Monday, August 17, 2009

Fat People and Smokers Actually Save You Money on Health Care

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 70 - health care

As our nation stands poised to usher in some sort of health care reform thingy, I can’t help but be reminded of some simple facts:

  • Better health care makes people live longer.
  • People living longer makes the Earth more crowded.
  • The Earth more crowded means even longer lines at the DMV.

So it could be argued that providing health care to people who don’t have it is detrimental to people who do have it. Having grown up on a healthy diet of dystopian sci-fi movies, I was quite looking forward to this problem solving itself, but I guess the unwashed, unhealthy masses have spoken. Fine, poor people, have your fancy doctors and your prescription medications. See if I care.

Okay, so I did care until I found an article from last year that made me change my way of thinking. Apparently those who have lifestyle-inflicted health problems are less taxing on our health care system. Specifically, the article talks about how smokers and those with high-end weight issues (that’s what we’re supposed to call the fatties now, right?) end up costing less money to provide medical care for over the course of their lives versus healthy Joe Lives-to-90. The reason: smokers and the obese die younger and quicker of things like heart attacks and choking on a Big Mac, while the healthy people who stick around longer usually go out slowly due to more costly diseases.

So when your workplace tells you that your health care costs are going up because of people who can’t lay off the cancer sticks and Krispy Kremes, you can let them know that those who choose to indulge in more reckless dietary and, uh, smoketary habits are actually saving you and your company big bucks. And then they roll up those big bucks and try to smoke them or eat them because they’re fatty fat smokeheads.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Punny Poll #35: Can You Survive on Five-Day-A-Week Mail?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

Last week’s month’s… uh, last year’s (crap, sorry) Punny Poll asked how bad weather had affected your finances. If you can remember back to last year, the entire Midwest of the United States was destroyed by a torriquake, a diabolical combination of a tornado, hurricane, and earthquake formulated by out-of-work meteorologists. But since nobody in the Midwest owns a computer, 55% of you indicated your finances weathered the weather just fine. Nearly 10% indicated your house was underwater, and I’m not talking mortgages here.

Today’s poll (and likely tomorrow’s and next January’s poll at this rate) is inspired by recent talks by the U.S. Postal Service—voted the #1 company we’d be better off without in 2007 by important scientists—that it might switch to five-times-a-week delivery to cut costs. It’s estimated that eliminating one delivery day each week (likely Saturday) could cut the Postal Service’s projected 2010 budget deficit from $6 billion to a mere $3-4 billion. Other cut proposals, such as burning down junk mail factories and using “Santa Claus magic” to make faster deliveries, were rejected as too intelligent.

Personally, I would welcome five-day-a-week delivery as all I get on Saturday are bills. And it’s not like I’m going to pay them until at least Monday anyway. Actually, can we cut out Monday delivery too?

So what’s your take on the proposed cut of Saturday service?

How would cutting Saturday mail delivery affect you?

View Results

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Writing “See ID” on Credit Cards Is The Worst Thing You Can Do

Author: Nick
Category: Money

comic 69! - see id

Yes, even worse than beating puppies. Because credit cards won’t grow up to pee on your slippers. Unless you have Capital One.

Back in high school, I did a stint in retail selling greeting cards and balloons. It was absolute hell for three reasons:

  • Try tying 300 latex balloons every day. I developed a 4mm deep indentation in my tying finger.
  • 90% of our customers were the oldest of old people and the socceriest of soccer moms.
  • Our credit card processing equipment was so old that it took 2-3 minutes to process each card. And half the time, a valid card would need to be processed 2-3 times in order to finally go through.

So whenever someone would hand me a piece of plastic, I knew it would be at least five minutes before I could go back to flirting with my gorgeous co-workers. Thus I would often attempt to encourage people who were spending 64 cents for a single cut-rate greeting card to pay in cash if possible. (My manager didn’t mind as it would often save us on credit card transaction fees.) Still, that wouldn’t work if somebody were purchasing $300 in Teddy Ruxpin party favors.

Fortunately for my lazy, hormone-driven self, I eventually stumbled upon a copy of the Visa and MasterCard Merchant Agreements. Here’s a fun excerpt from Visa’s:

While checking card security features, you should also make sure that the card is signed. An unsigned card is considered invalid and should not be accepted.

The agreement goes on to explain that some customers like to write “See ID” or “Ask for ID” in the signature block of their credit cards in order to deter fraudulent use of their cards. So, the jackass that I was in high school, I would reject any card with a blank or “See ID” signature line unless the customer did as Visa and MasterCard required: show ID and sign the card in front of me. With my very permanent black marker. Nobody ever did. I convinced my manager that I was helping to protect the business from chargebacks. And for some reason, the hot girls at work would get turned on whenever I yelled at an 86-year-old grandmother about her invalid credit card.

