Friday, January 31, 2014

Box Offers 50GB for iPhone Users

Cloud storage has been one of the hallmark concepts in the technology world these last few years. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and therefore being able to access our information from anywhere has become important.

Google Drive, SkyDrive (soon to be known as OneDrive), Dropbox, and SugarSync offer users varying amounts of storage for varying prices. For each, prices start with a free account.

Of great interest to iPhone users should be an offer from The company is offering 50GB of free storage forever for iPhone and iPad users. This offer runs through February 15. Those who already have a Box account are also eligible to expand their free storage to the 50GB.

For information you need, visit this page. For additional information on the nuts & bolts of what to download and how to take advantage of the offer if you already use Box, visit this page.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Scares You? Is It Your Email?

Thanks to Gene Ramsay for this testimonial. Gene is an insurance agent and husband of master teacher Julie D. Ramsay. Gene had invited me to speak for a group of his colleagues. This video comes as a result of that event.

E-mail is a challenge for all-too-many of us, but it does not have to be. By making decisions on each e-mail and using Outlook's drag and drop feature, an empty Inbox at the end of the day can be a reality. Other electronic to-do list, such as Toodledo, allow you to take those emails which require your action and send them straight from your email to your to-do list. To see how to get email empty using Toodledo, read this post.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

From "In" to "Empty"

You walk to the curb and take the mail from your mailbox. When you walk away from that mailbox, it is empty! Better yet, it’s not empty just one day; it’s empty at the end of every day. Wouldn't it be great if only your email inbox operated like the mailbox by the curb?

Decisions, decisions! The key to getting an empty inbox is to simply make decisions about each and every item. Therefore, make a practice of looking at your email only when you have the time and energy to make those decisions. You are going to need to go from top to bottom and make small decisions at each turn.

Delete It. Much of your email requires no action other than to briefly scan it and hit the delete key. Candidates include advertisements in which you have no interest, jokes, threads from email discussion groups, and FYI courtesy copies. You may find it helpful to sort the email by “conversation.” All mail related to a single subject appears together. If the subject is of no interest, delete the entire thread at one time.

Do It. Some emails require only a quick response. Give that response immediately and delete the email if it is of no further value. What if the response is going to take some time, and possibly some research? In that case, send a quick reply to let the person know you received the message and will be getting back soon. If you are an Outlook user, a technique called "drag and drop" allows you to get those types of emails to your task list. Click on the email and drag it to the Task icon, assign a due date, and change the subject line as needed. Now, you can delete the email. If you use a web-based to-do list (I use Toodledo), look for a special email address the service assigns to you. Email sent to that address is automatically added to the to-do list. When you receive an email requiring action, forwarding it to that email address puts it on the to-do list, where it belongs.

Schedule It. Some email embeds information on places you need to be, along with supporting information. This type of information belongs on your calendar. On Outlook, "drag and drop" also works on appointments. The newly-created appointment includes the entire body of the email in its note section. Set a date and time, and save. The information is now in the calendar, and you can delete the email.

Delegate It. Perhaps someone else really needs to be handling this message. Forward it to the appropriate person. You can use "drag and drop" as a follow-up. Drag the email to "Tasks," amend the name of the task, and set a due date for when you want to be reminded about it. If using a service such as Toodledo, forward the email to your digital to-do list. Amend the subject line as needed. Add a hashtag and date, such as "#2/10," and Toodledo assigns a due date of "February 10."

Save It. Is the email of lasting value? Often, we need to save email for documentation purposes. We want to save it "just in case." In Outlook, create a new folder in the left-hand pane and name it "Just in Case." Use the same "drag and drop" technique to move the email from the Inbox to the "Just in Case" folder. If you ever need the email again, sorting that folder by name, subject, or date is easy. Searching the folder electronically is also easy. If using Gmail, the "Archive" icon serves exactly the same function as the "Just in Case" folder. If the content of the email will serve as valuable reference information, drag the email to Outlook's "Notes" icon. If you do not use Outlook, Evernote is a great, free, service for organizing reference information. A special email, assigned to you, allows forwarding any email to Evernote.

