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What's your pre-order willpower?

Bridget_bar2If there's one thing I can't resist, it's a good "Pre-order Now and Get This Free Thing!" deal. My shoppy sense tingles, telling me that even though I'm paying full price, I'm getting something extra that others don't get, so I better act now!

When it comes to buying movies, I usually wait till I see it on sale, buy it pre-viewed at Blockbuster, or just ask for it as a Birthday/Christmas gift. I usually don't jump to get a favorite movie as soon as it comes out.

But three times in the past couple months I've been lured into a pre-order trap!

The Disney Store gave away free lithographs if you pre-ordered the 50th Anniversary of Sleeping Beauty.

I love Disney, and I love Sleeping Beauty... but if I saw this in the store, I wouldn't buy this movie just to have it. Yet I thought it would be nice to have -- plus I'm getting a "deal" with free art -- so I ordered it.

WalleAnd when I picked up my copy of Sleeping Beauty.... I saw they were taking pre-orders for Wall-E and they were also giving away lithographs again. They are kind of lame now that I take a better look at them (stupid border ruins the art), but at the time the cuteness was hard to pass up. At least Wall-E is a movie I really wanted.

And I did this too when I pre-ordered Enchanted. WHY?! Maybe I should sell the prints on eBay. But I probably won't, and they'll end up in a drawer somewhere.

Ironmanbobble_2A few weeks back I was on the verge of pre-ordering Iron Man at Blockbuster because they were giving away a free Iron Man bobblehead. And who doesn't love a bobblehead?! So much more fun than movie prints. But roomie and fellow blogger Amanda (of all people) said maybe I should wait because Blockbuster overcharges on movies. And since she used to work at a Blockbuster in college, I hesitated and resisted their wobbly lure.

Is a pre-order bonus something that makes you 'buy now' because you feel like you're getting a deal? I've had my fill of campy Disney lithographs, so I think I'll be safe from their pre-order temptations for awhile.

Posted by Bridget Carey at 08:16 PM on October 29, 2008 in Impulsive spending | Permalink | Comments (1)

Generation We

David_barI'm not usually one for inspirational YouTube videos, but this one got my attention. (Thanks, Dad.)

It's a promo piece by Generation We, a new organization (and book), aimed at getting Millennials involved in projects to get us off foreign oil and on a path to a better future.

With beautiful lighting and anticipatory music, it just sends a chill up your spine.

The video paints an idyllic picture of our generation, one that is in large part accurate. There are indeed millions of teens and young adults who are progressive, open minded and committed to working for a cleaner, healthier and more just world.

But the same was true of the hippies. In the late '60s, as now, many youth felt that a tsunami of optimism was welling, poised to flood the land with world-changing initiatives. Sure, there was progress on some issues, but we're still facing a mountain of problems.

I for one am still optimistic. I do believe that Americans have it in us to confront these challenges, respond, and create a better future. But I can't help but worry that not all the Millennials are necessarily committed to realizing all the ideals espoused in this video, and that as some youngsters turn into yuppies, a bit of that idealism might get sapped.

What do you think? Are we poised to be a great generation, or to repeat the mistakes of our parents parents' generation, with exponentially more dire consequences?

Posted by David Gelles at 12:21 PM on October 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

When Entertainment Becomes Excessive

Amanda_barOne of my big avenues of spending is in electronics and gaming.  I own a Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2, PSP, and a Nintendo DS, and I am constantly buying new games for each system.  Whether or not I open them is another matter.  Especially since I opened up a membership with GameStop, I seem to have developed a nasty hoarding problem when it comes to pre-used games.  I have unopened, cellophane-wrapped games sitting on my shelves, yet one of my favorite things to do on my off-time is to peruse the aisles of the several local GameStops (I mean seriously, GameStop is the new Starbucks - there's one on every street corner).  I don't even find myself playing my gaming systems as much as I used to (I'm really a PC-gamer at heart), but nonetheless I'm on a constant quest for entertainment.  GameStop, however, offers a moderately decent buyback system so I can purchase a game, play it (or not), and return it for store credit.  And with a membership I get a higher return price when trading in my games, so it begins to make the entire buy & trade experience feel like I'm renting at Blockbusters.

