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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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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Brooklyn Flea

Ali Bar

A couple weekends ago I went to the Brooklyn Flea Market, which I highly recommend. I wasn't all that thrifty, dropping $20 for a pair of earrings and $4 for a milkshake, but all in all, it was worth it. I met up with friends, and we just wandered around, looking, touching, picking up all the little antiques and handmade goods. I liked so many things. Some of them were pricey but I found lots of reasonably priced stuff too.  We went around lunch time and hopping to save a few bucks, I grabbed some food from home. But my friends didn’t bring such provisions. They had a choice of food stands selling everything from gourmet pizzas to grilled cheese sandwiches. I couldn’t resist a chocolate milkshake that turned out to be so rich it was an effort to finish it. On a side-note: Nate from "The Nate Berkus Show" was at the flea market filming a segment. He does a good job of showing off the place’ s charms and gives some good design advice too. Watch the segment here.

Brooklyn Flea Address:
Fort Greene
176 Lafayette Avenue (between Clermont + Vanderbilt Avenue)

The Flea at One Hanson (aka Williamsburg Savings Bank)
1 Hanson Place (at Flatbush Avenue)

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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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Succumbing to Impulse Shopping

Amanda Bar

The impulse fairy has struck again; that unstoppable, wallet-draining phenomenon that I have carefully been avoiding for months now.  As I’ve comfortably been settling into my new home, and as I have completed most of my major home reconstruction projects, I’ve been left to consider the smaller details around the house that I would like improved.  One of these little considerations led me to the $349 purchase that I very recently stumbled into.

I have a large amount of jewelry - not real jewelry, mind you, but fake (as long as it sparkles who cares if it’s real, am I right?).  I’ve been storing most of it in a dresser drawer, but it’s been spilling out into the rest of my room for awhile now.  I’ve long been keeping my eye out for a jewelry armoire to take care of this problem, and unfortunately I happen to have found the perfect match with a not so perfect price.

I’m sure I could have found a better deal elsewhere, which makes the money spent sting all the more, but I was there in Pier 1, they had one more left in stock, and I was overcome with that I HAVE TO HAVE IT sensation that I thought myself cured of!  Alas, it appears as though being a spendthrift is an incurable condition.  On the plus-side, I like to think that all of my careful spending has “earned” me an indulgence such as this…and I can’t deny that (beyond the price) I’m pleased with the results of my purchase.

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Early Savings For a Spooky Halloween

Amanda Bar

 Halloween is my favorite holiday, and don't be surprised that I've had this year's costume ready for months.  Picking out the perfect costume can be tricky, and if you want a quality outfit you can expect to pay $50 to $100 for an adult-size (I'm basing these figures on what I normally spend per costume, per year).  Some people say buying early is cheaper while others say buying a day or two prior to Halloween scores you the bigger price cuts, but many people often overlook the savings you can get by purchasing an outfit online.

Now is a great time to get a deal online at various websites - one in particular that I like to use is, a name that might be familiar to you if you have an annual Spirit Halloween store near you.  For those of you who didn't have the foresight to sign up for the mailing list, allow me to share with you a little insider savings:

Save $10 off $75 - Enter Code GET10 at Checkout
Save $15 off $100 - Enter Code GET15 at Checkout
Save $30 off $150 - Enter Code GET30 at Checkout

This offer is a limited time only and is not limited to costumes, so check out the website and see if you can score yourself (and maybe some friends/relatives who can reimburse you) some Halloween swag!

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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 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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Highway robbery

Name barWhen I drive home to visit family in Central Florida, I use the Turnpike. Paying the tolls is worth it, especially considering some of the longest stretches of the journey would otherwise be on local roads with stoplights and traffic.

The tolls, presumably, cover repairs, maintenance of the roadways and provide for the 24-hour service plazas that appear every 50 miles or so

It's handy to be able to stop at a service plaza, although traditional highways do have their share of rest areas, minus the access to five fast food joints, stores that sell Florida kitsch and gas stations.

It does appear that there is some kind of monopoly on who provides gas at the stops: All eight plazas feature Shell gas stations.

And nearly every plaza hosts a Dunkin' Donuts.

On my way home last weekend, I thought getting some caffeine would be in the best interest of myself -- and other drivers.

I stood in line at a Burger King for a soda and got out of line fast when I saw the price for a small drink: $2. I walked next door to another place. Soda: $2. At a third restaurant, where I caved in, the price -- which was listed nowhere; I had to ask -- $2. (Plus 7 percent sales tax.)

I rarely buy soda. But I am certain the average fast food restaurant does not charge $2 for a small soda. In the case of the rest stops, folks might get a refill, but many people are in and out in five minutes or less. They're not chugging a two-liter-bottle's worth of cola.

I felt like the price was fixed and I was annoyed. I'd have gotten a cup of coffee (I don't know what it would have cost) had it been cheaper, but the line was about 20 people deep at Dunkin'.

If I'm paying a toll and the restaurants already have a monopoly on customers since there are so few stops (there are eight plazas over 460 miles of the Turnpike) why are they further taking advantage of us by charging an absurd amount for a soda?

On top of that, I have a SunPass, which keeps the state from having to provide a human being to take my toll. But not everyone has one of these gizmos, since they pretty much require having a credit card. Using cash means replenishing the card in person and paying $1.50 every time you do so. (Nearly everything run by the Miami-Dade Expressway appears headed in the direction of, if you don't have a SunPass, we will ticket you because we are eliminating any ability to pay cash at the toll plazas which soon won't exist at all. Nice.) People who pay cash at a toll plaza generally pay more than SunPass users.

Boo hiss to all of this.

The Turnpike is apparently the road to expensive dining, which you've already subsidized with your toll money and by saving the state on paying for personal service. Next time I use it, I will travel with my own caffeine.

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