Transferring money overseas

October 26, 2007

My mum’s currently visiting in Taiwan and as she is now low on funds, had asked me to send her money. No problem, I would just wire the money to her using my bank. I logged on to my bank’s website and saw that they only have a limited number of countries where I could wire money to. Unfortunately, Taiwan isn’t in the list! Undaunted, I visited a local branch and was told that the bank does not offer the service for Taiwan. The teller I talked to even pointed me to one of the money exchange shops around the corner.

Researching online, I came across Western Union. The site claims that using this service is fast, easy and efficient. Another plus is both sender and receiver do not have to open an account to transfer money. Government issued IDs and a reference number are the only things involved. However unlike doing it in the bank where the fee would have been a fixed amount of $20 (online) or $30 (over the counter), this service charges a certain percentage of the amount. Thus, the fee increases proportionately with the amount of money sent.

With my mum growing desperate, I tried to send money online using Western Union’s website. I could have gone to Australia Post to get it done there but I just don’t want to spend my lunch hour waiting around in a long queue. Anyway, I went the process of filling out all the forms online and having to put in my credit card details only to be told at the end that my transaction was rejected. No other information was displayed other than the date. I called up their customer service line and was asked about the error. The operator was a bit puzzled at first when I told him that I didn’t receive any error codes from the website, just the cryptic transaction rejected message. He asked for my transaction details and he pulled up the record from their database. He asked if it was the only transaction I’ve done in the past 30 days. I said yes, and if there were other transactions there in my name, it wasn’t from me. He assured me that there is only one record (makes one wonder why he asked in the first place if he could see only one transaction anyway).

After several typing sounds from the other end of the line, he informed me that my bank (meaning the credit card issuer) has not responded to the verification process for my transaction and that was why my transaction was rejected. He suggested that I call up my bank to ask why the transaction didn’t go through. He also assured me that my credit card has not been charged since the transaction has been cancelled.

After hanging up, I googled for the transaction rejected error message. I ended up in this site about how one online sender’s credit card was charged when his transaction got rejected and the headaches he encountered to get the charge reversed. Although the original blog post was written in July 2006, there were numerous comments from people who went through a similar ordeal. The latest one had mid-Oct. 2007 in its date! Uh oh, certainly not a good sign. I quickly called up my credit card issuer to ask if there were any charges recently. The operator said no recent activity on my card.

After clearing that up, I was still no closer to sending money to my mum. I found an English forum about Taiwan and someone mentioned Moneygram as an alternative money transfer service provider. The service is similar to Western Union’s (Moneygram is actually a competitor) but instead of charging a percentage of the amount, the fee is fixed at $35. I was planning to send $300 and I would have paid $35 as well if I used Western Union. Comparing their exchange rate online, it looked like Western Union had the higher rate.

Knowing I might have to send money to mum again later, I opted to go with Moneygram. I know I would have to send a bigger amount next time and I wanted to test their service now even if they have a slightly lower exchange rate. Besides, the fiasco with the Western Union website does not fill me with confidence and I would like there to be just one transaction record in their system in case I would have to dispute the cancelled transaction later.

I used Moneygram’s website to locate an agent in the city and went there today. The transaction was relatively painless at my end. I called up my mum and told her I have sent the money and that she could claim it at an agent there. She was on her way to meet someone though and she won’t be able to get the money until Monday. Shame, as I would love to know now how easy it is to complete the transaction at her end. I guess I’d just have to wait till next week.

If you could suggest a fast, easy, safe and cheaper alternative, I’m all ears!

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Bargaining, money learner style

October 23, 2007

After much deliberation and armed with the measurements of the alcove where the new fridge would be, hubby and I went to the homemaker centre in Maribyrnong last weekend. We went to the usual retailer stores like Harvey Norman, Good Guys and even the newly opened Retravision.

