Not so Cheap to Stay Clean

Ali Bar

Doing laundry is sooooo expensive in New York.  When I lived in Ithaca, N.Y., laundry rates at both the Cornell dorm and my apartment house were about the same: $1.25 to wash and $1 to dry.  I usually  do two loads, which amounts to a grand total of $4.50.  The laundromat near my  New York  apartment has three washers, one for small loads, one for medium loads, and one for large loads.  I need  to use the medium washer,  which costs $2.50 . The dryer, which charges on a per minute basis, costs me about $1.50  a load. That means I end up spending $8.  Okay,  so maybe it isn't so much more, but I was still shocked the first time I saw it.  Not to mention, the first time I  used this laundromat, I didn't realize the machine costs differed and I ended up using the large ones  at a cost  of   $3.75 per load . Cost of doing laundry: $10.50.  I can only blame that on my unobservant self.  A plus  for this laundromat is that it's  open 24 hours.  I'm not saying I'm going to do my laundry at 4 in the morning, but I have done my laundry around ten at night.  It's convenient for a student 's  schedule  -- actually probably  for   most people's schedules.   Since doing laundry is just one of those things you can't find your way around, I must do it.  I'm sure when  I  get back to  Ithaca I'll exclaim how inexpensive the laundry is there.

To cut down on laundry costs, I've always wondered about making my own soap. But since I'm in perpetual motion, moving every four to six months, I haven't gotten around to it. The recipes I've seen make such  large quantities of laundry soap, however, that I wouldn't know what to do with the leftovers every time I moved . And I certainly don't want to be lugging around a large vat of soap.

But here are some recipes for laundry soap via Tipnut if you'd like to try your hand.

If you have any  other laundry ideas you'd like to share, feel free.

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Missed Payments & Overdue Fees

Amanda Bar

I just returned home from a delightful early day of productivity, when I settled down on my couch to watch some TV.  However, a "Your service has been temporarily interrupted" appeared on the screen.  Knowing that Comcast's service is sometimes dodgy, I decided to amuse myself on the internet instead...only to find that I was redirected to a "Welcome to Comcast! Enter your new account number to start up your service!" page.

I called my local Comcast office and described my problem, and to my surprise the operator informed me that it sounded as if my service had been suspended due to a late payment.  Wha-wha-whaaat?  Not only was this mildly embarassing, but I had no way to prove if I did or didn't make any recent payments because I couldn't access my bank account via the internet. 

I placed a call to the main branch and discovered that I had a delinquent balance of $115.37, and within a minute of handing over my credit card information my TV sprung back to life and my internet was restored. As easy as that was, I unfortunately still earned myself an unnamed fee on my next bill for the re-connection service.

I have a very poor memory, and I rely on email notifications (from Comcast, FPL, etc) to remind me to make my payments.  That I could accidently not recieve a reminder, or perhaps my Hotmail account randomly flagged it as spam?, is disturbing to me because now I'm on high alert that a similar situation can occur with another bill.  Since I already had Comcast on the line I had them set up an automatic payment plan with my bank account, but I'll definitely have to be more vigilant with my other monthly payments.

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (0)

A Pricey Transportation Snag

Ali Bar

I couldn't avoid it. I got a monthly unlimited metro pass for the New York subway. At $89, it’s expensive for me, but the subway is my lifeline and I take it for just about everything – shopping, school, to entertainment destinations. It will certainly end up being far cheaper than paying for individual trips. But if I had my bike, which sadly I left in Ithaca, I would attempt to use it for trips around the neighborhood. That could save me money and perhaps some time too.  In Ithaca, I could walk everywhere, and when I couldn't, my student I.D. acted as a bus pass. Public bus rides were free in Ithaca after 6 p.m. and on weekends.  I never put down a cent to get myself anywhere.  Now I'm definitely dealing on a much larger scale in New York, so that adds to the expense.  But if you have a bike, I'd recommend pedal power versus paying for public transport.


Interesting Note: Images from Noorda Design Studio. Bob Noorda, late designer of subway signs.

