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New Year's Resolution

Ali Bar

On the eve of the New Year we look back at 2010, and despite the economic woes, overall it was a good year in many respects. My family members held on to their jobs, I did well in school, I have good friends and I think everyone learned to be more frugal.  We can only hope 2011 will usher in a more solid foundation to build upon. I’ve begun to think about how I only have two more semesters left in school and will soon enter the real world no longer protected by my collegiate bubble. Economic worries that others have faced will soon become very real to me, especially as I begin searching for a job. That's why I can't stress enough that I really want 2011 to turn for the better. I've already started looking for summer internships in architecture. I'm hopeful I’ll get one, but the sad truth is most don't pay. And that really isn't an option for me. I need a paid summer internship and finding one will be my top goal for the first part of 2011. I may be somewhat limited in this search because if I find a job outside Miami, it’ll have to be in a city where I can afford to pay for room and board. By this time next year, I’ll be out of school and will need to make finding a full-time job my main priority. So my New Year's resolution is to find a job and, of course, to be frugal and not overextend my resources. When I land a job, I also hope to begin saving some money. I really have no savings cushion at this point because I spent last summer studying in South America, not working. So this winter break I’m networking and getting my portfolio ready to send out to architectural firms. Any and all leads are appreciated.


Happy New Year! May your wallets and hearts be filled in the coming year.

Posted by Account Deleted at 10:27 PM on December 31, 2010 in College finances , Job hunting , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Roman Adventures

Ali Bar

In less than three weeks, I will start my journey to Rome.  And I do mean journey. My Aer Lingus flight leaves from Miami, goes to Boston, then Dublin and finally arrives in Rome. It was the most inexpensive fare I could find when I booked, and now at least I can say I've been to Dublin. Still, at $450 one-way, I wouldn’t call the fare cheap. Once I'm in Europe, traveling should be a little easier to handle financially.  First off, there is Ryanair Airlines. Browsing their website, I found that I can fly from Rome to Paris for 10 euros or around $13.  Because Ryanair offers such inexpensive tickets, it means that weekend trips to other countries should be feasible and that makes me quite happy.  Another place to look for inexpensive flights is easyjet.com. I also just got the news that I landed a job as a library assistant at Cornell University’s facility in Rome, so that means there will be some income available for short side trips – as well as food and other necessities.  Still, I have no doubt this will be my most expensive semester ever. It also will probably be the one I never forget. I will really need to watch my euros. If anyone has any tips about traveling in Europe on a budget or buying food, send them my way. It'll be great to start 2011 in a different country.  Hope everyone has a great New Year's. Ciao (practicing the Italian).

Posted by Account Deleted at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2010 in College finances , Entertainment , Food , Impulsive spending , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Finding Warmth in the Cold

Ali Bar

Just before I left New York for Miami, I confess I engaged in a little splurge. It's one more thing that's going to make it more difficult to pay off my credit card in full this month, but I think it was totally worth it. The day I turned in my last assignment, I wanted to celebrate a bit and it was also really freezing outside. So a friend and I decided to head to the Wall Street Bath & Spa, a Russian bath in the financial district that had come highly recommended. It set me back $32.50, but had I wanted, I could have spent the whole day there defrosting. What does that $32.50 get you?  There is a Turkish steam room,  two Russian saunas, a plunge pool, swimming pool, and a jacuzzi.  Other spa services are available for an additional charge and you'll also find a restaurant and cafe area.  We spent around four hours there, which breaks down to about $8 an hour.  The smell of the stoves in the sauna was so nice, and the steam room smelled like eucalyptus oil.  We were warmed from the inside out.  I didn't even feel the cold when we left  despite the 30° temperature . I just felt toasty and relaxed. It's an experience everyone should try at least once. You end up feeling cleansed and all the stress that you've been feeling  build during  the week melts away.  That makes the price a bargain in my book. So if you're in one of the areas in the country where the snow is piling up this week, head to your nearest bathhouse. Your body will thank you.

