Congratulations! … Important Tax Information Enclosed … In order to serve you better.
Call me cynical, but those phrases are red flags to me, alerting me to grab my wallet and hang on tightly. As my wife, Linda, and I go through our “self-guided shrinking shrinking adventure,” we are also mindful of how we manage our finances. We have a few simple guidelines that we follow and one of them is not to get suckered in by bogus claims like those above.
For example, we recently received a “congratulations” letter from a bank we’ve done business with for decades. The letter was positively lavish in its gratitude for our business over the years, so much so that it was “upgrading” our credit card. The fact that the upgrade carried an additional annual fee of $49 was buried in the last paragraph and the opt-out information was buried even deeper. Of course, when I called to opt out, they tried to sell me some other “products.”
The “important tax information” was just a ruse to tell me that I could do better than a basic certificate of deposit and could avoid paying taxes on interest if I just let their representative contact me. And a special pox on all those businesses that insult my intelligence with the lame “to serve you better” line. It almost means they’re changing things that make it better for them and worse for me. It’s not me that they really want to serve better, they just want to improve their bottom line.
We have a general rule in our house that we never let anyone else tell us what we need, when we need it and where we should get it. We know where to find house painters and steel siding (Angie’s list is good for this) and we know when we need these things. We never, ever buy anything over the phone, we don’t support charities that solicit us by phone and we don’t do surveys. We’re kind of mean that way, I suppose, since not everyone who calls us is a jerk, but we’re consistent and never give anyone encouragement to call back.
I believe this is also consistent with our downsizing mission. In seeking a manageable and sustainable lifestyle, we need to bring everything in sync – our possessions, our financial resources and our values and belief systems.
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian and chief legacy planner at When Words Matter in Urbandale, Iowa, where he connects generations through their stories. To learn more, visit his web site, send him an e-mail or follow him on Twitter.