Wrong Ways To Work Out At Home

                           

Gym memberships make frequent appearances on “biggest wastes of money" lists, whether compiled by the media or from people’s’ individual experiences. Signing up for a gym is something that many people end up regretting, either because they caved under the pressure of the sales person, or because of their own laziness and loss of motivation after the initial excitement phase wears off.  What a lot of people are turning to is building their own home gym.  Be careful not to cheap out on this endeavor if it is something you are planning on doing.  Not only can you can just as easily lose the motivation here too, you may end up causing more harm to your body than your wallet.

Cheap options can lead to further expenses

It’s perfectly fine to look for a good deal when buying almost anything.  It’s even ok to do it yourself in some instances.  However, when it comes to putting together a home gym, these steps should be taken very carefully.  

If you decide to purchase equipment used, especially those items which contain moving parts or which need to support your body, you need to be particularly cautious.  Treadmills, steppers and ellipticals need to be inspected thoroughly. Without testing them completely, you can not only be left with a monstrous piece of junk sitting in your home, you may also be in danger of causing serious damage to your body should any piece suddenly malfunction.  Benches and cable/pulley towers should also be inspected for any sign of severe wear or compromise in structure.  When it comes to anything that is relied upon to either support or move any amount of weight (particularly your own) you need to ensure that the structure is in perfect condition.  A bench failing can lead to serious damage should it collapse under you, and is even more dangerous should you be in the middle of a lift.  A pulley that fails can lead to not only the potential for injury due to recoil, but also damage to your home if the weight comes crashing down uncontrolled.

The same can be said for do it yourself home gym equipment.  Many people think that a weight bench is easy to build, or that using scraps for making jump boxes, step-up tables, or any other form of equipment is an economical option. What they may not realize is that when you purchase any piece of equipment manufactured by a reputable company, the items are assembled of quality (hence the reputable precursor) parts and are tested to support maximum loads.  If you try to make your own, unless you are an engineer experienced in load testing, you are taking a tremendous risk with your body.

Household items do not make stable weight lifting equipment

Another popular trend, especially among the frugal or cheap, is the use of household goods in home workouts.  This is not only dangerous from a physical standpoint, it is also ill-conceived from a training stand-point.  The reason weight-training equipment is shaped the way it is, and made of the materials used by manufacturers is because of reliability and ergonomic issues. There are a few myths out there regarding DIY training equipment that not only can cause bodily harm due to both of these issues but also negate any effort you put into working out:

1. Using household containers as weights—Milk or water jugs are simply not designed to be used as weights.  The handles do not provide the grip necessary for any recognized training routine, and the placement of the handles place unnecessary stress on the joints.  The reason barbells, dumbbells, and kettleballs all look the way they do is to provide even and balanced distribution of the weight throughout the entire range of motion of any exercise.

2. Stuffing cans of food or books into bags as weights—See above. Also, things like grocery bags and canvas books bags are not meant to carry heavy weights.  Then you have the issue of imbalance from the fact that cans or books or anything else you use don’t conform to the shape of the bag (and vice versa) meaning that the “weights” are imbalanced and unstable. Again, this is just an accident waiting to happen

3. Strapping a backpack to you for added weight—Again, another instance of being cheap leading to possible injury.  Unless you are going to duct tape the backpack to your body, the weight will simply shift around.  There is a reason weighted vests are made the way they are—they have the weight rods (or whatever form of weight is used) strategically placed all the way around the vest and the vest straps to the body in a way that keeps it close in all positions. Have you ever tried running with a backpack on?  It leaves your body and slams back into as you move.  Imagine trying to do situps or pushups or even running with that going on.  Not only will you lose the proper form, but also will have the annoyance of constant shifting to deal with.

It makes perfect sense to not want to waste money on a gym membership that you will likely never use.  It also makes perfect sense to not want to spend a fortune to be able to work out at home.  Staying healthy and active are very import, but not when those benefits are lost when going about it the wrong way. And, the money saved doing it the wrong way isn’t going to be worth anything if you end up having to spend significantly more in time and pain should you end up getting injured by taking the cheap route and having it backfire in any of the ways mentioned above.  

Do yourself a favor—don’t put so much emphasis on saving money all the time. Sometimes, it simply isn’t worth it in the long run, and putting your body and health at risk is not an equitable trade-off.

bripblap:

If you’re careful with your money, you probably face an occasional dilemma of how much to tip various people in service positions. Tipping ranges from the $3 slipped to a doorman who hails a cab to a couple of hundred for some guys who move your stuff cross-country.

Before I was married, I…

Why I Have No Desire To Own A Status Car

                         

I’m not a car guy.  I never have been.  Growing up where I did in New York, it was certainly liberating but not totally necessary.  My father was never a big car guy.  Most of my friends weren’t either, so I never got into the whole thing.  In fact my first two cars combines only cost about $2,000.  Sure, at one point, as I mentioned when detailing my worst money mistakes I went a little overboard with a car, but the car itself wasn’t expensive.  Truth be told, I really don’t care about, nor care for the price tag of a vehicle.

Cars that supposedly represent a person’s social or financial “status” are just jokes to me.  Too often I see someone in a crazy-expensive car, yet when they get out, they look like they’re wearing trash bags or have absolutely no class and decorum whatsoever.  So that right there tells me that the idea cars as status symbols is a completely flawed theory.  Aside from that , I just have issues with…

Care, maintenance, and worry involved

This is quite simple: I don’t want to be bothered with all of the hassles of owning an expensive car.  I don’t want to have to be anal about where  drive, or what I allow inside.  I don’t want to have to carry a towel to wipe it down every time I drive it.  I don’t want to have to hassle with going to a specialized shop for routine maintenance.  I don’t want to become one of “those’” people who look at their car like it is one of their children.  I don’t want to have to deal with any of that stuff.   

