Non-vacation to Florida booked

I’m not a fan of the heat. I’m not a fan of Florida. But since I got myself banned from that massage school in New Jersey, I had to look elsewhere for training in myofascial release and structural integration. It’s not the career solution I’m really looking for, but I watched the instructor’s 4-minute YouTube video where he’s working on one of the more problematic areas to fix (piriformis) , and that will do nicely!

I googled a coupon code for the course tuition ($395), but all I found was a 10% off Tweet from 2 months ago which had sadly expired. The seminar hotel is $105 per night for 4 nights…yuck, so I booked La Quinta for $45 per night and it includes a few things the Holiday Inn doesn’t:  in-room fridge & microwave, free breakfast, and high-speed internet. I checked eBates – La Quinta doesn’t participate. Then I hit up RetailMeNot for a coupon code and got 20% off the $56 price tag. I tried the Orbitz Twitter promo code, but it would have cost me $25-$30 more that way, and if I cancelled, there’d be a $25 penalty. Oh, and La Quinta is about a third of a mile from the HI, so I should be able to scuttle over at 8:30am without getting too sweaty-gross.

Not sure if I can shave any off the $300-310 airfare, but I’m pretty content with my $250 savings on the hotel room. Heck, that’s nearly the full price of the plane ticket! And I’ll get to claw back 1% on my credit card reward program and another 1-3% by booking through eBates. O, the joys of eeking $10 out of everything I can…

Already working on my Christmas giving

Last year, after seeing the horrifying prices at Toys R Us, I put together craft kits from dollar store deals to donate to Toys for Tots. This year, I’d like to do something nicer, and I’ve begun the hunt for quality gifts for dirt cheap.

On one of the coupon blogs I follow, they pointed out that a $5 online coupon for Pictureka applied to an item that goes for $6.50-$7, and Target accepts internet printed coupons. I printed two, will have my mom print two, and will hit up Target in a couple of weeks. That’s a quality gift for super-cheap.

I love the Clearance Table at Staples – you never know what you’re going to find for a dollar. In April, while snagging my free Earth Week reusable shopping bag with any purchase, I snagged cute bubbly neon green calculators and packets of stickers for 50 cents each.

All the promotions this past spring on those cute-as-hell, full-of-attitude hair products by Got2b mean that I have quite a collection of goodies for teenagers, both boys and girls. I think I “paid” a total of $4 for 10-12 bottles.

I’m also working the clearance cosmetics at CVS and Rite Aid. They often whip through their stock and mark certain lines down 75%. L’Oreal is especially good at putting out $2 coupons, and 75% off a lipstick/eye shadow/mascara that normally goes for $9-10 brings the cost down to bottom-of-your-handbag change. It’s not hard to figure out that teenage girls are delighted with gifts like this (as are the drag-princess boys at the shelter I donate to, but I find that creepy). Feel free to let me know if make-up “expires” – I don’t wear the stuff myself, and my memory of “old make-up” is that it’s related to when you open it.

It’s a sweet week to book flights

I’ve been stalking a few destinations for upcoming trips – Vegas for late July and Aspen in late September. The prices for both destinations have dropped dramatically in the last 24 hours. I’m no long planning to go to Vegas because I want to take a different massage course than the one being held there, but I saw direct flights for my desired dates & times tank 28% from $404 to $289 between 4pm and 10pm yesterday. And half an hour ago, I nabbed the exact flight times I wanted with decent connections for my sister’s wedding for $280 inc taxes — down $100 from yesterday.

I also gave into one of the little money-saving things that a lot of PF and coupon bloggers rave about: eBates. So I got my $5 sign-up bonus plus 1% of my flight purchase, and I’m kicking myself for missing out on 6% back on last week’s order from Vitalicious.

Can I make Gift Certificates work for my little biz?

I have never actively offered gift certificates for several reasons, but I’m starting to revisit my conclusions, which you are welcome to debate, since I’m hardly infallible:

  1. I’ve always thought of gift certificates for personal services as “girl” things, and over 80% of my clientele is male.
  2. I’m a person, not an establishment – when giving a gift, most people want some kind of selection.
  3. The kind of massage you get a gift certificate for is generally perceived as a pampering indulgence, and that’s getting frowned upon these days.
  4. I work from home, which is a setting that some people find strange or uncomfortable – which is not something that will occur to most gift-givers who like this environment. And there’s a significant price differential if I do a housecall.

