Protecting Your Dungeon

Have you heard the good news? Its supposed to rain…like h*** this weekend…with the possibility of “changing over.”  I hope our weathermen are weatherguessers on this one. I quickly learned from our last “snow storm” (i.e. irrelevant dusting) that the grocery stores go through an apocalyptic supply drainage with the impending doom of “snow.”

Where's the leak!?

Whatever happens….precipitation is inevitable this weekend (just in time for my move!). If you’re basement isn’t sealed tight…you are going to find yourself with a soggy dungeon. Damp basements can cause a lot of damage over time. They become a Petri dish for mold growth. They can also quickly depreciate the value of your home.

CNNMoney.com (thank you Josh Garskof) had this article about how to protect your $ by protecting your basement.

Start outside. If you notice recurring dampness or puddles in a particular part of your basement, head outdoors. Walk along your house to the spot closest to where the leak is occurring. Look up. Chances are the problem is one of three things: a bent, clogged or missing gutter that’s dropping roof runoff near the foundation; a down-spout that’s releasing its load too close to the house; or an underground collection pipe that has become clogged or broken. A handyman can fix any of these problems for as little as $200 by, for example, replacing the gutter or adding an aboveground discharge pipe that extends at least three feet from the house.

Cover the windows. Is your leak under a basement window? Blame the “well” – the exterior dugout that permits the window to sit below grade. It’s funneling rainwater against the foundation, where the water is finding a crack or seam to get in. The easiest fix is a clear plastic well cover (cost: $35 to $45 at home centers) that keeps the water out but lets the sun shine through. If you can’t find the right size or shape at the store, go to windowbubble.com.

Plug cracks and holes. Watch for water entering through seams between concrete blocks, cracks in old concrete or holes where pipes penetrate the foundation. If you find such gaps, fill them with hydraulic cement (cost: $10 for a 10-pound container – probably more than enough – at any hardware store). Just mix water with this powder to get the consistency of toothpaste and press as much of it as you can into the opening after you brush out any loose debris. It will harden into a watertight seam.

Seal damp walls. Sometimes water seeps right through the pores of a foundation wall or floor, leaving a telltale white powder behind when it dries. Sure, you could fix the problem by having the exterior of your foundation waterproofed, but that would mean excavating the yard – and paying $5,000 to $15,000. Treat the interior surface instead by painting on Xypex, a professional-grade brush-on sealant (cost: about $130 for enough to cover one wall). It’s not available at home stores, but you can get it by calling 800-363-2002.

Dry the air. Even if you don’t have any leaks, high humidity is all that mold needs to take root on organic materials such as wood, wallboard and even dust. So if your basement air smells musty, pick up the largest Energy Star-rated, digitally controlled dehumidifier you can find (cost: about $300). Forget about the built-in collection bucket – there’s no way you’ll empty it every day – and instead use a plastic hose to discharge the water into a utility sink or floor drain. John Lombardi, a basement waterproofer in Silverton, Ore., advises setting the controls to 50% humidity, which is too dry for mold.

Bring in the big guns. If you’re getting full-scale floods or see water entering between the wall and the floor, call a basement waterproofing company. Go to the website of the National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractors (nawsrc.org), find a few local companies and ask for a free assessment. They will probably recommend a sump pump, an in-floor machine that removes water under your cellar and costs about $2,000 installed. (Aboveground pumps are meant for emergencies, not long-term use.) The best units have a second pump for extreme rainstorms and a battery-operated third in case of a power outage.

The company may also recommend adding an in-floor gutter (cost: $3,000 to $5,000) around the perimeter of your basement floor to collect water and deliver it to the pump. Make sure that the firm you choose provides a warranty that your basement will remain dry for the life of the building. You’ll never be afraid to head downstairs again

 

*************************

Reporter Max Wintz is out at Camp Lejune today where Obama is speaking. They left here around 3:30am to secure their spot. They will be accepting coffee donations when they return this afternoon. We’ll have that tonight.

Getting “Slammed”

I received a phone call this morning from a man in Rocky Point concerned about a phone scam. He says a bill has started showing up in his AT&T bill from a company called USBI. AT&T gives them FREE long distance…but USBI was charging them FOR long distance. Huh?

If you type in USBI into a Google search…you’ll see a long list of “scam” complaints.

So whats going on? I made some calls…..

USBI is a “third party long distance phone service bill consolidator”…that means….the big service carriers..AT&T, Quest, etc….the government wont allow them to dominate the phone lines…they have to agree to allow small independent companies to compete. Those small companies…like Consumer Telecom…they all work under USBI who sends out their bills to consumers.

