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Holiday Product Testing

Amanda Bar

While my roommate Bridget was hard at work putting up Christmas lights outside, I stayed nice & cool Lightinside testing out the LightKeeper Pro (a situation I found rather amusing, considering that Bridget is The Miami Herald's resident tech reviewer).  The LightKeeper Pro is meant to be a useful little device to salvage broken strands of holiday lights, saving you the toil and cost of replacing damaged decorations.  Being mostly inept with any sort of home repair/manual labor I was nervous that I would get wrapped up with instruction manuals and power cords, but happily this device is about as straightforward as it gets.  There are no attachments, and you don't even have to plug it in.

All I had to do was remove a single bulb amidst a strand of malfunctioning lights, plug the empty bulb socket into the LightKeeper Pro, and with a couple pulls of the trigger the strand should spring back to life.  I say "should" because, unfortunately, it took some finagling to achieve the desired results.  I had to adjust the empty bulb socket several times within the device before it seemed to catch at the small metal nodes located inside the LightKeeper, but once it finally stuck I was able to get the lights working after a few trigger pulls.  Remove the socket, replace the bulb and voila!

The LightKeeper Pro sells at most home repair outlets for about $19.98, but if you find yourself constantly tossing out broken strands of lights year after year...you might want to consider this product, especially since malfunctioning lights seem to be as seasonal an event as putting up the Christmas tree (or Hannukah bush, for that matter).

UPDATE: Funny enough, Bridget waltzed into the house with another broken strand of lights ten minutes after I posted this and I was unable to get the lights working again using the same twisting & pulling that worked previously.  Take this into consideration.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 05:44 PM on November 30, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

All I Want For Christmas...is a Prison Sentence?

Amanda Bar

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and a thief, it seems.  As you may know I work at my local police department, and it is well known throughout my office that this time of year sees a drastic increase in the amount of shoplifting and general theft cases that occur in our city.  Knowing that this problem couldn’t be exclusive to our city, I did a little Google-searching and discovered that it’s not just the winter months but this entire year that has seen an increase in “middle-class shoplifting”.

According to a TIME magazine article, shoplifting has increased by 6% across the country – a small percentage, perhaps, but one that equals a retail loss of about $115 billion!  As the use of the term “middle-class shoplifter” might suggest, many of the perpetrators seem to be from financially struggling middle-class families, and the pilfered items are often used to supplement a budgeted (or, in some cases, a non-existent) income.  Most of the items that are reported to be the most sought after, though, are clothing, cosmetics, and quality food items - items that TIME magazine suggests are used to maintain a quality of life to which the shoplifters are accustomed…which makes the entire crime seem rather petty.  I understand the theft of food products, but “quality” food products?  These items are not being stolen to survive during a financial crisis, but to indulge one’s self beyond your means.

Any thoughts on this?  Do you have sympathy for these middle-class pilferers?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:59 PM on November 29, 2009 in Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Theoretical Black Friday Savings

Kevin Herald Blog
So, yesterday was Black Friday. For those not in the know, Black Friday is the Friday that follows after Thanksgiving. The start of the Christmas season and a day of ridiculous sales in stores all across the country. Feel free to check out the Black Friday Wikipedia page for more information on this magical day of savings.... and death.

Which brings me to a few days ago. My sister and I want to get my parents a new TV for Christmas. They've had the same crappy tiny one for years now and we strongly feel it's time for them to upgrade to bigger and better. Financially this seems a bit nuts because I'm out of a job and my sister is about to graduate college and is also jobless. But a new TV benefits the entire family. Also we could always use it as a trump card against the parents if the need ever arose. Anyway, my younger sibling gives me a call to inform me that Walmart would have a sale on Black Friday--as if that would be a surprise of any sort. However, the important information was that they'd have a 32" HD LCD on sale for $248. Obviously, that's a dang good price. My sister suggested that I should head over to my local store at 5 am, when the sale began to purchase one. She said I may have a better chance at both the purchase and survival as I live in a small South Carolina town and she lives in Pembroke Pines.

Sure my sister had sound reasoning, but I'd never been to the shops on Black Friday my entire life. All I knew about Black Friday was that people go completely insane. Like... devolve into dangerous animals insane. Still, this would help get my parents that TV. I thought long and hard about it, but last night, I got supremely tired and fell asleep, thereby missing the sale. Dang turkeys and their sleepy factor. I was a bit upset at first, but I found out that 75 people showed up to the Walmart near my house specifically for that TV. And Walmart only carried 30 of them. So in the end, it sort of worked out in my favor?