Posted by Account Deleted at 03:04 PM on December 27, 2010 in Entertainment , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

King Mango Strut

Ali Bar

For anyone looking for something enjoyable to do on the day after Christmas that will put an end to the streak of spending, I’d recommend heading over to the 29th King Mango Strut parade in Coconut Grove. The festivities start at 2 p.m. The King Mango Strut, which now has outlived the Orange Bowl parade, is all about humor – humor taken from the year’s top headlines. One year the high school girls behind the viral Chongalicious video on YouTube rode a float and performed. So sad to think that when I was in New York, no one seemed to know what I was talking about when I said chonga. The parade begins at the corner of Commodore Plaza and Main Highway. This joyful afternoon of satire is absolutely free. The only thing you might end up paying for is parking. My family and I usually head over to Scotty's Landing for lunch or dinner before or after the parade. It’s a little difficult to find since it’s tucked behind a boatyard, but it’s right on the water and offers a variety of reasonably priced burgers, sandwiches, and salads and, of course, there’s seafood. It’s nice to get together with your family one more time before everyone returns to work on Monday. Hope everyone had a very enjoyable Christmas. We ordered a ham and turkey breast, but my mom and I opted out of buying pre-made sides and made everything else from scratch from the sweet potato cheese cake to the corn bread – and even had homemade salad dressing. There are tons of leftovers and, in retrospect, we may have gotten a bit carried away with the menu but we had an excellent dinner and probably won’t have to cook for the next week.

Posted by Account Deleted at 11:08 AM on December 26, 2010 in Entertainment , Food , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Holiday Festivities

Ali Bar

For those of you still scurrying around for last-minute gift ideas, today is it. For those in New York, there was the Union Square Holiday Market to make gift buying a little easier. I'd pass through it occasionally on my way to the subway, and, of course, I had to look at everything. I paused at the scarves and jewelry mostly. Some of the merchandise is reasonably priced; other items are quite expensive. On the bargain end, a find of mine bought a nice pair of earrings for $20. But it's definitely a cheery atmosphere and a great way to get into the holiday spirit. Being the eve of Christmas, it closed at 4 p.m. today. But keep it in mind for future shopping. It’s open from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. There are more than 100 merchants selling a variety of local and handmade gifts.  And even if you don't end up buying anything, it’s still fun looking. You can top it off with a cup of hot chocolate or warm apple cider and it adds up to a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in New York City.

Now I’m back in Miami, and the smell of backyard pig roasts hangs in the air. Even though I don’t like pork, it smells good. If you’re still not in the holiday spirit and need a cheap fix of cheer, check out the lights on 137th Terrace off 16th Ave. in North Miami. The whole neighborhood participates and lights are strung up into the lofty heights of huge live oaks. Check out the video and you’ll see it’s pretty special. The line of cars crawling down the street can be pretty daunting but it usually ends with a candy cane. You need to drive slowly anyways to check out all the lights. We used to go every year when I was a kid and I still enjoy the tradition. Merry Christmas

Posted by Account Deleted at 06:39 PM on December 24, 2010 in Entertainment | Permalink | Comments (1)

An Alternative to Buying Presents

Ali Bar

Considering my bank account has dipped quite low around this holiday season, I'm struggling to get gifts for friends and family. And while they may understand holidays aren't about gifts but about spending time with the people you love, I'd still like to treat them to something nice. In my case, that has to be something nice that also is low cost. Hard perhaps, but lately I’ve been feeling very DIY, so I’m optimistic.

In the past I've silk-screened T-shirts -- a skill I picked up in high school. Plain T-shirts at craft stores cost about $6. Since I already have the supplies, T-shirts have been really good gifts that are also quite personal. I’ve silk-screened designs of artists, and flying horses based on an Ecuadorian textile. If you want nicer T-shirts, try looking at amazon.com where you can get basic American Apparel shirts for half of what they sell for in the store. You can also stitch designs on T-shirts with different color threads –a technique that’s easier than silk-screening.

Handmade cards are also a good way to let friends and family know you care. Another idea I’m toying with is making a candle holder out of Rockite, a concrete-like material. I’m not sure how this will work out, but if it doesn’t, I’m only out the cost of Rockite, which isn’t too expensive. If I’m happy with the design, I’ll add a few tea candles and it’ll be ready to go.

