Impressed Mom with my savings savvy

I did not do any Black Friday shopping, but I still saved myself $55 and my mom $77. The deets:

The $77 deal
My sister’s wedding dress from Ann Taylor. It’s a $600 dress that got marked down 40% for the weekend. Hm, I guess this counts as a Black Friday deal, but really it’s just when she wanted to buy it – and it was done online. The total with tax and shipping came to $389, but I googled for online coupons and gave a 20% code a shot – it didn’t work when we clicked “apply” after entering the code (92400415, good until 12/31/08 for an additional 20% off), but it kicked in after entering credit card information. So the total for the dress came to $312. Bonus: if my sister changes her mind, return postage is paid by Ann Taylor. In case you didn’t know this, most online bridal gown retailers charge a “restocking fee” of up to 50% of the cost of the dress, so this is a pretty big deal. There’s something to be said for buying a gown from a store that isn’t geared towards wedding garb.

The $55 deal
As a reward for withstanding the agony of 2 hours of travel with a bad stomach bug, I got to hit a suburban CVS – which means 24 pages of weekly circular deals instead of a meager 4. Plus the Thankgiving specials, which include a ton of freebies and 99-cent deals. My mom caught me on my second round at the cashier and threw in $5 worth of Lindt peanut butter truffles (yum! and hard to find in anything smaller than a huge $20 bag), and my total out-of-pocket expense for $60 worth of name-brand toothpaste, facial cleanser, candy, deodorant, cosmetics, lotion, etc. came to a whopping $4.66. I started off with $12 in “Extra Care Bucks”, a $4-off-$20 voucher, and a paltry $3 worth of coupons – and came out with $16.45 in ECBs plus a raincheck for a money-making deal on Bic Soleil razors.

Mom’s Reactions
To the Ann Taylor purchase: She’s picking up the tab for the dress, and spent the rest of the day sporadically high-fiving me whenever the memory tickled her.
To CVS gaming: She was utterly flabbergasted at my haul and ensuing sheaf of ECB coupons. She has a great head for numbers and grasped the CVS system pretty quickly, so she took a card application form and we’ll be going back tomorrow. Knowing full well that she wouldn’t be able to resist the bargains to be had, I brought extra coupons to get her going with some money-makers. I told her that we’d get her started tomorrow with less than $10. At the end of the shopping trip, she will have about $30 worth of stuff and at least $12 in ECBs to use in the future.

Seriously trashed Thanksgiving

…and I don’t mean that in an alcoholic way.

I have been violently ill since 7am. My sublettors, thank god, aren’t due until 8pm, but I doubt I’ll be any better by then. I can hardly stand up and keep it together long enough to wash a few dishes, no less prepare the rest of the apartment (change bedding, set up airbed, stow my crap, vacuum, etc). I’ve got about 30 minutes until I start feeling like hell again…let’s see how much I can get done before I go another losing round with the porcelain titan.

And then there’s the matter of how to get to my mother’s in NJ. She won’t come get me, and even if I puke gracefully into a plastic bag on the train, they’ll toss me off at the next stop if I’m reported. Which I will be, because it’s that bad. I’m toying with the idea of claiming morning sickness in the evening – after all, they wouldn’t eject a pregnant woman, would they? Personally, I think that lie is pretty genious of me. Unethical, sure, but I’m out of options. There are two people who might let me crash at their place, but I just can’t risk passing this bug on – especially not to someone who really is pregnant, and due in 6 weeks.

Let’s not forget I have a fridge full of perishables that need to get dropped off at that homeless teen shelter. Obviously they won’t be getting their string bean casserole for Thanksgiving, but I’m sure it won’t go to waste.

Don’t be stingey with the coupons

Meant to rant about this one earlier this week…

dumpsterdiveI did my usual dumpster-diving and doormat-snatching rounds of my building for the Sunday newspaper coupon inserts and discovered (a) no RedPlum in the New York Times or the New York Post, and (b) SmartSource was not only ridiculously thin, but there were hardly any coupons – it was mostly ads for cheap checks and $99 eyeglasses.

I’m also strangely disappointed that I’ll be missing out on my weekend rounds of the recycling bins because I’m subletting and won’t be around…the P&G Brands circular comes out once a month, and it’s this Sunday. I can usually get my hands on at least 4 copies. Darn.

I had a fun coupon experience at CVS today, bearing in mind that I’m new at all this: $22.50 worth of cosmetics (for my sister), soap and candy for $1.50, and I got another $10 worth of store credit to play with. I discovered to my minor glee that just because the store sale is Buy 1 Get 1 Free doesn’t mean you can’t use a coupon on the free one.