Auto insurance premiums

Many of the most frequent causes of high auto insurance premiums are associated with shiny, expensive, new cars.  The price of the car and not coincidentally, the cost of parts/repair is high among those factors.  So is the incidence of theft, and where/how the car is parked.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a garage in which to keep my car parked, which makes me susceptible to this factor.  Check out tip number 6 in Jeff Rose’s article on lowering insurance premiums for related info.

Damage from road debris/parking lots

I’m probably not alone when it comes to being the victim of damage to a car that was truly not my own fault or avoidable.  Debris on the road can be kicked up by other cars which has the potential to scratch my own car, cause dents, or even crack the windshield.  Trucks that are by law supposed to cover and secure the crap they are transporting often do not, and that stuff flies all over the place.  Idiot people who shove shopping carts across parking lots recklessly can scratch and dent cars and not think twice about it.  I’ve seen and experienced these things with my own two eyes, and it’s very frustrating to have to deal with after the fact.

Other drivers and their bad tendencies

Going back to the parking lots, at one time I came out of a mall only to find that my front passenger-side door was dented, yet no one was around.  No note, no witnesses, and of course no security cameras to review in an effort to catch a glimpse of what had happened.  I’m the type of person who likes to park far away from my destination, knowing that most people are too lazy to do so themselves.  I also like to park against the curb so the possibility of a moron opening their door into mine is limited to one potential side.  Sadly, people always find ways to be stupid and careless.  Not paying attention when opening their door, being preoccupied on the phone or with others in the car, not being aware of their surroundings or trying to find where their destination is all fall into this category.

The elements can be disastrous

When I lived in New York, it was snow that made driving difficult at times, and the road salt which was the enemy of metal parts and a car’s finish.  When I moved to south Florida, it become the thunderstorms and hurricanes.  In destructive weather, anything has the potential to damage a car.  I’ve seen trees and light poles knocked down, resting on top of cars.  I’ve even seen street and store signs pulled off of structures and be thrown through windows, landing inside of cars.  Even if I did have a garage within which to store a car during these times, it’s not always guaranteed to be safe.

Kids playing in the street

This is something I know about firsthand because I  was one of the people I’ve grown to bitch and moan about.  Growing up, we’d play football and basketball, toss a baseball and ride bikes or skateboards in the streets right next to parked cars.  I’ve crashed a bike, skateboard and even my own body into a few.  Now that I have my own car and know how much time and money it would cost to repair if from damage caused by any of those activities, I understand why we got yelled at so often as kids.  It still doesn’t change my mind, however.  Maybe I’m a hypocrite or out of touch now, but I still don’t want any of the neighborhood kids doing kick flips on their boards, or throwing a baseball across the parking lot when my car is only a few feet away.

Perhaps if I had more money than I knew what to do with, and I could own a fleet of cars if I so desired, I would reconsider.  It’s doubtful that would ever be the case, though, as I could think of numerous other things to do with that kind of money.  Who knows what can happen in the future, but even though I tend to stick to my convictions, I will never say never.

Looking At Google’s Updates And Actions From A Business Perspective

I am not an SEO (search engine optimizer).  I am not an SEM (search engine marketer).  I don’t have very much technical skill or deep understanding when it comes to coding and meta tags, or keywords and anchor text.  I write based on what I know and try my best to pick up tips on that which I don’t know from the experts’ blogs.  And, what I can’t figure out on my own in a reasonable amount of time, I hire someone with more skill to do for me.  What I do know is business, and it’s that knowledge and perspective that makes me laugh at some of the decisions made and actions taken by Google in recent months.

Over the past several months, Google has made several updates to its search algorithm for rating websites in its search feature and the way it ranks sites using its Page Rank system.  There have also been waves of people who have had their AdSense accounts banned for reasons that remain unknown to them.  Sites have been de-indexed by Google during this time in part of their belt-tightening process to reduce manipulation of search rankings.  The way sites are set up in terms of showing advertisements have taken a more prominent place in Google’s overall ranking system.  All of these things are deemed to be good for the consumer.

But, who is Google to decide how the internet is run and how businesses operate within this space?  What makes the Big G. the be-all end-all when it comes to how sites are built, optimized, marketed, and monetized?  Yes, it is a huge company, and its innovations have changed the way people operate within cyberspace, but I for one don’t view it as the all-encompassing technological deity that people make it out to be.  I actually take issue with several of Google’s initiatives and changes.

Google’s stance on purchasing links

I find it just a little hypocritical that Google takes money for advertising links, yet it punishes websites that do the same exact thing.  Perhaps it is because the way Google sets up AdWords in the form of an auction, where you bid for your placement, they don’t consider it to be an outright sale.  To me, it’s simply semantics.  They are taking money in exchange for the opportunity for the advertiser’s ads to be shown ahead of others based on how much they are willing to pay.  Straight sale or auction format, it is still selling links.

From a strict business aspect, if Google was true to their claims of wanting to provide users with the most relevant search results possible, then they defeat that purpose just by placing “sponsored links” at the top of the search results, and making them seem like part of the search results.  That in and of itself detracts from the “relevant results” if they are only being placed up there due to payment from the advertiser.  And, yes, Google does give the option to customize this feature, but it shouldn’t come to that if the purpose is the search itself.  If they wanted to display for-pay links, they can relegate them to the sidebar which does not inhibit the users view of the search results, which is the reason they did the search in the first place.  

