My Amazon Shopping Adventure

When I retired this month a wonderful colleague gave me an Amazon gift card. I’ve been trying to spend it, but Amazon hasn’t been cooperating. I’m pretty sure the gift card is haunted…but in a good way.  This is my Amazon tale.

June 16, 2021. I placed an order for a few things. One was for a light weight blanket, some garment bags (for my “now gathering dust” work clothes) and some kitchen sponges. Just basic stuff. Since I apparently ordered from an Amazon small business they sent me an email saying that I had a $10 credit for an order during prime days. Nice.

June 18. Like usual I got an email that my order was being shipped. The tracking number indicated the shipment(s) would be delivered by a local Amazon truck.

June 19. Amazon senses a problem with my order.

June 20. An email from Amazon indicates my order was “undeliverable”, the items would be returned and that I would receive a refund. My original order was placed against a gift card I received so I waited for the credit to show before doing anything.

June 22. With the gift card credit applied to my account I ordered these items again. Since my re-order was on the final day of Prime Days it was $10 less because the Amazon small business credit was applied even though the original order was undeliverable.

June 23. Early in the morning I got an email saying the blanket had been shipped via USPS and I received a tracking number for that. The other two items were supposed to be shipped in a few days.

Later that morning I headed out my front door to take a walk and on my doorstep there was an Amazon box. Hmmm. It was my original “undeliverable” order that had been shipped UPS overnight from an Amazon warehouse in Charlotte. The shopping label even included the original Amazon local truck tracking number in a reference field. Okay, I guess this stuff is free now.

The original Amazon tracking indicated my “undeliverable” shipment ended up going from Atlanta to Charlotte rather than from Atlanta to my house.

With the re-ordered blanket already on the way I quickly logged into my Amazon account and cancelled the sponges and garment bags. I’d eventually have used the kitchen sponges but didn’t need more garment bags. No problem…cancelled and credited back to my gift card.

June 25. My daily USPS Informed Delivery email indicated the blanket and some other mail would arrive, but no mail showed up. No blanket, no letters. Nothing.

June 26. I opened my garage door to run some errands and in the middle of my driveway was an Amazon box. Why USPS threw it in the middle of my driveway rather than putting it by my front door is beyond me. This seemed to be a “special” USPS delivery of that package because yesterdays mail wasn’t in the mailbox. That mail did end up being delivered later that day.

My Amazon ordering adventure was finally over.

But wait…another plot twist… (* queue eerie organ music here)

Amazon hadn’t sent me their customary “your package has been delivered” notification. I went back and checked the USPS tracking for the blanket and it showed it was still “out for delivery” and awaiting a “Delivery Scan”. Amazon also showed it was still “out for delivery”. Apparently the USPS letter carrier who threw the box on my driveway never scanned it indicating it was delivered, albeit poorly.

June 27. The saga continues. Since USPS tracking indicated that blanket #2 had never been delivered Amazon was again concerned. They said to check back in 2 days and if there was still a problem I could request a refund or replacement (a third blanket).

June 30. With all of this craziness I decided to take Amazon up on the refund offer. I certainly didn’t want them to ship me yet another blanket.

My original gift card balance is back on my account to spend another day. Yay me!!!

At the end of the day Amazon is still making money and Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the WORLD so I have no remorse somewhat taking advantage of this comedy of errors. Thank you Amazon and USPS, it’s been a lot of fun.

The End.

P.S. Should I ever experience an “undeliverable” order from Amazon again I’ll definitely wait at least a week before ordering again.

P.P.S. Someone is definitely getting a lightweight teal blanket for Christmas this year.

Target Date Funds

For the average investor target date funds have become a popular auto-invest, set-it and forget-it option for retirement saving in their 401(k) plans or IRA’s. That’s actually a good thing in my mind if the investor sticks to the program. The funds include a mix of stocks and bonds that are automatically re-balanced and become more conservative as they move toward the target retirement date. Some argue they might become too conservative for retirees, but that’s a separate discussion.

What many don’t realize is there’s no “industry standard” for the asset allocation in these funds; that’s left to the fund companies. Below is a list of widely held target date 2030 funds. As you can see, they have a huge range of asset allocations ranging from 75/25 Stocks to Bonds/Cash/Short-Term down to 55/45.

Wow! To me 55/45 is awfully conservative for someone 12 years from a planned retirement.