“In” Becomes “Empty.” The point of this message is that a decision must be made about each piece of email, and that the decision is made the first time the message is read. Make your decision: Delete, Do, Schedule, Delegate, or Save. See if these practices allow your, “IN to soon become “Empty.”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Write Your Emails Backwards

How many times have you clicked "Send" on an email and then realize you forgot the attachment? The whole reason for the email was the attachment, and you did such a masterful job of explaining all about it. When you finished that explanation, you thought, "I'm done!" So you clicked "Send." Only you weren't done. In fact, now you send a second email explaining you forgot to send the attachment.

How about this one: You write your subject line, but by the time you get through composing the email, its various twists and turns have caused it to stray from what the subject line originally said.

To solve both problems, let's write the email backwards.

Add Attachments
If the email is going to have attachment, start by attaching however many you are going to have. You have just eliminated the possibility of forgetting them. If you are replying to or forwarding an email and need to add attachments, do so before composing any text.

Compose the Text
Go to the body of the email and say what you are going to say. Front-load the message so the reader gets the idea immediately of what needs to happen.

Compose the Subject Line
Look at the email you have written and sum it up in a subject line as descriptive as possible. Can the reader look at that subject line and know what it's going to mean to him/her? Many times, you will find you can write the entire email with just the subject line!

Avoid subject lines such as "Important" or "Meeting." If you want to show an email is important, use the "!" priority symbol your email program provides. "Need your approval on this proposal by Friday" gets the point across much better than "Important." "Can you attend the XYZ meeting on the 13th at 9:00?" is much better than "Meeting." If we can look at the subject line and know we can quickly take care of it, it's just human nature to act on that email.

If you are replying to an email or forwarding one, is the present subject line still applicable? If not, change it to one which is (especially if the original was "Important" or "Meeting").

Address the Email
You can send an email even though you forgot an attachment. You can send an email even if you forgot a subject. You can even hit the "Send" button by mistake before even composing a word of your text. But, you cannot send an email without a properly-formatted email address in the address line. Save this step for last.

Proof-read your email. Double-check that the attachments are there. As the final step, address the email. Now, you are ready to send!

Write your email backwards. See if it doesn't help you escape some of those email blunders.

Does anyone already do something along this line? What other suggestions might you want to add?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Add Tasks to Toodledo Using Google Now

In the last post, iPhone owners who use Toodledo learned how they can use Siri's "remind me" command to enter tasks into Toodledo. This post is for Android owners. We examine how to use Google Now, in conjunction with IFTTT to enter tasks into Toodledo. For those new to Google Now (also known as "Google Search"), this video shows over 40 examples of what Google Now can do:

You will notice a "remind me" command is also available in Google Now, but that's not the valuable one for me. I generally don't want audible notification at a particular time. Instead, what I want is a vehicle to simply get a task onto my to-do list as quickly as possible. For that, I use the command "Note to self."

Note to Self
"Note to self" allows me to talk, and Google Now sends an email to my Gmail account with everything I have said neatly typed into the body of the email. The subject of that email will be "Note to self," and that point will become important later. The capability to get a voice message converted to text, waiting for me in my email, is huge. The to-do is off my mind and into my system. When I handle email, I will also see everything I have entered through Google Now. But I want something more.

Before reading further, this update is based on my finding out about a capability in the "official" Toodledo app. I say "official," because many to-do apps will sync with Toodledo. When I began using an Android device some 18 months ago, there was no such app for Android, and so I download an app called "The Ultimate To-Do List," which works beautifully with Toodledo. 

At that time, Toodledo has developed its own app. In the Google Play Store, you will find a free app named "Toodledo." If you have a Toodledo account, download the official app on your Android phone.

The first time you use the "note to self" command, you will probably be presenting with several options of where the note can be sent. Choose Gmail. (Update: If you have installed the official Toodledo app, it will appear as one of your options. Choose it rather than Gmail..) If asked whether you want to select this option once or always, select that you want to use this options always.

Update: If you are using the official Toodledo app with your Android phone, you can stop reading at this point. Using Google's "Note to self" feature will send you voice input straight to your Toodledo list. If you are using another app to sync with Toodledo, read on. Also, if you are using another web-based to-do list, the better ones also have the ability send an email directly to the to-do list. The same instructions you see below will work with any of those lists as well.

