New York

Good morning Dinks.  Remember back in May when I went to NYC and lost my bag full of stuff? Well this past weekend I went back for a vacation do-over and I have to tell you…it was awesome.  I normally don’t travel in the summer, especially to big cities, because it’s hot and overcrowded with people.  However this time I made an exception because I really needed to get away and two of my friends were happy to come along.

You know that I usually travel alone which means I have to find the cheapest accommodations because it’s expensive to take a vacation solo.  This time I had two travel companions so I could afford to spend a little extra money on food and experiences that I normally wouldn’t.  All in all my trip didn’t cost me a penny more than it would have if I travelled alone and I got the chance to experience some really cool things in NYC.

4 Must Go Places in NYC that are worth the cost

A Broadway show.  I absolutely love the theatre.  There is just something very exciting about a live show at night in Times Square.  It really makes me feel like I’m living the high life in New York.  You can get all dressed up and spend a night out on the town.  The best thing is at 10 pm when the show lets out you are right in the middle of the busiest corner in the city that never sleeps.

I know when you look at online prices to Broadway shows are expensive, I know tickets to The Lion King can cost over $200, but if you really want to go it’s worth the cost.  You can save some money on the ticket price by sitting higher up in the balcony, you usually have a view of the stage from anywhere in the theatre.  You can also visit the TKTS booth in Times Square and buy discounted tickets for matinee or evening shows the same day for under $70.

3 really good restaurants.  I normally never pay more than $10 for a meal, especially in NYC where there is a Chipotle almost on every block.  In case you’ve never heard of it Chipotle is the Mexican restaurant equivalent of Starbucks.  It’s great quality, prices are reasonable and it’s super addicting.  Trust me, try it and you will find yourself looking for the closest Chipotle to your next travel destination.

This time around we ate at Juniors in Times Square, best known for their cheesecake.  It’s $7 a slice but it’s really worth it because it tastes so great.  We also ate at Serendipity where it cost us $23 each for lunch but we got to have the frozen hot chocolate – yes just like in the movie.

We ate our last NYC meal at Eataly.  It’s a market/restaurant at the corner of 23rd and 5th Ave.   Most products are imported directly from Italy and the food is great.  It cost us over $20 for a bowl of pasta or an individual size pizza but it was good.  Then we spent additional money on pastries, pasta noodles and Gelato.  It’s definitely more than I would normally spend on food and groceries, but it was worth it this time because the cost was split in 3 so I could afford it.

Photo from Flickr

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vacation money

Good morning Dinks.  I’m fresh off my vacation from NYC and I can’t stop thinking about how our money habits change while we are on vacation.  Do your money habits change while you are travelling.  I am not only talking about spending money, but how you actually manage your money.

I will be the first to admit that I spend money on things while on vacation that I normally wouldn’t spend money on; but that may be because when I’m on vacation in the United States I can find so many products that are not available in Canada.  So spending aside, does the way you manage your money change when you go on vacation?

Avoid using your credit card to prevent fraud

It has never happened to me but I’m sure absolute panic must take over if your credit card is declined while on vacation.  Although having a VISA, MasterCard or American Express that is accepted worldwide is very convenient the truth is we don’t know much about the risks when using our credit cards abroad.

I am not sure if the likelihood of credit card fraud is higher in foreign countries but I do know it will be a lot easier to address fraudulent charges and visit your bank branch when you are at home.  I don’t like to use my credit card while travelling for this particular reason, I also don’t want any surprises on my next statement due to foreign exchange rates.

Save on extra ATM fees

I hate paying bank fees.  I will do anything to avoid paying $2 in ATM charges to take out cash.  I usually never carry cash because I never remember where I spent it and therefore I always use my debit card whenever possible, but this is at home.

When I’m travelling and need cash ATM fees can quickly add up. I was once charged $2 by a bank for being a non-client and using their ATM.  I was then charged $5 by my own bank for taking money out abroad.  That was an unpleasant surprise.  My advice is to call your bank before you travel to find out if any additional ATM fees apply while travelling.

Carrying cash in convenient but it comes with risks

I am thankful that I have banking in the United States so I was able to use my Debit VISA card where ever we went.  Unfortunately my friends didn’t have this luxury.  One of my friends hit up the ATM twice during our four day long weekend in NYC and my second friend brought over $500 in cash on the trip.

