Affordable Care Act calls may be attempt to steal your identity

Prescription medicationsThe final details are being put together for the health insurance exchanges that will start next January. The applications have been released, and processing of them will begin in October. Already, the Better Business Bureau says scammers are trying to use the program to steal your personal information. 

The BBB says the callers are claiming to be from the federal government. Consumers are told they’ve been selected to be a part of the initial group of Americans who receive insurance cards through the Affordable Care Act. Before you can get the card, you need to provide your bank account information and social security number.

socialSharing personal information with an illegitimate source puts you at risk for identity theft. You should always initiate the call before providing such sensitive information. You should always question the legitimacy of any organization who calls you requesting that information. Instead of giving the information, ask for a call back number. Research the company and call it back.

If you did your research, you’d realize the application process doesn’t even start until October. 

Scammers are slick, and you need to be careful even with caller ID. There are ways to spoof a caller ID number to legitimize a fraudulent call. So, the thieves could prompt a government number to show up on your caller ID. That doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. 

Be careful who you tell what, as these ripoffs will only increase as we get closer to this new insurance program. 

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17.7 million Borders gift cards are worthless

borders booksGift cards are a popular gift despite the fact that many go un-redeemed. Most of the time the cards don’t get used because consumers forget about them or lose the card. Stores going out of business are another problem, and a court ruling isn’t giving consumers much hope that their gift card is worth anything when a store closes.

There are more than 17.7 million Borders gift cards that were never used and a judge decided those customers will not get a refund. There are many reasons for the decision including issues over paperwork and whether it was filed in a timely manner.

The value of the unused cards is estimated at over $210 million. That’s a lot of money that consumers invested in a defunct company. It raises questions about whether a gift card is really the best gift. It’s a debate we have every holiday season as analysts predict which stores may be defunct within six months.

I still think gift cards are a good idea if you have no others. If you get one and don’t feel you’ll use it, then sell it. There are several sites like Gift Card Granny and Plastic Jungle that allow you to sell and buy cards at a discount. As soon as you hear about a store closing or liquidating its goods, sell fast so you don’t lose your money.

Warning: Internet Explorer 8 users

keyboardIf you use Internet Explorer 8, you need to be on the lookout for a security issue that could make your computer and personal information vulnerable. There is a security issue with the browser that could allow scammers to take over your computer.

This is a good reminder to keep your system updated with the latest security software to help spot vulnerabilities like this. You can download a fix for this issue via Microsoft. At this time, the risk is not for users with earlier Internet Explorer browsers.

Microsoft is working on a patch and hopes to release it soon.

Mother’s Day gift ideas

flowers - gerber - assortedMother’s Day is just around the corner, and now is the time to cash in on savings. Flowers are one of the easiest and best gifts for most moms. My mom loves flowers, and gets them whenever she can come up with a reason to get them. I’ve been the receiver, “Just because.” So, of course they are to of the list for Mother’s Day gifts. Hopefully she’s not reading this.

ProFlowers is my favorite go to florist. They deliver all over the United States. I think they deliver a good product. I will say I have received a few bad bunches, mostly roses, from the company. I complained and was offered another bunch or a refund. The company’s customer service is top notch.

I’ve heard people grumble about these flowers, so let’s be clear upfront. The flowers arrive in a box. The receiver has to cut the stems and put them in water. Sometimes you get a vase. Sometimes you don’t. It depends on the promotions and whether the giver paid for one if it wasn’t free.

If that’s not for you, call a local florist where your mom or loved one lives. Do not order the arrangement online. Call and request certain flowers and a dollar amount. You usually get a better bouquet than just ordering the standard one online. If you develop a rapport with the florist over the years, they will take care of you each time. Make sure you ask about shipping, because it’s often up to $10 extra.

Shipping with ProFlowers is a bit expensive. It’s like $12 which seems like a ripoff, but it is what it is. You are going to pay for it most places.

The company is running all sorts of deals right now. I saw 20% off on Facebook. I’ve gotten VIP emails, and there is a LivingSocial deal. You pay $15 for a $30 discount. To figure out which offer will give you the most savings, pick out an arrangement ahead of time and figure out your budget.

If your budget is around $50, the LivingSocial deal will probably offer you the most savings. If you are going to spend $100, try the 20% off deals.