Email into Toodledo
One of the nice features of Toodledo is that I am provided with a special email address. Anything sent to that email address goes into Toodledo. The subject of the email becomes the to-do. The body of the email populates the note section of the to-do. If you are a Toodledo user, this post tells you where to find that email address.

So, I speak a "note to self" into Google Now. When I examine email, I can forward that email to my Toodledo address. Now, the to-do is in Toodledo. I am now closer to what I want, but I still have a problem. The to-do is going to read "Note to self," and my voice message is going to be in the note section of the task. That's not what I want. If my message was, "Note to self...Buy dog food," then I want the to-do to read "Buy dog food." I can get it, but it's going to take some ingenuity.

Furthermore, I want to simplify the procedure, so that once I speak a "note to self," what I say winds up in Toodledo without my having to do anything else. I figured out a way to it, and the process has worked beautifully.

IFTTT Eliminates the Middleman
To accomplish my goal, I use "If This Then That", a web-based service which allows different services to work together. I have written about using IFTTT to automate routine tasks in this post, and how to escape a bad meeting in this post. My use of IFTTT to post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ was discussed in this article.

Remember earlier in this post, I said that when I compose a "note to self," the subject of the email which shows up has "Note to self" as the subject? I want to instruct IFTTT as follows:
  • If I receive an email with "Note to self" as the subject,
  • Then forward that email to my Toodledo email address. Also remember, I somehow have to get the body of the "note to self" message flipped up into the subject line before it reaches Toodledo.
To create an account, go to and sign up a free account. You can now create your first "recipe."

On the dashboard, click on "Create."


On the next screen, click on the "this" link. You are creating the "trigger."


You will now see a list of "channels." In this case, we are going to choose "Gmail."

You may get a message to "Activate" the channel. When you use a channel for the first time, you will generally be asked to activate it. The process takes only a couple of mouse clicks.

On the "Choose a Trigger" screen, select "New mail from search."

On the next screen, we will complete the "search for" blank:

Now click "Create Trigger."

We move on to the "that" part of the recipe. Click on the "that" link.

I see another list of channels. Again, I choose "Gmail." 

On the next screen, you have only one option, "Send an email.." Click it. 

The next screen is the one which will take a little work. The screen will look like this:

We are going to have to do some work here:
  1. In the line for the "To address," enter your Toodledo email address.
  2. In the "Body" block, highlight and copy the field that says "BodyPlain." Notice that when you click inside the box, the shading disappears, and a double set of brackets appears around the words, like this: {{BodyPlain}} When you highlight, be sure to include those doubles brackets.
  3. Go to the "Subject" block. Highlight everything in that block. 
  4. Use the "Paste" command (Ctrl+V). The subject block should now read BodyPlain.
  5. Highlight everything in the "Body" block. Hit "Delete." 

Your screen should now look like this:

Click "Create Action."

IFTTT composes the contents of the "Description" box for you. Click "Create Recipe." You are done!

Give it a try. Pick up your Android, and use the "Note to self" command. Instantly, you will see an email on your phone with a subject of "Note to self" and your voice message in the body. IFTTT fires every 15 minutes. Wait about 15 minutes and go to Toodledo. You should see your task. With mine, the start date and due date will both be today. These dates appear because in my settings, I have today as the default. Unless I specify something else, every task gets a start and due date of today. You may have a different setting.

Creating an IFTTT account just for this one recipe may seem like too much work. Another way to look at it is that you have had an introduction to IFTTT. It's a powerful service. Simply clicking "Browse" and look at recipes others have created. You will gain an idea of what the service has to offer. 

