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Gobblin' Up Leftovers

Hello, and sorry for the posting delay!  Because of the holidays times can get a little hectic, but one thing I certainly appreciate about Thanksgiving is the overabundance of free food.  As a single girl living by myself, you can probably imagine that most of my meals are the thaw, nuke & serve variety.  Also, because my job demands that I spend my entire work period indoors (and sans meal break) I bring my lunch along with me, and it gets pretty old to be chomping down on the same microwaveable fare every day.  Thus I not only save money but expand my culinary palette by holding a large portion of my parent's Thanksgiving leftovers hostage.

Turkey I might be prissy when it comes to pre-used clothing and household items, but when it comes to pre-used food (...that sounds awkward) I have no problem with helping myself to an ample share.  As it is I can spend about $25 a week on food at work - I'm especially fond of the Annie Chun's miso soup bowls ($3.49 a bowl) - as well as snacks (mmm mmm, Little Debbie's oatmeal creme pies).  Beverages are also a hassle, what with the soda dispenser at work now charging $1.25 - I often end up bringing my own sodas from home.  I  have also grown accustomed to bringing along a Red Bull with me to work during my midnight shift, since I can often get rather lethargic around that 4am mark; anyone who enjoys energy drinks on a regular basis should know that it's not cheap to fund your supply (about $2.25 a can).

Holiday feasting is a great way to hold off the need to re-feul my at work food supply, as well as at home.  And while this might cause some late-night confusion for my parents as they're rummaging around the fridge for some midnight Thanksgiving-snacks, holiday leftovers are great for both my spending budget and my appetite.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:27 PM on November 30, 2008 in Food , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Designer Labels for Every Season

Amanda_bar I'm not a Sex and the City watcher, so I don't claim to Purse_3 know the topics that are discussed randomly throughout the seasons.  That's why I was so amazed at the concept of Bag Borrow or Steal, a website devoted to renting out designer handbags.  My friend Ashley & I had met for dinner just the other night and I noticed that she had a very interesting purse with her, and when I asked her about it she told me that it was a Betseyville handbag.  I don't claim to be a knowledgeable purse shopper, but I know that a single Betseyville purse can run rather expensive, and this particular bag came with a price tag of $350.  With Bag Borrow or Steal, however, purse-happy ladies (or gentlemen?) don't have to worry about the cost as they can browse, choose, rent, and return the handbags of their dreams.  Fickle hearts can finally be satsified with the ability to try everything without having to commit to that final sales price.

Purse_2 A membership into this website is $40 a month, but judging by their website you don't have to be a member to participate.  Membership offers a minimal discount on your weekly or monthly rental fees (about $3, dependent on the item being rented), so if you're planning on becoming a steady purse renter it's in your best interest in the long run to fork over the $40.  You can also opt to pay an extra fee for "purse insurance", so if you're renting a handbag for a wild night out you might want to consider the perils of projectile vomit on patent leather.  In addition to handbags, Bag Borrow or Steal Glasses_2 offers designer jewelry, sunglasses and watches for rental - some pieces costing as much as $509 a week to rent ($15,000 retail).  As might be obvious, certain pieces cost more than others per week/month based upon their retail price & value; the rental price tag on some of these items may have you wondering why someone would spend hundreds of dollars just to own something for the span of a week, but if you're attending a major event or it's a special occassion I can see the justification in splurging.  Am I tempted?  No.  But I'm not one of those girls who can't be satsified with a Target purse...and if I feel the sudden need for labels I do what every smart woman does: I raid my mother's closet!  How cheap & easy it that??

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:38 PM on November 21, 2008 in Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (2)

'Tis the season for self-indulgence, fa-la-la

Amanda_bar If entertainment is the #1 source of my hardcore spending, home decor and decorative collectibles have to be in the running for the #2 position.  Cluttering up every surface of my house with random kitsch and caboodle is one of my primary joys in life, and the internet is definitely not my friend when it comes to hedging my craving.  Cue Statue.com.  As it states on the homepage, Statue.com hosts one of the largest collections of statuary and sculptural collectibles - this website offers indoor, outdoor, and everywhere in-between statues for your...statue needs (ahem).  I mean, I can't be the only one who this appeals to, right?  Regardless of the public demand, I find myself tempted once again to ring up an online purchase for a new sculptural delight.

