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Pricey Phone Plans and Added Fees

Amanda Bar

Several months ago I purchased an iPhone 4, not necessarily to jump on the hype-bandwagon but because my contract was up for renewal and my provider has always been AT&T.  That being said, I love the phone and I adore the various applications and internet do-dads you can access.  However, these gadgets can come with a heavy price and I’m not referring to the purchase fee.

Earlier this month I received a text from AT&T advising me that I was at 75% usage of my data plan.  For those of you not in the know, AT&T’s 3G service requires that you purchase a monthly data package that allots you a certain number of GBs for uploading/downloading information – if you have a connection to a WiFi network (whether at home or otherwise) internet access and data usage is completely unlimited.  The problem is, I’m not always in range of a WiFi service…especially at my job, where I find that I access my iPhone capabilities the most.

I tried to be careful with my usage in the following weeks, but it wasn’t long before I was notified that a $10 charge had been added to my AT&T bill for going over my data limit.  This is the first time I have encountered this issue in the four/five months that I’ve had the phone, so I suppose it can be considered a one-time fluke, but it is definitely something that I will make myself aware of from now on.  I’m already paying $90 a month for my cellphone service, I don’t need to end up in the triple digits due to web surfing!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 05:18 PM on November 29, 2010 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

On my own for Thanksgiving

Ali Bar

Meal I really wanted to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents in Buffalo, but after some of my transportation plans fell through and the alternatives kept getting more expensive or complicated, I ended up staying in New York for the holiday. I was very sad but was willing to make the best of it. After all, spending Thanksgiving in New York should be fun. On Wednesday a friend and I traveled to our nearby supermarket and purchased all the provisions for our Thanksgiving feast. Since I don't eat much meat, all of the dishes were vegetarian. I know, I know – a turkeyless Thanksgiving. But just let me share the menu: baked, buttered Brussels sprouts with walnuts; Portobello mushrooms stuffed with brown rice, lentils, onions, bread cubes and spices, and gnocchi with red onions and radicchio sauteed in balsamic vinegar. For two people, it was a ton of food and there were lots of leftovers. I’ll eat one of those leftover mushrooms today and figure I’ll use the rice and lentils that didn’t make it into the mushroom stuffing for some sort of soup. I had planned on making pumpkin dumplings to go with the red onions and radicchio but they failed. The gnocchi was a last-minute replacement. The grocery bill for the Thanksgiving meal – plus food for the next week -- was $80.

For entertainment I went to see the inflation of the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in a staging area at W 79th and Columbus Drive.  Apparently 6 p.m. was prime time for viewing the balloons. There were so many strollers rolling over me and kids riding on their parents’ shoulders and tugging my hair that I didn't have the best time. Since the balloons were open until 10 p.m., I should have reversed my plan of going to see the balloons and then a movie. That way I would have arrived at the balloon staging area later when all the sweet children were blissfully asleep.

I hope everyone had a glorious and stuffed Thanksgiving. One friend of mine bought a pre-made Thanksgiving dinner for 8 to 10 people at Target for $60. The Target dinner included an Archer Farms turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry relish, rolls, a 9-inch pie and a coffee sampler. It seems like a pretty good deal if you aren’t into serious holiday cooking but still want the comfort of a holiday meal.

For future reference, let me hear how you spent the holiday. I’m always on the lookout for ways to celebrate without spending lots of money.

