Giveaway: Brentwood Sleep Wellness Bundle (Value: $230)

Written by

Today's article is a little different. I haven't done a giveaway in years. It's not that I don't enjoy giving stuff away, I just feel like 99% of people get zero value from the article and the lucky winner gets 100% of the value. (Cue Statler and Waldorf with a joke about how this is an improvement from my typical article, where 100% of people get zero value).

Yesterday's about Dobot was inspired by a marketing email I received, and today's no different. At the risk of sending the wrong message to marketers I'm going to run with it. If giveaways aren't your thing, please check back tomorrow for a real personal finance article. If you love to win free stuff, then you might want to stick around.

Show Me the Stuff!

Brentwood Home is giving away 4 pillows. That's a snore, right? (Yes, pun intended.) They aren't ordinary pillows. They are super-healthy, organic-cover, pesticide-free pillows. (Who knew that pesticides in pillows was a thing?)

More specifically, you get 2 Latex/Kapok Pillows and 2 Molded Latex Pillows. (I presume that if you have a latex allergy this isn't for you.)

The kapok pillows "are filled with all-natural latex ribbons that have a responsive feel that provides uplifting support, combined with silky-smooth kapok. They’ll be the perfect fit for people who switch between multiple sleeping positions, as they easily mold to your neck and head."

The molded pillows are "are bouncy, resilient, and molded to perfectly contour your head and neck."

And presumably they'll make you this happy:

Brentwood Pillows

These Brentwood pillows appear suitable for all types of pillow fights.

If you are looking for more details here is the official page on the specific wellness bundle. It includes a product picture that may be more practical, but less fun, than the one I chose.

I've been doing a lot of joking here, but allow me to a little series for a minute. I recently watched Morgan Spurlock's Inside Man on Toxins and couches were highlighted as one of the more "dangerous" items. I put "dangerous" in quotes, because the conclusion seemed to be that the danger, if any, is unknown.

Many mattress and bedding companies use chemical fire retardants, phthalates, and heavy metals when manufacturing and processing their
products and Brentwood Home products avoid them. Phthalates was one of the biggest concerns brought up in the Morgan Spurlock show. If you are spending 1/3rd of your life in your bedding it might be best to avoid these chemicals.

How Do I Win?

You have to be lucky. Also, you have to leave a comment on this post by 11:59PM Eastern Time on Saturday, 10/22/2016. The agency asked if I could run it until the 31st, and I see no reason why not... so October 31st it is. Since new commenters have their comments moderated your comment might not show up on the website right away. I am going to pick a commenter at random using a random number generator to win. I reserve the right to give interesting comments that I find more interesting extra entries. The idea with that is to (hopefully) create a comment section a little better than people saying, "Me!" while still making it easy enough for lazy people like myself to enter.

Finally, you must include your real email address, because otherwise I can't contact you to tell you how to claim the prize. As always, I never give or sell email addresses.

I will pass the winner's information to the marketing agency who are in charge of sending out the prizes.

Sponsor Disclosure

For hosting this giveaway, Brentwood and/or their marketing agency is giving me this holistic wellness bundle. It includes a yoga pillow, a scented candle, and one of those latex/kapok pillows. They value the bundle at $139.

Regular readers know that the absolute worst way to get my attention is offering holistic/yoga stuff. However, I also like free stuff and I've been looking into getting into meditation. Maybe this is just the kick-start I need.

This post deals with:

, ,

... and focuses on:


Last updated on October 21, 2016.

Is This a Shady Pricing Trick By Cox?

Written by

A couple of weeks ago, I received the following letter from Cox Communications, my cable service provider:

Cox Returned Payment $25 Fee

(Click the image for a larger version.)

I believe it is best to automate your money so that you can avoid late fees, cancellation of service, and well, "work." This letter from Cox tells me that they tried to charge my account, as they had done successfully for years, but it failed.


Fidelity switched credit card providers and moved from American Express to Visa. I called them out on this on Twitter:

Fidelity, to their credit, responded with:

I respectfully showed that I didn't have questions, but was simply offering them feedback on how to the fix the situation. Credit cards should be about convenience, not making customers do more work, right?

Fidelity seemed to appreciate this feedback and apologized for the inconvenience:

Fidelity, meet Cox. Cox, meet Fidelity. I had hoped the two of you knew each other, but I guess you need blogger to bridge the communication gap. I think you two should have worked this out before consumers like me got $25 fees for doing nothing.

In fairness, I should have probably gone through all my Fidelity charges over the last couple of months and switch them all over. However, the worst thing that can happen with a declined credit card is a notice about potential cancellation of service and and request to try a new payment method, right? It seems that Cox doesn't agree.

