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Remember Your Bills, or the Collectors Will

Amanda Bar
I've been so busy recently with my new home I can hardly believe that I'm approaching the two-week mark of being a homeowner.  I've been making the calls and pounding the pavement in order to set up the water, electric, and various other necessities for my new property...including contacting my homeowner's association.  Where I live I actually have two association fees - one for the overall development/community and another for the sub-development that contains my house.  The cost for both of them totals $225 a month, which is rather pricey (or so I've been told, as I have nothing to compare it to), and breaking it down it comes to $50 for the community fee and $175 for the sub-development fee.  I was able to head over to the community office with little trouble and set up my account with them - I'll be receiving monthly (or quarterly, if I prefer) bills in the mail from them.  My sub-development, however, is run by a management company out of Lauderhill who runs things a little differently.

I spoke with a very nice representative who was able to give me all the information I'll need in order to mail off my payments; however, when I queried on whether or not I'll be receiving my bill notifications in the mail he stated (as kindly as he could) "It's not our responsibility to remind you to pay".  So basically it's up to me to remember to send in my payment before the 15th of every month, and I'll be receiving no contact from them in regards to my dues or my received payments.  Peculiar - and inconvenient, considering my questionable memory! - but, then again, I have nothing to compare this experience with.  Is it standard for association's not to send you a monthly bill?  It's one thing if they do this in order to rake in the dough via late fees, but the representative advised me that there are no late fees - the management company would simply contact an attorney reference any faulty payments that continue to accrue.

I'm obviously going to have to set up a system for paying all of my bills on a specific date, because I certainly don't want this one to get lost in the shuffle due to the fact that there will be no mailed-in reminders.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:26 PM on June 30, 2009 in Housing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Selling Your Ideas For Cash

Kevin Bar As a journalist, working as a freelancer certainly provides some decent cash while between jobs; however, even though getting regular assignments kicks more butt than a pirates versus ninja fight, it could prove more financially beneficial to obtain more than the regular weekly gig. As such, I decided to start pitching some story ideas in hopes of getting them picked up for publishing.

This all began a couple days ago when it suddenly occurred to me that my creativity levels seemed to have dropped over the past two or so years. I love creative writing. I love coming up with wacky story ideas and comic book pitches. However, ever since graduating college I've been mostly focusing on reporting on stories (comics) rather than coming up with them. I'm now determined to jump start this creative section of my brain again, even if I have to stab it with a Q-Tip. But before getting to the self abuse stage I figured I should try tying journalism to creativity through pitches for features. While working at Wizard, writers often had to come up with potential feature ideas to pitch to editors. This basically entailed thinking of what's big in comics--storylines, creators, trends--and coming up with interesting ways to cover it. For example, last January, DC Comics did a promotion called "Faces Of Evil," where all the covers of their comic titles featured images of supervillians. Wizard ran a feature called "The Faces Behind the 'Faces of Evil'" that highlighted the various artists who worked on the covers.

Now I plan to use this skill set for freelancing. The idea works very similar, except on a much broader scale. With the Internet, freelancers like myself have many more outlets than just one magazine to pitch ideas to. And depending on the place, you get paid differently. Some places pay $30 a story, others $45 and other still up to $50. The more in-depth the feature, the longer the length, the more money you get. But here's some quick tips.

First, make sure you idea is well thought out. Never go in with a pitch idea along the lines of, "Something about Iron Man. I hear he's big." Make sure you know exactly what the hook is, who you plan on interviewing and the general length your looking at for the feature. The more well-developed the idea, the better chance you have at selling it to someone.

Second, try not to pitch an 8,000 word feature on your first go. While it definitely pays more, a Web site unfamiliar with your style may be a bit reluctant to accept your magnum opus on the Influence of The Macarena on Dancing Culture. Start with smaller stories and once you establish a connection with the site, pull out the big guns.

Finally, make sure you can actually do the feature. Don't pitch a story only to realize later you can't accomplish it. It makes you seem very, very unreliable and demolishes your chances at that Web site picking up another one of your feature pitches.

