Category Archives for "Tips"

How to Handle Calls from Numbers You Don’t Know

“Hi, I’m from the Warranty Center, I’m calling about your auto warranty”

If you’re like me or millions of other people, you may get several of these types of phone calls per week. It’s annoying and it interrupts your work or your time with family or friends. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The Case for *Never* Answering a Call From a Number You Don’t Know

Someone advised me recently to quit answering calls from any number that isn’t in my phone – just let those calls go to voicemail. This thought never really occurred to me before. It’s just human nature to answer a ringing phone.

But, the reasons to leave the call unanswered are pretty straightforward.

If you aren’t already expecting a call, and you get a call from a number that you don’t recognize, then one of the following is probably true:

  1. The call is from someone you don’t want to talk to at all or
  2. The call is from someone you do want to talk to, but, you weren’t expecting the call. You’re now talking to someone important at a time when you didn’t expect to.

In #1, as a best case, you wasted your time and interrupted what you were doing. We’ve covered previously the “death by a thousand cuts” problem of allowing too many tiny distractions into your day in another blog post.

In #2, you may now find yourself flatfooted talking to someone who you want to talk to, but, whom you were not expecting to hear from. This is a recipe for a “why did I say that?” moment.

If you just send the call to voicemail, the person you want to talk to will almost always leave a message and you can return the call prepared to talk to them. In the case of the person you don’t want to talk to, they will almost never leave a message in the first place.

How To Stop Getting Calls From Telemarketers Entirely

With that out of the way, you probably also want to reduce the number of times your phone rings unnecessarily in the first place.

To stop “legitimate” telemarketers, register your phone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry at The FTC can fine telemarketers who continue to call you after the 31 day registration window. You can easily file a complaint online. Legitimate companies who use telemarketing will usually stop calling you once you are on this registry.

Little known bonus fact: Even if you were not on the call registry, you may still file a complaint if you received a telemarketing call that is a recording (or “robocall”).

To stop bill collectors from calling you, you can ask them to never to call you again and that specific bill collector is obligated to stop calling you. If they don’t stop, consider asking for their address and sending them a cease & desist letter. Note that this does nothing to eliminate any legitimate debt you may owe and could actually increase your chances of getting sued if you cutoff contact with the collector. If you are being contacted repeatedly by a bill collector for a debt you don’t feel you should or can pay, you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

To stop getting calls from the same phone number over and over, you can block a specific phone number from calling your phone. Instructions on doing this are below:

To block a number from calling your iPhone:

  1. Go to the Phone app and go the “Recents” tab.
  2. Click the small “i” on the right side of the number you want to block.
  3. Scroll down until you see “Block this Caller”, tap Block this Caller.
  4. You will see a prompt that says “You will not receive phone calls, messages, or FaceTime from people on the block list”. Tap Block Contact.
  5. That’s it!

To block a number from calling your Android phone:

  1. Go to your Phone app and go to your Call Log.
  2. Scroll through your Call Log until you see the number you want to block, select the number.
  3. Hit More on the 3-dot menu in the upper right cornet.
  4. Choose Add to reject list.
  5. That’s it!

There’s an App for That

Does all this phone number blocking seem too slow? It is. And, a single scammer often uses many, many different phone numbers, so, blocking one number doesn’t do much. You could block numbers all day every day of your life and still not block them all.

There are a number of apps out there that crowdsource the telemarketer and scam information from millions of other users, meaning that you can use blocking data from other users and curated by a company that is in the business of blocking this kind of thing.

You might consider Hiya as an app for caller spam identification and call blocking. There are a variety of similar choices on the App Store and Google Play. All these apps will require access to your phone number and to your Contacts, so, be aware of that going in.

