Squatters and Other Insane Money-Related Situations

squattersEvery now and again there are some money-related stories that make you stop and take notice. In some cases, you just might shake your head at what you’re reading. I just recently read one that fit the latter category.

There was an interesting write-up on Yahoo! Finance about how a man purchased a home, only to find out that the locks were changed before he could move in. And no, this wasn’t some innocent mix-up. Rather, there were squatters in his house who apparently took temporary “possession” of it.

According to the story, the guy bought the house and then brought in a contractor to do some work on it. Unfortunately, his plans were thwarted by squatters who had decided to move into the apparently vacant home. They even set up their own utility service there.

Now, to me this is just crazy. How can you buy a home, and then find out that some interlopers have moved in? After all, they didn’t own it.

It gets better. The guy went to the police, which would have been my next step. Unfortunately, he was told that they couldn’t do much about it. His next step would be contacting an attorney and getting the legal system involved.

You know, I would have thought that this was trespassing, and that these squatters would be kicked out immediately. To me, this seems logical. They were living in someone else’s home, on that person’s property. Yet, they couldn’t just be quickly removed by the law.

It seems as though squatters actually have some rights in certain cases, which doesn’t make much sense to me either. In a truly long-term situation, adverse possession could apply. While the article said this guy likely to prevail, it clearly would be a complete nuisance and waste of time and money to fight for the right to take control of the home you purchased!

Now, when people lose their homes due to financial circumstances, I feel a bit differently about it. I get why people would want to fight to stay in their homes as long as possible for the sake of their family. However, squatters who just take over a home that they clearly don’t own? No, that’s very different.

But, that’s apparently a real, potential issue that can come up in home sales!

This is yet another example of how anything can happen, and knowing to expect the unexpected can be a key life and personal finance lesson.  Things happen.

Two other Examples

We can also learn from this and take extra steps to be careful when buying something. I previously wrote about homebuyers who went through a home inspection and walk-through, and thought everything was fine – other than the weird furniture placement that the sellers had in the home. Later, after closing, they discovered that the furniture arrangement was strategic in that it covered massive pet stains.

Buyer beware!

Another example of caveat emptor, unrelated to real estate, was the purchase of a camera by someone I traveled with years ago. This individual was part of a group I was with traveling to Hong Kong, and he bought a camera. Or, so he thought. Given that he was younger and only spoke English (like myself and the rest of us), he was an easy target. When he opened the box, it ended up being just a box of rocks. Yes, rocks.

My takeaway from all of this is that things don’t always go as planned, and that there are those rare, infrequent times when people try to get away with taking advantage of others when exchanging money for goods (or real estate). It reminds me of a football analogy, where someone is running down the field for an easy touchdown but fumbles the ball at the one yard line due to either carelessness or simply accidentally.

The bottom line is that we should pay close attention and understand that when there is some wiggle room, crazy things can happen – so we should be prepared!

My Questions for You

Have you ever witnessed or heard of any crazy, devious attempts to rip someone off?

If so, what were the circumstances (without specific names of course)?

What do you think of the idea that squatters can wreak havoc with the lives of property owners?

4 Reasons Why the Facebook Experiment on User Emotions is No Big Deal

facebook experimentSo, there is an uproar over a Facebook experiment did on unknowing users. Apparently, the experiment involved user news feeds having either positive or negative content omitted.   A lot people don’t seem to like this.

I’m not one of those people.

An article I saw in the WSJ discusses the specifics of the controversial issue in more detail. It’s an experiment run by data scientists to gain a better understanding on user behavior, and it’s not siting well with some people. It seems like some potential objections to this are:

  • This messes with the minds of people, without their knowledge of what’s going on
  • This shows just how much influence “they” can have on us
  • There is too much information on users that can be used in ways users don’t even know about
  • There is a not enough privacy

I’m sure there are many other issues that some might have with all of this. Admittedly, I can understand these types of concerns, and can appreciate the point of view that this isn’t for everyone.

Nevertheless, it is what it is. It happened, and it can clearly happen again. Experiments can be done not only on Facebook, but on a wide variety of other platforms. They don’t necessarily have to be related to emotions, but can be for a variety of purposes.

