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Starting the new year off big

Name bar So I got an offer for a two-month free membership to a wholesale store. As a single person, I thought hard about this before doing joining. (I waited until a day before the deal expired to sign up.) After getting my card, and turning down the offer to buy a yearlong membership (even though they offer a money-back guarantee if you decide you don't want to keep it), I browsed the aisles.

It's definitely a bit of a cold shopping environment. There's no ambiance, and presumably this contributes to the pricing. And the size of some of the products was overwhelming (60 granola bars. Three pounds of tomatoes. Forty ounces of coffee.) But the prices, overall, really did seem to be less than what I pay at a regular grocery store for smaller sizes. I snagged a box of 150 green tea bags for $7.99. I drink this every day, so I thought this wasn't overdoing it. A gallon of skim milk was $2.43. And I only had to buy ONE gallon. Gas was $2.64 a gallon, a price I have seen around town -- but only at a few stations.

The store isn't super close by however, so I can't imagine I'll go there often, whatever the savings. I'd rather not waste the gas. And part of my reason for joining was to help a friend with a new baby snag a good deal on diapers, so if we make a joint shopping trip, I'll feel fulfilled.

But for a family of any size, the annual membership seems worth the long-term savings. As long as you have a place to store all that stuff. To check out one of the stores yourself, one of them offers a one-day pass here (though you'll pay a 15 percent surcharge on anything you buy.

Let's hope I don't get any bigger while testing out this supersized membership myself.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 04:45 PM on December 31, 2009 in Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wrapping It Up With Wrapping Paper

Amanda Bar

Paper Since winter is now upon us, certain issues surrounding this holiday season have sprung to my attention recently, and there is one in particular that is less about finances and more about the general hassle of the holidays.  Just yesterday I finally began wrapping up my holiday purchases when it was suggested to me that my wrapping paper was "inappropriate" for this time of year.  I was re-using some wrapping paper that I had purchased for a birthday earlier in the year, but it didn't say "Happy Birthday" or anything of the like on it.  Okay, yes, it may have had a balloon print on it, but the last time I checked balloons were not used exclusively for birthdays - they're more of a festive icon, and what is supposed to be more festive than Christmas?

There are two days left until Christmas and now I'm wondering: should I go out and buy holiday-specific wrapping paper to appease the nitpickers?  Does anyone really care?  It's so rare that I even get the opportunity to use wrapping paper that it seems silly to hoard holiday-specific varieties.  And if I'm going so far as to cater to the Christmas fans, what about the friends and family members who don't celebrate Christmas (while still exchanging gifts)? 

I've heard that smarter people than myself simply buy a solid-color wrapping paper, thus making it acceptable for all occasions, and I'm starting to think they may be onto something.  I know that some people really enjoy the presentation, but when the entire goal of an object's existence is to be shredded and discarded I find myself unable to muster the enthusiasm.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:49 PM on December 23, 2009 in Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (1)

A free day

Name bar I pledged not to spend too much this holiday season, but I still spent sums I'm not unaccustomed to, amounts unheard of during less jolly months. (Two nieces, my parents, significant other and a few close friends were all gift worthy -- and I loved choosing gifts I hope they will love.) 

So I'd like to repay myself by spending as little as possible next month. I hope to start off 2009 right by spending an entire day out on the town without spending anything at all -- I want to eat and be entertained for free.

I'm happy to clip coupons, search for deals and patronize businesses that give breaks to the underemployed South Floridian. (That would be me and thousands of you.) I'm willing to do some work for my freedom.

I know there are a ton of South Florida attractions that offer discounts and deals, and the same at restaurants of every stripe, but can I really make myself merry, post-holiday, without spending anything (besides the gas I'll be burning driving myself around)? Do you have some suggestions for my one-day challenge?

I'll need all the tips I can get.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 04:17 PM on December 21, 2009 in Entertainment , Food | Permalink | Comments (0)

Online Kitchen Appliance Deals

Amanda Bar

My father had brought to my attention a few days ago that he had come across a deal for a four-piece stainless steel Whirlpool kitchen appliance set in Costco's recent mail catalog.  The price was $1,999.99 with free shipping, and I was a bit surprised at this because I had trolled through Costco previously for such a bargain and found none.  The difference?  This was an online-only deal and had to be made via the computer - you might never know about this sale if you weren't a recipient of the Costco catalog.