Our first stop was Harvey Norman where we were approached by a lady sales assistant as we were inspecting and comparing the Westinghouse BJ514VR and Electrolux EBM5100WB. Both are white with 4-star energy ratings, comparable in capacity at about 510L and have similar shelf layouts (the sales assistant later told us that both are manufactured in the same factory). I preferred the Electrolux model because it looks more stylish with its silver handles, good review (according to Choice magazine) and the shelves look more polished. On the other hand, the boy liked the Westinghouse model because it has an additional lockable shelf, 2 crisper draws that are of unequal size (the Electrolux one has 2 draws sized equally), is of a more reliable brand and is $68 cheaper than the Electrolux one.

As we were arguing the finer points of each, the sales assistant told us that both are good brands and that it’s a matter of preference. To help with our decision, I asked if both models are available with a left-hand hinge. Yes, both are. Hubby asked how much the delivery would be to our area, to which the answer was $40. The lady stayed with us for a few more minutes until she spotted another potential customer browsing in a nearby area. We then told her that we’d just let her know once we decided and hubby asked for her card. Perhaps this signalled that we are serious and would be buying soon so she promised us free delivery if we come back on the same day.

We then proceeded to see if we could find a better price at the nearby Good Guys and Retravision. We didn’t. So we went back to Harvey and had another look at both fridges. We still haven’t decided at this time but I finally convinced hubby that Electrolux would be the better buy (I don’t know, just looking at the Westinghouse one depresses me, I guess it’s because it’s quite a basic model and looks like the barebones version). We asked the sales assistant what would be the best price she could give us for the Electrolux model. She went away, presumably to consult with their computers and came back with $1420 delivered (from the tag price of $1497 + delivery).

Electrolux EBM5100WBHubby looked like he wanted to say yes to it by this time (he detests bargaining and I’m normally too shy to do it) but he looked at me questioningly if he should already say yes to that price. I had a split-minute decision and asked the sales assistant if she could do it for 1400 even. There was a pause (I swear it could have been a minute but in reality could be just a few seconds) then she jokingly said that she has been warned by her colleagues that people would try and bargain even more even if she already quoted her best price. By this time, I was actually thinking if I should just say yes to $1420 and be done with it. Fortunately, I kept quiet and she agreed to $1400 after her spiel. The boy thanked her (quite emphatically, may I add), and we went about the business of invoicing and payment.

As we were queueing at the cashier, the sales assistant said that she won’t be getting a commission with our purchase but she did mention that with a lot of competition around, there’s nothing she could do but to stay competitive. I quite doubt that she won’t get any commission, I do believe she still would get something, albeit a reduced amount. And if so, she could have said no to $1400 anyway. So in the end, perhaps she just said that so we won’t ask for any more discounts (I didn’t intend to anyway) and perhaps to make us feel a bit better about the bargain we got (didn’t help, I felt a bit guilty afterwards).

We paid for the full amount afterwards and were told that we would receive a call once the unit in available and that we could then arrange for delivery then. We thanked her again and went out of the shop. Once outside, hubby confessed that he wouldn’t have bargained for the additional $20 if it were up to him and assured me that the lady wouldn’t have given the discount if there was absolutely no way it could be done.

So yeah, what they say is true, it pays to shop around and negotiating a better price. I just wish it could be a bit easier next time.


White or Steel?

October 19, 2007

I’m currently on the market for a refrigerator. I’ve measured the space and has determined that I want a large, bottom mount fridge that would hopefully last us for years. So to research prices and available models, I went to Harvey Norman in the city during my lunch break. I was inspecting the interior of one of the fridges on display when a sales assistant greeted me and asked me what I’m looking for.

 I told him I want a fridge with more than 400 litre capacity and preferably a bottom mount one. He then asked, are you after stainless steel? No, I’m after a white one. He then said that they don’t stock that many white fridges. True enough, I had a look around and there were only a couple of white bottom mount ones, the majority were steel. The same is true for side by sides and even top mount models.

Most of our kitchen appliances are currently white, mainly because they are cheaper than their stainless steel counterparts, even those that are of the same make and model. Our electric cordless kettle, dishwasher, refrigerator and microwave are all white. Only the toaster and the oven are made of steel.