I do things that are easy. You probably do as well. The "note to self" command coupled with the IFTTT recipe gets thoughts from my head to my to-do list, and all I have to do is talk to my phone. It doesn't get any easier than that!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How to Add Tasks to Toodledo Using Siri

To-do lists are good, and to-do lists which are easy to use are great. What is easy to do gets done; that's human nature. "Easy" takes a variety of forms for various people. When a new "to-do" arrives, some people:
  • Just try to remember it. They don't need any book or device, and don't have to carry any sort of system with them. The challenge, however, is that memory is fallible, and lots is forgotten and drops through the cracks.
  • Write on whatever scrap of paper is available. Again, they don't need to carry a system with them. The challenge, however,  is keeping up with all of those random pieces of paper.
  • Write on their hand. Nothing is "handier," if you are in mood for a bad pun. The challenge, however, is that if good hand-washing practices are in place, those to-dos disappear.
  • Call their own voice mail. Nothing falls through the cracks. If one has a many to-dos, however, a great deal of time is spent transcribing voice mails and adding them to the to-do list.
What if you or I could talk to our phone, and what we say wind up on our to-do list? That's what this post and the next demonstrate for you.

My journey with voice input started with Jott, and when Jott began to charge for its services, switched to reQall. Both of those services allowed me to dial one phone number, which I had programmed into a speed dial key, and talk. Within a few minutes, I would receive an email with everything I had said in my message transcribed into text. The to-do was out of my head and into my email. When I handled email later in the day, I would handle that to-do as well.

Voice input has become more sophisticated, and Siri is probably the best known tool for it. Those who use Siri probably know of the "remind me" command. "Remind me to pickup dog food on Friday" triggers an entry into an app called "Reminders." Reminders is the built-in to-do app on the iPhone.

But what if you use Toodledo as your to-do list? Is there a way to add a reminder with Siri and that reminder wind up in Toodledo? The answer is "Yes."

You would of course, need to have the Toodledo app installed on your iPhone. From Toodledo's help page, the instructions for getting Reminders to show up in Toodledo are as follows:
  1. First, tap "Settings" inside the app and select "Reminders Syncing". Then, turn on importing from the Reminder's app. 
  2. Now, everything that is added to Reminders will be automatically added to Toodledo as well. To use Siri, simply activate Siri and say "Remind me to ...." and it will be added to Reminders and Toodledo. 
  3. If the tasks are not importing, go into Apple's Settings app and tap "Privacy" and then "Reminders". Make sure that the switch is turned on for Toodledo.
This process gets the to-do into the Toodledo app on the iPhone. When the iPhone syncs with the server, the to-do shows up in Toodledo on the desktop computer, laptop, or any other device using Toodledo.

In the next post, we will show how Android users can use Google Now to get to-dos into Toodledo.

Are you new to Toodledo and wondering what it is all about? I composed a 6-post series that will help. It begins with this post.

If you are already using this technique, let me know how it is working for you.

Friday, January 17, 2014

What is the Greatest Challenge You are Facing Today?

"What is the Greatest Challenge You are Facing Today?" That was the question Learning Forward President Stephanie Hirsh posed to attendees at December's annual convention in Dallas. Using Poll Everywhere to gather responses, the answer to that question was available within seconds.

Time management

The overwhelming response was "Finding time and resources to do it all."

This conference was one where each attendee surely came away inspired and with ideas to take back home. So often, however, the excitement of conference attendance collides with the reality of the day-to-day demands of the job.

...if it's going to be happen, it's going to happen through the dimension of time. Learn new ideas for motivating students? Have a better grasp of Common Core implementation? Heard about ways to engage parents? All of that is well and good. But if it's going to be happen, it's going to happen through the dimension of time.

When I hear people talk about what keeps them from getting their important work done, the answer generally has to do with time...time as the enemy.

That's why I do what I people organize their time and surroundings. It's the foundation for success everywhere else...time as your friend.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Master Paperwork With Tickler Files

I have been a user of tickler files for over 30 years recommend them in my "5 Keys to Organization & Time Management" workshop. I was delighted to see a colleague write about his experience with tickler files after attending a session with me.

You can read the entire post on the Inspiration from Others blog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Secret to a Clean Desktop

tickler files
Tomorrow is "National Clean Off Your Desk Day." What better opportunity to clean off your desk not just today, but put in place a system that will keep it clean every day.

I frequently run into people who attended one of my workshops. Of all of the ideas we covered in the workshop, the one that seems to be the favorite is the tickler file. For me personally, it is the tool that has allowed me to work with a clean desktop and a clear head for over 20 years.

Wouldn't it be great if all of the papers that sit on your desk would go away and magically come back exactly when you need them? That is exactly what the tickler file does for you.