This also goes against their own demand for websites to offer more content above the fold.  Part of the changes implemented in their ratings system is to penalize sites that are advertisement-heavy at the top of their pages.  The point is to provide more content in the initial view of a page rather than pushing ads when visitors first land on a page.  This is exactly how their own search results pages appear, which runs contrary to their own guidelines.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with selling/buying links in general, but I do have a problem with all of the sites that game the system while providing little to no value.  Punishing those sites is a good idea, as long as there is consistency and accuracy in flagging the bad as opposed to the good, quality sites.  In this modern age, however, websites are the new newspapers and magazines. Since old media sold advertisements in the form of both textual and pictorial ads, why is it such a big deal that websites do it as well.  After all, if websites are the next evolution of media, shouldn’t advertising be allowed on them as well?  As such, isn’t the owner of the piece of internet real estate where the ads will show up entitled to be paid for that space just as magazines, newspapers, radio, and television are?

Google’s de-indexing of blog networks

Businesses build strategic alliances to strengthen their positions in their respective fields and gain advantages over their competitors.

Teammates in NASCAR and cycling work in tandem to win, even though those particular ones are individual sports.

Medical professionals band together to form care groups so they can negotiate better rates from the insurance companies.

So what is the big deal if a group of websites band together to collaborate and broaden the collective reach beyond that which was possible as individual sites?  It is simply good business to align yourself with others that can provide benefits such as introduction to a new audiences, credibility enhancement, and transference of experience in the name of helping others.  In essence, most sites are businesses and businesses from networks help each other out. Networks such as BNI International are designed to do just that, get professionals in different industries together to help one another and refer potential clients back and forth among them. At the most basic level, that’s what a real blog network does.  It allows bloggers to join, share information and resources, and introduce their readership to new and interesting writing.  

Now, I can understand the removal of those networks which do nothing of any value, or charge users to join in exchange for trashy links.  I can even understand the desire to rid the internet of black-hat techniques for SEO.  The problem occurs when they are all lumped into the same category, regardless of the value they provide.  Like anything, without having the ability to view each one as a separate and distinct entity, this is just a poor system.

Banning of AdSense accounts

The whole idea behind Google shrouding the reasons for banishment in secrecy, using the excuse of protecting the privacy of the AdWords customers is complete and total crap.  If you get denied credit, you are legally required to be sent an explanation notice revealing the specific reason for the denial (ie: too many recent inquiries, not enough history, poor history, credit utilization ratio too high).  But, I guess we now live in an age where the government and the credit industry are more customer-friendly than the almighty Big G, and its stranglehold on the internet, and by extension, almost all of us.

Besides, if someone is angry enough to sabotage a site by triggering false click-throughs, why should that be the responsibility of the site owner.  They have no control over who can access their site or click-through links once there.  All you have to do is read the sports section to hear about how Steve Blake of the Los Angeles Lakers received death threats after missing one shot in a single playoff basketball game via social media.  Or how the wife of Jonathan Lucroy, a catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers, received threats after he was injured because she moved a suitcase which ended up falling and breaking his hand requiring surgery.  These are only two isolated examples of how people can be vengeful and aggressive behind the anonymity of the internet, so is it really that hard to imagine someone doing something like purposefully clicking on ads in order to get a site banned just because they didn’t like what that person said, or they have differing views on a topic?

Additionally, how can Google justify closing then banning these accounts with the very first infraction?  There are no warnings and no suggestions for changing how the site owners use the system.  People get lighter punishments for breaking laws than what Google does in treating these comparably inconsequential situations.

If people continue to get banned from using AdSense to monetize their sites, that would be bad business.  The advertisers need the publishers to display their ads just as much as the publishers need to display those ads to make money.  If you continue to eliminate heavily trafficked sites, real sites—not like the crappy tabloid sites where people go to read bullshit stories and leave half-assed comments—then the AdWords customers will end up suffering because of it.  From a pure business standpoint, it is stupid to disillusion and piss off your customer base

The business landscape online is not much different than it is offline in terms of principles and strategies.  I understand that the folks at Google are trying to make the internet more intuitive, and are trying to improve it on a global scale, but sometimes it seems like their actions go against basic business principles, not to mention flat-out applying rules to others that it does not follow itself. Good intentions aside, there are lots of issues that Google needs to address in the way it is approaching those objectives.  I’m not going to sit here pretending to have all of the answers, because I don’t, but I do know that punishing basic business techniques, having double standards, and being secretive about causes behind actions is not going to be good for business.  No company stays on top forever, and it’s only a matter of time before Google has to start looking over its shoulder when the new “next big thing” comes along and threatens the dominance it currently enjoys.  

Need Some Summer Savings? Talk To Your Power Company

Every year without fail, as summer approaches so many media outlets turn their attention to the energy costs associated with staying cool during these hot (sometimes sweltering) months. There really isn’t very much different across the different articles, blog posts, and news reports.  The old standards always take center stage: turning off lights and accessories when not in use, using digital thermostats to automatically regulate indoor temperatures, using ceiling fans to reduce the reliance on air conditioners among various other tips. Believe me, I have no problem with several different sources reporting the same information in similar ways.  There are, after all, only so many topics for an entire niche group to speak on, and there are bound to be some topics that get repeated.  However, it surprises me that I’ve never read about this one simple way to save significantly during those hot-weather months.

Everyone can attest to the fact that the summer months are the most draining on their finances, with so much energy being needed to bring the indoor temperature down during this time.  Stopping just short of walking around the house naked, there is only so much you can do without an air conditioner to escape the heat.  Sure, you can sit in a tub of ice water or take a cold shower, but continually doing so will increase your water bill, and you really can’t multitask very much while doing so.

