Category Archives: Behavior

Check Your Receipt and Count Your Change

receiptThis is a story that makes me happy just to think about.

I was at a local Taco Bell the other day to buy lunch. The drive through line was pretty long, so I parked and walked inside. There was hardly anybody inside, and the small crew was working hard to fulfill the drive through orders to keep the traffic line moving.

The woman working the window soon noticed me standing at the counter, and took my order. After paying, I stepped to the side to wait for my order. As I stood watching the food preparations, another customer entered and stood at the counter. The lady at the window turned and asked if she could help him.

He told her he had just been in the drive through and she gave him the wrong change. He said that she had given him back all the money in change that he had given her to pay for his meal. So he parked and came in to pay for his meal.

The woman behind the counter did not initially get it, so the guy had to repeat himself that he wanted to pay the proper amount for his meal. The woman then understood, took his money, and smiled from ear to ear.

I spoke up to the person paying for his meal, and told him he had just made my day. He asked if I worked there, and I said, “Nope. But I am happy to meet an honest man.”

I hardly ever pay for things with cash anymore, credit cards are much easier, but when I used to pay with cash, I occasionally received the incorrect change and would have to correct the cashier. It seems like at least 50% of the time, the cashiers would err by giving me too much money in change. And almost every time they would be defensive about not making a mistake until I showed them that they gave me too much change and I was trying to give the extra money back.

I distinctly recall one instance in a grocery store where I gave a cashier $10 and expected around $6 in change. The cashier handed me $16 in change! The cashier had already moved on to the next customer when I stated that she had given me too much money. At first she looked annoyed until I explained that I had only given her a $10 bill, and not a $20, so I wanted her to take back the extra $10. As soon as she understood, she took the $10, smiled, and gave me a big “Thank You!”

I always check that I am charged what I expect at the store, laser scanners often make mistakes, and I always count my change if paying with cash.

Have you ever received excess change that you’ve given back?

How Often Do You Backup Your Computer?

backup-keyThere are several adages I have learned over the years with respect to computers.

  1. Save your work often. I hit the save key every time I get to a point in my work where I know I would be upset if that  work were to disappear.
  2. Backup your files. You should have multiple backup copies of important files.
  3. Murphy’s Law is in full force WRT computers. The most likely time for a computer to fail is when you need it the most.

Most people I know have multiple computers in their house. We have

Quantity Type Operating System
2 Laptop Windows 7
1 Desktop Windows 7
1 Desktop Xubuntu Linux 14.04
2 Mac Mini Mac OS X Snow Leopard
1 Tablet Android 4.4
1 Smartphone Android 4.3

The Windows computers send backups of all User files to the Linux server once a day. I don’t bother backing up the Mac Minis because their only function is to act as a video server. There are no user files on the Mac Minis. The Android tablet and smartphone data are stored in the Google cloud. And the Linux server backs itself up to a USB-mounted hard disk.

Because the backup data on the Linux server can be invaluable (at least to us), I keep two external backup disks of the data files. I additionally upload our family pictures that are stored on the Linux server to a box.com cloud account.

Finally, all our important documents, such as federal and state tax forms, are printed out and kept in a file cabinet.

Because I am a computer geek, I use a program called rsync to backup the Windows and Linux computers. Rsync can be told to copy only the changed parts of any files to another disk or computer. The Linux computer uses an additional program, called rsnapshot, to create daily incremental backups. The incremental backup system is set up to allow me to recover deleted or corrupted files for up to 3 months.

I know my backup system is overkill for most people, but you should at least backup your important files (files you would be upset if lost) to an external hard disk or thumb drive. Both Windows and Mac OS X come with backup programs called Windows Backup and Time Machine, respectively). If you do not have an external backup disk, give yourself an early Christmas present and purchase one. Make sure it has enough storage to hold everything on your computer hard disk. I see on amazon.com that 1-TB (terabyte) external hard disks cost around $60. A 5-TB external Seagate hard disk is $150. How do these prices compare to how much your data is worth?

Remember that Murphy’s Law is always waiting to take out  your valuable data at the most inopportune time. Don’t let it happen to you. Please backup your computer data.

When did you last backup your computer?

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

I was reminded of the old saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” when the European Space Agency (ESA) lost touch with their Philae comet lander after only a couple days of operation. The lander apparently bounced when it first touched down on the comet, and ended up in a rather shady spot. There is not enough sunlight now hitting the lander for it to recharge its batteries. After 10 years of chasing down the comet, the ESA only got a few day’s worth of data from their lander.

philae-landing

I think the “eggs in one basket” saying also applies to personal finance and investing.

I like to have lots and lots of eggs through the purchase of low-cost index funds. This gives me very broad diversity at very low cost.

I hold my diversified index funds in Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab mutual funds or ETFs. You might wonder why I don’t just use Vanguard, since it typically has the lowest cost. My answer is that the others have brought the costs of their index funds in line with Vanguard, and I don’t want to get caught out if stuff hits the fan.

Mutual funds are not guaranteed or insured by the FDIC or any other government agency. The Securities Investors Protection Corporation (SIPC), a non government entity, will replace missing stocks and other securities in customer accounts held by its members up to $500,000, including up to $250,000 in cash, if a member brokerage or bank brokerage subsidiary fails, but these limits, like FDIC account limits, can be quite a bit lower than a married couple’s total retirement savings as they get near retirement.

