Author Archives: George Boelcke

Thinking Of a Cruise? Not Yet…

If you’re a fellow cruise fan or addicted like I am, I’m sorry to tell you that you should probably wait another year.

This morning I priced out a Norwegian cruise (the Bliss) from L.A. to Mexican Riviera the first two weeks in January. Its one of the blocks on the calendar when travel is at its lowest (thus should be cheapest) since people just spend a ton of money on Christmas and it’s a month before most people think seriously about any winter holiday. But the price seems way too high, the obstacles are significant, and I’m not sure you want to be that close and personal with 3,000 other people for a while longer…

The price: $2,900 all inclusive for two people for a week? No way! That’s way too expensive. Sure, they’ll include a bunch of perks right now (free wi-fi, 3 upgraded restaurant visits and unlimited drinks). Sure, the actually cruise price will drop in the next month…but that only helps people living within driving distance to L.A. The rest of us need to book an airline ticket way in advance or that already overpriced flight will go even higher!

The obstacles: If you’re not vaccinated – forget it. They may (but not with all cruise lines) allow you on the ship (the rules change weekly) but you’ll be isolated onto certain decks and sections. If you have a mixed vaccine (like I do) you’ll be allowed on (I think) but treated as unvaccinated. The CDC and all Canadian medical institutions say you’re fully vaccinated, but some cruise lines, Italy, and other countries don’t agree.

You will also need a Covid negative test before you get on your return flight. You’ll be able to get off the ship by around 9 am, but then have to find a Covid test place, and get it one, and pay for it (I think it’s around $200), and then wait for the written results, and then get to the airport. The odds of making a flight back home that day seem remote. That means you may need to pay for a night in a hotel and the cab fare to get tested, to the hotel and to the airport!

The friends who wanted the cruise info will end up at an all-inclusive in Cabo and not on a cruise. Smart decision for so many reason right now. Sure I want to cruise again but not for that kind of money and not with those hurdles and unknowns…Sad but true.

The Best Example Of Nonsensical Polls

At least once a month some financial institution or another puts out a poll on something. They typically hire a polling firm to ask a couple of questions about certain financial products, buying intentions, or whatever. Then, their PR department sends out a press release and it gets picked up by everyone from Bloomberg news to radio stations and newspapers.

Why do it? It’s free advertising (other than paying for the poll) and generally gets wide coverage. And that builds their business and gives them a great deal of mileage on building credibility. For the media outlets, it’s something they can talk about for a day or so that takes zero reporting effort because they have the press release that just needs to be copied and pasted.

But there’s a problem: Most of them are somewhere between junk or wrong and questionable at best. A few years ago it was something like: 20% of Canadians plan to buy a new home next year. Well, that one doesn’t even pass the logic test of houses for sale vs around 50 million people wanting to buy one… But it got a lot of coverage. The real figure, if someone wants to go back and a) find the poll and b)find the actual home sales that year, is probably less than a tenth of that.

In the non-financial world, here’s my best example of poll nonsense from the September federal election: 71% of Canadians are “completely certain” they will vote in the election next week. It was an Ipsos poll done for Global News between September 15th and 18th – so a week before the election. That was close enough where you’d think people would actually know., We’re not talking about a hypothetical question a year out. We’re talking about the following week!

In reality, according to Elections Canada the voter turnout rate was 62.5%! That included everything from advance polls to mail, special ballots and election day voters. Would it be fair to say some people who thought they wouldn’t vote actually did? Of course! How many? Who knows – we can only guess. But that would have been at least a few million or so. That makes the 71% “completely certain” more like 50-55 percent….

It might be worthwhile to think of a lot of these polls more as entertainment than anything you can take to the bank.

Go to The Keg And Not The Bay

OK. That’s not fair to The Bay. It’s also our spending at Amazon, Walmart, and a ton of other online stores right now. It’s almost entirely our “fault” that we’re in a wave of temporary inflation and supply-chain shortages. You can blame it on the pandemic and the drastic change in where we spend our money.

In normal times, when the world is on its axis and rotates properly, we spend about 75% of our money on services and 25% on products. But, when we’re at home, we’re not going to the movies, hockey games, concerts, or The Keg. We’re spending our money through our phones and computers buying “stuff.” Sure, there are supply-chain issues such as computer chips for cars, and one resin plant in Texas on temporary shut-down created shortages in everything from paint to garage doors. But the vast majority of shortages comes from tripling our purchase of “stuff” instead of services.