Now, I have actually sold a couple of gift certificates, though I don’t even mention the option on my website. Both were for two massages. The first was purchased by a woman and her mother in Florida for her sister who lives in NYC. One of them had had Thai massage and wanted to introduce her sister to it as a Hannukah gift. I guess her mother didn’t have any good gift ideas and jumped on the idea. The other was quite a cute situation – I have a regular client in a nearby law office who raves about me to his co-workers and tries to convince them to stop wasting their money at the asian rub-and-tugs. A few of them come to see me when they’re in a lot of pain. One Christmas, two of them came over to buy a gift certificate for a 3rd guy (who had been to see me once or twice), and the recipient came in for his first massage within a week of getting the GC. He said it was the best gift he had gotten in several Christmases.

I’ve also had a few clients lately who have said they wish they could come more often, but they can only afford to indulge a few times a year. I really should have piped up about adding me to their wish list when people ask what they want for birthdays, Christmases, etc. but after giving a good session, I’m just not in sales mode. I need to change that just a tiny bit. I mean, I know massage therapists who get a bit heavy handed about scheduling your next appointment at the end of your current one, but that really wouldn’t work with the last-minute nature of how most of my business happens. Besides, most appointments made more than 24 hours in advance tend to get cancelled.

So, I would love to hear from anyone about their experiences –

  • Getting a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Giving a massage/spa/personal services gift certificate, or
  • Incorporating gift certificates into their own small businesses

And then starts the fun of determining Terms & Conditions…

Ah, the ‘burbs…home to friendly CVSes

Oh boy did I enjoy my drug store games in the suburbs of New Jersey this past weekend. They had almost everything in stock even on the last day of the sale, when coupons gave a bad beep for whatever reason, they knew where to look on the coupon to ascertain its legitimacy and then keyed it in, and not once was I treated like I was trying to commit grand larceny by getting $36 worth of goodies for 16 cents (yes, people, that’s exactly what I did). It brought back fond memories of my drug store sweep through Astoria, Queens two weeks ago, where everything went so smoothly that I became nostalgic about how good I had it back when I lived there.

It was also the Land of Double Coupons and sick sales – I had fun with the flamboyant cashier at ShopRite, who gave me a fake hard time about rainchecks at just the moment when the rain started hammering the roof and you couldn’t see out the doors. I walked out of there with 6 boxes of Duncan Hines brownie mix, 10 x 8oz chunks of Great Lakes cheddar and monterrey jack, 2 Knorr pasta sides, 2 bottles of Ken’s marinade, 2 bottles of Wishbone Ranch salad spritzer, 12-pack of Thomas’ English muffins for $18.37 – about half of which is for my own use.

I was pretty happy with my ability to meet more of the things on my “adopted family’s” wishlist. Walgreens in the burbs had Cutter mosquito repellent on sale for $3.59 and I had a $2 coupon. In retrospect, I should have bought more than one, but I’m hoping that CVS will have a good deal on this stuff too – I spend less real money in their system. I also decided to stop playing games by having a third CVS card in my sister’s name and burning her $19 in ECBs. It’s just too hard dealing with all that in Manhattan, and really, it’s just piggy of me. I used some of them on CVS-brand bengay to hold Ayten (the mom) and her arthritis over for a couple of weeks until CVS has their somewhat decent deal on the real Bengay. I also haven’t come across a good deal on soap (bar or liquid, for hands) in a while, but I seem to think one is coming up.  I’d pick up some Safeguard or Ivory at the dollar store, but I’m now a little nervous about them not being “real” and somewhat dangerous in a Chinese baby formula kind of way. I also have a lot of coupons for OTC sleep aids, but haven’t seen any sales. Hurry up, dagnabit, the woman is too stressed to sleep. I gave her a week’s worth of melatonin tablets to see if they work – I’m hopeful because it’s somewhat natural, non-addictive, and cheap cheap cheap. She’s also going to be the beneficiary of the dozens of SoyJoy bars CVS was essentially giving away, along with half the cheese and brownie mixes from my 88-cent raincheck deals. My mother also pitched in a pound of bacon and half a pound of butter that she got for a total of $1.34. She likes to be offhand about it because she’s afraid to care and then find out she’s been deceived. I totally get that – I just happen to feel pretty confident in my ability separate the wheat from the chaff these days (except when it comes to my lovelife, of course).