Freelancing can definitely work toward your advantage when in need of cash. While one story at $45 may not seem like much, just think about the fact that with proper effort and work, a story a day would add up $1350.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 07:40 AM on June 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

College Crunch Back On

Ali Bar     As you might have last remembered me, I was just beginning my second year in a five-year architecture program at Cornell University.  Now I've finished up with the year and am realizing I wasn't as money conscious as I could have been.  Stress, ease, and general temptation can lead even the most dedicated to the craft of saving money astray. But for those of us (meaning myself) who put a savings strategy on the back burner, money seemed to vanish before it ever entered into my checking account.  Numerous times my checking account balance matched my credit card balance.

    I had a job that was supposed to cover my essentials -- food, books, materials, and entertainment. And that job would have covered it perfectly except for a couple of instances where materials for architecture really drained my accounts to the point I was practically spending my paycheck before it was deposited.  Oh, and we mustn't forget the fact that for about the last two months or so of school, because of relentless stress and as a time saver, I bought lunch and dinner out almost every day. Let's just say my spending was starting to put me in somewhat of a bind.

    So now with the arrival of summer, which I will be spending in the lovely Ithaca, I have decided to reform my unholy ways of handling my income.  I've managed to snag two jobs totaling about 33.5 hours a week.  I hope to save most of this money so perhaps I can help my parents pay some of my rent for the coming school year. But I need to be incredibly strict with my budget.

    So bring on the summer and the renaissance of my College Crunching days.

Posted by Account Deleted at 05:24 PM on June 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Price Of A Good Haircut

Kevin Bar While living in New York I learned something valuable about haircuts: sometimes you pay less and get a lot more than you imagined out of it.

Before moving to New York, I always got my hair cut the same way at the same usual places, normally either Super Cuts or MasterCuts, and ending up spending around $18-$20 depending on the store's price. This eventually started to add up for me. I used to keep my hair on the slightly longer end--at least two inches long along the top, shorter along the sides--which meant I ended up having to cut my hair really often because it grows really fast and I always kept it at the same length. When I moved to NY, my cousin figured I needed a change. Basically, new city new style. The problem at first for me was that I was very fickle about my hair, as I mentioned. But after a while, I figured why not and let I let him take me to his regular barber. Now, here's the thing. When I say regular barber, I mean an old school barber shop style place. New York was full of them and my cousin highly recommended this guy. I ended up getting one heck of a haircut there. They really take their time and make an effort to ensure you get a style exactly as you wanted. They used clippers, scissors, razors, everything to make sure it all turned out perfect. My new haircut came out short, like three-quarters of an inch, and cost me $12.

First of all, my new hairstyle looked a million times better than what I had before. Ask any of my friends. But besides costing less than my normal cuts, I ended up saving in other areas, too. I used less shampoo on a daily basis, so I kept the same bottle for longer. And even as my hair grew out, it still took a while to get to a length that I absolutely needed to get it cut again, so I cut it far less often. I even began to save on hair styling things. Whereas before I'd end up spending around $13 on gel or pomade to keep my longer hair more manageable, now I buy something for around $6 (like the line of Axe Hair Styling products, which I highly recommend) that lasts me for a long time cause, like shampoo, I use less daily.

Anyway, my point is thus, just because you go to a hair dresser and they charge you $16 doesn't mean you're going to get a good haircut. Paying more doesn't always mean getting more. However, paying pennies gets you pennies, too. Shop around a bit, don't always go the brand name place, and try something different every now and then. Look around for smaller, barber shop style places. I'm not saying they're all amazing, but sometimes they're much better than the regular chain stores. Make sure the price fits what you walk out with. Some college towns tend to have places that cut for only $5. A good stylist just cuts your hair. A great one makes sure you get a great haircut. You leave feeling great, not just content.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 12:40 AM on June 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Catch ya later, savers

Bridget Bar2 

The-end-is-near And now it's time to say goodbye... (or should I say, good buy?)

It's been fun sharing my coupon-cutting obsessions and spending misadventures with ya'll for the past few months, but I'll be taking a hiatus from the No-Spend Zone. I still have mad love for deal hunting, but for now I want to focus my time on my main beat at The Miami Herald, covering technology.

You can still find me gabbing about good gadgets to buy (and ones to avoid wasting your money on) at my tech blog, Cache & Carey.

And if you ever find yourself in a sticky social networking situation with your boss, come find me on the blog Poked, where Niala Boodhoo and I share netiquette tips and tricks.

In the meantime, college student Ali Bair will be coming back to the blog. And of course Amanda, Kevin and Nirvi will continue to satisfy your frugal fix.

Stay strong, my savvy savers!

