Out and About in the New Decade

Ali Bar

I literally haven't gone out to dinner since I arrived in New York. Well, I was treated to dinner a couple times but dining out – other than an occasional take-out sandwich or soup – doesn’t happen if I’m paying for myself. It doesn’t fit in my budget, and let’s face it, buying groceries and preparing a meal is much cheaper. But I deviated from my normal eat-in habit the other night and went out to dinner in Chinatown with friends. I guess I can chalk it up to a once a month entertainment cost.  Plus it would be pathetic to live in New York and not take advantage – at least on a limited scale – of the culinary scene.

My friends and I went to Teariffic Cafe. (51 Mott St.) I got vegetarian dumpling soup, passion fruit bubble tea and appetizers – all for the low cost of $10. And it was too much to eat. I couldn't even finish my soup. If I were to return again and could curb mycraving for bubble tea, I would only get the soup, which cost just under $5. Appetizers run from $3 to $6. Drinks are in the same price range. If I get the urge to go out again, I'll definitely stop here.  

L

Extra tip: If you like bubble tea, go to Ten Ren -- absolutely the best bubble tea in New York.

As far as economical, healthy and plentiful food in South Florida, I would recommend Harvest Moon Bistro at 102 Curtiss Pkwy. (on the circle) in Miami Springs. The portions on the wraps, salads, sandwiches and melts are generous, and the most expensive item on the menu is only $8.25. If you order the Mediterranean salad, for example, you’ll get a mountain of greens topped with couscous, feta cheese, garbanzos, tomatoes and black olives and accompanied by hummus, grape leaves and pita bread. I guarantee you’ll have plenty to take home. It’s pretty much a lunch-only place and it’s closed on Sundays.

Also note, they only take cash. The same goes for Teariffic Café and Ten Ren in New York. There is an ATM by the cash register at Harvest Moon and ATMs near the two New York restaurants, but chances are you’ll have to pay those pesky ATM fees if the nearest ATM isn’t one for the financial institution where you bank. So come with cash in your wallet and avoid the ATM fees that will just eat up your savings at these restaurants.

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All Hallows Eve

Ali Bar

Once again it’s the night before Halloween – and if you’re like me, you’ve probably waited to the very last second to come up with a costume for tomorrow’s parties. I’ve cut it very close. But if you’re in need of a quick – and cheap solution – I can help you out. 

CostumesHere are a few costumes I’ve tried in the past that can be whipped up in no time. Want to be lightning? So glad you ask, because that is what I was last Halloween. To start things off, I happened to find a steal at Target – a black, floor-length sleeveless cotton dress on clearance for $5. (Why spend major money on something that you’re probably only going to wear once?) I also bought some white sparkly felt that I cut into a lightning strike pattern and glued to the dress, which I hacked off to hit mid-thigh. I wore black
tights and black shoes. And then my very lovely friend painted a silver lightning bolt across my face a la David Bowie with rhinestones. Oh, and I painted my nails silver. For practically no money at all it was a pretty good costume. My friend, who had waited even longer than I, bought a purple shirt at A.C. Moore's, which was quite inexpensive, and also purchased various lengths of silver, purple and white string. He punctured holes in the shirt, pulled the cords through and knotted them on the reverse side. On the front, the cords cascaded down to his feet. He said he was Purple Rain. It went quite nicely
with my lightning costume.

This next idea may only be applicable to people who have access to plotters (large scale printers) but it also produces outstanding costumes. My friend and I found a high resolution image of a USB key, which we then plotted and printed. With spray adhesives, we attached the front and back images of the oversized USB keys to large pieces of cardboard. We added straps to hold the panels over our shoulders and side panels to keep the costumes rigid. It was difficult to walk, but everyone pretty much loved our people-sized take on a USB. We even made hats – the plug portion of the USB. I am thinking of being a lamp this year. Oh please, you may be saying. But I think being a very ordinary object is funny. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do this, but,hey, I’ve got until tomorrow to figure it out.

Hope this gives you a few ideas on how to whip up cheap costumes quickly. Feel free to borrow. On a side note, while my friend and I were shopping in Whole Foods on Union Square, we were bombarded by a slew of zombies. It was quite funny and helped us get into the Halloween spirit. Many of them asked me for my brain. I politely declined. 