The faster we get back to the normal 75-25 spending on services vs. goods, the faster supply-chain issues will get resolved, and local businesses from restaurants to hairdressers, bars to movie theatres will heal. That should also cure the temporary inflation. Because, right now, there is way more demand for “stuff” than there is supply. Right now, there are more than 65 container ships off the coast of Los Angeles waiting to dock and unload. That’s where the “stuff” is that you ordered online. In the meantime, businesses that provide services are still way down in revenues and sales.

Those are the businesses that’ll heal our economy – not your online purchases from China! That’s why you should go to The Keg and not The Bay.

Yesterday, that’s where I went for the turning-teenager birthday party of a neighbor. It was my first restaurant visit since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago! Win-win that someone else paid AND that it happens to be my favorite restaurant chain in the country. But even a higher-end quality restaurant like The Keg is still down about a hundred reservations a day because you’re still online instead of in line!

If The Keg is indicative of what happens when you get there, you need not worry. You’ll get a table, and you won’t be standing in line forever. The process of showing your ID and vaccination proof took them less than a minute for our party of six. In some provinces, including Alberta on November 15th, you’ll need to re-print your vaccination certificate to include the QR code (or you can download it on your phone). That’ll make the process to get into any venue even quicker and more efficient.

If you need a reminder or refresher of why to cut down on buying “stuff” re-read page 216 of the Money Tools & Rules book. And sometime next week, get out from under your screen and support a “service” business in your community. Whether it’s a hockey game or a movie, a dinner out or whatever. The faster we get back to the normal 75-25 spending balance the faster we’ll get back to something resembling “normal.”

Good Bye Walmart

For the last two years, I’ve been doing my grocery shopping at Walmart. Until last week.

For the third time now, I’ve bought something that’s gone bad way before the expiry date. But, as we talked about a few months ago: No receipt – no refund or exchange. So, once again, I had to throw out a purchase of a “Great Value” product that only Walmart sells. But…no receipt a month after the purchase. I just don’t (and shouldn’t) need to keep a receipt for grocery purchases twice a week.

When Walmart chooses not to stand behind their products, I can’t trust them anymore. I’ll spare you the picture of the moldy inside view of my cream cheese, but when it’s gone bad two months before the “best before” date, it’s time to find a better quality grocery store.

I Was Fired. Who Knew?

Two minutes before my segment June 9th, Phil emailed me to “take the summer off” and we’d be back with the Wednesday radio segment “in the fall.” I just assumed the station hadn’t started their fall schedule yet. As I’ve had over 30 emails during the summer wondering where I was: No. I didn’t ask to take the summer off. No. I was never paid for the segment. It wasn’t a station cutback. No. I don’t think it was bad ratings – not based on the quantity of emails I was receiving…No. I had no idea why.

Today, a listener emailed me to tell me I was actually done, gone and fired: “My wife and I used to listen to you Wednesday mornings on AM 1150 in Kelowna.  We looked forward to your message and said many times that what you were saying should be mandatory teaching in all schools, no exceptions.  We lived a fairly frugal but not chintzy lifestyle knowing we had to fund our retirement years, so your messages just made so much sense to us…  When we didn’t hear your message twice at the beginning of July we phoned the radio station and asked why.  Their response was that some of their presenters were taking the summer off and would be back in the fall.  When you didn’t reappear in September we phoned again and were told you weren’t coming back.  We are most disappointed, as you were the highlight of our Wednesday morning listening.  All this to say we miss you, and wish you well.”  Sent from my iPad. Tom J

After almost 16 years, I would have hoped or guessed it would end in a more professional way…but again, that’s just my opinion.

Money Tools & Rules Wednesday Segment

January 7, 2005 to June 2, 2021

RIP

Spend $4 Instead Of $200

Last week I was at an Air Canada counter for over half an hour with a missed flight nightmare. (Thanks to Air Canada line-ups). Checking in at the counter next to me was a lady with her two middle-aged sons. Their two suitcases weighed 58 and 60 pounds. The agent told them they had five minutes before the luggage cut-off for their flight to get both down to 50 pounds or pay $100 for each in overweight charges.