It’s definitely convenient to carry cash while travelling abroad because you just never know if merchants accept debit or credit cards and it helps avoid paying any additional ATM fees.  However there is definitely a risk involved when carrying cash.  My friend didn’t want to leave her extra money in the hotel room in case it was stolen so she carried the wad of cash on her the whole time.  If you have a lot of cash on you there is always a risk that you can lose your wallet or get robbed.

When you are on vacation do you prefer to pay with cash or credit?

Photo from Flickr

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vet-clinic-sign

[Guest article for y'all today by Grayson of DebtRoundup.com]

I am sure most of you have heard the old saying “when it rains, it pours!” Well, that happens to also be the story of my life, at least when I was deep in credit card debt. I had just come to grips with my massive debt load and was working toward a solution to dig myself out. With a full time job, a freelancer career, and a new part-time job, I was extremely busy. I was also extremely motivated to be debt free. Things were going well at first, but I was still living paycheck to paycheck after my debt payments were made. While “going well” is up for interpretation, what happens next will probably swing your vote.

We are a Dog Family for Sure

What can I say, we love dogs. I have had one ever since I was a child. My wife is the same way. I am partial to dogs because I am highly allergic to cats. They won’t ever come in our house, not even for a minute. When we bought our new house, we had to replace all of the carpet and clean out the entire HVAC system, so I wouldn’t blow up like a balloon! So, yeah, no cats!

Anyway, my wife and I got our first dog when we were dating in college. He stayed at my place and all was good. When we bought our first home, my wife wanted another one. “Sure, why not” I said. So, two dogs in and a few years later, we got the itch. I don’t think it was fleas, but we definitely got the itch. Both of our dogs were rescued, so we went for another. Our animal control had a ton of dogs and I have a weak spot for those little ones. One day I asked my wife what she thought and she said sure. A few hours later, we had another dog in our house. Talk about chaos!

Our dogs lived together for a full year in harmony. They played with each other, went on many walks, and slept in the same room. They were enjoying life, or so we thought. That all changed one day when I came from from work on a whim before going to my second job.

The Backyard Massacre

I typically didn’t go home before my second job, but I didn’t pack my dinner. After a full day at work, I was hungry. I drove home planning on jumping in and eating some leftovers. Well, that was the plan anyway. I went in the front door and started getting my dinner ready. Our backyard was fenced, so the dogs spent their day outside. Everything was peachy keen until I realized only one dog was at the door wanting to come in. I looked at her through the glass door and noticed red on her face. “Hmm…that doesn’t seem right” went through my head.

I put down my food and walked toward the door hoping to see the other two. Unfortunately, I didn’t see them at first. After scanning the backyard, I noticed one in the doghouse, but still no sign of the other. Things didn’t feel right and they certainly weren’t. After stepping outside, I noticed the carnage.

**NOTICE: This next part could be graphic for some**

There was blood all over our concrete patio, up the siding, and throughout the grass. There was blood on three sides of the house. I could quickly tell the one dog at the door was fine. She just had blood on her face, but it was from one of the other dogs. The second dog was cowering in the dog house. I could see from a distance her face was all puffed up. I just couldn’t locate the last dog.

I ran around the corner and my heart skipped a beat. My only male dog and our first was lying there motionless in the grass. I called out his name, but got no response. I started to panic a bit. After running over to him, I could see he was breathing slightly, very slightly. He couldn’t move, but he did move his eyes. When he saw me, he started to whimper. Tears started to roll down my face*.

He was covered in blood and I could see puncture wounds all over his legs and torso. He was losing blood fast. I had to do something and quick. I ran back inside to grab a towel and called the vet at the same time. They were about to close, so I told them I would be there in a few minutes with an emergency. I scooped up my dog and put him in the back of the car. I drove like a bat out of hell to the vet. I didn’t care who was in my way. On my way, I called my sister-in-law to come pick up the other dog as I figured she was in pain. I quickly checked her over before I left and she had some noticeable issues.

The Vet Comes to the Rescue…Sort of!