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Summer Tips For Cooling Down Costs

Amanda Bar

Since I'm trying to be more conscientious of the money I spend, I've been looking up a lot of helpful ways to save some cash this summer by lessening the load on your air conditioner.  A lot of advice websites suggest options that (for various reasons) don't appeal to me - such as cooking outside - but I've come across a few websites that offer viable suggestions for my over-heated summer lifestyle.

1) Change your air filter. A filthy filter can hike up your cooling costs by working your AC unit harder to produce the same temperature. Filters can be found relatively cheap at any home supply store, and they're easy to replace.

2) Use fans instead of AC. Small spaces can be cooled just as well with a standing or ceiling fan while saving you money. By raising your AC temperature to around 75 degrees and keeping a room fan handy you shouldn't notice a difference, except in your electricity bill.

3) Check your weather stripping. Personally I need to follow up on this advice as there is currently a gap at the bottom of my front door that not only lets in the occasional crawly critter, but also lets out precious cool air! By making sure these cracks are covered you'll find it much easier to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your house.

4) Run your appliances at night. Appliances generate heat when they're in use, so by saving that load of laundry or dirty dishes until bedtime you're less likely to crank up the AC to compensate. I can only hope, however, that your dryer isn't a clunker like mine that bangs and bumps the entire cycle...not exactly sweet night music!

There are many more suggestions available via the web to help keep costs down this season, so make sure to take a moment and figure out what works best for you!

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (1)

Money in the air

Name bar Watching the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico spread, it's hard not to feel guilty about why the oil well that malfunctioned and triggered the mess was there in the first place.

My whole life circulates around my car, whether or not I like to admit it or think about it in those terms. My wonderful significant other lives about 65 miles from my house and we like to see each other -- a lot. I happen to live fairly far away from where I work, stuck in a place I can't sell. I only live three miles away from the grocery store, but I've never even tried biking there. The last time I used my bike was just to get some exercise and hang out with friends. Carbon footprint

I'm working from home a lot more these days, which has cut my gas consumption (and spending). But I need to do more to cut my polluting ways. Luckily, a few months ago, I found a website that gives me just the incentive I need to whack my electricity bill (in addition to the savings on my bill -- and in addition to providing some kind of salve for the images of oil-soaked birds burned into my brain). asks you to enter all of your electric bills (or gas... whichever service you'd use to heat and cool your place) for a year, to find out what your energy consumption is. If you decrease the amount of kilowatt hours (in my case), you eventually earn carbon credits that can be sold -- and I get the cash.

The site, which is for-profit, is blunt about its premise. "In order to actually effect change, we at MyEex feel it is necessary to make individuals responsible for the external cost of pollution. How do we do this? With money."

The cold, cold winter has helped me cut my electric bills overall compared to a year ago. But I feel like we skipped spring and any comfortable weather all together, so I'm using my a/c more than I did last year at this time. Still, I'm already about a fifth of a way to earning my first credit. The website says that the value of a credit varies, but last year, one credit was worth about $18. That may not sound like a lot, but considering you don't have to do much to earn this, I'd say it's a good deal. (No cheating: You'll need your electric bills so the site can verify your savings.)

The site offers a ton of solutions for reducing your carbon footprint, many of which come with savings somewhere along the line -- even if you pay money upfront to save in the long run.

Have you ever used a site like this? Would it change your behavior? I think the mere act of entering my bills into a website and watching my credits fluctuate will have an effect on me, even if subtle. Surely more often I will be able to survive with just the ceiling fan on instead of turning on the air conditioner. (And maybe I'll even turn off this computer and take my bike for a spin more frequently too.)

At least I hope so.

And I hope those birds can tell, somehow.

Posted by Nirvi Shah on | | Comments (0)

Can the Magic Jack really make your phone bill disappear?

Name barWe've all seen the ads for the Magic Jack, the device that promises to free us from our monthly phone bills forever. These days, with cell phones, a lot of us have given up landlines, so spending money making long distance calls isn't the issue. But since we're a bunch who likes to yammer, the minutes do seem to fly by. (I've certainly paid my share of overage charges.)

