It Never Hurts to Ask: Getting Late Fees Removed

This past Saturday, I decided to get some air and take a leisurely stroll out to the mailbox at dusk to see if any goodies had come in the mail. However, I was very unpleasantly surprised to find that I had somehow missed a payment on our water bill and received a $15 penalty.

Our city’s water billing system is run by a tiny 2-person department that seems to send bills out when they can instead of on a set schedule. Our water billing cycles are 2-month periods, so logically we would have a bill due every 2 months. But our water department being so small, with more and more people moving into the area, those 2 poor ladies are swamped from 8-5. I tried all day yesterday to call them but always got a voicemail, and finally left a message around noon today and was surprised to get a call back in the afternoon (a first with this department.)

Anyways, this means that our bills come very irregularly and we sometimes don’t get a bill for 3 or 4 months, and then sometimes we receive a bill a month for 3 months in a row. It isn’t unusual for us to be paying a bill for services from fall of the previous year in the spring (i.e. paying for water used Oct 2007 – Dec 2007  in March 2008). Needless to say, this can get confusing and I often have little panics where I think I’ve missed a payment when I haven’t.

This week was one such instance. I had made a water payment on the due date of March 12, 2009 and so wasn’t expecting to have another bill due until mid-May. It turns out that they had sent out another bill some time in March or April, which I don’t recall receiving, and that I had a payment due April 24th. I honestly don’t know what happened with that bill but obviously somehow messed up.

When I spoke to one of the ladies from the water department today to ask about it, she told me that, yes, bills are due once every 2 months, but no, I did miss a payment on April 24th. I think because she saw the illogic of it, she was nice enough to waive the $15 penalty for me. I didn’t even have to ask (though I had been planning to) for this one-time courtesy.

So, it never hurts to call in and inquire when you have a billing discrepancy such as this. If the late fee is just $1 or $2, it might not be so bad, but a $15 late charge on a $68 bill not even a month overdue was a little too much for me to let slide by.

Just remember when you call in to be polite, don’t demand but ask nicely, and you will most likely have a positive result.

Make It Do: Frugal Forever

This post is part three of a four-part series by SD Guy, the blogger behind Stretchydollar.com, a blog that focuses on the basics of personal finance and is geared towards those who don’t have much experience. StretchyDollar is geared towards a younger audience, and highlights frugal tips, financial books and tools, and the basics of wealth building. The blog is a great place for those starting their journey to financial independence.

Still a very active person, my Grandpa ‘putters’ quite a bit. He spends a lot of time on his computer, managing his finances, staying in touch with friends, and working on genealogy. A mainstay in his office has been his old computer – he’s had it for 8 years. It’s old, really old. I’ve fixed some things for him a couple of times, and it’s close to heading to the museum. It doesn’t even write to a CD, still has a 3.5″ disk drive. The monitor is about 13 inches big.

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Frugal Thermodymics Part II: A Simple Cooling System


Photo © Darren Hester for openphoto.net

A Simple Cooling System

Heat naturally diffuses from areas of higher concentration to areas of lower concentration. And cold being the absence of energy, a block of ice literally draws heat out of the air.

As was mentioned in P. Pince’s recent article, our air conditioning system is on holiday at this inopportune time. While looking at cooling units online, I saw several that were merely refrigeration systems which fanned air over ice or cold water. These systems are meant for use in places with dry climates, and as we live in the desert which is just such a place, we thought we’d give it a try.

Instead of purchasing a new unit or repairing our old one, we decided to simply use containers of ice placed in front of fans in rooms where we’re working or hanging out. When the ice has melted and the water is near room temperature, we remove it and bring in a new one if still needed. We make the ice at night when it requires less electricity for the refrigerator to keep cold.

We also consider thawing frozen vegetables in our rooms prior to cooking, though I wouldn’t do this with meat or anything that might lead to food poisoning.

If your automatic ice maker is already cranking out heaps of ice faster than you can consume, take some out and let them melt. You could do the same with the ice from defrosting your freezer.

And with entropy in mind (a concept of energy flow), I believe it would be advantageous to bring home ice, ice cream, and cold items (cooled on someone else’s dollar) during the day rather than at night. The saving may be very small indeed, but we’d make poor misers if we dismissed an economization on account of smallness, wouldn’t we?