What about you, which do you prefer when buying kitchen appliances?


Randomness

October 11, 2007

Got tagged by tehnyit to reveal seven random things about myself. Here goes:

  1. I work in the IT industry but rarely read up nor use technology much outside of work.
  2. I don’t follow a budget (found it too time-consuming and difficult) but have a rough idea of how much we spend on what in my head.
  3. I don’t drive. I think it’s safer for myself and the general public for me to take public transportation and letting others drive. I’ve taken the lessons and own a license but have limited actual driving experience since I ran the car into a pillar while trying to park.
  4. I like to travel. So the previous thing about driving may not hold for much longer since hubby doesn’t like driving long distances and would love for me to swap with him on long drives.
  5. To me, sleeping is the ultimate way to relax.
  6. I’m an only child. Anyone who claims that children with no siblings are spoiled don’t know what they’re talking about.
  7. I’m not the sporty type but I do like to walk and ride the bike.

I would love to pay it forward, so to speak, but only know a limited number of bloggers. If you liked this meme, please feel free to consider yourself tagged. Leave a comment to this post so that I could also read your answers.


An update

October 10, 2007

Apologies to the regular readers on the lack of post last week. Work and home chores has taken out a large chunk of my time, not to mention having to pull and spray the weeds in our backyard. Mitre 10 had a sale of seedlings last week and I bought a pot of basil, coriander, tomato and capsicum seedlings. I have repotted all except the capsicum since I ran out of pots! I’m planning to get a few more pots at the Reject Shop and re-potted the other seedlings this weekend.

All this planting has also made me think about getting a water tank. It has been raining during the past few days and all I could think of is all that water in our gutter wasting away because I couldn’t harvest it. Anyway, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading up on the different kinds of tanks, the number of ways the harvested water could be used, the government rebate and the costs associated with getting one. Hubby and I had discussed the options and we’re thinking of getting a 1000L slimline galvanised or metal tank connected outside the house only. I would have liked a bigger model but the space available to us constricts as as to the size of the tank we could put in.

We were ready to make the purchase last weekend when we asked a lady at the local Bunnings about the particulars of purchase, delivery and installation. As hubby and I both work full-time, we could only have the weekends available to us to have it delivered and installed. Unfortunately, as with most things in Australia that would need a tradesman, having a rainwater delivered and installed could only happen during weekdays for tanks bought at Bunnings. We are now considering getting the tank early next year, when work commitments for both of us could be lighter and we could take time off to have the tank delivered and installed. Hubby also now favours Bluescope’s free assessment (weekdays only) where someone from their company would visit your house, assess where and how to site the tank in your property, take the necessary measurements and give you a quote. If you’re happy with the quote and buy the tank from them, they would deliver the tank after some wait (I think it’s 4-8 weeks at the moment) and have it installed at the same time (not sure yet if this could be done on weekends). Argh, why is having things installed so difficult?!

Anyway, for those of you considering getting one yourselves, here are some of the more useful links I’ve come across:

As if having to research on rainwater tanks is not enough, we’re also considering buying a bigger refrigerator. The one that we’re currently using is only 253L and we’ve been struggling to get everything to fit. Especially now that I cook big batches of food so that we could bring our own lunch, it’s a challenge to have to fit all the ingredients, the prepared food, drinks and numerous bottles of sauces that need refrigeration. I’ve read somewhere that bottom-mount fridges are more energy efficient and ergonomic so I’m looking at getting one with that configuration. We liked the Fisher&Paykel 510L one but have read that the seals could present problems in the future and that their customer service is bad. Haven’t decided yet and would visit more shops to compare models and price in the following days.


Our Aldi shopping experience

October 1, 2007

There have been numerous stories done about supermarket chain Aldi and the low prices of their products. We’ve been to the local branch before but left empty-handed after a brief look-around. With my current attempt at cutting food costs though, I decided to give Aldi another go. Armed with my grocery list, hubby and I headed to our local Aldi last Saturday.