Posted by Account Deleted at 11:11 AM on November 28, 2010 in Entertainment , Food , Home decor , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Soups for the Nearing Winter

Ali Bar

Being too lazy to prepare lunch for myself in the mornings before I head to class has threatened to turn into a bad habit lately. Of course, when I’m thinking more clearly at lunch-time, I kick myself for doling out $10 for a meal. It doesn’t happen too often, but enough so I regret it. And when it does, a better option would be picking up lunch at the grocery store instead of a café or some other little lunch joint. At the grocery I can buy crackers for around $2, and while that might not be the healthiest meal, it will usually tide me over until I get home. If I know I’m going to be really late, I can pick up a pre-made sandwich at Whole Foods for about $5. The most fantastic things I've found so far for curing a hunger attack are dehydrated Trader Joe's brand rice noodle soups sold at Trader Joe's for 99 cents. They’re surprisingly filling and a cut above your average noodles in a cup.  While I don’t think I should make these noodles my steady diet, they’re fine every now and then when I don’t bring my lunch. The best option, of course, is to just do a little advance planning and bring my lunch from home. Recently I did just that. A housemate and I decided to make up a soup. Using just miscellaneous ingredients we already had in the kitchen we crafted a very tasty soup. What was in that soup you ask? Well, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can of black beans, potatoes, carrots, garlic, ginger and a dash of salt and pepper. It was very thrifty and lasted the two of us for three days. It was also easy to take to school: open refrigerator, heat up soup, pour in thermos, place in school bag. I estimate the total cost of the soup was around $10, making the per-serving cost around $1.70. As the snow nears, I expect to be making many more soups since they’re so easy and my laziness factor only increases when the weather outside is freezing.

Posted by Account Deleted at 10:56 AM on November 24, 2010 in College finances , Food , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thanksgiving Dilemma

Ali Bar

The big question -- how do I get to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving -- still looms. Although Buffalo is only about six hours away from New York, almost every option I’ve checked is EXPENSIVE. These are the times when having a microscopic income is really frustrating. But I've been doing odd jobs here and there so I’m optimistic my resource picture will be getting brighter. But let’s get back to the logistics of traveling to grandmother's house in the most economically savvy way possible.

First I looked at the bus, which was approximately $140 roundtrip. I found taking the train was a little cheaper, but my procrastination meant no train tickets to Buffalo were left. If I were smarter, I would have planned this out months ago and probably would have garnered some cheaper fares. The best, current price for air travel was $285, counting me out. That takes us to the last option: renting a car. Since I’m too young to rent one myself, this involved enticing a friend who is over 25, and therefore can rent a car, to make the trip with me. Since he had no plans for Thanksgiving, now he won’t have to spend the holiday alone and he’ll be fully stuffed by my grandmother's cooking and her abundant leftovers. With him on board, we started looking at rental car prices. Prices are absurd for a last-minute rental from an agency in the city. Try a day rate of $150. I saw my plans for a big Thanksgiving surrounded by family collapsing.

But my friend knew about a train to Poughkeepsie and suggested that taking the train and renting a car there might be cheaper. The train to Poughkeepsie is $30 round trip. The day rate for renting a car in Poughkeepsie is about $40, a much more agreeable number. We plan on leaving Wednesday and coming back on Friday. So if you’re following, that’s $120 for the car and $60 for two train tickets. I figure we’ll need about $100 for gas and tolls but I hope I’m overestimating this. That means the trip will cost $280 split two ways or $140 – the cost of the bus. But we'll get there much quicker than the eight or nine hours it takes on the bus and be more comfortable. Plus since we’ll have a car, we’ll be able to run last-minute holiday errands for my grandparents and do a little Buffalo touring. Yes, this trip will be something of a budget-buster but I hope by taking on extra jobs, I’ll be able to pay if off relatively quickly. Besides sometimes you just can't put a price on visiting family.  But just before I charge the rental car, I might see if anyone from the city is driving to Buffalo on Craiglist (this could be an extremely cheap option).  If nothing's up, then perhaps I'll put a listing on Craiglist to get some more people on board to help with the gas.

If anyone has any better suggestions, send them my way – quick.

Posted by Account Deleted at 11:58 AM on November 22, 2010 in College finances , Entertainment , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Advice for the Money Conscious

Ali Bar

I suppose to manage your money wisely, you need a little money. But right now I’m in student-pauper mode. That may be why I like the name of American Express’ website for Gen X and Gen Y: getcurrency.com.

