Thrift Tip: Saving Money on Phone Bills

(I’ve decided to start a brief series on money saving ‘Thrift Tips’. It’s practical and I love learning these types of things from others so I figured I’d share mine too)

phonesI’ll start with the big one, Phone Bills. Seems this is often a big monthly payment for most people. Almost everyone has a cell phone these days, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way around those cell phone bills just ballooning with fees and monthly charges. So, there are a few options I’d suggest…

  • Don’t have a Cell phone. We managed this till 2005, but we have friends who still don’t have one. It is honestly possible to survive and even thrive without being constantly reachable.
  • Have one Cell phone (per couple). We managed this till this past December. It was rare that both of us would be at a place where we didn’t have a way to call the other.
  • Do a Family Plan with your family (or friends). This can cut down your cell phone bill considerably. Adding an extra line to most plans is around $10 (from what I’ve seen), so you divide the bulk of the cost evenly and the more phones on the plan the more spread out the fees are.

I’d highly recommend the above options to begin with. And now I’ll give you a brief run down on what we do. Actually, upon writing this post I realized it’s a wee-bit long on the explanation so I’ve split it into two posts. This first post is going to cover a basic overview, and the second will be about our minutes- saving cell phone trick.

  • We currently have two cell phones, but we’ve done family plans with our respective families. Since they are who we talk to the bulk of the time, having the same cell company (thus free minutes) ends up saving the whole family money, on top of sharing the cost of the plan. Still, if you can live with one I’d recommend that.
  • We have a home phone line through our Internet connection, but it’s not a typical VOIP service like Vonage or others. I found something called “MagicJack” online which is basically a phone line that you plug into a usb port on your computer. You get an incoming phone number (in your local area code), unlimited calling and free long distance, and you plug a regular phone into it. As long as your internet connection is solid and you’ve got a stationary computer you can leave on with a usb port your in good shape. The cost? $20 a year (plus $20 for the device). We’ve had it for the last year and the only time it hasn’t work was when our internet has been down or functioning poorly. Compared to a typical landline that’s dirt cheap. And this helps us keep our minutes on the cell plans way down.
  • Additionally, the number I usually give out to folks is one through a service called Grandcentral Google Voice. It’s basically a call forwarding number, so one call there rings our house and cell phones. If it’s after 9pm or the weekend (free cell minutes), or were out and about, I can answer on my cell. Otherwise we can answer on the landline and save those precious anytime minutes. Voicemail messages can be checked easily from any phone or I have them emailed to me to listen to online. Google Voice is also a key component of my other big phone thrift tip, which I’ll get to on Wednesday.

Tomorrow: YouTubesday (everyone’s favorite)

Wednesday: Thrift Tip #2 Unlimited Minute Cell Phone Hack (spoiler: this only works for T-mobile MyFaves or now Verizon’s Friends and Family or Alltel’s My Circle)

[photo credit]

Compassion Ad Get’s It Wrong

Compassion Ad in Leadership Magazine

I got a copy of Leadership Magazine in the mail yesterday. I forget why, but it showed up and so I started a quick skim through it. This ad caught my eye. Before I start, let me just say that I am a big fan of Compassion and the work they do. I’m also not bothered by using advertising and appealing to Christians in the USA to give. What I do have a problem with is the wording and what I see to be a direct contradiction to what Jesus says.

The ad on the left, with a picture of two young boys sleeping on a mat on the floor, reads:

They Are The Needy.

You Are The Blessed.

We Are The Pipeline Between.

Anyone who knows of Compassion can understand the appeal. Consider sponsoring a child through Compassion, since you have money and they need food, shelter and education.

However, this seems to be counter to what I read Jesus saying:

“Blessed are the Poor.”

Apparently, blessing and need are not mutually exclusive, and one can hypothesize, money might not be a blessing at all. This sort of language bothers me because it continues to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality and allows us to do acts of ‘charity’ from a sort of pious and self-righteous position. It’s along the same lines of my critique of mixing up the words “unsaved” and “least of these.”

I believe a more accurate advertisement would draw out of us an emotion of the need for justice, and would compell us to give not out of a place of privilege and superiority, but out of our own need to move ourselves from participating in injustice to justice. Jesus words to the “You” in this ad (the people with the money) wasn’t that they were “blessed”, no they were “woe”ed.

“But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.”