So, my tradition of non-Black Friday attendance continues. But I'm still short one TV. Anyone know of a good place to get a nice TV, be it online or at a store? How about some Black Friday madness? Feel free to share your stories of tossing children away or flipping old ladies.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 01:39 AM on November 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Birthdays: A Day of Contemplation for the Unemployed

Kevin Herald Blog

My Birthday past recently, and I finally turned 25. A quarter of a century old. Many might think, "You're still young. Your life is just beginning." And of course there's the, "Hey, at least you rent a car." Now, while this is all well and good, the only thing I thought about on my "special" day was that I was 25 years old and unemployed. Growing up, when I thought about myself at 25, I always imagined a successful writer penning the latest issue of SUPERMAN or working on his newest novel about space ninjas battling a race of super-intelligent monkeys... who happened to also be ninjas, but they used their ninja powers for evil and therefore must be stopped. At 25, I would have dabbled in writing for movies, acting in television. I was to be attending lavish parties dressed in a nice suit, grinning like a fool as I sipped on a rum and coke and hobnobbed with my fellow party-goers. And, yes, although all that was merely the fanciful daydreams of a 15-year-old with his whole life ahead of him, I certainly never imagined myself at 25 to be unemployed and living in South Carolina.

However, if there is one thing I can say is great about being unemployed on your birthday, it's that the gifts mean so much more. My dad, in his infinite generosity, paid for my plane ticket home for Christmas, which came out to around $140. My mom, loving as always, decided to cover the $90 I owe fellow blogger Amanda for the "Phantom of the Opera" ticket she purchased for me. My sister... well, she's unemployed as well and about to graduate college, so she baked me a cake. But still, free, delicious food! My buddy Fernando took me for a night on the town to cheer me up and covered my drinks the entire night, running up a bill close to $60. Amanda and Bridget got me the Catwoman Ame-Comi statue I've desperately wanted since I first heard about it's impending release back when I was working at Wizard. Then of course there's the usual money from the grandparents and aunts and uncles.

So, what's the point here? Well, basically, being unemployed on your birthday is a two-edged sword. Sure it's depressing, but hot-damn if you can't milk it for all it's worth for your friends and family.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 05:23 AM on November 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Freeing Up Space with Donations

Amanda Bar
Since I've been slowly going through my belongings in preparation for the big move to my new house, I've come across a variety of items that I no longer want or need (or simply don't have the room for).  My first impulse would be to chuck these things into the garbage, but since the majority of them were in great shape I decided to take the time and head over to my local Salvation Army store.  This is only the second time I've been there, but the process takes less than a minute - just show up with a bag of items, fill out a small form with your information and a brief description of what you're donating, and then head out the door.  Not only are you doing a good deed, but you get a tax write-off and extra space in your house!

Another good idea for unwanted belongings is to throw a yard sale, but this option takes more planning and preparation than I was willing to give.  My parents are fond of throwing yearly yard sales, however, so keeping my larger (and more expensive) items around might earn me some needed cash whenever my parents feel the need to throw another yard sale together.  Whatever your choice, these are both good ways to get something out of your discards.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:00 PM on November 17, 2009 in Thrift stores | Permalink | Comments (2)

Treasure In Trash

Amanda Bar
When I had my bathroom remodeled I asked the workmen during deconstruction to kindly place anything they could salvage (such as the wall cabinets) in my bedroom.  I knew that most of it would prove useless, but I was hoping that I could positively repurpose some of the items for another use.

For example, the original mirror in my master bathroom is a huge piece of glass almost 6ft across.  Even though the edges are discolored my walk-in closet is large enough that if I turn the mirror on it’s side it provides a perfect floor-to-ceiling dressing mirror!  An easy solution to the edge discoloration is by crafting a makeshift frame or border by using some thin pre-cut pieces of wood, some paint, and a glue gun (all of which can be found at a craft store).  A mirror of this size bought at any retailer would end up costing me hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

The bathroom cabinets, however, are proving more difficult to recycle.  They’re corner cabinets, and I’m thinking that if I remove the doors and repaint the interior I can attach it as shelving in my downstairs living room.  My main concern is that while I could definitely use the extra storage space, the cabinet frame might look too “bathroom-y” for another room.  I do enjoy my craft projects, though, and I’ll keep you updated on whether or not this proves to be a diamond in the rough or a disaster.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:25 PM on November 13, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Cost of Perfect Teeth

Kevin Herald Blog

On a recent trip home, around the time of Halloween, my mom made me a dentist appointment as I hadn't been in a while. The appointment was a for a cleaning, but as the lovely dental assistant cleaned away at my pearly whites she exclaimed, "Umm.... what's with your second to last molar on your right lower jaw?" Confused, I said, "What do you mean?"