Did you know that your residential power supplier can help you reduce the costs of your summer cooling bills?  It shouldn’t cost you a single penny to do, while taking a minimal amount of time to set up.  Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of such a deal?

Really, all you have to do is sign up with your power company for their energy reduction program.  Each company calls it something different, and the savings also differ across the companies, but the premise is relatively the same.  You call the power company and tell them you want to be part of the energy savings program.  They schedule a technician to visit your home and install a remote switch inline with one of several types of high energy usage appliances.  The technician leaves, and you’re all set.

What happens once the switch is installed?  For the most part, nothing.  Many times, you won’t even notice that the attached appliance isn’t being run.  Most of the time this is just a convenience fee that you get paid to make yourself available for these programs.  The only time you will be effected is in times of energy emergencies, which don’t occur very often, if at all.

I have my air conditioner set up with Florida Power and Light.  The installation took all of 10 minutes, and on my bill each month, I can clearly see the credit being given to me.  Some companies give a flat amount, while others give a percentage paid monthly; some have high dollar value incentives, while other pay less.  It all varies depending on who services your home and the program they offer.

Power company cycling programs

These are just a sampling of some of the companies in the bigger markets in the United States.  You would need to call or go the website of your own provider to see if you are eligible for anything like this.  If you are, you may be in for a summertime bonus.

PG&E SmartAC program

FP&L OnCall program

SCE Summer Discount Plan

PECO Smart A/C Saver program

BGE PeakRewards Air Conditioning  and BGE PeakRewards Electric Water Heater (winter) programs

Do yourself a favor: give them a call.  What is the worst that can happen?  Your company may not have an energy saving program?  The alternative is being able to save a few (or few hundred) bucks by doing nothing other than allowing your energy company regulate some of your power consumption in order to keep full power to your area.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Have you ever heard of thees types of programs before?  If you have, are you on one right now?  If not, do you think you’ll be calling to find out if you can get on a program like these?  What kind of incentive would it take for you to sign up if you have no plans to so (and are eligible)?

Is The Apple Siri Lawsuit Extortion Or A Valid Complaint?

Controversy seems to be eternally tied to Apple, its products, and its late founder Steve Jobs.  Whether it’s the cult-like following Apple  has, the brash manner in which Mr. Jobs carried himself, or the success of the company’s wildly popular iPods, iPhones, and iPads, there are always people taking shots at the company.  I have also been one to remark negatively against the high prices for items such as the iMac or MacBook line relative to the PC alternatives.  But, even I have come to the realization that certain things just cannot be ignored, such as the complete and utter dominance of the iPad compared to any number of the Android alternatives in the tablet universe.  All of this beings us to the most current controversy: the class action lawsuit against Apple concerning the operation of its Siri companion on the iPhone 4 line of smartphones.

The lawsuit basically revolves around the fact that a New York man is frustrated with the fact that Siri cannot understand his accent, or takes “unacceptable” time in determining the answers he is looking for, which tend to be the ones. He points to the smooth and seemingly flawless image of the feature the advertisements for the iPone 4 present.

To that point I say get over yourself buddy (and everyone else who hopes to benefit financially from the potential class-action suit).  Everyone knows that advertisements take advantage of consumers by appealing to their sense of aesthetics and their fandom for celebrities.   For decades marketers have made their advertisements in such ways to show the products featured in the best possible way.  Car ads tell you the absolute best fuel economy possible even though the results will most likely be much lower.  Restaurant ads often times don’t even use real food in order to make the products look “perfect”. Actors are always airbrushed and touched up in print ads to remove all noticeable blemishes.  Camera, smartphone and tablet ads use simulated images to illustrate the capabilities of those products.

It’s common practice, and only someone who has lived in a cave for most of their life would think that these ads represent what they will get in real life experiences.  In fact, most of the ads come with disclaimers stating this fact, regardless of how minuscule those facts may be shown.

I would also ask this guy, and everyone else who jumps on the bandwagon two simple questions:

  1. If you have 30 days to return the product, why would you not do so when you find the product not living up to your expectations? and
     
  2. What if your employer finds that you do not live up to their expectations of your work, could they sue you?

These are two valid questions.  The first revolves around the consumers own indifference to the operation of the Siri feature.  Particularly with Apple products, people who buy them get right down to business and start using them right away.  If you mean to tell me that someone held the item sealed, allowing the return period to pass, I’d have a hard time believing that.  Or, that if after using the product for more than a few times that people didn’t realize it didn’t work to their expected level of proficiency they continue using it rather than exchange it, I would scoff at them.  When you have a full month to essentially test a product in-home risk-free, there is no reasonable excuse for not figuring out that an important feature doesn’t work as well as you would like. And if it wasn’t important enough to return it then why is it so important to cause you to sue over it?

The second question is a bit more abstract but quite poignant.  The premise of this lawsuit is the “misrepresentation” of the performance of the Siri feature. When people are hired for a job, they are doing the exact same thing—selling themselves based on certain features and abilities.  If anyone in the proposed class was to fall short of their advertised abilities, it would be the same as Siri not performing as advertised.  Would it be ethical or even right for their employers to take them to court for “misrepresenting” themselves in the same manner?

Bottom line

Is this a lawsuit based on realistic expectations of the way a product should operate or is it a way of extorting a settlement from one of the largest US companies?  People, especially money-hungry lawyers (and we all think many of these types of lawyers are unethical to a degree) know that large corporations would rather reach a quick, out-of-court settlement than face a long, drawn-out attention-grabbing court case. This is especially true in this age of sensationalized and immediate media coverage.

