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Let There Be Construction (Day 1)!

Amanda Bar Construction on my master bathroom has officially kicked off this morning, as I eventually decided to go with Mr. Blue (the second, and more expensive, tile installer).  Today was focused on demolition; observe the before and after of the floor of my shower:


You'll have to excuse the funny angle on the "AFTER" picture - by that point the surrounding floor had been coated with a layer of glue and I thoroughly ruined a good pair of flip-flops trying to tiptoe my way close enough to get a picture.

The tile installer had originally quoted an estimate at $1900, but with some new additions to our plans the price has come up a bit to $2200 - a price that is not including light installation, and not including painting (I have yet to get an estimate as far as the lighting, but he more or less priced the paint job at an additional $100).  Also, the installer surprised me by asking me to go with him to Home Depot to purchase additional supplies for the final construction (sheet rock, some metal piping, a drain, etc.)...all of this additional to the $2200 base fee.  Considering this surprise shopping trip, you would think he could have told me about this before I gave the word "go" on having him do my bathroom - $300 for additional materials is no light matter, and should have been included in the estimate price.  However, I'm just so relieved to get this project rolling that I suppose I can handle a few snags at the onset...as long as the rest of this bathroom business runs (ahem) smoothly.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:15 PM on July 31, 2009 in Home decor , Housing | Permalink | Comments (2)

An unpleasant Discovery

Name bar I haven't ever had a credit card that racks up points, or miles, or anything but cold hard cash. I figure I can always use cash, whether it's to buy an airline ticket or other things and at least I'm in total control of how -- and where I spend my money.

Most years, I rack up enough cash to buy at least an airline ticket somewhere anyway.

And most years, every time I earn $20, I can request an electronic transfer to my bank account.

Until this one.

I just noticed on my latest credit card statement that I was well over the $20 mark. How had I let this go unnoticed? But when I tried to redeem my reward, a new message awaited me instead:

Keep Saving for this Offer!

The minimum Cashback Bonus redemption amount is $50.

Return to Cashback Bonus Home

What?! Presumably, this was in the fine print of one of those impossible-to-read disclosures I received in the mail (which my company also tried to get me to sign up for electronically. They wouldn't let me into the website without making a decision about it. At least if I want to try reading one of them, I want to have it on hand and be able to refer to, easily.

There are worse things when it comes to credit cards, I know. That's the whole reason Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act earlier this year. But in this economy, I just want my $20.

What has your credit card company done for(to) you lately?

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 06:08 PM on July 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Weighing Cost Against Competence

Amanda Bar
I've consulted two tile installers in regards to my master bathroom renovation.  One, Mr. Red, gave me an initial installation price of $1500.  The second, Mr. Blue, gave me an estimate of $1900.  Comparing the prices alone I'd immediately go with Mr. Red, but then again there are other factors to consider.

My father has worked exclusively with Mr. Blue in the past when it came to renovations in his home.  The bathrooms came out beautifully, and Mr. Blue completed the job in a minimal amount of time.  Mr. Red, however, is recommended by a friend of a friend - the only examples that I've seen of his work are in pictures.  Also, Mr. Red expressed concern over being able to properly cut the tile I'm using; he explained that the tile has the consistency of marble (even though it isn't marble) and he doesn't have the tools that are commonly used to work with tile of that nature.  Mr. Red was also the one who stated that he was nervous about working in my shower since the back wall is slanted inward due to the odd design of the roof.  All of this does not exactly instill confidence in me, and more and more I am thinking that perhaps going with the more expensive Mr. Blue will afford me greater peace of mind with this project.

I still have to call both men back to my new home for a final consultation and it's possible that Mr. Red will bow out of the job altogether (or even worse, either man could raise their initial estimate!), but I will be definitely judging the confidence of both of these guys in doing the job correctly.  This renovation is already costing me and my family an arm and a leg - I don't want to ruin it with shoddy installation.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:22 PM on July 27, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Out of Luck with Starbucks

Kevin Bar Yesterday, a blond with a blog, informed me about a promotion she found out about on Facebook: today, July 21, would be Free Pastry Day at Starbucks. Apparently, with your purchase of any handmade drink, you get a free pastry of your choice. Now, I love me some Starbucks coffee. And if I was going to get a free munchie with my purchase, all the better. So, I planned on going today once I woke up--excited about the prospect of free food. Unfortunately, not all was as it seemed.