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An Affordable Lincoln Center

Ali Bar

I decided just to get lost in the city the other night. Well, not really lost since I had a notion of where I wanted to end up. Besides, since almost everyone has GPS on their phones now, it's sort of impossible to get lost. But back to the point, I went to check out Lincoln Center. I was curious about the Fashion Week tent they were putting up. I also wanted to check out the Diller Scofidio + Renfro insertions. The space is quite nice.  When I arrived, I found “Hansel and Gretel’’ (the opera) was being projected for the public to watch for free. As I meandered around the plaza, half listening to what was going on with “Hansel and Gretel,’’ I went to the roof of an Italian restaurant, Lincoln, that has just opened (which I probably will never go to, due to its exclusive nature, meaning I can't afford it). One of my professors, who has extensive participation in the evolving nature of Lincoln Center, says the roof can be conceptually looked at as a piece of paper that touches the ground at one point allowing access for the public. I'll definitely be returning and eating on top of the lawn that covers the roof -- rather than down below.  It was a really nice outing for no money at all. Sort of ironic considering most would say Lincoln Center is a rather expensive place to go. The reality is there are lots of free events and tons of public spaces where guards won’t chase you away. Check out the free performances list here.

Below: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Fashion Week Installation, Paper Concept Model, Lincoln Center's Illumination Lawn

Dsr

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Free for all!

Name barA long while ago, I pledged to try to spend a whole day doing only free stuff (that involved not sitting on my own sofa and watching my already-paid-for basic cable).

I never quite got around to that. But that's what friends are for. 

In celebration of her boyfriend's recent birthday, one of my astute friends ferreted out a least a half-dozen deals linked to the special day. They scored a free Grand Slam at Denny's, a free sub from Firehouse Subs and a free entree at Moe's. There are deals waiting to be cashed in -- some good for the rest of the month; some just a few days after the big day, including a free handcrafted burger at Ruby Tuesday, treats from Baskin Robbins, Cold Stone Creamery and Starbucks. The big cahuna of birthday meal deals: a coupon for $30 off a dinner check at Benihana. Discovery Cruise Lines offers a free cruise to the Bahamas during your birth month. (My sister and I once joined forces on this deal, snagging my dad and my brother-in-law, who share a birth month, free cruises.) And thanks to Real Simple magazine, I just learned about a host of other birthday treats, including from Aveda and IHOP. You can find more deals in their October issue along with tips on saving money every day, including taking your own cup to the coffee shop (Einstein Bros. will give you coffee for $1 if you bring in your own mug -- but I can't tell if it must be one of theirs in the first place) and taking your own bags at Target and Whole Foods, which can save you five to 10 cents per bag. Birthday money 2

Some of these deals require signing up online, getting an e-mail and printing out a coupon (all of which may be followed by all sorts of offers, deals and ads.) Denny's and Firehouse simply wanted to see an ID on the big day.

Whether or not it's your birthday, free stuff awaits us all, apparently. Every year, Kiplinger puts out its list of best freebies. This year, while there are some things you're likely to think of on your own -- including getting free books at the library, if only for a short while -- there are some truly innovative suggestions, including a tip on getting free (and not fugly) passport photos. Check out item 14 on this year's list. They also suggest visiting freeshipping.org for deals on shipping when you're buying online, offer links to free deals for kids and free help with completing and filing your tax returns.

So whether it's a birthday or another occasion that sends you out eating or shopping, I'm guessing it's one you can save money on. Please let me know about other deals you know of -- birthday or otherwise.

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(Even more) Spa savings and meal tickets

Name bar I've been remiss in failing to mention Miami Spice, the two-month promotion by restaurants in Miami-Dade that create three-course meals for a set price -- prices lower than usual. About 130 restaurants are offering deals, but it's worth checking the website to see which days they are available and whether they apply to lunch or dinner.

My colleague Elaine Walker offers some details in a story about the promotion, including that at participating restaurants, lunches are $22 and dinners are $35. There are still about five weeks left to spice up your next dining out experience. The deals last until Sept. 30.

Right after that, Broward gets in on the action, with Dine Out Lauderdale. Those $35 three-course meals are around until Nov. 11.

And I just learned that Sept. 20-26, there's a promotion called SpaFinder Deal Days. There are savings on spa treatments and yoga and pilates classes. For example, at Bikram Hot Yoga Miami, a week of unlimited hot yoga, usually $140, will cost $50. You may need to book your treatment or classes in advance. Search for other deals here.

And here are even more deals to watch for in October that I just learned about today. Spa Week, Oct. 11-17, will feature $50 price tags for treatments that usually go for a lot more. The list of places that will offer deals goes live Sept. 13. Some of the spas that will participate include Elizabeth Arden Red Door, Clarins Skin Spa and Sleek MedSpa.

It's hard to find money in the budget these days to pamper myself. I just got a beauty-school hair cut last week and haven't been to yoga since my inexpensive community education classes ended for the summer -- in early July. Meals out lately have been mostly by the slice and individual sushi roll, neither of which is particularly pricey. Or I've been content to cook at home and have friends over.

But since these prices are pretty all right, maybe it's time to pretty myself and my social calendar.