This “risk tolerance” spread is something individual investors should be aware of, and comfortable with, particularly as they approach retirement.

Just remember, target date funds are not created equally.

  • Fidelity Freedom® 2030 Fund (FFFEX) – 75.41% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 23% Bonds; 1.59% Sort-term reserves
  • Fidelity Freedom® Index 2030 Fund (FXIFX) – 73.1% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 24.8% Bonds (domestic and int’l); 2.1% Cash/Other
  • Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund (VTHRX) – 70.28% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 29.7% Bonds(domestic and int’l); 0.02% Short-term reserves
  • BlackRock LifePath Index 2030 Fund (LINKX) – 69.22% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 30.29% Bonds (domestic and int’l); 0.48 Cash/Short-term
  • Schwab Target 2030 Index Fund (SWYEX) 68.35% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 27.4% Bonds (domestic and int’l); 4.25% Cash/Other
  • PIMCO RealPath Blend 2030 Fund (PBPAX) – 61.69% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 36.34% Bonds (domestic and int’l); Commodities 1.95%; 0.01 Short-term
  • American Century One Choice 2030 (ARCVX) 55.5% Stocks (domestic and int’l); 39.5% Bonds (domestic and int’l); 5% Cash/Money Market

Note: Fund data as of 9/19/2018

Office Depot/OfficeMax – Buyer Beware

Well, savvy consumer Dave needed some rubber bands. That’s a pretty basic purchase. I didn’t want a mega-office sized package so checked out Office Depot/OfficeMax online to see what they had available. Perfect, they had a little bag for $2.79.

Today I ran over to the OfficeMax store by the house. What? The little bag of rubber bands was priced at $3.99. Was I imagining something?

Pulled out my trusty iPhone and logged into the Office Depot website. Put in the item number and there they were for $2.79 (43% less than the store price). I kept the webpage open so I could discuss with the cashier when I checked out.

“These People are Rubber Bandits!” ~Dave Taft

Of course, no one can go to an office supply store and leave with just one item. I know, I need a new 12” ruler. Found a metal one that was $4.49.

Then I thought, “maybe I should check the price of that online.” OMG, it was $3.39 (32% less) online.

Enough was enough. I headed to the checkout with iPhone in hand. No argument, but they seem surprised. How could that be?? Needless to say they matched their own price and proudly added a Total Savings: $2.30 at the bottom of the receipt. I love how their override description says “Competitor Price Match.” Yes, my iPhone saved me 27%.

This was just 2 random low-dollar items. What could the difference have been if I had a shopping cart full of office supplies?

Ever curious I got to thinking; this was an OfficeMax branded store. What would an Office Depot branded store charge? Of course I had to find out so drove 6 ½ miles to an Office Depot store. What? Here the rubber bands were $3.59 (10% less than OfficeMax and 29% more than online).

The Ruler was $3.99 (15% less than OfficeMax and 18% more than online).

How could 2 stores 6 ½ miles apart have different pricing and neither have the online price? This is particularly strange since Office Depot touts their buy online and pick up at the store in 1 hour service online.

Out of curiosity, if I were to buy online and pick up at the store which price would I pay? Would it be the online price or the store price (depending on the store)?? I sent this question to Julianne Embry and Sarah England in Office Depot’s Media Relations Office. I’ll post an update if/when I hear back from them.

Seems to me they are simply ripping off anyone dumb enough to just walk into their stores and open their wallet. Or, maybe not??? While at OfficeMax I did look at the price for some pens. They were $7.99.

Forgot to check them out at Office Depot, but did look online. What? They were $8.99 online (11% more).

Beware next time you visit Office Depot or OfficeMax. I would look up each and every item online and get the best price. You can just type the Office Depot number in the search box so it’s quick and easy. Maybe if enough people did this they would fix this anti-consumer mess.

Note: I’ve seen the same thing at Target where the store price was 20-30% more than online for a few specialized items (Norelco electric razor replacement blades and a Multi-plug travel adaptor).

Happy Shopping….and Be Careful Out There!!!!!

Office Depot/OfficeMax certainly aren’t looking out for You!