Hiya app for call blocking

Spotting a Scam

Alright, despite everything above, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone from an unknown number and you aren’t sure what to do. Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • Never give out personal information over the phone – social security number, birthdate, etc. Maybe the caller claims to be with the IRS, your credit card company, or similar. If you think this is credible, you may offer to call them back at a verified number that you look up through Google or other legitimate source. Don’t take their word for what that number is.
  • Never give out bank account information over the phone. So, you’ve ended up on the phone with someone you actually want to send money to. Never give out your bank info. Many scammers will push for bank account info will either steer you away from or refuse credit card payment. Once they have your bank information, they can transfer your cash offshore or other places where it can’t be recovered. Credit card fraud is somewhat more difficult. As a payor, you should always use your credit card (not debit card) for payments to someone you don’t know extremely well as it offers you great fraud protection (and for other reasons as well as I cover in this post). But, unless you are absolutely sure you aren’t being scammed, best to not pay or buy anything unexpected on a surprise call from an unknown caller.
  • You may get phone calls claiming to raise money for something like your local Police Department or a charity. Often, the telemarketing firm behind the call is keeping a large part (sometimes 30-50%) of your donation. These callers are often “legitimate” and sanctioned by that entity. But, the caller will often represent themselves as being “with XYZ Charity” instead of a commissioned telemarketing firm. So, the donator may not realize that a large portion of their donation is going to a for-profit telemarketing business. If you have a cause you want to donate to, considering donating directly. Then, the cause you are supporting receives 100% of your donation instead of just a portion and you aren’t funding telemarketing businesses.
  • Be wary of giving money anytime that you can’t verify that the goods & services being “sold” to you were actually delivered. A popular scam is “we want to send a bunch of orphans to a concert” or “we want to send a bunch of magazines to U.S. troops in the Middle East”. There are many cases where companies selling these kinds of “donations” may never actually deliver the good or service. Some of them are actually legitimate, but, it’s hard to ever know the difference. Consider getting some deeper verification beyond the charming person on the other end of the call and don’t make a decision on the spot.
  • Most of all, be very wary if you are pushed to make a decision quickly. This is true for scams of all kinds. Usually, any kind of scammer will push you to make a quick decision right then and there.  If you are being pushed to make a decision right now, take a step away and think about it. If they aren’t willing to let you take a day and think it over, it’s a huge red flag.

Get Paid to Stop Using Your Debit Card

Many of us use a debit card for nearly everything. It’s convenient, it’s simple. You pay for something, it comes out of your bank account, and you never have to think about it again.

But, to anyone looking to optimize and improve their personal financials this is my #1 piece of advice: You should never use a debit card. By using a debit card for every transaction, you are likely costing yourself $500 per year or more.

Simply replacing your debit card transactions with credit card transactions can put an extra $500-1,000 per year in your pocket, depending on your spending habits and offer you better fraud protection. Let’s take a closer look at both this advantages:

How a Credit Card Beats a Debit Card

#1 Better protection in case of fraud – If your debit card number is stolen and used by someone else, that money leaves your bank account. You almost certainly have fraud protection from the card issuer, so you won’t lose your money permanently. But, here’s the catch: it can take several days for the money to go back into your bank account after the fraud is reported.

And, worst case, if the fraud isn’t caught by your debit card company, you may not even know the money is missing until a debit charge is declined or a check is bounced due to insufficient funds.

If you are primarily using a credit card and you have a credit card declined due to hitting your credit limit, you can fallback to another card, or your debit card, or you can even pull cash out of your still safe bank account to use.

If there is any situation where money could ever be tight for you, #1 is a very big deal.

#2 Using a credit card can give you a lot of cash back – My favorite credit card is the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.  You get a whopping 6% cash back at U.S. grocery stores, 3% cash back at the gas station, and 1% cash back on everything else. I usually earn about $600-800 cash back per year on this card alone.

But, it can be difficult to get through life with only an American Express card since some stores don’t take American Express. So, I pair the Amex with an Amazon Rewards Visa card. The Amazon card gets 5% cash back from Amazon purchases (which I use often), 2% cash back at restaurants and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else.