I called up Cox Communications... which was actually no small feat. I searched Google and it came up with regional number in Atlanta and local solution stores. Maybe the solution stores could have helped, but I figured they don't make billing decisions for Cox. I settled on the default number that Google gave me, which brought me to Cox's phone tree. After navigating it to try to solve my billing problem, they asked me to hang-up can call a new number which they provided. Fortunately, I had a pen and paper handy, but why didn't Cox simply transfer my call to the appropriate number?

(Yes, using Google's default information is on me, but I was on my cell phone, which makes it difficult to sign into my Cox account as I don't have my username and password ready. However, maybe Cox could contact Google and have them fix the information? I can't be the only person having this problem.)

Once I got through to Cox's national department, I explained the issue of Fidelity's credit card change to the first person. She wasn't authorized to help me, so she kicked it up to the manager.

My explanation to the manager, Trudy, went something like this:

"If I walked into McDonalds and ordered a burger for a buck or two and swiped a card that was declined, would they say my burger is now $26 or $27? Of course they wouldn't. I had received other declined notices for this same card, such as Netflix's 'Houston, we have a problem' famous email. Not a single company added a credit card declined fee to bill, and certainly not something like $25."

Fortunately, Trudy understood what I was talking about. After explaining that the modern world has these issues when we let computers do their things, she was happy to waive the fee.

I didn't want to press my good luck. However, as a software engineer who has created a billing system in the past, I knew that a decline code does not incur a significant cost to the biller. In fact, if my memory serves, there is no cost. I don't think it is a "modern world thing", but a "Cox Communications thing."

Hopefully, someone at Cox reads this and can provide a better answer to this fee. I wonder how many consumers simply just pay the fee and move on with their lives. (Cox, if you are reading this, I am sorry that don't have the time to navigate your customer support system to attempt to reach the department head who I presume came up with this policy. However, you can leave a comment below with a way to get back to you directly and I'll be happy to contact you that way. You can also email me here. And while I'm sending this out to your Twitter in promoting it via social media, this conversation is probably more than 140 characters long.)

So I didn't get scammed by this fee, but only because I used 30 minutes of my time to get it waived. I presume that Cox Communications has at least a million customers, and I feel like some significant percentage have had their credit card declined at some point. I don't think these fees are trivial. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a class action lawsuit in the future over this.

That OTHER thing in the letter

You may have noticed that the letter says my bill will be $238.11 after the $25 credit card decline fee. Now that I have had that fee waived, my bill is $213.11.


That's a lot more money than I expected... a lot more. Shame on me for not looking at my cable bill each month. It's not a great defense, but I generally expect my cable TV/Internet bill to be the same every month. My other utility bills don't vary greatly, except for when I use more resources (which is to be expected).

So I looked at my bill... and I was floored with more surprises.

Let's flash back to last year when I wrote about Cox's pricing being "banana pants". Back then I wrote:

When I signed on with Cox two years ago after a move, it was explained that I'd actually save money by taking their telephone service. The price of the bundle deal with the telephone was cheaper than to buy their two most popular products, television and internet, together.

The telephone component has sat in the box in my basement for two years. I have Ooma's "free" service (just pay about $3 in taxes) which I love.

In reviewing my bill, I noticed something new. Getting the phone triggers $19 in taxes.


I countered by explaining that it makes no sense for them make me take a product (the telephone service) that I don't want and pay extra money in taxes - money that doesn't go to Cox - just to get better pricing on the two services that I do want.

So in looking at my bill, the telephone service (that I never, ever wanted) is costing me $25 a month. My bundle deal expired, so getting the phone no longer saves me money. It feels like a Trojan Horse designed to sneak money out of my wallet. Now, I understand why they made me take phone service to get the temporary cheaper price.

It's shocking to me to read my article from last year where I say my bill was $126... and then see it at $213 this year. That's an increase of more than a thousand dollars a year!

So yesterday, I called up Cox to see what I can do about this. (And again I did the aforementioned dance to actually find their real number.) After explaining to the first person that I'm paying for phone service that I never wanted, I got passed to the second person. I explained it all again. I got put on hold... and then they came back with a new price of $145 with some new bundle deal. It took around 30 minutes, which isn't bad to save $70 a month. She was able to backdate it a month and give me a $98 credit, which takes care of the $25 I was spending on the phone service without realizing it.