People always worry, as competitors have done this, that the daily deal site offers are more expensive than ordering normally off the website. While there is a special website for the deal, ProFlowers.com/livingsocial, I compared the prices and they are about the same.

You are only allowed one LivingSocial deal per email address or registered user.  So, a hubby and wife may need to buy the offer to take care of both moms.

If you live in town, how about picking out the arrangement yourself. Costco sells beautiful flowers for less than $20. They have exotic looking ones with bright colors and roses. You can pick them up last minute, too.

I tend to buy something that lasts. While the arrangements look better than a potted plant, I think plants are a better option because they will show your mom love week after week.

You can even buy an exotic looking potted plant by going with an orchid. They are beautiful plants, and you can get a decent one at Costco or a big box home improvement store for less than $20.

It’s not the size of the gift, but the beauty of it. Get one that will last for weeks and months to come.

 

Dispose of old medication this weekend

Prescription medicationsSpring weather will finally arrive this weekend, which makes it a great time to do some spring cleaning. Grab your expired medication and get it destroyed for free. Old medicine should not be thrown in the trash because it can contaminate our drinking water and environment. That’s why the Drug Enforcement Administration is teaming up with law enforcement agencies across the country to help you properly dispose of your old medicine.

In the last five years, the program has discarded over 2 million pounds of expired or unwanted medication. This helps the environment and also the community. Pill popping is becoming a problem in many parts of the country. Thieves have even broken into homes where they know there are pain medications stored. That’s why it’s important to get rid of old medication the proper way.

The event will happen across the country this Saturday, April 27 from 10 AM until 2 PM. Click here to find a location near your home.

 

Earth Day freebies

sunset mtnIf you’re willing to help keep the Earth green this Earth Day, you can keep that green money in your pocket. Businesses are offering freebies to help celebrate this environmental holiday.

Caribou Coffee is offering a free coffee of the day when you bring in a reusable mug / cup. Some stores recently closed so check to make sure your location is still open before you waste gas to get there. Now that wouldn’t be green!

You can also visit a National Park for free. This offer runs through April 26. The Park Service said that with 401 parks across the country, every American is less than 100 miles from a park. Click here to find one nearby.

The Body Shop is giving away a free 8.4 oz Earth Lovers Cucumber and Mint body gel with a purchase.  The coupon code is 3Minute or print off the coupon for an in store purchase. The gel is part of a college YouTube promotion to get students to cut their shower to just three minutes. The Body Shop said if everyone took the 3 minute shower challenge, the average person would save nearly 50 gallons of water per shower. Studies show a typical shower uses roughly 7 gallons of water a minute.

Grab those plastic bags and recycle them at the Disney Store to receive a free reusable tote bag. There will be 200 bags available per store. The bags are made from 80% recycled materials.

Pottery Barn Kids is giving away free seeds for kids to plant. The offer will be valid while supplies last. The store is also having a sale on lunch bags and storage containers. If your family is acting in a green way, enter a photo for the chance to win one of three $100 gift cards to Pottery Barn Kids. Details on the store’s Facebook page.

If freebies are not for you, how about donating / recycling an item so someone else can get a free item? We replace sneakers yearly if not more often. What do you do with all your old pairs? There are three great ways to get rid of those old sneakers that are collecting dust in your closet.

Nike offers a “Reuse-A-Shoe” program. You can dropoff your shoes at U.S. Nike and Converse stores, and they are recycled. The shoes are ground down and used in sports facilities and in new shoes. More than 1.5 pairs of shoes are recycled each year. If you don’t live near a dropoff location, you can mail your shoes to: 
Nike Grind Processing
3552 Avenue of Commerce
Memphis, TN 38125

If you want to help someone in need, Soles 4 Souls might be the organization to donate your old shoes. The organization started after the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

One World Running promotes awareness of health, fitness, and nutrition by giving sneakers to underprivileged communities. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

10 years ago today…my life changed — why I don’t let money get in the way of life

oklahoma city

Oklahoma City Memorial

There’s been a lot of talk this week about all the American tragedies that occurred in the month of April. Events like Columbine, Oklahoma City bombing, and Virginia Tech shooting come to mind. We all remember where we were at that moment in history when we heard the news of destruction and lives lost. Now, we’ll add the Boston Marathon to the list.

