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Hostess With the Not-So-Mostess

Amanda Bar

My sister gave birth to my second niece last month, and due to extenuating circumstances we had to postpone the baby shower until this weekend.  Unlike the baby shower for the last child, however, I’M the official hostess this time around…and it’s stressing me out!

I was thinking that it would be a relatively small gathering of family members and close friends – not nearly the size of the first baby shower – but the final guest tally has reached 19 people, and my new house isn’t exactly equipped for a sit-down gathering of that size.  I’ve been scrambling, last minute, to figure out a way to seat all of the guests without having to resort to renting/buying extra chairs.  If I know you and you have available porch furniture, I’m stealing them.

Another concern is not so much food, but beverages.  The sort of parties I’m used to throwing are decidedly less fancy than a baby shower, so bottles of liquor and soda usually suffice.  I have absolutely no idea what to serve people at a cute little brunch event – mimosas? Sweet tea? Rum punch?  Should I buy a carafe to make it look nice and fancy, or can I get away with pre-mixed (and bottled) drinks?

This entire event is sending me into nervous fits with all the details, but I hope (for my sister’s sake) that I can at least pull off a decent gathering without (for my sake) losing control of my budget and mind.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:02 PM on July 29, 2010 in Entertainment , Food , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (4)

Medical Matters Hit Where It Hurts

Amanda Bar

About three months ago I had a sudden but non-serious medical matter that sent me over to my local ER to resolve.  I haven't had a regular physician for quite some time, and since I was in a bit of pain I figured that the emergency room was sufficient for my needs - as well as for my insurance company.

I signed the papers, was seen by the doctor, referred to a regular physician (who I plan on seeing from now on) and everything was well & good...until the bills started rolling in.  At first I thought it must have been a mistake of some sorts with my insurance company - or perhaps I had put down the wrong numbers on some form somewhere?  Why was I getting billed when I have regularly been paying for the same insurance company for four years (this was actually my first claim!)?

After I called my insurance company I discovered that I am indeed covered for ER procedures/consultations, but only if the doctor lists it as an actual emergency.  My little tête-à-tête with the doctor was listed by the physician as a non-emergency (and rightly so, to be honest), and thus I have to fork over payments of $492 and $316, all for a five minute face-time session with a doctor who did nothing but refer me to another doctor.

Again, I can chalk this little disaster up to the fact that I don't do my research.  If I had, I would have known way back when I signed up for my insurance that going to the ER for non-emergencies is a bad idea...but I was in moderate amounts of pain, it was late in the evening, and I didn't have a regular physician to fall back on should I have waited.  Unfortunately, I have to pay out of the butt to learn this particular lesson regarding my insurance policy.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 03:54 AM on July 26, 2010 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (4)

This week's Good deal

Name barHere's a few deals -- and others who know about them, for this week.

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Perricone's Marketplace & Cafe near Mary Brickell Village in Miami offers all of its pasta dishes for $10 on Thursday night. I was there with friends and ordered the vegetable lasagna, which is usually $15.95. The leftovers turned into my lunch the next day. Two $5 meals? Good deal for sure, especially when accompanied by their fresh bread and a delicious tomato-and olive-oil spread.

At Jungle Island, Florida residents can get a free barbecue lunch with their admission price ($33.12 for adults, including tax) through Aug. 22.

And if you're not a coupon clipper, but do like to shop, I just learned about some sites that do some of the work for you, no scissors required. Courtesy of Gregory Karp at the Allentown Morning Call, I found CouponCabin.com, for thousands of coupon codes for stores you actually go to. GetInvisibleHand.com really is invisible, until you're shopping online and it finds a better deal on something you're thinking of buying.

Happy deal hunting!

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 01:53 PM on July 22, 2010 in Coupons , Entertainment , Food , Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sudden and Welcome Tax Surprises

Amanda Bar

I’ve received some really nice feedback in regards to a recent Miami Herald article featuring me regarding the many woes of home ownership that I’ve stumbled across.  One of these messages suggested that I can check the status of my homestead exemption by checking out the Broward County Property Appraiser's website, and while doing so I uncovered that my estimated property value for 2010 has gone down!