Speaking of my mom, I can’t figure out if she likes my drugstore games or not. She seems pretty into it when we’re in the stores – I give her tasks, like go hunt down shelf tags and stickers for things that are on 75% discount that I might have coupons for (scored some $10 L’Oreal cosmetics for 48 cents this way), or go pick out something you want for exactly $1 at Walgreens to “fill up” a Register Reward. She certainly didn’t mind walking out of there with free Oreos and Ritz! And she looked adorably suspicious at the new Purex 3-in-1 laundry sheets, insisting that I try them first. 

I also added some new items to the Purple Box for Starfish and the Lime Green Box for Bridezilla:  I found a purple net food-protector to keep flies off stuff in the CVS dollar bins, and chewable SweetTarts in a purple package. B’zilla is getting sour apple Laffy Taffy and round cocktail toothpicks in containers with green caps.

It’s fun shopping for free. And if it’s not free, at least it’s double-couponed into submission!

I need to blog about something brilliant

I was contacted by a reporter from Money magazine regarding a comment I left a month ago on Pants In a Can. Brainy Smurf had blogged about Bank of America slashing his credit limit in half, and I chimed in with:

Oh, Brainy, we have too much in common with our credit cards. We seem to be the first to be hit by any changes. They halved my credit line last month as well, from $24K to $12K. I don’t really have a problem with this – it never should have been $24K in the first place. This is a much better approach to protecting themselves from customer defaults than Citibank’s idiotic rate game.

Since I don’t list an email address on my blog, the journalist contacted me through the comment section on my most recent post – the one about Bridezilla’s wedding costs. I’m glad she didn’t hold that bit of fluff against me! And it also reminded me how micro-PF my blog has been lately. I need to write something really, really smart – and smartass, because I wouldn’t want to be accused of pseudo-intellectualism. Or bore my faithful little gaggle of readers away!

Bridezilla’s Latest Frugal Wedding Ideas

My sister has her first job as an RN lined up (woohoo – exactly the job she wanted, in the hospital she found herself drooling over!), but it doesn’t start for another 6-7 weeks. In other words, she can spend that much time doing what she really ought to be doing: getting the wedding details completely sorted out. When discussing how her costs compare to that of the “average”, I’ll be using CostofWedding statistics from where we grew up in NJ (upper-middle suburbs) rather than Aspen, since their numbers are pretty wacky thanks to its popularity amongst the rich and ridiculous. I mean famous.

CEREMONY & RECEPTION DECOR:  This weekend, she’ll be buying seedlings and half-barrell planters with the intention of growing some of her own flowers for the wedding – not for the bouquets, but for reception decor. It’s an outdoor wedding and she loves wildflowers. Her original plan was to go out and pick them nearby, but realized that might be an unnecessary stress on the Big Day. Smart girl, she’s listening to our mom. Her fiance has a garage workshop with a glass-cutter, and they plan to cut wine bottles and put big white pillar candles in them.
Average cost of flowers for reception & ceremony decor (not including bouquets, corsages, etc):  $1400-$2200
Anticipated grow-your-own costs (seedlings, planters, food, candles, but NOT the wine, hah!):  $300

WEDDING PLANNER:  She’s not really doing the whole Wedding Planner thing, but a friend of our other sister has offered to help with contacts and hopefully some troubleshooting at the event if any is needed. In return, she’s giving the woman some free personal training. She doesn’t really need a whole planner, just someone to keep her on point.
Average cost of a wedding planner for “Getting Started” + “On-the-day Coordination”:  $1800-$3100
Actual cost to bride:  ZILCH – maybe $200 worth of personal training on the barter system

