Monday, January 31, 2022

Draining Your Bank Account the Automated Way


When it comes to paying bills, my wife and I have different styles.  She prefers one sit-down session during the month where she pays all the bills at once, preferring paper checks.  When I’m in charge of paying the bills, I regularly check my dresser (my official filing place for things that need attention) to see what bills are due in the next ten days or so then pay them online.  Either method probably sounds archaic to anyone younger than fifty.  The modern way to do it is to put the entire process on auto-pilot so that the bills automatically are paid each month by a debit from a checking account or charged to a credit card, or some other method of which I am blissfully ignorant—very little hands-on involvement required.

And that’s a problem.  Or it can be.  This “decentralization” (as it has been called) of the bill-paying chore permits us to essentially ignore it, to the point where we don’t even look at our bills and may even be paying for services we no longer use or need. 

According to a survey cited in the Wall Street Journal, the average American consumer spends $273 per month for subscription services.  This is up $36 since 2018.  The same survey reports that people generally underestimate what they are paying for these services.  They might include gym memberships, video or music streaming services, different “apps” to which they’ve subscribed, and on and on.  Are the services still being used?  Even if they are, has the price been creeping upward, with the customer unaware because he’s not actually seeing a bill or actively involved in paying it regularly?

I came face to face with this last week when I saw that my computer security subscription was due for automatic renewal.  I had to enroll in automatic renewal in order to get the lower price when I first installed the software but with the understanding I would be notified before the renewal date and could cancel it before then.  The notification told me I would get the special renewal rate of $89.99 for existing customers, discounted from the usual $124.99.  Knowing that, like last year, I could buy a new subscription less expensively from a reputable brick-and-mortar retailer I know, I declined the renewal online.  I immediately got a message back that they were sorry to lose me as a customer and to keep me onboard offered me a rate of $49.99.  I declined again.  Not 24 hours later I got an e-mail offer to renew the subscription for $29.99.

I can’t claim that I exhibited any particular negotiation skill in this instance, but it goes to show that awareness and a little persistence and knowledge of the market can save a consumer money.

This is not to say that I don’t have some bills that I have automatically debited from my bank account.  But I limit that option to services for which I know there is a firm price for a defined period of time and for which I have a set time of year for evaluation/renewal.  A Medicare-related insurance like a Part D plan or Medicare Advantage plan would fit into this category because I know I need to review them every year between October 15 and December 7.  But some people don’t bother to review even those types of expenses, despite the fact that premiums often change year to year.  That’s why Joe Namath has a retirement gig doing television commercials to urge people to call the “Medicare hotline” for a better deal on their insurance. 

I’m not endorsing the Medicare hotline, but the concept is sound: check out your options for all your expenses; know what you’re paying; don’t leave your finances on automatic.  You could be paying a lot more than necessary.

Until next time,


“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks; give careful attention to your herds.  For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.” Proverbs 27:23,24  NIV*

*Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973,   1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide.

Monday, January 10, 2022

I'm an Introvert. Who are You?


Are you—an Introvert—too?

Soon after I began writing this blog about five years ago I wrote about the problem of loneliness in retirement (click here to read “First You Need a Nest”), and how medical experts cited loneliness as more of a risk factor for early death than even obesity or smoking.

I have often pondered that information in light of the fact that I am, yes, an introvert—certifiably so.  For two of my past jobs, I was asked to take the Myers-Briggs personality test, and both times I was assessed as decidedly introverted.  This came as no shock to me, though I suspect some of my friends were taken aback; and my bosses may have been unnerved since I had been hired for very outward/customer-facing roles.  But as the Myers-Briggs folks will tell you, an introvert is someone who gets his energy, his renewal, from time in solitude and not from interactions with others.  So an introvert may be very sociable, a good conversationalist, even thrive in his interactions with friends, clients, and others.  That’s just not where he most reliably and regularly fills his emotional tank.

As a recent retiree, I wondered whether I should put more time and energy into relationships, spend more time with other people as a way to extend my life.  (Sounds a little selfish, doesn’t it?)  Frankly, I’ve not done a very good job of socializing, especially with the pandemic still raging.  I got some encouragement, however,  when I read an article in Barron’s last week that offered this perspective:

Relax.  As long as you’re not a hermit—and you occasionally mix in some social interaction—you’re not on the road to mental and physical ruin.

“Loners have gotten a bad rap,” said Katharine Esty, Ph.D., a retired psychotherapist in Concord, Mass.  “There’s nothing bad about doing things alone.  It only becomes unhealthy when people become lonely, which is different.”

She describes loneliness as feeling subjectively unhappy with your relationships or lack thereof.  Someone who embraces solitude—and keeps busy and stimulated by fulfilling activities—can spend most of their time alone but never experience the distress of loneliness.

What a relief!  My hobbies are mostly done in solitude.  I enjoy walking alone to clear my head.  Nobody is sitting by me as I write my posts.  And it only takes one person to read a book.  Yet I also greatly enjoy my friendships—crave them, even.  I experience a great deal of joy interacting with friends, or sometimes just hearing from them.  So maybe on the whole I AM balanced and I’m not going to die young; and I will get to enjoy the retirement I anticipated for so long; and will get to spend or give away my nest egg as I choose.

Even if I’m an introvert.

How about you?

Until next time,


“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” Mark 1:35 NIV*

*Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973,   1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide.