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A Tan With a Price Tag

Amanda Bar

In the past I’ve generally held tanning salons in disdain.  Most of the people that lauded the places were of the Jersey Shore-type (gross), and why would I bother spending money to be bombarded with UV rays when you live in the Sunshine State?  Well, after lying out in that aforementioned sun for an hour and a half with only a minimal tan to show for the effort, I finally decided (after much researching) to give a nearby tanning salon a try.

The price was low enough ($12 to $17 per session) and I was interested in comparing the results.  I was nervous walking into the place because I knew next to nothing about the tanning salon process – what do I wear? Am I naked? Is the attendant watching me while I soak in the radioactive glow? Do I need to bring tanning lotion? - but the attendant was both courteous and knowledgeable, and before long she had me signing up for a 3-session package for $45.  (And for the record, the answers to my previous questions were: 1) wear loose clothing, 2) you can go naked or wear a bathing suit, 3) you are given a private room, and 4) special indoor tanning lotion is recommended.)

The experience of being inside the tanning booth (I chose the stand-up option over the bed) was akin to a theme park ride – I felt like I was being beamed up by the Mothership.  The booth itself is about as roomy as a telephone booth, and you’re surrounded by bulbs.  A large fan sits on the top and bottom of the booth so you never feel the heat (I found it to be not uncomfortably warm), and there are two stirrups dangling near the top that you’re supposed to rope your hands through. The final touch is two tinfoil eye-covers that you stick over your eyes prior to entering the booth, and neatly enough you can see through them.  The entire experience was fascinating, and my eight-minute session was over before I had the time to get bored.

More importantly, I immediately noticed a difference after exiting the booth.  Later this weekend I’m supposed to return for another round, and I’m interested to see if my second session is as pleasant as my first.  If so, I might just be a tanning salon convert!  (And before you even start, yes, I know "Boo! HIss! Skin cancer!")

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:51 AM on April 23, 2010 in Impulsive spending | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgotten, but not-so-hidden, treasure

Name bar For months, I've been hearing about how Florida is holding on to more than $1 billion in unclaimed stuff that current and former residents have left behind. This is not stuff as in moldy sweatshirts from your college dorm room or sunglasses you left on the beach on that trip to the Keys. This is a deposit made for a utility company in a town you lived in seven years ago, safe deposit boxes long forgotten about, plus dusty stamp collections, coins and jewels.

The state auctions the stuff off after a while -- unclaimed cash goes into a state account for education -- but that's only after a lot of years go by. And there's no statute of limitations on claiming the cash. All you have to do to search for a claim is go to the website, or call 888-258-2253 or 850-413-5555.

I certainly could use a few extra bucks. And from college until a few years ago, I moved roughly 10 times, bouncing from dorm to dorm at the University of Florida, followed by a string of apartments as I changed jobs rapidly during the early days of my career.

But no, there is apparently not an errant dime to my name. Score one for my anal-retentive personality. To appease my curiosity, I started entering the names of my Business Desk colleagues here at the Herald. I got four hits in a matter of minutes.Seach-for-unclaimed-propert

My colleague Niala Boodhoo, our paper's social media maven and multimedia reporter extraordinaire, said she actually knew the state was in possession of some of her cash, but she was under the impression it was complete pain in the something-or-other to get her money back. (Ironically, it's The Miami Herald that owes her $62.50.) It took me roughly three minutes to get a copy of her claim form mailed to her home. She'll have to include a copy of a photo id and mail the paperwork off to the state, but otherwise, claiming her stuff costs nothing.

Technology and small business reporter Bridget Carey said she isn't sure what the state has in her name, but she is pretty certain the items listed under her name once belonged to her. She's planning on getting back to me with the details. Doug Hanks is apparently owed $48 from a lapsed New York Times subscription. He was skeptical at first though, wondering if the site was a scam. When I told him it's run by the state Department of Financial Services, that was enough assurance for him.

I was hooked. I started entering the names of my friends. Newlyweds Leslie and Scott both are due some cash. Leslie, like Niala, had a vague recollection of a small check gone astray but wasn't sure how to retrieve it.

"You are very nifty," she told me, when I rang her to let her know the state owes her about $100.