As I’ve noted, I’m scratching to come up with money for daily expenses and school supplies (and why I’m going to demand a discount for a package of cardboard I ordered for model building that arrived with about $30 worth of material too bent up to use…ugh). At any rate, I decided to check out getcurrency.com to see if there were any money-saving tips that could help me.

What you’ll find here: blogs, articles by leading financial writers and even an iPhone app that allows you to share purchases, sales and other shopping info with friends. There’s even a 25-minute course on managing student loans – complete with quizzes. I decided to check out the loan consolidation section. When you have a string of government loans with different due dates each month, I learned, sometimes it’s good to combine them in one loan. It generally won’t lower your interest rate much, if at all, but you can stretch out the payment terms and you’ll get one bill.

An article about four ways to save on holiday travel caught my eye because I’d really like to go to my grandma’s house in Buffalo for Thanksgiving dinner but am thinking I can’t afford it. I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know from this one: use travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia to compare air fares, travel either early in the morning or late at night to save or consider flying to a nearby airport – ie. West Palm instead of Fort Lauderdale or Miami – if fares are lower. Not much help there. The article also suggested that renting a car could be as expensive as a flight. Since I was going to look into this option, perhaps another article – “Hosting Your First Thanksgiving Without Freaking Out’’ – may be useful.

Just in case I have to do my own Thanksgiving, I did find an article about serving a cheese course interesting. It suggested serving three to five different cheeses – any more than that will overwhelm your guests, and serving cheeses of varying milks – cow, goat or sheep. I also found some of the suggested cheese pairings – blue cheese with honey and Manchego with quince paste – interesting.

So if I don’t end up going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for a dinner with more courses than I can name, maybe I’ll serve cheese.

Posted by Account Deleted at 09:25 AM on November 21, 2010 in College finances , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Agent Anything

Ali Bar

If you’re a student living in New York City, you may have seen an advertisement for something called Agent Anything. The premise is that people in the city come up with missions for college students to accomplish for pay. I was certainly somewhat skeptical of the Agent Anything website, because I can see ways in which it could be abused.  However, a friend of mine accepted a mission to help move some boxes. I went with him as a safety precaution. I'm really strong and can scare people away (sarcasm -- in case you didn't get it). But it turned out to be a good experience. The guy offering the job was nice and friendly. On top of the $40 he offered for the job, he gave us a $20 tip. At first we refused but he insisted. A few days later my friend accepted another mission, moving boxes once again, for $60. This time he got a $10 tip.

Of course, not all the missions are as fruitful and some are definitely strange. One rather weird one is reading a bedtime story every night to a man whose only other requirement is that once he falls asleep, the reader locks up and leaves. You can ask questions about the missions before accepting them. Someone asked the bedtime story man, “Is this serious?" The answer was a sincere yes.

I'm still a little wary, but most of the people we’ve been in contact with so far just seem to want to help students out. It’s nice that these jobs are only offered to students. To sign up for Agent Anything, you must use your college e-mail address. To get paid, PayPal sends an e-mail that you link to an account. Once you finish a mission, you go to the Agent Anything site and mark a mission as accomplished. The person who requested the mission also must mark it as accomplished. Then you get paid. :) I think I might start a profile and maybe do some missions.

If anyone has had any experiences with Agent Anything worth mentioning, let me know (good or bad). Click the image below to check it out.


Posted by Account Deleted at 06:28 PM on November 20, 2010 in College finances , Coupons , Job hunting , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sweating It Out for Fashion

Amanda Bar

What with the holiday season inching closer and closer, and the Florida weather ever-so-slowly reflecting the winter temperature, I’ve once again found myself buying cold weather clothing that I neither need nor use outside of a few weeks out of the November to February months.  The sweaters, jackets, and boots that I already own are more than sufficient to last me several years through, but it’s hard to resist updating your winter wardrobe when so many stores delight in holiday sales.