*Break* - While writing this article, I actually got an automated call from Cox Communications telling me that I should sign into my account or call an agent back at some other number. The message wasn't clear about what I should do. I wonder if they've failed to re-run the new credit card that I entered the other day and believe my account to overdue. It's strange, because they could have given me that information a few hours ago, when I called them to get my bill lowered. Also, it is strange to have a robot call you only to tell you to call another number. It's almost like they are trying to be as inefficient as possible.

The only catch with the new pricing is that it again is a bundle rate that will expire in a year. She told me that I should mark my calendar for next year, which is sound advice. I did that right away.

I've been on the fence about cancelling cable service for some time. I rarely watch any cable channels except for the Red Sox, which I can get through for a low yearly rate. Even with the new bundle price, it's a lot of money to DVR network shows. There are other services like TabloTV that I can, and probably should look into.

I'd explore going with another company, but I mentioned in that article last year, there's no other broadband option in my market. I can't call up Comcast or Verizon FIOS and switch.

So, I ask the readers... are these billing practices fair or misleading/deceptive? I'm leaning towards the later, which is also why I included the FTC's Twitter handle on this. I'd love to get their opinion on the matter, because I think these things are costing consumers millions and millions of dollars.

Note: The use of the word "scam" in this article is a question and not a statement of fact. This article is my opinion. You may have a different opinion. In fact, I don't believe my reader-base can agree what is a scam anyway. As always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

This post deals with:


... and focuses on:


Last updated on September 8, 2016.

Looking for a TV? Get this deal, now! (Today Only!)

Written by

I very rarely write an article about good deals, but today I'm making an exception. (Also, this will give me a little more time to work on the EpiPen article that had been trying to get finished last week.)

Amazon's Deal of the Day is on this LG 55-Inch Curved Smart OLED TV. I'm going to make a case that many people looking for a television should jump on this.

For those who aren't tech junkies, OLED is new television technology that has critics raving that it's the best picture they have ever seen. What makes it so special? It has the ability to turn off pixels completely, so blacks are... well black. It doesn't sound like much, but if you see it in person it can make a big difference. It seems to cause the other colors to "pop."

Back in 2013, an equivalent version of this was $15,000! Today it is $1100. I'm going to let that sink in for a bit.

I've been watching the prices on these and it has never gotten this low. It was around $1300 a few months ago, which was a fantastic price then. It's probably not going to get much cheaper. This seems to be them clearing out the older stock. It might be the last time you can any kind of OLED for ANYWHERE near $1000... as they've moved to even higher end televisions in recent years.

I've been wanting an OLED TV for about 3 years now. A few months ago, I wrote about how I'm starting an OLED TV fund. Today that fund has around $200. Hmmm...

There are some caveats to consider. First, it's "only" 55 inches. Second, it's 1080p, not 4K. Those are probably deal-breakers for some people. However, because the television picture itself is "smaller", you might not be able to tell it's not 4K... especially if you are sitting far enough away. Also, this television is curved. I've been reading that the curve is so subtle that you don't notice it. It's worth reading the reviews if that's a concern of yours.

The OLED television I had my eyes on was 65-inches and 4K. That television is $3000. This one is $1100. Is it worth the sacrifice to save $1900? Let me know in the comments.

Naturally, by "Deal of the Day", the deal is for today only. This is perfect timing for showing off to your friends who come by to watch football games on Sunday, right? Tell them to bring the pizza and beer and you might even save money with this deal. (Okay, maybe that last one is a stretch.)

This post deals with:


... and focuses on:


Last updated on August 30, 2016.

The End of An Era and The Beginning of a New One

Written by

This Saturday we lost electricity... and along with it my old Dell Zino. I first wrote about it when I looking to do my digital media overhaul in August 2011. It's a fun article to reflect upon. I had two $99 HP Touchpads coming to the house the next day. That's how long the Dell Zino was with us.

The Dell Zino was an Home Theater PC (HTPC) that we used to elminate our cable box rental fees along with this SiliconDust HDHomeRun Prime and a very cheap cableCARD from your cable company.

The combination of an HTPC, Microsoft Windows Media Center, and the HDHomeRun Prime, gave us almost everything that we'd get from renting a DVR from the cable company. We didn't get OnDemand, but we also had a full computer for running, Netflix, Hulu, a Plex Server, and the incredible PlayOn TV.

The Dell Zino was $550 and the HDHomerun Prime was a couple of hundred on top of that. It wasn't exactly a cheap solution to avoid paying cable fees, but it felt good. Now that we are sending Zino the Wonder Television to the eternal entertainment center in the sky, I can finally calculate how much it might have saved us.

