation allowance. When you relocate for a job, moving expenses are tax deductible, so this this means we can pay for the move with tax-free money that was basically given to us from my wife’s new employer.

Trick Number One

I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about moving companies. People’s stuff gets lost or damaged. Or the movers show up at the new house and demand thousands of dollars more before unloading your stuff.

It’s that last thing I want to talk about. It happens because people unknowingly agree to it.

How Your Cost Is Determined

Moving prices are based on two factors – distance moved and weight of items moved. The distance is fairly straightforward and easy to determine. Weight, however, is a different story. When the movers send someone out to your house to give you a quote, that person walks through the house, looking at all your stuff. He or she makes an estimate of how much all that stuff weighs and that is used to come up with a price. But you need to be careful.

Not All Estimates Are Equal

See, there are two types of estimates movers can give you: binding and non-binding. As the names imply, a binding estimate is one that the mover must adhere too. They may charge you less, but they cannot charge you more. A non-binding estimate is exactly that – a general amount that may not end up anywhere close to what you will eventually be asked to pay. Unless you specify which type of estimate you want, guess which one you’re likely to get?

My Experiment

Because I write a personal finance blog, I thought this would be a good opportunity to run a little experiment. When I got my two quotes, I asked one company (Company A) for a binding estimate. When I spoke with the other company (Company B), I played dumb and did not specify which type I wanted. Company B did not tell me I had two options for the estimate. Both companies sent someone out to look at my house in person. They came on the same day, about 4 hours apart, so the contents of my house were definitely the same for both estimates.

Company A’s quote, the binding estimate, came in at about $15,000. Company B’s quote came in at $10,000. Wow! Company B is 33% cheaper! I should go with them, right?

Wrong. Look at the small print in the estimate:

Click to enlarge

If that’s too small for your to read, here’s the important bit: “The Non-Binding Estimate shows the estimated cost… The total cannot be determined until all of the packing and origin services have been performed, … the van loaded and the actual weight of the shipment has been determined.”

You might as well just hand them your wallet. That paragraph gives them a license to steal. It’d would be so easy for them to claim that the person giving the quote did not correctly estimate the weight of the shipment or the amount of work it would take to pack everything up. It’s so easy to fib here and there to come up with a low-ball quote to get your business, then sock you with a huge bill when they deliver all your stuff. And if they did that, there would be nothing you could do about it. Their estimate says they can do that.

Compare that to the language of the binding estimate:

Click to enlarge

No wiggle room there. You will pay the estimated amount or less. (I seriously doubt anyone ever will pay less…)

Trick Number Two

Another little trick they use to come up with a lower quote is with insurance. When you pack and move stuff, things sometimes break. It happens. To provide some protection, all movers offer some sort of insurance. There are typically two types – full replacement value, which will reimburse you for the amount it takes to replace something that’s broken, and flat rate, per pound coverage. The former is more expensive. The latter is cheap. So cheap, in fact, it’s usually offered for free. You know why? Because they typically reimburse you at 60 cents per pound!


Think about that. Your brand new, $1,500 washing machine gets damaged? Well, those typically weigh between 150 and 200 pounds, so the most the mover will have to pay you if that gets damaged is $120. Your collection of rare stamps got damaged? Sorry, Those are pretty light, so you’ll probably be lucky to get $5.00.

Again, unless you specifically ask, guess which one will be included in your quote?

Look again at the language of the binding estimate. When you get a binding estimate, that default insurance coverage jumps from $0.60 per pound to $6.00 per pound. That still might not be enough to cover the full replacement cost, but it’s better than 60 cents per pound! About 10 times better, I’d say.

Be Sure You Are Comparing Like Estimates

I wanted to make sure I was comparing apples to apples with these estimates, so I called up Company B again and asked for a binding quote with a specified amount of insurance coverage. When I got that quote back, their price went up to around $15,000, just like the other company.

Think about that. Their estimate increased by 50% when they knew they would be forced to abide by it! If that doesn’t tell you the first estimate was a bait-and-switch, I don’t know what would.  Is it any wonder people get mad at moving companies?

So get educated and know your options and your rights. Read the fine print. Save yourself from nasty surprises!

Have any of you used movers recently? What was your experience like?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thoughts On Gifts - Do We Really Need More Stuff?


Father's Day is coming up. I'm a father. Therefore, I will likely be getting gifts - from my daughter and my parents. Not my wife though. She knows me too well.

I don't want gifts. I've got enough stuff. I don't even want a card. Have you seen card prices lately? They're $5, $7, some even reaching as high as $10! For something that will sit on a shelf or desk for a couple of days or a week tops, then get tossed out. That's crazy!

If you want to let me know you are thinking of me, don't send a card. Send a text or an email. The effect is the same, the delivery is instant, and the cost is nothing.

There are exceptions to the no gift rule, of course. Anything homemade is welcome. Something that took work to create is infinitely more cherished than something store-bought. My daughter will likely make me a Father's Day card rather than buy one from a store. Awesome. That will be saved far longer and appreciated far more than a store bought card would.

But no gifts, please. Unless you have a crystal ball and know exactly the make and model of something I want, odds are I'm going to return it, re-gift it, sell it, or give it away to charity. Let's just save everyone time and money and avoid all that, OK?

