Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reviving Lip Gloss

One of the biggest and most obvious rules of frugality is to use up every little bit of the things you buy.  Most of the time, even if a container feels empty, there are at least three more days worth of product in there--maybe more.  Yes, at first you may feel like a crazy person for cutting open a tube of toothpaste or something similar, but I prefer to think of the situation as what would I do if I was all out of product X, but couldn't make it to the store for a couple days.  Plus, you paid for the stuff, might as well use it.

Today's story is about lip gloss.  It has been a long winter, and I have been going through lip gloss like crazy it seems. I have a really bad habit of washing my lip gloss, so I've made some executive decisions in that area recently.  For the home, I buy Eos lip balm:
The reason I buy it is because I would never accidentally put something that shape into my pocket, and therefore I don't have to worry about washing it.  Also, it sits up quite nicely.  I bought one for my desk, my reading chair and my coffee table so that way I always have some lip balm at my reach.

On thing that is weird about this container as well is that the lip balm itself, sits in a sort of rounded cone on top of a lip gloss grate that holds it up.  Below the lip gloss, is just empty space, so as you use it, more and more gets smooched down through the grate until it looks like this:
There's still a lot of lip gloss in there, it's just really hard to get out.  Thankfully, the container comes apart quite easily (with a pair of pliers), which leaves you with 7 small triangles of perfectly good lip gloss that are a real pain to actually apply.

What I ended up doing was taking those triangle, melting them in a ramekin on the heating element of my coffee pot, and then pouring the liquid back into the bottom half of the lip gloss container.  It took about five minutes total, and now I have enough convenient, useable lipgloss to last at least another two weeks.  I save myself a trip to the store where I will inevitably forget to buy the one thing I went there for, and I get the smug satisfaction of MacGyvering something.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tips For Getting Better Customer Service

There is no 100%, foolproof way to get excellent customer service every time, but there are good ways to make sure you get what you want,  even if the person you're dealing with may be being a bit rude.

Tip #1 Never Yell
It can be incredibly frustrating when you have a legitimate complaint and the person who is paid to help you is not at all helpful, but yelling will only make the situation worse.  Be calm, but firm, ask to speak to a supervisor if necessary.  It's also much easier to be assertive if you know exactly what you need to communicate.  Sure, sometimes a conversation can throw you for a loop, but as a customer, you can have expectations, but it's harder to give you what you want if you're screaming the place down.

Tip #2 Be Organized
Especially when you're dealing with important money issues that could require following up.  For example, I mentioned a while back that I get my birth control through a federal program called Title X.  This means that every three months, I go to the clinic, talk to a nurse for about two minutes, and then take home my stuff. For some reason, I kept getting bills in the mail from my clinic.  This is not right, because this is a free program, and the bills made it look like I was visiting my doctor, whom I haven't seen in nearly a year.

I called the billing office a while back and the woman I spoke to said that it was just a charge that my insurance had charged them, so the sent me a bill, she didn't know what it was for.  So I went ahead and paid it, since it was a small amount.  Then I got another, larger bill earlier this week.  I called my insurance provider, and they told me that they were not charging me for anything, but if the clinic continued to do so, they would open an inquiry.  I called the clinic again, spoke to a different woman, who realized they were making a mistake, and the whole thing got cleared up.  After the call, I made a note in my google calendar of what time I called and who I spoke to, just in case I need to follow up again.

For my student loans, since I make extra payments that I only want to go to the principal balance of the loan, I have to send them an email requesting that the adjust the payment manually.  This always takes forever, but when I follow up, they do it right away.  They might think I'm the most annoying person ever, but I don't care.  I make a note in my calendar to check in a couple weeks to make sure they did what I asked, and then I follow up--again.

Tip #3 Use and Remember People's Names
This might feel a little awkward at first, but repeating someone's name back to them let's them know that you're paying attention.  Similarly, if you need to follow up on a situation again, you know the last person who helped you.  If someone in person is not wearing a name tag, ask their name.  People on the phone should always introduce themselves by name, so jot it down at the beginning of the call and make sure at some point to say something like, "I understand what you're saying, Martha, but..."  This is something I figured out when I was working in telephone sales.  I had to introduce myself to people at the beginning of each call, and the people who addressed me later by name were always the least distracted.  I adopted the habit, and it has worked very, very well over the years.  Plus, it makes the interaction feel more like an actual conversation, which almost makes the two of you friends for a brief moment in time.  Who doesn't want to help their friends?

Tip #4 Be Honest
Thankfully, I've never had this happen to me, but apparently there is a trend in retail where people just complain for the sake of getting free things--even to the point of trying to get staff fired.  For instance, the customer will act as if something wrong has been done to them, or as if there's something wrong with what they're purchasing, and then demand a discount.  Certainly you can ask for a discount if something is legitimately defective, but don't lie just to save a few dollars!  That's insane behavior!

Tip #5 Be Reasonable
If you're at a restaurant and you find a hair in your pasta, it's perfectly reasonable to expect a replacement dish and for it to be taken off the bill--probably for free dessert as well.  It's a unreasonable to demand the entire meal to be comped.  This does depend on the level of fanciness of the place, but I kind of feel that demanding extras when you've only been mildly inconvenienced is just unnecessary.  By not being greedy when something goes wrong for you, you're making it much easier for that restaurant to do right by someone else in the future.

Any other tips that you've discovered work in your favor in customer service situations?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tracking the Savings

I did it.

I bought my first smart phone.

I still feel weird about it, but I'm adjusting.

Basically, when I switched to Ting a while ago, I could not get my picture messaging to work.  I never thought I would consider picture messaging a necessity, but being without it for two weeks was driving me crazy.  Not only could I not see pictures sent to me, but I also couldn't take any to send to myself or other people.  I like to take pictures while out running, so I knew I would miss that, but I just didn't realize how much I rely on that feature.

I emailed back and forth with Ting's support staff, who were really great, but eventually I came to learn that Sprint is discontinuing that feature for all non-smart phones.  Since Ting uses the Sprint network, that meant me as well.

One of the great things about Ting is that there are no contracts.  One of the drawbacks of not having a cellphone contract is having to pay outright for a phone.  That means, depending on what kind of smartphone I settled on, I was staring down the barrel of a very big charge on my credit card.  So I waited.

I managed to go a whole month without my beloved picture messaging, but finally, in the span of one afternoon I:

  1. Found a really good deal on a used phone via Amazon
  2. Got a picture message of a friend of mine wearing Google glass that I couldn't actually see
  3. Got offered an extra shift at job #3
These occurrences were the perfect storm I needed to make me pay the $226 for an excellent condition Apple iPhone 4s.  I ended up going with the iPhone because pretty much everything else I own is Apple (which makes me feel a little hipster and filthy), and I just wanted the transition to be as easy as possible.

Now, I'm $200 over on my cell phone budget according to mint.com, but My monthly bill is half what it used to be, and I intend to use little-to-no data, so my bill should stay low.  I'm also going to keep track of the money I save via various apps, and count that toward how long it takes to recoup the expense of the phone.  I've already used Target's Cartwheel app to save a cool $.63 and earn a badge! It's amazing how excited I get about badges which both do and mean nothing, so I'm well on my way.

Now I need help from my frugal friends.  What apps can you not live without? How do you save money using your smartphone?  I shelled out a lot of cash for this thing, I want the savings to be worth it!