Yesterday I went to the Cox store to get a replacement box. The idea was to get a short-term solution while I wait for the successor. I could get a box for $1.99/mo. that essentially allowed me to watch TV. For $8.50, I could get a digital guide and OnDemand. For another $15 (on top of the $8.50), I could get DVR functionality. That's $23.50/mo. for what I had with the Zino (again, minus OnDemand). That's $282 or $1410 over the 5 years we had the Zino.

That set-up cut our DVR costs in half! If you count that the HDHomeRun Prime is still fine it wouldn't be too much of stretch to say it saved us nearly $1000.

I'm not sure if getting 5 years out of the Zino was good or bad. I rarely have a computer last that long, so that's good. On the other hand, it didn't have to do too much. It usually ran one application. I would expect it to last a long time.

The Replacement May Be a Problem

I knew that the Zino was on its last legs. I had been looking for a replacement, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Microsoft ended Windows Media Center in Windows 10. It simply isn't available in any form. It was the only software that works well for all the premium channels. With Windows 8 you had the option to get Windows Media Center, but you had to pay extra for it.

So ideally, I'd be looking for a computer with Windows 7. That's not easy to find as most new computers are sold with Windows 10. I noticed a deal on a rare Windows 7 computer Amazon Prime Day, but I didn't pull the trigger. I simply didn't want to spend another $600 that day.

What a difference a weeks makes.

It seems like my luck comes in two forms: extremely good and the bad. This is a case of extremely good luck. I happened to go on Slickdeals where I saw the deal originally. The original deal expired, but it happened to be back!

For those who aren't tech nerds, the processor in my old Zino scored 1782 on a Passmark benchmark test. The new processor scores a little over 10,000 on the same benchmark test. Roughly, the brains are 5.5 times faster... but there are a lot of other speed enhancements as well (faster memory, faster graphics, etc.). I wouldn't be surprised if it was 10 times faster in practice.

The price was ~$620 with taxes, so not too much more than the original Zino. It's a bigger computer, but not too big.

Here are the full specs for technology nerds:

  • Intel Core i7-6700 Quad Core 3.6GHz CPU
  • 16GB DDR3L Memory
  • 2TB HDD
  • AMD Radeon R9 360 2GB GDDR5
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 4x USB 2.0
  • 1x HDMI
  • 1x VGA
  • DVD-RW
  • 802.11bgn WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit (Includes Windows 10 Pro License)

There's room for improvement like an SSD, more USB 3.0 ports, a Blu-Ray drive, and 802.11ac wifi. I may end up putting an SSD in it, but I'll give the traditional HDD a shot first. I had zero 3.0 ports, so having 2 is nice. I have an external portable Blu-Ray drive, so that's not a big deal. I typically use the Ethernet connection for the media center since it needs to be near the cable connection anyway. Thus the WiFi isn't a big deal.

I'm excited to have a processor that fast with that much memory. I have been using laptops that are designed with chips to save power for years. Even the Zino used chips designed for a laptop. I imagine it will be quite an increase in performance to go back to the power of a full desktop.

I'm hopeful that it will be relatively easy to get Windows Media Center set back up. I'll let you now how it goes.

This post deals with:

, ,

... and focuses on:

Spending, Technology Tip

Posted on July 19, 2016.

Amazon Prime Day is Here!

Written by

You knew I just had to write about Amazon Prime Day. This is probably one of the best days to save money. Unfortunately, it's also one the most dangerous days to spend money. When I'm looking at some of these deals, I have to remind myself that saving money means not spending it at all.

If you aren't an Amazon Prime member you can use this link for a FREE trial. Just grab all the deals and cancel.

That said, I did my fair share of buying this morning. Most of it was Subscribe and Save which I've written about before. Before I get to that though, here's the best Prime deal:

Get $10 when you buy $50 in Gift Cards. I'm always buying stuff from Amazon, so I just sent myself a gift card. Amazon should have just saved the time and gave me a Hamilton.

Subscribe and Save Deals

Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper, Mega Roll, 24 Count - Between the 25% off Prime Day deal, the $2 coupon, and 15% off for Subscribe and Save, it was around $15. I think I recently paid around $22 for a similar amount of Cottonelle. I think we'll be done with toilet paper for awhile.

80 Hefty Ultra Strong Tall Kitchen Drawstring Trash Bags - These came to around $7.50 after all the discounts. Fortunately, we needed kitchen trash bags anyway.

124 diapers for $20 and change I don't usually buy Pampers and opt for the cheapest Wal-Mart brand, but this is a very good price.