PHOTOGRAPHY:  Neither of them want video, so it’s all about the pictures. Bridezilla is very photogenic, and the groom doesn’t care much about the pictures. She found someone in Denver I think, whose candid shots she just loved. The woman does it as a sideline and is seriously underpricing herself. My sister actually had to say “plus expenses, right?”
Average cost of photography for Rehearsal + Wedding:  $2100-$3500
Actual cost:  $700 + expenses (expecting  $400-ish)

WEDDING DRESS:  She fell in love with a Paloma Blanca gown that retailed for $1700, and then found it on eBay as an unworn bridal salon sample for $500. Apparently 4 months after she tried it on, the designer came out with a new line. We are all under strict orders not to mention the eBay thing.
Average cost of wedding dress:  $1200-2100
Actual cost of her designer gown:  $500 + removal of stupid fabric flower

ENGAGEMENT RING:  She was offered a budget of $10K to buy a ring, and really liked one that was going for about $8K. Then her final semester of nursing school started, and she shoved ring shopping onto the back burner for a few months. That would be the same few months that saw the demise of Lehman and the emergency bailouts of AIG, Citibank, Merrill Lynch, etc. In that time, the price of platinum dropped to be on a par with gold, so her procrastination saved her fiance $2K. According to an investment banker I had on my table recently who likes to put her money in precious metals, my sister’s ring has appreciated 20-30% based on the setting alone. Average cost:  $4400-$7400
Actual cost:  $5900

BAND AT RECEPTION:  She considers this one of the areas worth splurging on, since her fiance loves to dance. He’s not good at it, but that doesn’t stop him. I’m looking forward to spectating upon this – he’s 6’5″. Could be hazardous!
Average cost of reception band:  $1700-2800
Actual cost:  $1500 or $1800, I forget – will update when I find out

CEREMONY & RECEPTION VENUES:  She really really really wanted an outdoor venue for everything, which tends to make things significantly cheaper. They will probably rent a tent, but have not organized that yet. My family used to own a massive two-masted pink-and-white striped beast with matching cooking tent, but alas, it was auctioned off when they sold off the stunning estate my grandfather bought for a song in the 1950s. Sigh. Anyway, in exploring her options, a friend offered up her boyfriend’s Christmas tree farm/ranch an hour outside Aspen. She took our mom to see the place in January, and it got the nod of maternal approval. It’s free, but will involve hiring coach transportation for everyone because (a) parking is minimal, and (b) the ranch owner wants a commitment to absolutely no chance of drunk-driving.
Average cost of ceremony + reception venues:  $5900-$9800 (are you kidding me??)
Actual cost:  ZILCH + tent rental + coach

TABLES & SILVERWARE:  Bridezilla is acknowledging defeat on being able to bring down the cost of renting chairs and dishes, but she’s well-connected with the local restaurant industry, and some of them are closed around the time of the wedding because it’s the Off Season for Aspen. She’s thinking of talking them into letting her use all the silverware and maybe a few of the tables.
Average cost for “Reception Rentals” (tent, tables, chairs, etc): $2800-$4700.
I’ll bet she swings it for less than $1500 not including the tent (we consider that venue-related).

OFFICIATOR:  Since the legal joining of their lives happens in a municipal office with pen and paper, they figure this doesn’t matter. Therefore, they’re having the person who introduced them do the honors.
Average cost of Friend/Family Officiator:  $180-$320
Actual cost: A gift, guessing a $100 value

By my calculations, she has saved about $8300 so far, based on the low end of the average range. And that’s only the beginning – she’s not interested in having a lot of the fanfare involved in most American weddings – no ring bearers/flower girls, groom probably won’t wear a tux, she thinks favors are stupid, and she’s doing a fairly simple invitation with postcards RSVP. It’s interesting to see what she thinks is worth shelling out for and what isn’t – tells you a lot about a couple.

Brand Disloyalty: What I’ve Discovered

Because I don’t give away everything I get for free with coupons, I’ve tried out a lot of new stuff in the past 6 months. Last month I sent comments to a few manufacturers about either liking or disliking their products, but there are more. Now, a lot of these products are frequently on sale with great coupons, so even if you’re not into the whole coupon thing, here’s one MoneyMate’s opinion of what is and isn’t worth clipping the odd coupon coupon and waiting for…

Colgate MaxWhite Toothbrush, medium:  Well, it’s not quite useless, but it takes an awful long time to get the job done. I’ve been using it for 3 weeks and the bristles are all splayed and nasty. So much for replacing your toothbrush every 3 months. Glad it was free.

