Saturday, May 31, 2008

So, about this Sex and the City movie thing. . .

I don't really get the hype on this one. What is the big deal?

I suppose if I'd ever seen the show, I might be able to figure out what was behind the fanaticism over this movie coming out. Unless I buy a DVD player and start renting or buying DVD's (and I don't feel terribly moved to do this), that ship has sailed. There was an article in the New York Times last week that described why this show has hit a nerve with so many women who don't fit the white-trendy-Hamptons-designer-image mold portrayed (or so I hear) on the show. The article posited that women across the economic strata relate to the show because the problems that these elitist characters have are human problems to which many people can relate in their own lives.

Is that the draw? Because I just don't get it otherwise. From the little I know of the show's storyline (mostly descriptions of crass and very, very expensive consumerism), I don't think I could relate to it on any level.

If you know anything about this show and have some perspective on why people love it so much, I'd be much obliged if you'd share it.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's not really funny, but it kind of is

As a veteran of cantakerous plumbing, I had to feel a little sorry for the folks on the space station.

Can you imagine how much a maintenance visit by an everyday plumber guy would cost???

Incidentally, the article made me wonder where the phrase on the fritz came from. Thanks to the internets, now we know.

Carry on, folks; nothing more to see here.

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Tiptoeing through dynamite

CNN posted a good article on the hazards of credit card use. The short synopsis is that any way credit card companies can screw you out of a few more pennies is fair game.

There's nothing inherently wrong or bad about credit cards in and of themselves. They're simply a financial tool. When used correctly, credit cards can reduce hassle in your life. They can help you track spending, they often provide insurance coverage against transactions gone awry, and they often come with benefits like gas, air miles, or cash back. On the flip side, credit cards (or lousy vendor security practices) make identity theft easier. Credit issuers can change the rules at any time, which makes it easier to get caught with some nasty charge or other, and some people find it harder to control their spending with credit cards; in its most extreme form, that can get very, very ugly and expensive.

There are right ways and wrong ways to use credit cards. Right ways include (but are by no means limited to) things like this:

To thine own self be true
Credit is not for everyone. If it was, you wouldn't see default at the rate it exists today. Before you start using credit, either as a new cardholder or after a hiatus, make sure you understand the ins and outs of consumer debt and ask yourself if you're ready, willing, and able to assume the responsibility of managing your spending appropriately. Recognizing that credit cards don't fit into your life is not a moral failing. Hiding from the truth and subsequently getting into trouble. . . well, that's potentially a different story.

Don't carry a balance
Even if it's 0% for however many months, if you don't normally carry a balance, this is no time to start! It's easy to let the 0% period lapse without paying the balance off through pure forgetfulness. Alternatively, if you rack up a balance that you mean to pay off and then something bad happens that sucks up your cash reserves, you're stuck with no cash reserves and a credit card balance that is about to start costing serious coin. Yikes!

If you do carry a balance, pay that sucker off
I bet you'll sleep better just knowing that you're not throwing interest payments down a rathole anymore.

Minimize your exposure
I don't know about you, but I don't always feel groovy about the post office. I started having doubts a few years ago when I received a letter that had been mailed to my correct address a few months before, returned to the post office with the notation Not dis dres, resent, returned, and resent a third time, at which time it finally reached me. This wasn't just any old letter, either: it was a credit card bill.

This particular story had a happy ending. When my credit card bill didn't arrive, I phoned the issuer, got my balance, and sent in my check with a letter containing my account number and payment instructions to the billing address. I then called the post office and gave them what-for, for whatever good that did.

Thanks to modern technology, you can eliminate all postal risks in a single blow by setting up online automatic payments to pay the balance in full every month. Just make sure there's enough money in the account!

Monitor your spending and adjust as necessary
No matter what your credit card limit is, if you're spending more money using credit cards than you would using cash, credit cards aren't working for you. That's the time to go on an all-cash diet until you can rein in your spending.