I awoke today to a number of text messages from Bridget informing me of the clustermuck going on. Apparently, in order to get the Free Pastry you had to either print out a coupon or pull up the Starbucks Web site on your mobile device. Many people did not realize this, so did not know to print out the coupon. In Bridget's case, the cashier didn't even inform her about the phone solution. Other places ran out of pastries for customers, even if they had a coupon. Also, the "Day" part of Free Pastry Day only lasted until 10:30 am. Which really left me out of luck as I woke up after noon. To be fair, this was because I was up late working on a couple of freelance assignments, not because I'm lazy.

Across the Internets today, people expressed their dissatisfaction over the event. Just check out the tweets today about people not getting their sweets:


Here's some more exerts from throughout the day:

derekpcollins: Starbucks denied me a free pastry b/c I didn't print the coupon (I presented the coupon on my iPhone). #starbucks #lame
brianmcbrearty: wait... free pastry day at #starbucks was actually free pastry morning till 10:30?? wtf? snif.
MissKianaBaby: People be standing outside the damn #starbucks @ 5a.m like its a freakn meth clinic.
christineziemba: @odymon no i just sent #starbucks a complaint that they weren't specific enough in their free pastry giveaway!
Kylafornia: #starbucks can suck it big time, the line was out the door at 9am and they didn't even have any pastries. FAIL or good marketing?
jennafletch: um, why don't #Starbucks do free pastry days over here?
mdfrancois: #starbucks #starbucksfail free pastry day if you buy a beverage, but at 9am they were 'out', even though the case was full of pastry. fail!
CaApril: Free pastry day was a failure! Out of the "alotted number" of pastries whenI got there. What a bunch of BS. #Starbucks
SanDiegoAirport: Sorry, folks, but today's Starbucks activities are not valid at airports. #freepastryday #starbucks
VictoriaGreen: are #Starbucks free pastries in the USofA only?
krisroberson: Didn't get free pastry at #starbucks cuz I didn't print the coupon. #starbucks should save a tree and accept digital coupons on iPhones!
brokennails: @Starbucks My barista refused to honor the free pastry coupon! It was only 9:45 and there were still pastries left. What gives?!?
The whole thing got me thinking on the approach of these promotions. On one hand, looking into the exact details about the promotion is on the consumer. However, a lot of these promotions get passed around by word of mouth. That's how I find out about a lot of them. And a little bit of miscommunication can cause a serious chain reaction. But in this case, the biggest miscommunication came from Starbucks to some of their employee, who didn't know about the mobile device presentation.

Overall, when something like this happens, I think as a business Starbucks stores could have still given a free pastry to customers who came in before 10:30 am. As a consumer, if you go in expecting a free pastry and don't get one, you'll probably decide against making the coffee purchase because you're upset at the situation. While you save money, Starbucks loses some.

What do you all think about this situation? How do you find out about these types of promotions? Would you still have made your coffee purchase if you were denied your pastry delight?

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 07:02 PM on July 21, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Catching a break

Name bar One way to make sure you're spending wisely is to get what you paid for. Too often, a sales experience can get in the way of what should have been a good deal. I'm so disgruntled by the time I leave a store or restaurant, a coupon, freebie or sale price is outweighed by the negative experience. For me, good customer service is an intangible but integral part of getting the most for my limited dollars. I'm not alone.

It can be a pain to complain about a poor experience, although it's certainly easier than in old times where (gasp!) the only real outlet was writing a letter. These days, customer service reps are lurking on Twitter, Facebook, and are easy to access via e-mail from company websites, if you hate those phone systems that have seem to have an endless stream of numbers for you to push, but a shrinking number of people to talk to about your problem.

But I have to applaud folks like Dave Carroll, who told the world (or at least millions of people) via YouTube about his experience with United Airlines, which he claims broke a guitar he was traveling with. Apparently, his creative approach got the attention of the company, which is even going to use his little number in training for airline employees.

What's the craziest thing you've done to make sure you've gotten your money's worth?