I squealed into the vet parking lot like a NASCAR driver and grabbed my dog out of the car. I kicked (literally) the door open to the waiting room and they knew what to do. The vet staff grabbed him and put him in the back. That was when I was able to start processing what happened. There was a whirlwind of emotion for sure. That feeling didn’t last long since my sister-in-law came in a few minutes later with the other dog. The vet staff took her in the back and started checking her out.

We were only there for 20 minutes before our vet came out and told us we would need to take the dogs to an emergency clinic that has overnight hours. It was 25 minutes away and they were aware of our situation. By this time, my wife had gotten off work and drove over. As we were loading the two dogs into our car, I asked the vet what she saw on the dogs. All she could tell me is she noticed puncture wounds, which they shaved and cleaned. She also gave both dogs an IV of a saline solution to keep them hydrated. I told them to bill me after I got done at the other clinic.

The Emergency Clinic Does the Job

When we arrived at the emergency clinic, they were all very nice and super supportive. They have seen some of the worst injuries, so this didn’t seem to bother them. They took both dogs in the back and started to work. They asked us questions about what happened. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell them much as I wasn’t there. After about 30 minutes, the main vet came out to give us the low-down. She indicated that the female dog had two broken teeth and several facial lacerations. They would have to pull the teeth out and repair some of her gum line. She was the lucky one.

Our male dog didn’t fare so well. He had bite marks all over his neck and body. He also had severe bites on one of his legs. It was so bad that he had lost blood flow to the leg. Their only solution was to amputate his leg. My dog was going to be a tri-pod. My wife and I told her to do what she needed to and that is what they did. The female dog stayed at the vet overnight along with the male. She got released the next day. Our male dog had to stay at the vet for 3 more nights in order to get treatment and learn how to walk with three legs. It was a long and stress filled journey. That was just the beginning!

Money, Money, and More Money

I didn’t start thinking about how much money this whole ordeal was going to cost until the emergency vet asked how we were going to pay for the treatments. They provided us with a bill every night with the updated total. It was a staggering amount. Something I never thought I would pay.

Since I was already maxed out with my regular credit cards, we had to resort to applying for a Care Credit card. These cards provide funding for people who need to get medical treatments or expensive vet treatments. They didn’t give me much credit, so my wife had to apply as well. Yea! We always needed more credit cards. The only good thing was they provided us with 14 months of interest free financing. I will take the little wins.

In the end, the vet bill from the emergency clinic alone totaled a little over $8,000! Yes, I said $8,000. We had to fund that bill on both Care Credit cards and add to our overall debt. On top of that bill, our regular vet charged us nearly $900 for 20 minutes of work. Oh yes, $900!

A Dog Fight Worth $9,000

After the bills stopped coming in the mail and we had to figure out what went wrong, we were staring at nearly $9,000 in vet bills. That event put me in a dark place as I had no idea how we were going to pay for the services. Before you ask if we had pet insurance, we did have it for the female dog, but they ended up covering nothing. They gave us some excuse about how the dog was a pitbull, so they wouldn’t cover the bill. Yes, we had a pitbull, but the insurance company knew the breed. They charged us extra for it. They also indicated they likely wouldn’t cover but a few hundred for the other dog because of the pitbull. That day, I canceled the insurance and never thought about it again. Waste of money and full of excuses to not pay!

Though I was looking at a large bill, I realized I need to try and negotiate some of the costs. This was especially true with our regular vet. I can’t see how you can justify a $900 bill for 20 minutes of work. They itemized the bill for me, which gave me more than enough information to fight the charges.

I went into the vet office and asked to speak with whomever would go over the bill. For 30 minutes, I told them I would not pay their crazy prices. They charged us $200 per dog just for shaving their wounds. They used a freaking electric razor! It took them a few minutes to do each dog. The emergency clinic even told me they had to do it again because the shave was not good. Nope, not paying full price!

They also charged us $100 just for prepping the IV on each dog. So, they charged me $100 just to stick a needle in their their leg, each! Probably another minute or two. Then came the saline bags. One dog needed one bag and the other needed three. Each bag cost us $40. Yes, bags of saline solution cost $160. Luckily, my wife told me how much her hospital pays for each of their bags, which are larger. Let’s just say it is much less than what they charged. The rest of their bill were just over inflated charges for supplies.