The Strategy to Maximize Your Cash Back

I use the Visa at restaurants & drugstores (2% cash back, better than the Amex on these categories), on Amazon (3% cash back, better than the Amex on these categories), and anywhere that doesn’t take American Express. I use the American Express everywhere else. Simple.

You want to use your credit card everywhere possible (that doesn’t charge you a fee for doing so) to maximize your cashback.

You typically can’t use your credit card to pay government fees, taxes, or mortgage payments. Also, many utility companies won’t take a credit card. Or, often, if one of these entities will let you use a credit card, you are forced to pay a “service fee” or “convenience fee” which would wipe out any cash back that you might earn. So, don’t use your card for any charge like this.

However, most insurance companies, cable companies, cellular phone companies, and other recurring fees will gladly take your credit card. Don’t use your bank’s bill pay or use an automatic bank draft to pay these bills. Go to the biller’s website and set recurring payments using your credit card.

Put everything on your credit card that you can to maximize your rewards. While 1% might not sound like a lot, if you look at everything you buy in the course of year, 1% can really accumulate into a good chunk of cash.

Extra credit – If you really want to squeak out some extra cash, there a handful of cards out now which offer 1.5% on everything, like the Capital One Quicksilver card. You could add this to mix if you want the extra .5% on your “everything else” category, but, it adds a bit of complexity for not a lot of extra return.

There are also some cards like the Chase Freedom or the Discover It card that offer a great cashback amount of 5% on rotating categories that rotate very quarter. For example, a card issuer might offer 5% cash back at movie theaters in January thru March or at department stores in April thru June. But, for me, tracking the categories and being sure to have the right card onhand is a hassle.

Cash Back vs. Points, Miles, etc. – There are tons of other reward programs out there – you can get points, you get miles, dollars to spend with certain companies. But, I like the simplicity of just getting cash back. I find that points and miles just lead to me searching for something to buy, and in many cases, what I end up getting isn’t something that I would have spent cold, hard cash on. Cash back means I don’t have to waste time, energy or brainpower on my rewards, I just take the cash.

Important: Managing Your Cash

You may be saying, “But I like that my debit card just comes right out of my bank account and I don’t have to worry about paying a bill” – Set AutoPay to pay the full new balance on your credit card’s website. Now you have all the advantages of the credit card and the simplicity of a debit card.

Again, be sure to set AutoPay on your credit cards that you are using to earn cash back. This is very important. We are using these like a debit card. Accidentally miss one payment and the penalties and interest can cost you most of the cashback you would earn in a year. You also don’t want to waste time and mental horsepower on remembering to pay multiple credit card bills by hand monthly.

If you wish to carry a balance on a credit card or already have one, then use a separate card entirely for that balance and pay down that card as you wish. The point of using the above cash back card strategy is to earn you cash on your purchases that would have gone to a debit card previously. You don’t want to mix a long-term credit card balance that you might pay over time with these “run rate” purchases.

This is a good place to mention, however, that carrying a long-term credit card balance is strongly not recommended. If you already have a credit card balance, consider using your new cashback rewards to help you pay off your balance faster. Also, consider moving your credit card balance to a new card that will give you 0% or very interest for 6 to 12 months. This will instantly save you interest cost and give you time to beat down the balance.

Miscellaneous Card Management Tips

To further simplify things, use or a service like it to aggregate all your credit cards and your bank accounts into one view. You can login to Mint and see, for example, that you owe $500 on one card, $200 on another, and you have $2,000 in your bank account. You can also review a list of all your transactions from all your cards and bank accounts and it has a nice mobile app. Login at least once per week to review charges and make sure everything looks as you expect. This will help you keep a handle on your finances and will help you spot any fraudulent transaction that your credit card company hasn’t caught already. If you are using my weekly review strategy for your email inbox, that would be a great time to review your financial transactions from the week as well.

