A new laptop for MMK

A few months ago, I posted a list of a bunch of things I either wanted or needed to buy in the near future. This afternoon, I bought one: a laptop. My current one is fast approaching its 3rd birthday and it’s starting to behave like the last one did before it bit the dust – hot all time, whirring loudly like it’s straining, freezing up more times in a day than I can count. I got a “4-hour sale” email from Dell, logged in through my mom’s United Airlines mall arrangement so she’d get the last few miles she needs for a free ticket (yay!), and bagged a machine with about 12x the RAM (or whatever the hell it’s called now – DDR? memory?) of my current machine for $600 ($529 + shipping + tax, yuck). None of the online coupon codes I googled worked…oh well.

So my current laptop will go into genteel retirement, to be used when I travel or when the new one acts up. There’s just no way I was going to wait until it completely burnt up because it would have too big an impact on my business and add way too much stress to my life until the new one arrived – and I’d be over a barrel about expedited shipping fees and taking a pre-built machine that probably has more crap on it than I want, therefore costing more. Not to mention all the time and money spent hopping in and out of the local Tasty-D-Lite for internet access.

Job Fair: The 2009 version of the bread line

I’d say I live within spitting distance of the Sheraton, except that every attempt I’ve ever made to spit always resulted in a messy dribble. I had a client at noon today who had to battle through a thousand well-dressed people looped around the Sheraton on this bitter cold, windy day waiting for admission to a “Women for Hire” event, which is allowing men for the first time as a concession to the overall unemployment pain. I’ll try to refrain from cracking jokes about renaming the event. Anyway, it’s almost as impossible to move in my neighborhood today as it is on New Year’s Eve or when Clinton hosts his annual humanitarian/charity pow-wow there. It’s an even more depressing sight than my portfolio statement.

Self-employed and Semi-laid off

Yeah, business is not exactly booming. When companies lay off their employees, their employees in turn lay me off (um…is it just me, or does that turn of phrase sound oddly perverted?).  My income has taken a ~30% hit, which means there’s not a lot of wiggle room in my budget. Of course, things will be improving in the expense column over the next few months as I switch insurance associations and move a block or two down the road…we’re talking a $200-$500/month savings. That’s really not easy to do in this city or even this state, and it means I’ll be able to keep up contributions to my Roth IRA or, worst case scenario, take a bigger hit on my income.

Let me ponder aloud…or at least, let me ramble on the ol’ keyboard here…

I keep going back and forth over the idea of learning Rolf Structural Integration. I can’t get the school in NJ to return my calls or emails, but there are programs going on according to the Rolfer I exchanged services with last week (he teaches it). I’m also tempted by a March 15 start date at one of the big schools in Boulder, but the location, schedule and price tag are very off-putting. I’m 90% sure it would be worth the money and worth a student loan (which, knowing myself pretty well, I’d pay off in a year), but dealing with my living situation is another story. Not only would I have another 7 week session looming over me, but I’d be looking for a June 1 lease on a small apartment – like every recent college grad out there. Even in a soft rental market like this, it would not be fortuitous timing. I’d also want the Institute to waive the 3-month mandatory “gap” between the 2nd and 3rd training segments because the next two sets of dates coincide with my busiest periods. There would, instead, be a 5-6 week gap, during which I can either take my much-desired trip to Africa (though I doubt it, because of the $$), or I might be able to sublet a friendly client’s spare apartment if it’s available and at least self-sustain (two massages for him on average plus I have at least one guy who will see me every week no matter where I am in the city…there’s half the rent/utilities/health insurance right there). Of course, all of this is probably moot because I’m pretty sure the registration deadline for March 15 is long past. Really, I just want the school in NJ to freaking call me back and tell me that the program is still active and give me the next starting date!

The sooner I can transition from eeking out a living doing regular massage stuff to turning away clients because I’m booked to the max at a 50% higher rate, the better. I really want to un-lay myself off (again, that sounds a bit pervy).