The Futility of “See ID”

Years later, after my manager was convicted of balloon bestiality and all of my hot co-workers had become prostitutes, I pondered why writing “See ID” on a credit card is bad. It certainly sounds sensible: If every merchant checked your ID against the name on the card, it would prevent Mr. Stealy McFelony from using your card (unless your name is also Stealy McFelony which would be awesome). In practice, few minimum-wage cashiers even check the back of your credit cards for a signature. And if they do, rarely do they compare them to the signature you provide on the receipt. I know this because:

  • I have a credit card I use exclusively for swiping at the gas pump. Its signature block says “THIS CARD IS STOLEN.” Occasionally I forget and use it somewhere else. Nobody’s ever stopped me.
  • I generally sign my credit card receipts in humorous ways, especially on electronic signature pads. While the cards themselves have valid signatures, I often sign receipts with “VOID VOID VOID,” “Mickey Mouse,” or “Zombie Hitler.”

Protecting your physical credit cards is also now relatively pointless as it is easier than ever to forge a new card. I got a call a few months ago from one of my card providers indicating they had seen some suspicious activity on my account. Indeed, someone had been using my card to attempt to purchase HDTVs from Wal-Mart stores—in person!—but the card was rejected. The strange part is that the card was never lost or stolen; likely the number was compromised by a dishonest restaurant worker as the card is used primarily for its rewards on eating out, and someone created a fake card using my number.

But even if writing “See ID” is futile 90% of the time, it certainly can’t hurt, right? Right! And by “right!” I mean “congratulations, victim of identity theft.” You see, every time you give somebody your driver’s license, you are giving them, at a minimum:

  • Your full legal name
  • Your address
  • Your full birthday
  • A number used to identify you to government agencies

Some state-issued IDs have even more information on them. But even if yours just has the information above, an identity thief can use your ID as a starting point for opening credit accounts in your name, forging other identifying information, and just plain taking over your life. They may even forge an ID in your name and convince your spouse to sleep with them. (Your spouse does ask for ID before going to bed each night, right? Right?)

Now you might be thinking that the cashiers behind the counter at Hot ‘n’ Trendy couldn’t possibly be identity thieves. And even if they were, they’d only see your ID for a few seconds—not nearly enough time to copy down or memorize your information. If you’re thinking that, consider the following:

  • Retail cashiers often make close to minimum wage. Identity thieves make a whole lot more until they’re caught, which isn’t all that often.
  • As often as “See ID”ers show their ID, it would be virtually impossible to pinpoint the source of any identity theft.
  • Cameras that can capture all the information off your ID can be the size of a cell phone or smaller.

Assuming you’re not peeing your pants in consumery terror, you might be wondering if I’m just posing a hypothetical scenario. Indeed, the bullet points above are based on a real experience from a few months ago.

Horrifying Story Time!

My wife and I were in a clothing store with some of her friends, and as women must spend at least one hour in any given store, I was bored to the point of near-insanity. I started to wander the store aimlessly and eventually heard those fateful words from behind the checkout counter: “May I please see your ID.” Only this time, the cashier—the only one behind the counter—sounded ecstatic, whereas no cashier in the history of the world had ever sounded ecstatic about anything up to that point. I was standing to the side of the counter, so I could see the cashier’s actions behind it. As the customer handed over her ID, I noticed the cashier tapped it on the counter a few times while swiping the credit card with her other hand. A perfectly innocent action, so I thought nothing of it.

A few minutes later, the next customer also paid with a credit card, though I could see from my viewpoint that it was clearly signed on the back with some signature scribble. Yet the cashier asked for ID. I figured the store had simply instructed her to ID every card user—a clear violation of their merchant’s agreement with credit card issuers—but I decided to let it go as I was having too much fun ogling this fine-looking cashier.

But when another customer came up a short time later and paid with a credit card, the cashier did not ask for ID. I looked over and saw that there was a second person behind the counter then; a closer look at his name badge revealed he was the store manager. After the manager left the checkout area, Hot Cashier Girl (that’s what I named her, because she is a hot girl cashier) went right back to asking for IDs from credit card users. Each time, she would tap the ID on the counter while waiting for the credit card to process.

About 20 minutes had gone by, and with no sign of shopping completion from my wife and her gang, I wandered the store briefly and returned to my original spot on the side of the checkout counter. Another credit card user was prompted for ID from the cashier, but this time something strange happened: when the cashier went to present the customer a pen and receipt for signing, the cashier dropped them on the counter beside her and scrambled to pick them up, scattering several items on her side of the counter in the process. After the customer signed and left, I noticed the cashier very meticulously return a blue lunch knapsack to its original position—lying flat but with the bottom pointing toward her.