I like to think so.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 12:17 PM on April 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Costly Costume Projects

Amanda Bar

Not that I need to further establish this, but I happen to be a huge nerd.  About a year ago I made a little creative project out of fashioning myself a Hawkgirl mask (Hawkgirl being a DC comic book character), and with the annual Supercon comic book convention approaching in June I’ve decided to finish up the costume.

The problem is that creating a costume can get expensive really quickly if I don’t keep an eye on my spending.  Luckily several pieces of the outfit I already owned (boots & leggings), and the two remaining clothing items I needed I found via an online dance & ballet supply store for relatively cheap; $12.99 for a gold tank top, and $14.90 for a pair of metallic red “booty shorts”.  Let's break it down, shall we:

Outfit breakdown copy

That sets me up with the basic outfit, but the problem with the character of Hawkgirl is that she’s most recognizable by her enormous wings and her gigantic, face-crushing mace.  No matter which Halloween supply outlet I’ve searched the general pricing for the sort of wings I’m looking for is anywhere between $35 and $60.  As for a mace, I’ve been completely (and surprisingly) unsuccessful at tracking down a fake one – the closest I’ve come to is a toy sledgehammer.  The other option is that I can attempt to make the wings & weapon myself, but I’d have to pretty much pull ideas on where to start out of thin air.

I’ll keep up with my constant internet searches for reasonably priced plumage & medieval weaponry (a combination that sounds weirder on the page than in my head), but once again I am reminded on how my weird hobbies quickly get the better of my common sense & finances!


Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:38 PM on April 18, 2010 in Entertainment , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Price of Perfect Hair

Amanda Bar

I accidently stumbled into what might be considered a financial blunder today, but for the sake of science I'm willing to conduct my own mini-experiment now that I've spent the money.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I got my hair cut & styled over at MasterCuts.  Well, the hairdresser convinced me during my session that I should consider buying some of the salon-brand products at the store, and went on to tell me how many common brands (such as Pantene, which I was previously using) contain the same ingredients that you can find in household cleaners - thus, not very good for your hair!  Being low on shampoo, I decided to swing by and pick up a bottle or two.

$42.29 later I find myself with "It's a 10" shampoo and conditioner, a brand that I have never heard of in my life but, based upon the price, is made from the tears of Chuck Norris.  According to the hairstylist the price will even out in the end because I need to use significantly less shampoo/conditioner to get the same results (i.e. a good lather).  I suppose we shall see, because as of today I am marking off my calendar how long these pricey babies last me.  If my hair looks better than that's proof all on it's own, but if I end up buzzing through $40+ worth of shampoo and conditioner in a few weeks I really can't justify the extra expense.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:29 PM on April 13, 2010 in Cleaning , Impulsive spending , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monthly Fees VS Instant Movies

Amanda Bar

I love movies, but when lounging at home I’ve never been a huge fan of popping in DVDs – don’t ask me why, but I have to be in a certain mood for movies.  For the past week, however, I’ve had free access to my visiting friend’s Netflix account and I have become a surprising fan of the service.  Having worked at Blockbuster while in college I never much paid attention to the movies-by-mail companies (and frankly the mail in/mail out part didn’t seem all that convenient to me), but Microsoft currently has a deal with Netflix allowing me to view movies instantly through my X-Box Live account.

Now that my temporary housemate is leaving me I’m asking myself if I want to spend the $8.99 a month for my own Netflix.  It’s certainly not a big fee, but I didn’t miss it when I didn’t have access to it and I’m not sure if it’ll be worth it to continue the subscription.  Now if Netflix had a similar instant stream set-up for video games it wouldn’t even require a second thought, but when it comes to movies I’m not sure if a Netflix account would see any use once my friend departs.

However, what with their “cancel anytime” policy I may have to give it a try, at least for a month or two.  And sorry to say, but I’d end up paying way more at Blockbuster if I ever should have the desire for a movie night.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:55 PM on April 11, 2010 in Entertainment , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (4)

Getting what you pay for

Name barEspecially lately, it's been tempting to by the cheapest version of what I need -- even though I've learned the hard way that whatever packaging tricks generic or low-cost iterations may play, it's definitely what's on the inside that counts.