Saturday Night Linguistic Rant

I think the term “Recession” was coined in the 80s to avoid its sound-alike D-word. Now there’s an aversion to the R word and we’ve been given “economic downturn”. What an understatement! That makes it sound like a fiscal frown instead of the manic money panic it really is. I say “Down With Downturn!”

And while we’re at it, could we also ditch “put yourself out there”? I’m tired of people telling me it’s my fault I’m single because I don’t “put myself out there” – gee, thanks for the trite, unsolicited women’s magazine advice. I wasn’t bemoaning my status, and I’m especially appreciative that I don’t have any children – it’s hard enough worrying about my own survival during this Manic Money Panic, but for those who have more than just themselves to take care of…yowza.

Update: Venus blades

I got an email from P&G customer service today assuring me that this issue would be raised with the team and I will receive compensation by mail in 2-3 weeks. Not sure if that means a check or coupons for free replacements, I’ll keep you posted. Either way, as an 7-year user of this product, I’m very glad I spoke up.

And a little note about last night’s Rite Aid experience…the cashiers were still clueless, but the manager knew, well, too much. The fine print is illegible on the print-out coupon, but I checked online where it’s clearer: their in-store coupons only apply when the item is not on sale. It would appear that most Rite Aids haven’t picked up on this. Just my luck. I think I’ll have to start frequenting a new Rite Aid anyway, because I’m tired of being looked upon like a criminal for using coupons.

I was in a gambling mood this morning

Complete novice idiot that I am (though I’d like to prove my own self-deprecating assessment wrong!), I decided to pick up 1000 shares of AIG this morning @ 51.7 cents a share.  It’s a gamble I’ve been contemplating for a few months, actually, on the basis that the government has proven that they will not let AIG go under and is pretty heavily invested in its resurrection. I said I’d wait until the Dow hit a scary low number, and today was that day. I’m ambivalent about whether I hold in long- or short-term. My last choice has already bombed out (GE @ $17).

Update: Rite Aid Customer Service

Well, I must say, I’m impressed.

I emailed their customer service late Tuesday night about rejecting their own coupons as “new store policy”, and when I didn’t hear back, I called the 800 number this afternoon (2 minutes later I got a follow-up email to my online complaint…figures). The rep promised that the regional manager would call me within 24 hours. He actually called 2 hours later while I was with a client and left me a detailed voicemail. I contacted his assistant, who obviously called the local store manager immediately because my phone rang 5 minutes later. He apologized for my experience, I expressed understanding that the staff were mystified and therefore suspicious of the coupon, he said he’d make sure they were all aware that these things are legitimate. He asked the name of the cashier who gave me a hard time, but I played dumb – I’m telling you, Gipsys is by far the smartest, most helpful member of their entire cashier/stock staff who now recognizes me on sight with a smile and a wave. She did not lie to me – it was clearly a store politics situation where the manager was looking to save face, so I didn’t give her name and instead mentioned a very unpleasant assistant manager who works Mondays…and whom I intimidated into accepting my coupons with an icy tone and educated vocabulary that was very much at odds with my semi-bedraggled appearance (I always look bedraggled, it’s a choice – it keeps me safe from unwanted male attention…yeah, issues, whatever).

Still, I think I’ll spread the coupon love around two Rite Aids, because I do manage to get a $20 order for less money than I’ll get back in rebates – a convoluted way of saying “for a profit”. I was actually feeling a little guilty about this coupon behavior, given Rite Aid’s dire economic circumstances, but I was watching CNBC earlier and CVS just put in a great quarterly report — and I’d go so far as to say more people work that system than any other. I figured that’s why Rite Aid started putting out $5-off-$20 coupons…because it works so well for CVS.

Uh-oh, I’m turning into one of those pain-in-the-ass coupon crazies, aren’t I. Well, in my defense, it’s not like I’m arguing over 50 cents…my last order involved the rejection of 3 x $5 coupons. That’s not pocket change to most folks.

Have I struck bodywork barter gold?