Only keep a debit card on hand for ATM transactions – I’m not saying you shouldn’t carry a debit card or have one (it’s a great backup). But, you shouldn’t use it as your first choice to buy dinner or pay for groceries. Take the cash back from the credit card company for those transactions, carry your debit card in case you need to pull cash out of the bank.

Bonus debit card tip – get a debit card from a bank that offers to pay your ATM withdrawal fees. It’s often a pain to search for your particular bank’s ATMs to avoid withdrawal fees, but, many banks like PNC or Ally offer debit card programs in which they will refund ATM fees charged to you by other bank’s ATMs.

Other credit card extras – Many credit cards offer things like Purchase Protection in case of accidental damage or theft within 90 days of purchase, Return Protection if the merchant won’t let you return an item, Rental Car Insurance, and other benefits. I have never had occasion to use these, so, I don’t focus on them, but, it is another leg up the credit card has over the debit card. Parting piece of advice – if something bad happens with an item you bought on credit card, check into your credit card features to see if the credit card company has a policy in place that may be of help.


I hope that all this has been of help to you. A number of my friends have adopted this strategy and it has helped them tremendously. An extra few hundred dollars of income per year for doing next to nothing is a pretty great return.


Zyrtec: Quit without itching like crazy

If you take Zyrtec (generic name – cetirizine hydrochloride) daily and have tried to stop, your skin may start to itch. Sometimes, this itching can be very intense, distracting, and can even disrupt your sleep.

After several failed attempts to stop taking Zyrtec due to itching, I found a solution that allowed me to wean off the medication with zero side effects. If I had known about this approach a long time ago, I could have saved myself a lot of misery.

The Solution

I turned to my old friend Amazon and found these 5mg cetirizine hydrochloride tablets. They are half the regular dose of 10mg Zyrtec sold in stores.

These lower dosage tablets were a breakthrough for me in finally ending daily dependence on this medication. They allowed me to slowly reduce my intake of Zyrtec, which avoided the itching withdrawal effect completely.

The Weaning Schedule

I began to wean myself down off Zyrtec by substituting the 5mg tablets for my Zyrtec tablets on a schedule like the below:

Weeks 1-2: I took a regular 10mg tablet one day, then took 5mg the next, back to 10mg the following day, 5mg the next day, and so on.

Weeks 3-4: I took 5mg everyday.

Weeks 5-6: I took 5mg one day and took no Zyrtec/cetirizine hydrochloride the next. I continued to alternate for the entire 2 weeks.

Weeks 7-8: I took 5mg one day and took no Zyrtec/cetirizine hydrochloride for the next TWO days. I continued the pattern for the whole 2 weeks.

Weeks 9 and beyond: I stopped taking Zyrtec entirely.

Want to give it a shot? You can find 5mg cetirizine hydrochloride tablets on Amazon by clicking here.

I can still take a 5 mg tablet as needed without problems. I have found in this process that the 5mg tablet is just as effective for me as the 10mg. I also can go back to taking a 5m tablet every other day during the heart of allergy season and stop again without issues.


I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. I am sharing my personal experience because I would have loved for someone to share this with me years ago. Talk with your doctor before making a change in medication, etc. and all the other usual disclaimers.

Enjoyed this article? Consider checking out my other posts at the home page of


Update 1: it has since been suggested to me that 10mg Zyrtec tablets could simply be cut in half rather than buying the 5mg tablets. I haven’t tried this myself, because, for me, I prefer the ease of not cutting the pills especially with how cheap the 5mg tablets are.

Update 2: The amount of traffic this post has received is amazing to me. I hope you’ve found it helpful. I think the high traffic here is proof that there is a link to Zyrtec withdrawal sometimes causing itching.

I’ll add that now, years later, I am still taking the 5mg cetirizine hydrochloride in the post above. Outside allergy season, I take one pill every 3 or so days or when I feel like I need it. In allergy season, I take the 5mg pills each day. At least for me, I’ve found 5mg to be an effective daily dose for suppressing allergies without developing dependence. Anyway, I’m glad to see so many of you have found this to be helpful.