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Roommates, And Awkward House Meetings

Amanda Bar

I've lived with my roommate Bridget for two years now, and whatever problems we've had have been few & far between.  Previously we had lived in my grandfather's vacated home, and my father had charged us very reasonably for staying there ($750 a month, so $375 each).  Now that I have my own home, complete with mortgage and home insurance payments, I've come to the awkward conclusion that in order to take advantage of the benefits of having a roommate (namely the extra income) I was going to have to broach the subject of raising the rent.

I'm aware that $375 is extremely cheap rent for a bedroom, your own bathroom, and complete access to the rest of the house; but I've also never rented a room before that wasn't by proxy of my father, so I was hesitant to approach my roommate with an exact figure.  I knew I wanted (on the borderline of needed) more money to help me with the necessary household costs, but I also didn't want to be unreasonable.  Luckily I have an awesome roommate who basically took the pressure off of me by readily agreeing that I should raise her rent, and offered a $100 increase when I only asked for $50 (making her rent $475 a month).  This is a cumbersome weight off my shoulders and will certainly help with the mounting pile of bills I seem to encounter every week.

To any readers who have rented out property or rooms in the past, how do you approach this type of situation?  Especially when the renter in question is a friend, is there a way to enter into a financial discussion without it becoming awkward for the both of you?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:24 PM on May 29, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (3)

Money in the air

Name bar Watching the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico spread, it's hard not to feel guilty about why the oil well that malfunctioned and triggered the mess was there in the first place.

My whole life circulates around my car, whether or not I like to admit it or think about it in those terms. My wonderful significant other lives about 65 miles from my house and we like to see each other -- a lot. I happen to live fairly far away from where I work, stuck in a place I can't sell. I only live three miles away from the grocery store, but I've never even tried biking there. The last time I used my bike was just to get some exercise and hang out with friends. Carbon footprint

I'm working from home a lot more these days, which has cut my gas consumption (and spending). But I need to do more to cut my polluting ways. Luckily, a few months ago, I found a website that gives me just the incentive I need to whack my electricity bill (in addition to the savings on my bill -- and in addition to providing some kind of salve for the images of oil-soaked birds burned into my brain).

MyEmissionsExchange.com asks you to enter all of your electric bills (or gas... whichever service you'd use to heat and cool your place) for a year, to find out what your energy consumption is. If you decrease the amount of kilowatt hours (in my case), you eventually earn carbon credits that can be sold -- and I get the cash.

The site, which is for-profit, is blunt about its premise. "In order to actually effect change, we at MyEex feel it is necessary to make individuals responsible for the external cost of pollution. How do we do this? With money."

The cold, cold winter has helped me cut my electric bills overall compared to a year ago. But I feel like we skipped spring and any comfortable weather all together, so I'm using my a/c more than I did last year at this time. Still, I'm already about a fifth of a way to earning my first credit. The website says that the value of a credit varies, but last year, one credit was worth about $18. That may not sound like a lot, but considering you don't have to do much to earn this, I'd say it's a good deal. (No cheating: You'll need your electric bills so the site can verify your savings.)

The site offers a ton of solutions for reducing your carbon footprint, many of which come with savings somewhere along the line -- even if you pay money upfront to save in the long run.

Have you ever used a site like this? Would it change your behavior? I think the mere act of entering my bills into a website and watching my credits fluctuate will have an effect on me, even if subtle. Surely more often I will be able to survive with just the ceiling fan on instead of turning on the air conditioner. (And maybe I'll even turn off this computer and take my bike for a spin more frequently too.)

At least I hope so.

And I hope those birds can tell, somehow.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 10:25 AM on May 25, 2010 in Savings , Utilities | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Year Of Homeowning, A Year of Mistakes

Amanda Bar

I've now come to the 1-year mark for me as a homeowner, and I can only look back and see how I've so badly stumbled and bumped my way into a reasonable semblance of a responsible property owner.  Ever since this January's tax debacle I've been scrimping and scrounging for ways to lower my suddenly elevated property tax (my property value assessment went from $88,000 to $172,000, when I only paid $144,000!).