Stay well below your credit limit
There's no better way to avoid an overlimit fee. If you absolutely, positively need to push the limit for a big purchase, you can always call your issuer to ask for a higher credit limit. A higher limit is not a license to spend, though: don't do this if you can't pay off your big purchase in cash at the end of the billing cycle. If you're at risk of abusing a higher credit limit, you're better off switching to cash.

More is not always better
Having too many credit cards puts you at risk of losing track of something and accidentally costing yourself money. One accidental late payment can cause your interest rates across the board to skyrocket (something called universal default). Having too many cards can worsen your credit score in and of itself, and that could hurt you in buying a house or possibly even in getting a job later on. Everyone's different, but having one primary credit card and a spare, kept in separate locations, has proven to work out really well for me.

Ask
If something goes awry and you get hit with a fee, you can often get it waived or lowered if you ask nicely. If you're in a financial pickle, most credit card companies would rather get something than nothing. Alternatively, thanks to the free market, which lets you switch to any credit card issuer that thinks you're worthy, credit card companies have plenty of incentives to waive fees and look like good corporate citizens, thus keeping your account.

Free is a very good price
Unless you have a special reason for using fee-based cards (like frequent travel using rewards-based air miles, which are never free as far as I know), no-fee cards trump fee-based cards just about every time.

Reward me!
For me, credit cards are all about the rewards. I get free cash on one card and free coffee on the other. I never carry a balance and my spending habits are no different with a credit card, so what's not to like?

That's just a short, off the top of the head brain dump about making credit work for you. Credit card companies call people like this deadbeats because they cost the card issuers money with zero return on investment.

Deadbeat.

I think it's got a nice ring to it, don't you?

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Flying just got uglier

I had been procrastinating on buying my next plane ticket out West, but American Airlines' announcement that from now on, checking a single bag will cost $15 spurred me into action. I booked a trip in late September on my usual carrier (not American) and was horrified when I saw the prices: the cost of my procrastination was an extra $130 over what I normally pay at that time of year.

Sweet, fancy Moses! Having elite status on that airline didn't help me out one bit.

I booked right away in hopes of not getting stung quite as badly as I might a couple of weeks from now. The route I fly is normally a direct in both directions, but I couldn't even swing that this time: I did get a direct flight outbound, but I'll be cooling my jets in one of my least favorite airports for a while on the way back. I'm going to need to change my flight habits, and quickly at that. Here's how I see it all going down:

Expect less
I know, I know; riding coach these days is already worse than taking a bus. It's not going to get any better.

Kiss your upgrade goodbye
The cost of fuel is affecting how many flights airlines can run on a daily basis, so expect your flights to be less frequent and closer to maxed out pretty much all of the time. Unless you're an uber-traveler, if anyone's going to get upgraded, it probably won't be you. (It's not going to be me either; even with low-level elite status, I almost never get upgraded.)

Plan ahead
It's not too early to think about booking in for the winter holidays.

Bring less stuff
American was the first to break the barrier on charging to check a single bag, but I doubt it'll be the last. Even if you can get around the baggage surcharge, you and everyone else will be competing for a limited supply of overhead bin space, so you might want to think about alternatives. Personally, I'm thinking about buying some clothes out West to keep at my mom's house - if she'll let me.

Give your business to one carrier
The nickel and diming has already gone beyond ridiculous. Airlines are now charging extra for aisle seats, pillows, blankets, and more. You may not get upgraded if you earn elite status with your carrier of choice, but you'll eventually rack up miles to use on future flights. In addition, elite status generally means fewer blackout dates for using miles, as well as slightly better economy seats and waiver of most of the stupid little fees I noted above. (Caveat: This could change at any time.)

Be flexible
Your favorite direct routes may soon be increasingly unaffordable. If you can save a few bucks by adding in an extra stop, it helps to at least be open to the idea.