John Frieda Luxurious Volume shampoo/conditioner:  The only volume product that I’ve noticed a real difference from. Not only that, but my soft, fine hair gets oily pretty fast, and the clean from this shampoo lasts longer than others (Herbal Essences, Aussie, Garnier Fructis, etc). Retails for $6, sale price $5, coupons range $1-3. All the drug stores have had rebate/rewards deals on this for the past 2 months and aren’t letting up.

Mentos Gum:  They’ve been putting out these great $1 coupons all the time, so even if it’s not on sale you can get it for 50 cents. I can’t speak for the minty flavors, but the fruit ones lose their flavor completely in about a minute. What’s the point, yuck. 

Always Infinity pads:  It’s like NASA started developing feminine products. Much better than the mesh thing, which I never liked. P&G has been putting out big coupons, like $4, for the larger size boxes which tend to go on sale for $8-9. Rite Aid and CVS seem to have deals on this stuff every month to bring down the net cost by another buck or two.

Skintimate Shave Gel:  This may very well be true for all shave gels, but this is the only one I’ve tried. I’m now a fan of shave gels – they really do get you a closer shave. I had no idea. And I’m old! I have a dozen or so of them stockpiled from when they were free in March because they released a new can shape or whatever. Yeah, charge more for an ounce less than the old one, brilliant. Tends to go on sale for $1.99.

Schick Quattro for Women:  Unimpressed. The razor system with 2 cartridges retails for $10, goes on sale for $8-9, and the manufacturer puts out high value coupons quite frequently, like for $4. Working the drug store systems, you can get it for a net cost of $1-2. Again, glad it was free – I found the sharpness of the blades unspectacular.

Vitamin10 Water:  I’m not a big fan of state-of-the-art water products, I think they’re a joke. However, the manufacturer put out $1 coupons and then everyone had them on sale for $1. I tried the lemonade-like one. LOVED IT. Lots of flavor, 10 calories, no aftertaste, very refreshing. Plus, my teeth don’t like real lemonade but my tastebuds do, so this is an awesome solution.

Softsoap Apricot scrub body wash:  Haven’t seen any mainstream coupons for this, but they’ve been seriously pushing it with in-store coupons and promotions at CVS. Even if you don’t work their ExtraCare Bucks system, you can pick up this $4.99-$5.99 product for about $3 when it’s on sale and the store puts out a $1 coupon. Big bottle, delicious scent, feels distinctly more scrubby and moisturizing than other products.

Crest / Colgate toothpaste:  Seriously, do they have to come out with a new paste product every month?? I feel sorry for retailers, stuck in the middle of shelf space politics (okay, I don’t know if that really exists, but it’s a fun image in my mind). But hey, if it means they’ll always have something on sale and put out coupons that make it pretty much free, I can live with this silliness. And it looks like Aquafresh is trying to get into the fray this month.

4C Light drink mixes:  They put out these coupons where you buy a tube of their mix (7 little containers making 2 quarts), and you get a box of their To Go sticks free. You know, the little things you can dump into your Poland Spring water and shake it up. I was just going to get the iced tea stuff, but that’s actually the least impressive of their flavors. I’m now a huge fan of their Cranberry-Pomegranate one. Can’t really taste the Pomegranate, but the Cranberry is so good that I’d consider making a Lite Cosmopolitan with it. Seriously. Retails for about $5, goes on sale for $3.79-$3.99, then you scoop the other thing for free with the coupon.

Fiber One Honey Clusters cereal:  I’m so impressed with the flavor and texture of this cereal that I’m thinking it might be time to try their other products. I ate their twiggy one once, about 8 years ago, and have avoided their products since. But after snagging a box for 50 cents (on sale for $2, doubled a 75-cent coupon)…sooo glad I gave this line another shot. I’m thinking Toaster Pastries next.

Olay Regenerist moisturizer:  Like way too many mid-priced moisturizers on the market, I found it filmy/gritty. I hated the texture. It didn’t agree with my skin either, so I ditched it after 3 uses. It was a $22 product on sale for $18, $3 coupon and then some ECBs from CVS making it really cheap, but still I complained to P&G, and they send me a free product coupon for another one of their skin care ranges. I’m sticking with Roc, even though the deals aren’t as spectacular. Mom can have the freebie.