Seeing that the expiration date for this deal was the 20th (today!) of December I quickly called up my kitchen designer and sent her the appliance specs.  After getting her approval I went ahead and placed the order, set to arrive 20 to 25 business days after my date of purchase.

The kitchen appliances were a huge point of stress for me in this kitchen renovation project, because it was near impossible to find a place that offered a package deal anymore for all four pieces.  And not only did I snag all four pieces but they're all in stainless steel (including the handles), and since Whirlpool is such a recognizable name I'm going on faith here that they're also reliable.  The only thing I have to worry about now is an installation fee, then I'm set.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:58 PM on December 20, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (3)

To Self Serve or Not to Self Serve

Kevin Herald Blog

For Christmas, my dad decided to fix up my old Honda Civic. I've had this thing for close to 10 years now, and while it's served me very, very well, it was coming to that point where it might not have lasted longer without a proper fix up. So, my dad proposed I drive my car from South Carolina to Florida for the holidays, and while I was down there we'd take my car to my cousin's auto shop and he'd fix it up. Since he was family, I know I'd get a good price and he'd take care of me. After much deliberation, mostly with myself, I decided to go for it and make the drive south. Although it might cost around the same price as an airplane ticket, there seemed to be some benefits. First I wouldn't have to deal with the aggravation of the airport. Secondly, I could drive down when I wanted and stay longer than I planned. And finally, again, a free fix up to my car seemed totally worth it as that would save me the couple grand of having to buy a new car should anything happen or few hundred to fix up the car myself.

In preparation for my trip, I decided to finally get my oil changed after about 8 months of not doing so. I know you're supposed to change it every few months, but I haven't exactly been using my car that much of late. I drove over to the local Quick Lube near the apartment and they took a look at my car. The oil change only came out to about $33.95, but they also said my air filter needed to be replaced, so that was another $16.99. They also informed me that the transmission fluid in the car was really dirty and needed to be changed. That would have cost around $169, but I decided to just wait and have my cousin do it. Already the benefits of my decision were presenting themselves. Also, the manager for whatever reason decided to give me a discount and took off $2.58. No idea why. I mean, I am quite charming, so it could be that. Anyway, the total came out to $50.42 after taxes, which isnt' all too shabby.

I'm all packed now and about to leave in a few hours. I'll be sure to tally how much I spend on gas, food and other such things and report it all to you guys once I've made it down south. I know you'll all be waiting in anticipation!

Posted by Kevin Mahadeo at 07:33 AM on December 17, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Choosing a Versatile Cabinet Color

Amanda Bar

This morning I'm meeting with the president of Wood Trends in regards to my kitchen renovations, and I'm supposed to decide upon a color for my cabinetry.  Because of the holiday season it has been made clear to me that I need to place my order before this upcoming Thursday (Dec 17th) in order to receive my cabinets in January.  Unfortunately, because of my work schedule I have been mostly unable to shop around for granite countertops...forcing me to settle on a cabinet color without a countertop color in mind.

I trust the advice of my kitchen designer (Sandra Mahadeo, mother of Miami Herald blogger Kevin), but it makes me nervous to go in blind when this is costing me so much money.  The good thing is that I'm 99% sure that the granite I'll be choosing will be a darker color, so that will at least narrow down some of the cabinet colors for me.  I've checked out some of the cabinet options previously and it seems a medium caramel color (such as this one, called Toffee) compliments most countertops, but then again I've heard that a darker color is "more modern" and I am going for that contemporary sort of look...

Hopefully the designer has some good advice for me, because ready or not I'll be making some decisions today.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:55 AM on December 15, 2009 in Home decor , Housing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Cheap Trick

Name bar When a colleague recently remarked how long my hair was -- long, but not quite hippie length, yet -- I laughed, but really, I was mortified. I'd been putting off a haircut for a while, part schedule-conflict, part parting-with-$70-conflict.

Clearly, the situation had become desperate. Never mind that I've recently taken up running, and my ponytail had been turning into something resembling a bird's nest on every run. Blow drying had become a past-time job since it took up so much of my week.

But while I love a good salon experience, and I have a wonderful stylist I love, I decided to go another route. Friends of mine have had good experiences at beauty schools, and so have I. It just depends on the school, of course, and the point at which the student stylist is in their training.

I chose the Aveda Academy in Davie. This is not the kind of hair salon where Frenchy trained in Grease.