One of the easiest ways for me to go about doing this other than petitioning for a lower property value (which I plan on doing, first thing, in August) is to put in for homestead exemption.  I probably should have done this as soon as I bought the house, but as I said I am a new home owner and a lot of these simple things went beyond my grasp or over my head; no excuses, just the dumb facts!  Anyways, as I've already made an online application for my exemption I thought I'd head over to the website and check out my status.

It turns out that if my application is approved I won't know until I get my notice of proposed property taxes in August, which is unfortunate because I could have really used the load off of my mind.  I have no idea why property matters are relegated to the months of August-September, but it's made everything highly inconvenient for me since I've been trying to get this taken care of since January of this year!

My word of advice (if one can be found): RESEARCH!  It's clear that I was relying too much on the knowledge of my parents to tell me what to do, when really it is my responsibility to know what needs to be done.  Simple little websites (such as this) have a ton of information that I wish I had perused before my taxes spiked and, subsequently, my funds nosedived.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:25 PM on May 23, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saving Money Does Not Save You Grief

Amanda Bar

Over a month ago I mentioned how I was attending a wedding in Georgia this month, and how I had been going back & forth over the best means of travel to reach my destination.  I had eventually settled on an Amtrak train ticket - $50 up, and $50 down - as being the most cost effective.

Having just returned from my trip, I am here to say that saving money is not necessarily the be-all, end-all.  For the price of an airplane ticket I would have saved myself the time (8 hours, both ways!) and the constant delays that I encountered on the train.  My return trip plagued with technical issues; the train engine had to be replaced half-way down the line (causing a half hour delay), and CSX inexplicably shut down part of the track just south of Ft Lauderdale, causing all of the passengers wishing to travel to the Hollywood and Miami stations to disembark before their actual destination.  I arrived over an hour past my scheduled arrival time and inconvenienced the people picking me up from the station who had to suddenly divert to Ft Lauderdale.

After the fact I learned that for $40 more I could have purchased a Southwest flight to my exact destination, but I would only have known of this deal if I had gone and searched on their website - both Expedia and Travelocity did not list this southwest.com exclusive deal.  If I had to plan the entire trip over I would definitely sacrifice the extra cash for the convenience of traveling by air.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:42 PM on May 18, 2010 in Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Unintended Haggling 101

Amanda Bar

Ever since I moved into my new house I've been meaning to call an exterminator to do a once over on the place; I never saw anything particularly alarming, bug-wise, but I like to be safe rather than sorry.  I had been putting off making the call, however, until I happened to open my dishwasher the other day to discover a Godzilla-sized cockroach crawling around amongst my dishes.  I might have been less put off if he had started singing, but as it was I freaked out and have since contacted Truly Nolen.

A representative came out yesterday to do an on-site inspection (the actual extermination process is happening later today), and when he advised the prices ($150 for the first three months, followed by $95 for every following quarter) I balked a bit and advised that I'd get back to him once I consulted other companies.  I apparently (and unintentionally) switched on some hidden haggle mode by stating this, because all of a sudden he was negotiating prices with me in order to get my signature on the dotted line. 

I have never in my life haggled over the price of a service or item, and I was so flabbergasted about the whole thing that I eventually grabbed the pen and signed my life (or rather, the life of my household insects) away for the decreased price of $125 for the initial 3 months, and $90 for the additional quarterly fee.  That's a surprise savings of $40!  Being the impulsive shopper that I am, I never would have though that waiting on a purchase - or at least pretending to wait - can net you such unexpected rewards.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 01:32 PM on May 11, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Mother of All Gift Dilemmas

Amanda Bar

Considering the day I figured I’d come up with a Mother’s Day-related question for the readers out there.  For most of my life I’ve gifted cards and flowers to my mother on Mother’s Day; some years I go the extra mile with my sister and we chip in for a fancy 1-800-Flowers bouquet (usually about $25 each), but for the most part I’m looking at a $10 to $15 gift.

