Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

IT SEEMS like every few weeks there’s a new “must-watch” movie or show. Competition between traditional and new production companies is driving the wave of high-quality content on our TV sets and other electronic devices.
I can’t complain but it’s also hard to keep up. I have an ever-growing list of bingeable things to watch, read and listen to and, in the meantime, I’m paying bills for numerous electronic-device purchases each month.
As long as my family’s necessary expenses are covered, spending money on entertainment can be worth it. However, I’ve also noticed that, left unmonitored, it can slowly grow out of control. I’d rather look for ways to save money and make more meaningful purchases.
Periodically reviewing how much you spend on entertainment, especially on electronic devices, could be a good place to start.
Take stock of where you currently stand. Find your starting point by making a list of expenses that fall into the category of electronic entertainment.
If you don’t have a budget where you can easily look up this information, you can review previous bank statements or connect your accounts to a budgeting app that can automatically pull in your spending history. This might also be a good time to try several budgeting apps and begin using the one you enjoy the most.
Give traditional cable or satellite TV expenses a second look. If you haven’t “cut the cord” – the term for canceling your cable or satellite TV service – now might be time to give the idea some thought.
Many alternative, and often cheaper, options have become mainstream, including free and à la carte sports programming. Even premium networks are sold on their own or as inexpensive add-ons to other services.
You might not want to cancel your entire service but, after reviewing what you pay for and regularly watch, you might discover that you could be just as happy with a less expensive package.
In either case, regularly calling your service provider and negotiating your rate could save you money. This same tactic could also work with internet service providers.
Consider splitting the cost with someone else. Some subscription entertainment services can be shared with friends or family. A few even offer several tiers of service, or family packages, that let you create profiles and stream from several devices at once. Although the price might be higher for a multi-user account, you’ll still save on a per-person basis.
Choose the person or people you share your account with carefully. In some cases, sharing an account with a non-family or non-household member could be a violation of the terms and conditions and, with some accounts, you could be giving the other person access to your debit- or
credit-card number.
Make a list of free resources you can use. Knowing where you can turn legally to watch shows and movies, including recent releases, could put you at ease if you’re worried about canceling a service.
You could start by using ad-based websites that legally host movies and shows. While there are commercial breaks throughout the videos, the services are completely free and some have mobile apps that you can use to start or resume a video while you’re away from home.
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are plenty of free books, CDs and magazines at many libraries. But the library systems are also keeping up with the times. Some let you “check out” audiobooks, movies and shows without having to visit a branch.
Bottom line: Having access to a wide variety of shows, movies and other types of electronic entertainment can be well worth the cost but don’t let your monthly expenses go unchecked. Between monthly subscription services, internet and cable services, you could be paying several thousand dollars a year.
Find a happy medium by canceling services you don’t want anymore and finding ways to save on those you do. You could then use the savings for something more meaningful.
Perhaps that means going to a sports game with friends or family rather than paying for a television service, or putting the money towards a non-
entertainment goal such as a college or retirement fund.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

Consumer business by Denisha Maxey

ANOTHER day, another scam! Houston Better Business Bureau takes its job seriously when it comes to reporting scams because scammers do not just target consumers; businesses can be victims as well.
BBB’s number-one priority is making sure the public is informed and prepared. There is an old scam with a new twist, the “Can you hear me?” scam, which
has been used in the past to scam businesses into purchasing office supplies and directory ads they have never actually ordered.
This scam has now been revamped to target consumers into purchasing vacation packages, cruises, warranties and other high-price items. It accounted for more than half of all scams reported to Houston BBB’s online Scam Tracker service in January.
The fraudsters operate the scam by calling a victim and immediately asking “Can you hear me?” or “Are you the head of the household?”
Their purpose is to deceive the person who answers the call to respond saying “yes”, which most people will automatically do. A recording of the victim saying “yes” can be used as evidence of that person’s agreement to the purchase.
Houston BBB’s investigative service has some suggestions on how consumers and businesses alike can protect themselves from falling victim to the “Can you hear me?” scam.
Use your phone’s caller-ID facility to screen calls and do consider not even answering unfamiliar numbers.
If it’s important for the caller to talk to you, he or she will leave a message and you can call back. Sometimes, it can be safer not to answer the phone if you’re uncertain of the caller’s identity.
Be careful when answering the phone. If someone you don’t know calls either your home or cell phone and asks a yes-or-no question like “Can you hear me?” do not answer “yes” – just hang up.
Scammers change their tactics as the public catches on, so be alert for other questions designed to solicit a simple “yes” answer.
Consider joining the Do Not Call registry – it’s online at – to cut down on telemarketing and sales calls. This might not help with scammers because they don’t bother to pay attention to the law but you’ll receive fewer calls overall and it might help you more quickly notice the ones that could be fraudulent.
Check your bank and credit-card statements regularly for unauthorized charges. It’s also a good idea to check your telephone and cell-phone bills as well. Scammers might be using the “yes” recording of your voice to authorize charges on your phone. This is called “cramming” and it’s illegal.
Report your experience. Make a note of the number and report it to BBB Scam Tracker at to help warn other people.
BBB also shares Scam Tracker information with government and law-enforcement agencies, so every piece of information is helpful in tracking down the fraudsters. Word of mouth is always the best way to alert the public of known scams.
Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.

