Pick Up the Phone and Call

Pick Up the Phone and Call

The Power of Human Interaction

Before my first semester of college I was dealing with all the paperwork and details of my HOPE scholarship that would pay for the bulk of my tuition. HOPE is the state-run program that gives scholarships to students who stay in-state for college. As with most large programs, there was a lot of bureaucracy to be taken care of. Two days before it was time to start enrolling for courses for the semester I received a notice from the college that my bill for the upcoming had not been paid. After many hours of phone calls I realized that there was an issue with releasing the funds from my scholarship to the school and I needed to fill out YET ANOTHER form to make this happen. I realized hat there was no way this would be processed before my bill to the school was due and I therefore wouldn’t be able to enroll in the classes that I wanted to enroll in.

What did I do?

I drove to the school, walked into the Bursar’s office and explained the situation: I was approved for the HOPE scholarship but the money wouldn’t be released for a few days, at least. I walked out with a deferred payment date and a way to enroll in my classes even without my tuition bill not paid. While discussion my situation with the nice man in the Bursar’s office he mentioned, “It’s so great that you came in and spoke to us about this problem. So few students do that”.

My life experince has taught me that so few people are aware of the resources available to them and aren’t even aware that they can find out whether resources are available to them. Maybe it is cluelessness? Maybe it is a distrust in authority? Maybe its a feeling of hopelessness based on life experience, before they even try? Maybe its a feeling of embarrassment that keeps them from asking?

I have realized that very often, those who ask do receive. Even if they don’t receive the outcome they want, they receive information they need. At worst, they can often encounter a human being who can use some discretion to help them out of a pickle. The problem is that so few people ask!

This is why I often give this advice: Pick up the phone and call.

Stop in the office and ask to speak to someone.

Many companies and offices have online chats, emails, and online forms for you to fill out if you encounter difficulty. These can be great sometimes and very easy but if these don’t work then you have not run out of options. There are still people who can answer a phone, or who work in an office that can help you in a way that an internet bot cannot. Don’t underestimate the power or discretion that a human being can apply.

Whether it is a tuition bill that needs to be paid, a medical bill that seems insurmountable, a credit card application being denied, a utility that will be shut off, a government benefit that should be given to you but isn’t. Pick up the phone and call.

This isn’t a magic solution that will cure all your ills. No credit card company will automatically forgive all your debt even if you call and explain your situation. But they can, and sometimes do, offer you a bit of grace or a little help in getting things figured out.

Don’t be afraid of getting turned down or rejected. It might happen but you won’t be worse off. You will still be in the same situation- just this time knowing that you exhausted all your options.

5 Tips to get the most out of a phone call:

1. Be Honest but Don’t Overshare. Honesty is good and you definitely shouldn’t;t lie. But don’t share your whole life story or give too many details. People often get bogged down with the details and don’t emphasize the important facts.

  1. Be Polite. Remember, the person on the other end of the line is human and being nice to them will only help you, even if they are not being nice back.
  2. Ask to Clarify. If you don’t understand something don’t pretend that you do. Ask. Ask again. If there is a word you don’t understand- let them know. Repeat back what they said so you can be sure you understood it.
  3. Ask for Confirmation in Writing, if possible. Get the person’s name and ask them to either email you a confirmation or a transcript of your conversation. Alternatively, you can even ask them for an email address so you can confirm with them what you discussed in writing. Some companies may be reluctant to do this.
  4. Ask for Something Specific. Be clear in what exactly you are asking for. Are you asking for an extension? Are you asking to know your options? Are you clarifying something? The clearer and more specific you are- the more you can be helped.

5 Tips Pinterest Image

The Liars and Dirty, Dirty Cheats of The World

There are some companies that will flat out lie to you and attempt to device you. There is not much you can do to if a company is determined to lie or cheat. Here are some options if you have been treated wrongly by a company or institution:

  1. Report to the BBB. The Better Business Bureau keeps track of complaints made by consumers about a company. Filing a report will probably accomplish nothing but it will help have something in writing.
  2. Record if you can. One party consent recordings may not be admissible in a court of law in many states but it can be helpful to have recording of the conversation regardless. You can also inform them that you are recording the conversation which may also help them be inspired to stick to the truth.
  3. Make notes. After each phone call and email interaction take notes about what happened. Try to include as many relevant details as you can such as: time, date, name of person, contents of conversation etc.
  4. Make a Stink on Social Media. Many companies are more reactive on social media (especially Twitter) as the reach is so incredibly vast. This can also help you get in touch with others who may have had the same issue and can give advice on how to handle the situation.
  5. Hire Legal Counsel. If it’s really worth a lot money, time, and hassle to you and you have exhausted all your other options: then it’s time to turn to the professionals. See if you can find a lawyer who can help you navigate the situation.

