Saturday, June 27, 2009

Prices - What do They Mean?

As everybody knows, the price you see when you buy things is not what you will pay at the register. When buying online you will need to pay extra for shipping. When buying in store you will need to pay extra for sales tax. When reserving a room in a hotel, you will need to pay additional taxes and fees. When renting a car you will need to pay for the insurance and some extra hard to understand fees. When ordering game or concert tickets online you will need to pay some other fees.

Therefore, what does the price you see actually mean? What is it actually for? Is it simply the "minimum" amount you will pay? Sometimes when I go to the mall, I actually pay less than the price shown because of some sale that was not being advertised yet. So it does not necessarily mean a "minimum" amount you will pay. The price you see seems to be some "guess" number and you will pay somewhere around that - usually more, sometimes less.

My question here is, why do we see this "guess" number instead of the actual amount we will pay? It completely makes no sense. Let's say I have $10 in my pocket. I go to a store and I see a t-shirt for $10. Can I buy it? No. I cannot buy a $10 t-shirt when I have $10, because $10 is not enough for a $10 t-shirt. To buy a $10 t-shirt in a store, I need $10.70 (that's in my county). If you read this sentence to anyone who does not know how the system works, he or she will say that these sentences do not make sense. They do not make sense to me either... but they are true.

This is all because of a 7% sales tax that the county has established. Different counties have different amounts, which makes things even more complicated. I might leave in a county where sales tax is 6%. Then I will go shop at a store that is in another county. I will see a $10 t-shirt and I will have $10.60 in my pocket. I will think, "hey, I have enough to buy a t-shirt". And then the cashier will give me the final price - $10.70, because the store is in a county with 7% tax.

Do I really need to do a research on the tax amounts in different counties before I go shopping? Apparently not - you will get messed up anyways. There are stores, like Food Depot, where the taxes are even different. For some reason instead of 7% sales tax, I see some types of food with 10% sales tax. Then I will go to a thrift store nearby and I will pay 1% sales tax. And these taxes are not even depending on stores only. Even in a single store I am being charged different % for different types of items I buy. Because of that, there is no way for me to predict how much money I will pay at the end.

One time I went to a dealer. I liked one car for $11,000 and I test drove it. I was used to buying cars from private sellers and I was used to negotiate the price. After I test drove it, I offered $10,000 for the car in cash. Apparently the sales people were stopping themselves from laughing at me. I could not understand why, what was so funny. The funny part was not that I wanted to pay $1,000 less than the advertised price. The funny part was that I actually, unknowingly wanted to pay $3,000 less than the amount I would have to pay. The $11,000 was the regular, advertised price, add to that 7% sales tax, plus dealer's fees - $700, plus tag and title fees, plus God knows what was and this made the price ending up somewhere around $13,000. Thinking I would buy a car for $10,000 or $11,000 in worst case scenario, I was actually targeting for a car for $13,000 - the real worst case scenario with horns and coming from hell.

When I rented a car for $24.99 a day for 3 days, somehow I ended up paying almost $200. When ordering game tickets online, I ended up paying over 30% more than advertised price. When buying airplane tickets to Hawaii through Orbitz, I ended up paying $150 extra for some "traveler's insurance" I never agreed to pay - this one was added to the total amount after I entered the credit card information and pressed the "Submit" button - a super stupid way to make people run overdrafts on their checking accounts.

Go ahead and share your "surprise" stories with prices and the actual amounts you had to pay.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Law - Impossible to Obey

As a common person, I try to obey the law as much as I can. Now, please stop for a moment and read that sentence again: As a common person, I try to obey the law as much as I can. Why not "I do obey the law fully"? The answer is simply because it is impossible.

"How is it impossible?" you might ask, "Of course it is possible, you just don't do anything wrong" you could say. Well, it is impossible. And the reason for that is not because society has its own laws that not always go along with the public law. For example, looking at a woman's boobs at a swimming pool from a distance is completely ok with the public law, but unacceptable in a society (yes, there are groups of people who completely believe it is ok, but I am talking about a general public here). And at the same time, speeding on a highways is completely acceptable by a society while not acceptable by the public law. However, this is not the reason it is impossible to follow the law. You could still forget about what society teaches you and follow the rules. You could, but you can't.

The real answer to that question is simply because no human brain is able to memorize and put in motion all the laws that were made and at the same time to work every day, buy groceries, cook, take care of kids etc. and follow all the changes in the law. Newspapers, magazines and journals will publish only these changes in law that affect many people. Possibly only lawyers could do it but they also make mistakes.

You might argue and disagree with me at this moment but one day I went directly to a police officer with this question: "How can I be 100% sure that what I am doing is right according to the law?" and she answered: "You can't, just try not to get into trouble". Public court takes police officers as a reliable source of information. Police officer can tell to the court that he or she saw you roll on stop sign and that is enough evidence for your conviction.

However, personally I do not take police officers as a reliable source of information in all cases. If that was true, I would contradict myself, because if police officers were reliable source of information in all cases, then they would be able to inform me on what is lawful and what isn't on a daily basis. Although normal person probably wouldn't do that, my sentence says "impossible", meaning no matter what you do, you still can't be sure you are not breaking the public law. Therefore, even if you ask a police officer every 5 minutes if what you are doing and what you are about to do is lawful, you still will not be 100% sure that you are following the law. Are you disagreeing?

Several years ago, I got blue undercar neon lights as a birthday gift. Before I installed them, I asked a police officer through an email if it is ok to have blue neon lights installed on a car and drive with them turned on. The police officer said that it is ok as long as they are not flashing so people will not mistaken you with a cop. I went ahead and installed the lights. The same day I got a ticket for having blue lights installed on my car.

I explained everything to the police officer who gave me the ticket and he said that a new law came to life several months ago that says that you cannot have blue lights on your vehicle at all, no matter if they flash or not. This simply means that the other police officer who told me that it is ok to have blue lights as long as they don't flash, did not know the latest law. This proves that asking a police officer if what you are doing and what you are about to do is lawful does not guarantee that everything you do in life is indeed lawful - police officers are not lawyers.

You might ask "what about the lawyers?". Well, lawyers are supposed to be on top of the law because that is their job. But you will not tell me that a lawyer is a common person. Common people do not live in one or three million dollar homes for example. Let us exclude lawyers, lawyers' wifes and friends from that set of "common" people. I am talking here about a common Mr. Smith who works somewhere at some store or factory either as a clerk or some manager, or maybe some office worker and is required to follow the law even though the law is not his profession. When you go to a court for doing something unlawful, your excuse cannot be "I didn't know I couldn't do that".

Going back to my situation with the blue neon lights, you are probably asking "why didn't you go to a court and tell them that a police officer told you it is ok to have blue neon lights?". Yes, I went to a court. First, I went to the local court. I had to take few hours off from work. I was getting paid hourly so I lost about $50 on that trip. When I went there, after waiting for about 3 hours I was told that I need to come another day. When I came another day, losing another $50, I was told that with this type of case I need to go to a county court. In my third trip, to a county court this time, and third $50 lost, I was told again that I need to come another day. At that time $150 was already more than the ticket I got which was $100 and it did not make sense for me to continue. Therefore, I gave up and agreed to pay $75 for the cost of the court and have my ticket canceled. I still ended up loosing $225 total instead of simply paying $100 for the ticket. I ended up exchanging the lights to purple.

I could have continued... maybe at the county court they would tell me to go to a state court. If I won the case, maybe I could have sued them for the money lost on not going to work. If I lost a job, I could even sue them for loosing the job, maybe. But this is all "maybe" and all of that does not change the fact that I really did not follow the law, period.

Therefore it has been stated - a common person cannot be sure that he or she is doing everything according to the law. A common person can only try to obey the law as mush as it is possible for him or her.