A set of tickler files consists of 43 folders. Take the first 31 and number them. Each file will represent a day of the month. Label the remaining 12 with the months of the year and your system is ready to go.

Wouldn't it be great if all of the papers that sit on your desk would go away and magically come back exactly when you need them? The idea is very simple. When paper comes your way that you will need to see again on some future day, slip it into the appropriate folder. If that day is going to be within the next month, slip the paper into the correct numbered folder. A piece of paper you drop in folder 17 will resurface on the 17th day of the month. For papers you will need to see again in a month or more, slip the paper into the correct monthly folder. The paper that you do not need to see again until sometime in November is filed in the “November” folder. You have earned the right to forget about that piece of paper! 

At the end of the month, you have a nifty ritual—opening next month’s file. At the end of February, you open the “March” file, make a decision about what DAY in March you need to see each item, and file them in the 1-31 folders accordingly.

I prefer to use hanging file folders. I have a file drawer in my desk where I keep the tickler files. Having the files handy is extremely important, because throughout the day as papers come your way, they are going to be slipped into the appropriate tickler files.

Here are is a partial list of the kinds of items you might put in your tickler files:

  • You receive tickets to an event that occurs 3 weeks from now. Drop them in the numbered file corresponding to the date of the event. On that date, the tickets appear. You don’t have to carry them in your wallet for fear of losing (or forgetting) them. On the day they are needed, there they are. 
  • You can buy birthday cards for all of your friends and relatives with one trip to the card shop. When you get home, address all of the envelopes and attach the return address labels to the whole batch. Pencil in the date each card need to go in the mail in the spot where the postage stamp will later go. Now you simply drop the cards in the appropriate folders. Throughout the year, cards will keep popping up on the exact day they need to go in the mail. You will never forget a birthday again! 
  • You are attending a workshop and have a flyer giving you the driving directions. You will need that item on the day of the workshop, so put it in the tickler file. It will appear the morning of your workshop. 
  • You are completing a report and do not have all of the information you need. Jot down in your planner what information you need to get and make a plan for how you will get it. Slip the report into a tickler file. When the report resurfaces, you will have the information and can complete the report. 
  • You have prepared a “problem of the day” for your classes. Drop each one in the appropriate tickler file.
  • You have prepared a test and need to duplicate it, but the copier is down until Thursday. Drop the test in the file for Thursday. It will be out of sight and out of mind until the day you can do something about it. 
  • You duplicate the test on Thursday even though you won’t be giving the test until Wednesday of next week (because after all, that copier could go down again). Put the tests in a manila folder and put the whole folder in next Wednesday’s tickler. 

The list could go on and on. See if you don’t find this simple set of folders can do great things for you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Double...No, Triple Your Locker Space

School lockers have traditionally been tall and narrow. Books find themselves stacked one on top of the other. The needed book is always the one on the bottom of the pile. Meanwhile, the upper two-thirds of the locker is nothing but wasted space. At best, the student uses the hooks at the top of the locker for a jacket during colder months.

I have always been a fan of locker dividers. A little taller than the height of a textbook when stood on end, the locker divider provides a shelf, a second flat surface upon which books can rest. The locker divider, in essence, doubles the amount of usable space in the locker.

OrganizationRecently, I observed an ingenious idea. A middle school student was using two locker dividers. One was sitting on he floor of the locker. The other was turned upside down and was hanging from two coat hooks located at the top of the locker on each side. This student had tripled the usable amount of locker space.

Simple solutions are often the best solutions. In this case, it worked perfectly. Now why hadn't I thought of that when I was that age?

Every year, "get organized" is at the top of the list of New Year's resolutions. This trick is one small step that can make the second half of this school year easier each time the locker door opens.


Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Why You Must Check Your Credit Card Statements (Part III)

The last post chronicled the story of a dishonest receptionist whose shenanigans were foiled because my wife and I take the time to match every item on our credit card statement with its receipt. An item in the statement which does not have a corresponding receipt bearing the same total sends up an immediate red flag.
Image courtesy of nokhoog_buchachon/

This saga is a little more complex. Every month, you send money to the mortgage company. Does the proper amount get credited to the principal and the proper amount to interest? Could some of it simply be disappearing into a black hole? How would you know?

