In case you didn't catch it last week, my car was recently stolen. It sucked, no question. But it was definitely an interesting experience in terms of seeing how everything worked in that situation, from the beginning (calling the cops) to the end (getting my baby back).

I already said that August was a bad month. This part was just another nail in the coffin: eight hours after I met with my insurance adjuster and gave him my keys, the police department called to tell me they found my car… in the parking lot of an apartment complex two buildings down the street from my own. That just made me mad.

Since I didn't have my keys, the cops had to tow the car. Once they finished their investigation, it ended up at the towing company lot. Then I had to deliver paperwork from the police station to the towing company to get my car released. When that was done, I called my insurance adjustor, who had the car taken to the auto body shop.

From there, it was fairly simple. My insurance adjustor and I went over the car very thoroughly. First we had to clean it up--the thief had emptied every compartment and left the contents on the floor, naturally. Because he/she had access to my personal info, I ran a credit report with annualcreditreport.com to look for any funny business. There didn't appear to be any paperwork missing from the car, such as my insurance card or registration, so I didn't think it was worth putting a fraud alert on my report. I'll keep an eye on it for a while.

Once we had identified all the damage, my insurance adjustor took pictures and completed the paperwork. Then he passed everything over to another insurance agent, who worked with the auto body shop to make sure my car was taken care of. When it was ready, I paid the auto body shop the full amount of my deductible, and they gave me the keys to my clean and shiny car.

If I had to do it again--and I really, really hope I never have to--there are a couple of things I would do differently. 

I wouldn't have had as much work done on my car. The windshield had to be replaced, no matter what (big crack). On the other hand, they completely replaced the upholstery on the back seat because of one broken corner ($550!). A little glue would have done the trick. The scratches on the inside panel didn't really necessitate replacing the whole panel, and the dents they pulled out could only be seen if the light was just right. It seems silly to waste all that time, money, resources for little things like that.

I also would have been a little more proactive about calling the insurance guys and the repair shop. The repairs took longer than they needed to, and a quick call would have had my car finished a few days sooner.

In the end, the best advice I can give is this: ask lots of questions. If you're worried about looking stupid, don't. Asking questions about simple stuff is better than getting stuck with a big bill out of ignorance.
 

By Lauren Sigel on September 11th, 2009 • Life

Well brassers, it's time for me to ride off into the sunset on an awesome horse (with authentic western tunes playing in the background, naturally). I have reached the end of my editorial internship, and must leave my friends (and all of you faithful followers). This is the part where I blab about all that I've learned and leave some helpful life advice, so get ready for an earful.

During my internship here, I have gained a TON of experience learning about how a magazine is put together. From editing articles to writing blogs, my time here at brass has given me the skills I need to beef up my resume and make my transition into the "real world" that much easier. I've also learned a lot about managing my finances (who would have thought?), which will be extremely useful considering that I am entering my last year at Oregon State University and facing the prospect of being dragged (kicking and screaming) into a less-than-ideal economy. However, things seem to be getting better, and I will use everything I've learned here to help score a job after I graduate.

So, what words of wisdom do I leave behind to you? For one, listen to your mom (she loves you). Two, make sure to keep up on all of our new articles and blog entries! I know I was your favorite blogger, but you've got to let go and read some of the other ones too. I'll be watching...

Last, but certainly not least, have a fantastic year at school! Do your homework, go to class, and get involved with extracurricular activities or sports. Between all that, make sure you set aside time for... fun! Yes, fun. Have lots of it, because it's the only thing that will keep you sane during the school year (and life in general).

Au revoir!

 

By Brandon Goldner on September 9th, 2009 • Auto, Bicycles, Life

Even as gas prices fluctuate, there are still plenty of people whose driving habits haven’t changed. But, in what may be a sign of things to come, the sale of bicycles outpaced the sale of automobiles (2.6 vs. 2.5 million) in the U.S. for the first quarter of 2009.

Here are some more fun facts about our banana-seated, basket-laden, two-wheeled buddies:

 

 

If you're not already an avid bicyclist, it's worth switching from four wheels to two, especially if you or your family has a history of heart trouble. It turns out that something as simple as riding your bike could prevent purchasing costly medication, going under the knife, or death. A 2004 study compared those who rode bikes regularly versus those who underwent an angioplasty: 88% of the bike riders were incident free after one year, compared to only 70% of those who underwent an angioplasty. Experts are now recommending that doctors advise their heart patients to exercise more frequently rather than just performing the surgery.

So put down your car keys and pick up your bike. Unless it's an Aurumania bike. Those are just for looking at.

 

 

Ever had a really bad day? A really bad week? I had a really bad month, and it started when my car was stolen the night of July 31st. My theory is that it was taken just at midnight, technically August 1st, which messed up my mojo for the whole month. It's an experience I don't ever want to repeat.