The place is smaller than the local Coles, Safeway (or Woolworths) or even Sim’s. Be prepared to use a $2 coin to get a grocery cart to use (which you could get back once you return the trolley). The place is sparse and tidy, some would say even clinical, which some shoppers may find depressing. The shelvings are kept simple and most products are left in their shipping pallets. Only a portion of the cardboard pallets are ripped to show what’s inside and to provide access to customers to the products within. Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about shopping at Aldi’s are the unfamiliar brands. Popular brands are few and far between, most brands could not be found elsewhere but seem like of good quality nonetheless.

As we were unfamiliar with the store’s layout and would have easily missed the products available, we went around the shop twice. Aldi prides itself for selling essentials cheaply, thus not everything is available instore (I still had to go to Coles afterward for some items). The produce looked fresh but you can’t buy loose items. I had to buy a kilogram of tomatoes and onions. Lucky my list calls for a lot of tomatoes and we go through onions quite quickly anyway. I wanted to get a red capsicum but only saw a dual pack of green and red ones so I didn’t get my capsicum there. Since produce is sold by bulk, it’s best to check the whole bag for rotten or bad ones as I got a few dodgy onions when I forgot to check the bag after grabbing it from the pallet. Check expiry dates as well, as I found out later that the tray of chicken I bought would be expiring today! I had to do some creative re-arranging of my menu to use all the chicken meat by tonight.

There was only one counter open by the time we finished and since the lady behind me asked if she could go ahead since she only had a tub of ice cream, there was a wait of 5-10 minutes before we were served. Items were scanned and then piled onto the end of the counter or into the trolley. Customers pack their own groceries and you have to pay for plastic bags so it’s best to bring your own bags. Although we would normally pay by credit card for our groceries, we wanted to avoid the 1% credit card surcharge so we paid by cash. The total of our purchase was 80 bucks and change, not bad for four bags of groceries.

We went to Coles afterward to get the remainder of my list and spent $39. There were still one item left in my list and it’s only available from the Asian shop so we went the next day, spending another $21, bringing up the total to $140 for a week’s worth of grocery. Certainly an improvement over the $160-180 we would have spent if we shopped at the Big 2 supermarkets where we normally shopped.

As for the goods we bought from Aldi, we’ve already consumed some of the chicken (good and fresh), toiletries (I actually prefer theirs now over the well known brand), cereal (nice and different) and potato wedges (not great but passable). Overall, I would say that the experience was well worth the effort and would definitely be one we would do again, albeit with some careful planning next time!


My first tomato plant

September 28, 2007

Patio PrizeI’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’m interested in growing my own food. Well, I took the plunge and bought a tomato plant last weekend at our local Bunnings. I chose tomato as they are supposed to be easy to grow (aside from herbs) and we do eat a lot of tomatoes. I was considering getting some seeds or probably seedlings as they’re much cheaper but I thought perhaps buying a more advanced plant would be better for a novice gardener like me.

I chose the patio prize variety as I wanted to grow my first experiment in a container. The specimen I got looked healthy when I bought it from the shop but I noticed some yellowing leaves when I was watering it last night. Uh oh, I hope I’m not already killing it!

Anyway, I did a search on the internet and read that tomato plants like to be watered in the mornings (hmmm…. no time to water in the mornings). Some mentioned tomato blight, which is caused by a fungus due to the water splashing on the bottom leaves of the plant. The photos of tomato blight in some sites look eerily similar to the bottom leaves of my plant. Suggestions on how to remedy the problem range from cutting off the affected leaves, avoiding to water the plant in the evenings and spraying it with a fungicide. I think I’ll cut off the bottom leaves first and see how it goes afterwards. If the yellowing continues, I think I’d have to relocate the plant so that it’ll be easier for me to water it in the mornings and then if that still fails, get a fungicide.

I’ll have to admit I had high hopes for this plant and was pretty excited by the prospect of picking my own home-grown tomatoes. I just hope it doesn’t die on me. Fingers crossed.