During moments of national tragedy, we all pause aghast at the images we witness on television. We then grieve. Finally, we unite and rally for the victims. These events paralyze us for a few days. Newtown perhaps paralyzed America for a few weeks because so many children were lost in a senseless crime.

When I witness a tragedy like this, I am lost for words. The tears flow freely when I hear the families of victims speaking about their unthinkable loss. Their grief is often raw and palpable as they try to speak through heavy breaths. Their thoughts often rambling. It’s a moment I know all too well.

megs pixEvery tragedy makes me relive my own personal tragedy. It’s hard to believe it was ten years ago today that a senseless crime took my sister. I know how those families who lost loved ones in Boston and Newtown feel. I felt it too.

In the early morning hours, I was learning the details of what happened from my friends back in Connecticut who were watching the news. Ten years ago, there wasn’t Facebook or Twitter. News didn’t spread like it does today. When I arrived home, and pulled up to the accident site I saw a news photographer. The accident wasn’t on the scope of these national tragedies, but the accident impacted several families and the emotion rippled through two very small communities.

Unlike these national tragedies, the headlines didn’t last long. They came and went over the years as the trial ensued, but people went on with their lives in a few days. It may be hard to believe now, but soon we’ll move on from Boston. That’s the hardest part about losing someone. The families who lost loved ones will never move on. Their journey is just beginning.

megs coverMy journey through grief is ten years old today. I’ve been through a lot, and worked hard to get to this point emotionally. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Megs and all I’ve lost. The pain is too difficult to bear some days. The hole in my heart is still there. The wound has scabbed over, but some days it still bleeds. I have good days and bad days. I had many bad days after the Newtown shooting because of the senseless nature of the crime, the innocence of those children, and the bravery of those teachers. I thought of my sister who was just like those young teachers killed. She was a month away from being a teacher, and was busy interviewing for jobs in April of 2003. Then, it was all taken from her.

Salve Regina University held a memorial service soon after the accident. It was hard to walk back on campus, after cleaning out her dorm room.  She was a typical college student going about her life preparing for exams and job interviews. It was hard to see that room frozen in time knowing Megs would never return. Going back to Salve wasn’t easy until I met her students. Megs was student teaching at the time, and it was her students who taught me how to laugh again. They told funny stories about activities they did with Megs, and how they loved her hair. I’ll never forget those brave second graders standing up in front of a room full of college seniors and adults. 

megs college tennis134Those students are now graduating high school. They still remember Megs, and that means so much to my family. A few recently attended the tennis tournament held every year in honor of my sister. It’s hard to believe those little kids are graduating. For them to take time out of their busy lives to remember and honor their student teacher is more meaningful than words could ever explain. My sister didn’t get long to teach in a classroom, but it’s apparent she touched many lives in her short time.

Life is short. We need to make the most of each and every day because we never know when it will be our last. That’s hard to do with all the craziness that life throws us, but you need to find a way to do it.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

I’ve been living life to the fullest this past year. I got married in August. It was a day I dreaded since my sister was killed. How could I get married without her? I posed that question to myself many times. I did it, and I had the best person I could think of by my side walking me down the aisle. My sister’s boyfriend walked me down the aisle. He’s become a brother to me.

If only Megs’ knew how much Kevin and his family are a part of our family. I know she’s watching and cracking up at it. She pushed me from the beginning of their relationship to get to know Kevin. When she was in South Bend, she had me talk to him on the phone. When I came home to CT, she made sure we all went out together. I remember her saying to me afterward, “Isn’t he great?” He is great Megs and he’s a gift from you.

Hot air balloon ride, Queenstown, New Zealand

Hot air balloon ride, Queenstown, New Zealand

As if getting married wasn’t enough, my husband and I decided to take a trip to New Zealand. We wanted to take a second trip of a lifetime. It was exhilirating, breathtaking, and enjoyable. We did things we’ve always wanted to do. My sister and I used to chase hot air balloons with our family during festivals. So, we took a hot air balloon ride. It truly was a trip we’ll always cherish.

mickey mouse jenn megs089Why did we do this? New Zealand was definitely a bucket list trip. We did it because we believe you have to live life to the fullest. You can’t let money get in the way of life. For those of you who follow my blog, you’ve heard me say that the past few years. Growing up, we let money get in the way of life. One of my fondest memories is taking a trip to Disney World when I was in second grade.  Megs and I had a blast. I still vividly remember details of that vacation as if it were yesterday.