74 dishwasher tablets for under $6 - It seems that these Finish tablets go some sale every year or so... and I always stock up. One time, it was buy one, get one free of 200 tablets, which lasted us years.

Things I Already Own and Love

This is time to buy an InstantPot as it is only $70. As my wife wrote, Instant Pot is a thing she loves. You'll usually pay more than $100, so $70 is a screaming good deal.

Amazon Echo for $130. I love this so much I started a blog about the Echo.

Amazon's Usual Suspects

I'm not going to link to them, but all the Amazon devices seem to be on sale. This is the time to buy a Kindle, Fire, or FireTV. I am toying with the idea of getting the kids tablet for $70 (or $80 with more memory). I have a Fire tablet already, but I like the idea of curated content for the kids.

Tempting, but I'm Not Buying

I've wanted a Segway for probably a dozen years. This deal looks to be the closest I'll ever come to one. I'm just not willing to spend $700 today, even if it is highly discounted.

Are you doing any buying today? Let me know what you are getting in the comments.

This post deals with:

... and focuses on:


Posted on July 12, 2016.

Best Use of Less Than $100? (and Bonus Deals!)

Written by

I was reading the awesome email newsletter this week and Jim ended it with a great question:

What do you consider your most valuable under-$100 purchase of all time? The thing that has had the most impact in your life?

I cheated by naming two "most valuables." For some reason, whenever Jim asks me for one thing, I come up with two. It only happens with his questions though. Here they are:

1. Dinner and drinks on the first date with my future wife. (Is it appropriate to give a shout out to my wife as we celebrated 9 years of marriage yesterday?)
2. The domain name and hosting.

It's a tremendous drop off to #3. I couldn't even think of anything. Maybe rounding up my kids' favorite toys and how they all helped them sleep, avoid meltdowns, learn the alphabet and all that stuff.

What's your answer? Let me know in the comments... and onto the deals!

Deal Time!

For the next few days (at least until after Amazon Prime Day on July 12th) this blog is going to sound like it is sponsored by Amazon. And in a way it is since I'll make a small commission if you buy any of the stuff I feature. That said, I'm probably in the top 10% of most frugal people and I'm buying a ton of this stuff.

I'm going to assume that all these deals require Amazon Prime. If you don't have it, you can can use this link for a FREE trial. That will give you access to all these and the many other deals this is the best time to on Amazon Prime Day.

Amazon put up a bunch of HD movies for rental for 99 cents. Personally, I'm going to snag We're The Millers. There are a lot of other classics like The Matrix and Shawshank Redemption... probably 3 or 4 dozen choices overall. I think the deal is limited to one movie.

The other thing that people are freaking out over is this Anker 20,000mAh Portable Charger that lists for $80, but is on sale for $27. I have a 14,000mAh one, but it doesn't very fast like this one does. I'm thinking about whether it's worth the money to upgrade. I may justify it by saying that it gives us more tablet/cell time if we have a blackout.

If you are an Amazon Echo owner, there are additional deals today. If you buy something through your Echo, you'll save $10 on a purchase of $20 or more. However, they've also deeply discounted a few other products.

The catch is that you have to act TODAY.

I'm tempting to buy an Amazon Tap at nearly half price. You can read more about the Echo deals on my Alexa/Echo blog here. If you are interested in drones and/or cooking, it's worth a look.

This post deals with:


... and focuses on:

Deals, Spending

Posted on July 8, 2016.

Prepare Now for Amazon Prime Day

Written by

[Editor's Note: Even though article is about Amazon Prime, it's actually most useful for people who aren't already, and don't intend to become, Prime members.]

Last year Amazon had a Prime Day that was, by all measures, enormously successful. I think I picked up $200 in electronic deals (the highlight being a very cheap Kindle Fire.) If I hadn't already owned an Amazon Echo, I would have bought one. Then again, I run an Amazon Echo fan site, so that's to be expected.

Prime Day this year is July 12th, next Tuesday. This year Amazon says it is going to have 100,000 deals. I'm sure that like anything else, there will be some really good deals and some that are questionable as to whether they are deals at all. However, with that many deals, there's bound to be a few things that are worthy of your dollars, right?

To participate in Prime Day, you have to be an Amazon Prime Member. (Makes sense, right?) If you aren't a Prime member, you can use this link for a FREE trial. (You'll want to set your calendar to cancel it before you are billed.)

I recommend taking them up on the trial now as Amazon's leaking some deals early.

And if you do sign up for Amazon Prime, you can watch Room for free. That's been on Mrs. Lazy's "to-watch" list since it was nominated for four academy awards.