Here are four reasons why I’m okay with it.

Data Analytics is The Way of the World Today

Analyzing customer data is quite normal. Businesses that want to make money will often have a strong interest in analyzing the behavior of customers.

Think about how many touch points we have with data. There are so many examples of ways our behavior can be tracked, classified, and analyzed. Just a few in day-to-day life include:

  • Credit card purchases
  • Website visits
  • Cellphone usage
  • Energy use
  • Social media activity

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.   It’s happening everywhere, and it’s the way of the world now. There are different data sources, sellers of data, and a plethora of tools available to analyze customer behavior.

No need to be shocked by any of this.

Testing is Normal

Okay, I get that the emotions part of it might be difficult for some people. But online tests occur all the time.

A common way this happens is advertising. Maybe people will do an “A/B” test, where 50% of people will see a certain ad, and another 50% will see an alternate. Really, as long as the sample size is sufficient, there can be far more than just 2 versions.

This is typical. Businesses want to see what advertisements work, what offers work, and so on. It’s a way to learn about customer behavior, and it’s going on all over the place. Again, nothing to be up in arms over.

It’s a Business

The last time I checked, Facebook was a business. Remember the IPO?

Where I’m going with this is that many people seem to forget that Facebook isn’t some kind of public service. Even if it was, would this stop data from being collected and analyzed? But it doesn’t matter, because it isn’t a public service – it’s a business. And it happens to be one that has access to an absolute treasure trove of data.

So, why get so hung up on what they’re doing with their business? Like any other business, the customers have the right to walk away if they don’t like it. But, my guess is that many that are really upset about this won’t walk way. Because…..

Some People Spend too Much Time on Facebook Anyway

Yes, a lot of people seem to revolve their lives around Facebook. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but perhaps it can be said that some people spend an inordinate amount of time on there anyway.

We all know the types that post anything and everything about their lives on Facebook. Inane things like “OMG I saw a spider! I can’t wait for my husband to come home and take care of it”. Really, like we all needed to spend time reading that?

Or, the husband and wife duos that like each other’s posts. Why are they communicating through Facebook?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook has real value and is a nice way to stay in touch with people at a surface level without investing much time into it. It’s a great way to get updates on the lives of friends and family.

But if a simple test such as this creates so much upheaval for someone, that’s a sign that he or she might want to deprioritize Facebook and diversify ways to communicate with others. Or, simply take up a different hobby.

Bottom Line: Let’s not take this too seriously, and focus our own finances and business instead. Also, let’s remember that we live in a world of data and that businesses will analyze data to make money or for other purposes. It is what it is, and we can opt-out of certain things if we want to. That freedom of choice we have deserves a “Like” button of its own!

My Question for You:

What are your thoughts on the Facebook experiment controversy?  I’m guessing many might not see it my way, and I’d like to know how you view this. 

The World Cup is Big Business, but Why Don’t Americans Care So Much?

world_cup_americans_dont_careThe World Cup is a big deal and big business, and it has the world as a captive audience. Except, that is, the United States.

With billions of dollars of business generated by this event, it’s clearly a global centerpiece for the sporting world. And, for people who absolutely obsess over soccer. Or football, as some call it in their home countries.

An interesting little article on the Freakonomics site shared some stats that jumped out at me. Specifically, the site shares figures that indicated that the 2014 Super Bowl garnered over 110 million viewers, while the 2010 World Cup Final got just over 24 million. So, the big game in the sport we call football got 4 times more viewers than the big game (match?) in the sport much of the world actually calls football.

My Soccer Riot Experience

My eyes were opened to how popular soccer is in many parts of the world when I was in Europe when the Euro 2000 was going on. I had never heard of this European Soccer tournament, but apparently it’s a massive deal there.   At least it was back in 2000, as I found out when visiting France.

To make a long story short, I was at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris when I heard a huge roar come from the city below. It was odd, and I had zero clue as to what that could have been for. It almost seemed like some kind of earthquake.

Then, a few minutes later, right as I was coming down from the tower, there was a second roar. And then cars were driving around honking and people were out and about. Again, I had no idea what it was.