Glade’s new Fragrance Collection:  Love two of the cents, Currants & Acai and Earthly Awakenings. Stocked up when they put out $4 coupons and CVS had a sale for $2 off. I give them a big ol’ thumbs-up for having the pungency (in a good way!) of Yankee Candles.

Etiquette Dilemma: Mixing Biz with Non-Biz

I was going to write “mixing business with pleasure”, but given the business I’m in, you might have been expecting something much sleazier than this…

I mentioned that a client of mine offered to optimize my website and web presence for free – she sees it as a hobby of sorts, I suspect because she found it easy to teach herself (a talent I envy no end!). And she has just taken up home cooking as a new hobby, and to my knowledge has yet to fail in her experimentation. So on Monday night, I gave her a massage and we chatted SEO stuff, then she sent me home with leftover beef stew and bean soup. On Wednesday night, she invited me over to join her husband as an extra guinea pig for her cooking (yum!) and then take some initial SEO steps. Then on Friday night, with her husband out of town, we got together for Indian take-out, much yapping, and a little computer stuff. I learned about spiders and keyword tools and how freaking smart the Google geeks are.

She always sends me home with a ton of her leftover cooking. I think she makes, like, 8 servings of any recipe and sends me home with 2-3 meals’ worth. Of several things. More than once. The health value of my food intake is soaring (she’s dieting too) while at the same time, I’m spending peanuts on food. Last night she sent me home with half the leftover rice and sauces from two of the 5 dishes we’d shared. This afternoon I cooked up some chicken breasts from the freezer and shredded them into the sauces. This’ll be good for 3-4 medium-sized meals.

Before I headed over on Friday, she emailed me that she really wanted a massage because her back was acting up after her workout, but she didn’t know how to handle mixing business and pleasure. I had no idea either and said as much. Male clients are so much easier — their motivations are fairly obvious, and except for the one that reads this blog, it’s usually One Thing. So mixing ain’t happening. But this one is a girl, and once again I’m finding myself in a tentative friendship where I get the lion’s share of the benefit. She bought the Indian food, I brought brownies for dessert and also some Dawn dish liquid and Nivea shower gel because (a) she had asked if I knew of any dish soap deals because she was running out, and (b) they don’t keep soap in the bathroom and were almost out of shower gel – a problem for a massage therapist with greasy paws. A couple of hours after dinner, I gave her a 45-50 minute Thai massage. On my way home in a taxi, she called to say “I forgot to pay you!” I appreciated sooo much that she wasn’t making assumptions that it felt comfortable saying, “You weren’t allowed to pay – you bought dinner and you’re doing a huge, HUGE thing for my business.” She and I both engage in work where we are pushed for freebies, so we tend to have pretty stringent “No freebie” policies. The significance of this was not lost on her.

I anticipate similar moments of uncertainty and awkwardness in the near future. Any advice would be welcome – the more creative, the better!

CVS: We’re having it my way, Jose

Earlier this week I emailed CVS customer service about the anti-MMK coupon policy at my local store, the shift manager who wouldn’t give me his name (good thing I caught it before I knew I’d need it), and overall cluelessness about rainchecks. I had previously had a run in with the night manager there, who wasn’t on shift that night, and quoted the internet-printed coupon policy to him. In the end, I used different coupons and said I’d call corporate. He said “go ahead, I don’t care”. I didn’t bother at that time, figured I’d just avoid shopping on his shift. However, Jose was there at the time and, a month later, remembered how he was supposed to treat me based on his boss’s hardass stance. Anyway, I heard back from CVS yesterday and the details have been passed on to the District Manager.

So Mr. “You don’t know my job better than me” Jose is about to find out that when it comes to coupons and rainchecks, indeed I do.

June 12 update:  District Manager called me this morning and wants me to mail him the coupons that were rejected. He stated an overall lack of fondness for people who get $6000 of stuff for $19 (he was citing a specific example), and I warned him that I was one of those people. He’s focusing on this attempted transaction though, which works for me.