The person I spoke with at USBI actually played me the telephone conversation that their representative had with this mans mother…who AUTHORIZED the change. The sales pitch was fast, slick and somewhat confusing…but in the end…she said “Yes.” That negates the “scam” complaint. If you agree to something……well…..you agreed. They have the recorded conversation to prove it.

But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes these changes in your long distance provider can occur WITHOUT you knowning…its called “slamming.”

Slamming is when you DONT give permission. Here’s more from the FCC:
 

What Can I Do If I’ve Been Slammed?

If your telephone company has been changed without your permission:

  • If you choose to call the slamming company to request that the problem be fixed, and you have not yet paid, tell the slamming company that you will not pay for the first 30 days of service.
  • Call your authorized company (local or long distance) to inform them of the slam. Tell them that you want to be reinstated to the same calling plan you had before the slam. Tell them that you want all “change of carrier charges” (charges for switching companies) removed from your bill.
  • File a complaint with the appropriate government agency.
  • North Carolina
  • North Carolina Utilities Commission

    Consumer Services Division, Slamming Section
    Public Staff
    4326 Mail Service Center
    Raleigh NC 27699-4326
    (919) 733-9277
    (919) 733-4744 fax

    e-mail:
    none

    On-Line Complaint Form or Consumer Information:
    Slamming Complaint Process

    Documentation Needed:
    No fee. Must supply name on account, telephone numbers involved, name of unauthorized and preferred carriers, name of LEC, copy of pages of telephone bill containing unauthorized charge.

If you still have questions:

Contact the FCC’s Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (voice) or 1-888-TELL-FCC (TTY).

And please everyone…be careful what you agree to over the phone…if the sales person is talking fast…if you have questions…if it FEELS wierd….ASK those question…ask for more time to make a decision. ASK FOR DOCUMENTATION. Slick phone sales callers will capitalize on your wanting to get off the phone (and get rid of THEM) by trying to get you to say ‘yes, yes, yes, goodbye’…..you saved time….but you just bought yourself more trouble.

Here’s another little nugge:

All the big phone providers like AT&T KNOW abou these providers and they make money off the arragement…thats what the folks at Consumer Telecom told me. If you have a “bundle” package with a big provider and suddenly agree for someone else to take over your long distance….the big provider will break up your bundle and start charging you separately (and at a higher rate) for each service.

 

  •  

Red Ink

First…here is a link to the full report: Red Ink.

Gary Wagner, the report’s co-author told me simply…”there’s an incentive there to issue tickets, apart from public safety.” He said if there wasn’t an incentive…than the relationship depicted by the graph wouldn’t exist. 

Ticket Date from NC

 

Wagner said the data came back with 95% certainty. 

The average across all counties in North Carolina was 11 tickets per 100 residents. He said Bladen and Sampson counties issued more tickets than the state average….about 15 per one hundred NC residents. Onslow county had a below average rate and New Hanover county was just about average.

 

When I met with Chief Evangelous…he was clearly not to pleased with the report. In his defense…its never enjoyable to hear that someone…outside of your department or industry (i.e. a researcher) is making an unfavorable claim against your work. Police officers have been criticized about quotas and unscrupulous ticket writting…for as long as tickets…have been written. The issue of quotas has surfaced in cities across America and often generates significant backlash…I’m not sure if the arguement has ever arisen here.

 

Here are some quotes from the Chief that I think you might like to see:

 

“The county does not dictate how we operate…we are a separate entitiy. We are the city. We dont get any revenue from any enforcement we do. NONE. So I dont know where he’s getting this hypothesis from. He might want to go back to the drawing board.”

 

“We dont have quotas. We dont tell our officers to write tickets or not write tickets. What we tell them to do is take enforcement action to reduce deaths, reduce injury accidents, to reduce overall accidents within the city.”

 

He was heated…but I understand why.

 

After that I headed right over the the Sheriff’s Department. I met with Deputy Charles Smith and First Deputy Ed McMahon. I have to say…considering the controversial nature of the topic….this was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve had! McMahon and Smith gave me some recent numbers and we talked at length about what could really be happening to generate these results. Here is more from that conversation with McMahon:

 

“Its almost offensive to me that our job is to protect and serve and to help the citizens. For someone to be out there indicating that we here in this county would…be trying to take advantage of citizens who are already in trouble financially…so that we could have more money…it is so offensive to me. We dont do it. We never have and we never will.”

 

I picked up the research where the study left off. From 2003 until 2008…when the economy has been at its worst. I posted those results at the end of the story…but here is a breakdown:

 

 

NEW HANOVER SHERIFF’S OFFICE

 

Citations Issued 2003                                                    5484

Citations Issued 2004                                                     4,883

Citations Issued 2005                                                     5,227

Citations Issued 2006                                                    7,595                     Citations Issued 2007                                                    7,301                     Citations Issued 2008                                                     8,381 – 4 Additional Deputies

 

On another note: per month…since July…there tickets have been declining.