Ds_psp_2 It was about June of this year when I came to the conclusion that what I had just wasn't enough, and I decided to buy a Nintendo DS.  And yes, I am sad to admit, the deciding factor may or may not have come down to the adorableness of those Nintendogs commercials.  Also, the DS comes in pink (yay!).  And if this doesn't describe an impulse buy I don't know what does, because I literally left my house at 2AM in the morning and drove across town to the nearest 24hr Wal-Mart to pick one up.  My desire for virtual puppies COULD NOT WAIT.  The good thing, I suppose, is that between now & then the price of the DS hasn't gone down, so it's not as though my impulsivity made me miss out on any upcoming sales (the price has remained at a consistent $129.99).  But did I really need another portable gaming system?  The PSP offers much better graphics, a larger selection of games, and the ability to play movies for only a slightly more pricier cost (about $169.99).  But the problem with a PSP purchase is that you also have to buy a memory card which can sell for about $30 and above, whereas on the Nintendo DS the games save directly to the game cartridges.  And while boasting a much more limited variety (and quantity) of games, the Nintendo DS's main draw is in it's interactive touch screen.  And yes, poking a stylus at a 3-inch screen might not actually feel like I'm petting a puppy, but the little fuzz-ball on the screen can't seem to tell the difference.

I don't know how this evolved into a mini-debate with myself over PSP VS. Nintendo DS, but the point of this entire thing was to describe to you the obvious fact of why I needed both of these systems.  Duh.  And really, I don't think this would be an issue for most people who don't spend large chunks of time away from home.  As far as my job is concerned, I'm often left to my own devices for 10hrs at a time.  The happy diversion that both of these devices have granted me, as well as my two home systems, have more than earned their price tag.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:31 PM on October 27, 2008 in Entertainment , Impulsive spending , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (2)

Cellular Necessities

Amanda_bar_2Amanda here again, so you know it's an impulse buy alert.  Yesterday morning (or afternoon, really) I woke up and realized that I needed a new cell phone.  This wasn't necessarily out of nowhere, because my Motorola V3 RAZR had started acting up during my recent Disney trip (internal software problems, as I would come to find out).  I had actually went to a local AT&T retailer the day before with plans of purchasing a new phone, but upon making a call to my roommate Bridget, a tech writer, she advised me to think it over for 24hrs.

Matrix_2 The sales associate had suggested that I look into getting a Blackberry, but Bridget warned against this idea and it seemed a bit excessive for my needs.  I'm not using my cell phone for work-related purposes, and I really only need a product that can offer me a web browser, ringtone/wallpaper customization, and a full Qwerty keyboard.  Touch screens are cool, but the constant fingerprint smudges would surely drive me insane.  After a little bit of research and some suggestions from Bridget, I decided on the Pantech Matrix.  Not only is it a dual-sliding phone (a feature which I find to be extremely neat looking), but it offers numerous software features such as Music ID & GPS.  While activating these features requires an added on charge to my monthly phone plan (lame!) I find it likely that I will put both applications to use.  Already I tried the Music ID demo by having my phone identify some of the more obscure songs that I have on my iPod (The Scarlet Pimpernel!) and it not only guessed each title, but was able to offer me a direct MP3 download to my phone. 

The phone came to $129.99, but with a $50 mail-in rebate it'll end up costing me $79.99 with a 2-year AT&T contract.  I also upgraded my account with an unlimited media & text package (an additional $35 a month) in order to properly put to use the new web browsing features of my phone.  I've never utilized this feature on my RAZR, and I'm excited to try it out with the full Qwerty keyboard.  And maybe I could have (or should have?) waited a little longer on making my purchase, but a cell phone is an important and necessary feature in my everyday life.  And while the new setup may take some getting used to, I'm becoming more and more satisfied with my purchase each time I play with my shiny & new features.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:36 PM on October 25, 2008 in Impulsive spending , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Save Green by Eating Greens?