Expenses for this project :

100mm tomato plant – $2.79
500g flower & fruit fertiliser – $4.94
Self-watering pot – $ 12.57

Total: $20.30


Online Vouchers

September 21, 2007

Whenever I buy something from the grocery, I look at the back of the docket to see what vouchers I got. Here in Australia, dockets sometimes have discount vouchers printed at the back. Most of them are of no interest to me but sometimes I really get good ones like $5 for 5 weekly rentals at VideoEzy or discounted rates at the local bowling alley.

However, as we only buy our groceries weekly and docket vouchers could have an element of luck to it, I much prefer online dockets that could be printed off. Here are the sites that offer free vouchers:


Growing your own food

September 19, 2007

I’m no green thumb and gardening is not my favourite thing to do but I’m contemplating on starting my own vegie patch. I’m quite clueless as to where to start so I’ve been reading up on how to begin. Although it’s sounds like fun, I also know that it could be time consuming (one book I read estimates that I would have to devote 100 hours to a vegie patch per year). I’m not sure if I could commit to such an undertaking.

However, starting a vegie patch could be rewarding as well. Not only would I be able to save some money when the plants are already well established, I could also enjoy the fruits of my labour (literally)! What could be fresher and more delicious than something that I could pick up from the garden and cook straight away with all the nutrients still locked in?

Then there’s also the environmental concern. With me growing my own food, I won’t have to rely on far away farms to produce my (some) of my food with all its associated carbon emissions in transport. On the other hand though, I worry that with the current water restrictions, I may not be able to water my fledging plants and they might die anyway thus wasting time and money.

CorianderI’ve read that I could also start with some easy care herbs to begin with and go from there. I suppose that’s the best solution for me as I want to at least try my hand at it without overcommitting. I think I’d get some coriander and spring onions to start with then progress to tomatoes, zucchini and perhaps some carrots and potatoes if all goes well.

Do you grow your own vegetables? Are they worth the effort for you? Would love to hear from others who knows more about this.


BYO

September 16, 2007

One of the tried and tested tenets of saving money is to bring-your-own (BYO) lunch and drinks. I’m the kind of person who would rather buy a cooked meal rather than slave away in the kitchen so a big chunk of my pay goes to fast food. I’ve started to cook and pack my lunch again this week just to see how I’d go with it. I planned the menu last Sunday, went to the mall, got all the my vegies and fruits from the fresh food shop rather than the grocery (it’s cheaper!) and got cooking that night.

It worked well for me specially when I cook big batches of something as it lasts several days, great for a lazy cook like me. But since I’m the type of person who can’t eat the same thing day in and day out for very long, I also have to be concious that I don’t cook to much of anything. Anyway, as I’ve been saying, it has been great because I know what exactly is in my food (which hopefully translates to better nutrition) and works out much cheaper than getting something from a cafe or fast food shop. It also eliminates the need to think about where to go for lunch, worrying whether I’d like the food if I’m trying a new place and would my food be fresh.

Some people like to eat at their desk but I like to go out of the office, even for just a bit of a change and to stretch my legs. Besides, I usually cook something that would go well with rice so hubby and I buy our rice and eat together in a food court. I know that we’ll probably save much more if I just cook our own rice and bring that from home but the boy like steaming hot rice that is freshly cooked. Besides, it kinda gives us the right to eat in the food court. If anybody complains, I could always say we bought something from there and therefore has the right to eat our meal there. Drinks are usually overpriced when bought from shops so I bring our own cans of softdrinks or iced tea from home.

This week I reckon we saved about $90 just from bringing our food from home and it only added $30 to the grocery bill so it’s still a savings of $60 in just one week! I’m not yet sure if I could keep it up but this blog about bentos and this Flickr pool about laptop lunches are truly inspiring! I don’t think I’d bother to make my food that pretty but at least it ought to motivate me to keep preparing my own lunch ahead of time and saving my lunch money at the same time!