Posted by Bridget Carey at 06:35 PM on June 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unemployment Means Higher Bill Costs?

Kevin Bar My roommate brought something to my attention last night. Apparently, ever since I moved in, the end of the month electricity bill sky-rocketed from around $30-$40 to around $100. Yeabuwha?

Now, my roommate wasn't upset about the whole thing, but it got me thinking on how exactly that happened. Being at home I watch a lot of television and use my computer regularly for job searches and freelance work, but does that really run that much electricity? The A/C also runs pretty regularly, but I feel most southern states tend to run their A/C all day long during the summer, you know, because of humidity so high you expect to see jungle creatures walking about.


Maybe it's the lights? We tend to have the kitchen lights on in the apartment because it gets relatively dark in the apartment for some reason. However, the kitchen uses fluorescent lights, which burns LESS electricity than regular bulbs. The whole things boggles my mind a bit, but I'm definitely going to be more conscious of what I do during the day. Unplug my cell phone charger if it's not in use. Keep the lights off unless it's extremely necessary. Control the A/C a little more. Maybe even watch television less (bloody unlikely). The whole ordeal also proves a very interesting experiment. By changing my habits I can see how much electricity I spend doing what. Hopefully, it all works out, but along the way does anybody have any advice on how to cut down my electricity use?

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 02:56 PM on June 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Cellular Savings On The Job

Amanda Bar
Working at a police department you come across several perks of the job, one of which I stumbled upon during roll call last night.  Some AT&T representative had dropped off a stack of papers advertising a 15% discount to PD employees!  This was a little blessing from cellular heaven; when I upgraded my phone last October my monthly bill was raised from $60 to close to $100, despite the fact that I rarely use my phone to the full extent of my purchased media package.  Apparently such offers are also available for several other businesses – you can check for yourself at their discount page - all you need is to confirm your affiliation with a qualified AT&T business agreement (via a work e-mail address if online, or an employee ID at a local retailer).  I managed to sign up for the discount within minutes all from my work computer!  A word of caution, however: though I wasn’t prompted to do so, depending upon your AT&T account you may be required to sign-up for a new two-year service agreement.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:32 AM on June 24, 2009 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Empty Wallets and Empty Stomachs

Amanda Bar
If you haven’t heard about the recent comments made by Missouri state representative Cynthia Davis allow me to regale you with this touching story of humanitarianism.  While discussing a recently proposed summer program meant to provide free meals for children who, during the school-year, rely on their low-budget school meals to supplement a low income at home, Davis had this to say:

    “Who’s buying dinner? Who is getting paid to serve the meal? Churches and other non-profits can do this at no cost to the taxpayer if it is warranted. [...] Bigger governmental programs take away our connectedness to the human family, our brotherhood and our need for one another. [...] Anyone under 18 can be eligible? Can’t they get a job during the summer by the time they are 16? Hunger can be a positive motivator. What is wrong with the idea of getting a job so you can get better meals? Tip: If you work for McDonald’s, they will feed you for free during your break. [...] It really is all about increasing government spending, which means an increase in taxes for us to buy more free lunches and breakfasts.” (http://thinkprogress.org)

Ronald It’s one thing to oppose hand-outs to adults, but this program was created with the intention of supplying food to hungry children – at a cost of $2 to $3 each (a total of $9.2 million spent to provide 3.7 million meals) these kids are allowed not just a Big Mac swiped between work breaks, but a full and nutritional meal.  I find such disregard for human compassion disturbing in a state representative; apparently Davis feels that the 1 in 5 Missouri children currently living with hunger don’t count among her demographic.  According to press releases a majority of these programs are hosted at religious sites and are manned by volunteers – wasting not a penny of Davis’ precious tax dollars towards hired staff.  No matter how the families came to need the assistance of such state-funded programs, is it right to punish the children for the inability of their parent’s to provide for them?