What Happened?

Somewhere along the line, gift giving transformed from trying to find and buy something you might think a person would enjoy, to asking that person for a list of things they want and picking something off that. What's the point? How is that thoughtful? That's no different than grocery shopping.

What I do want is time. Time with family and friends. Let's go out for a meal or get together at home and just hang out. Let's give each other something that money can't buy.

Not Everyone Feels This Way

I know someone people just don't feel right not exchanging gifts on a holiday. I get that. I know it's hard to change years of tradition. To be sure, sometimes gift giving is still appropriate. Kids should get gifts. Christmas is still gift giving time (although restraint is the order of the day there). Major life events like weddings or graduations call for gifts. But other times? Not so much.

I'm 48 years old. I don't need a gift for Father's Day. Or Valentine's Day. Or my birthday. If you really think about it, you probably don't either.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Goal Update: End Of May 2017

At the end of each month, I post an update of my goals, including a brief discussion of any notable events that might have occurred during the month. The latest month's figures can always be found under the Featured menu in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

Last updated: End of May, 2017
Current value: $31,585
Change from last month: +$489
Percent of Goal:  29.05%





Note that the funds in this account are invested in stock, so there will be fluctuations in value that are outside my control. I never withdraw money from this account, so any dips are purely due to stock price changes.

This month's figures are a week early. I'll be heading out for Las Vegas for our annual summer visit and I wanted to get this posted rather than wait until I get back.

Events Of Note Last Month:

First off - last month, I transposed two digits while transferring figures to my spreadsheet. My account value at the end of April was $31,096, not $31,906 as I originally posted. Bummer. Taking that into account, I saw an increase of almost $500 this month. Net income from my online courses was $72.14. My hard money loan generated $133.33 in income. I received $2.30 in eBook royalties and I also picked up $10.61 from doing a couple surveys at Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Relocation Update

Our house is still up for sale. No offers yet, but we are getting more showings. I've lowered the price a bit and also increased the buyer's agent commission from 3% to 4%, which was trick I learned when I was flipping houses a decade ago. The 1% increase will cost me less than dropping the price by $5,000.

Net Worth Update 

For May, our net worth rose by $10,572.


April 2017May 2017
Note: Mint.com categorizes our HELOC as a credit card debt, not a loan, hence the apparently high credit card balance.




















Our cash took a dive, but so did our credit card balance. It's not really credit card debt, but a home equity line of credit that Mint categorizes as a credit card. I used some cash that I had in a hard money loan to pay down the HELOC in preparation for selling the house. I mentioned this was in process last month.

Not much else going on right now. Everything is basically in a holding pattern until our house sells.

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please drop me a line in the comments section!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stockpile: Give The Gift Of Investing


If you've never invested in stocks before, getting started can be an intimidating prospect. You may think you need a pile of cash to get started. After all, a single share of Tesla sells for $300 (at the time of this writing). You might only have $100 or $50 to invest. What can you do?

Enter Stockpile. A traditional broker will only allow you to purchase shares of stock in whole increments and often their commissions are high enough that it's not financially feasible to buy less than 10 or so shares of stock. Stockpile is a company that lets you purchase partial shares of stocks for a low commission - the lowest I've seen anywhere.

For example, if you wanted to own Tesla stock, but only had $30 to invest, with Stockpile you can buy one tenth of a share with your $30 plus an insanely low commission of $0.99! Sweet! Stockpile allows you to buy stock based on a dollar amount you have available, not multiples of a share price.

They also offer dividend reinvestment for free, so you can take advantage of compounding by plowing dividends right back into the stock.

Stockpile doesn't offer shares of every single stock in the market, but they do offer shares of more than 1,000 companies, including every stock in the S&P 500. You can check to see if they offer shares of a company you are interested in here.

Their Real Advantage - Gifting

But what is really exciting about Stockpile is their gift card program. Gift cards can be electronic or physical and they allow you to give someone a certain dollar amount of a company's stock. For example, if you want to give your graduating nephew $50 of Apple stock, you can buy them a gift card for that.

But this is the cool part - if your nephew doesn't want to own stock in Apple, they can use that gift card to buy $50 worth of any other company stock Stockpile offers. Or, if your nephew isn't into stocks at all (how is this guy related to you?), he can exchange it for a $50 gift card to some other retailer, such as Amazon, for the full face value! This is one gift you know will be used!

The gift card recipient always gets the full face value of their gift card. If they use it to buy stock, they are not charged a commission - that is paid for when the giver purchased the card. If they exchange it for a gift card from another retailer, they get full credit. Gift cards also never expire.

Given the huge flexibility of their gift card program, I can't see any drawbacks to giving Stockpile gift cards!


Open An Account Today And Get $5!

If you are interested in opening an account, use this link and you'll get $5 worth of your choice of stock for free!

You can fund your account by linking your bank account to your Stockpile account (this is free, but can take 3 to 5 business days) or by supplying a debit card number (costs vary from $0.25 to 2%, based on your bank, but Stockpile will tell you the fee before you are charged - and this provides instant funding business days between 7 AM and 8:30 PM Eastern).

Stockpile offers a great value. In addition to the crazy low commission, Stockpile does not charge a monthly fee to have an account. I don't see any downside to getting started with them!

This page may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.