It's here to stay
I haven't heard anything in the mainstream media about airlines looking for fossil fuel alternatives. That doesn't mean that they don't exist, but given the immense cost of building (never mind retrofitting) passenger planes, I think it's unlikely that airline fuel technology has advanced as far as car fuel technology at the moment, or that it will any time soon. I think we're stuck with higher airline prices as the new normal.

I don't know that the skies were ever that friendly, but it seems like they're getting downright hostile. If you have any more ideas for making your airline buck stretch a little farther, I'd like to hear them.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Scraping by in the city

The New York Times had an interesting article in the Metro section about young twenty-somethings starting out in New York, a city that may not devour your soul but doesn't think twice about going after your wallet. The article profiled a number of concessions that young people have made to their lifestyles in order to afford living in New York. Some of the choices they made include:

--Cutting their own hair or coordinating haircuts with visits home
--Rice and beans
--Giving up the blonde look
--Sneaking flasks into bars
--Drinking before going out
--Handouts from well-connected (or well-heeled) friends

On the whole, it doesn't seem too different from how life was when I started out as a broke-ass grad student here in 1993. I spent one year in a graduate student dorm and then rented rooms from older, more settled people who owned their apartments. Usually there was some sort of concession involved, (one major one being roommates who owned a lot of cats and expected me to babysit the furballs when they were on vacation. . . and yes, we are still friends), but I figured it was the price of being a student.

I also did the rice and beans thing to an extreme. I figured out pretty early on that I couldn't afford to eat chicken and fish, so I simply went vegetarian: I went to Little India to buy fifteen-pound bags of Basmati rice for a far lower unit price than smaller quantities cost, supplementing that with whatever fresh vegetables were in season and dried beans that I cooked into fiery chili and froze. This worked for a few years, but I eventually became severely anemic and re-introduced poultry (couldn't afford fish) once or twice a week. I still eat much the same way today.

I cut my own hair for years, too; after that, a skilled friend cut it for me. We'd probably still be doing that if she hadn't had become mom to a little guy; now, I either get my hair cut when I'm out visiting my mom or squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath while Supercuts has its way with me. Coloring it was never a choice I felt I had to make: genetics gave me blonde hair from day one or whatever day it was that I actually started to grow hair, and I've never messed with it despite occasional nicely-said-but-nastily-meant observations that I needed to touch up my roots, like, yesterday. Finally, as far as alcohol goes, with a few minor exceptions that I'm sure would be much more exceptional if I could remember them, I'm not much of a drinker - and certainly not at $8 to $12 a pop.

While people in their 20's seem to be doing many of the things I used to do (still do, in many cases) to get by, I think it's a much harder game now than it was fifteen years ago. According to an article I found, average rent in Manhattan south of 96th Street topped $3300 at the close of 1997. Even more shocking, the cheapest Manhattan studios out there rent for close to $2000 per month, which is $1200 per month higher than I remember the going rate being back in the early to mid 1990's. If the figures from this article are any guide, a Manhattan renter can expect to shell out $21,000 to $39,600 or more per year for an apartment to themselves.

There are two obvious responses to a statement like that: Get roommates or Don't plan on living in Manhattan. For many twenty-somethings, both of those strategies are primary means of coping with the rental market. The rental market in Harlem, points north of Harlem, and the outer boroughs have responded accordingly: Brooklyn may give you a little more bang for the buck than Manhattan, but from what I've read you won't be paying any less. There are still affordable areas of Queens and Washington Heights, but at the rate they're gentrifying, I wouldn't count on that continuing indefinitely. High-rise, luxury condos are springing up all over Harlem, and while affordability isn't extinct, it's a severely endangered species. While it's generally cheaper to live with other people than it is to live alone, pressure on rents as a whole is chipping away at the benefits of shacking up with others (benefits that I see as somewhat meager to begin with, given the quality of life issues that often come up in shared housing).