The assessed value on my home unexpectedly spiked between 2008 and 2009 from $88,000 to $172,950, an increase which sent my mortgage payments from $750 to $1200 per month.  News that my property has been valued lowered is terrific, especially since it means that I no longer have to worry about contesting the previous assessment with the county appraiser’s office.

I have no idea what my monthly payments will be once this change takes effect, but I can expect it to be lower than what I've been paying thus far - always a good thing!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:51 PM on July 21, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Macy's One Day Sale

Amanda Bar

Heads up, shoppers, because this Saturday (July 17th) Macy's is having a one day sale featuring some great deals, including 50% off fashion clearances and 40% off home clearances.  Check out their website (or catalogue, which you can pick-up in-store or in the mail) to see all of the other items that are getting a temporary price slash.

Being a home owner I'm extra excited about what I might find in the Home department, but they're also having a ridiculous sale on jewelry...so should I bedazzle myself or bedazzle my house?  Oh, the decisions! 

The store hours on Saturday are from 9am to 11pm; hope to see you there!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 03:36 PM on July 16, 2010 in Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

OK, that was a bad deal

Name barSo calling something "it's-two-days-til-we-can-shop Wednesdays" thoroughly confused my significant other. Maybe it was simply idiotic. Better choice for my weekly attempt at sharing was "Good deal."

Speaking of, here are some gems I found this week: 

Courtesy of Miami FL on the Cheap, The Westin Colonnade Coral Gables is serving a full breakfast for a donation of $5 bucks FRIDAY -- that's the 16th -- from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to raise money for the children’s charity Give Kids the World. The hotel is paying for the food so the donations will go to the nonprofit group.

If you've never used Groupon, it's worth a look (unless it makes you buy things you didn't need or weren't already thinking of, however.) A deal is offered every day for most major cities -- Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and so on. A minimum number of people have to sign up for the deal for it to become reality. If the deal doesn't meet its threshold, you don't pay for the deal. Today, they were offering three yoga classes for $10. Now that IS a deal.

Finally, you can pay about $60 and get unlimited visits to the Miami Seaquarium, Zoo Miami, Wannado City and Lion Country Safari through the end of September.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 07:17 PM on July 15, 2010 in Coupons , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Adding Pop to Wall Art

Amanda Bar

I was bored the other day when I decided to come up with a little art project for myself.  I have several various pictures hanging up around my house, and inside of my bedroom there is one in particular that has been bothering me -  it's a one-of-a-kind art print given to me by a friend, and I just didn't think that the plain black picture frame I had purchased for it matched up to the picture.

I headed over to Michael's, purchased a Sharpie oil-based paint marker, traced out some swirly designs with a pencil along the frame until I was satisfied, and then I went to work drawing over my pencil marks with the Sharpie.  Voila (click for full image):

Picture frame

It adds some pop to the picture, and it only cost me $3.49 (the price of the marker).  My design is rudimentary at best, I know, but if you're more skilled than I am you can come up with a bunch of neat things with which to decorate your picture frames on the cheap. 

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 01:13 PM on July 12, 2010 in Home decor , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Updated! Introducing It's-only-two-days-til-we-can-shop Wednesdays

Name bar So after months of scrimping, obsessive coupon clipping and sweating because I don't dare turn the a/c below 82 degrees, I've decided it's time to take up a little shopping again. Only for stuff I need and that's truly a good deal, of course. Not as therapy for any particular emotional wound that results in a trunk full of bags. Not as a way to pass the time. But because there's finally a little wiggle room in my budget -- even though I'm still a piggy-banking girl at heart -- and because some of my clothes have become so large they are simply too unprofessional to wear anymore. (Fringe benefit of eating most of my meals at home to save money: eating better, skipping most processed foods and eating normal portions.)

Until now, I haven't used this blog to post some of the really great deals that find their way to me. But two I came across recently seemed really worth sharing, although I'm sure I'm going to incur the wrath of some nutritionists. (If it helps, I'm drinking a spinach-strawberry-blueberry-nonfat yogurt smoothie as I write this.)

Chick fil-a is offering free meals Friday to people who show up at their restaurants dressed like cows. To celebrate Cow Appreciation Day (you know, to prove that you're no chicken, their website says) they are giving some chicken-fried love to those sporting a bovine look. (Just make sure you don't end up looking too much like the real thing by eating there too often.)