Another gift that’s always appreciated is giving the gift of yourself – in other words, offering to help someone else with a bit of physical labor or a service. My mother wanted to rearrange office furniture, so I spent a few hours helping her push around furniture and I put her new bookcase together. In the past, I’ve painted the gazebo and a bathroom as a surprise. I found the paint in the garage, so the only expenditure was my energy. These are kind of nontraditional gifts but I think they mean more than just picking up something from a store. And, of course, you also avoid fighting the mobs at the mall.

If you have any other cost-saving gift ideas, post them quick so everyone will be ready for December 25.

Posted by Account Deleted at 09:27 PM on December 23, 2010 in Impulsive spending , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Finishing Up School on a Budget

Ali Bar

Amid final exams and projects and the stresses that go along with it, watching my spending was, well, let's just say I'm a little less frugal during those times. My time becomes more important than my finances. Case in point: Spending on food during finals week got out of control. Since this happens every finals week, you'd think by now I'd have some clever way of handling working really hard and eating on a budget. But no. I will also throw out there that I was plagued by the flu during finals week. While it felt like pure death at the time, I actually saved money due to my nonexistent appetite. I realize that sounds like kind of a pathetic rationalization. Hey guys, get sick. You won't want to eat, save money. Uhh, NO!

Let me tell you what I would recommend. First off when you are stressed out and feel as though you have no time and you just want to go to the super expensive French bakery downstairs, HALT. Do it once and you will eat there not just for breakfast but also for lunch and dinner. I’m sure you students and former students know exactly what I’m talking about. Just because you're super busy, doesn't mean you can totally throw your budget out the window – especially if you check your accounts as I did after the frenzy of late nights in the studio and realized my next credit card bill will be something I can’t pay in full. I’m particularly paranoid about paying off my credit card bill entirely each month. So slipping up a little here and owing a little more there is definitely a habit I want to avoid.

But back on topic, what to do when you are stressed, busy, and don't have time to make lunch. Go to grocery stores for sandwiches and subs. They are most often cheaper than restaurants or cafes. And if you really are in a bind, go to the $1 a slice pizza joint, not the healthiest, but definitely the most budget friendly. Or find a place with good prices and big portions to extend a meal's life by having it for lunch and dinner. That way you also save time. I found a little Thai restaurant near my studio that had $7 lunch specials. I got the Pad Thai with four small egg rolls. That was good for both lunch and dinner
and at $3.50 per meal was definitely better than the $11 I would have spent at the French bakery.

Here’s another option: Work really hard, and then take a longer break that allows time to go home and eat dinner. Or try to plan the day so you begin your studies early, eat breakfast at home and then manage to get home for a late dinner. Hopefully this coming finals week, I'll follow my own advice. Of course, this will be easier said than done, considering I'll be in Rome for a semester abroad and will want to try every restaurant that I come across. But I'll restrain myself.

Despite my money woes, this semester ended very well. Now I'm back in Miami to revitalize and there couldn't be a better place. Oh, 74° how I missed you.

Posted by Account Deleted at 10:07 PM on December 22, 2010 in Banking , College finances , Food , Impulsive spending , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Presenting ... the girl with no gifts

Name bar I have not bought a single present for anyone in my family. For the significant other. For my friends, the lawn guy, co-workers or even me for that matter.

I considered braving the mall last night, but my last meeting ended at 8:40 and my stomach was growling so much I knew I'd end up buying some overpriced gourmet chocolate for myself and walking through the aisles in a bewildered state of confusion.

My family is usually easy to shop for. My parents say they need a thing or two here and there without realizing they are giving me gift ideas. The significant other drops hints without knowing it, too.
My nieces are happy with anything I give them, including books, dictionaries, clotheCHRISTMAS-SHOPPINGs and craft supplies. I usually turn photos of the girls into gifts of some kind -- calendar, coasters, wall hangings -- for my sister and brother-in-law.  

But I've been so self-absorbed lately I haven't even started thinking about presents until now.