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 02:39 PM on July 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Paint Brands Can Save You Time & Money

Amanda Bar
Paint For anyone who is interested in purchasing paint, I have a little tip for you.  When I was consulting a design specialist for my master bathroom, she advised me to paint some accent walls.  When I asked her which colors would match the tile and where I can pick some up, she promptly pointed me to the nearest Wal-Mart.  Apparently Wal-Mart sells a brand of Kilz paint that covers any surface in one coat, and it's the #1 brand that she swears by.  If you paint often, you might recognize the Kilz name as a popular brand of paint primer - I've used it quite often myself, and I had no idea they offered anything in colors.  For $23.95 - though I believe the cost varies dependent on the sheen of the paint (I went with satin) - you can pick up a gallon of Kilz paint and completely forgo the prepping process of priming the walls, saving you both time and money (about $16 a gallon for primer).  I tried it out on the walls in my bathroom and I am very satisfied with the quality and look of the paint.  It also certainly holds up to it's claim of being a one-coat paint, and it easily covered over other colors without a problem - no discernible changes in hue, and no streaks.

For whatever reason this brand seems to only market itself through Wal-Mart; you won't find the Kilz "Casual Colors" line of products in Lowes or Home Depot.  You can check out this handy Wal-Mart store locator to find a location near you that carries this neat and helpful product.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 02:58 PM on July 19, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (4)

Pretty Ugly In Pink

Amanda Bar
I’m a girl, and I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy the color pink.  Since moving out of my parents house (and into my grandfather’s vacated one) I often considered painting my new bedroom pink, but laziness – and the fact that it’s not technically my house – always stopped the idea before it really took off.  Once I was handed the keys to my new home, however, the very first thing I did was head over to Home Depot to purchase a gallon of paint for my bedroom.  Being the sophisticated lady that I am, I opted for what I thought to be a more modern, adult hue of pink (Colonial Rose, to be exact) and I quickly stared painting.  I painted the majority of two walls with the color, and since then I haven’t had a chance (i.e. the willpower) to finish the project.  However, what with so many people traveling in and out of my bedroom in regards to my master bathroom renovations, I’ve been receiving none-to-kind opinions on my choice of colors.

Pink Apparently my choice of pink is regarded by my loving (cough) family members as being less “sophisticated boudoir” and more “French whorehouse”; less dusky rose, and more Pepto Bismol.  While I’m allowed to be my own person with my own (perhaps unconventional) tastes, seeing a line of people wincing as they enter my bedroom is not exactly a boost to my style self-esteem.  Yes, my contemporaries (namely current roommate Bridget) have told me that they like the color, but I don’t want the common majority to ooh & ahh over my stylish new bathroom while puking in their mouths over my bedroom!  And though I’m not looking to spend anywhere near the amount of money & time in my bedroom as I’m placing in my bathroom (just yet, anyways), I think that I can afford another gallon of paint or two ($25-$30, brand dependent)…it’s just unfortunate that my first paint purchase now goes to waste when I bought it during a limited-time sale ($5-off per every gallon of Behr paint).  Thanks to the previously mentioned family members, I’ve already had other – perhaps “better” – shades of pink suggested to me that might look nicer to the general public.  And let’s be honest – while I have no one to please at the end of the day but myself, I didn’t spend this much money just to turn my house into a bubblegum-colored monstrosity!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 11:31 PM on July 16, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (4)

Here In My Car, I Can't Get Very Far.... Unless I Pay

Kevin Bar Did you know when you move to South Carolina you have 45 days to register your car or else they fine you? Me either!

A little over a week ago, my dad got a letter in the mail from the South Carolina Auditor's Office saying he owed them some cash as he failed to registered his car in South Carolina in the required number of days. My dad currently owns the title of the car I drive around as he purchased it originally back when I just got my driver's license. After informing me of this, we gave them a call and they explained I needed to come in with the car's title and pay the fine, then head to the DMV to register. So, my dad express shipped me the title (which cost him $17 for two-day shipping) and I went in to the office. I ended up having to pay $70 in taxes. Not wanting to pay any more anytime soon, I immediately went to the DMV. And if anyone's been to the DMV, they know that's where the real fun begins.