Recently, we refinanced our mortgage to take advantage of a substantially lower rate being offered. Several months later, my wife noticed the balance on the principal was hundreds of dollars off from what our records showed it should have been. Phone call after phone call to the mortgage company produced little results. Rather than having the motto, “The customer is always right,” it became painfully obvious this company operated under the assumption that “The customer is always a bird-brain.” If our records didn’t agree with theirs, it must be something wrong with our records—end of story.

If you ever find yourself dealing with a company whose representative is supposedly taking copious notes about your problem so that they can pass them along to the person who will solve your problem, try this technique. On your next call, ask the person to whom you are talking to pull up the notes about your problem and read them to you. I never cease to be amazed at how incomplete those notes can be. We certainly found this to be the case with our mortgage company.

Interestingly enough, during two calls, a semi-helpful employee examined our history and mentioned a transfer of hundreds of dollars from our account made on a certain date by “Tiffany” with no explanation of why the funds were being transferred or to where. (I have omitted the last name to protect the identity of the guilty.)

On a hunch, my wife called the mortgage company and asked to speak to that particular employee by name. There was a sudden silence on the other end of the phone. It seems Tiffany “no longer works here anymore,” and with good reason. Within a few seconds, my wife was transferred to the head of the department who personally got the wheels turning to fix the problem.

How many other people were victims of Tiffany’s scam and to this day do not know it? Obviously, Tiffany was the major player in this game of cat and mouse. But what about the other employees to whom both my wife and I had spoken? What about the lack of follow-through on the part of two different employees who saw the “Tiffany” transaction, found it odd there was no explanation attached, yet did nothing about it? What about the executives who fired Tiffany, yet made no concerted effort to find and correct these transfers of funds?

Yes, there are some great businesses in the world and some extraordinary people who work for them. At the same time, there are those companies who are at the other end of the spectrum who masquerade as the “good guys.” When dealing with them, keeping good records is a must. Examining and questioning statements is a must. Caveat emptor!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Why You Must Check Your Credit Card Statements (Part II)

Credit card fraudPart of dealing with the U.S. mail each day is handling the variety of bills and statements which come our way. In this post , I gave some tips on how to organize all of the paperwork.

The question I have today is this, “How closely do you examine those statements for accuracy?” In a world where we are slow to disclose our social security number yet all-too-quick to hand over our credit card to the 18-year-old at the local restaurant, keeping an eye on those statements is your only defense in avoiding your hard-earned money being taken by someone else. In this post and the next, I will describe two situations from my own experience which illustrate what I mean.

Several years ago, my wife opened one of our credit card statements and began to ask me about a purchase to a “home shopping network.” After all, she did not make the purchase and neither of our Shelties knows how to use the phone, so it pretty well narrowed the culprit down to me! As I was trying to explain my innocence, my wife noticed two other charges to other home shopping networks totaling in the hundreds of dollars.

In addition to these three bogus charges was a small but interesting charge--$20 to a doctor. My wife had visited that doctor, and the visit appeared on the statement. On the following day was a $20 charge to the same doctor even though my wife had not visited that doctor a second time. On each of the next three days, a charge appeared for the home shopping networks.

Could that $20 charge have something to the do with the hundreds of dollars being charged to our credit card for purchases we had not made?

Our calls to the home shopping networks enlighten us as to the how well their employees are trained to give very little information. “Your records show I made the purchase and you are shipping the merchandise to me? Well, what is the address to which you are shipping it?”, I asked. You will not get an answer to that question—unless you happen to stumble upon an employee who is very new and didn’t know she was not supposed to be quite so helpful. That is exactly what happened with one of the three home shopping networks we telephoned.

A quick Google search of that address revealed the name associated with it. My wife was astonished to see that the name on the screen was exactly the same as the name of the receptionist at the doctor’s office! It seems that the receptionist had been copying down names and credit card numbers from the doctor’s customers and was using them to rack up quite a treasure for herself. Not only was she the one who handled the credit cards, but she was also the one who both prepared the deposits and then took them to the bank.