Statue_1I own three pieces of art from Statue.com already, and I've spaced my purchases out to where I've collected a new one about once a year since my college graduation (my statue of Alexander the Great being a graduation present from my father, as well as the first of my collection).  Statue_2_2 I should probably take this brief opportunity to preface that my college minor is in Classical Civilizations, so I am fond of all things Greek mythology-related.  With this in mind, I've had my eye on a few pieces to go with my other statues (them being, besides the previously mentioned Alexander the Great, the god Hermes and goddess Artemis) - the hard part is narrowing it down by 1) my overall "need" of it, and 2) the price.  For example, while I would ideally love to purchase the Perseus & Pegasus statue available on the website, the asking price is $114; usually I try to keep my purchases between $30-$60 depending on the size and detail of the piece.  That being said, I've had my eye on a Medusa sculpture (picture left) for awhile now, and it comes in just under my maximum spending limit at $58.  The question arises, though, of whether or not I would be nagging at myself to buy another statue if I didn't already own others.  The very nature of collectibles is a vicious cycle, I tell ya, and it really does seem to create an impulsive desire to increase my statuary brood.  It's borderline addictive behavior, but as long as you have a rational eye kept on your bank balance you should be able to budget your purchases accordingly; as far as I'm concerned, limiting myself to one purchase a year seems to both curb and satisfy my sculptural-withdrawal.

The good thing about these purchases, also, is that you can often find them on an alternative website (such as eBay) for a lower asking price.  So while one website might offer the best selection, another might offer the better prices.  Taking ten minutes to Google-search your prospective collectible can end up saving you bunches, and If I can hold off so can you!  And yes, considering the time of year - and the fact that I'm not a complete Scrooge - I'll probably wait until after the holidays to make my final purchase...but my "gotta catch 'em all!" heart beckons for a new addition!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:56 PM on November 18, 2008 in Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Style, now on sale!

Amanda_bar I've never been much of a discount store shopper, Jacket_2 but my mother loves nothing more than to drag me to such retailers as TJ Maxx, and (her favorite) Loehmann's.  I don't know where the notion came from, but I used to think that such stores had a stigma of carrying not just cheap, but poorly made clothes (why else would they be discounted?).  On the contrary, hunting through the aisles of these stores can not only reveal some very fashionable items, and they're often items that you'd never find anywhere else.  I own this awesome Heatherette Wizard of Oz-inspired jacket (pictured), that retailed originally for about $100, as well as a really interesting Friponne military jacket.  Both items were a steal at discount price, and both are really original pieces of clothing that will have people asking "Where did you get that?!".  These retail stores, which I previously would have never looked sideways at, offer a variety of labels and styles for any occassion.

Dress_4 Planning an ensemble for a major event is also easy & simple at discount stores - you're almost always guaranteed to walk away with not just a deal, but an outfit that no one else will have (a major, and dreaded, party foul).  Recently I picked up an amazing Free People dress at TJ Maxx that cost only $29.99, compared to the original price of $108; and while I have never in my life heard of the brand Free People, the dress is both versatile and amazingly affordable.  Since I don't go out partying often or attend many events where I'm called upon to where a dress, I think it's great to find such fashionable pieces at such a great cost - many of which are styles that will never go out of season.  And since I was in a frugal mood I decided to budget my entire ensemble and pick up the shoes at Payless.  Add in a necklace (buy 2 get 1 free!) and my entire outfit cost just under $50.  Heck, and while I'm at it why not throw in a new purse?  I picked up a great Kathy Van Zealand bag for less than half of the original price at my local Marshall's.  And if I wanted to be completely all-inclusive for my supreme party outfit I could have even picked up some great (and cheap) brand name perfumes; you know I just go crazy for Curious.  So yes, you can say that I am now an official discount store convert...and while you still will never see me inside of a Goodwill, it's a safe bet to say that you'll see me torso-deep in the sales rack at Ross  on any given day. 