All in all, I have to commend the young people who figure out how to make it work here in New York. I think you've got it a lot tougher than I ever had it when I was your age, so hats off to you.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

What does middle class mean to you?

Madame X of My Open Wallet has posted a very thought-provoking foray into what defines the middle class and what it means to be part of it. I'd urge you all to scoot on over, give it a read, and drop a comment.

The post reminded me of a question that helped Ronald Reagan win the presidential election in 1980, and it's one I'll pose to you now:

Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Let's hear it.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Middle class homelessness

I just saw an awful article on homelessness reaching into the middle class.

This is one of those situations that both saddens and scares me.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Signs of a faltering economy

I had some errands to run in different parts of Manhattan today. Being that it was a warm and sunny day, I decided to walk about a mile and a half down Broadway to see how the neighborhood had changed since I was there last.

As it turned out, there were plenty of changes. Retail space turns over fairly regularly in much of Manhattan anyway, but what I saw today was both unusual and deeply disturbing. In fifteen years of living in the city, I have never seen as many concurrently empty storefronts as I saw today. Shuttered businesses included card and office supply shops, hair salons, small clothing boutiques, and even one very shi-shi French restaurant I once went to for drinks on a first date with some lawyer guy. A few of the shops showed signs of preparing for new tenants, but the vast majority were blank, gaping holes with no sign of new occupancy.

I think there are a couple of different drivers behind the closures. The faltering economy is certainly one: rampant inflation continues to hit consumers and retailers alike, and its impact on the cost of doing business is making it increasingly hard for retailers with razor-thin margins to survive. The other is the influx of national retail chains like Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Home Depot, and the like.

When I came to New York in 1993, Starbucks didn't exist here. (Being from the West Coast, this was the first thing I told all my friends and family back home.) Neither did many other retail chains, including the two I mentioned above. In the last ten years or so, a great many chains have established enormous market presence in New York, and they've generally been welcomed for a variety of reasons. One case in point is the redevlopment of Harlem: the Harlem business development community has focused on luring national chains in to serve as anchor stores, which foster economic development by making the neighborhood look attractive to other retailers. An attractive retail area tends to draw a greater influx of middle-class residents looking for more affordable housing, which in turn contributes to increasingly safer neighborhoods. The downside, however, is that smaller retailers can't compete. Over time, Manhattan has seen the eventual result: significantly less retail diversity, which some people call the mallification of Manhattan.

Although I do make a point of giving my business to independently owned businesses whenever I can, I haven't been enormously bothered by encroachment from large, national chains. Simply put, my own neighborhood has benefited from the huge economic investment that large retail chains have made in Manhattan: it's a cleaner, safer place than it used to be, and property values have skyrocketed. That's not entirely due to Barnes and Noble and Starbucks moving in, but in my part of Manhattan, they have definitely had a hand in the economic renaissance of the past ten years.

Having said that, I'm also starting to think that it's too much of a good thing. In a ten-block radius, we have at least twelve banks, eight drugstores, and three Starbucks, but the mom-and-pop coffee shops, dry cleaners, and shoe repair stores are rapidly becoming an endangered species. The last of the independent bookstores went under long ago. Although there are Neuhaus and Godiva stores within walking distance, the independent (and far better, in my opinion) chocolate retailer is struggling. What bothers me the most about the increasing homogenization of retail is that I don't think the large, national chains that have moved in will commit to remaining part of the community through thick and thin the way independent retailers do. For the most part, the independent retailers who have closed have done so not so much because profits didn't justify it, but because they simply had no other choice.

When I see large numbers of independent retailers failing the way I did today, it makes me think that if things really start to go downhill in the local economy, large retailers could easily pull up stakes and look for greener pastures.