When they questioned it, she was at least honest in telling them that they count on luggage fees as part of their income so there would be no exception. But she also told them the stuff they needed to take out to get to 50 pounds couldn’t go into their carry-on as it was at max size and weight. What to do? Take out about 18 pounds of “stuff” and throw it in the garbage or pay the $200?

Four bucks would have saved them the $200 with a simple travel luggage scale. Most Dollarama stores have them, or step up and pay around eight bucks at Amazon.

I’ve always had one with me when I travel. At home you can just weigh your suitcase on your bathroom scale. It’ll avoid the humiliation of opening your suitcase in the lineup at the airline counter. On the road, especially if you plan to do any shopping, you can go to the hotel gym that normally has a scale before you head to the airport. Or pack the travel scale. That tiny expense has saved me countless overweight scales, a ton of time at airports, and the massive stress I’d have going through my luggage in front of dozens of people looking over my shoulder at the ticket counter!

My (Almost) $60 Checkout Mistake

How careful are you to watch the prices of items scanned at the checkout? Unfortunately, most people don’t look. It’s pretty easy to tell what others do: Just watch what they’re doing and where their eyes are looking when they, or a cashier, are scanning their purchases.

As a result, we just look at the displayed total and pull out or debit or credit card to pay. I normally keep an eye on the scanned items, especially those sold by weight. I’ve stopped a cashier when some fruit came out at (what I thought) was an insane price to delete it. But confession time: I clearly need to be doing it all the time!

At Costco a couple of days ago, I just needed some crackers, cookies and croissants. I ran all six items through the self-serve checkout, saw the $100.84 total and paid with my debit card thinking: Yup, can’t get out of Costco for under a hundred bucks.

Five seconds and two steps later I stopped. Wait a minute. A hundred bucks for THIS? That’s when I saw the sixty buck charge for a dozen croissants. Yes, they’re really good, but not sixty bucks good!

The bakery department person doing the labels that morning simply entered too many digits to print the scan sticker. Mistakes happen, it was fixed at customer service, but hopefully the lesson will stick. According to a report from the Journal of Retailing, about 4.08% of scans are incorrect. 2.33% are priced too low while 1.75% are too high.

The Retail Council of Canada also has voluntary rules for compensating customers. Sadly, it appears Costco either isn’t part of it or wouldn’t honour it.

BIG Inflation or Temporary Blip?

That’s the question most economists are asking themselves. So is the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve in order to set interest rates.

Add my vote to those predicting the spike in inflation is temporary and only part of the post pandemic recovery. Pent up demand will do that – but it woudn’t or shouldn’t last. One of the measurements has already shown that. Lumber prices have collapsed to their 2020 levels or lower (but only in the U.S. so far). So have copper, crops and gold prices. If inflation where heading up, those would be among the first places to show it.

Yes, energy, food, and housing are still way up. But remember that these are essentially monopoly pricing areas. Without real competition to bring down prices, normal market forces of demand and supply don’t apply as much – or rapidly. OPEC sets oil prices, as one example. And in the housing market, a new report shows that 85% of condo sales in Canada are to investors. Food prices (already down in the U.S. as well) go up instantly here in Canada (even though our dollar is pretty strong at around 80 cents). But most cities have only two major competitors. Thus it doesn’t take much for them to pass on price increases, but they seem to “forget” to roll them back when costs go down – way down.

Another Business With Big Covid Lies

Add Netflix to the long list of businesses who have used Covid as an excuse for pretty bad behaviours, stock levels, store hours changes, etc. etc.

Netflix had a massive subscriber increase in the last quarter. Their press release CREDITED Covid for the increase in their numbers and income. Fast forward to last week and this Netflix quarter was way below analysts’ expectations. The reasoning Netflix gave? The BLAMED Covid for their lower numbers. Nice try…

Lumber Price Plummet

I live in a new subdivision where a bunch of neighbours are holding off building their fences and decks. It’s not only an expense most first-time new home buyers don’t consider, it’s also the price of lumber this year. The massive spike in prices has at least a half dozen of them thinking “next year.” But that’s all over with…but only in the U.S.

Lumber prices have collapsed, giving up all of their 2021 price spikes. But that’s only in the U.S. So, right now, you can buy lumber at 2020 (and lower) prices in the US, paying the exchange, duty and tariffs. Yet, here in Canada, there are so few retailers that they, along with the producers are taking their sweet time dropping prices. NOT nice!