My virtual mailbag is turning up questions and situations that I doubt are exclusive to only the writers. We all face the same kinds of problems and situations, so I hope that these few letters I answer today will have far-reaching answers and solutions for many of you. Or at least give you some entertainment!
Dear Cheapskate: What do you think about Groupon and similar coupon plans? The deals are often very good, but they generally are not for items that I have planned to purchase. They seem to encourage unplanned spending, but perhaps they can be used prudently? — Melissa
Dear Mary: This is my opinion on Groupon: This company flat-out preys on weak people who are prone to react impulsively, tricking them into buying stuff because it looks like such a great deal, not because they really need to eat out at a fancy restaurant, hire four hours of maid service or have an exquisite family portrait taken at the beach.
Groupon and other similar social networking coupon companies that load your email box with daily offers of everything from spa treatments to knitting lessons are clever, albeit somewhat devious.
Do not ask me how I have become so knowledgeable on how this Groupon thing works, and how it’s impossible to have a normal relationship with Groupon. Just don’t. And believe me when I tell you that the only way to deal with this monster known as Groupon is to unsubscribe.
Dear Mary: We are retirees with a retirement account at a major financial services company. We have IRAs and Roth IRAs. These money market accounts and mutual funds were originally sold to us about 10 years ago on a “no fee for life” basis. This quarter, the company charged us a custodial fee on three accounts. We invested in these because they were “free for life” and we’ve never been charged a fee in the past. When we called to inquire, they said they changed the minimum requirement.
Is there a way we can extricate ourselves without incurring more fees? We no longer have a financial advisor because our original advisor, the one who advised us to purchase these products, retired. — Marcia
Dear Marcia: I am so sorry to hear this. Before you do anything, you need to consult with a professional who can look at your accounts and advise you so that you do not suffer unintended consequences. I am not that person. I can tell you that whenever you deal with tax-advantaged money (IRAs for example), you risk triggering a taxable event otherwise known as expensive unintended consequences.
Regarding banking and investing, the days of the free lunch are over. Banks charge fees for everything, so we must adjust our expectations and get used to a new normal.
Your letter indicated that you were charged a custodial fee of 1.1 percent. I do find that to be quite reasonable. If I were you, I would call and ask Customer Service to connect you with an adviser who can look at your account and answer a few questions. Given the fact that you are retired now and will be counting on these funds in the future, this is not a good time to “go it alone.”
Dear Mary: I have a problem with birds in my yard. They perch on my deck railings and leave droppings all over the place. It’s a big mess to clean up, and very unhealthy. How can I deter birds from perching on my deck railings? Lori
Dear Lori: I feel your pain. We’ve dealt with problematic pigeons at the Hunt house in the past, and nothing — not even the installation of little spikey things where they love to sit — could send them away until they were good and ready to leave. They just figured out how to make themselves at home by settling in between the spikes.
I have no idea if you are dealing with starlings or blackbirds, or some other feathered friend. I dare not suggest that you lace peanut butter with something toxic so they just fly away to die. My mailbox could not withstand the barrage of anger generated by that kind of sure remedy. (It’s a joke, people.) So, of course, I will not do that.
Instead, I suggest you look to technology. Many people with similar bird problems report that the Bird-X Balcony Guard Ultrasonic Bird Repeller does work and will give you back your deck. You plug this little box in, and it emits a piercing sound that only birds can hear. It takes a little time for the birds to become sufficiently annoyed actually to leave, but given enough time, they will.
Reviews on the product are mixed, but my readers with similar issues to yours tell me that patience is the key. You won’t get great results overnight, so plan for the long haul. You can get this gizmo from Amazon for about $35, which I can imagine will be money well spent.
Do you have a question for me? You can land it in my virtual mailbag when you follow the guidelines at EverydayCheapskate.com/contact.