Update – 10/19/2015:

Today I received a wishy washy response from a Customer Advocate at Office Depot’s Executive Consumer Relations department in Boca Raton, FL. I wasn’t overly impressed. Here is a summary:

  1. She apologized for replying late and for the pricing issue. Well, it was within a day so that was quite responsive.
  2. My concern was reported to “Upper Management.” Wow, “Upper Management!” I assume that’s codeword for someone on the 2nd floor of her office or whoever’s cube is next to the toilet.
  3. Online pricing is the lowest…though no explanation about the random pens being cheaper in the store than online. Nice try, but total BS!
  4. Even though the 2 stores I visited were 6 ½ miles apart, the price difference “is due to the fact that even though these are the same items, they come from different vendors and this affects the pricing.” Really? Different rubber band and ruler vendors service these stores??? Sorry honey, I’m not that stupid.
  5. I was offered, subject to email confirmation, a $25 emailed gift card (aka hush money to drop it.) due to the “pricing issue and as a gesture of goodwill.” Momma didn’t raise no fool…send away…stat!  Goodwill is a good word, I’m impressed.
  6. In my hush money reply I did reiterate that this is the first time I’ve seen price disparity between two retail stores in the same metro area and that “Upper Management” should really look into that.

In summary, I was told that Office Depot “Upper Management” is aware of the issue, doesn’t really give a damn and figures a $25 gift card will satisfy the loser who only comes to their store to purchase rubber bands and the occasional ruler.  Well played!

Now, what shall I buy with my $25 gift card? It’s an “email gift card” so I asked if that could be used in the store or just online. I’m sure figuring out how to maximize the value will take hours and multiple trips to multiple stores to figure out. But hey, as I’ve been told many times, “Dave, you have way too much time on your hands!”  That is true, but now I’ve got a $25 gift card to go shopping in that spare time!

Note: If you receive a $2.79 bag of rubber bands this Christmas don’t blame Santa, blame the Executive Consumer Relations department at Office Depot!

The End…until…

Update – 10/24/2015:

With my Office Depot $25 eGift Card in hand it was time to do some shopping. I headed over to the OfficeMax store by my house to browse around.  I found several things that I could use this hush money windfall on…envelopes, pens and labels for my Brother labelmaker.

Knowing that I would be ripped off in the store I simply took photos of the items I was interested in purchasing and headed home to shop online for less and then pick up in the store.  There was another bonus awaiting at…25% off the most expensive item.

Mission accomplished! I spent a total of $26.45 including tax.  Here is my shopping list:

I’m sure you’re wondering just how much I saved online. Well…a lot!!!!  My online order totalled $24.72 plus tax. Had I purchased the same items in the store it would have cost $41.74! Including the 25% off one item coupon the online total was 41% less than purchasing in the store.

The one random item that really caught my attention were my “Eco-conscious” 9″ X 12″ envelopes.  As you can see above they were $1.59 per package.  I ordered 3 packages for a total of $4.77. So, how much was one package in the store??? $4.99!!! Holy Crap!!!

Yes, these envelopes are 3.18 times more expensive in the store!

Oddly enough, the “Eco-conscious” 6″ X 9″ envelopes were $2.59 online and $3.99 in the store, a mere 35% savings.

Just got an email that my online order is ready for pickup. With my $25 eGift Card and $1.45 in hand, I’m off!

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story!

Sweepstakes Dreams

I must admit I love sweepstakes. It’s kind of like winning the lottery without having to buy a ticket. Some of my favorites are the ones run by HGTV. Currently they have several going on.

Urban Oasis – Win a 1,300-square-foot bungalow dressed with furnishings from and located in Asheville, NC, plus a 2016 Acura TLX and $50,000 cash. The grand-prize package is valued at $587,000.

Blog Cabin – Win a renovated mountain retreat located in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, plus a $50,000 cash prize. The grand-prize package is valued at $950,000.

Just think…$587,000 -$900,000 in prizes! What a life changer! Or, is it?

I got to thinking, what I would do if I were to actually win one of these amazing properties. Hmmm!

Well, I’m not retired and neither are near where I work so I couldn’t move in. I suppose I could vacation there, but what about the rest of the year? Would I turn them into a rental property? That’s possible, but I’d probably need to hire a management company to handle the day-to-day operations.

I know, I’d just sell the place and cash out! Hey, I’d have a bundle…or would I?

If you win the lottery they take income taxes out of the winnings and you get the rest to spend. Not so much when it comes to winning real property like a house or a car. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to win either of these sweepstakes, but what a headache to deal with.

