Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eternal vigilance, or, 'Why Stacy is cranky with Amex, New School and Aetna'

Sorry for the long patch again of radio silence -- it's been a month of travel and bureaucracy. I'm in one of those stretches right now where I feel like my sole purpose in life is to facilitate the movement of bits of paper.

This week, it's New School University I'm shuffling paper around for. I'm heading into my third and final year of finishing off a degree there. When I enrolled, New School kindly gave me two scholarships. I hadn't directly applied for these and had no idea exactly what they were for or how they worked, but the financial aid office told me they would be renewed each year automatically, so long as I didn't flunk out. Excellent.

Less kindly, New School has flubbed the renewal each year. The first time, I was willing to chalk it up as oversight. Twice makes me question the competence of the financial aid office.

When I got my financial statements last year, my scholarships weren't listed. Fortunately, the problem was easily solved: I fired off an email to the financial aid office, and got an email back the next day saying "whoops, we'll fix that." A day or so later, the scholarships showed up in the online financial system info. Yay. One was for half as much as it had been the previous year, but the other was for twice as much. Since the total amount worked out to what I was expecting, I shrugged and went with it.

This year, the scholarships once again failed to show up in the records. However, this time my email about it went unanswered. So I hauled myself in to the open office hours yesterday to attempt to straighten it. Scholarship 1, I was told, should show up every year -- it not doing so this time was an oversight, and oops, they'll fix that right away. Scholarship 2, however, the counselor said, is need-based, and since my FAFSA kicked up a higher "student contribution" amount this year, my scholarship died.

Grumble. No one told me it was need-based, I muttered. But, ok. At least I have an answer, and since I do make more now than I did in past years, I suppose I can't complain too strenuously.

But when I checked the records this morning, I saw that Scholarship 1 came through for the same amount it did last year -- which is half what it paid out the first year. Last year, I had Scholarship 2 balancing that out. Since Scholarship 2 is now gone, Scholarship 1's decrease is an issue. It looks like I'll be dragging back to the financial aid office. Grr.

Meanwhile, Amex has finally just resolved the last of the complications from my April credit-card-information-theft incident. Despite Amex's "we'll take care of contesting everything" assurances, several of the charges stuck, until I called and filed another round of protests. Two were take off my bill a month later, but Amex declined to reverse one charge -- the Domino's pizza order. Its denial letter said I had apparently authorized the charge, and included a signed receipt as proof. A receipt from Philly, which I was not anywhere near at the time, signed in handwriting that isn't mind. Grr. (This entry is bought to you by the word "Grr.")

So I called Amex again, protested again, and this time it worked. This week the Domino's charge finally came off my bill, and I got an "oops, sorry!" note in the snail mail.

I'm also hacking through piles of paperwork from the ongoing medical drama. That will be another entry. But the whole paperwork stack, and the frequency with which I find myself spending time sorting out overcharges and erroneous charges, suggests that people who don't do this end up paying a lot of fees they shouldn't have to. I wasn't always as organized as I am now about finances. ("Gibbering ball of denial" would more accurately describe me and my financial strategies for the first year or so I was out of college.)

Someone (exactly who seems to be controversial) famously said that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." It seems it's also the price of financial security.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On pennies and yuppie food stamps

A recent acknowledgement from the U.S. Mint that rising metal costs now mean it's more expensive to make a penny (manufacturing cost: about 1.2 cents) that to buy one have sparked a fresh wave of news articles about the imperiled penny and editorials calling for its death.

I don't have strong feelings either way on the fate of the penny. I do actually drag them around in my wallet and spend them, and don't see much about the weight of my wallet or my spending habits changing if they get exterminated. On a practical note, my Aussie partner David notes that when Australia off'd its pennies, no one really felt the loss. Cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents, and credit transactions continued to be calculated as they are now.

In other money matters, the recent wave of massive storms in the Northeast has rendered the $20 artistically inaccurate. The Washington Post reports that one of the storms' fatalities was one of the two elm trees pictured on the back of the bill, framing the White House. Frame your $20s and pennies now -- they're becomming historical artifacts!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dropping to one paycheck

One of my friends posted today about how her family is making life work on a single income. The aspect of it that intrigued me the most is: plan. This is a terribly basic thing, but I still struggle to implement it in my daily financial life. The thing savings buys you isn't more stuff, it's flexibility. The value of have flexibility when you need it? Priceless.