In college, I went to London to study for a semester and there was a lot of discussion about my mom and sister coming to visit. It didn’t happen because of money. My parents put four children through private school so I don’t fault them one bit. They had tough choices to make. I can tell you, though, that decision to not come to London was a lost memory and one I know we all wish we had.

I’m not suggesting you go spend money in a foolish fashion. After all, I spend the entire year helping you save money. This is the one time of the year I’ll remind you to take that savings you’ve created and use it for a good cause. If you’re smart with your money throughout the year, you might have a little extra. Do something with it that will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Plan something or do something spontaneous. Just a few weeks ago, I took spontaneity to a whole new level. The last time I saw my sister alive was during the semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament when Syracuse beat Texas to go on to the Championship Game. My sister drove from Newport to Syracuse in an ice storm to meet up with my friends and I. Megs was loved by all my college friends, and she loved to visit. When she was still in high school, she’d write me letters begging me to come up to visit. I found those in a box recently and they brought a smile to my face. So, she was determined to visit for the Final Four. I’m so glad she did because she was killed two weeks later.

This year, ten years later, when Syracuse was once again made it to the Final Four I knew I had to go. Plus, it was in Atlanta which is the new home of Kevin. There was simply too much symbolism to pass up the trip. For a day or so, I regretted booking the trip because I worried about money. Then I remembered why I was making the trip. It was another bucket list item. My husband told me to stop worrying about money, and I went to Atlanta and had a great time! I got lucky and found some great deals so it wasn’t even that big of an expense. My team didn’t win, but I won in the game of life!

megs and jennI’ve been creating lots of memories with my husband this year. I couldn’t think of a more perfect year. Perhaps that’s the good that’s come out of such a horrible situation. What memories are you going to create for your family this year? Do something in honor of Megs!

Related links you may like:
Don’t let money get in the way of life part 1
Don’t let money get in the way of life part 2

“There’s an app for that” wedding

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Our wedding. Destin, FL.

Last year at this time I was frantically finalizing all the details of our wedding. Flash forward a year and I’m being asked my opinion about certain wedding planning websites. Planning a wedding takes organization and patience. I carried around a journal type notebook as I went vendor to vendor to get price quotes. Apparently, I am far from a 2013 bride because “there’s an app for that.”

The wedding industry has gone mobile. It makes sense because every other industry is dealing with the rise in popularity of smartphones. A quick search on my iPhone brings up 1,999 apps so you can organize your wedding at your fingertips.

The survey was for a wedding website, and there were many questions about my use of mobile apps. Obviously, this is the next frontier of wedding planning.

Using an app never really crossed my mind. I was so overwhelmed by all the details and spreadsheets I had for addresses, RSVPs, gifts, and costs that I never thought about an app. I was in information overload and struggled to keep track of everything on a big computer screen. Perhaps if I had a tablet it would make more sense.

wedding websiteIn fact, I didn’t even use the website tools that many sites provide to organize items like your budget and checklist reminders. I simply used the websites to search for reviews of vendors and to create a website for our guests. I kept my checklists on Word documents and my figures on Excel documents. Nice and simple. Just like the wedding.

Plus, while I was meeting with vendors I often looked on my phone for other suggestions or answered phone calls. Since I had a destination wedding, I was juggling many appointments that were crammed into my three day visit to the town before the wedding. I needed my phone for other things. I couldn’t use it to take notes on an app. My handy paper journal worked just great.

While an app wasn’t a part of my wedding plan, it’s something to consider especially as these apps advance and become more sophisticated and user friendly. It might make your life easier. Most brides are looking to cut down on the stress.  That help may be within reach. After all, there’s an app for that. 

Too late to give J.C. Penney a second chance?

J.C. Penney logo

Courtesy: jcpenney

When was the last time you visited the J.C. Penney Company? I couldn’t even remember the last time until I stumbled in recently for my own research purposes. The department store has topped the headlines recently for its changes and lackluster performance.  If you’re like me and thought the store didn’t sell clothing you’d like, I encourage you to think again. I was shocked at the money-saving offers inside.