So, what would I end up with if I won the $950,000 Blog Cabin package, sold it and kept the proceeds?

Income taxes. In order to claim your prize the sponsor must collect 25% Federal and possibly 6% Georgia (for me) estimated income taxes. This means I would need to come up with $237,500 in cash just to collect the prize. That amount could be reduced if I used the $50,000 cash prize towards the withholding, but I’d still need to come up with $187,500. Perhaps I could take a mortgage on the free house. Wait, I don’t own the house until I come up with $187,500. Crap!!!! Guess I need to take a personal loan or raid my 401(k) or something. That’s a lot of money!

Okay, I found the money for the withholding taxes, now what? Well, the winner is responsible for real estate transfer taxes, deed recording charges, closing costs, current and future real estate taxes, title insurance, homeowner’s hazard and liability insurance, and all other taxes, costs, fees, and expenses related to the maintenance of the house.

If I put the house on the market I could probably sell it within 3 months. Hey, it’s an HGTV dream home. I’m sure buyers will be rushing in.

I’m thinking that I’d need another $11,000 to cover the real estate taxes, insurance, miscellaneous fees and principal/interest on the personal loan I took out to pay the withholding taxes for 3 months. Hmm…maybe I should have gotten a bigger personal loan.

Yea, the house sold for the $900,000 estimated value. Real estate commissions?? Yep, got to pay a $54,000 commission to my realtor. Damn, they made off like a bandit. I should have negotiated a better rate.

The house is sold, I’ve paid the realtor, covered the transfer costs, federal and state income tax and paid off the short-term loan. Looks like can pocket a cool $500,000!!!!

Wait…what…Capital gains taxes on the sale of a non-primary residence? Damn, I already paid Uncle Sam and Auntie Georgia $388,000 in income taxes. Now they want to tax the gain on the sale of my free house too? Oh good grief.

If I sold the free house for $900,000 in less than a year I’d also have to pay capital gains (ordinary income) taxes on the full sales amount, less commissions. Ca-ching! Another $385,700 in income taxes off to Uncle Sam and Auntie Georgia.

Oh, and since I would have $950,000 in sweepstakes winnings and $846,000 in capital gains the income from my day job will end up being taxed at the highest tax rate for the year.

It would seem that after selling this place I’d be lucky to pocket $87,205 (9% of the prize).

I must be missing something! Maybe a good tax advisor is in order. I wonder what that will cost me?

Don’t get me wrong, $87,205 is better than $0, but it’s a whole lot less than $950,000!

Now if I were to keep the house for a year and then sell I would only pay Federal and State long-term capital gains taxes of $219,960 and could pocket another $165,816. Ah, perhaps that is the silver lining?

Now, back to my daily sweepstakes entries.  At least if I win I know I won’t be able to quit my day job just yet!

Having dreams is what makes life tolerable. ~Rudy

Note: Many of the HGTV home sweepstakes offer a cash in lieu of the house option. Those seem like a much better deal.

Ordering Internet Service – My Comcast Odyssey

Though the focus of my blog is photography, I decided to share my experience last weekend ordering new internet service from Comcast. I began this journey on Saturday, June 21st…today is Tuesday, June 24th. Here we go…

So, I wanted faster internet at home. After looking at all the options available I decided to drop my DSL and go with Comcast cable internet. Rather than paying $7/mo to lease a cable modem I went ahead and purchased my own compatible modem/router. Bonus – It was on sale for $20 off at Target. Note: If there is any redeeming factor in this ordeal, at least Comcast (unlike AT&T) provides a fairly extensive list of compatible cable modems.

Weary of listening to an endless sale pitch to upgrade my service I decided to place the order on-line. Guess what? After years of accessing my account using a Gmail login I couldn’t order new service since “I” wasn’t the “Primary” account holder. Had to call Comcast and set up this special designation with a new “” e-mail address. Since I won’t ever use the Comcast e-mail address I had to provide an alternate e-mail for any communications. Sorry, you can’t use your Gmail account since it’s associated with the other “You.” You know, the non-primary-user You. What??? I had to use my work e-mail address and now have the biggest mess ever. Thank goodness I had a spare e-mail address on hand. About 10 minutes wasted taking care of this.