We got on the Metro, which was suddenly halted before we reached our destination. We were ushered out and had to walk the rest of the way, but ended up in the middle of a big crowd of people celebrating and going nuts. That was when I found out that France had won this tournament.   Apparently, the first roar was when they tied the score at 1-1, and the second roar was when they scored the go-ahead goal to make it 2-1.

It was crazy. I even saw bottles thrown, and police with shields running. We ducked into a restaurant that ended up having its glass shattered.

Yes, I found myself in a soccer riot. Thankfully, we didn’t get hurt (though I did see a few people with injuries and lots of damaged storefronts). That’s when it dawned on me just how important soccer truly is to many people around the world.

My Current View of Soccer

Personally, I think the World Cup is cool. My interest in it has grown, and I certainly want my home country’s team to win. Go USA!

However, it just doesn’t captivate me like other sports might. I’m not yet at the point of caring much about the other games, and don’t pay much attention to any other game not involving the U.S. I do find it fascinating just how passionate much of the world is about soccer though.

Put it this way: I’m almost embarrassed to admit that if I had to spend money on a ticket to a pro football playoff game or a World Cup game, I’d choose the pigskin over the soccer ball any day.

Why is that? This just isn’t something that will compel me to spend much time or money. I think it might be because when growing up, many of us were just kind of taught that the most important sports were football, baseball, and basketball. Maybe hockey in northern climates. And some people like to golf or play tennis. But soccer was something people may have played in childhood and that’s it.

At least that’s my theory.

But I see things changing just a bit. More people, this time around, are truly focused on how the U.S. does. I even hear conversation about other countries matches, which wouldn’t have happened in the past. This seems to be getting mainstream.

Maybe as more kids are influenced by this, it will change more. One of my kids is in soccer now. Really though, I think that the U.S. team making a serious run could change things long-term.

Then, maybe more money and time will be spent on the World Cup here at home.

What do you think?

What’s your level of interest in the World Cup?

In terms of your willingness to spend time or even money on this event, how does that compare to other events (such as the Super Bowl, for example)?

What do you think it will take for this to become as important in the U.S. as it is around the world?

 

Telemedicine: Would You Pay for an Online Visit to the Doctor?

telemedicine online doctorIf you enjoy visiting the doctor, please raise your hand.

Well, too bad I can’t actually see any of you, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that very few of those reading this actually enjoy going to the doctor.   Those that do enjoy going to the doctor might have one that they find to be very attractive.  What other reason would there be to actually like making visits to the doctor, and dealing with all that it entails  :)

Let’s face it, going to the doctor involves a number of things that are not pleasant:

  • You’re not feeling well (which is the reason you’re there in the first place)
  • You’ll have to pay for the visit via copay
  • If you need medicine, you’ll have to pay for that too
  • If there are tests or procedures that need to be done, you may have to pay for those too
  • You’ll have to leave home to go visit the doctor
  • You just might have to wait a long time at the office
  • While you’re in the doctor’s office, you might be exposed to other sick people too

The list can go on and on.

Admittedly, it’s way better to have access to health care than to have none.  And yes, we wouldn’t be going to doctors (and they wouldn’t be making solid income) if they weren’t necessary.  Thankfully we have them!

However, a few of the things on the aforementioned list of “unpleasant” things could possibly be avoided through telemedicine.  Yes, this means seeing the doctor online!  An article in The New Yorker discussed this alternative approach to seeing the doctor, and I found it to be an interesting concept to consider.

By seeing a doctor online, it stands to reason that you won’t need to leave home, and you won’t deal with other sick people at the doctor’s office.  Perhaps you won’t have to wait a long time either, or perhaps not as long anyway.  One would hope.

Would you try this?

I never have, and haven’t spoken to anyone that has either.  However, I brought it up in conversation with someone who said that there is absolutely no way that he would ever do that.  The reasoning he had is that this seems like an insufficient way to get an accurate diagnosis, and that it’s a way for doctors to see more patients in less time.  Thus, making them more money.

My view is a bit different.  I think that this might be worth it, and it could potentially work for things that can easily be diagnosed.  Something more complex or involved, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with it.  But for very simple issues, why not?