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Practical money matters by Nathaniel Sillin

By Nathaniel Sillin

WHAT DOES an engagement ring look like? For many people, my wife included, the answer is a diamond attached to a gold band. While that concept did not become widely accepted until the diamond industry’s marketing campaigns in the mid 1900s, it’s one that still holds strong.

However, today, some couples are going in an alternative direction. The intention isn’t to be cheap but rather to use the savings to make a different kind of meaningful investment in their future together.
When and how a marriage proposal happens can be a surprise but we all hope the answer won’t be. That is likely to be doubly true if the question is popped without a diamond engagement ring, or perhaps without a ring at all. As always in a relationship, communication is key. While some people might be excited by the idea, it could be a deal breaker for others.
What will a meaningful investment look like to the both of you? A friend of mine recently shared with me the story of how he proposed to his now wife and their decision to forgo an engagement ring altogether.
When they first started discussing marriage and engagement rings, she said she’d rather put the money towards a down payment on a house because starting a home together was more meaningful to her than a ring on her left hand’s third finger.
He didn’t ask right away but, when he did take a knee, ringless, and ask her to marry him – clearly she said yes. Today they live in the home the savings helped buy, wear wedding bands only and, he says, neither of them regrets the decision.
A down payment might not make sense for you but there are other ways to invest in your future together. For some couples, paying down debts or saving for their wedding so they don’t go into debt might be a better fit. Or you might want to start a travel or honeymoon fund.
Consider your options if you want to buy a ring. Understandably, the idea of proposing without an engagement ring isn’t for everyone and there is a middle ground – a less expensive ring with the savings going towards your shared goal.
Here are few options you could discuss before the question-popping moment:
Alternative stones: There is a wide variety of alternative precious and semi-precious stones you could pick for the ring. Matching a stone’s color to its wearer’s eyes or choosing their birthstone could imbue the ring with a personal touch. However, be careful about picking a “soft” gem that could be easily scratched if it’s worn daily.
Diamond look-alikes: You could choose a synthetic diamond or a stone that looks similar to the real thing but costs much less, such as a cubic zirconia. Some man-made and alternative options can look more brilliant than genuine diamonds and you don’t need to worry about whether or not they are conflict-free.
A solid band: While it won’t have the same flash as a ring with a large gemstone, choosing a smaller diamond or solid metal band with a symbolic meaning could be just as meaningful to your partner.
Family heirlooms: Grandma’s hand-me-downs can also make for memorable engagement rings and often there isn’t a price tag attached – although a lengthy discussion might be in order. A vintage ring could appeal to some people’s style or the center stone could be reset in a modern band. In either case, there’s something special about wearing a gemstone that’s been in one of your families for generations.
Decide on your priorities as a couple and act accordingly. According to The Knot’s 2015 Real Weddings study, an average of $5,871 was spent on engagement rings that year.
For some, there’s no better way to spend money; after all, it’s a ring that’s going to be worn for decades.
However, you can discuss engagement-ring expectations before you ask someone to marry you, or before they ask you. If a diamond isn’t particularly important, a less expensive alternative ring or gemstone, or no ring at all, can be an equally timeless and beautiful gesture of love when you both know the money saved is going to an important step in your future together.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s Practical Money Skills For Life financial education programs. Follow him on Twitter at His articles are intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Always consult a tax or financial adviser for information on how the law applies to your individual financial circumstances.