I tried explaining that I wasn't even too sure how long I'd be in SC as I was job searching and could move at any minute, but that apparently didn't matter. So, I explained the title being in my dad's name and they said he has to sign the car over to me. Of course being the DMV, they gave me a couple of forms to fill out, one for me and one for my dad. Shipping ensued, more forms were given for some reason or another, more shipping, and finally today it all gets done--after being informed I didn't actually need to fill out half the forms I was given. Before getting a nosebleed from thinking about all the nonsense I just went through, I finished registering and paid another $39 (for what, I'm not exactly too sure).

I have to say I did learn something from all this. First, the DMV is completely ridiculous. And secondly, if you move somewhere, I highly suggest finding out what their laws are regarding car registration. The financial cost can otherwise definitely take a toll. And mentally, well... expect to consider doing this as an alternative to dealing with the hassle:


Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 06:15 AM on July 16, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Flushing Your Finances Away

Amanda Bar
Since I’m going for a very modern look with my new bathroom, it has been suggested to me that I might want to consider buying a new toilet to match the décor.  Now you might be asking yourself, as I did, what exactly is a modern toilet (and does such a ridiculous thing even exist, for that matter)?  Apparently certain toilets – mostly European brands – come in one-piece, instead of the usual two-piece toilets that include a large tank on the back; these one-piece toilets offer a sleeker look, and often come in interesting shapes (for example, instead of a standard oval seat they might have a square seat). 

The toilet that is currently in my bathroom is a Glacier Bay model and looks relatively new – I’m sure the bank that took hold of the property during the foreclosure replaced it with the cheapest one they could find – and I feel a little guilty thinking about replacing such an unobtrusive item when the one I have is perfectly fine for it’s…um…intended purpose.  It doesn’t hurt to look, though, and while I was picking up my bathroom tile last Saturday I also swung by a neighboring plumbing store for a peek (Bath Trends in Doral).  Surprisingly the toilets weren’t all that expensive, starting at about $199, but the prices spiked as high as $599 for certain “luxury toilets”.  The cheapest one I liked was going for $299, and we haggled the saleswoman (or, more accurately, my stepmother haggled the saleswoman) down to $249, but I balked at the last moment and decided to instead spend some time thinking on the purchase. 

I understand that if I don’t get a new toilet now I’ll make it harder for myself if I ever want to replace it in the future, considering the fact that my expensive new floor tile will be cut in accordance with whatever toilet I currently have in my bathroom, but I also wonder if I’ll ever actually appreciate the money I’ll be spending on such a seemingly silly upgrade.  Thoughts? 

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:44 AM on July 15, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (5)

Getting the Groceries on Budget

Ali Bar    
    Buying groceries is one of the things I sometimes let slip during the school year. Unfortunately, faced with empty cupboards and since food happens to be vital for life, I was forced to eat out.  Now looking back at some old credit card statements, I see that basically ate up my entire paycheck.  So to do a complete 180, I decided to cut things to the bare minimum.  My first grocery trip was on Monday, June 1.  My tardiness in arriving at the store caused some of my savings due to the fact that I had just 15 minutes to shop.  But I spent a total of $32.23.  I'd say that's not half bad, and that food lasted me until June 11.  Anyways, on my June 11 trip, I spent $49.99. This food lasted 2 weeks, bringing my food total to $25 a week, which is much better than my eating-out total of $55.27 per week.  Since then I have been averaging about $50 per 2 weeks. I could have saved more money on my recent trip to the store, but I got some luxuries, Perhaps the pricey avocados weren't a necessity.  Lesson learned.
   I shop at the local P & C, a grocery store here in New York, it seems to be less expensive than Wegman's on most items (although it's heaven).  My last trip I looked at what food items were on sale with the P & C Wild Card and chose mostly those items, which ended up saving me $13.12.  Try and sign up for any savings cards that you can, look at sales, and coupons.  It takes a little more effort, but for many people not trying to save money this way isn’t even an option.
     So far, I've only strayed from my strict budget by getting some ice cream, some very tasty French fries and a sandwich (a day I did not quite have enough energy in the morning to make my lunch).  Another tip, if you are running out of food in the house, you are more inclined to eat out.  So just go to the store earlier than you anticipated. In the long run, it will save you. Most of you probably know this, but stay away from prepared foods. It’s far cheaper to spend a little more time preparing food yourself.

Posted by Account Deleted at 11:28 AM on July 11, 2009 in Food | Permalink | Comments (0)

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