 

 

Wilmington Police Department                                 

 

2003       19,383                                                                                  

2004       22,327                                                                                  

2005       19,607                                                                                  

2006       19,945                                                                                  

2007       17,282                                                                                  

2008       16,874                                                                                 

 

 

 

Their numbers have actually been going down.

 

 

Data for all NC counties

Data for all NC counties

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Outside of the TV Box

I’m probably not the only one who feels like being able to afford cable right now seems like a luxury. Affording cable in Wilmington seems to be even more of a luxury…I constantly hear gripes about Time Warner here.

There was an article in the New York Times Magazine about a month ago about Hulu…an online service that can help you cut your cable bill (or..get rid of it). The topic surfaced again on MSN’s Smart Spending Blog.

Allow me to introduce you. Thrifty watchers…meet Hulu.

 

The website delivers TV shows and movies from NBC, Fox and other studios.  Your trivia for the day…”Hulu” is Mandarin…a proverb that means “holder of precious things.” When you win big on Jeopardy…you can thank me now.

 

Personally, I really dont like watching TV and movies on my laptop. I spend enough time in front of my computer as it is. BUT…I also like to save money…now more than ever. Web providers like Hulu can at least give you a temporary way to save some $$. Lately I’ve been using Hulu to watch my favorite horror movie…news updates on the stock market. I follow that with some mind-numbing reality show and then its off to bed….

 

For the more cerebral among us…this is another great online find….much better than any show on the airwaves…..TED.

“Great talks” from some of the world’s best speakers. Bill Gates to “biochemist turned Buddhist monk” Matthieu Ricard.

Learn something…save cash…enjoy.

 

Tonight at 11pm I have my report on “Red Ink Tickets.” Here’s the gist: two researchers studied 14 years of traffic ticket data from every county in North Carolina. Their results: when local economies experience a downturn…the number of tickets being written goes up. They give an explaination as to why……..

I interviewed officials at both the Sheriff’s office and the WPD. I also picked up the work of the researchers from where they left off….their last year of data collection was in 2003. I asked both departments to give me their numbers since then….when the economy has really been sinking….what I found was that……..

……………you will have to watch at 11……………………….

As The Cookie Crumbles….

Some industries can be considered “recession proof” like health care, education…and funeral homes. I would also have considered the cookie sales for Girl Scouts of America to be another….

Why?

Because no one EVER buys just one box…and no one EVER eats just one cookie. Tag-a-Longs were meant to be eated in series of three….series of five if you’ve just broken up with your significant other….and entire rows if it was his fault. And its always his fault…

But Girl Scouts of America are seeing their sales crumbling (yuck, yuck) says USA Today: Cookie Sales Crumble.

They manufacturers are also downsizing…the report says that the number and size of the cookies inside each package have dropped.

I was a little surprised to see this….considering the powerful guerilla marketing techniques utilized by these little ladies….I cant recall many trips to the grocery store where they have not been out in force. Perhaps its time to bring down that price Scouts? When yours truly was selling Samoas…I think each box was $1.99? Inflation!

Good luck ladies. New Years Resolutions should be wearing off just about….now….so here’s wishing you a spike in sales!

Gavin Johnson is reporting live today from St. Mark’s Catholic Church on Eastwood Road. There was a memorial yesterday that had Eastwood backed up all the way to Market. The WPD…and the community…are showing an incredible outpour of support to the family and force. Today, we thank and remember you, Officer Richard Matthews.

More later….

Tax Help

The looming responsibility of having to do my taxes this weekend is my muse for this entry today. Actually…I LOVE doing my taxes. I really enjoy that return. Now…I realize that I”m getting the return because I am “loaning” the government TOO MUCH money and they are so kindly handing it back. You’d think after years of business school that I would know how to adjust my deductions to get more out of my pay check….

Then again, there were a lot of things I anticipated getting out of my college education that never really happened…like a huge salary and six weeks vacation. One can dream….

I religiously use H&R Block. Not to plug the company too much…but I choose MOST services based on how quickly I can get a HUMAN on the phone. I never had much trouble with H & R.

Here are some other free tax services that you can use online:

Turbo Tax

* For people with adjusted gross incomes of $30K or less.

*Filing in North Carolina is free. If you’ve moved recently and have a return in another state, its $9.95 to add a state.