That's the message of a Consumer Reports list out this week that ranked some of the best and worst products in a variety of categories. Some of the cheapest ones were often some of the worst.

Here's an example: They found that the best paper towels out there are Walgreens Ultra Quilted, which cost $2.50 per 100 square feet. The towels were absorbent and held up well in scrub tests. On the other hand, Earth Friendly Products "tore easily when scrubbing, held little water, and cost almost twice as much as the Walgreens brand."

If you're going to use more of the Earth Friendly towels to get the job done, presumably, that defeats the purpose of going green in the first place.

They liked Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative, at about 32 cents per average load, which earned the top score for removing stains. Meanwhile, Xtra 2X Concentrated Lasting ScentSations Spring Sun Shine, at just 6 cents per average load, landed at the bottom of Consumer Reports Ratings.

You can see more of their results at consumerreports.org.

I used to be the person who bought the cheapest thing, always. In some arenas, I've never given buying name-brand or high-end products a thought. Toilet paper, garbage bags and milk would fit into this category. I occasionally treat myself to organic milk or soy milk, but only if I'm armed with a coupon. And I don't generate enough garbage to warrant buying bags with super special technology to mask odors or keep from breaking. (The commercials show people dragging tied bags of trash through the house, withstanding stairs, tiles and dogs. Does anyone really experience this?)Funny-pictures-you-have-very-cheap-legwarmers

Then a few years ago, finally comfortable with my salary and far enough out of college that claiming to be constantly broke became officially embarrassing, I started buying nicer clothes and shoes and household items. The result: I've hung onto clothes I really like for years and I'm less often donating something I bought on the cheap but wore sparingly because of a poor fit or an already unbound hem, missing buttons and such.

But I like the kind of laundry detergent, bath soap and yoga lessons I've been paying for, and I definitely notice when I pay less.

I broke my rule this week: I signed up for evening yoga classes at a high school near my house. They offer eight classes for $54 -- truly a bargain. And I sort of got what I paid for.

My first cut-rate yoga class was OK. I was on the floor of the school auditorium with about eight other human pretzels. The teacher was nice enough. But the class was a bit disjointed. We went from triangle to warrior two to downward dog with the teacher not always telling us what was coming next. I felt sorry for the woman next to me, who had never practiced yoga before.

But at eight classes for about the same price I'd pay for just three at the yoga studio I'm accustomed to, I am willing to overlook it, especially since I've already paid for the class. And not using whatever you buy is a waste of money no matter what.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 09:43 AM on April 7, 2010 in Cleaning , Coupons , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (2)

Travel Plans, Travel Expenses

Amanda Bar

I just received an invite to one of my oldest friend’s wedding, and since the location is in Georgia I’ve already started on the when, how, and where’s of my travel plans.  My “plus one” to the event is going to be my best friend (and mutual friend of the bride) Chrissy, and it just so happens that she lives more or less in the direction that I’m heading.  This affords me several options:

1) I can drive up to Jacksonville, meet up with Chrissy, and we can drive the rest of the way to Georgia.
2) I can fly to Jacksonville and drive the rest of the way to GA.
3) I can fly directly to GA and Chrissy can meet up with me there.

Personally I’m leaning more towards option #2 because I’d rather spend the money on a roundtrip flight ($290 is the cheapest rate I can find, currently) than put the extra miles on my car.  I’ve also never driven across an entire state by myself before, and the drive I’m looking at between South Florida and Jacksonville is going to take five or six hours at least; not to mention gas money, and the inevitable repair fees I will face if I force my poor Chevy to make the 331.62 mile trip (thank you, MapQuest!).

Also, if I fly to Jacksonville instead of flying up to GA I don’t have to worry about how I’ll get from the airport to my hotel room, or other transportation worries in reference to the wedding & reception.  Chrissy might have a few things to say about making her my travel mule for this trip, but if she does I’d just as soon suggest that we both fly in to GA and meet up there, split the cost of a rental car, etc, etc.

Either way, money will be spent on my friend's wedded bliss.

[UPDATE] Not two minutes after posting this was it suggested that I look into getting an Amtrak train ticket. $100 for a roundtrip!  Done and done, I say!!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 03:35 PM on April 4, 2010 in Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (4)

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