David_bar_2Moral arguments attesting to the virtues of vegetarianism have never swayed me. I eat meat, and likely always will. But in these tough times, might there be an economic case to be made for eating less steak?

Sandwich Bernard Brown thinks so. Brown, 31, is a federal employee in Philadelphia with a curious hobby. He is the sole force behind the PB&J Campaign, an online movement advocating for, if not outright vegetarianism, at least a more judicious approach to the consumption of meat.

“The campaign is working to reduce the environmental destruction caused by the animal products Americans consume,” Brown told me. “And it turns out to be really cheap to eat plant-based foods. If you go into burrito joint, the bean burrito is usually the cheapest thing on the menu.”

Sure enough, a bean burrito at Lime, my local taqueria, is a slim $6.99. The 8th St. burrito, which includes chicken and bacon, is $7.99.

That might not seem like much savings, but small choices can add up. “There are all kinds of things that tend to be less expensive, and happen to help the environment,” said Brown.

One carnivorous blogger, Tanisha Renee, said she realized huge savings when she experimented with a plant-based diet. “I found that more than 60% of my grocery money was spent on meat,” she wrote. “Bacon and sausage for breakfast, grilled chicken strips and shaved turkey for lunch, ground beef and chicken breasts for dinner.”

Making the case further, an MSN Money article last year suggested that besides lower grocery bills, vegetarians might realize the greatest savings through lower health care costs.

But really, who wants to go around noshing on spinach all day? Isn’t a meal without meat just a bland collection of carbohydrates and fiber?

No, said Brown: “It tastes good. There’s a reason people think of PB&J as comfort food.”

Posted by David Gelles at 07:07 PM on October 23, 2008 in Food | Permalink | Comments (1)

My Favorite Flavor is Free

Brayden_barNew York can be an expensive place to live. That is, unless you exploit every opportunity available to siphon free hooch and snacks.

Enter the College Music Journal Marathon, affectionately known to Big Applers as CMJ.

CMJ, as I'm sure you can extrapolate, is an intense, city-wide music festival lasting about a week. Though some events cost, if you know where to look (websites such as MyOpenBar.com, for example) you can find free entry into a number of free-drink, free-stuff extravaganzas at various clubs, bars and music venues. Fortunately for me, my friends know where to look. And so I let them lead me by the coat sleeve, down unfamiliar avenues, in what to most Florida residents might as well be called freezing temperatures.

But it's worth it. Oh, is it worth it.

The other night after work I went to a club called Rebel in the Penn Station area. A quick check of the list and I was in, careening around dark, tight stairwells lit by neon and ultraviolet chandeliers, up and over multiple floors, with multiple dance spaces and multiple bars. After collecting a few free PBRs ("I see you like Pabst," a young lady said to me on my way from the dancefloor. "I wouldn't say I like it," I replied) it was time for some beer pong, which, for the record, my team won; but then again, I guess with beer pong, everyone wins, really. I shook my behind to some expert DJing. I took in an overweight comic. And then, when I left, I got some free shoes. And oh, did I mention, I also received a complimentary copy of the Doug Hanks masterpiece "Barguments." (Haven't read it? Get out there to CMJ and hope your swag bag contains a copy. Or buy it, for Christ's sake!) [I left before And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead came on. But it was Tuesday. Some people have to work.]

Last night was more of the same at Fader's Fort off Bowery. Free fruity Southern Comfort drinks to start. Rockin' sounds streaming from the back of the narrow space, which was adorned, quite remarkably, with all sorts of music-themed art pieces (Jimmy Hendrix sculpted out of broken record shards!). Free cigarettes out front. After Fort we hit up ... well, I'm not sure where I was dragged next. But it was cold outside, and warm in there. And that was good enough for me. Until, of course, we left in search of some other place on 1st Ave. This place didn't seem to really be a part of CMJ, until you said the magic words (they were, uh, CMJ) and the free booze began to flow. There were other places. I think.