A few weeks ago, I posted about getting a Rolfing session for my neck/shoulder problem and discovered that this is one market where demand outstrips supply even in this economy. One of the providers I inquired with actually teaches a program in NJ, but I didn’t see him because he wouldn’t answer my “what are your rates” question in an email. I don’t like it when personal service providers (massage therapists, personal trainers, pilates instructors, etc) aren’t up-front about their pricing.

After discovering his affiliation with that training program and seeing that he provided a free session for prospective students (which, honestly, I’m not comfortable taking a $100-$200 freebie from anyone), I contacted him again. He suggested exchanging Thai for Rolfing. This may happen tonight!! He’s located only a 5-minute walk from my apartment, and we’re going to see how my evening work schedule evolves. Needless to say, I’m extremely hopeful that he likes what I do so that this can be repeated because I did have some success from the treatment I had 3 weeks ago. The thing is, it only worked as long as I took ibuprofen all day afterwards, but I could tell it wasn’t just the ibuprofen…when I stopped, the pain increased over the next few days and now ibu barely takes the edge off. I feel like the Rolfing worked and the ibu prolonged/maintained its success. Honest to god, that week after my session was so delighfully pain-free, I want that again! But it’s hard for me to part with another $150 after my worst week of business EVER (yup, that was last week…not entirely unexpected, given the way Valentine’s Day coincided with a holiday weekend).

Time for a couple of Customer Service emails

A few years ago, my best friend picked up a new Venus Divine razor and cartridges, only to find that she hated it. She had a lot of time on her hands back then, so she called the customer service number and asked if they guaranteed her satisfaction or her money back, because she wanted her money back. Gillette sent her a bunch of coupons for her original Venus supplies, like for a free pack of cartridges or something like that. I’d kind of forgotten about that until a couple of weeks ago, when I told her that I suspected Gillette of a conspiracy to phase out the original Venus in favor of its new 5-blade Embrace line. The last pack or two of blade cartridges SUCKED – like the first shave felt like the third or fourth. That pisses me off for such a pricey product, and is one of the reasons why I’ve started picking up other razor deals, like Bic Soleil, when they’re available free through one of my couponic adventures. Anyway, today I dropped their customer service an email complaining about the lapse in quality of their product. I honestly feel that I deserve a pack of replacement blades, because I’d get a better shave from a 20-cent Good News disposable these days than I could get from a $2.25 Venus blade.

Then tonight I went to do a deal with a $5/$20 coupon at Rite Aid, and the only cashier whose knowledge I trust told me that this store no longer accepts them, local management decision. Plus, they’ve been instructed that any of the coupons printed from the Rite Aid website or emails that don’t scan are not to be entered manually – too bad, tough luck (she didn’t say that, but I can picture the shift manager saying it with a sneer). Yeah…those coupons for overpriced storebrand stuff that are designed in color and print out blurrily in black and white. So I dropped Rite Aid an email describing my experience and asking if they were actually allowed to opt out just like that.

And now for the reverse possibility … I’m worried I may have pissed off CVS, though I don’t know if they’ll be able to figure out that it’s me. I was using the self-service kiosk to check out (because they base your total on full-price, which is handy for $/$$ coupons), and the coupon bin was apparently full. I’d scan it and stick it in the slot, and it wouldn’t register as having been deposited. So I got out my unused Rite Aid printed coupon that I wasn’t allowed to use, folded it, and used its stiffness to push down the coupon – and then lost my grip. So at the end of the night, they’re going to open the coupon box and find this non-coupon crap and think that someone just cheated by depositing random scrap paper instead of the coupon. And then if they look too closely at my transaction, they’ll find out that I used a $2-off-$10 of CVS products coupon for non-CVS products (I don’t actually feel bad about that – I guess my ethics are a bit convoluted). You know the next time I scan my Extra Care card anywhere in that store, a siren will sound, a red light will flash, and a big metal portcullis will descend over the door. All of this because I was trying to get my mom’s new card up-and-running with some money-making ECB deals. Maybe I’ll frequent the other CVS in my neighborhood for a while, just in case I’m right about the portcullis…

Rite Aid Cashier: “Is that the best you can do?”