Grease-movie-p18 Sure, there are stylists there with imaginative do's I presume may be the result of experimentation. And my stylist said the word douche. And recalled "Sweet Child of Mine" as a song from a movie soundtrack. (Ouch.)

But I was treated to the full line of Aveda products during my wash, cut and styling, had a clearly confident student who gave me a great cut -- she'd been in training for nearly a year, and paid a mere $12 (plus tip) for the experience.

And I'm no longer a hippie-chick wanna be. Hopefully just plain chic.

Vidal Sassoon, Redken and other names you may have heard of also offer discounted styling when you go with a student, or someone in the salon who's less experienced. And there are more traditional beauty schools, too. Tell me if one of them makes the cut for you.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 01:39 PM on December 11, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kitchen Renovation, Underway!

Amanda Bar
After getting quotes from three different companies (Smart Buy Kitchen USA, Home Depot, and Wood Trends) in regards to my kitchen remodeling project, I've decided to go with Wood Trends.  Not only do I get a great deal because, as it so happens, the president of the company is none other than fellow blogger Kevin's mother, but even nepotism notwithstanding the prices ended up being cheaper than the two other competitor's I visited.

Wood Trends is asking $7,339.08.  This cost includes the removal of my old kitchen, the new cabinets and granite countertop, cabinet fixtures, crown molding, and a stainless steel sink.

Home Depot was asking between $6545 and $8789 for the American Woodmark cabinets.  Installation would cost an additional $79 per kitchen "box" (which would equal about $800 for the size of my kitchen), and $1400 for tear out & haul away.  Add onto that the price of the countertop and he estimated the total cost of my remodel between $10,023 and $13,136E-gads!!  And here I thought Home Depot would be the cheap alternative...

Smart Buy was a very close contender for getting my business because their prices were actually very decent.  $6,971.91 for the cabinets, countertop, and installation, with an additional fee of $250 for demolition and removal of my old cabinets.  However, this price (unlike Wood Trends) did not include the hardware and sink.  The additional costs would end up totaling more than Wood Trends in the end.

Now that this important decision has finally been made I can't wait to sign some papers, hand over some money, and get this show on the road!

12/09 Edit: Since I've been asked, here is the contact information for Wood Trends (they do not seem to have a website currently): #954-567-1000, 2133 N Dixie Hwy in Wilton Manors, FL 33305.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:55 AM on December 8, 2009 in Home decor , Housing , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (7)

An expensive bargain

Name bar I thought I was the picture of calm this morning, when I discovered I'd lost the key to my front door after a six-mile run with a friend. I shook out my shorts, just to be sure, then searched the sidewalk around the house. Then I remembered I had a key to the back door.

Feeling especially smug about my preparedness -- the key to the back door wasn't with me, but I can't disclose its location -- I unearthed the key and unlocked the back door.

Except that when I leave my house before dawn, I don't undo the chain latch on the back door.


I was still not panicking. Since I could unlock the back door, I wondered if I could cut the chain with my garden shears.Um, not so much. Those babies will slice through a thick coconut palm frond, but the metal chain links didn't yield. (At least I know that the links can't be cut easily.)

So I walked to my friend's, a few blocks away. She and her lovely housemate loaned me their phones and their computers. I looked up locksmith after locksmith, comparison price shopping, emergency or no. One of them was kind enough to make me breakfast. The prices ranged from $100 to a service call of $40, plus an undetermined charge for labor that would depend on how hard it would be to picKeyk my lock.

I was blunt. I said I'd have to call someone else to one of the more exorbitant companies -- that their prices were simply too much. He asked what I could afford. Considering what I'd been told, I thought $50 was super generous (but still wincing). The man on the other end of the phone was unimpressed. "Nobody's going to come out for that price."

I kept calling. They caved -- someone called me back, saying they dispatch 90 percent of the locksmiths in my area and the prices were all going to be the same, but they had found someone who would help me out for $60. I bit. It had been an hour already.  

It took the guy a shocking 10 seconds to pick my lock, which I found rather horrifying. It hurt to hand over that $60 -- but it would have hurt worse to hand over $100, I reasoned.Lamenting my broken morning, I readied for a shower, looking forward to a cup of tea and a busy work day to forget the whole experience.

I heard a faint "clink" when I pulled off the cursed shorts with the faulty key-carrying mechanism that were to blame for the entire disaster.

There was my key.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2009 in Housing | Permalink | Comments (5)

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