Aside from Prime Day, Amazon has really been surprising me with good deals of late. I wanted to write about one in particular that caught my attention, but it didn't seem worth for its own article. So here goes...

Amazon has released a few new discounted cell phones. You can save an extra $50 or so off of the best price elsewhere. The catch? You'll have to agree to Amazon's advertisements and lock screen offers. I have these on my Kindle Fire, and they've never bothered me. I don't even notice the ads except for the lock screen, which I quickly ignore. So it seems like a good way to save a little cash.

If you are looking for a discount low-end phone, here's a BLU R1 HD for $59. For $179, you can get the latest generation Moto G which is an above average phone for the money.

I've been thinking of picking up the $59 one and putting in a FreedomPop sim chip I have that comes with free data. I have no practical reason to have another phone, but the tinkerer in me thinks it could be a good project.

This post deals with:


... and focuses on:


Posted on July 6, 2016.

Giving SodaStream Another Look

Written by

I apologize for the lack of articles lately. I've been deluged with legal documents and requirements related to some of the companies mentioned in my GofundMe: Consumer Advocate Sued Into Silence posting.

That kept me busy up until a short family vacation where we went to the smallest city in the smallest state. They really have that book for everything, right?

Today's topic is SodaStream, a product, company, stock, and savings tool, that I've written about a lot in the past.

For example:

The last one is particularly interesting because I wrote about how I considered Facebook a bargain at $20, but not at $57. As I publish this, the stock is almost exactly twice that $57 number trading at $114. What a difference a couple of years makes!

While I was convinced I had picked a winning product on the upswing, it turns out I was wrong. The stock continued to tank even after it had dropped significantly. This is often called "catching a falling knife" in investing circles.

This is why, last week, I wrote that you shouldn't necessarily invest in what you know. Typically we know products and we may even love them, but companies and their execution can be mysteries. In extreme cases you may find yourself investing in the next Enron disaster where few people really knew what was going on.

This is all in the past. I sold most of my SodaStream stock when it had a brief bump on an acquisition rumor. I kept a very small amount simply because I still believe concept of making sparkling water at home for pennies.

That brings us to last week, where I read an interesting article on LaCroix sparkling water on Vox. It seems like this is the newest fad. The strange thing is that the flavored sparkling water has been around 30 years.

Why is it so popular? As the article says:

"Over the past decade, Americans have done something that would have once seemed downright un-American: They've given up soda. And when you’re craving a can of pop, LaCroix is a decent substitute. Unlike tap water, it has carbonation and a little flavor... Close your eyes, wrap your hand around the perspiring aluminum can, and you could be holding a Coca-Cola. LaCroix is succeeding as methadone for the soda addict."

In other words it's the right product at the right time. However, there's more to it:

"The secret behind LaCroix’s rise is a mix of old-fashioned business strategy and cutting-edge social marketing. When Americans wanted carbonated water, LaCroix was positioned to give them them fizzy water. Then, sometimes by accident, LaCroix developed fans among mommy bloggers, Paleo eaters, and Los Angeles writers who together pushed LaCroix into the zeitgeist."

It also has great marketing. It's easy to see why the right product at the right time with great marketing would be a winner. And I thought I had that with SodaStream.

I cut out one sentence in the first quote:

"Unlike a countertop SodaStream, it's cheap, readily available, and portable."

I'd argue that SodaStream is cheaper... especially if you use your carbonation as I do. I'd also say that it's just as portable... you can bring 500ml or full liters with you easily. I'd argue that it's readily available (it's at home and portable), but I could concede that point.

While SodaStream doesn't produced flavored carbonated water directly, it's easy to add a True Lemon, True Orange or True Grapefruit packet... or maybe a dash of cranberry juice for flavoring.

A strange thing has been going on with SodaStream's stock the last few months. You could have bought in at around $12 a share, but today it trades at more than $21. They had a great quarter that surpassed expectations. I don't know if they can continue to execute or not, but right now it looks like it's bubbling up nicely (terrible pun intended).

This experience has made me wonder if timing really is everything. Is it possible that I was just too early? Or is it that SodaStream had bad execution and is just now getting it figured out?

If anyone has answers or thoughts, I'm all ears. Hit me up the comments.

This post deals with:

... and focuses on:

Investing, Spending

Posted on June 29, 2016.

ESPN Insider and Magazine Warning

Written by

Two years ago, I excitedly told readers about a deal for two years of ESPN Insider (and magazine) for $9.

The deal was really for the magazine, but the magazine subscription comes with ESPN Insider for free. ESPN Insider is the premium content subscription on ESPN's properties (for those who aren't into sports).