If this is a lawsuit that is truly based on the observations and expectations solely gained from viewing a television commercial, then it’s a complete joke.  This is especially true if you consider all of the other examples of similar marketing tactics seen on a daily basis that this man and every single litigation attorney on the planet have allowed to exist without a peep.

What are your thoughts on the issue?  Is showing the optimal performance of a product in a n advertisement unethical?  Is that a good reason to sue the manufacturer when the product doesn’t perform to that standard in real-world applications?

Mistakes New Graduates Should Avoid When Applying For Jobs

Summer means beaches, barbecues, vacations, and for many graduation, either from high school or from college.  The next step (yes, some high school grads don’t go to college) is finding a job.  The question is, where do you begin?  For college graduates, the process probably has already stated with the headhunters who paid visits to the campus during the year.  Not all schools receive such visits, however, and not all students get headhunted either.  And, when it comes to high school graduates, there aren’t very many who get targeted for jobs at all.    So the question still remains open.  You need to cover all of your bases, not just prettying up your resume, to ensure that you get a job interview that leads to a promising career.

Everyone and their mother—as well as their father, brother, sister, aunt, neighbor, fiend’s girlfriend’s coworker—has been through the job hunting process and has an opinion on the subject.  They all have their advice and tips for being “successful” in acquiring that coveted position of becoming gainfully employed. They will give you tips on where to begin searching for a job,  what size fonts to use for your resume, whether or not to list the job you had last summer that lasted all of three weeks, and how much money to ask for.  The problem with that is they only know from their personal experience, which can differ greatly from one person to another, and they may have actually been hired in spite of what they did.

There are a great number of articles and books about resume writing—what should be included, excluded, the length, etc—and those are great advice for when you formally would like to apply for a position.  But what about the advice for choosing and then applying for a job opening?  

So, let’s get to the things you need to avoid when you start applying for those jobs…

Not doing a self-assessment

(Most) Everyone wants to go for the gold, reach for the stars, or whatever other cliché you can insert here.  However, not everyone is qualified for their dream job. Additionally, the competition for the job you may really want may be quite stiff, with many more qualified candidates.  What you need to do is sit down and do a real, rational self-assessment to see what you are educated, qualified, and/or experienced to do.  You know better than anyone what you are and aren’t good at—if you are honest with yourself.  Don’t allow others to push you towards thinking that you can do something you clearly have no business getting into. Ignore the temptation to reach out to employers that exist in fields you know very little or nothing about.  It will only hurt you when you don’t get a call regarding your submission.

Failing to research companies

There is a lot of information on the internet about potential employers.  Check with the state’s Attorney General’s site, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, or Google Local for complaints against the business.  Look at the state’s Division of Corporations to see who is in charge and whether they are current in their registration (if they aren’t it can be a sign they are not going to be around very long or simply an oversight).  Go to their website, assuming they have on (and who doesn’t these days) to see what their mission statement is, what aspects of the industry they deal in, potential new coworkers.  All of this can give you tremendous insight into a potential employer, and can help you eliminate them from your to-apply-to list and save you the hassle now, plus headaches later on should you be hired only to realize it was a mistake to accept based on what you would have found during your research.

Ignoring specific requests and actions

Each company looks for different things when it comes to the hiring process, so how do you know what you should be doing to grab their attention?  Well, the best way to make yourself stand out is to give them exactly what they ask for. In many job ads, especially online, the employer asks for certain things to be provided, and by adhering to those requirements you show that you pay attention to detail and can follow direction.  Many people simply look at the position and pay when searching through the job listings, and the people who screen the applicants look for the things they ask for specifically.  So, if the company wants you to list specific software programs you are proficient in, tell them.  If they want to know what salary requirements you have, tell them.  If they ask for your GPA and/or standardized test scores tell them.  One of the worst things you can do is ignore their specific requests, as they would not have spent the time making them part of the job advertisement if it wasn’t important to them.  If you can’t do something as simple as this then how can you follow company procedures or protocols should you be hired?

Thinking that a GPA alone means anything

Lots of people go through their college careers trying to obtain a high GPA, thinking that it is the ultimate proof of hireability.  The simple truth of the matter is that it isn’t.  Many students can reach such a goal through learning study techniques.  The issue here is that there is a difference between being able to pass a test with high marks and actually learning the material.  Employers want to know that you are able to apply what you supposedly learned to real world situations.  The only thing a high grade point average represents with any certainty is an ability to retain information.  Being able to use that information in practice is a more highly valued trait to employers.  That is why in many industries, you must complete practical examination as part of the application process.

Being cocky/having a sense of entitlement

Confidence is a great trait to have.  Being cocky or arrogant  is taking things a bit too far and seen as a red flag.  Coming off as such may signal a possible inability to work well with others, a problem with authority, putting yourself ahead of the team or the company as the case may be, and an inability or unwillingness to be flexible.  It is possible to be confident in your abilities while being humble simultaneously.  Check your ego at the door when it comes to looking for a job and realize that there are only so few opportunities for so many candidates.  After all, there is always going to be someone smarter, who learns quicker, is harder working, has a better pedigree…does something, anything at a higher level than you.  Just remember, everyone has to start somewhere, and for you that may very well mean at the bottom.  Don’t look at it as an insult to your skill or intelligence.  Instead, look at it as an opportunity to show your potential employer that you are willing to earn your way and then blow their mind by exhibiting your true capabilities.

Not having a backup plan

You’ve heard of the phrase “putting all of your eggs in one basket” before, but you probably never associated it with the job market.  In essence, you need to have two, three, or even more companies or even fields to which you want to apply for employment.  It is just like when you were selecting colleges (if you went that route): you had your first choice—your dream school, but also had to apply to a couple of others just in case you didn’t get accepted or couldn’t get the financial aid to attend number one.  Applying for jobs is no different.  Just like college admissions, there are more applicants than open spots; the applications get sometimes outnumber the openings by a large margin.  That dream job you had your sights set on may not work out, so you need to be ready with backup options to apply to.

Foregoing search firms

This is a free service available to candidates in a wide range of fields, so why not take advantage?  It’s free to you because the employer who eventually makes the hire pays the fee, so you  have no risk whatsoever.  The biggest reasons to at least consult with a search firm are experience and contacts.  The search firms and their representatives have experience in all facets of the job search process.  They can advise you on ways to improve your resume, prepare you for interviews, and do the legwork of screening positions for you. They also have relationships with many of the important people who make hiring decisions in the companies you are likely looking to work for, and know their personalities and tendencies so they can put you in the best position. And, the companies they work with trust their judgement and often times don’t even publicly advertise job openings, opting instead to inform the search firms so that only the truly qualified candidates’ resumes make it onto their desks.

The job hunting process is a competitive and sometimes difficult undertaking. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage by starting off on the wrong foot and making any of these mistakes.  Remember, this is your career we are taking about, so you want to get started the right way the very first time!

And, the great thing is that although this is targeted at recent graduates, these tips can be applied to anyone who is in the market for a job!

Stop Being So Obsessed With Saving Every Penny

Everywhere you look, people are writing about ways to cut “unnecessary” expenses from their lives.  People are constantly looking for new and inventive ways to save and hoard every penny they can.  Saving for retirement, and the future in general seems to be an obsession.  Maybe it’s the effects of several economic failures in the US over the last decade.  Perhaps it’s the financial media’s focus on the fact that the US has an abysmal savings rate as a whole. While there is absolutely nothing with keeping an eye toward the future, there seems to be a big part of the picture being ignored, perhaps tragically so: today.  

So much of the focus in personal finance journalism tends to be on the future but no one seems to be talking about living in the here and now.  There are several reasons why this intense and narrow focus on obsessive saving and future planning needs to be addressed:

Tomorrow is not guaranteed

This is perhaps the most obvious reason.  We see and hear about it every day: peoples’ lives being cut short either due to the malice of others, bad luck with health issues, natural disasters, or whatever other circumstances happen to be the cause.  Benjamin Franklin famously coined the phrase: 

The only certainties in life are death and taxes

This may be a very dark and morbid view, but it cannot be more accurate and should not be ignored.  You can stash as much money away as you would like. You can deprive yourself of anything you wish in the name of saving.  You can avoid spending money on anything that you don’t consider to be a need as much as you want.  The simple truth of the matter is that there is no guarantee the day you designate for being able to start spending that money will ever come.  

Besides, what is the point of making money if you aren’t able to enjoy at least some of those spoils while you are still alive and able to?

Speaking of which…

You can’t take it with you

As far as I know, none of us are Egyptian Pharaohs, meaning that none of us will be buried  with our treasures and worldly possessions to take with us to the afterlife (if you even believe in that).  You simply cannot spend any of the money you stockpiled when you are dead.  Having decades worth of maxed out retirement accounts, savings accounts overflowing with cash, brokerage accounts flush with investments that will support your lifestyle for many years to come, income producing investments that will continue to supply you with positive cash flows for as long as you will possible need are all great if you can take advantage of them.  You need to be alive for any of that to matter.

Sure, you can leave your wealth to future generations or choose to be philanthropic with it, but if that wasn’t the original plan, then all of that effort and dedication to scrimping and saving will go to waste.  

And while we’re on the subject of wasted efforts…

You aren’t indestructible or immortal

Physical limitation impact your future plans.  It’s great to have grand plans, and the discipline to follow through on those plans.  The bad part is that many times things do not go according to plan.  The reason is simple: life gets in the way. How many people do you know who, as they enter the latter stages in life regret not doing some things while they were younger?  This happens quite often as so many people do not take life into account when planning for the future. They talk about working hard during their prime years in order to travel or spend their golden years doing the things they enjoy with no financial worries.  While they are working hard, sacrificing certain amenities and cutting every corner possible time is taking its toll on their bodies, and life is wearing on them.

Health is a very important consideration when it comes to seeing those dreams and plans come to fruition.  There are many things that simply cannot be done at an advanced age from a physical standpoint.   There is simply no denying that fact.  What do you do when you are ready to retire but your body won’t let you accomplish or enjoy any of the things you put off until this time?  Will you look back and wonder “what if”?

This doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t stop thinking about the future or stop looking for ways to save on the things you enjoy.  While there is nothing wrong with saving, a balance needs to be found.  One of my personal quotes is “live for today while keeping an eye on the future”.  I think that it would be wise for others to do so as well.  Life is meant to be lived, and by allowing it to pass you by for the sake of saving for the ideal future which may never come can lead to huge regrets.

How do you achieve the balance between living in the moment and planning for the future?  Do you consider yourself to be obsessed with the future?  Have you lost sight of the importance of living for today? 

Don’t Be An Ass: Rules For Using Bank Drive-Up Services

It may seem like a task that is becoming less necessary with each passing day. More businesses are equipped to accept payments via credit and debit cards. Individuals have the same ability thanks to services like PayPal and Popmoney. Some banks are even allow you to deposits checks electronically via smartphones and tablets.  Still, going to the bank is a required errand for many people.  If you are one of them, you need to be aware of the rules that govern the use of the drive-up service provided by your bank.