I finally confirmed her plot when the next customer paid by credit card. Hot Cashier Girl wasn’t just tapping their IDs to pass the time while cards were processed; she was purposely showing the face of the IDs to the bottom of her lunch bag. I moved around to the other side of the counter and confirmed my suspicions: there was a small black hole at the bottom of her bag—just wide enough for a small camera to film through. Hot Cashier Girl had been videotaping every single customer’s ID.

I spotted Mr. Manager on the other side of the store and asked him why Hot Cashier Girl might be asking for IDs. He said it definitely wasn’t store policy. Then I asked why she might be tapping each ID in front of her holey-bottomed knapsack. He replied, “Are you serious?” and started walking toward the checkout counter. I rounded up my wife and gang who were finished in that store anyway (they found nothing they wanted) and we left. About 30 minutes later, we passed by again and I noticed four uniformed county police officers in the store. I like to think there were four more in the back asking Hot Cashier Girl for her ID.

I’ve tried to find any news coverage of this event, but I suspect the store did what it could to keep it quiet. That, and there was a shooting at the mall the very next day (after hours, probably drug related), and shootings are much cooler than identity theft.

I’m Not Safe! Should I Just End It All Now???

If providing ID each time you pay with a credit card is even less safe, what should you do? You have a few choices:

  1. Pay cash for everything. You’ll miss out on credit card rewards, and you’ll be impacted more by mugging or pickpocketing, but your payments will be totally anonymous.
  2. Just sign the damn card. Even if your card is compromised, you’re generally protected from unauthorized purchases. It’s a bit of a hassle to get things straightened out if your card is lost or stolen, but it’s easier than dealing with identity theft.
  3. If you absolutely must write “See ID”, provide an ID without all of your identifying information on it. Try using a school or work ID. If the store refuses it, it’s your own fault for not playing by the credit card company’s rules.

Above all, remember that hot women are far more likely to be identity thieves than their less attractive counterparts, probably because they can get away with it easier.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

10 Bad Driving Habits You Should Pick Up Now That Gas Is Cheap Again

Author: Nick
Category: Money

After several years of almost unexplainable rate hikes, one after another, the price of oil has finally settled to previous levels, and sub-two-dollar gasoline has returned. Of course, even as I type that sentence, I can hear the gas station attendants down the road getting out their reachy sticks and starting to hang up those number twos again. Indeed, thanks to factors like violence in the Middle East, the price of gas may very soon be on the rise.

Can we expect to be paying three or four dollars a gallon to fill up our cars again soon? Only time will tell, but I suspect that time is the only thing standing between us and a return to ridiculously high gas prices. The rise wasn’t so bad the first time around—people started driving smarter, combining trips, and helping to stretch their mileage as best as possible. But because everyone has gotten used to these gas-saving techniques, they’ve been reluctant to give them up. After all, carpooling and accelerating gently aren’t that hard to do, and they still save drivers money even when gas is only $1.80 a gallon.

But what will happen if and when gas spikes back up to $4.00 a gallon? If everyone is already doing all they can to conserve gas, there won’t be any room to scrimp and save once those historic highs return? That’s why, if you don’t want to feel completely hopeless later, you should return to the old ways of driving now. What do I mean by that? Well, starting immediately, you should re-incorporate the following into your daily driving habits:

  1. Jackrabbit starts. If you bought a new 30+ MPG car recently in response to rising fuel prices, you’re going to want to do your best to knock that down to under 20 MPG now so you can revel in the savings of 30 MPG again later. The best way to do this is to apply maximum acceleration from all starting positions whenever possible, so-called “jackrabbit starts.” You’ll burn through three times as much gas just to get to the next red light five seconds sooner!
  2. Speed limit inflation. It sounds much better than “speeding” (it sounds more legal and official too!), and it’ll help you shave precious pints off your gas gallon. You’ll see the best MPG drop when you do over 65 MPH on the highway… or in your favorite school zone!
  3. Carpools are for wusses. Even if you and your three next-door neighbors work in the same office building, insist on driving to work alone. In fact, consider tying the steering wheels of your two cars together and driving them both to work each day.
  4. Warm up your car in the morning. It’s 6:30am in the middle of a harsh winter, and you leave for work in 30 minutes. Run outside in your pajamas, start the car, and crank up the heat as high as possible. You’ll burn through a gallon or two of gas by 7am, and your ride to work will be at a balmy 115 degrees.
  5. Manual drivers—first gear is your friend. If you drive a stick, now’s a great time to pretend you don’t! Leave your car in first all the time and burn through gas 40% faster than your lame friends who insist on shifting into second and higher.
  6. Windows open, and lots of hood ornaments. Disrupt the efficiency of your car’s aerodynamic shape by always driving with the windows open. Tack on hood ornaments to every spare inch of your cars surface to increase wind resistance and lower your mileage even more!
  7. Store crap in the trunk. Cancel your paid storage space now and shove all that useless crap in the back of your car. You’ll not only save money now not having to pay for the storage space, but you’ll lose that money right away with the lower MPG that extra weight will give you.
  8. Take your car in for a misalignment. Find the dumbest mechanic in your town and ask him to align your wheels. Assuming your car still goes straight afterward, you’ll cut miles of your gallon in no time.
  9. Forget the milk. Whenever possible, leave one item off your grocery list so you have to go back to get it on a separate trip later. Double the pleasure, double the mileage!
  10. And for the hardcore gas guzzlers… travel in reverse whenever possible and watch your gas mileage hit rock bottom.

Then, once the price of gas jumps back up, you’ll be able to pull back on these bad driving habits and feel like you’re saving money. This way, while your friends and neighbors are contemplating trading in their cars for good walking shoes, you’ll be squeezing pennies off the gallon and riding the highway to savings all by yourself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sliders: Mankind’s Most Worthless Food

Author: Nick
Category: Money

You know those tiny burgers you can get in some places that come on their own tiny little buns with tiny little hamburger patties and tiny little puddles of condiments? Yeah, I’m talking about sliders, and I purposely linked to the default Wikipedia article on “sliders” which is really about the 1990s sci-fi series and not the diminutive burger wannabe because sliders are stupid.

Why are sliders stupid? Well, because they are, virtually without exception, a big waste of money and almost always the epitome of deceptive advertising.

Consider, for example, the new Burger King Burger Shots (pretend I just linked to the appropriate page on the Burger King website which I could if the whole website weren’t just one big stupid Flash animation). The Burger Shots come in sets of two or six—but not four, as nobody would eat exactly four of them at once—and cost roughly 70-75 cents each, depending on how many you order. The Burger Shot consists of the following five components listed in approximate order of weight from heaviest to lightest:

  1. Tiny plain bun
  2. Pickle slice
  3. Squirt of ketchup
  4. Disappointment
  5. Hamburger coin

I call it a “hamburger coin” as it is roughly the size and shape of some larger U.S. coin denominations I have seen. Unlike U.S. money coins, though, the hamburger coins sometimes come in conjoined pairs that resemble hamburger figure-eights.

So what is so wrong with these little burgerlets that I’ve decided to write about them after several months of not writing a damn thing? (Hi everyone!) The first problem with the Burger Shots is that they are a very bad deal. For $1.39, you get two Burger Shots that, when combined, don’t even form the substance of a single Burger King Jr. Whopper which only costs one dollar. What does the extra 39 cents get you for the Burger Shots? I looked at the ingredients list on the wrapper and found it hidden near the end: “…processed beef, and 2% or less of cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, and adorableness.” Indeed, you are paying nearly 40% more for a smaller burger because it is cuter. And also because Burger King thinks you suck at comparing two different items, which you do.

And that brings me to my other point: Have you seen the commercial for the Burger Shots? So that I don’t cut into your self-imposed 3-hour daily limit on YouTube watching, to summarize: the Burger Shots are at least the size of a grown nerdy man’s fist, and eating them will make several gorgeous women want to have sex with you in public.

Now when I went to Burger King last week and tried out a set of Burger Shots (at which time I also compared them side-by-side with a Jr. Whopper and kicked myself for wasting my money), I noticed the following differences between the commercial and real life:

  • Each Burger Shot was only about the size of my thumb and index finger formed into an “O.”
  • In addition to size, the Shots looked much sadder than their commercial counterparts.
  • A total of zero women at the Burger King wanted to have sex with me, which I would say is a very good thing since there roughly negative three attractive women there.

After returning home, lamenting my wasted 39 cents, I went on the internet and researched other “slider” burger offerings. In nearly every case, I discovered that restaurants and fast food chains that offered mini-burgers either priced them higher to a comparable single burger or just made them a whole helluva lot smaller, or both as Burger King did with the Shots.

There are some people who would suggest that the BK Shots are not sliders at all, to which I would say “I can’t hear you, I’m eating six Big Macs so I don’t freaking starve to death which is what I would have done if I’d only eaten two Burger Shots.”