*Adding another state return costs $24.95.
* Additional states are $12.95.
*Be prepared to see advertisements to upgrade to their paid services. Their not overly irritating…but present.
*Uses an interview-like format
*Adding a state return will cost an extra $9.95.
For those of you who would prefer more human interaction….volunteers are out and about in Wilmington to help you work through the paperwork. Here is a link: Local Tax Help
They’ll be lending a hand until April 15th. Please note…they shut the door when they get 80 to 100 people through the door. On the day that I stopped by to check it out…at about 10:30 am they had already hit capacity. So if you go…go early.
They also had snacks….and a ping pong table….currently no online services are offering such….
Happy Friday everyone. If any of the links dont work, please let me know.

15 Things To NEVER Buy

From:  Prime Time Money

1.       Your Credit Report – You’re credit report is available for free right now from http://annualcreditreport.com. Don’t be fooled by the other websites. Just go to annualcreditreport.com and get your free credit report every 12 months. You can get 1 free report from each of the 3 reporting agencies every 12 months. (Casey: Please DO NOT use “FreeCreditReport.com”….the fees start soon after that free report lands in your inbox…getting out of that agreement makes it NOT WORTH IT)

2.       Banking Services– Never, ever, pay bank fees for a regular account. Just say no. Sign up for their free account. Switch banks if you have to. Just don’t pay any fees to bank. It’s not necessary anymore. And do your best to never pay for another checkbook again. Pay as many bills as you can using free bill-pay services. When you do run out of checks, make nice with your local bank branch manager and ask him about getting a free refill. You guys know I love the free banking with FNBO Direct and ING DIRECT. I’ve used them. Never paid them a dime. In fact, they’ve paid me. Best interest rates in the industry, by a mile.

3.       Software for Your Computer – Stick it to Microsoft! Don’t buy Excel or Word. Invest in a little “free” and get OpenOffice Calc (like Excel), Writer (like Word), Impress (like PowerPoint), Draw (like Paint), and Base (like Access). Why pay when you can get it for free? These programs all have a “save as…” feature that let’s you save in Microsoft format so you can send files to your ”payin’ the man” friends. (I have many friends who use OpenOffice and really enjoy it. Free software is all over the net. Places like Download.com and others can set you up with just about everything you need. However, BE CAREFUL, there is a fine line between free and fraud…if you have to jump through hoops on LimeWire and Ares…changes are its illegal material)

4.       A Credit Card– I can’t think of a single service that a credit card could offer me that I couldn’t get for free or a nominal fee elsewhere. Nor would I ever dream of using a card enough to garner enough services to justify an annual fee. Don’t ever pay for a credit card annual fee. Isn’t necessary. AmEx even has no-fee cards, and have for years now. Stop paying annual credit card fees.

5.       Books – There’s a magical place in your hometown that’s renting books for free right now: your local library. Check em out. :)And I’m always giving away free books here on the blog. A new book giveaway coming up soon. (PLEASE tell your college kid about this!! I went through all four years of college and never bought a single book…I have a whole strategy for free textbooks…email me for the low down)

6.       Tax Preparation– The vast majority of tax filers don’t need to pay to have their taxes prepared and e-filed. Every major tax prep company (TurboTax, TaxAct, TaxCut, to name a few) offers free e-filing services of some kind. And there’s always the IRS Free File that could set you up with free tax prep and filing.

7.       The Newspaper– C’mon. Do I have to explain this one? If you’re doing it for couponing reasons, ok. But for getting your news?? (Its all on the web now…just like your news station)

8.      Credit Counseling – Credit counseling is available free through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Don’t ever hook up with some shady “get out of debt quick fix” company.

9.       Water – Well, I realize there’s always going to be that water utility bill. But the bottled water is out. Tap is cool again. (Research studies have shown that the stuff in the bottle is NO DIFFERENT than what comes out of your tap…and did you know that those water bottles are made with petroleum products? Save  money..save the earth…turn on the faucet)

10.   Budgeting Software – The past couple of years have seen an explosion of online free budgeting software options. There are some really nice option available to you. All are without a charge. Quicken Online and Mint are two that I’ve used.

11.    A Pet – Search your local animal rescue center for a pet that’s free and in need. (Or call Genevive Barker at the station..she’s always trying to convince us to adopt! A true animal lover she can point you in the right direction)

12.    Online Shipping – With sites like freeshipping.org now available, you should be able to make most of your online purchases without forking over a shipping fee.

13.    DVD Rentals– Instead of paying $5 for a DVD rental, just go to a RedBox or a New Release rental box in your local grocery store. Before you go though, get the free daily code from www.insideredbox.com.

14.    Auction Listing Fees – While some items require a true auction type service, or a larger audience to be sold for full value, the vast majority of items you’d want to sell online can be sold through Craig’s List. Ebay does have it’s place. But never use it (and pay their fees) if it’s an item that could be sold on Craig’s List. I’ve sold my last two vehicles there.