I’ve written before about how I had a less than positive customer service from a doctor, who did actually happen to be very good though at what he did.  The process was painful though, as I had to wait over an hour past my appointment time after driving quite a while to get the office.  Not to mention that the actual visit was incredibly short and I had very little time to ask a question.

Doctors, in my view, are customer service providers – albeit very important ones.  While we might be limited in terms of choices based on insurance, we are generally free to go to doctors we feel best meet our needs.  That being said, the “competition” for our service might be somewhat limited to geography.

If we could remove geography as a barrier, perhaps things get a little bit more competitive for them.  Maybe this will work in our favor as customers, in terms of better service or – optimistically – downward pressure on prices that are charged.  Supply and demand, right?  Or, it can be as simple as just giving us a little bit more convenience in terms of not having to leave home to see the doctor, as we explored earlier.  Kind of like a modern version of a house call by a physician.

Bottom line:  Based on the factors and conditions I mentioned above, I would be open to considering an online doctor “visit” in the future.

My Questions for You

Have you ever seen a doctor online?

If not, under what circumstances would you be open to it?

Do you share the view that doctors are essentially customer service providers?

Would You Accept Payment in Bitcoin?

alternative currencies

Would you accept this alternative currency?

Bitcoin has been in the news at an ever-increasing rate, it would seem.  From something that was a wild, crazy, and little known concept to most people a few years ago, it has shown some staying power.  Perhaps more than I realized.

A recent article in the WSJ blog MoneyBeat shared survey results that indicated the positive sentiment that people in one profession have toward Bitcoin.  It revealed that many people working in IT would actually be fine with getting paid in Bitcoin!

Apparently, just over 50% of respondents indicated that yes, they would absolutely be interested in getting paid for their work in Bitcoin.  Actually, it noted cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but you get the idea.  Beyond that, just under 20% said maybe, depending on where Bitcoin is in a year or two.

Taken together, that’s around 70% of people that would at a minimum consider Bitcoin in a year or two or flat out accept it now.  Seems like positive sentiment to me, if I’m interpreting this right.

Personally, I do like to embrace newer technologies and look forward rather than backward.  Change is inevitable in many areas of life, including (and perhaps especially) business.  We might as well be ready and willing to adapt to big changes.

That being said, I’m not quite ready to embrace Bitcoin.   I’m not in the IT field, thus my perspective and outlook on new technologies might be a bit different than those surveyed.  Perhaps I’m a bit conservative on this.  Too conservative, maybe?

Admittedly, being an early adopter of products, technologies, and such can be a really good thing.  Particularly when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures that take advantage of changes.  Foresight and recognition can be valuable things to have.

I’m just not on board with Bitcoin yet, in terms of accepting any payment with it.  This falls under the “speculative” classification to me, at least for now. Actually, I don’t think I would even personally invest in it at this point, though I know many others might disagree.  Maybe a few years from now I could be looking back on this post and chuckling about how I didn’t accept the changes that were right there in front of us.  You never know, right?

For now,  I’ll take payment in my local currency: the U.S. dollar!  If I was a resident of Canada, I’m sure I’d say Canadian dollars would be my choice.  In the U.K., it would be the pound.  And so on.

What about you?

My Questions for You

Would you accept payment in Bitcoin? Or, do you take the approach that I have that this is speculative and not an established currency as of now?

Would you invest in Bitcoin?

Global Academic Rankings – We’re #36!

we're_36th“We’re #1!” sounds like the rallying cry of a successful team.  It’s great to be the best!

How about “We’re #36!” as a slogan?  Does that sound like something to get excited about?

Well, this is where the U.S. finished in a recent global academic exam, given to 15 and 16 year olds in 65 countries.   An article on CNN did a nice job of detailing what happened.  Essentially, out of the 65 countries involved, the U.S. finished in the bottom half in terms of scores.  As in, ranking 36 out of 65.

The exam apparently covered math, science, and reading.  Clearly, these are core subjects that one needs to excel at to be positioned for success in the future.  Yet the U.S. finished behind many other notable countries, such as:

  • China – 1st
  • South Korea – 5th
  • Japan – 7th
  • Finland – 12th
  • U.K. – 26th

I think that many people get this, but there are also probably many others that wouldn’t believe it or don’t see the significance.  One person I told this to, after I saw this, made the joking comment that “at least we’ll do better than 36th in the Olympics!”.