Turns out, the Magic Jack, which costs $19.95 a year, generally does keep up with its pitch, reports my friend Shannon who has had one for several months. She and her husband were on a mission to trim their monthly bills and he suggested the gizmo that works by routing phone calls through your computer, using your Internet connection.

Here's how it works, she said. You plug the Magic Jack -- which resembles a flash drive -- into your computer and you plug your phone into your computer, too. (When you register, you can tell the company where you live so you'll be assigned a phone number with the area code you want.) Shannon said you dial using a window that appears on your screen -- not through your phone handset.

The trick? If you want to move around your home while you talk, you carry the whole mess with you.

"We have to decide if we're going to make this call and settle ourselves accordingly," Shannon said. If your computer is off, your calls go directly to voice mail. You'll be e-mailed if you have a message, which you can listen to via iTunes.

She said there are no more worries about long distance calls, or a phone bill at all since the Magic Jack works just fine for local calls, too. But setting up the device and getting it to work smoothly took some effort.

"There were a lot of starts and stops. We couldn't figure out how to get our voice mail set up. There isn't a person we can contact if we're having problems. (Everything is answered online only.) We would have dropped calls. There were times when they could hear us and we couldn't hear them or the reverse," she said.

And her brother, who lives in Italy, can't dial cell phones where he is. He gets her voice mail if the computer is off and she doesn't know he's calling, since she doesn't leave the computer on all day.

But the end result, she said, is that the phone bill is really gone.

"We don't have to worry about long distance at all. It's very cool," she said. "We have voice mail -- and we don't have any telemarketers calling."

UPDATE: A reader named Dollie informs me that if you have a cordless phone, you're free of your computer once you make a call. "You can carry the phone all over the house and outside and don't
have to settle down by the computer," she says. Thanks Dollie!

Posted by Nirvi Shah on | | Comments (3)

My own anonymous letter from FP&L

Name bar Last month, some disgruntled former Florida Power & Light employees (or so they claimed to be) wrote a letter to the folks that regulate utilities in Tallahassee, along with the power company's board of directors.

They said, among other things, that the state's largest electricity provider was keeping its expenses artificially high' so that it could ask the state for an additional rate increase. (FP&L wasn't granted the rate increase it wanted earlier this year.)

It's still not clear if the accusations were clear.

Last month, I got my own anonymous letter from FP&L employees. Granted, I get one every month. It's otherwise known as my monthly bill. But for once, it contained good news for me.

I think.

Because of a fuel rebate many customers should have received, my bill was just $31.47. FP&L knocked off $23.48 thanks to a ruling by the Public Service Commission. You can calculate what you should be getting as your rebate here.

Judging by my bills, you can conclude I don't use much electricity. I have never broken $100, or even $90, even in the depths of summer when I can't go without turning on my central air conditioner running most of the day. But I haven't seen a bill under $35 since I lived in an apartment that lacked an in-unit washer and dryer and water heater.

But when I called FP&L about my bill, the automated system gave me a little jolt. "February bills may be higher than usual since they include high heating usage from the January cold snap," the soft-spoken electronic man told me.

Now FP&L doesn't say the same thing about air conditioners jacking up our bills in July and August, so this message struck me as odd. I just got my February bill, and it was on par with a more typical bill -- a little more than $50. Did you experience the higher-than-usual bill?

I'm guessing wearing three layers of clothing and only occasionally using the heat saved me from getting a real shock to my system.

Posted by Nirvi Shah on | | Comments (0)

Cash For Clunkers: Appliances

Amanda Bar
Speaking of the Cash For Clunkers program, it was recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary that the government is putting into place a program that would reimburse people who trade in their old "clunker" appliances for newer, more energy-efficient models.  Dependent upon your area, you could be approved to receive special rebates on various ENERGY STAR appliances.  This specific eco-friendly brand is said to reduce energy costs by 10%-50% from your standard brands, and is one option in a long line of many government funded & supported strategies to reduce our everyday energy use.  And hey, what's good for the environment also happens to be good for your wallet.