Her practice was to take any cash paid to her and pocket it. She would then charge that amount to one of the credit card numbers she had stolen. Nobody ever realized that no bank deposits were being made, because she alone handled parts of the process which under good accounting practices would have been divided up among multiple people.

In the final analysis, we did not pay one dime of the bogus charges. A couple of the calls to our credit card company constituted the extent of our time and energy involved. The receptionist was arrested, and life was good again.

Yes, looking at that credit card statement and matching up the receipts takes a little time. It is, however, our best defense. People make mistakes. Other people simply seek to rob you. A little awareness go a long way.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Why You Must Check Your Credit Card Statements (Part I)

Paying for purchases with a credit card, signing the merchant's copy, and being presented with my copy is a ritual I have known all of my adult life. Lately, I am being asked a question with increasing regularity, "Sir, would you like a copy of your receipt?" In my mind, there is only one correct answer. Hopefully, after reading my experiences in this post and the two which follow, you will feel the same way.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/

Many smaller businesses are using an iPad equipped with Square instead of the usual cash register. Emailing a copy of the receipt seems easier for them than printing the receipt. Naturally, when we begin to introduce options for how the receipt will be produced, the question of whether or not to provide a receipt at all soon becomes one of the options. For the sales clerk, skipping the receipt is the easiest option, and something in the tone of voice communicates a message that perhaps you and I don't want to fool with that little piece of paper either.

Don't fall for it. When asked if you want a copy of your receipt, the only answer to give is "yes." That little piece of paper is your record of what you purchased and its cost. Keeping up with it and having one more piece of paper to file may seem an inconvenience. Yet, that little piece of paper will save you when credit card fraud becomes the issue.

Consider the news release in December regarding millions of credit card numbers being compromised at Target stores across America. The thought is alarming that someone could have our credit card information and make purchases as if they were us. Our only defense is a three-pronged approach:

  1. Save credit card receipts.
  2. Match the credit card receipts to the charges on the statement.
  3. Immediately dispute unauthorized charges.

Consider what seemed a safe transaction. My wife and I ordered a pizza from a local establishment and paid over the phone with a credit card. The delivery person arrived promptly with a piping-hot pizza, and presented me with the receipt. I gave the driver a cash tip, and thanked him.

Several days later, my wife checked the charges on our credit card statement versus the tickets we had accumulated. The charge for the pizza had suddenly increased by $5.00. We noticed the exact same thing for a pizza charged a couple of weeks prior.

Because we had our receipts, we knew what the charges should have been, and were confident when we called the management of that pizza parlor. We were able to provide the date and time, as well as the name of the driver, all from our receipts. As it turned out, the same driver had been involved both times. He had pocketed the cash tips, and then added additional tips to the credit card receipts before returning to the store.

Many people don't want to be bothered with keeping up with recipes. It's easier to simply pay the bill and assume it's correct. They serve as prey for dishonest people, like the one who delivered our pizza. This person probably added tips to the tickets of countless others who had paid by credit card, yet gave the tips in cash.

As a result of our call, the driver was fired, and the regional manager vowed to press charges against him. Our money was refunded, and we received coupons for free purchases.

Today, you see one example. In the next two posts, I will share other experiences with larger dollar amounts. In each case, good record keeping on our part and examination of our statements saved us from becoming victims of credit card fraud.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Change is Coming. Are You Ready?

Change is difficult for most of us. How convenient it had been to simply pick up the receiver and tell the operator who we wanted to "ring up." We remember fondly watching the reruns of Andy picking up the receiver and saying, "Sara, would you ring over at Floyd's Barber Shop?" I can only imagine the resistance when the new rotary phone replaced what had been so comfortable and so familiar.

Looking back allows us to look forward. What practices do we cling to because they are familiar, yet years from now, people can hardly believe how we resisted the change?

In a wonderful book entitled Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers, author Debbie Silver included the following quote that so eloquently goes to the heart of why change is so difficult:

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . . It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.

—Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy
It's a reminder of one of my favorite quotes:

When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.
-Patrick Overton

As we roll in a new year, change is a given. There will be those times when you feel you are between trapezes. There will be those times when you feel you about to step off into the darkness. In no time, you have learned to fly!

What worries you about the year ahead? What excites you?