Thankfully I did things right when it came to taking care of the whole situation. Hopefully my experience will help if your car gets stolen or damaged. Here's what you should do if someone messes with your car.

First call the police. Unless you see someone driving away with your wheels, it's probably best to call the non-emergency number. (Dial 1-800-GOOG-411 for the listing. It's free, unlike the 411 services with some cell phone carriers.) On the phone, you'll be asked to give your contact info and a description of the car and/or the damage. When the officer responds to the scene of the crime, you'll probably have to repeat the information. Get used to it. You'll be doing that a lot.

The officer will file the police report, and you need to record the case number. The officer I met told me that my insurance company probably wouldn't need a copy of the police report, and they didn't. But they did want the case number. Also make sure to get the officer's contact info. You may want to check in to see if they've made any progress in tracking down your car.

Next, call your insurance company. Even if your policy doesn't cover the theft or damage, you should still notify your insurance company. For example, if the thief damages other property or injures someone with your car, you want your insurance to take care of that. When you call, have your insurance policy number and the case number ready.

My car was stolen on a Friday night; I reported the theft right after I discovered it on Saturday morning. An insurance adjuster called Monday morning to set up a meeting (or more accurately, a form-filling, signature-scrawling party). He explained my policy and collected copies of the bill of sale for my car, the last maintenance receipt, and account information for the loan.

The adjuster also took all my car keys in case the car was never found and the insurance company had to pay out for my entire car. At that point, they own the car; if the police find it afterwards, I would still have to buy a new one.

That was just the first couple of days. It was a hassle, but I suppose it could have been worse. The good news is that they did find my car. I'll tell you the rest of the story next Monday. It's a doozy.

 

 

Most people can agree that holidays are awesome, and Labor Day is no exception. It's a long weekend; you get to hang out with friends and family, savor the last barbeque of the summer, and play in the sun.

Labor Day has changed some since the first one in 1882. Back then is was a break from the grueling grindstone, celebrated with a demonstration and a picnic. Modern parades and barbeques aren't that different. What has changed is Labor Day's impact on the retail sector. What used to be the day that celebrated the American working-person is now an excuse for a sale to draw in all those consumers shopping on their day off (ironically that means that a bunch of retail workers have to work).

Yet the sales still call to us. And rightly so: every savvy shopper knows to take advantage of every sale. Finding a $100 dress on sale for $29.99 or buying 20lbs of books online with free shipping rocks. Just purchase wisely:

  • Only buy stuff you need. Just because the chair with a built-in refrigerator is 50% off doesn't mean that you can't still live without it.
  • Only buy stuff you can afford. Taking advantage of a sale is one thing. Putting the purchase on a credit card, where it will take you a year to pay off, probably won't save you much, if any, money in the long run.

Personally, I'm going to go shopping for a mattress. Investing in your retirement is essential in the long term, but investing in quality sleep is a requirement in the short term. Then I'm going to check out my list of stuff-I-need-but-can-make-do-without-until-I-find-the-right-price. Then I'll probably treat myself to something fun, like the wireless headphones I've been eyeing for months.

While you're out there, be gracious to everyone who doesn't get to sleep in on Labor Day. It could be you behind that comic book store counter.

 

By Lauren Sigel on September 2nd, 2009 • Healthcare, Stats, Life

With all this talk about healthcare floating around, I thought showing the numbers behind our current healthcare system would make more of an impression than my opinion ever could. Read 'em and weep.

  • 46 million Americans don't have health insurance. Thats 15% of the entire population!
  • People who are uninsured are often charged 2.5 times more than what most health insurers actually pay for hospital services.
  • The U.S spends 16% of its GDP on health care, compared to 11% in France, 8.4% in the UK and 3.4% in Singapore. That works out to $7,290 per person in the U.S. every year, $3,601 in France, $2,992 in the UK and $1,228 in Singapore.
  • 62% of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses.  
  • America's healthcare system was ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization in 2000 (the latest report).

There's no question that our healthcare system needs a change, and everyone has a different opinion on how that should be done. To see how you might be affected by the changes being discussed, visit npr.org.  In the meantime, try not to injure yourself with your mad free running skillz.

 

Turns out that Ben "Double B" Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, got his ID jacked by a purse thief last August. Unfortunately for man-purse advocates everywhere, the purse wasn't his. It was his wife Anna's. Apparently, Anna doesn't follow the government's own tips for protecting against ID theft, namely: "don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet." In her defense, it does say wallet, not purse.

Along with the Social Security card, the purse-snatcher got Anna's checkbook, credit card and ID cards--more than enough info to start raiding the Bernanke's shared personal account. Big Ben has quite a bit of pull with the government, so the theft of the Bernanke's ID shifted an ongoing ID theft investigation into a higher gear, resulting in the takedown of an ID theft ring that had stolen more than $2 million.

