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How reading Amazon fine print can save you money

Elizabeth Sanberg at Wisebread, the blog I read daily, writes about her experience with ordering a GPS from Amazon. The deal was that she gets a free Wired magazine subscription and Amazon Music store credit with the purchase. Free music is fine but the magazine wasn’t what she wanted.

Guess what, a week later she receives an email that lays out the complete terms for the free Wired subscription promotion. Among other things the fine print contains this disclaimer:

If you do not wish to receive the subscription, you may receive a refund for the stated value ($10.00). To obtain this refund, please print and send a completed copy of the Online Form with a copy of your order confirmation to the address noted on the form. Please mail within 4 weeks from the date you received this e-mail.

The most interesting part however is that the same email states that Elizabeth would not have received this useful tip should she have opted out of Amazon marketing emails! It is great that Amazon offers this option to swap the magazine you don’t want with cash, but why in the world hide the terms in the (optional) marketing email?!?! Does anybody smell conspiracy? :-)

News that caught my eye, stuff that matters

I-Bond fixed rate goes to zero

This is sort of significant news in financial world. US Treasury has just announced new rate for the fixed portion of I-Bond treasury bond, something they do every 6 months. For the first time in the life of the program (since 1998) the rate went down to zero which to me signifies how terrible the state of our economy is and how desperate the Fed is in encouraging people to spend more.

I Savings Bonds Rates & Terms at Treasury Direct

Hidden airline fees

I was surprised to see many of these. I guess the airline industry does a great job keeping them under hood.

  1. Getting a seat assignment. Fee: $5-$11 (each way)
  2. Paying for lap children. Fee: $10 to 10 percent of the adult fare
  3. Flying standby on the same day of travel. Fee: $0-50
  4. Getting a refund when a fare goes down. Fee: $25 to $200 or more.
  5. Checking luggage. Fee: $3-10 (each way)
  6. Re-banking frequent flyer miles. Fee: $50-100
  7. Bringing a pet onboard in the cabin/ Fee: $50-85 (each way)
  8. Cashing in frequent flyer miles without “sufficient” advance notice. Fee: $0-100.
  9. Making a reservation on the phone or in person. Fee: $5-$20

Top 10 Most Obnoxious Hidden Airline Fees (via Consumerist)

Refill disposable Brita water pitcher filters

The instructions involve drilling a hole in a used filter and replacing the content with fresh activated carbon. If you buy the activated carbon bulk, each refill will only cost you a few cents as opposite to $2-3 per filter which is the lowest price I have seen (when buying them in 10-packs at Costco). The question is, will the new filter work just as good as the original?

Read the complete guide at Instructables

Convert your Prius into plug-in hybrid online

Based on my earlier research, even at $4 per gallon, the plug-in convertible will still cost you extra. If savings is not what you are after, A123 Systems has created a web site where Toyota Prius owners who don’t want to wait till 2010 can pre-order a battery to convert their cars to plug-in hybrids now, or at least very soon. The parts and installation will cost you $9,995 plus $400 in other fees and taxes.

Hymotion (via Cnet News)

USPS to raise postal rates

On May 12th, 2008 the United States Postal Office will be raising the following postal rates:

  • First class mail one ounce or less: Up one cent to 42 cents
  • Post card: Up one cent to 27 cents
  • Large envelope, 2 ounces: Up 3 cents to $1.
  • Certified mail: Up 5 cents to $2.70
  • First-class international letter to Canada or Mexico: Up 3 cents to 72 cents
  • First-class international letter to other countries: Up 4 cents to 94 cents

New Postal Rates Are Coming, Should You Stockpile the Forever Stamp? at WiseBread

How US tax system works

Together with How markets work this is one of the funniest things I have stumbled upon online lately. Enjoy!

Bar Stool Economics (via WiseBread)

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

  • The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
  • The fifth would pay $1.
  • The sixth would pay $3.
  • The seventh would pay $7.
  • The eighth would pay $12.
  • The ninth would pay $18.
  • The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that’s what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve.
“Since you are all such good customers”, he said, “I’m going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20”. Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.
The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his “fair share?”
They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody’s share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man’s bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

  • The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
  • The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
  • The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
  • The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
  • The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).
  • The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.
“I only got a dollar out of the $20,” declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, “but he got $10!”
“Yeah, that’s right,” exclaimed the fifth man. “I only saved a dollar, too. It’s unfair that he got ten times more than I!”
“That’s true!!” shouted the seventh man. “Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!”
“Wait a minute,” yelled the first four men in unison. “We didn’t get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!”
The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.
The next night the tenth man didn’t show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn’t have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics, University of Georgia

How will expensive energy affect our life?

Two big carsWith the oil prices going up I have been picking up a lot of discussions lately about what future holds for us in regards to our lifestyle.

While driving less might still be inevitable, I tend to think the technology will solve this puzzle one way or another and we will not follow the footsteps of Roman Empire (yeah, some folks believe it collapsed because of energy crisis).

Entrepreneurs are working hard to save our “American dream” and I have already seen a super efficient car and electric motorbike. Of course personal transportation is just one side of our life affected by rising energy costs and changing our cars is just a band aid where we need a surgery.

There is a hope though. I heard on NPR today that an average California resident is 50% more energy efficient than the rest of the nation. I am sure mild Californian climate is partially at blame but I was still surprised to find how much we could save even with the current technology by simply restructuring the way we do business.

The big question is however will we be able to do it fast enough to soften the effect of raising energy costs, and if not, how much of our current lifestyle will we have to sacrifice. What do you think?

The image is courtesy of… me, and you will never guess where I took it. It is parking lot of a local community college. Poor students! ;-)

YP buys LiveDeal, Zecco goes wild, other news

LiveDeal is acquired by YP Corp., an online classified ads service I reviewed in October, has been acquired by YP Corp., a publicly traded company operating the Yellow Pages site From the press release published yesterday at BusinessWire:

Under the terms of the acquisition, LiveDeal shareholders received 15,968,514 shares of YP common stock. LiveDeal will remain an independent entity and a wholly owned subsidiary of YP and the two companies will leverage one another’s content, sales teams and technology to strengthen their individual product offerings

The deal is valued at around $12 million and is just a drop in the series of acquisitions flooding the news these days, a clear sign of a hot IT market. Other noticeable acquisitions:

and in the rumors:

Zecco removes minimum balance requirement

The secret promotion at Zecco is not a secret any longer. I just received an email that they have removed the $2500 minimum balance requirement making the deal even sweeter.

Zecco is a financial portal offering $0 commission stock trading. If you are thinking of opening an account at Zecco, as I am, check out this and this review at Sun’s Financial Diary to get an idea of what to expect.

After reading the reviews myself, I stand by my previous conclusion that $0 commission trades are a good deal but Zecco has a long way to go improving their service and customer support. Is the trouble worth savings? You will have to choose this for yourself.

Discovery Channel to close stores

After a series of recent revenue losses the network decided to close its mall-based and stand-alone Discovery Channel Stores to focus on its e-commerce platform and partnerships with large retailers.

Discovery Communications announced on Thursday that it will close its 103 stand-alone and mall-based retail stores, cutting 1,000 jobs, or 25 percent of the company’s global workforce, in the process

The overhaul is expected to be complete by the end of the third quarter. Does store closings mean we will see close-out sales is yet to be seen and I sure will be keeping an eye on it.

Source: Discovery closing stores, slashing 1,000 jobs at Reuters (via WiseBread)

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