If you are interested in ESPN's content this was an extremely good deal as ESPN Insider pricing appears to be (from my quick Google search):

* 1 Year Membership required (one payment of $39.95)
** 2 Year Membership required (one payment of $59.95)

One way to look at it is that the deal saved me $50. Perhaps a more accurate way to look at is that I wouldn't have bought it at the $60 price anyway. I'd surely say that I got more than $4.50 of value over the two years from it.

Everything was good, but (as you may be able to guess) that was two years ago on a 2-year subscription.

Last week, I got an email that the subscription was up for renewal. Specifically it said:

This is just a friendly reminder that your ESPN Insider account is in excellent standing and your subscription will automatically renew on Sunday, June 19, 2016.

Your Insider subscription includes the best content and analysis ESPN has to offer, plus great tools devoted to fantasy sports, odds, info and more. Plus, your Insider rate includes a subscription to ESPN the Magazine - all this for just $44.95!

As a benefit, your service will continue, uninterrupted, so you won't miss out on any great premium content you get with ESPN Insider and The Magazine. Your credit card will be charged at the beginning of the service period and you will continue to receive all the great subscriber benefits you've come to enjoy.

To make sure you continue to receive your Insider subscription, we ask you take a few seconds to verify your payment information. You can click here to verify your payment details

If, at any time, you are unsatisfied with your subscription and would like to cancel, please contact ESPN Customer Care at 1-888-549-3776.

Thank you for subscribing to ESPN The Magazine and Insider!

I appreciate the "friendly reminder" about the standing of my ESPN Insider account, but it was new information to me that it was set for automatic renewal. Another piece of new information was that it would be nearly $45. It's unclear to me if that is for the same 2-year term or if that was an annual price like many magazines.

This sales model is the continuity sales model and it puts the onus on you to cancel.

I'm sure that there's a large number of people who get busy and don't act right away on this on email. After all, it came in Sunday night at 8PM when I'm more in leisure mode. I remember thinking, well, it's been two years I'm 95% sure my credit card has a new expiration date (especially since I'm almost converted to all "chip" cards) so good luck to them.

Obviously, being lazy and depending on the credit card expiration is my fault. I just didn't understand why I was presented with this hassle anyway.

After all, if you read my article, I didn't cite that you'd sign up automatic renewals at $45. If I had seen that I would have clearly warned you (like I'm doing now). Furthermore the SlickDeals thread I cited also made no mention of it... and these are dozens of people who are extremely vigilant for the "gotcha's" in any deal.

I'm not claiming that there wasn't notification, just that I didn't see it... and it looks like many others either didn't see it as well or uncharacteristically chose not to point it out. More on this later...

Much to my surprise, I got an email that the billing went through. I had used my Paypal account to pay for it. I hadn't thought about that since I rarely use Paypal account and the email specifically said my credit card. So much for relying on the expiring credit card.

I immediately responded back to the charge explaining that I wished to cancel and that I didn't knowingly authorize this charge.

Soon after, I got a response that I couldn't cancel via email "the privacy and protection of [my] account." I thought this was unusual, since there's no real privacy risk of me email them and my account wouldn't be unprotected in any way. I'm clearly the account holder as I've received the billing statement and am responding back from the account on which the billing statement was sent.

I immediately figured this was their plan to increase breakage... if you have to call, navigate phone trees, and wait for an operator, there's a chance you might put it off or just give up.

Fine... I've got speaker phone, so game on.

I call up and navigate the phone tree... it was actually one of the easiest phone trees. I think I only pressed "3". Then I waited for a customer support representative. Again, it was refreshing... probably only took 2-3 minutes.

We had a little difficulty looking up my account, but that's because I thought I had signed up with the same email as my Paypal account, but I didn't. Again, this was my fault and we eventually located my account. He asked why I was cancelling and made an offer of something around half price to keep me.

I wasn't interested and explained that I didn't like how it assumed that I automatically wanted to renew at ~$45 something that I paid $9 for. He said it was in the terms and conditions. I said that I would have tried to opt-out of it if I had seen it. (I wish I had screenshots or something to see how clearly the automatic renewal language was.) He explained that opting out of the automatic renewals is not an option.

We agreed to cancel and he canceled it almost instantly and said the $44.95 would be refunded in a few business days. All in all, if it was an attempt at breakage, they definitely did their best to make it as easy as possible to cancel and get refunded once I made the call.