So, what would be a more accurate advertisement? I’ll give it one shot…

They are Blessed with the Kingdom, but have physical needs

You have money to meet their needs, and wouldn’t it be cool to support the Kings and Queens of God’s Kingdom?

We are the Pipeline to getting you out of Jesus’ “Woe” category…

Do you have any creative ad ideas? I’ll email the best ones to Compassion.

Mugshots and Corporate Crime

gates mugshot Let me start by saying, I’m not sure whether I am for or against the prominent use of mugshots in the media. On one hand I think public shame and humility for your crime seems like it could be an acceptable deterrent for a community. On the other hand, see the world through our predetermined perceptions and we might only reinforce our stereotypes. So, long story short, the verdict is still out as to how I feel about mugshots in general. That said, let me move on to my topic.

I read the Star Tribune in my reader every morning. Mostly I browse headlines and scan pages, but I’ll read whole articles when I think it’s relevant. I’ve been doing this for the past year, so I feel this insight is at least partially backed by a decent research sampling of the Star Tribune’s online articles. Here’s my observation: The Strib tends to print mug shots of street crime criminals that fit the archetypal “Black Male”, at least that seems to be what I have seen. And then there is the mug shots that the Strib doesn’t print (In fact, it seems rare any news outlet does). The rather anonymous ones are the corporate criminals. The white collar men and women who’ve stolen and spent millions of dollars in tax fraud and real estate scams. The ones whose crimes have affected hundreds and caused the sort of instability in our economy we are currently facing. For Example, Jon Helgason and Tom Balko of TJ Waconia, who plead guilty almost a year ago to a $35 million dollar housing fraud scheme in my neighborhood. What’s crazy is that they haven’t even been sentenced yet, they are still walking the streets as free men, and the Star Tribune has yet to post a picture of either of the two men. In fact, a Google search brings up any photos of either of these men on any news site. Why is that?

I’ll cut to the chase, whether intentional or not, the Star Tribunes use of photos of criminals seems to clearly be unequal. In Strib articles, Street criminals (often African American Males) tend to have photos posted with the article, while white collar crime (often White Males) tends not to. It goes without saying that we are a visual people, and while facts and stories slip in and out of our memories, those images will stick in our minds. It’s a great disservice to us as a community and an injustice to us as a people that we continue to reinforce incorrect stereotypes and ideas of what crime is and what we should be afraid of.

I’ve pointed out before that it is corporate crime, not street crime that really wrecks havoc on our lives and nation, but when we continue to publish media the way we do that fact won’t really sink in.

Here’s a brief overview of stories from the past year that were covered in the Star Tribune, without photos.

  • TJ Waconia trial– As I mentioned it’s been over a year since they plead guilty (the case has been around even longer), which is plenty of time to get at least a photo. The Star Tribune has published multiple stories on this case and has never included a picture. My own councilman, Don Samuels, whose 5th ward was particularly affected by the crime, has never seen a picture of what these guys look like (and he’s asked).
  • Tom Petters– This was the biggest corporate crime story of the year in Minnesota. Tons of articles published on Petters, and since even his arrest was a public news story there were photos of him (including of his lavish, money spending lifestyle). There were many others involved in the scheme, but only one other photo that I saw.
  • Robert Beale– A millionaire who was involved in church planting and running a successful medical device company, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax fraud. No picture that I could find on the Star Tribune (though a google search turns some up from other sites).

There are multiple others, in fact the Strib wrote a summary article about all the corporate crime in 2008, of course without photos. Oddly, the only other corporate crime article I ran across that had a photo displayed, besides Petters, was of Carolyn Louper-Morris who defrauded the state out of $2 million through a fledgling tutoring company. What’s odd about it? Of all the corporate criminals they could choose from to publish a picture of they pick Louper, an African American women. How do you interpret that.

And just as a final quick contrast (sorry this has gotten quite long), here are a couple articles that address the very downfalls of what I’m talking about.

  • Valleyfair Beating– the Star Tribune and others posted photos of eight black male suspects in this crime. Outrage ensued with blogs, news sites (including the Tribune) and local talk radio lighting up with claims of this being a hate crime. It wasn’t till later that it was made clear the victims were also black.
  • Ali Abdilahi – was a suspect in an abduction case and his mugshot was plastered on TV and elsewhere. Though the charges were dropped Abdilahi lost jobs, his vehicle, thousands of dollars raised by friends and family for bail, and a difficult and frustrating few months afterward.
  • Publicizing mugshots of ‘Johns’ – I think prostitution and the men who perpetuate it is wrong. So, reading about this effort by the city to use a billboard to encourage people to view the photos of those charged for soliciting prostitutes seems like a strategic deterrent to the crime. But where are the public dollars to make corporate criminals publicly shamed as well?*

In conclusion, my point is simply this: if we are going to use public photos of criminals, do it consistently. Don’t simply reinforce the stereotypes that have been so ingrained. And if your reading or watching your local news, keep a critical eye on bias in the media. It’s there.

*aside: a brief look at the website they’ve posted shows 22 arrests made in the last six months, but they all occurred on only three different days. If the city really wants to crack down on crime I suggest they keep their eyes out for ‘Johns’ all 182 days of the next six months, not just three of them.

Odds and Ends

Sorry, this week hasn’t been the best for constructive thought, but I do have a lot of odds and ends bouncing around in my head. Hopefully you find one of them interesting…

  • While working on my taxes I started brainstorming ways to ‘beat the system’ you figure if the uber-rich can figure out all these tax loopholes maybe there is one or two I could utilize. Everyone has different opinions on taxes, and to the degree that they found things I’m in support of, I like them too. At the same time, I’d rather be taxed on how much we’re living on, rather then how much we make. I know you can get deductions for donating money, but I’ve wondered if there is some way to funnel money, pre-tax to an organization you support or something like that. Any ideas?
  • We are going through some exciting changes in the Fine household. Sorry for not sharing more details, but this being a totally public page, I’m just not sure what’s okay and what’s not. If you want the inside scoop you’ll have to contact me.
  • I finally got the Archive page on the site to work. Just so you know it’s a HEFTY page (5mb) so don’t check it out if your on dialup. But if you’ve got a fast connection, it’s a nice visual layout of my blog’s archive. I’m gonna try and slim it down in size and content a little but that will come later.
  • After successfully reading a book a week last year, I’ve managed to read zero books in 2.5 months this year. I need to set some sort of goal to start reading again. Maybe a set amount of time, like 15 minutes a day. Seem reasonable?
  • On the reading note: I’d really love to read essays (and possibly books) from people who have completely different views then me. If anyone out there has an essay that you think will really challenge my thinking, I’d love if you sent it my way. It could be about anything, politics, religion, money, food, etc. If enough people could send me stuff I’d love to do a weekly post in summary and response to what I read.
  • I was considering getting a new digital camera this week. Mainly because the video on our current one has this high-pitched hissing sound on all the audio. So, I started looking for a digital camera (currently have a Canon Powershot). Then I thought about just getting a separate video camera, then I thought about a DSLR. Now I have no clue. What do you have (if any)? Do you like your camera/video camera? Is a separate video and camera worth it? Superfluous? Too much to carry?
  • Lastly, I was considering doing a series on money saving tips. Just suggestions based on our experience on what we do to save money on day to day purchases, etc. Any interest?

YouTubesday: Coal Freshener, Hip Hop Sunday, and OBEY

(If You are reading this post via email the videos will not show up. If any of the titles are interesting to you please visit the site and view them here, just click on the link above)


A commercial for the ever exciting, new and improved, Clean Coal Air Freshener


This is a typical Hip Hop Sunday at my church


And lastly, if you ever wanted to know where Shepard Fairey got his inspiration for the Obey posters, here’s a ten minute snippet of the movie that sparked it.


Technorati Tags: Shepard Fairey,,

Open Thread: Let’s Chat

I’ve seen this done on some big blogs, but never on tiny little things like mine. I didn’t have anything profound or worthwhile to write for today so I thought I’d try to just leave it completely open. If you have something you always wanted to ask me or say on the blog, or ask other readers, or just put on the “internet” then go ahead and leave a comment about it. I’ll do my best to further the dialog.

Help Bring Autism Therapy to South Africa

I know I’ve been doing a bit of promoting random causes lately, but I really wanted to share this and I think a handful of you readers might be interested in lending your support.

In the fall of 2000 after I graduated high school I went and did a Discipleship Training School at YWAM in Denver. Part of the program was a two month trip to Mauritania and Gambia in northwest Africa. I had the good pleasure of having two great leaders on that trip, James and Caz Collins, who brought along their new baby boy, Malachi, who I think was just a month or two old at the time. Their decision seemed like such a commitment and dedication to service to me at the time, and I know it had an impact on me and my family. I still have a picture of me holding Malachi during that trip:

Malachi and Me, January 2001
Malachi and Me, January 2001

Not really sure how to explain my feelings about it, but I feel like that moment had an impact on me and my desire to love and care for kids (my own and others). Fast forward to today. I still keep in touch with James and Caz, through email updates of their growing family and their dedicated ministry. They moved to back to South Africa last year and have been doing some incredible work there. They are such dedicated servants and loving parents, so when I received this email I felt the need to respond. Caz explains things well, so I’ll just include the email below:

As you know our oldest son, Malachi has Autism and while we lived in the USA he Was able to undergo the latest therapy, which together with prayer has enabled him to Mainstream at school and overcome the bulk of his disorder. When we moved back to South Africa last year I was stunned to find nobody in our state -and yet to find someone in the whole of South Africa- who is properly trained to continue the therapy he needs. So I became his therapist, drawing on the training workshops in Autism I attended while in the USA. I also started helping other families who have children with Autism but have nowhere to turn. I realise I need more training and Malachi needs more input, but this is not available in South Africa at this time.
So I had an idea:
I asked one of Malachi’s therapists from Colorado if she would come to South Africa to work with Malachi for 5 weeks and further train me. She said yes! The catch is it will cost us $3000- or R30 000 for air fares and accommodation. She won’t charge us for the therapy. As you know in YWAM we do not earn a salary, but our income is from the generous support of people who want to be part of our missionary work.
So would you pray about giving towards bringing Heather, Malachi’s therapist, to south Africa to help us.

I really want to help Malachi. Though unspoken, I feel like being a part of those first couple months of his life, I have a commitment to look out for him. You know, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Here is an opportunity for me to help, and you as well. And the impact is far reaching. Caz will be able to help other families, and Heather, the therapist, plans on speaking at schools and other opportunities while she is there sharing about the impact of autism and the therapy techniques available. It’s a great opportunity to spread the knowledge and therapy available to children with autism to an entire region. I’ve set up a donation page on Trying to Follow and I hope you’ll prayerfully consider making a donation. Thanks.

Send Heather to South Africa! (Find out more info at this donation page, including updates and total donation amount)

Or, simply donate here:


Customer Complaint: T-Mobile’s TLC Companion Flight Promotion Is a Nightmare

(regular readers: please excuse me a moment while I vent)
You know when you have great customer service? It’s great, and yet we take it so for granted. I actually emailed a Verizon rep the other day thanking them for how helpful they were, having been reminded of it because of the terrible customer service I’ve had recently. Let me tell you about it.

In December, T-Mobile ran a promotion that if you renewed your contract you would receive a free companion flight when booking a plane ticket. I browsed the fine print, they had the destinations I need, didn’t blackout the dates I needed, you have to book through their agents, but they would price match competitive sites like Orbitz. Everything cleared and so we went ahead and renewed our contract. That’s when the headaches began. Here they are in chronological order:

  • 1/4/09 Calling to renew my contract took almost an hour. I was disconnected multiple times and was given three different phone numbers till I reached a customer service rep who could actually renew my contract for me. Why I got disconnected and why they couldn’t simply transfer me to the right person, or put the specific number on their website, is beyond me.
  • 1/10/09 A few days later and I receive an email saying I couldn’t register for the companion flight promotion because my contract was not renewed. What?! I called again and had the same painful process of being passed around multiple times. T-Mobile said it was their booking partners (TLC) mistake, TLC said it was T-Mobiles fault. Eventually, I found a T-Mobile customer service rep who took the time to look at my account and saw that no one actually renewed my contract. Fortunately, the rep saw that I had called before and went ahead and renewed my contract effective the date I had called, so I was still eligible for the promotion.
  • 2/4/09 I receive my booking PIN after their 30 day waiting period and promptly send in a price match request, complete with screenshot for a US Airways flight for $268 round trip. They respond requesting my booking PIN so that they can proceed and I send it to them. The quick email response assures me I have the write email address and there appears to be smooth and quick communication, I rest easy (Big mistake). Their website says it will take two business days to get a response. No response comes.
  • 2/15/09 I submit the request again including screenshot. It’s met with an automated reply.
  • 2/19/09 I’ve still not heard anything back so I submit a price match request again. This time the automated reply says I need a screenshot of both the T-Mobile booking site and the price match site I found. I take screenshots and send them in. Now the matching site I found has the ticket listed at $312.39. But, compared to the $414 ticket at the T-mobile site, I figure it’s worth waiting to hear back.
  • 2/20/09 I start calling. One of their requirements is tickets have to be booked 30 days in advance. I’m trying to get tickets for April 2nd, so that only leaves a week before the 30 days cut off. The customer service rep informs me that it will actually take 5-10 business days, not the two originally promised on the website. There is no manager available to speak to and they apparently do not have the contact info for the price match department. I simply need to wait for their call.
  • 2/24/09 I call again. I’m informed now that it will take 10 business days to get a reply. They assure me that my original request will be honored and I don’t need to worry if it’s past March 2nd. Again, there is no manager available when requested.
  • 2/26/09 I call again. This time I’m told it’s 10-14 business days.  I explain my situation, my frustration, the run around I’ve been getting. I ask to speak to a manager. Again, none is available, however, they appearently have a voicemail box. I leave a message.
  • 3/1/09 Unwilling to trust random customer service reps, I attempt to book the tickets on the T-mobile companion flight booking site. Though over $100 more then what I was expecting to pay, I attempt to book the tickets. The tickets, though listed as available in the search, come up with an error stating they are not available. I try the four different ticket options listed and each one has the same error. My suspicion is that somewhere in the computer code for the booking site they didn’t account for March having 31 days and started listing April 2nd flights as unavailable, just a guess.
  • 3/2/09 I call again. I speak with Brian (ID#64024). He says there is nothing he can do. His supervisors are not available, he can only book tickets through the same site that I can, he has no contact info for the price match department and his only explanation for the computers is that they remove flights at 8pm EST. When asked for a supervisors name, he says there is a bunch of them, he mentions “Kim” and “Leah”. He puts me through to the same voicemail box I was given the previous week and I leave a message.
  • 3/2/09 I call again the same day and the supervisors are never available.
  • 3/3/09 I start early. I get a hold of Eric (ID#LS48), turns out he is one of the supervisors, lucky me. He has quite a bit of attitude, but he gives me a little more information. Kim is apparently the lead manager for that TLC location. TLC stands for Travel Leisure Corps or TLC Worldwide Marketing. He also promises me he’ll send an email to his supervisor about the situation. Why could none of the other customer service reps could do that?
  • 3/3/09 I continue calling and asking for “Kim”, finally I reach a gentleman named Caren (ID#64044) who is very helpful. He tells me that Kim is actually in their Boston office, and the number I have is to the South Dakota office. He doesn’t have the Boston number, but he’s given me enough information to try and find it myself. He also looks at my account and sees that “Ashley” is listed as my booking agent, however she and the whole price match team are also located in Boston. He sends her an email explaining the situation.
  • 3/3/09 I google TLC in Boston and find a listing. But the numbers don’t work. I google the building their address is listed in and get phone numbers from the operator. I call the number [617-788-9600] and reach an automated directory, no receptionist. Punching in “Kim” shows that there is only one Kim listed in the directory, a Kimberely Sley (sp?). I try the extension, no answer, but I leave a message. I try again and try “Ashley” again one person listed, Ashley Survelle (sp?). Her extension also has no answer. So close, but yet so far.

And that’s where I currently am. Still no plane ticket. And while early February I was looking forward to two plane tickets for $268, a happy trade for a renewed two year contract with T-mobile, I’m not so happy anymore. If I can’t get this resolved in the next day or two I’ll have to bite the bullet and pick up those two plane tickets for about $700+. But you can be sure I’ll be sending the bill to TLC and T-Mobile to reimburse the difference. I have no clue who TLC is, but T-Mobile’s name is being quite tarnished by the terrible customer service people are having with this promotion. Just Google TLC Worldwide Marketing to read others horror stories.

Hopefully this story will have a happy ending…

[I’ve opted against posting my screenshots]

YouTubesday: Support Team Awesome!

Hands down, two of the cool and most creative people I know are my brother, Keane Fine, and my friend, Zach Swee. Besides being incredible and loyal friends, they are fun and adventurous. Take for example their 24 hour trip down to the Dominic Republic on $20 plane tickets. Or their European backpack excursion. Or you might be intrigued by their Superior Human Being competition. Needless to say they are awesome people.

Anyways, they have both created videos for a contest by STA Travel for a world traveling summer internship. So, as you can see, today’s YouTubesday will be highlighting their cool and creative videos. Take five minutes and learn about the two coolest people I know. And feel free to use the links to go straight to youtube and rate, comment and share the videos there.

Keane Fine – Team Awesome I

Zach Swee – Team Awesome II