It may not seem like a big deal, but the purpose of the drive-up lanes is to speed up the banking process and provide those with simple transactions a break from having to wait on line inside for the full-service tellers.  It is a way for banks to provide a better customer experience.  It begins, however, with the customers themselves, and their ability to follow the rules that are in place to allow the banks to offer the experience they wish to provide.

Drive-up is only for customers

If you aren’t a customer of the bank, don’t bother going to the drive-up. All you will accomplish is wasting your time as well as that of the teller and the people around you. It doesn’t matter that the check you are trying to cash is drawn on an account held there, it just isn’t going to happen. When cashing a check that is presented by anyone other than the account holder, the signature needs to be verified, which takes time and defeats the purpose of having express lanes if that needs to be done.

It’s common for many people to not have a bank account, and many such people go to their employers bank to cash their checks.  If you are part of this group, don’t even bother driving around, just go park the car and right right inside.

Have your transaction ready

This is another major rule for keeping the drive-up lanes flowing smoothly. After all, it is called “drive-up” and and “park here while gathering your transaction and filling out your paperwork” banking.  It’s also not called “send us an empty canister and ask for deposit slips because you aren’t prepared” banking. When you show up to the bank, you need to already have all of your stuff done and ready to go.  The teller may not be permitted to tell you “no” when you ask for something to prepare the transaction or make you go leave if you are sitting there unprepared, but the customers behind you most certainly will! 

So if you are taking money back from transactions, send your identification with everything the first time.  If you are withdrawing money, make sure the form is signed.  If you are depositing money, make sure the slip is fill out completely and that the totals are accurately calculated.  And, if you are unsure if your transaction can be done there, don’t even waste anyone’s time to begin with—go inside from the beginning.

Only basic transactions are accepted

Don’t drive up to the bank looking to purchase a cashiers check, travelers checks, open or close an account, or do anything more than a simple deposit or withdrawal.  The reason certain transactions are not permitted in the drive-up is the time it takes to process them.  Most banks don’t provide much more than a cash drawer to the drive-up tellers, which means that they would have to start leaving their post in order to get certain transactions done, which is not what they are supposed to do.

And please, please, please don’t argue with the teller about how you have a kid in the car with you, or how you need to get back to work, or whatever else you want to try to get them to break the rules for you.  In the time you spent waiting to get to the front of the line, then arguing you probably could have gone inside, done what you needed to, and been on your way already.

Limit your transactions please

Sure, banks are more technologically advanced these days, and the time it takes to process a transaction is much shorter than in days gone by.  Does that mean you should carpool to the bank and send over transactions for the five people inside the car?  Heck no!  There is a purpose behind the limit to the number of transactions.  Simply because the processing time is shorter, the teller has to be able to move between the lanes efficiently, and if they are stuck handling your five transactions, that means the other lanes are idling while the traffic build up behind them.

Again, if you need to transact on several accounts, or for different customers, head directly inside.  

Don’t think that you are so special that the rules don’t apply to because you have a self-inflated ego, or because you may have a certain amount of money in the bank, or whatever other cockamamie excuse you can come with.  Even if there isn’t a lot of traffic at that particular point in time, you never know what the next moment will bring. 

Remember, speed and volume are the main objectives of the drive-up lanes.  If you can’t abide by the rules of this area, then just go inside.  Nobody wants to sit in their car, delaying the rest of their plans while you fumble around looking for a pen or trying to calculate the deposit amount on your ticket.  Not only is it annoying, it’s really discourteous to your fellow bank patrons, and you never know who you may piss off in the process.

Do you still even visit your bank’s physical location?  If you do, do you ever get frustrated at the lack of courtesy shown by people who break these common rules?  Are you one of those who are guilty of breaking any of these rules?

My Experience With Chase For A HARP 2.0 Refinance

I recently closed on the refinance of my condo.  It has been a long time coming, considering the fact that I tried to do a modification back in September of 2009, and after almost a full year of submitting (and re-submitting every quarter) all the requested paperwork, I was ultimately told that I didn’t prove that I met the hardship requirement.  So, when the Obama Administration announced the HARP 2.0 initiative, I was kind of skeptical yet fairly excited since the “hardship” requirement was gone.  I made a call to Chase, who held the original mortgage to find out the exact details of the program as it pertained to their participation, and waited for the word to come along of when it was to take effect.  The problem was, and I should have known, that in most instances nothing is ever as easy or smooth as it is made out to be.

From my very first conversation with the Chase mortgage representative in Arizona (you will see why this little fact is important soon enough), all of my questions were addressed completely and satisfactorily.  Not only that, but the rep sent periodic emails when more information was made available to them so that I, along with anyone else with whom he was working, would be kept in the loop.  Ultimately, it was announced that February 6, 2012 would be the day the program went live.

I’m not one who likes to be late to the party when it comes to the chance to save some significant coin, or very much else for that matter, so I made a point to call my rep the minute I got home from work on that very evening.  It was great, he answered right away, and we got the ball rolling right then and there.  He took all of my information to make sure it was as they have it recorded in their files.  I gave him all of the information as it relates to income and housing situation, even offering to provide proof of income and residence (as opposed to this being an investment property which would eliminate me from the program), but he said it wouldn’t be necessary.  He sent me the authorizations to sign for him to run my credit and obtain copies of my tax returns, and within minutes of receiving it, the document was signed and in his inbox.

We got everything squared away and moved onto the numbers.  I told him how I wanted to roll all of the costs back into the loan, and how everything else should stay the same as far as my taxes being escrowed, but the insurance remaining separate from the escrow account, and being solely my responsibility.  The numbers ended up being quite favorable for me.  I got to knock off 2.125% from my interest rate for a savings of over $300 per month!  We were plowing forward at breakneck speed.  I couldn’t believe how smooth and effortless this was compared to my last attempt to obtain some relief from the dumb luck I ran into by buying at the top of the market cycle right before the subsequent crash.