Not sure about you, but if I could have my country finish 1st in either the Olympics or 1st in a global academic exam, I’d choose the latter.  Of course I’d rather see top finishes in both, but you get the idea :)

How about seeing your home country finishing first in financial education?  That would be good too, though I’m guessing that would come as an outcome of finishing at or near the top of the academic exam.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you see this as a sign of the U.S. needing to ramp up its educational system to continue to compete at a high level?  After all, the world is shrinking and getting more competitive.

Good Reading from Around the Personal Finance Blogosphere

Here are some recent posts that caught my eye, that I’d like to share:

Sep-IRAs; How to Increase Retirement Savings for the Self Employed at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

Soldier of Luxury at Mr. Money Mustache

When the Right Choice Isn’t Obvious at Get Rich Slowly

Has Holiday Gift Giving at the Office Gotten Out of Control at Frugal Rules

When It Doesn’t Pay to Buy Big-Ticket Items on Sale at Len Penzo

The Golden Rule of Student Loan Consolidation at The Student Loan Sherpa

Counting Stars at Debt Discipline

Don’t Let a Salary Raise Get in the Way of Hustling at My Personal Finance Journey

4 Ways to Stop Being a Serf at Frugal Portland

How to Beat Carnival Games at Blifaloo (indirectly a money-related post!)

Take Cash In Hand Instead of a Promise of Future Payment

Having cash in hand or a promise for future payment might be seen as similar outcomes.  Ultimately, you’re going to get your money. 

Right?

Well, not necessarily so easily anyway.

Recently, as most you probably know, the city of Detroit appears to be moving toward bankruptcy proceedings based on recent news.   The city has really suffered big problems, going from nearly 2 million people in the mid-20th century to around 700,000 now.  Think about that: the city has lost nearly 2/3 of its residents!

This was a city that was once a symbol of America’s industrial might.  A place that was a destination for so many people looking for an honest day’s work that would give their family a really good life.  Tons of people without college educations in a previous generation were able to live really nice middle class lives and get pensions to boot. 

Oh, about those pensions.   According to some reports, there are many people worried about what will happen to those payments.  This article from Forbes does a great job of discussing the bigger picture, and how people should take notice of what’s going on.  Just imagine working in a career for a long period of time, and having a pension promised to you as part of the whole employment deal.  You count on the pension for future income later in life when you’re old and can’t work anymore.

Then, suddenly, there is talk that they’re at risk.  Money that was supposed to be coming to you, that you counted on, doesn’t seem to be a 100% certainty anymore.  What will you get: the same amount, a reduced amount, or nothing?  Scary stuff for older folks, and heartbreaking to see.

My big takeaways from this are as follows:

  1. Take money in hand instead of a promise for money in the future.
  2. Don’t count on someone else to support you over the long run, whether another person or an entity
  3. Nobody has your back more than you
  4. Take individual responsibility for your own finances

The first 3 points, I think, should be evident.  Sometimes people get a bit confused with point #2, and think that a spouse is there to be a provider or money source, but really we are each individually responsible when it’s all said and done.

As for point #4, that gets a bit murky here because people could very well be incredibly responsible, mature people even if they count on a pension.  After all, those are supposed to be relied upon.

However, I think we need to go back to point #1: take the money now versus a promise for future payment!

This could take many forms, in different situations.  For example, you could be deciding between 2 jobs: one pays $10k less, but offers a potential $15k bonus.  Would you go with that job versus the alternative which pays a higher fixed salary with no bonus? All things being equal, of course.  I’d say the salary is more assured, while the bonus is simply a potential future payment that may or may not ever come your way.

It’s worth thinking about!

My Questions for You

In the example above, with the two jobs, which one would you be inclined to take? Again, all other things being exactly equal.

Do you ever think about the value of actually having money now versus having a promise to receive it in the future?

 

Making Money on Market Overreactions: The Twinkie Example

Remember when it was “big” news that Twinkies were supposedly going away? The iconic snack that kids of a generation ago grew up with, to which some where remarkably loyal, wasn’t going to be featured on store shelves anymore.