Good luck!

Budgeting and Culture

Our Money Choices

How Culture Affects our Budgeting

Religion and culture and our Social Circles (I am going to use these interchangeably- I know they are different!) affect every part of our lives. What we do, what we wear, how we live, the decisions we make, and especially what we spend our money on. Culture defines what is important to us. To be able to discuss personal finance we have to understand how our cultures defines our choices.

Importance of our Culture in our Lives

Humans crave connection. Everyone wants to be part of some sort of social group. Everyone wants to belong somewhere and to somebody. We need a social group. These groups are often based on different things: our religion, our location, our stage in life, our family, our ideologies, our work etc. Even people who embrace “alternative lifestyles” often do so in a group. They find other people who see life the same way as them and connect with them, creating their own social group. Each social group comes with their own set of expectations, norms, traditions, and practices. All those make a difference to what we consider IMPORTANT.

Any discussion of personal finance, budgeting and money has to include the understanding of what is IMPORTANT. A pretty basic rule that most agree on is : Spend money you have on things that are important and don’t waste money on things that are not. Pretty simple, right? Well, who decides what is important and what it not? Why is one thing important and one thing not?

There are some things that are pretty universal: Food, Water, Shelter, Medical Care. These are considered pretty basic needs. I think most of us are pretty lucky that these are not things that we are grappling with (besides for the medical care! Its a fortune but we all agree that we have to spend the money). Its everything else that gets more complicated.

So what is IMPORTANT?

The answer is: I can’t tell you. No one can tell you. Only you know what is important and what is not.

No More Gifts!

This is why I came to this moment of clarity and introspection:

I am Jewish and I sent my kids to Jewish schools. I always celebrated Hanukkah with latkes, doughnuts, games of dreidels and a gift. In the community (social group whatever you want to call it) where I grew up and where now raise my kids, most kids receive a gift for Hanukkah. That’s right: A GIFT. One gift. It was a nice gift- maybe a bike, a fun toy, a small piece of jewelry. My parents would wake up early on Black Friday and we would usually get something nice. I remember when Razor Scooters were all the rage and my sister, brother and I all got one for Hanukkah that year thanks to a Walmart 5 am visit from my mother.

This year, I managed with some referral credits and a coupon to get a building toy and a set of walkies-talkies for my boys for a total of $10 (from Zulily- if you want to sign up, message me and I’ll me you a referral code). That’s it for me- Hanukkah gift shopping done! I was feeling proud of myself- and I started down the rabbit hole of being slightly holier-than-thou. After all, I can get my kids 2 gifts for under $10. Why do all these people stress out about giving gifts for the Holidays? I only give my kids and I don’t get them a lot. One toy each is more than enough. Think of the MATERALIASM. All kids want is LOVE. Stand up to consumerism and stop SPENDING MONEY YOU DON’T HAVE. Sounds great, right? Nice soapbox I built myself there.

And super insufferable, especially considering that the I am not breaking the mold with my holiday giving. I am giving what is socially acceptable in my circles. My kids will not be going to school and hearing that other kids got more than the. They will be receiving pretty much the same as most kids in their class, most kids that they hang out with. I am not going to be showing up empty-handed to a place where I am expected to bring something. And most crucially, I AM NOT GIVING UP SOMETHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO ME.

What is Important to you?

For many people, holiday gift giving is IMPORTANT to them. Its what they know, its what they do, its what is socially acceptable in their situations. If it is important to THEM, then it doesn’t really matter if its important to ME.

There are other things that are important to me that I am sure other people would laugh at. We just spend a nice amount of money on the Four Species for Sukkot. That may seem like a laughable waste of money to most of you reading this. To me, its as important as anything else and I would go into debt (if I had to) for that.

Don’t Throw out the Baby with the Bathwater

When reading and learning about Personal Finance and Budgeting- remember that not everyone has the same worldview as you. Not everything that is Important to you is as important to them. So of course they don’t get it. Of course they don’t understand. And yes, there may be some things that you can “take a stand on” but its easier said than done. Most people, myself included, can’t go against everyone we know and do things so drastically differently from what our culture dictates. (I think you will find that those who do are often part of a culture or sub-cultures that encourages doing differently, so in fact they are not really doing differently. They are just acting in accordance to what their culture prizes or values).

Please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t disregards advice from people who value different things than you, who think that different things are important. There are many great people giving great advice- as long as you tailor it to your specific circumstances.

So whether its holiday gifts, religious items, private school, Quinceaneras, Bar Mitzvahs, and anything else I can’t even think of:

Spend money on what is IMPORTANT and don’t waste money on what is NOT IMPORTANT… to YOU!