In Davie, at Schakolad Chocolate Factory, there is a menu of items now available for a dollar through the end of August. Mondays are a 12-ounce iced drink. Tuesdays are for two medium chocolate-dipped pretzels. Wednesdays are chocolate dipped strawberries. And so on.

And finally, 7-Eleven is giving away 7.11-ounce Slurpees on the day that shares their name, Sunday, July 11.

If you check out any of these deals, or find other can't-not-share coupons or steals, let me know and I'll post them here, every Wednesday.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 01:23 PM on July 7, 2010 in Clothing , Coupons , Entertainment , Food , Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (2)

Gripes On Gratuity

Amanda Bar

This weekend I did something I never did before: use a cab. (Okay, there was that one time in college, but I was too drunk to remember it so that doesn't technically count.)  I considered the whole process fascinating until we pulled up to our destination and it was time to pay.  A friend picked up the tab, but as she was using the credit card swipe-machine in the backseat I noticed that during the payment process it suggested a 20% tip, turning a $40 fare into $48.

I've gone over some issues I have with tipping in the past, but now this is just getting excessive.  Who decides which professions are tip-able, because I don't recall it being a social faux pas to not tip the city bus driver.  I don't begrudge taxi drivers tips - I would love if people paid me randomly for doing my job! - but a suggested 20% gratuity?  I understand that waitresses (and other professions) make a lowered wage and that tips make up a bulk of their salary, but I couldn't uncover whether the same can be said of cab drivers.

Also, on the return trip our cab driver was not only awful (turning down the wrong streets despite repeated directions) but he failed to tell us that the card-swipe machine was broken; thankfully we had cash, or else I'd have run into the house to get a check, but it really should be the responsibility of the driver - when I'm paying for a service - to inform us of this before he even presses down on the gas pedal.  Our extreme lack of cash (we were just able to cover the cab fare) made us unable to afford him a large tip, but I don't think I would have wanted to, regardless.

Do you have any opinions on professions that accept tips; any that you disagree with, or any that you think deserve the extra cash?

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 11:57 AM on July 5, 2010 in Nightlife , Savings | Permalink | Comments (6)

Taking overdraft fees to the bank

Name bar If you have an ATM or debit card, right about now you should be getting a note from your bank about some changes to the way the card will work if your account is low on cash.

From now on, banks will need your permission before they can cover you when you're short -- and attach a $30 or $35 fee to the transaction. These fees have been known to turn a $5 cup of joe into a $40 cup-runneth-over with annoyance. Worse yet, once you committed the sin of overdrawing your account, some banks charged another fee for every additional purchase until your account was replenished -- instead of just letting the card get turned down.

There's a lawsuit in the works over the whole issue. 7022934-overdraft-fees-may-take-you-by-surprise-custom

But the rules have changed. So this is not a time for you to trash the note from your bank and assume its incomprehensible gobbledygook you can live without paying attention to (unless you're like me and never use your ATM or debit card to buy anything. Ever.). If it helps you fight the urge to trash this missive without looking it over, consider that banks made over $38.5 billion just from these fees last year.

My bank's note says that starting Aug. 13 for existing accounts and July 23 for new ones, debit and ATM transactions will be declined if I don't have enough money in my account to cover them. I can opt in to the old way of doing things -- having my charges covered no matter what the exorbitant fees -- if I choose. My bank says that from now on, if I have this service, I'll only be charged four of these fees per day, max. (I guess this is actually a victory in some way, so thanks.)

But I can also get low-balance alerts -- even in the form of text messages from some banks -- or link another account to my checking account, so that I'll be covered with my own cash, and not the banks, if I spend beyond my bank balance.

These rules don't apply to overdraft fees for paper checks or automatic bill payments, which could be a sizable loophole for banks to keep collecting money based on our mistakes. This is one you can't afford to make.

In case you're thinking the banks are just feeling generous by reining in these fees, think again. Some banks already have plans to kill free checking accounts and tack on other fees and charges to make up for what they won't be bringing in with errant swipes.

As if you needed another reason not to trash those notes from your bank.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 09:00 AM on July 1, 2010 in Banking , Impulsive spending , Savings | Permalink | Comments (2)

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