We live in a sub-tropical climate…just how many scarves does a girl need to own before it becomes hysterically (and financially) impractical?  Just walk outside when the weather dips even the slightest below 72degrees and you will see women wearing fur-lined boots and fashionable overcoats – sweating all the while, of course, but if we paid for it we will darn well get our money’s worth.  Fashion sometimes dictates more than common sense.

I’ve desperately avoided perusing the numerous boot aisles in the department stores – dependent upon quality just one pair of knee-highs can run over into the triple digits – but I’ve already been lured into buying two new jackets ($95 in total) to add to my already numerous jacket pile collecting dust for 10 out of 12 months in my closet.  It’s only early November yet, so I’ll have to monitor my wallet and my impulses to keep my checking account safe enough for imminent holiday shopping.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 06:11 PM on November 19, 2010 in Clothing , Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (1)

My road to refi, Chapter 1

Name bar For months now, I've been meaning to pursue refinancing of my mortgage. What's stopped me: I don't think it will happen. The value of my home is visible only with a microscope, and things are getting worse, not better.

I bought in 2004, along with thousands of other South Florida suckers. I had a truly horrible real estate agent who pressured me into signing a contract the same day I first looked at the house I ended up with. She ended our relationship by hanging up on me a few times. (Really, I'm not bitter.)

But at the end of the day, I wanted to buy. I was tired of living a rental lifestyle where there was hardly parking for me, much less a few friends if I wanted to have a get together. I wanted a garden and a washer and dryer that didn't jangle to life via endless supply of quarters.

So I did it. It was scary, but exhilarating. I got a solid loan, nothing that involved private mortgage insurance or a balloon payment or wouldn't build equity. I made modest improvements to the house but I still have no dishwasher and 50s-era cabinets and no home equity loan to pay down. I had parties and grew vegetables and did laundry at midnight without sifting through my change first. Undewater

Two years later, a (different) real estate agent convinced me not to sell, that property tax reform was going to kick in and I'd be better off waiting until 2007. You know how that story ends.

Despite taking a massive pay cut for a year, and now getting paid only a little more than I did when I bought the place because of additional cuts to my pay, I've never missed a mortgage payment -- or have ever been close to doing so. I don't want my mortgage company to finally pay attention to me for the wrong reasons, though I wish they would stop including those inserts in my statements that tell me about all the wonderful options there are out there for people who wish to refinance.

I'm not looking for a break on my principal. I bought the house at the price I bought it for. But I'd love a slightly lower interest rate and a break on closing costs would be a nice touch.

Last time I attempted a refinancing was two years ago. It took roughly 20 phone calls to get a human being on the phone to set a rate and start the paperwork, only for them to appraise my home for far less than they had in 2004 and using all kinds of language and criteria no one mentioned before. The person I was dealing with over the phone intially told me to call her back, bypass the phone web. I did. A dozen times. She never called me back but eventually changed her voicemail message to indicate no one should leave a request for her to respond.

A friend of mine starting on the same path as me has written letters to his mortgage company. He's been declined. He called the designated person assigned to his mortgage. Not one return phone call. He visited a branch office this week hoping for better luck. The bank employee proceeded to call the same customer service line he had and stay on hold for 45 minutes until finally giving up.

So things don't look good. But since persistence is my business, I'll keep trying, and I'd be curious if you have any words of advice or stories of success to share.


Posted by Nirvi Shah at 10:00 AM on November 18, 2010 in Banking , Housing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Clothing Diet

Ali Bar

Heidi Hackemer, a strategist at a New York advertising firm, has launched what she calls "a global experiment examining the power of what we don't wear." Six items or less is the game. Meaning all you can wear for one month is six items of clothing from your closet. Heidi says generally people who try this experiment fall into one of four categories:

--The uniform type. The thinking behind this is that if you are freed of choice in clothing, then you can focus that energy on something else. (That’s most likely what they were thinking when they imposed navy or khaki bottoms and polo shirts at my middle school.)
--The creatives. These people want to see how creative they can be with such a limited wardrobe. A savior for this concept might be the fact that accessories aren't limited.
--The anti-consumers.
--The curious.