And tonight is another night. Vice parties all weekend. All sorts of assorted craziness. Free craziness, I might add. I'm a bit crazed as I type this up, actually. And I'm just getting started.

Posted by Brayden Simms at 05:15 PM on October 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1)

All it takes is faith, trust, and your credit card!


CastleI had a brief break in posting because this weekend myself and four friends went to Disney World (including fellow-poster and roommate, Bridget).  I suppose it could be considered weird to be going on vacation at this particular point in our economical crisis, but we certainly weren't the only ones who had fun & self-indulgence in mind...I mean seriously, a 90 minute wait for Splash Mountain?!  And actually looking at the base cost of my Disney "necessities" (i.e. a ticket & hotel room) I actually didn't end up spending that much money.  That's NOT INCLUDING SOUVENIRS, of course...let's be realistic, people.  I only have so much self-control.

Our party stayed at the cheapest Disney resort on campus - the Pop Century.  Dividing the cost between us, three days and two nights surmounted to about $75 per person.  A 3-Day Park Hopper ticket runs for about $155; however, last year I received a seasonal Disney pass from my father, so my ticket price is already covered (score!).  We also decided to hit up Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween event (an additional $52) , wherein they allow a limited number of guests into the park from 7pm until midnight for Halloween & villain-themed parades, meet & greets, and similar events.  Oh, and did I mention you're allowed to wear full costumes?  OH YEEEEA.  As if we even needed an excuse to dress up.

Pan_gang_4 About three months prior to the actual event, Bridget & I settled on a Peter Pan theme (last year having been an Alice In Wonderland theme).  I was to be Peter, Bridget was Tinkerbell, and we also had a Captain Hook, "Tick Tock" the crocodile, and Tiger Lily.  This is where the real money was spent - my costume (hat & dagger included) cost about $55.  Both the purse and the shoes were around $20 each, and the green tights were a steal at about $8 off eBay.  So we have about $127 that I spent on my room & ticket, and $103 spent on my costume.  Oh, if only the spending ended there...

The Epcot Food & Wine festival was also going on during our visit, and being the responsible (and legal) adults that we are, we decided to get trashed in the happiest place on Earth!  And let me tell you, $6 a plate and $8 for wine and/or beer adds up real quick when you're hopping from booth to booth.  I was drinking French sparkling kir while eating Greek spanakopita and Austrian tafelspitz.  Sounds yum-yum-yummy, even if I don't know how to pronounce it!  I can only vagulely estimate that I spent anywhere from $50 to $70 while eating around the world, but I really couldn't help it - my stomach said "Yes!" while my budget said "No!".  Though, really...what budget??

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:11 AM on October 22, 2008 in Entertainment , Food , Nightlife , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

What Are You Worth?

David_bar_3Like many millennials, I’ve accrued some net worth over the years. I’ve got a couple thousand in a checking account here. Another couple thousand in a savings account here. Some in a mutual fund. Some more in my IRA.

But when you add it up, what’s it all worth? Put another way (and speaking strictly monetarily), what am I worth?


My friend recently pointed me to Mint.com, a service that aggregates all your financial accounts and allows you to monitor your personal finances. You just give them your account information and the passwords to all your accounts, and then...

She lost me there. Handing over my bank account information and passwords? Putting them online? Sounds like an easy way to let a band of Nigerian phishers empty all my accounts in the time it takes me to brush my teeth.

Despite my huffing and puffing, my friend sent me links to MSM articles attesting to Mint.com's security, reliability and efficacy.

Particularly insightful was Forbes.com's Q & A with Mint founder Aaron Patzer, where he explains how Mint.com works. "When you enter your banking username and password, we make a one-time, read-only connection to your bank that verifies your account and pulls in balances and transaction descriptions," Patzer told Forbes. "We don't keep your account number or your name."