From the brokerage websites,

Vanguard — Securities in your brokerage account are held in custody by Vanguard Brokerage Services, a division of Vanguard Marketing Corporation. Vanguard Marketing Corporation is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). To offer greater protection and security, Vanguard Marketing Corporation has secured additional coverage from certain insurers at Lloyd’s of London and London Company Insurers for eligible customers with an aggregate limit of $250 million, incorporating a customer limit of $49.5 million for securities and $1.75 million for cash. Coverage provided by SIPC and certain Lloyd’s of London and London Company Insurers does not protect against loss of market value of securities.

Fidelity — All Fidelity brokerage accounts are covered by SIPC. In addition to SIPC protection, Fidelity provides its brokerage customers with additional “excess of SIPC” coverage. The excess coverage would only be used when SIPC coverage is exhausted. Like SIPC, excess protection does not cover investment losses in customer accounts due to market fluctuation. Total aggregate excess of SIPC coverage available through Fidelity’s excess of SIPC policy is $1 billion. Within Fidelity’s excess of SIPC coverage, there is no per customer dollar limit on coverage of securities, but there is a per customer limit of $1.9 million on coverage of cash awaiting investment.

Schwab — Protection for securities and cash by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC): Accounts of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (including those held by clients of investment advisers with Schwab Institutional) are insured by SIPC for securities and cash in the event of broker-dealer failure. In addition to SIPC, Schwab’s coverage with Lloyd’s of London and other London insurers, combined with SIPC coverage, provides protection of securities and cash up to an aggregate of $600 million, and is limited to a combined return to any customer from a Trustee, SIPC, and London insurers of $150 million, including cash of up to $1,150,000. This additional protection becomes available in the event that SIPC limits are exhausted.

I also know that the underlying stocks within the index funds that my wife and I own will still have value, even though the brokerage firm might have failed, but getting our money out of these stocks might prove to be difficult and time consuming. Hence my desire to hold index funds through several different investment firms.

Do you have lots of eggs? Are they all in one basket, or several different baskets?

Adios to Motorcycles

bf-roadracingMy wife recently posted some throwback Thursday photos of me from the early 80s when I did some amateur roadracing. It was a lot of fun, but it was also expensive. I gave it up because it was at the time that I was just starting college. I think we can all agree that studying and learning needs to be a person’s main focus while in college, and that expensive extra-curricular activities, like roadracing, typically need to be put on hold.

When I finished college, I sold my old race bike and moved to Silicon Valley. After I landed my career job as a mechanical engineer, I took up amateur roadracing again as a hobby. But after a near crash at 150 mph, I decided to give that hobby a permanent rest.

saline-valleyAlong with roadracing, I also used to go dirtbiking with several friends from work. We road in all the off-road vehicle areas within a day’s drive of Silicon Valley. We also did a lot of riding in the Mojave Desert, Imperial Valley, and Baja California. We felt very adventuresome while riding the Baja 500 course. The picture to the right is in the White Mountains, looking back toward Saline and Death Valley.

Finally, I used to regularly commute to work on various motorcycles that I owned. I could ride in the car pool lanes, and get to work a lot faster than if I were driving in a car. I also got great gas mileage on the motorcycles. My old Honda XL-600 used to average more than 60 mpg.

Due to my failing health, though, I gave up all types of motorcycle riding a few years ago. My bones have become brittle, and I find that I bruise a lot easier than I used to.

I do not know how much money I am saving by giving up motorcycle riding. Roadracing was a very expensive hobby. Tires were more than $100 each. Crashing a motorcycle could cost in the thousands. I blew up the top end of my old RD-400, shown in the top pictures, a few times. Each blow up necessitated a complete rebuild of the engine. For those who care, I also roadraced a GSXR-750 at Sears Point and Willow Springs in the mid 80s.

Dirt-bike trips were not all that expensive. The cost was similar to a regular camping trip, but the wear and tear on my body could be pretty high.

So at this point in my life, I have to say, “Adios motorcycles. It’s been fun, but also dangerous and expensive.”

Have you had to give up a hobby due to cost or your age/health?

Paid Research Studies and Focus Groups

focus-groupI was contacted last July by a person who works for a research and focus group firm. They have an office near where we live. Her email said,

I’m emailing you because I’d like to invite you to join our participant database to be notified of future paid research studies and focus groups. We pay $75 per hour for folks to come to our office and provide feedback on upcoming products and concepts. I send out emails to participants a few times a month notifying them of opportunities to take part in a paid study. (Most research studies are 60-90 minutes long.) Using our participants’ great feedback, we help companies create better user experiences for their products and interfaces.

We are always looking for participants of all ages, including children!

I forwarded the email to my wife, who filled out their online survey for herself and our son. So, guess who earned $75 for participating in a focus group this past weekend? Our 13 year old son. I have no idea of what he was asked to test. And since I assume he signed a non-disclosure agreement, I’m not even going to ask.

I have participated in paid research/focus groups in the past. In some, I was asked to accomplish certain tasks using new software. In others, I was asked what I thought of some piece of tech hardware. Eventually the requests for me to participate in these paid focus groups dried up. I am sure the focus group companies do not want to use participants who are trying to make a profession out of it.

Anyway, our son had a lot of fun, and is raring to do it again. We will have to see of the focus group company wants to use him again. If nothing else, he earned $75 for giving his opinion, and for a 13 year old, that is awesome!

Have you ever participated in paid research/focus groups?