Another challenge that people are trying is to not buy clothes for an entire year. To some, this might be difficult. Others, probably without giving it a thought, may not have bought a new piece of clothing in more than a year.

Heidi says this experiment changed how she related to her clothes. Staple pieces that have a certain longevity became more valuable to her. She also remarks how the clothes she wore weren't built for the way she used them. That brings up environmental and economic factors. While one shirt might be less expensive than another shirt, take into consideration the quality. A more expensive shirt might last longer that the cheaper shirt. Perhaps the more expensive shirt, in terms of quality, might be the equivalent of three of the cheaper shirts, making the more expensive shirt, in the long run, the better option. Of course, some fashionistas would rather have three shirts than one, but I guess it just depends on your thinking. I was contemplating trying out the six-items thing, but that means laundry more often, so that's out for me.

But maybe I'll try the not buying any clothing for a year. So, as of November 16, 2010, I will not buy any new articles of clothing until November 16, 2011. Ha, this is really not going to last – especially since I’m going to Rome in January. But, we'll see. It isn't too difficult now considering I have no money to spend on clothes.

Here is the site that started it:
Six Items or Less

and the sister site that followed it up:
The Siol Collective

Via Six Items or Less here's an interesting entry on College Girls in 1941.

Posted by Account Deleted at 08:02 PM on November 16, 2010 in Clothing , College finances , Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Warranty wise

Name bar I don't usually buy warranties for anything. They usually sound like they will expire the minute the car/phone/coffee maker is old enough to begin falling apart.

When I was buying a new cell phone a year ago, however, the manager at a Radio Shack I went to had been so helpful, I found it a bit embarrassing to pooh-pooh a $2 warranty for a new headset I was getting to go with the phone. When I'd called the store inquiring about a new battery, the manager suggested it might be cheaper to buy a new phone. She was right. I walked out of there with a new phone (that was about 10 years more modern than my old version) and paid only about $20. The phone was free, and the whole transaction cost less than a new battery -- which would have run about $30. I did have to sign a new, two-year contract, but I'd had the account for four years at that point, so this wasn't an issue.

Hence my reluctance to look like a cheapskate about a $2 warranty fee. Cheap-headset-2005.06.26-09.07.40

Sure enough, about a month ago, the headset started falling apart. The doodad from which sound enters my ear was disintegrating. I could still hear, but last week, the whole thing got lodged in my ear, which did not seem like a good idea.

This isn't one of those fancy Blue Tooth jobs that people wear everywhere but the shower (or maybe not.) My significant other pointed out that if the point is to get the cell phone away from my head, having an electronic device essentially planted in my ear defeats the purpose. It's a basic little headset that fits over my ear and attaches by wire to the phone. Since I spend hours on the phone as I do my job, this is way more comfortable than scrunching the phone between my ear and shoulder.

But while I'm typically overrun by papers in my pat-rack lifestyle, the warranty for this quality-of-life changing device was nowhere to be found. I've been on a cleaning fit lately and may not have recognized the document as important, or it could have simply been eaten by my other papers. I wasn't even sure exactly when I bought the thing, which in hindsight I realized I could have figured out from a credit card bill.

Nevertheless, I thought I'd test out the warranty. Surely the store had to have some record of it. When I arrived, I was relieved to be greeted by the same nice employee who sold me the whole deal in the first place. When she eventually found a record of my warranty, she noted a year had past. Waitasecond.  A year and two days. But she was kind enough to give me a brand new headset anyway and sent me on my way.

I'd say that was worth $2, and then some.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2010 in Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

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