So yes, perhaps my earlier avoidance of these discount stores was unwarranted.  I can only blame myself for this bizarre train of thought - I certainly didn't inherit it from my mother - but looking back on my cultural reference points I find that many of the reasons that I avoided these stores to begin with lurk in the humor of movies and TV show portrayals.  But one can only allow themselves to be turned away from a good deal (and good fashion) for so long.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:56 PM on November 15, 2008 in Clothing , Savings , Shopping , Thrift stores | Permalink | Comments (2)

Are Fakes Fair Game In Tough Times?


Good furniture is never cheap, especially if you want a well-designed, well-built piece that will last a lifetime. And while high-end retailers like Design Within Reach are slashing prices to stoke sales, $1,000 still feels steep, even for the coolest dining table ever.

Eames_2 So my bushy eyebrows rose with interest this afternoon when an advertisement for discount designer furniture landed in my Inbox. I clicked on the link and was taken to the website of a San Diego-based outfit called Regency Shop, where I was stunned to see Barcelona Chairs, Le Corbusier Sofas and Eames Chairs, all at wildly-low prices.

I sobered up quickly. It only took a moment to for me to realize that Regency Shop was yet another depot for forgeries, fakes, imitations and knockoffs.

Unauthorized replicas have become a serious problem for boutique retailers like DWR, who do good business selling original, authorized versions of modern classics. Still, can a consumer be faulted for considering a nearly identical knockoff when it costs half, or even a fifth the price of an original?

For example, a new original Eames Lounge and Ottoman from DWR costs between $3,600 and $4,500. That's not cheap, but you're buying a piece of history.

But a few clicks away, at Regency, the "EZ Lounge Chair," an Eames Lounge and Ottoman replica, is just $895. That's still not cheap, but for a chair that looks nearly identical to the original, it seems like a steal.

Or take the case of an original Barcelona Chair, the iconic lounger designed by Mies van der Rohe.  An original from DWR costs between $4,100 and $5,000. Over at Regency, the "Ibiza" chair is a paltry $345.

At such low prices, replica furniture might seem like the only sensible option, especially in light of these penny-pinching times. But while the knockoffs may look like originals, they do not share the same DNA. And that, according to Eames Demetrios, the Eames' son Charles Eames' grandson and current director of the Eames Office, is an fundamental -- and tangible -- distinction.

Responding to an article in The New Zealand Herald  about a local store selling replicas, Demetrios wrote:

"It is relatively easy to make a chair that LOOKS like an Eames chair from across the room and to take advantage of the goodwill that comes from 50 + years of comfort. But the design of the chair is much deeper than that image from a distance. Chair designers don’t design silhouettes; they design multi-sensory experiences."

It's true. I've been lucky enough to spend time in my father's original Eames Lounge and Ottoman, and the soft leather and molded plywood conform to the body with sublime ease. My dad purchased it back around 1971, when he knew a worker at the Eames Office who got him the chair at a discounted price. It's been in his study or my living room ever since, and together we've spent thousands of hours in that chair, reading, listening to music or just lounging.

Not long ago, I remember passing a knockoff furniture store in suburban Washington, D.C., and having the same reaction I did this afternoon when I saw the Regency website. Through the store window, I saw a replica Eames Lounge and Ottoman, and went looking for a deal. I went in, sat down and put my feet up.

The organic curves of the back and arms were there. The studded black leather was there. But the fake felt stiff, and not just because the leather was cheap and not broken in. The swivel action wasn't smooth, and the wood lacked that luxurious sheen. Even at a steep discount, a knockoff Eames Chair didn't seem like a good buy. The silhouette might have been the same, but the multi-sensory experience did not compare to the original.

Posted by David Gelles at 06:36 PM on November 12, 2008 in Home decor | Permalink | Comments (1)

No Shame in Doggie Bags


It seems an ironic bit of etiquette that the nicer the restaurant, the more frowned upon it is to take home a doggy bag. Of course, the thinking goes that if you can afford to eat haute cuisine, you shouldn't need to pinch pennies and eat leftovers.