If that happens, I think this community is in for even more problems than we've seen thus far.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

All about the free

I managed to score a lot of free things recently, and nothing makes me happier than something I didn't have to pay for. Here's some of what I got:

Coffee
Hat tip to One Girl's Quest for this one: I saw on her blog that bloggers are being invited to sign up to try a sample of coffee for free. I signed up and got picked, and I'll be sampling a packet of free coffee they sent me one of these weekends. If you want to get in on the action, here's the link.

Coffee again
Both of my (two) credit cards are reward cards. The reward component of one card got screwed up recently, and the reward provider sent me a pound of Starbucks Espresso Roast in the mail as an apology.

Coffee yet again
The strangest coupon turned up in the newspaper: free drip coffee at Starbucks every Wednesday until the end of May. Whatever. I'll take it.

Books
My well-read neighbors often abandon their books in the hallway after they're done with them, and for some reason I've been the first to land on several collections recently. Titles I got in the past few weeks include:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
The Devil Wears Prada
The Inheritance of Loss
The Time Traveler's Wife
Socrates Against Athens
The Virgin Suicides

In all fairness (and to keep the clutter quotient down), I usually put books back in the hall as soon as I'm done with them. As it turns out, a few of these titles are proving hard to let go.

Magazines
A friend and I do a magazine swap: we each subscribe to one or two publications, and we trade them off to each other as we get through them. I also picked up a load of Economist magazines from my sibling when I was out West.

$100 Gift Card
When I switched phone and internet providers, my new one sent me a $100 gift card to Circuit City.

$40 Digital Converter coupon
Let's see if a converter box works in an apartment with no analog TV reception.

Candleholder
This was a gift from a friend in remembrance of my dad.

Plants
My plants were starting to look a little bedraggled. A friend with a much greener thumb than I have saved some cuttings from her plants until they rooted, and then she had me bring my pots over. She gave me all new dirt and we planted the cuttings. A few of them aren't doing too well, but I'm pleasantly surprised about most of them.

What did you get for free lately?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Obama-rama

I've been a quiet Clinton supporter for these many months, but this weekend I finally decided that I'd rather see the presidency go to Barack Obama.

Let me set the stage for this one: I first became a political cynic when I was at some protest rally or other during the first Gulf War in 1991. I was freezing my ass off but grimly doing my part for peace, and I was truly and genuninely suprised to see the protest movement factionalizing into vegetarians for peace versus meat-eaters for peace, and flag-stompers versus veterans who thought we didn't learn anything from Vietnam. Eventually, I realized that all the bongo drums and tie dye in the world weren't going to make a damned bit of difference, so I packed up my candles and went home.

Ever since my vainglorious attempt to touch the spirit of 1968, I've been convinced that a large proportion of what any politician says is hooey, and I've largely stayed out of political discourse except as an interested observer. After eight years of an administration that's deeply out of touch with the country and is for all intents and purposes asleep at the switch, however, this election counts an awful lot for all of us. The things that convinced me to support Barack Obama as a candidate go like this:

Obama has consistently opposed using force in Iraq
Talk is cheap when you don't show up for the vote, but it rings a little bit truer in light of the fact that Clinton cast her Senate vote in favor of war. Obama doesn't need to weasel around on this issue: given the political climate in 2002 (overwhelming support to authorize force in the Senate; strong support in the House), standing against the resolution was prescient.

Obama opposes suspending the gas tax
Clinton's proposal to suspend the gas tax over the summer was ludicrous. Does anyone really think that oil companies will absorb the extra hit without passing the cost right back over to consumers in the form of higher prices? Even if they were magnanimous to pay the extra costs out of pocket, is cushioning the American public's ability to consume fossil fuels at an artificially low price a smart thing to do? If we're serious about finding fossil fuel alternatives, the last thing we should do is subsidize gasoline consumption. Reducing pain at the pump reduces the urgency of finding alternatives.

Finally, while individual consumers would each spend a few less dollars with the suspension of the gas tax (until gas prices went up to absorb the extra cost to suppliers), less money would be available to maintain the road system. The bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007 highlighted a broad network of structural integrity problems in national road infrastructure. How is a gas tax holiday going to help fix those problems?