My reaction: oh well, no big deal. 

It’s not like Twinkies had the nutritional profile of so-called superfoods, and frankly there are so many snack options these days that this just seemed like a product from the old days to me.  Though admittedly, they were pretty good back in the day.

Clearly, not everyone had that casual, “it is what it is” type of reaction.  Actually, what was more interesting to me than Twinkies possibly going away was the near hysteria that some people got caught up in back then.  I wrote about this, talking about Twinkies brand loyalty and how people were actually bidding up these products.  Maybe the thought of never having one again seemed too overwhelming, because reports indicated that some were going for some pretty interesting amounts. 

Lo and behold, with some new ownership, Twinkies are apparently to be sold again per this article.  The same people who were feverishly bidding up these snack cakes before they went away might now be able to buy them again. 

As I alluded to in the prior post, this is a great example of the power of brand loyalty.  After seeing how these things are apparently to be back on store shelves, there is another lesson written about before that we can be reminded of: quite often, markets overreact.

Remember how the stock market declined in the midst of the credit rating downgrade a few years back? Well, it sure recovered nicely! After the tragic tsunami in Japan, the Nikkei recovered fairly quickly.  Instead of selling in a panic, the difference is that people bought Twinkies in a panic, thinking that they might never have them again.  I know…what a “crisis”, right?

Well, the sky isn’t falling. At least not yet, anyway.  It’s been up there for quite a while now.  When it comes to certain things, maybe it’s human nature to panic momentarily and behave irrationally.  When that happens, the opportunists can cash in.  Cha-ching!

My Questions for You:

Are you at all surprised to see a comeback of an iconic brand?

Have you noticed people overreacting to different events, whether relating to shopping or investing? 

 

Subscription Fees for Checked Bags and Extra Legroom: What Do You Think?

In recent years, it seems like airlines have been adding all kinds of fees.  The drive for additional revenue continues on!

In the past, we’ve seen different airlines start charging for fees.  We’ve even discussed how one airline offered early boarding privileges for a fee, which is something that doesn’t resonate with me though I realize it might work for others.  Now comes a plan by a different airline, United, which gives people the opportunity to subscribe to 2 different programs: a year of checked bags, and seats with more legroom

Well, it’s hard to blame them too much, especially those of us that suggest diversification of income in our own lives.  Getting income from different revenue streams isn’t a bad thing for people or businesses.  There must be a market for this, one would think.

Per this article on CNN Money the baggage subscription apparently allows for one checked bag per flight, for an annual fee of $349.  Two checked bags would be $399.  This would be good on trips through the mainland U.S. and Canada.  If it typically costs $25 to check one bag, that’s 14 flights to reach a break-even point.  In other words, 7 round trips.  If a person checks 2 bags, that would turn into a better deal – but I don’t know too many people who check two bags on a trip multiple times through the year! There are also provisions for additional travelers.

Still, I can see how this might be a good deal for some folks.  If a person does a lot of traveling, it might be worth it.  Or, if you’re not directly paying for this but somebody else is, it might be worth doing it! Of course, I inadvertently found a way to get a free checked bag on a flight years ago, so I’ve gotten someone else to pay in a different way :)

The legroom thing, I’m not so sure about.  This one is apparently $499 for an “Economy Plus” subscription, which gets you seats with more legroom.  Again, if someone else is paying and money’s no object, that’s one thing.  But on my own dime, I can deal with less legroom on a large number of flights instead of shelling out this kind of money.  I’m sure it might be worth it for some people though.

This is no rant on crazy airline fees, as these two seem purely optional.  I don’t find them to be a fit for me, but they could work for some others I’m sure.  What’s interesting is how airlines seem to be coming up with all these different ways to generate some revenue beyond just airfare.

Personally, I’m all about getting the lowest fare possible – as long as it doesn’t involve horrible fight times.  Being overly comfortable isn’t something worth paying for, at least for me.  I’d tolerate less legroom if it could save me money.  That $499, if invested and earning a good rate of return, could be worth a lot more years down the line!

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts on these programs?

Would you find it worthwhile to get extra legroom or a checked bag, for an annual fee?