I love shopping in the suburbs…shop staff are less harried, they deal with fewer freakazoids, and they have a lot of experience administering their coupon programs. Here in NYC, the cashiers hand your coupon back if it beeps and tell you “too bad” because most of them just don’t feel like typing in the code. I have to deal with “this is a photocopy and they’re illegal” (accompanied by a matching look of suspicion and contempt) when I hand over a print-out from an email promo directly from the store. Um…no, it’s just a bit pale because the damn thing is in color on the computer and I only have a B&W printer.

But then I went to a Rite Aid where my mom lives in NJ, and put together a $32 order to qualify for the $10-off-$30 deal and ended up paying $7.40 (which I will get back in rebates PLUS a $10 gift card). As I stood there with my cheesy smile, all pleased with myself, Evan the cashier joke-scoffed at me, “Is that the best you can do? I just had a lady who walked off with $140 worth of stuff for $4.” My mom and I were shocked – he was clearly throwing down the gauntlet! So I’ve decided that whenever I visit my mom, I’ll hit that Rite Aid on Saturday late-afternoon to keep getting Evan until he is duly impressed. Plus there’s nothing better than a cashier who WANTS to see you bring that bill down to $0!

And then there’s CVS. Not only are there 4x as many pages in the non-Manhattan circulars, but strangely the BOGO deals don’t ring up both items against your total (they do elsewhere), which is really really useful for getting you to the $30 you need to spend pre-coupons in order to use a $5-off-$30 coupon. I tried to speak to a manager about this at my local Manhattan store, but all I got was a sneer and a very obvious lack of knowledge about their policies and ECB program (not just about the BOGO – I understand that things can be different, but the rest of what he said was nonsensical). And then, at the quiet, well-stocked store near my mom, I get Lisa. I love Lisa. I think she’s really an assistant manager or something, and a total pro at working the deals. She even scanned two of my $5/$30 coupons on my first order because I had two high-value ECBs that were going to mess up my ability to minimize the out-of-pocket expense. I really want to figure out a way to thank Lisa that won’t get her in trouble.

So here’s my haul for the holiday weekend, Friday thru Monday, at CVS and Rite Aid. Value of items are based on sale prices, not shelf – after all, who would pay that anyway?

Cost of items:  $265
Out-of-pocket:  $19.50
Pending RA rebates:  $17
Net change in ECBs:  -$1
Net cost:  $3.50

What I got for the $$ (purple = item kept for me, not donated) at CVS & Rite Aid:

7 Colgate toothpastes (2)
4 Herbal Essence shampoo/conditioner
5 Gillette shampoo/conditioner
4 Theraflu
6 Suave shower gel (1)
4 Stayfree pads, total of 100
1 Carefree liners
1 J&J adhesive bandages
6 Bayer aspirin, 220 tabs total (48 for mom, 24 for me)
1 storebrand version of Zyrtec
2 storebrand version of Pepto Bismol on clearance
2 Garnier Fructis styling products
2 Finesse shampoo/conditioner
2 Nivea lip balm
6 L’Oreal HIP eye shadow & color sticks
5 L’Oreal HIP lip products
1 Always pads, 14ct
1 Excedrin, 100 caps
2 Folgers coffee
5 Wheat Thins, half-box (3)
3 Ritz, half-box
1 Fusion Gamer razor
2 CVS make-up removal pads, 50 total
2 RA aspirin, 500 tabs total
10 Hershey/Reese’s bars (4)
2 Arizona Iced Tea big cans
1 Trident gum (mom)
1 Garnier Nutrisse hair dye (mom)
3.5 Gallons of milk (1/2 gal)

Too many of my posts lately have been about about coupon games, so we will return to regularly scheduled programming for the rest of the week.