Mistakes, And Recovering From Them

Oops!Imagine my surprise a few nights ago when I tried to use my debit card at a Double Pizza outlet downtown but the little device declared not once, not twice, but thrice that there were “insufficient funds” in my account to cover a measly 7 dollar purchase.

According to the “Cash Flow” tab in my fancy dandy budget, there should always be extra money sitting in my account because of the amounts I set aside every paycheque. What’s more, I have a $700 overdraft on my account, so it takes a lot to crash through the bottom. Either Double Pizza’s direct-debit device was defective or something fraudulant happened in my account.

After my third attempt, I looked dejectedly at the pizza and fries on the counter and told the guy at the cash, “It looks like that food is going to go to waste.” But much to my surprise he said, “No, no, no, go ahead and eat, and come back later to pay me.” I frankly couldn’t believe that such trust could exist today in a big city — or anywhere, for that matter — but I suppose I don’t look like the kind of guy who would deliberately try to pull a fast one.

So, I ate and immediately trekked east on Sainte-Catherine to find the nearest branch of my bank with a banking machine. First, I inquired on the balance in my account and got that sinking feeling when I saw that it was indeed in the red by more than $700. Next, wanting to do good by the guy at Double Pizza, I withdrew $20 from my line of credit, walked back to pay him, and took the métro back home so that I could immediately sign into my online banking to find out what the heck was going on.

It turns out my building’s super made the first mistake. She made two deposits for February’s rent. For her first deposit, she forgot to change the date on her stamp, so the date appearing on the back of the cheques for that batch was January 4. In that batch she mistakenly included my post-dated cheque for March’s rent. Then for her second deposit, which she correctly dated with a February date, she included my February rent cheque. Once in the system, though, there are no further checks; there is no system to verify the value date on cheques, so both my February and March rent cleared my account on February 3.

Fortunately, because of the funds in my account on that date plus my overdraft, the second rent cheque didn’t bounce. That’s good, because I learned later that the fee nowadays for a NSF cheque is $42.50. However, there’s a $5 fee for going into overdraft plus so many cents’ interest for each day I’m in overdraft. While we’re only talking about $7 and some change, I argued that, on principle, I shouldn’t have to pay that fee because I didn’t deliberately go into overdraft. My bank, which is also my employer, readily agreed and immediately reimbursed me.

But seeing my account in negative territory forced me to look again at my budgeting workbook. Indeed, this incident had the effect of putting me back to zero — of starting on a clean slate. Plus you’ll recall that I had an uneasy feeling about my workbook because it looked like it worked but I couldn’t understand how and why. It’s only after spending nearly two hours studying every little formula throughout the workbook that I finally found MY mistake: in one spot, I was effectively counting the same amount twice! I thought about how my dear Cleopatrick would have a good laugh about that, seeing that I once “accused” him of double-counting, and here I was doing the same thing!

I would have had nearly $400 sitting around for later use if it hadn’t been for my mistake, meaning I still would have gone in overdraft but I wouldn’t have busted through the floor. In other words, I still would have had to make the argument that I shouldn’t have to pay overdraft fees, but I wouldn’t have had that moment of panic at Double Pizza. Plus I probably only would have discovered my super’s mistake this weekend.

Bottom line — pardon the pun — I fixed my workbook, transferred funds from my line of credit to create the savings I thought I had, and rejigged my expenses for February so that I’ll be on a tighter (but workable) budget than usual for the next two weeks. That’s no biggie because I’m not much in the mood for going out and doing much in the middle of February. Plus my March rent has been paid a full month ahead of time. So maybe my super’s mistake was a good thing in the end, as it finally made glaringly obvious my own mistake and I can now have full confidence in my masterful workbook.

I would love it if the old man who owns the building could be convinced of having us on pre-authorized debits. Mistakes can happen with those, too, but not as much if someone knowledgeable were to handle them. Ahem! Unfortunately, the old man doesn’t deal with the bank where I work.

Wondering… Too Good To Be True?

I went to bed shortly before midnight last night, dead tired and prepared to sleep at least 8 hours. However, shortly before 1:00 am, a loud THUD resounded from upstairs (i.e., where the Family-From-Hell resides) and woke me up. I swear they throw bowling balls on the floor up there! The end result, though, is that I couldn’t fall back to sleep, and I’ve found that if I can’t fall back to sleep after a half-hour of tossing and turning, it’s better to get up for a little while and then go back to bed.

Thus I found myself watching a bit of TV, including an infomercial on The Magic Jack, a VoIP device that costs a fraction of what I pay every year for phone service from Bell. It sounds almost too good to be true! From what I gather, given that I already get my Internet service from the local cable company, I could have a slightly more expensive variation of this thing and not have a computer turned on all the time in order for it to work. Obviously, recalling that I know of someone locally who got this gizmo a while back and being extra budget-conscious (obsessed?) lately, I couldn’t help but want to look more deeply into this possibility.

Bell pissed me off again recently, which is something it seemed particularly gifted at doing. I mean, at the best of times, Bell annoys me by wasting so much paper with at least one promotional letter per month plus sending me an envelope to pay my bill even though I’ve been on pre-authorized debit for at least a year. I was all happy with myself back in November when I found a way of saving over $10/month on phone services I didn’t use. However, this month Bell increased the cost of my long-distance plan by $5/month, so coupled with its $2/month basic fee increase and the Québec government’s 1 percent increase on the sales tax, my monthly savings have shrunk to less than $3/month. When I figured this out, I tried to look on the bright side and thought to myself, “Well, if I hadn’t asked for the useless services to be removed, I would be at well over $100/month by now.” Except this product has now come back to my attention, and I figure that not only could I reduce my phone budget by nearly 90% per year, but I could finally stick it to Bell.

I would obviously lose my current “514” phone number in order to get another one, but I’m not as attached to it as I was to my “902” number in Nova Scotia, which I held for some 15 years. But the thought of redirecting ≈ $900 per year on debt or savings or vacation money has the ol’ wheels in my head turning. And I’m sure my financial hero Gail would agree that every little bit counts.