Consumer business by Denisha Maxey

EACH YEAR on Valentine’s Day, February 14, couples around the world romance each other and consumers spend dozens, if not hundreds, of dollars each on gifts to show their affection. It is a busy time of year for businesses that cater to the romantic needs of consumers.
Chocolate candy and flowers top the list of purchases made to celebrate the day and restaurants are filled with lovers enjoying romantic dinners, so it’s little wonder that Valentine’s Day and its immediate aftermath can also bring a sense of urgency for anyone trying to find love.
The internet has become the biggest source in the quest to find a special someone, providing virtually unlimited possibilities of finding love through social media and online dating websites.
Unfortunately, while people turn to online sites to help in their search for love, scammers are also searching for their next victim.
Scammers disguise themselves as potential partners, hoping to catch the attention of unsuspecting people looking to meet their soulmates. They are searching for vulnerable people who will be more receptive than others to the attention they give.
So how can you determine if your stud is a dud or your damsel in distress the devil in a dress?
Once you meet someone online, be leery if they attempt to take your communication offline quickly. They might ask for your phone number or e-mail address to contact you directly, often using the excuse that their website membership will expire soon or it is faster to text and e-mail than messaging through the site.
Such scammers hope that, by discontinuing their communication with you online, you be will deterred from reporting their fraudulent behavior and preventing them from using the website to lure other potential victims.
Be on high alert for anyone contacting you who is not within your age group. This is not to say “May-to-December romances” do not exist but someone half your age making claims of falling in love with you within weeks of first communicating online is highly suspicious.
People claiming to be extremely wealthy but then asking you for money is a major sign of fraud. There are wealthy people looking for love but none should require a loan from you.
Scammers will often start by requesting small amounts of money, using excuses like needing help until a business deal closes, not having access to a particular bank account or awaiting the sale of a property. Some even go as far as stating that they have medical issues. Do not fall for it – claims of disaster forever striking is a classic sign that you are being scammed.
Finding love online can have a happy ending but paying attention to warning signs that your new love interest might be a fraud can save you a great deal of heartache – both emotional and financial – in the end.
Do not let the lure of finding love cloud your judgment. Be on the lookout for scammers using social media and online dating websites – not just on Valentine’s Day but every day!
Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.


ARE YOU looking for help to set up or develop a business within the county? If so, there are several organizations set up to provide you with information and practical help.
Here are some contact names and addresses to help you on your entrepreneurial journey:

Chambers of commerce
1911 FM-517 East, Dickinson
Board chair: Dawn King

1100 South Friendswood Drive, Friendswood
President: Carol Ives Marcantel

Galveston Regional
2228 Mechanic Street, Number 101, Galveston
President and CEO: Gina Spagnola

8300 SH-6, Hitchcock
Executive director:
Monica Cantrell

League City Regional
319 East Galveston Street, League City
President and CEO: Steve Paterson

Santa Fe
12425 SH-6, Number 1,
Santa Fe
President and CEO:
Gina Bouvier

Texas City-La Marque
9702 Emmett Lowry
Expressway, Texas City
President: Jenny Senter

Economic development organizations
Galveston County economic development department
722 Moody Avenue, Galveston
Director: Bix Rathburn

Dickinson Economic
Development Corporation
218 FM-517 West, Dickinson
Coordinator: Angela Forbes

Friendswood Downtown EDC
910 South Friendswood Drive, Friendswood
President: Ron Cox

Galveston Economic
Development Partnership
UTMB Customs House Building, 1700 Strand, Galveston
President: Jeffrey Sjostrom

Hitchcock EDC
7515 FM-2004, Hitchcock
Chairman: Harry Robinson

La Marque EDC
1130 First Street, La Marque
Executive director: Alex Getty

League City ED department
300 West Walker Street, League City
Director: Scott Livingston

Santa Fe EDC
12002 SH-6, Santa Fe
President: Robert Cheek