I told them I would pay a fee that is justifiable. Their rate was not right in my mind. After some back and forth, along with a manager coming out, I was able to reduce the bill from $900 to $450. While it was not a real win, it was much better than it was before. I didn’t have such luck at the emergency clinic. They stayed strong with their rates. Most of the $8,000 bill came from the overnight stays. They wouldn’t even budge on the outrageous disposal fee. What is that you ask? It cost us $400 just for them to bag up and throw out the dog leg into their medical waste. Yes, they wouldn’t come down from that crazy one. I didn’t know it was so labor intensive to put a dog leg into a bag and throw it into the trash. Who knew?

How the Dog Fight Affected Us

Beyond the fact our dogs were involved in an internal fight and one lost the leg, we had to deal with some other issues as well. After the fight, the two dogs wouldn’t coexist together any longer. We never figured out who started the fight or how it happened, but we definitely know who won. In the end, we decided to give away our pitbull to my sister-in-law. She wanted a dog and loved the Pit. They have been good ever since and the dog really is a sweetheart. She doesn’t show aggression toward others, so we don’t know what happened to instigate the fight.

Since we only had a 14-month promotional period on the new credit cards, we decided to stop paying extra on our other debt and kill off the vet debt. We were able to pay it all off within the 14 months, but it put our original plan back 14 months. When it rains, it pours!

One thing that I took out of the whole fight was how important it is to have some type of emergency fund. I don’t care if you call it that or a rainy day fund. You can even call it a dogfight fund. Doesn’t matter. Just have something. When in debt, I didn’t think about having such a fund. I wanted to put everything I had into my debt payments. Boy did my mindset quickly change. After we started paying on our vet bill debt, I started my debt/saving allocation method and was able to slowly build an emergency fund. Now I will always make sure I have something in the bank to keep me afloat when tragedy strikes.

I also learned to never accept a crazy bill without looking it over and getting an explanation. You would be surprised how easy it can be to get companies to come down. Never be afraid to negotiate with your creditors or for any thing you own money on. I have seen people negotiate with retailers about a price and get it reduced. When you think something doesn’t look right, take some time and figure out why and then get answers. The worst they can say is no.

——
Grayson is a business owner, offering management and content services to blog owners. He also runs the personal finance blog Debt Roundup and a few others. When he isn’t online, he is conquering DIY work and maintaining his Jeep Wrangler.

*Yes, I am a man, yet when it comes to my dogs, they are part of my family.

photo courtesy of expert Infantry

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Old money habits die hard

July 28, 2014

Good morning Dinks.  As you know I have had my share of money problems in the past.  I lived on credit cards, I spent more than I could afford to pay off each month (as well as years later) and I continued to apply for credit when I maxed out my existing cards.  I think […]

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Typical Household Wealth Drops by A Third

July 27, 2014

If you’re feeling some frustration in your budget, you’re not alone. The latest analysis from the Russell Sage Foundation is that the median household net worth of Americans has declined by 36% since 2007. Why? The poor and working class have been less effective in getting over the great recession’s hangover effects from 2007. The […]

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Weekly roundup: Real Estate, Income and Stuff

July 25, 2014

Good morning Dinks.  Tomorrow I am going to the Justin Timberlake concert.  Yes that’s right, I am 34 years old and I’m leaving my boyfriend on a Saturday night to go see a former boy band member live in concert.  Since we are being honest I should tell you that the ticket cost $190 and […]

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Getting Serious With Joshua Kennon’s Investing Blog

July 24, 2014

Folks, If you get a chance, consider checking out Joshua Kennon’s Investing blog.  The author is a self employed entrepreneur from the Midwest who owns a a business selling Letterman jackets to high school sports teams. Unlike a lot of finance writers on the web, Joshua’s knows a ton about investing and small business management […]

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Dinks: Are we doing it all wrong?

July 24, 2014

Good morning Dinks.  I recently went home to visit my family and friends and I spent a day catching up with my best friend from childhood.  I have known her almost my entire life, I think we met when we were 6 and now we are both 33.  We’ve stayed friends all these years because […]

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Do you always listen to your spouse?

July 23, 2014

Good morning Dinks.  So you’ve said I do in front of your loved ones, or if you’re like me and my boyfriend Nick you’ve made more of a virtual commitment.  That’s just my way of saying I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 15 years and we’re still dating.  The point of my story is […]

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