"Well, I don't how you wouldn't have noticed this, but it's majorly chipped," she told me. "I think the doctor should take a look at this."

"Oh that," I responded in an almost nonchalant manner. "That's been like that for about five years now. No one ever said anything before about it when I used to go to my other dentist."

After giving me a disbelieving, quizzical look, she responded with, and I'm paraphrasing here, "What the crap?"

The doctor came over and took a look. Besides having a cavity on that tooth, as one would expect, the chipping led to a cavity on the lower corner of the adjacent tooth, a place that normally wouldn't have a cavity unless it was exposed as it was. Also, the tooth was slowly decaying. I needed to get it fixed ASAP. If not, I could lose the tooth which could led to tons of other problems, which would ultimately destroy my "perfect smile" (their words, not mine. well....mine, too). Understand, I have a teeth thing. I have reoccurring nightmares about losing my teeth. So, needless to say, I was ready to get this stuff fixed that day. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to happen. They could fill my cavities, but they needed to take a mold of my teeth and send it off to get a proper ceramic cap for it. So, it would take at least a week to get that back. Either way, I was in. I had to save my teeth. But let me tell you, preserving a great smile costs quite a bit.

At first the cost came out to $950, but since I was a new customer, I had no insurance and because these guys were extremely nice people, the doctor decided to not charge for the fillings. The cost dropped to $700--still expensive for someone like me, but reasonable from what I understand. So, I got my cavities filled and for now have a temporary cap on the tooth to keep it safe until they get they permanent one in.

What do you all think of this? Was that a reasonable price for what I'm getting done? Also, seriously, who flosses? Cause apparently, I need to.

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 03:17 PM on November 7, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Cutting Costs for Kitchen Reconstruction

Amanda Bar
After receiving my much awaited first-time homeowner's check from the government (that's $8000+ in my pocket!) I've started hunting around for a new kitchen.  The refrigerator and dishwasher are in working condition, but both them and the oven appear to be the original appliances that came with the house upon construction (which dates them back to about 1983), so obviously they can use a facelift.  The cabinets, countertops, and lighting in the kitchen are also dated and in need of either repair or replacement. 

The problem with that?  None of the quotes I've gotten so far fit within my budget of $8000!  Go figure, but redoing an entire kitchen seems to be expensive.  The lowest quotes I've gotten thus far is from Smart Buy USA in Doral, that quoted me at $6700 for cabinets and granite countertops.  They also offered a $1999 package deal for all of the kitchen appliances (Frigidaire), in stainless steel.

My father says this is a good deal.  My mother says the price is completely ridiculous.  I'm not purchasing anything yet - and I probably won't come to a decision until I scrounge up some extra money - but these conflicting opinions aren't helping me.  I've never redone an entire kitchen before, so how am I supposed to know what is reasonable and what is over-priced?  At this point all ll I can do is keep shopping around and comparing prices. 

Any advice from people who know a little something about home reconstruction, or someone who just knows where to get a good deal on a small budget?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 03:43 PM on November 6, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (8)

Coupons, Groupons

Name bar Right after I asked you guys to tell me how you find the best deals, I found out The Miami Herald created a page that aggregates some of the good deals around South Florida.

There are restaurant deals, coupons -- such as $1 off cereal and $1.50 off frozen pizza, classified ads for items under $500 and the like.

Here's the link. I did notice that one of the links to a restaurant discount offers a deal that expired in August, so like any new thing, apparently there are some kinks. But I do want to know if you find this site useful.

Another site I'd love your feedback on has deals that depend on many users to survive. Groupon, as it's called, offers daily deals on everything from restaurants, the theater, spas, classes, sporting events, bars, museums, concerts, gyms and other things. An example from an offer this week: For $15, you could get $35 worth of Italian eats at Fratelli La Bufala on South Beach. The coupon was only available on Monday, but it lasts for a year. If you find a deal you like, you can share it via Twitter or Facebook.

Tell me if you find a deal that's too good to pass up.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 04:54 PM on November 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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