A happy new year's it will be for my friends and family, apparently!

For those of you who are wiser than me but still scouting for that last gift or two, I want to share some advice from Kiplinger's.

They have a "10-things-not-to-buy" for the holidays list and if you have fallen prey to one of its members, there's still time to undo your purchase.

Televisions aren't really at their best price this time of year, they say. January or February is when retailers lower prices in the previous year's models. Cameras, what with the likes of Ashton Kutcher hocking them, may be a must-have for someone on your list. Like TVs, it's best to wait a few more months as the older models are put on the clearance shelves. President's Day might be a more fitting holiday to celebrate with a new photo gizmo.

Wait for January white sales to by sheets and towels -- an annual tradition dating to the 19th century, Kiplinger's says. Tools for Dad will be cheaper around Father's Day than they are now.

Check out the other no-no's, never mind the snow blower.

Granted, this collection of don'ts isn't giving me a reason to rush out and abuse my credit cards, because I wasn't thinking I'd get a good deal anyway, shopping in a listless state. If you have suggestions or advice for me and my fellow present procrastinators, well, don't be a Scrooge.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 01:17 PM on December 21, 2010 in Impulsive spending , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gifting Ideas for Kids

Amanda Bar

Being a new aunt (my nieces are 2 years and 6 months, respectively) I've had to become a child-friendly present buyer for the holidays, but sometimes its difficult to find something unique and fun to give when every other relative seems to be purchasing the same thing.  Honestly, how many stuffed animals can two kids have?  Taking a creative approach - and one that's neither hard to do OR expensive - you can come up with cute little gifts for any young relatives, without worrying about giving a gift that's already been given.

If you go to Target or Payless you can find plain white sneakers (Keds or any other brand will do) for under $10; then head over to any other craft store and purchase a jar of glitter glue and a bottle of glitter of any color (Martha Stewart products are my preferred brand and are available at Michael's), each of which should cost about $3.  Return home, clear yourself a work space, and set to work.


As you can see, I decided on gold for my color of choice.  I painted the shoes yellow in order to have the color "pop" better, but that's an unnecessary step.  Then you simply apply the glue & glitter a section at a time, and voila!  Adorable and unique little shoes that should only cost you about $15.  They're also comfortable, as I made adult-size pairs for myself & two friends for Halloween:


Make sure you seal the glitter by adding a fews sprays of acrylic gloss or some other clear sealant, though these shoes aren't really made to last.  But they are fun, decorative, and thoughtful little gifts perfect for any child this holiday season.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 07:32 PM on December 20, 2010 in Entertainment , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (0)

Car Repairs Best Done Early

Amanda Bar

Here’s a bit of advice for the mechanically disinclined folks: if your car is making a noise, you should probably get that checked out.  And by probably, I mean as soon as possible because it just might end up saving you hundreds of dollars.

For several months my car breaks have been squealing.  I’m aware that this is usually an indication that something is wrong, but since I have little to no savings in my bank account I figured that the impending car repair bill could wait until 2011 (paid for with, hopefully, the X-Mas cash I would be receiving from my obliging relatives!).  However, my doting father would have none of it when I mentioned my car trouble to him, so off we went to Tires Plus.

Not only were my rear brakes entirely destroyed, but my front brakes were so worn down that the metal was starting to dig into the rotor.  If I had gone much longer before bringing the vehicle in for repairs they’d have to replace the entire rotor for an additional $400 on top of my already pricey repair bill.  Thankfully I hadn’t managed to cause any permanent damage to my car and they were able to salvage the rotor, but I still had to replace all four brakes as well as the rear supports.  My overly obliging father offered to pay for the bill at the expense of my X-Mas AND future birthday presents, and I was more than happy (and thankful!) to accept the deal.

Bottom line: cars are expensive, so heed the squeaks and groans of your vehicle and save yourself the hassle (and the money) by getting it checked early!  You might think you’re saving money by holding out a trip to the repair shop, but you’ll only be earning yourself a larger bill in the future.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 08:04 PM on December 11, 2010 in Savings | Permalink | Comments (2)

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