Doggybag But I say it's time to turn that snobbish logic on its head: instead of viewing it as an insult to the restaurant's hoighty toighty clientele, I say asking for the rest of a meal to-go compliment to the restaurantaur -- the food is simply too good to let go to waste.

This was the case last night at Sardinia, my favorite restaurant on South Beach. Eating out at Sardinia was a bit of a splurge for a Monday, but I was reconnecting with a friend who I hadn't seen in awhile, and neither of us were in the mood for burritos.

Sardinia is justly famous for its pastas. Most cost less than $20, and the kitchen uses unusual cuts -- no fettuccini or capellini here. I ordered up my standby, the paccheri, which are slices from limp and giant tube, with rabbit ragu, porcini mushrooms and root vegetables ($15).

My friend, a devout carnivore, also chose a unique pasta -- the maccarrones (not macaroni), which were screw-shaped and al dente, served with veal meatballs in a tomato sauce ($16). Both were delicious, and the portions were, as usual, enormous.

Sardinia also has a well-deserved reputation for its roasted vegetables, which are served as sides (three for $14 or five for $18). We opted for the beets, Brussel sprouts and broccoli rabe, and also each had one glass of wine ($12 per glass).

Fine dining indeed, but the total bill was a stomachable $90 with tip.

Unsurprisingly, neither of us finished our pastas, and there were plenty of veggies left over. We asked for the rest to go, and graciously, our waiter didn't blink, soon returning with two foil containers in plastic bags.

This morning I pulled my doggy bag out of the fridge and put it in some Tupperware to take to work. But even as leftovers, the portion looked huge, so I split in two and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. Lunch today was tasty (and free), and tomorrow, I'll get my third taste of paccheri with rabbit ragu and porcini in as many days.

Do the math, and that's a bargain in my book: a dinner out and two lunches, all for $45.

So remember (or convince yourself, if you have to): in asking for a doggy bag, you're not only being a disciplined and frugal eater in tough economic times, you're also tipping your hat to the kitchen's fine work.

Posted by David Gelles at 04:57 PM on November 11, 2008 in Food | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spending real money for virtual rewards

Amanda_bar Wow As I've stated in a previous post, I'm pretty much obsessed with all things entertainment.  One of my favorite forms of virtual entertainment comes in the form of PC gaming, and no one does online gaming better than the fantasy juggernaut that is World of Warcraft.  In case you've been living under a rock for the last five years, allow me to give you a brief summary of the World of Warcraft gaming phenomenon: World of Warcraft (or WoW, as fellow players refer to it) is a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game" (or a MMORPG...get used to the acronyms).  WoW connects players online from all over the world, and allows them to create, customize and play as a virtual fantasy character in the exstensive and interactive world they have created.  Such fantasy staples as elves, gnomes, trolls and orcs are just some of the races available to you; and alongside your race selection you have a variety of classes to choose from - such as priest, druid, warlock, or hunter.  These endless character combinations alone can have you enthralled for hours, and once you enter the world of Warcraft the real fun begins.  World of Warcraft has become an entertainment force to be reckoned, and not just within the close confines of the nerd community - TV, movie and other media outlets of all varietes not only reference Warcraft, but even go so far as devoting entire episodes to the WoW phenomena.

Lich_king The main problem with WoW and games of this nature (besides the compulsive need to play) is that they often come with a monthly fee.  WoW, when last I played, charged about $12.95 a month for connection to the Warcraft online servers.  Older MMORPGs that first started the craze (namely EverQuest) also charged a similar connection fee.  But are you actually getting the bang for your buck?  When I was in my WoW or Everquest-playing prime I would spend up to 8hrs a day (when work & school allowed) planted in front of my computer screen; and yes, I am aware of the nerd stereotype this places me into.  However, I would often find myself in a gaming slump (as I am in now) where I don't log on for months at a time.  Regardless of my log-on activity, the monthly fees remain the same.  Luckily WoW provides a very handy service which MMORPGs previously lacked - if you choose to cancel your monthly subscription with WoW they retain all of your account information and, most importantly, your character information for if and when you choose to resubscribe.  Now this might not seem to you as amazing as it seems to me, but consider: I've played Warcraft for several years now, building up and refining my characters through endless hours of playing and hardwork.  I would otherwise be obligated to continue my monthly subscription under fear of having all of that work eliminated should I choose to cancel my account, whereas now I can both save my money and have no fear of losing all of my online goodies!  I have nothing to say but a hearty "BRAVO!" to the Warcraft creators, for having the mercy and sympathy to allow their players this small monetary relief. 