Best part is, Mint.com is free. The Silicon Valley startup makes money by suggesting financial services its users might need, then getting a referral fee.

Sounds helpful, and my friend says she's going to sign up. If her accounts aren't all wiped out by an African prince promising to deposit an additional $30 million in her college savings account, I just may sign up, too.

Posted by David Gelles at 04:48 PM on October 21, 2008 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Curious Case of the Loaf of Longevity

Amanda_bar_4Something strange and unusual is going on in my house, and is perhaps going on in my belly right now...bread!  I can sometimes be a finicky eater when it comes to an item's expiration date.  If the milk is even close to it's "Use By" date I go into cold sweats, and I inevitably travel around the house, milk carton in hand, taking a general census from people around the house on whether or not the milk smells abnormal.

It reminds me of a wise bit of insight by the scholar Jerry Seinfeld:

Ever had milk the day after [the expiration] day? Scares the hell outta you, doesn't it? The spoon is trembling as it comes out of the bowl, "It's after the day, I don't know what the hell I'm doing here! I don't know why I'm doing this! I smelled it, you smelled it, we all smelled it! What is it supposed to smell like?? I never smelled milk!"

Bread Dairy, meat, and bread products are not safe from my suspicion, and I've thrown out perfectly good food out of fear of the dreaded expiration date.  So now I come to the matter of this wonder-bread that I've come across (and no, not actual Wonder Bread-bread).  The expiration/"use by" date indicates September 25th, but here it is at October 16th with half a loaf left and it's still good!  The bread hasn't been frozen or refrigerated, and yet as far as my discerning eye can tell it remains edible...I just had a sandwich earlier today, in fact.  I can't account for this phenomena other than to assume that my loaf was somehow exposed to 1) gamma radiation, 2) a radioactive spider bite, or 3) kryptonite.  This anomaly has started me thinking that maybe I've been too quick to toss out my other questionable food products.  Meat is another item that I often find myself throwing away, and numerous times it's a good quarter-pound or more.  And while bread can come cheap, Boar's Head turkey is a precious commodity.  This sort of wasteful activity is probably a larger testament to my food paranoia than my frivolous spending habits, but still...this miracle bread gives me reason to pause the next time I go to chuck out my groceries based solely upon the expiration date.  I'll probably end up saving (and eating!) more in the end.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:44 PM on October 16, 2008 in Food , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saving through spending: A discount or scam?

Amanda_bar_5In my previous posts I briefly talked about the "saving through spending" strategy that many retailers utilize.  I had another direct encounter with this sales approach today, only this time via my car insurance agency. 

In_the_face I received in the mail recently a personalized postcard from my insurance agent advising me to call her (the postcard literally said nothing but PLEASE CALL ME in bold print on the front) in reference to "a new discount" available to my account.  I'm paying a round-about figure of $1600 a year on car insurance, and having never been in a car accident (ahem) I naturally assumed that this discount would be in reference to some "good driver" privilege.  Instead I get talked through a bevy of new add-on policies and features that I can upgrade my account with...all in lieu of maybe, possibly, hypothetically receiving a discount.  Not only would I be paying more for my account, assuming that I agree to any of these promotional features, but the policy upgrades have nothing to do with anything I am immediately concerned with - renters insurance, for example.  My agent informed me, however, that if I take into account the long-run advantage I could be saving about $57 on my policy in the span of five years.  FIVE YEARS.  And that is not taking into account the cost it would take to upgrade my policy in the first place (a figure that my agent could not supply at the time that I spoke with her).

And yes, she also said something or other about a lowered deductible, but having never needed to be concerned over a deductible (I've never been in a car accident, remember? ... AHEM) it's nothing more than an inconsequential bonus.  Why upgrade my account with new features that don't even relate to me or my current living situation, just to save some out-of-pocket money when I get into a hypothetical crash...all after my five-year adjustment period, mind you.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:15 PM on October 15, 2008 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

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