Easy. It isn't.

Obama plans to raise taxes on the wealthy
I can't remember who the interviewer was (maybe Brian Williams?), but last week I saw Obama put it right out there on television: households making $100,000 or less are middle class, and these are the people who should be taxed less. Obama proposes to achieve tax relief for the middle class by eliminating Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.

But wait. . . won't you pay more tax under Obama's plan, f.z.?

Maybe a little. It would be worth it if CEO's ended up paying a whole lot more than they do today, though.

Mind you, I don't believe everything Obama says. Most political posturing is exactly that, posturing; I don't think Obama's any exception. Nevertheless, I think Barack Obama is more in touch with the big picture than Hillary Clinton is, and I think he's got a decent chance of being elected and a better chance of healing the nation than any of his opponents.

Speak softly and carry a big shovel: Barack Obama for President.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to lose readers and alienate people

Yowza. A rather large percentage of subscribers dropped off the map after I posted about spending what I think is quite a lot of money on vacation on things like clothes, bedding, and dental work.

I haven't departed from my frugal roots, folks. Far from it. Every cent of this spending was planned and I saved for it up front before I came out here. I threw it on a credit card to get the rewards, but I have more than enough cash to pay off the balance, same as I do every month.

Let's look at some of the reasons why I blew a bunch of money. First of all, I spent a lot of money on clothes. One thing I bought was a pair of track pants. Why track pants? Well, I run. I run in winter. When it's really cold, I double-layer tights. This works when I'm not doing races, but track pants are a whole heck of a lot easier to subtract and add before and after races without mooning anyone. (If you stow your baggage near me, you probably appreciate this.) At 26% of the $75 retail price, I called it a justifiable but certainly not a necessary expense.

I also bought two suits, a skirt, and a whole load of nylons. Could I have gotten cheaper work clothes? Probably, but I got pretty good bang for the buck, as it turns out. Prices at Meier and Frank Macy's dropped today and I got a 9% overall price adjustment, which means $28 and change back in my pocket. One suit worked out to 46% of the original retail price, and the other came out to a shocking 17.5% of the original retail price (which I misstated as $240; it was actually $280). I'll be wearing these things plus the five new work shirts for the next five years or more, so it helps if I like them and they look good. Did I need to buy work clothes in the first place? If my SO who never notices women's clothes felt the need to point out that I was starting to look noticeably casual in an increasingly formal environment, I think I probably did.

Finally, I bought a load of bedding. Why now? Why did it have to be expensive stuff from Crate and Barrel? Well, I paid 61% to 64% of retail and didn't pay any New York State sales tax. If my last two sets of bedding are any guide, I'll be looking at this stuff for the next eight years. Like the clothes decision, it helps if I like it. I also made a point of buying cheaper sheets at Target. What I paid for two sets of sheets at Target would just about cover one set of sheets at Crate and Barrel, and I'm not losing any sleep over that.

Overall, frugality isn't about spending as little money as possible. It's about living below one's means and buying consciously. The way I look at frugality, it also includes finding the right balances between price and quality, utility and aesthetics. I spent what I consider some serious coin over the past week, but I planned it ahead of time and spent according to my values, and my purchases met the balance standards that matter to me. Unless things turn incredibly sour at work in the next six months, I'm still paying off my mortgage sooner than you might think.

What does frugality mean to you? What decisions matter for you in buying according to your values?

