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 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).

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Saving Money With Cash

Amanda Bar

My annual Disney trip was this past weekend, and I normally spend a lot of money between food and souvenirs each time I go.  This year, however, I tried to do something different - the room and Mickey's Not-So-Scary tickets had been reserved and purchased under my name, so when my friends coughed up their portion of the bill I had them pay me in cash as opposed to check.  While in the park I didn't pull out my debit/credit card at all, and instead used the $100+ in bills that I had.

By the end of the trip I had money to spare, and I hadn't put anything on my card.  I even managed to refrain from buying unnecessary knick-knacks to adhere to my cash budget!  History tells me that if I had asked for checks I would have ended up spending much more than I did by using cash alone, so I definitely plan on sticking to this option for future visits.

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Planning Ahead With Return Purchases

Amanda Bar

This weekend I'm going on my annual Disney Halloween trip and I really haven't been saving my money like I should for this vacation.  I try to keep a couple hundred dollars put aside for various spending purposes (not to mention the Epcot Food & Wine Festival is going on, and I can always spend a lot of money sampling the cuisine), but I've come in a bit under-budget this year.  The fault is entirely my own, but when it comes to Halloween time I can easily lose my head with various costume and decoration projects.

I'm not one to regularly return items to stores, but this month I've scrounged through my stack of recently bought merchandise and returned the "unnecessary" items to the store - mostly arts & craft items and Halloween accessories - just so that I can have that extra $20 or so dollars in cash at hand.  Returning merchandise can be a somewhat humbling process, especially when the sales clerk ask you that obligatory question of "What's wrong with it?", but it also serves as a learning experience.  I should really train myself so that I don't purchase extranneous items to begin with!

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Hasty Life & Shopping Lessons

Amanda Bar

I (and this blog) am quite familiar with the occassional impulsive shopping splurge, but the story that follows goes beyond even that - I would call this a moment of shopping insanity. 

The seeds of this little tale were sown about two months ago, when a co-worker asked if I'd be interested in adopting a baby rat.  I told her no at the time, but having had pet rats in the past I started to think that perhaps the idea of expanding my animal family (I already own a cat) might be a desirable idea.  However, I was smart enough to keep myself away from pet stores until I was firmly set on bringing in another living being into my home.

Rats (2)  Smart enough, that is, until I decided to go rat browsing with my sister.  Browsing being the key word here, as I made it quite clear that I did not intend to buy.  Once that cute little fuzzy creature was placed in my hands, however, and the store clerk advised me that I'd be saving it from a "short life as imminent snake food" I went into an insane frenzy of pet supply shopping.  I spent $99 on two rats, one aquarium & topper, and various rat food & toys.  What can I say?  I was emotionally blackmailed into the purchase.

Obviously I was not in my right mind, because the minute I walked into my house with this gigantic rat terrarium I realized that I had made a horrible and expensive mistake.  I had no place to put these rats without seriously rearranging my furniture, and more importantly I wasn't in an emotional state to deal with familiarizing myself with two new family members.  I had a serious case of buyers remorse that I have never experienced before - most likely because these were living creatures I had involved in my mess.  A half hour later I went back to the pet store, tail between my legs, and handed the rats back without so much as asking for a refund (the rats themselves were only $3 a piece, anyways).

I plan on taking back all of the supplies and toys in a few days when the shame of my irresponsibility dies down, but as for the aquarium (the most expensive purchase at $39.99) there is a no-refund policy and I simply have to suck up that expense as a pricey life lesson.  It's easy to get sucked into hasty decisions when something small and adorable is squirming in your hands, but take it from me: don't do it!  Think on it and make sure you're ready, because unlike a piece of furniture a pet deserves an owner who can devote their time to welcoming them into a home.

I feel bad for my wallet, but worse for my rat friends.

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When Patiences Pays Off

Amanda Bar

Deer I like weird and unusual pieces of art (or so I've been told) but so often the problem with this aesthetic is that often quirky home decorations can be quite expensive.  A Z Gallerie opened up near my city within the past year, and I love checking out all of the unusual items they offer, and I've long been eyeing a white laquer deer head that's been hanging on their wall since opening day.  Don't ask me why, but I love it!  However, I'm not so in love with the $199 price tag.

Instead of impulsively whipping out my checkbook (like I am prone to do) I held off and had my patience rewarded.  A few months ago I noticed that they offered a different deer head, smaller and made of resin, but more or less in the same exact style as the one I had been eyeing - and even better, it was only $49!  It's almost half the size of the original piece, but it fits perfectly on my wall and I love being able to save money while still keeping the initial aesthetic that I was going for.

Whether you agree with my taste in decor or not, you have to admit that I made a STAGgering decision by holding off on my rapid-fire spending habits.  (Feel free to groan at the pun - I know I did.)

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