Davis’ “let them eat McDonald’s”-philosophy (as coined by MSNBC’s Keith Olberman) is a sad representation of the self-centered logic prevalent within today’s privileged government officials.  I wonder how well Cynthia Davis will be eating tonight…and how well she’ll sleep over the rumblings of her constituent’s unsatisfied tummies.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:48 PM on June 23, 2009 in Food | Permalink | Comments (3)

Getting Your Fix with Netflix

Kevin Bar As if the title serves any indication, today I plan on talking about a little thing called Netflix--and by "little thing" I of course mean one of the greatest services to movie fanatics like myself since Phoebe Cates in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

I first signed up for Netflix during my happier, more employed days, and when I originally found myself without a job I faced the tremendous decision of whether or not to cancel my ongoing subscription. Netflix is a movie rental service similar to Blockbuster, except you receive movies through he mail as opposed to going to an actual location and you pay a monthly subscription fee. The way it basically works is you sign up online, deciding first and foremost how many movies you'd like to check out. The single movie plan goes for $8.99 a month, two movies for $13.99 and the three movies for $16.99. Once that's done, you then make a list of the movies you'd like to watch from the hundreds of thousands available in their library. Netflix then sends you the top movies from your list--number depending on subscription plan--which you then watch and return. They then send you the next set from the top of the list and so forth and so on. You can exchanges movies as much as you want during the month, and postage for the return is already paid for by Netflix. For a more comprehensive explanation, check out the Netflix Web site.

Anyway, I originally signed up for the three movie plan, which comes out to $18.01 a month after taxes. After much consideration--which lasted about 2.8 seconds--I decided to keep my subscription, and here's why.

First of all, I love watching movies; movies of every genre. Romantic Comedy. Drama. Action. Suspense. You get the idea. Even movies I've seen before I can re-watch over and over again. If you rent a movie from a store, the single rental can cost you around $4. Three of those rentals, which I can pretty much do in the course of a day, then comes to $12. Meanwhile, with Netflix, I can rent practically an unlimited amount of movies for only 18 bucks. Movies I've always wanted to see, I can now watch. Heck, even movies I want to see but would never pay for because they look just terrible I can now watch. Granted, I'm still "paying" for it, but I'm not paying $4.

Secondly, Netflix decided to incorporate something into their service for the more tech-loving generation: watching movies instantly. Netflix has a digital movie library of around 12,000 films and television series, with more added every week. The Watch Instantly service allows subscribers to watch these films from their computer or on their television through an XBox 360 or PS3. The best part? This doesn't count toward your mail rentals; it's another service included with the membership. So, you can watch South Park all day long while waiting for your mail rentals to arrive.

Finally, when it comes to writing, I need background noise. Maybe it comes from growing up in an extremely noisy household where complete quiet means no one's home or everyone's unconscious, but having something on in the background helps me when I write. When it's completely quiet, I can't concentrate. Weird, yes, but just how it is. Netflix allows me to multitask without problem. I can have on something I'm slightly interested in watching while working on something else.

So, there you have it. Considering my addiction to films, Netflix is definitely worth every penny. I highly recommend it to any person who loves movies. Even if you only watch movies occasionally, you get your money's worth with just a few exchanges. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go watch Kenny die for the umteenth time.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 02:28 PM on June 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Home, Meet Owner

Amanda Bar
This past Friday the big day finally arrived and I signed all of the paperwork for my new house.  The entire process only took a little over an hour - less, if my dad would have stopped asking so many questions!  My mortgage payment, including taxes and hazard insurance, rounds out to $771.87; including the ridiculously over-priced homeowners association fee of $225, that creates a grand total of $996.87 a month.  This is around the price that we were expecting, though having to spend a little under a thousand dollars a month just for owning the property - not taking into consideration the additional cost of power, water, cable & internet - is not what I would call ideal.

Also, as I had theorized, the triumphant mood was dampened by an immediate "to-do" list created by my father immediately following the closing. 
1) Call FPL and get the bill put in my name
2) Go to city hall and get the water put in my name
3) Contact my HOA in regards to getting a mailbox key
4) Go to the post office in regards to getting my mail sent to my new address
The most bothersome of these tasks seems like it's going to be the mailbox situation, as I've been told that the HOA is most likely not going to have a copy of the key.  If the mailbox currently has a lock I'm going to have to hire a locksmith, and if the mailbox does not currently have a lock I'm going to have to make a trip to Home Depot and buy one.  Problem is, no one seems to know exactly where my mailbox is...the mailboxes in my new community are not placed immediately outside of the house but collected in little mailbox clusters that are composed of about 16 boxes.  The boxes, unfortunately, don't have the house or unit numbers on them but seemingly meaningless "1"s, "2"s, etc...so I'm left to guess at which one mine could be.

Once these final agonies are completed I suppose the fun can begin on my first official homeownership...so why do I still feel so much anxiety?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:11 PM on June 21, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2)

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