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spending the federal rebate I'm not going to get

I knew this vacation was going to be expensive, but boy howdy! I've spent a shocking amount of money in less than a week. Here's how it all breaks out so far:

Where I spent itWhat I spentWhat I spent it on
Costco$28.41Five pounds of almonds ($17.98) and the big box of 100 tampons ($10.49)
Crate and Barrel$214.80Two duvet covers ($79.95 and $89.95, reduced from $129.00 and $139.00) and two sets of pillowcases ($24.95 and $19.95, reduced from $32.95 and $29.95)
Target$179.82Five work shirts ($17.99 a pop), two sets of sheets ($37.49 each, reduced from $49.99 each), moisturizer ($8.90), mascara ($5.99)
Adidas outlet$19.98Track pants
Meier & Frank Macy's$303.47Two Tahari suits ($71.99, reduced from $240.00 and $161.99, reduced from $340.00) and a shockingly overpriced Jones New York skirt ($69.49, reduced from $109.00)
Rite Aid$19.96Eleven pairs of nylons and ten pairs of knee highs
Dentist$180Cleaning and checkup


Total cost of everything: $948.44.

Here's why I spent that much money on the things I did:

Dentist
This one is pretty self-explanatory: Good dental health is a major contributor to good overall health. Most of this money is going to come back to me, too. Dental insurance covers $80% of the treatment cost, and my flexible spending plan covers the 20% that comes out of my pocket with pretax dollars.

Suits, skirt, nylons, and shirts
Most of my work clothes are five years old or older and badly need to be replaced, down to the nylons that I've mended over and over with hairspray. Besides, even though I work in a business casual environment, our new big, huge, top bosswoman is a suits and pearls type. Nearly all of the senior managers in our location have sharpened up their own appearance; I think it's in my best interest to do the same.

Bedding
My two sets of bedding are nearly eight years old. The fitted sheets on both sets ripped right down the middle some time ago (I swapped in old, non-matching sheets for the time being). Last time I changed them, one of the pillowcases ripped while I was shaking it to get the pillow in place. Crate and Barrel makes really nice-looking bedding but it's not the best quality you're ever going to find, so I waited until the two I liked (here and here) went on sale, and then I bought two sets of higher thread count sheets at Target to supplement the Crate and Barrel duvet covers and pillowcases.

Costco and Adidas
Great prices on stuff I use regularly. 'Nuff said.

It seems silly to do all that shopping and dental stuff while on vacation, but I planned it that way and saved accordingly. Here's why: 1.) My family dentist from way back is really good and costs half the price of a similar checkup in New York, and 2.) I'm staying in a state where there isn't any sales tax (yay Oregon!). Dental work isn't taxable as far as I know in New York, but everything else I bought would be dinged at 8.25%. Taxes on $766.44 of consumer goods come out to $63.23. For that kind of savings, I don't mind bringing two half-empty bags out West and hauling it all back.

Having said that, even though I spent according to plan (and spent a little less than I had planned), dropping that kind of money on consumer goods still gives me the willies.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Maybe a silver lining

I'm back in the Pacific Northwest for a week. It's a bittersweet one: I booked this ticket using air miles in December with the plan of celebrating Mother's Day and my dad's birthday in one shot. Unfortunately, my dad didn't make it that long. We're having a birthday dinner for him anyway.

Did anyone hear about a fire on a jet rolling into the gate in one of the international airports out here? That was my plane. Having said that, I'm not positive that it actually was a fire, but given that the cabin filled up with acrid, grey smoke and the staff hurried us out rather quickly, I'm inclined to think that that's what it was.

A setback on the job front came with something of a silver lining: the internal job I applied for is going to be offered to someone else. Note that I said is going to be offered: For some reason, the director of the group I applied for decided that after deciding between the two final candidates, the appropriate thing to do would be to tell the candidate who wasn't selected (that would be me) of the decision. . . before making an offer to the selected candidate.

This could turn out to be interesting if the other candidate doesn't accept the offer.

As it happened, when I relayed this back to the bossman, he sighed and said THANK GOD.

While I'm disappointed to have beat out many, many other candidates only to be edged out when it was down to two finalists, the bossman's reaction to the news is a pretty good validation that maybe I'm already where I should be.

In this shaky economy, that's not a bad thing to hear.

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