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Daily Discounts In Your Area (For a Price)

Amanda Bar

I go out to eat on a weekly basis, so occasionally I try and browse certain websites to see if any special deals are going on in my area - that's when I came across LivingSocial, a website that offers daily coupons for different venues.  Just specify your city (they provide for the Ft Lauderdale, Miami and Jacksonville areas, as well as other states) and it'll list the current deal going on.  The website advertises discounts of up to 90% off on certain area bars, restaurants and nightclubs, and you can check out some of their past deals here (which include riverboat cruises, golf packages, and laser hair removal treatments!).

...but there's a catch, as there always is.  This website's discounts come with a price tag.  The trick is that you buy your coupons (spend $20 for a $40 gift certificate, for example), and in order to get them for free you're required to enlist at least three friends to purchase the same coupon.  This will be a downside for many who don't enjoy spamming their friends inboxes, but the discounts are pretty stellar if you've already been planning a night out with friends; and even if you don't end up recruiting three friends, the deals are still excellent for the price.

Today's deal is for Domenick's Pizzeria (sadly, a coupon that I am uninterested in), but I plan on checking back on a daily basis to see if anything pops up that is more to my taste. 

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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?

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The Cost of Culture

Amanda Bar
A week ago it came to my attention that The Phantom of the Opera stage show was coming to the Broward Center of the Performing Arts.  I have seen it twice in the past (the second time being while I was still in college, so fairly recently), but I have a few friends who I've been wanting to take along.  I made a few calls and sorted out that my father, my sister, my roommate Bridget, and fellow No-Spend Zone blogger Kevin, will all be coming with me.  This is all well and good, but then we come to the seating arrangements.

Ticket prices were going for as low as $30.75 for nosebleed balcony seats, but I know from experience that paying the extra price for orchestra seating is well worth it.  Unfortunately that bumps the price up to $78.75 a ticket, so the total cost of five tickets (plus an insane $50 "processing fee") amounts to $445.95.  I put it all on my credit card to be repaid at a later date (the show itself isn't until early January!), but I can't honestly say that I feel guilty about the price.  Kevin might have something to say about it, as he's more in need of pinching pennies at the moment than I am, but I know it'll be a great experience for everyone. 

So how about you?  Would you hand over the cash for a chance to hear the music of the night?

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Free Community Spooks

Amanda Bar
All dressed up for Halloween with nowhere to go?  Well, if you happen to be a resident of Pembroke Pines (or just live in the area) you might want to consider attending the Pembroke Pines "Boo-Ville" Halloween family event.  Entrance is free, and activities include a costume contest, Trick-Or-Treat stations, a pumpkin patch, rides, Halloween arts & crafts, and a DJ Dance Party!  Refreshments are available with purchase, but no word on food items.  Did I mention entrance is free??

Boo-Ville begins on Saturday October 31st (lasting from 6pm to 9pm) at the Pines Recreation Center (7400 Pines Blvd).

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How to make your friends poor & tired in one easy step!

Amanda_bar This past week I've had the misfortune of being constantly left out of the on-going partying taking place at my house.  Due to my odd midnight work schedule, as well as the current time of year that allows most of my friends to be on holiday leave, I've missed out on several social gatherings (I'm talking three or four) that my roommate Bridget has been the impromptu host of at our shared residence.  I don't begrudge people their fun - it seems I'm always the one with the inconvenient schedule - bit I do begrudge it when these guests are slowly buzzing through my Red Bull energy drink supply without even the common decency of asking.

A 12-pack of Red Bull costs about $25 at any local Publix, and I don't care how sleepy you get while playing video games & chugging Bud Lite at my house until six in the morning...if it really gets to that point you need to help yourself to the front door, not one of my Red Bulls.  I'm all for allowing the occasional use of a Red Bull for a "Jagerbomb" when I'm in attendance to enjoy the festivities, and Bridget has certainly helped herself to an energy drink now and then without me raising an eyebrow, but I hate to come home after an eleven-hr shift to find my entire stock gone from inside my refrigerator.

The awkward part is that I know Bridget is good for it - she'll replace them if I ask - but I really don't appreciate guests helping themselves to my belongings...especially considering that all of these guestsRed_bull_3 don't know me beyond being Bridget's roommate.  I buy a good share of beer and soda in our house for the sole purpose of keeping it on-hand for guests; that does not and should not mean that I am obliged to allow them full run of my food supplies, especially when I'm not even there to shout a "yea" or "nay".  It's both aggravating in a financial sense (those things are expensive!) and a social sense (I don't want to seem like a cheap hostess, even if I'm an absentee one).  I just can't get over the nagging irritation that these gubby-handed, Red Bull-swindling guests have somehow crossed a line...a delicious, caffeinated line.   Is it rude of my guests to help themselves to my stuff, or is it rude of me to deny them use of it?  I'm torn on both sides of the coin, but at the end of the day I'm the one screwed: I'm out of money from spending it all on Red Bull, and I'm out of Red Bull by having it swiped by all of my house guests!!

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