Okay, with my new modem in hand I can now order my new cable internet on-line. The ordering was straightforward at first. Selected “have my own modem” and clicked Continue. Then I was told I had to order a “free” self-installation kit. The “free” kit had a $9.95 (standard) or ~$26 (express) shipping charge. Self-installation kit? Why the hell do I need a self-installation kit? What could this kit possibly contain that required $9.95 for shipping and handling?

I clicked the Comcast chat box to see what this was all about. Instead of answering my question, Comcast Chatter Chris started drilling me on my current service attempting to sell me more stuff I didn’t want. Here’s a bit of how the chat with Chris went:

“The lines that is currently installed in your area is for cable TV service only.” Hello McFly? Are you installing new cable lines in my neighborhood to provide me with internet service? Though Chatter Chris wanted to “stay with me” through the order process, I closed our chat out of frustration. Just Great! I was promptly logged out of the system upon closing the chat session. Damn you Comcast!

Logged back in and reluctantly agreed to the $9.95 self-install kit shipping and clicked on Place Order. Wait…what…sorry, you must first “Chat with us” in order to place your order on-line. “Chat with us” is code-word for a sales pitch.

Waited, waited and finally got a new Comcast Chatter, Michael, on the line. Let him know up front I wanted to add internet and nothing else. Michael did explain that I wasn’t paying for a self-installation kit, but rather an “activation fee.” After waiting and waiting I wondered if Chatter Michael went to lunch or something. Hello Michael…Are you there???? Finally a response. No technician needed. No special dongles. No special Comcast gadgets needed.

Apparently Chatter Chris was wrong and Comcast wouldn’t be digging up my neighborhood installing special new lines for my internet order.

Once done chatting, the actual set-up only took about 2 minutes and automatically started when I opened my browser. This was by far the easiest part of the process.

Success, now I can relax. Think I’ll see if I have any work e-mails on the iPhone. Yea…Comcast sent two e-mail to my work e-mail (see above about the multi-email issue). E-mail #1 confirmed my new charges including the self-installation kit/activation fee. This fee is now referred to as a “one-time installation charges with standard shipping”.

E-mail #2 was confirmation that my self-installation kit was in the mail and they gave me a tracking number.

I decided to click on “What’s Included” to see what amazing and helpful things were on the way. Wow, for that $9.95 in shipping and handling I’m getting:

What??? All this crap is online and I could have downloaded it with my new speedy internet. The “two easy steps” could have just as easily been e-mailed. If someone has internet access to order “online” they can certainly use that same access to download this “kit”. Thank goodness its “environmentally-friendly.”

Behold the self-installation kit. Environmentally-friendly glossy/non-recyclable paper, coax cables, a splitter and cable tacs I neither needed nor asked for.

Oh good grief. What an agonizing experience. I felt much better after consuming a few frosty adult beverages following this Comcastic experience.

Happy Beer

Update (6/24) – After working fine for 2 1/2 days, I arrived home from work and the internet wasn’t working. Headed for a frosty beverage and free wifi so I could do some more Comcast chatting. While chatting remotely, Chatter Chelsea told assured me that my modem was online as of that “modem”.

Somehow I think this relationship won’t end well…..

Update (6/25) – Internet service intermittent. Logged into my account and Internet isn’t listed as one of my services though it has worked for 3 days.  And yesterday Chatter Chelsea assured me that she could see my “modem at that modem.”?? Time for another Chat from work. My initial Chatter, Sikhwinder, couldn’t seem to figure out the problem and transferred me to Chatter Chelsea in the Billing Department. She said that internet wasn’t added to my account. “Not to worry” she gave me a number to call. Obviously Chatter Chelsea sensed a problem as she ended the chat stating that she would give me a $20 credit on my bill.

Called the Activation Department from the office. I figured that since the modem was on I could just use the automated prompts. No such luck. I was transferred to Live Person Leticia. Since I wasn’t home at the time she seemed a bit hesitant to help, but I asked her to look into my actual account. “I’m sorry David, I see where you ordered your service but that order was never completed.” “I’ll take care of that now” she said with a pleasant voice. How nice of her. She said to call back once I got home and after I’ve “had a chance to relax.” She mentioned “relaxing” before calling back twice on this call. Was this part of her standard script, or did she already believe something ominous was going to happen?

Update #2 (6/25) – I skipped the relaxing and called anyway. Theoretically I have actual service now. Do stay tuned for updates though…

The End!

Postscript – Hello, Google Fiber, any chance you could come to Alpharetta?