Charitably burning off some stress

greenbeancasseroleI’m trying to ward off stress over my powerlessness to do much about my low levels of business and high levels of rent in a way that doesn’t involve eating my weight in cheesecake. So that odd shelter for homeless teen runaways where I dropped off supplies last week (see details of that visit here)… well, they put “prepared food for Thanksgiving” on their Yahoo group wishlist. I emailed the program manager with a few cooking ideas (my skills are limited), and she requested green bean casserole. So here’s what I’m planning to deliver either tonight or tomorrow, and what it cost me:

Green bean casserole (3 batches, ingredients plus aluminum dishes): $11
2dz eggs + 5 lbs bananas (food pantries aren’t supplying these anymore): $5.55
4 bags of Hall’s cough drops, 3 bars of soap, 8 AA batteries (yay CVS!):  $6.50
Fun-size Hershey’s, 2 x 8-packs: $2.15
Total Thanksgiving Giving to Homeless Youth Services: $25.20

It’s also helping me achieve my daily walking target of 5-7 miles. If I make the delivery tonight, I’ll hit the full 7 miles 🙂

Rent Renewal Rant

I think this is my 5th post in two weeks about my horrific rent, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I got the following response from the lease agent I deal with (unedited):

Please send me documentation supporting the rents being down and vacancy rates up so that I can talk to one of the partners. I do not believe that your statements are true.

Are you aware that electricity and real estate taxes are up significantly?

Here are my problems with supplying the information…

1) The vacancy rate statistic is straight from the evening news. It could take some digging to find it in print/online.

2) My information about the decline in rents comes from a very reputable source – but it also implies that the value of my apartment is significantly higher than I’m paying. I’d rather not draw his attention to this.

3) Oh, and I will take pleasure in reminding him that oil prices are a fraction of what they were a year ago, which no doubt negates the electricity and some of the taxes. Besides, rental values are determined by the market, not the underlying value. Haven’t we learned that lesson repeatedly from the stock exchange??

This could get ugly…

Citibank’s ThankYou campaign is clearly history

cutcreditcardSo the day they get their monster bailout package ok’d, I get a notice from my Citibank MasterCard informing me that my APR on purchases, which is currently 12.99%, will now be Prime + 13.99% with a minimum of 19.99%. And if I screw up and pay the bill a day late, it goes up to 29.99% (thank heavens, since 30% would just be over the top!).

I was kind of waiting for them to kiss me good-bye. I always pay off my balance in full every month, which means the “only” money they make is that 0.5-2% they charge the vendor. And since I get 1% cashback, that pretty much means I’m a pointless customer for them to keep on their miserable books.

My mother is now justifiably worried about the Bank of America Visa of mine that she has debt on. I think it’s a “Prime + 1% on balance transfers until paid off”, so it should be safe…but who knows these days.

Rent Renewal update: Begging wittily for 0%

So I invested some time in researching what’s going with the Manhattan rental market. Unfortunately, I think the October data only covers up to Sept 1 or 15th at best, which is right before the world going financially wonky. I also searched a few sites to see what’s on offer in my area, and for $2200-2300 a month (I was offered $2250) I can get another 100 sq ft for heaven’s sake. And although there are indeed some studios out there asking $2500, which official real estate research says is the current market rate, there are more asking $1900. Generally, the difference is the whole doorman thing, which I sort of need but might sacrifice depending on the individual building’s set-up. Although the safety thing is a big deal, now that the city is so safe, I’m more worried about having people randomly ring my doorbell from the street – e.g. UPS, drunken idiots, news delivery services, etc. – and scare the bejesus out of my clients.

I’ve been putting off the email to my landlord for 10 days now, because the roof over my head isn’t just my home – it’s a huge factor in my livelihood. I’m nervous about losing my clients if I move more than 3 blocks from where I am. I’m worried that no other building will accept my application. I hate negotiating with sharks who are trying to dupe me into paying bribes (ahem, commission + fees + what feels like half a year’s rent in advance) pretending it’s normal. Can’t I just keep writing the same inflated check every month and keep doing what I’m doing? Isn’t everything scary enough as it is?

So this is the email I went with…I have no idea if I struck the tone I intended, but I figure it doesn’t really matter how I come across – either he’s willing to negotiate or he isn’t.

Hi, Friendly Neighborhood Leasing Agent.

I was more than a little surprised when I got this year’s renewal offer. With the citywide vacancy rate up 35% (and climbing), rents down 10-15% (and sinking), and a noticeably high turnover of apartments in this building in the past few months…well, a 7.3% increase isn’t making any sense to me when even a 0% change would qualify as beating the market trend. Since I somewhat doubt that you meant to put a negative sign in front of that $150 figure (though there are quite a few comps in the area at that price), I’m wondering if the “15” in front of the “0” was, perhaps, a typo…?


Oh my, I truly am the Queen of the Run-on Sentence sometimes…and of the Parentheses pretty much all the time. Hopefully I just sound like a gifted grammatical acrobat. Hey, a blogger can dream, can’t she?