Make_love_2 With the newest World of Warcraft expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King ($39.99), hitting shelves on November 13th I'm once again faced with the decision on whether or not to reactivate my Warcraft account.  But thanks to some smart (and business savvy!) decisions by the Warcraft command staff I no longer have to angst over the choice.  Whereas I would not even consider purchasing the expansion pack had all of my character information been lost upon cancelling my account, I am now motivated to dive right back into where I last left off!  This easy system allows my to adjust my schedule and bank account to the whims of my Warcraft addiction.  Similar online games who require such monthly fees should take notice - you're only benefiting yourselves by allowing your committed customers this small service.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:48 PM on November 9, 2008 in Entertainment , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Wear Miami


Miami Beach is a one-wear kind of town. Guys and dolls alike, out for a night of clubbing, are quick to buy a colorful collared shirt or tight-fitting skirt, but less likely to keep it in the closet and pull it out for the holidays.

So what happens to all those once-worn blouses from Saks, Neiman, Barneys and Bergdorf?

Well, it turns out that many of them make their way to local consignment stores.

“If you see something at department stores one day, you can come to Consign of the Times and get it for a third of the price,” says Carin Kirby, owner of Consign of the Times, a small store just of Lincoln Road. "People are tired of paying retail."

For example, if you head there right now, a Louis Vuitton Manhattan handbag (retail $1,350), can be yours for a paltry $400. A pair of brand new black Prada heels (retail $520), is available for $190.

Another local consignment store is Fly Boutique, an outfit on Lincoln Road that specializes in vintage offerings. On its website, Fly is now offering a Pucci feather print dress for $1,000. It's not quite Florida Room material, but could make for an interesting night on the roof of the Gansevoort South.

Consignment stores don't have the selection of a department store, and some of those Tibi slips might have that used-clothing smell. But in tough times, even fashionistas are looking for deals.

Kirby says her business is doing well, even in the midst of a recession. "People realize it's time to spend less," she says. "It's a sign of the times."

Posted by David Gelles at 04:35 PM on November 6, 2008 in Clothing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Jumping the gun on gift-giving


Sorry for the lack of updates, but I was busy welcoming my niece, Abigail, into the world this past Monday.  And this happy event has brought up the topic of baby gifts, and just how overboard one can go in purchasing things for a child who won't even be able to appreciate them until they're way past use or caring.  This mad baby buying spree has been going on for months now, even when I just heard of the pregnancy, and now that she's actually here I'm coming to the quick conclusion that I may have jumped the gun a wee bit.  Since the baby is newly arrived everyone and their mother is putting in a visit to the mom (my sister, Jessica) at the hospital, bearing gifts all in some shade of pink.  I'm in somewhat of a conundrum, however, because I've bought that poor child so much swag already that I'm unsure if I'm "required" to buy anything else.  First off, let's review my purchases:

Unicorn 1) The most gigantic stuffed unicorn I could find.  As a spoiled child myself, I'm used to the high quality and large quantity items you might expect to find if you died and went to kiddie-Heaven.  This particular purchase (which is as shown in the image, only in pink) was about $25 and takes up about 1/3 of the baby's room alone...but still, these are the bare necessities here, and half of gift-giving to a child is buying something that you would have killed to have in your youth (or in your adulthood, for that matter!).  Now if I were any kind of good aunt I would attempt to buy the real thing, but I don't think they allow pony rides for infants.  Shame.