The problem (if it can be called a problem) is that the definition of “mother” has expanded within my family over the last decade.  I not only have my mother, but a stepmother, my sister, an aunt, and a step-grandmother.  It’s never been openly asked of me, but as I’ve matured – and since I now collect a regular paycheck - it’s become somewhat of a habit to get each of these women little tokens of appreciation on Mother’s Day that go beyond a simple greeting card.

Emily Post would lead me to believe that I should try and purchase unique little gifts for each of the women in my life, but as a new homeowner I don’t really have the luxury of spending wads of dough on each person.  I recently had the notion of making candy gift bags for my numerous “mothers” – a cute, tasty & affordable token of affection that I’ve utilized in the past – but I’m certainly open to any suggestions for future Mother’s Days to come.

What do you do to let the ladies in your life know you care, and how much do you generally spend in doing so?  Do you shop purely for your own mother, or do you also include the other mothers in your life on your M-Day shopping list?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:11 PM on May 9, 2010 in Shopping | Permalink | Comments (2)

Magically delicious (but maybe not so magical in other ways)

Name bar At an art exhibit I went to recently, a crafty creative type had transformed a hotel room into a homage to the modern image of leprechauns as pleasant creatures, rather than their once sinister connotation.

To this end, the entire room was covered in Lucky Charms. The bedspread, the walls, the floor. Everything was covered in an endless sea of pink hearts, orange stars, yellow moons, green clovers, blue diamonds and purple horse shoes -- with the frosted oat bits mixed in.

The effect was, er, charming, but it was also a bit overwhelming. What's in those chalky marshmallows and cereal tidbits anyway? And why do some boxes of fiber and flakes cost as much as $6?

Just a few weeks earlier, my significant other had begun experimenting with making his own cereal, reasoning that it was cheaper, and probably better for the body. Even cereals like Raisin Bran, with Bran in their NAME, and those with 100 percent of lots of vitamins and minerals are getting knocked for having way too much sugar.IMG_2308

His reasoning was a combination of both. "The short answer is, I'm cheap. The long answer is that I read Food Rules and it emphasized buying food that is not pre-sugared or salted. Left to your own taste buds, one would usually not use nearly as much as either. I was curious. And breakfast cereals are expensive to begin with. If you go beyond the generics or the cardboard-tasting it can really add up."

For about $5, he bought one bag each of puffed rice, wheat and corn. He added some sliced almonds and raisins and made a surprisingly tasty -- and plenty sweet -- bowl. The three bags of puffed grains have lasted -- far longer than a traditional box of cereal. And while the combo is yummy, it's not sweet enough to cause cravings either, so there's no unnecessary carb loading going on. The trick to making it last is storing the homemade stuff in something really airtight, or the whole mess will turn chewy.

That would be a waste of a good, and good for you, deal.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 03:01 PM on May 5, 2010 in Food | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shedding (UV) Light on Unexpected Deals

Amanda Bar

Speaking of my recent tanning salon adventures, when I went for my third (and final) session last week I asked the clerk about possibly upgrading to a month-long package.  The cost for one month of unlimited sessions in my tanning booth of choice is $118, which isn’t bad considering that just one session is $17.  However, I was soon advised of a limited-time deal for three months of tanning sessions at the price of one, available with a one-time purchase of any tanning lotion.

The tanning lotions are all “designer”, which basically means they cost a lot ($50 in the salon).  I got to try a sample of one (Speed of Light) before I made the purchase, and the difference was noticeable between that and a much cheaper brand.  All in all I spent close to $180, and I think I got away with a pretty good deal.

And yes, I know, a lot of you will probably be muttering “Yea, a pretty good deal for skin cancer!”, but I’ve researched the pros & hefty cons of using tanning beds and booths.  Thus far I’ve been staggering my sessions to every third day, but once my ideal skin color is achieved (and I’m close to it already) I plan on cutting back my visits significantly.  Feel free to yell at me – my mother & sister sure have – but remember that I work midnights; as it is I see little to no sun in my every day life, and I’ve felt unhealthy for a long time because of it.  I actually feel better recently with exposure to some UV rays, and whatever vitamin D it is producing is certainly welcome, whether artificially created or not.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:35 PM on May 1, 2010 in Impulsive spending | Permalink | Comments (2)

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