So I guess that's the price of getting ESPN Insider and the Magazine for two years at $9. I guess I'm happy to take advantage of it. It's not evil and I don't think it is a scam or anything, but I think it is a bit of an unsavory business model. Maybe it's a little like credit cards where if you play it smart and stay on top of it, you can reap rewards. If you let things slip, you may end up paying for something that you didn't know about.

What do you think?

This post deals with:

, ,

... and focuses on:


Posted on June 21, 2016.

Would You Pay $629 for a Bandage?

Written by

Under almost all circumstances, you wouldn't pay $629 for a bandage right? If there were a critical need, that's a different story.

Malcolm Bird experienced something that I have a few times. His wife accidentally cut his 1-year old's finger when trying to clip her finger nails. (Full disclosure: This is the very reason why I pawn this chore off to my wife. If you aren't a parent, it's almost impossible to imagine how small the nails are and how difficult it is to cut them.)

When you cut a finger tip, it bleeds a lot. He did what came naturally and took his daughter to the emergency room. (I almost did the same thing when my youngest split his lip. It seemed like a ton of blood, but it stopped very quickly.)

Bird explained his experience in this article:

"Then [the doctor] literally runs the finger under the tap, dries it, puts a Band-Aid on it, and says that's it. We're very relieved, we go back to the car, and the Band-Aid falls off. But it was fine because it had stopped bleeding."

So imagine Bird's surprise when he got a $629 bill from the hospital. Fortunately, his insurance company was able to bring it down to $440.30. That's still an expensive bandage, right?

Welcome to the world of hospital charges. I had one of these types of things once and it took months to get them to correct and erroneous billing code. In the meantime, they threatened to send me to collections which would have hurt my credit.

As the article explains, the bandage isn't really $629. That's just the cost that the hospital devised for performing the service. It's kind of like how pizza doesn't code $10 to make, but you have to pay for the overhead of the employees and the rent/maintenance of the pizza shop (among other things).

With hospitals it's a lot more expensive and complicated.

The hospital explained that the bandage itself was $7. (Side rant: You'd think that a hospital could get better pricing than $7 for a single bandage that falls off in the car on the way home. I feel like I can buy a whole box of bandages for a few dollars at Wal-Mart and certainly a hospital should be able to negotiate much better pricing.

The hospital also explained that it billed $311 for seeing the doctor and another $311 for the emergency department itself. So it really is like paying for the pizza maker and the pizza shop.

The article explains that it was 5 minutes of the doctor's time. The doctor was billing at an hourly rate of $3732... or nearly $30,000 for an 8-hour shift. Now obviously the hospital has to pay the doctor even if there are no patients, so some money could be expected to cover those lean times at 3AM when most people are asleep. In fairness, the doctor likely isn't doing a lot of work at that time.

The other $311 for the emergency room is called the facility fee. Mr. Bird is paying for using the emergency room. The article explains it as like a club have a cover charge. It's a fixed fee.

It feels to me that maybe the cover charge should be less and they should make it up by billing more for actual care.

Another difficult issue is that there's no pricing transparency. The article points out that it can be from $15 to $17,000 for a common procedure. Bird said that if the hospital had been upfront about its pricing he probably would have called a friend who is a doctor.

I'm trying to think about from the hospital's point of view. I keep coming back to thinking about what would happen if the police or fire department were run this way. So someone breaks into your house and steals your DVD player. You go to the police station to report it. You get billed for the cost for the police station existing and talking to the police officer. You get a bill for $600?

Why does a hospital have to be different than a public utility? It seems to be every bit as much as a need. Couldn't facility fees be covered by people's taxes? I know everyone doesn't want taxes to be raised, but it seems like it would make more sense than paying for a library. (And I love libraries.)

As for the cost of seeing the doctor, it seems like the hourly rate of $3732 might be a little much. In fact if the doctor only worked for those 5 minutes and no one else entered the ER to be billed, he'd still be making around $77,000 a year (assuming 250 working days). Sure that's not a great doctor's salary, but it isn't bad for only working 5 minutes a day, right?

My question is whether the hospital is operating efficiently. In a case like this, was seeing a doctor even necessary? It seems like the kind of thing school nurses could treat. Couldn't they have triaged the care and save the doctor's time for things that really need it?

With a few simple changes the cost of visit could be more in line of around $100 or maybe even less in a case like this. It's still excessive, but it isn't crazy banana pants excessive.

This post deals with:

... and focuses on:


Posted on June 1, 2016.

Also from Lazy Man and Money
Lazy Man and Health | MLM Myth | Health MLM Scam | MonaVie Scam | Protandim Scams | How To Fix | How To Car | How To Computer