Bumblebee_2 2) In order to balance out the nauseatingly girlish gift of the unicorn, I thought it would be nice to introduce my niece to a little bit of pop culture whilst in the crib; after all, what else is she gonna do in there...sleep?  Most "boy toys", as they are unfortunately thought as, are usually all hard edges and clunky materials - not exactly the cuddliest of items to give to a baby.  Thankfully some marketing genius thought of the great idea to turn a large robot (pictured) into a loveable, squishable, and machine washable plushie toy!  Anyone who knows the movie or the TV show Transformers can appreciate how cute it would be to have had one of their own from the earliest of ages (that, or the awesome 2009 Camaro he can transform into!).  And I'm sure my niece will thank me as she grows into a nerdy and socially-ostracized young lady...just like her auntie!  This purchase was about $14.

Pooping 3) I'm not sure if you've heard of T-Shirt Hell before, but if you have any sort of humor check it out.  And while my sister has begged me to take it easy on the baby clothes that she deems as too "inappropriate" (pfft!), I've certainly stocked up her little one with the most reasonably scandalous outfits I could find - this meant trolling through both Spencer's and Hot Topic on a weekly basis.  But the really good finds are off of T-Shirt Hell, which has an entire section to baby clothes meant to leave you chuckling or gasping at the inappropriateness of it all.  I can only estimate that I spent about $50 on clothes for the little squirt, most of which her mommy probably will never let see the light of day.  Once again, shame.

So considering all of my exciteable and pre-emptive present-giving, is it still a necessity to bring something to offer at the birth?  I suppose, as the aunt, I should just go ahead and do so anyways...the only problem is that I've run out of ideas at this point!!  And while I love me some of that impulse shopping, Auntie Amanda has a budget, too!  So while I mull over this financial conundrum, let me wish a happy birthday to my niece, Abigail Grace, and a hearty congratulations for this year's election being over and done with!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2008 in Impulsive spending , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (1)

Lessons from Monopoly


"If people want to understand what's happening with this foreclosure crisis, they should just play Monopoly."

Logomrmonopoly That was the word from my uncle Mark on Sunday night, after a group of five of us finished a spirited two-hour game of Monopoly, the popular board game from Parker Brothers.

He had a point. Though the game started benignly enough, it soon devolved into a bitter competition, with family-members scheming against one another, and grovelling for loans.

Here's a breakdown of the game, and its lessons:

  • The strategy from most players seemed to be: "Buy property early." This meant cash reserves soon dwindled, but players accrued a spattering of properties, most of them unrelated.
  • After 20 minutes or so, the first monopolies formed, either through a player's luck in landing on all the related spaces, or some wheeling and dealing. But with cash still in short supply, players with monopolies moved slowly to build houses and hotels.
  • Once my 12-year-old cousin developed hotels on several of her properties, the ante was upped. Landing on one of these properties meant having to fork over nearly $1,000. As a result, the other players were pressured to build hotels of their own. Here the board game and reality started to converge -- when you look around and see all your neighbors getting rich on real estate, you're pressured to do the same. The real estate market becomes a feeding frenzy.
  • Soon enough, players were landing on hotels, and bills came due. But after spending on property, houses and hotels, we were all strapped for cash. As a result, we had to "mortgage" our properties, handing them over to the bank for a fraction of their value, just so we could pay our debtors. This is akin to taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for a vacation at s Sandals resort.
  • After a few rounds of mortgaging our properties to pay our bills, some players were out of cash. So when my uncle landed on a hotel and owed his wife $1,275 but had no cash, he offered her a grab-bag of unrelated properties. But at this point, those properties were essentially worthless. No one wanted to taken on more more real estate, especially if it was already mortgaged. In other words, home prices were falling, and no one was buying.
  • Still, bills were due, and my aunt, cousin and friend soon went bankrupt, forking over their last few dollars and worthless property to either me or my uncle. From there, we duked it out, one roll at a time. I caught the lucky breaks, with Mark landing on more of my properties than the other way around. After two hours, he was toast.

I'll admit, it was a bit of a rush to win at Monopoly. But looking around at my bankrupt, propertyless family was no fun. As in real life, even the victors don't feel great these days. And while I had a pile of Monopoly money, I wondered how much it was really worth. With no one to trade with and nothing left to buy, what's cash really worth? If only they had not Monopoly money, but Monopoly commodities.

Posted by David Gelles at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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