Boy, was I premature in my celebration.  Here is a timeline of the chain of events that followed:

February 10—I schedule the appraiser to come out the following morning.

February 11—The appraiser sis a no show, and not as much as a phone call.

February 13—I receive an email from the processor in Ohio (told you the reason for giving the location would become apparent) stating that the loan went to underwriting and a determination should be expected in 7-10 business days, with his goal of wrapping up the entire process within 45 days.

February 14—The appraiser, from a different company I presume, comes and inspects the property.

February 17—The refinance is approved, but they ask for a letter of explanation regarding the ownership percentage of my business.  That was easy enough to take care of.

February 18-March 14—No communication from the processing representative in Ohio, so I call my Arizona guy to let him know that I haven’t heard a single word.

March 15—I receive an email from the Ohio processor informing me that the new loan is in underwriting for final approval.  he states that he hopes to have it completed by the end of the month (March)

March 20—Another email from Ohio telling me that it is still in underwriting.

March 27—I receive an email from Ohio asking me to verify income and liabilities. The numbers he send for verification are correct on the liability side, but he is only reporting half of my monthly income.  That pisses me off.  I call my guy in Arizona to tell him what’s going on and he gets pissed since with this program, none of that stuff even matters.

April 2—I finally get a response from Ohio on the income/liability verification issue, 5 days later, apologizing for the delay and telling me that proof is not needed but verification is.  This is totally the opposite of what I was told, and in fact ends up not being necessary in any form.  And, he totally ignored my response to the first inquiry correcting his figure!  I also ask that he push it along, since we were approaching 2 calendar months with this already, and past his target of the end of March.  His response is that he will do that and “it should be clear to close by the end of this week” (week ending April 6).

Of course the end of the week comes and goes with no word on the closing.  Big shock there!

April 12—I get an email from Chase saying that my welcome package is available for viewing.  This is the same email I received that included all of the papers to start the process.  Needless to say I freaked out.  I emailed and called the guy in Ohio, but of course got no response.  So, I got on the phone to Arizona and my guy out there got everything all cleared.  Apparently the Ohio processor filed the papers incorrectly which caused the email to go out.

April 13—Ohio guy emails to say that we are clear to close, and set up a time on April 16 for the notary from the title company to come process everything.  Of course, that just happens to mark the 45th business day of the process since his declaration that it would be done in 45 days.  He also tells me that I will have the final HUD statement to review before the closing.

April 16—I never receive the final HUD.   The title rep shows up, and we start going through the paperwork.  Lo and behold, the information is incorrect.  They are expecting me to pay $2,500 to close, plus the insurance is included in the escrow.  We each get on the phone to clear it up.  As it turns out, no one is around to take care of it, so I leave a message for the Arizona rep.

April 17—The guy in Arizona calls me in the morning and he isn’t very happy with the situation either and tells me he will make some calls.  A little later I get a message from the Ohio processor apologizing (once again) because he went home ill before lunch and never got to send me the final HUD.  Plus he didn’t see the errors I pointed out, if he even looked at it to begin with.   The loan had to go back to underwriting for re-approval since I had a payment in transit, and it hit the account before anything got settled.  Then they had to rework all of the intermittent figures like taxes and interest.

April 18—Another email from Ohio stating that everything was fixed on the HUD, and asking if closing can be set for the coming Friday (April 20th), to which I say “yes!”  He then asks (like he always does at the end of his messages) if there is anything else he can do for me.

April 19—I rant about not understanding why my insurance has to be escrowed since it was never done that way on the previous loan.  He goes on about them needing to have a years of insurance paid into the escrow account and blah blah blah (I stopped paying attention because this guy does nothing but piss me off with his delays, mistakes and apologies) until I see him tell me that I have to pay additional points to have the insurance non-escrowed.  That put me into a rage. Again, I call out to Arizona and vent to the rep out there, who, once again, calls Ohio and sets this guy straight on what does and doesn’t need to be done with this loan.

April 20—Day of closing (again).  I get a final HUD, and it has me paying no money at the closing.  However it still shows my insurance as part of escrow. I send it back telling the Ohio processor to fix it and get me a new copy before the end of the day so I don’t waste any more time with another failed closing.  I hear nothing until 4:37 PM, 23 minutes before the processing department goes home for the weekend, when the new HUD finally arrives.  I’m fuming, because if anything was wrong, there was no way it would be corrected in time to close.  I finally closed later that evening.

May 15—I received the refund check for the additional interest charged as a result of the Ohio processor’s screw-ups leading to the additional delay in closing.

I have to say, although it was much easier to to the refinance than it was to try with the modification, there were way too many bumps in the road for my liking.  For something so straightforward and simple, there were a ton of mistakes and the guy processing the new loan sure showed a pretty high level of ineptitude.  I had to give a huge amount of thanks to my rep out of the Arizona office.  Without him, I would have stopped the process after the first failed closing and gone elsewhere.  He did an amazing job of putting out the fires caused by the guy in the Ohio office.  And, in fact I emailed the whole thing to the Arizona supervisor and talked to him on the phone about it, telling him how lucky he was to have the guy who was working with me in his department.

At the end of the day, I have to say that the HARP 2.0 program did do what it was supposed to do for someone in my position, who ended up getting screwed by others while contuing to hold up his end of the bargain.

Have any of you tried to do a refinance under the HARP2.0 program?   Are you considering it?  Share your thoughts or experiences in the comments!