This appliance rebate plan couldn't have come at a better time - with my master bathroom now complete, I'm not turning my attention to my next big renovation: the kitchen.  Some of the current appliances date back to when the house was first constructed (1986!) and are beyond repair, while others are salvageable if not pretty to look at; this Cash For Clunkers deal, however, affords me an opportunity to perform a facelift on the entire set of kitchen appliances.  Dependent upon the appliance, I could get $50 to $200 per machine towards a newer model.  All fifty states have signed on for the program, and so far all major retailers and manufacturers (Best Buy, Target, Kenmoore, Whirlpool, etc.) have put their support behind the plan.  Keep your eyes open, because this deal is supposed to hit the American marketplace sometime this fall!

Posted by Amanda Conwell on | | Comments (2)

Some like it hot... and Amanda does not

This morning I wake up, make breakfast, do some laundry, change the bed sheets... and then I see this note on the air conditioner control.

AcnoteWell, seems we didn't solve our a/c fight issue. Although Amanda is asleep and I can't ask her (she sleeps in the day and works at night), it seems she isn't pleased with my choice of air conditioner settings.

But seriously, what's the big deal? While she is at work, I'm sleeping. She's not here. So I turn the a/c at something like 79 so it won't blow cold air. I get cold very easily.

I don't see the problem. She's not at home. When she gets home, she should just turn it back to a setting she likes. Why waste energy on a/c when I don't want to use the a/c at night? Come on, Amanda. Earth Day is Tuesday. You're not going to kill me. You're going to kill Mother Earth.

And FPL is on my side, too. This is from their tip list on ways to save energy:

Cool your home at 78° or warmer with the thermostat fan switch on "auto." For additional savings, raise your thermostat to 82° or warmer when you're away from home.

I'm no tree-hugger, but energy = $$$. Why keep it cold when she's not home? Sorry dear, guess the only way you're going to change my ways is to smother me with a pillow in my sleep.

Posted by Bridget Carey on | | Comments (7)

First roommate fight at day three

If you couldn't already tell by the last post by Amanda, yesterday was day three living here and we've already gotten into a mini fight about the air conditioner.

While I'm at work, she sends me this message on Facebook:

"I have a little question for you when you get home. @_@"

Of course that crazy-eyed emoticon worried me, so when I asked what the question was, she wrote back:

"Oh, I don't know...did you, perhaps, maybe, possibly, TURN OFF THE A/C anytime today???"

Well yes, I did the day before. Not so much for cutting back on energy, but because I came from a house where sometimes we turned the air off when we get cold. I get cold very easily, and don't mind having the air off for a little while. So I turned it off at 8 p.m. Tuesday and I didn't think of turning it back on before I left for work Wednesday because I thought it felt fine. Plus, we have fans in the house. Of course, Amanda is home during yesterday afternoon, and by that time it was understandably hot.

I don't blame her for wondering why it was off. Back in college I had this problem with my other roommates because I would turn the a/c off and they were used to the air being on all the time. I had a friend that got into a mega hate-fest with a roommate freshman year over the a/c being on and off and the waste of energy on the bill. I don't want that happening to us, so I guess we'll just have to find a happy medium.

And as Amanda also stated, I do use a new towel after every shower. That's how I was raised since I was born, so that's what I'm used to. In fact, I thought everyone did that until I went to college and saw that people reused towels for more than a day. I thought they were the weird ones.

I don't waste energy by doing a load of wash every day. I own about 10 towels (same towels I've had since college) and I'll do a big load every week and a half with socks and stuff. Amanda brought up that perhaps this could increase the cost of our utilities. Perhaps it's one or two extra washes than the average person does in a month. I'm not sure how it will affect the utilities because it's only the first week of living here, but when I do wash I make a point to do a full load to get the most out of it.

And as she also mentioned, I buy 3 ounce paper Dixie cups for the bathroom. I've also grown up doing that since I was a kid, and it's what makes me happy. A box for less than $3 lasts me more than a month, so I don't consider it wasteful spending.

We all have our quirks. These are some of mine.

Posted by Bridget Carey on | | Comments (5)

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