The news hasn’t been good for the struggling retailer for quite some time. The company’s adjusted net loss for the fourth quarter was $427 million or $1.95 per share. Those are far better numbers than the dismal year end statistics. For the year, jcpenney reported an adjusted net loss of $766 million or $3.49 per share.

Ron Johnson, chief executive officer of jcpenney said, “Sales and customer traffic were below our expectations in 2012, but as we execute our ambitious transformation plan, we are pleased with the great strides we made to improve jcpenney’s cost structure, technology platforms and the overall customer experience.”

He went on to talk about the changes for 2013.

“Combining a new marketing campaign focused on style and value, incredible new brands and updated merchandise, with continued enhancements to the customer experience both in our stores and on jcp.com, we are working towards reconnecting with our core customer while attracting new customers to jcpenney.”

Joe Fresh

Courtesy: jcpenney

The company’s marquee fashion line this spring includes Joe Fresh. The store touts it as “highly anticipated.”

Whether you know the Canadian apparel brand or not, you should give the store a fresh look. I was shocked by the low prices on a recent visit. I wasn’t there to browse the racks for clothing for myself, but I couldn’t help but take a second look because of the low prices. I bought a long sleeve workout shirt for less than $10. These shirts typically retail for $20-30. Even at Marshalls or T.J.Maxx you’ll pay $20.

The store has a unique approach to checking out with centralized registers in a kiosk in the middle of several sections and near the doors. It’s easy to find, and not hidden in a department like many department stores. The cashiers scan your item and payment method on a mobile device.

More changes are expected throughout this year, with The Associated Press reporting changes to some home departments as early as this Friday. The article said half the stores will have several boutiques within the home department that will feature an array of products. This will create a store within a store shopping experience.

The last straw for some shoppers was the flip flopping on sales and coupons. While all the changes have turned many customers away including loyal shoppers, it may be worth giving the store a second chance. Ok, maybe it’s a third and a fourth chance when you consider all the changes.

No doubt consistency is important to shoppers. People want to know what to expect every time they walk into a store. I don’t like surprises in store policy or procedure. Consistency keeps me coming back. I think it will take a long time for jcpenney to regain customer trust and confidence due to all the changes, and it may never happen.

While it may take some time before the store is back on solid ground,  I suggest you give the store another chance if your bottom line is important to you. Go in knowing your prices so you’re not caught up in the ever-changing pricing and sale structure. Just browse around. You may be surprised at the low prices you find especially at this time of year when the clearance racks are full.

Until a few weeks ago, the store wasn’t even on my radar. It hadn’t been in at least a decade. I always drove past it at the mall. I never thought about it. I don’t think I’ll shop there for all my clothing, but I might just add it to my list of places to check for cheap workout clothes especially if I’m in a bargain hunting kind of mood. You might want to act fast, because it’s unclear if the store and these bargains will survive. To do that, many opinions needs to change.  

Google Reader shutting down – alternatives to try before July

Google ReaderGoogle Reader is disappearing this summer, so it’s time to start experimenting with other RSS readers. These aggregators are a great way to customize a news feed. While switching to a new provider may sound like a headache, it’s really not that difficult.

Google says it’s getting rid of its reader program because usage declined. The company is putting all its energy into a few products so it can make the user experience better for the remaining programs.

While you have until July 1 to make the switch, many people are not waiting. More than 500,000 Google Reader users switched to Feedly, which is also the product that I chose.

feedly

You simply allow Feedly access to your Google Reader account like you would any other app on Facebook. It takes just seconds to import your files.

I think this process is easier than exporting your information on Google Takeout. I tried this as well, and it creates a zip file with your contacts and feed information. However, I’m not sure how you import this into Feedly at this point. I’m not a computer whiz, so I opted to let Feedly do the accessing and work for me.

Feedly is all about enhancing the user experience. The company added new servers and created 10x more bandwidth to deal with the influx of users. Also, the company wants to hear about your experience on the new site and new releases will be pushed out weekly. It looks like this is one company hoping to capitalize on another one that’s fading away.

feedly picturesYou can select  how you want to view your content. You can do it in a list format or with pictures.

Of course, Feedly is not the only option for former Google Reader users. It depends on what you are looking for as some options are only available in a mobile format. Let me know what you choose and your experience as Google Reader users being looking for other options.