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Friday, August 30, 2013

TIAA-CREF vs Goodwill: Customer Service

I mentioned yesterday that I had two dispiriting--nay, upsetting--customer service experiences with TIAA-CREF (my retirement people) yesterday. I could just feel the reps reading from their scripts and I didn't like the scripts. How about some empathy, people? Empathy about over-complex systems that make things difficult and time-consuming for the customer or client or whatever it is I am. Well, let's just skip the details. Bad customer service.

Now a true tale of good customer service from Goodwill, of all places. Miss Em and I had an errand near Goodwill (yay!!!) so we had no choice--had to go. There hidden amongst the "designer" purses was something I wanted, but seemed so unlikely a find that it wasn't even on my karmic prayer list: a push mower. Frugal Son wants one, actually. I couldn't get the mower to push; neither could the young woman working. But Matt the manager emerged and showed us how to do it. I was nervous because it was $25.00, squeaky, and I wasn't sure if it REALLY worked. So I asked Matt if I could return it. He called HIS superior, who said NO--one can only return electronics.

Matt then reduced the price to $20.00 but was firm on no returns. Miss Em and I were unsure--did it only need some WD-40 or was it a piece of junk? Miss Em had the genius idea of testing it on the lawn outside. We asked if she could try it. Permission was sought from the manager in the back room. A big fellow emerged and said I'll do it for you. We all traipsed outside where, instead of Miss Em, the big guy mowed the lawn. He was fast!

We bought it. Thanks for a good customer service moment Goodwill. Mowing the lawn was definitely not on this guy's job description.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Instead of a Rant about TIAA Reps, An Uplifting Story About Small Frugalities Adding Up

I just got off the phone with TIAA, where 3/4 of my net worth resides. Two out of three reps made me upset (with the first, I cried). They must have terrible training scripts!

But instead of writing about that experience, I will share a happy story about small frugalities. I am a pennywise person. I don't think I'm pound foolish, but I'm definitely not poundwise. Every time I try to save on a big ticket item (insurance, for one thing), I end up confused and frustrated.

Generally it's hard to figure out what effect these small frugalities have. Sometimes I feel like I'm nuts: I will NOT spend that for a jar of peanut butter! That kind of thing. Finally, though, I have some evidence of how things add up. Miss Em graduated last May. She just got her final settlement check from her university. Yes, a check FROM her university. It was pretty hefty for a recent grad.

$1600 of the check was for Dining Dollars. Each semester, students are required to buy $300 in Dining Dollars. This is mostly for coffee and snacks at the campus Starbucks, but can be used in the dining halls and at some off-campus venues. Miss Em reports that many of her friends blew through the money in a few weeks. Miss Em obviously spent some--out of $2400 (8 semesters), she spent $800. She said, I used it to go out with friends, not to get caffeine. She pointed out that--in addition to her dorm room where she had a coffee and teapot--she had access to the free coffee in various organizations and offices, in her case, the Honors College, the University Fellows Program office, and Creative Campus. She also carried her little thermos everywhere. In fact, the Starbucks was rather out of the way for her so the thermos was a time- as well as a money-saver for the most organized and time-efficient member of my family.

You go girl!

P.S. The check covered her new laptop and she still has some left over.

P.P.S. Should I move my money to Vanguard when I retire?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Long Tanks at Chico's--on sale plus $25 off!

OK. I know I generally hate Chico's--poor customer service, too much flattery by salespeople, and tacky over-blingy styles. I do like their ponte pants and leggings, however. And I also LOVE a long tank I got there a few years ago. Mine is worn and pilly from overuse. The style was discontinued, alas, but made a reappearance this year.

At $39, my cheapitude set in. At $29, my cheapitude remained. At $19.50, I'm interested, especially because if you spend $50.00, you can get $25.00 off with this code: 18341.

Yeah, I'd rather have the Eileen Fisher silk version (no link, sorry--stay away from temptation). I even bought the EF at 40% off, but returned it unworn, because I JUST CAN'T SPEND $90 on a tank. Even if "retail" is $149. Sorry Eileen.

I got two and Miss Em, aged 22, got one. Total: about $36.00. I'm happy because it's hard to find long tanks that are slightly a-line. And skinny Miss Em likes it because it's long enough for her 5'10" frame.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle French Style and my Authentic Vuitton BAG

One of Viviennestyle's commenters lamented the lack of thrift shops in her European home. I left a brief comment about my observations in France, where I was lucky enough--owing to perhaps over-extreme frugality--to spend some weeks this summer and the one before. Unlike in the USA and in Great Britain, where there is an established tradition of charity shops, France seems to boast only the occasional uber-pricy designer resale store, snobbier than any retail environment I have ever experienced.

In Paris I witnessed an amazing eco-system. On our evening walks, we would see people assiduously going through garbage cans. Some had little wheelie carts in which they amassed food. One sight from this past summer: an old woman with a full cart, sitting on a stoop, shelling beans. I noticed that people often waited till dusk to put out their garbage, carefully laying nice clothing and linens at the top. I walked by a wonderful trove (this is what I mentioned in my comment chez Vivienne) containing a lined classic wool skirt, a vintage Persian lamb jacket, and a pair of Doc Martens. This stuff was so nice that I sent Mr FS out to make sure it had been taken before the trucks came: he reported that all was gone!

We also saw interesting furniture. Mr FS lamented the fact that he could not transport a great wooden door for one of his art projects. We saw an ecstatic-looking Parisian fellow--decidedly middle-class--carrying one of those circular tables with two leaves that you put against the wall. It seemed like good wood. It was missing a leaf, but it would still make a snazzy addition to a small apartment. We also saw tons of Ikea-type pressboard, but these often did not survive a night in the rain. Lots of baby equipment too.

And, of course, books. There was a giant box of books outside the Aloha Hostel right down the street from us--perhaps left by travelers? A woman and her son pulled out a lot of books. Then Mr FS and I had a look: many academic books on feminism (in French). It was about to rain, so we took a few and kept them safe. We then left them on the doorstep of the used bookstore around the corner. According to a used bookstore owner here, this is a common practice: much of his stock was gifted by kind people who hoped for a good home for their books.

I guess Mr FS and I participated in the ecosystem by moving those books. We also saw the ecosystem at work on our visit to Nimes. There we saw an ad hoc street sale where zillions of families had wares on the sidewalk. Some of these looked like established marketers, but others looked rather unofficial, e.g. the fellow with stacks and stacks of clothing and a sign that said 2 items for a euro. I spied a Max Mara blazer and some nice sweaters. I have a feeling that the piles of stuff came courtesy of the trash.

We did see some giant metal receptacles in Paris where you could deposit used clothing for charity. Of course, being French, the rules were strict: the clothing had to be freshly laundered, neatly folded, and put into a certain kind of plastic bag (i.e. not a garbage bag). No wonder people left their things on the garbage cans!

Oh, the Vuitton bag. Yes, it is authentic. I got it from the sidewalk. Someone left it. There was nothing in it, save an invitation to a private fashion show. Perhaps the original owner left the bag so that it could be filled with some of the wares left atop the garbage can next to it. Readers, I took it. It is my souvenir. It is, of course, a shopping bag.

It now sits in my study filled with student work from last semester. It is a big and sturdy bag. I love it.