It’s expensive being The KTM

Just a quick rundown of what it has cost me so far to have family in town…

$200 – Half of Starfish’s plane ticket (birthday/Christmas gift)
$15 – Starfish’s cab fare from the airport (she shared with a stranger)
$5 – Pizza and coke for Starfish’s dinner
$30 – Lunch at Eatery with Starfish
$50 – Dinner at Wandee Siam with Bridezillerina
$30 – Lunch at La Maison with Bridezillerina
$340 – Dinner for 7 with too many ‘tinis ($160 owed back to me)
$20 – 1.5 cocktails at Therapy (the BiPolar and the Pearanoia)
$3 – Settled sisters’ tab with the hot dog cart guy @ 3am
$7 – Coffees and Cokes to help with their hangovers
$15 – Cab + subway to/from bridal shop

TOTAL:  $715, or $555 if Mom and brother stump up as promised (brother said he’d pick up the drinks tab at dinner, Mom wanted dinner for my cousin and his wife to be on her). To be fair, my brother – aka Six Figures – spent about $720 (other half of plane ticket, bar bill for 3 on Saturday was $200 before tip, dinner drink bill, transportation, dinner in NJ). Mom will be out about $300. Bridezilla is looking at ~$550 including airfare and 3 tops from Ann Taylor, and Starfish’s tab is looking like $100. Believe it or not, that’s as it should be based on our incomes (Starfish is at the end of 4 weeks of unemployment, new job starts in a few days).

All of this to shop for a wedding dress. Add all that up, minus the gift plane ticket (that money would have just been spent on different presents), and Bridezilla could have had a $2060 dress. Let’s not dwell on that too much.

Update:  Mom added tax and tip onto the drink bill when sorting out $$ with my brother, so I’m only out $535 for the weekend. I decided not to add tax and tip because he got stuck with the ‘tini bill for my sisters afterwards. Eh, I’ll make up for it over our Christmas trip.

They call me “The KTM”

I’ve been a bit absent on her over the past couple of days because my family descended upon me – but I return to you with a new “financial” nickname: they call me The KTM. This grew out of a chat they were all having about how, instead of taking money from an ATM for their visit and being charged all those stupid fees, they write me checks and I give them the cash. They also have a fond memory from years ago of going to a restaurant, finding out when the bill came that they only accept cash payment…and they all very slowly turned their beseeching eyes on me.

This conversation took place while they were out shopping and I was working on a client. In the middle of it I texted one of them that the client extended his session so they had to stay out an extra half-hour. Apparently this made them very, very happy because I’d make the cost of our dinner – they could feel less guilty about letting me pick up the tab. I could picture all of their big blue eyes lighting up with glee – The KTM was being stocked up!

I did accidentally mess up the manipulation of my work v. family obligations…I turned down a double session (two fencing friends) on Friday night, 10pm-12am, because I just couldn’t chase my houseguests out of my apartment at that time of night for 2 hours. HAH, what did I know! I dragged Mom home at midnight, just as she was about to commit to drinking the night away in a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen – which the other three promptly did, sticking little brother, aka “Six Figures”, with the tab for 15 x $11 cocktails and calling me from my building lobby at 3am to hit up The KTM for the $3 they owed the nice hot dog vendor on the corner who gave them dogs on short-term credit. (Apparently, in the world of NYC street vendors on 25-degree nights, credit isn’t frozen – only fingers are, heh). In other words, I could have worked on my two clients that night, no problem – but instead, I scheduled them for 4:30pm on Saturday, which did interfere with my ability to join in the afternoon’s shopping expedition. I had warned them all of my schedule the day before, so instead of them being mad, they were apologetic for being a bunch of drunken slugs that morning (and afternoon).

Oh, and we found a back-up dress in case she doesn’t find something better. Apparently it fits with absolute perfection, but she thinks its plainness makes it look more like a nightgown than a wedding gown. We’re hoping she changes her mind – J Crew, midweight silk, $295. What’s not to love!

By the way, KTM is even more clever than you realize…in real life, I go by “Katie” and my surname begins with M…”Katie M”…”KTM”…get it??

Dump Now or Until February 20 Hold Your Peace

For some insane reason (read: Whoopi), I’m a big fan of The View, and they just commented on an article about how you can’t break up with your Significant Other between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day because it’s exceptionally cruel. It made me giggle…I often find myself in an “agony aunt” position with my male clients, and in the last 6 weeks have dispensed exactly this advice to three of them. I don’t think one of them has the wherewithall to do it, but I’m hopeful for the other two. Aside from the obvious misery you save yourself from kissing in the New Year with someone you don’t want to be with, my best argument – which comes across as more light-hearted than mercenary, I swear! – is on a semi-financial level…

Obviously, there’s the money saved on pricey Christmas gifts and the usual Valentine’s flowers-dinner-jewelry/lingerie rigamarole. But it’s not just unspent money – it’s unwasted money. No one wants those things hanging around, reminding them of disappointment and heartbreak. You might as well set fire to your wallet. And you can’t get them a dramatically cheaper gift than you normally do because then we know (well, girls do) and Christmas morning is ruined. As for Valentine’s Day, even the out-of-love fellas don’t like the idea of giving their soon-to-be Insignificant Other pretty lingerie for her to wear for their replacement.

So even if I didn’t convince them to break it off before the holidays, I’m quite sure I got them to rethink their gift-giving strategy. Better to buy that person a day spa package or an “experience” (e.g. ballooning, race car driving, etc) than a Thing they will gaze upon with anger and melancholy. 

All of this also reminded me of an acquaintance in Scotland (I know, I know…just supporting a stereotype here). He would dump his girlfriend a week before her birthday and Christmas, then reunite a week after in order to avoid having to buy her any presents. In a generous moment, I’d label this behavior “viciously frugal”.