It's not likely that you have the same pull as Bernanke-san, so here are some resources to help you keep from getting your ID stolen in the first place:

  • ftc.gov: The Federal Trade Comission's official ID theft resource.
  • usdoj.gov: The U.S. Dept. of Justice's website features anti-ID theft poetry by Billy Shakespeare.
  • msnbc.msn.com: When government websites just aren't good enough for you, check out these six tips.

And last but not least, check out these articles from good old brass|MAGAZINE. Keep it real.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrs_logic/ / CC BY 2.0

I know I've mentioned that school is starting soon, and I hate to remind you again, but there's no avoiding it. To make matters worse, you will soon be faced with the horror of cafeteria food--glistening, greasy pizza slices or sad, wilty iceberg salads.

Now I bring to the table a breakthrough idea (that's right, I thought of it all on my own--it's completely original). Pack your own lunch! It will save you money (who wants to fork over $1.50-$2 for a soggy crispy chicken burger anyways?), and packing healthy will also save you from packing on the pounds (believe it or not, eating pizza and fries every day leads to weight gain). Plan ahead and make a list before you go grocery shopping, so you have some healthy lunch options and aren't left staring at the fridge wondering, "what gastronomical nightmare can I make with pickles, mustard, and Cheese Whiz?"

If you're stumped for easy-to-make lunches, here are some ideas. Need more tips? Hit up askmen.com (don't worry, even the ladies can heed this advice).

Packing a lunch also gives you the added bonus of expressing individuality with snazzy lunch box like one of these or these. Just make sure you clean it out each night so you don't pass out the next morning when you go to refill it.

In the end, buying a lunch might seem more convienient, but it's going to cost you in the long run. So, do yourself a favor and just say "no" to cafeteria food. You'll be the envy of the lunch room with your delicious turkey bagel sandwich and sweet Super Powers lunch box.

 

By Jens Odegaard on August 26th, 2009 • Stats, Life

Instead of highlighting one single stat this week, I thought, "why not tell my data-deprived readers how to feed their own stat hunger?" The next time you need some quick numbers to fill space in an essay, or want to fact-check that bitter windbag who says he has the stats to prove that pollution is beneficial, you'll know where to get the data.   

  • federalreserve.gov: A great source for economic data, this site has everything from interest rates to our total national debt.     
  • irs.gov: Whether you're wondering how many people file taxes or just want the scoop on how many people are millionaires, this is the place.
  • census.gov: Get the current population of the U.S., see how many people have health insurance and everything in between.
  • ed.gov: The go-to site for education stats, this has everything from how many computers are in the average public school to total school enrollment numbers.
  • epa.gov: Go here for statistics on air pollution and also check the EPA's EnviroFacts.
  • mpaa.org: Learn how many movies were released during the year and how much the movie industry made, among other things--like how much revenue is lost to piracy (not that you'd ever do that).
  • ncaa.org: Find statistics on NCAA-sanctioned college sports--that means everything from what-the-heck sports like rifle and bowling to watch-it-in-primetime ones like football and basketball.

Also, check out fedstats.gov for access to stats from more than 100 government agencies. Finally, just remember that Staten Island has the most statisticians in the U.S.--I have the stats to prove it. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ms4denmark/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Aside from the revolution of online account services, auto bill-pay is possibly the coolest thing to hit financial institutions since cash. Especially for those of us who tend to procrastinate.

Most of my personal accounts are set up to auto-pay before they're due. But the due dates were different for most of my accounts. My phone bill might be due on the 1st of the month, credit card bill on the 15th, power bill on the 18th and so on. I was always worried that if the timing was off, or if my landlord didn't deposit my rent check right away, I would overdraft, even if I was within my budget.

What I'm now ( finally) doing is making sure that everything processes in the right order. My inspiration came from Ramit Sethi, author of the blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He wrote an article on this for brass in this year's Spring issue. Ramit also wrote a blog post about automating money earlier this year--and a guest blog on The Blog of Tim Ferriss--both of which I read and bookmarked for future action. Like most procrastinators, I didn't do anything until my unorganized timing fell on its face and I nearly overdrafted my checking account.

My paycheck was already directly deposited into my checking account. Now, I've set up automatic contributions to my emergency savings account and my IRA; these go out about four days after payday. Two days after that, loans, bills and my credit card take their share of my income. Unfortunately, I can't control when my landlord deposits my check, so I just have to deduct my rent from my balance until the check actually goes through.

Now, all I'll have to do is check back every few days and make sure everything is running smoothly, to keep surprises or mistakes from piling up. For example, a reader recently shared how an address change caused an automatic credit card payment to show up late (check next issue's brass|OFF for her full story).

Whether you're just starting auto-pay or have been doing it for a while, take some time to make sure your dates line up, so you don't have to worry about a bill-pay train wreck.