Black Friday Fizzle

That’s right, no Doorbusters or Midnight Madness for me and mine this year. Okay, so we’ve never done that sort of thing, but we all say we would for the right deal on something we really really wanted. We started our shopping around lunchtime, and by then the parking lots were normal and so were the crowds. Either everyone was pooped from their 4am start, or Black Friday was a fizzler in the suburbs of New Jersey. I’m leaning towards the latter, because I know what it has been like historically.

My brother and I both needed some minor home furnishings – he wanted maroon sheers for his dining room windows plus matching placemats and a runner, I wanted copper curtains and rug for my revamped studio (ditching the blue and purple color scheme for blue and copper, and maybe green). We both found what we wanted at decent prices, though I pulled a nice one by ordering my rug from Home Depot’s website rather than buying it in the store – free delivery trumps lugging it on the train, the rug was discounted 20% online, there was a $5 online coupon code for Black Friday, and I get 7% back through eBates. So $159 got pared down to $112.50.  And I was delighted with the curtains because the big built-in rings will be much easier to glide along the rod than my current set.

Oh, I also scored a sale on Christmas stockings at the Dollar Tree. Remember how I agreed to put together 15 stockings for HIV/AIDS-affected women? Well, it looks like the Dollar Tree put last year’s cheap stockings on half-price discount, so I got 15 for $7.50. Very happy with that.

I spent Saturday at my aunt’s for whatever you might call a meal that starts at 3pm, and solved a little problem I didn’t realize I had brewing. The chemicals that they spray my apartment with as part of the bedbug treatment, though environmentally friendly and surprisingly natural (e.g. rosemary essential oil), hit me kind of hard. I’m getting my third and final bedbug cryo-blast and pesticide spray on Friday. About an hour or two after the treatment, I’m supposed to open the windows and leave the apartment for at least 30 minutes while the place airs out. It’s not going to air out enough to avoid the nauseous headaches by bedtime, so…I offered my cousin in Brooklyn Heights (the one who gave me the $50 Starbucks gift card for giving his wife a massage last summer) my babysitting services so they could go have a Date Night. My fee would be permission to spend the night on their couch, and they could stay out and pretend like they weren’t parents all night if they want. A win-win situation!

On my way back into the city, I decided to hop into the K-mart by Penn Station to pick up paint since I had the curtains with me…uh, the curtains…uh-oh. Crap. I left them on the overhead luggage rack on the train. The train that, uncharacteristically (meaning I’ve been using NJ Transit for over 20 years and had no idea they ran trains to Connecticut??), was continuing on to New Haven and not sitting idle for 20 minutes while it reloaded. I spat, I cursed, I growled, I texted, then I hopped the subway home and submitted a Lost & Found claim form on the NJ Transit website in case there was some good karma going around.

Fingers crossed.

My Broke Folks are all hurtin’

Funny…the season for giving has begun and my assorted Broke Folks are all getting in touch this week, feeling the pinch of their situation harder than usual. I suspect that they’re in a situation where they can’t give, the pressure of Christmas is looming, and it’s making them feel a bit hopeless and needy.

Yesterday I met up for the second time with a new Broke Folk and her Broke Folk neighbor who is more like a soul-sister. They live in the same building, they work in the same office, they both come from Italian families and have bi-racial daughters – a situation that has gotten them largely cut-off by their families – with ex-husbands in drug rehab or jail or some other deadbeat circumstance. They both were doing okay until 4 months ago, when the company they worked for eliminated all overtime, essentially chopping $900 off their monthly take-home. They are both very open with their daughters about everything from sex to money to racism, and thought it was important for them to see with their own eyes that there really are good people in the world. Apparently, that’s me. Anyway, they both get free turkeys from their employer at Thanksgiving (cool benefit now that supermarkets aren’t giving them away as freely as they used to!), and I supplied a whole bunch of the accompaniments from my Walgreens escapades: Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, canned yams, string beans, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, cake icing (they like cake, not pie), Stove Top stuffing, French’s fried onion rings, butter, eggs, vanilla CoffeeMate, and some other food items unrelated to Thanksgiving. I also threw in some things I wasn’t sure if she’d want, but they turned out to be her favorites: Glade Lasting Impressions plug-in unit and Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber. How funny is that.

My original Broke Folk, Ayten, the Mom-of-2-teens who was my first up-close-and-personal experience with the definition of “Working Poor”, recently requested Christmas decorations. She’s got a house in foreclosure upstate that her ex-husband abandoned without any preparations. A pipe burst last winter and everything that was stored in the basement is all moldy and ruined. In my Great BedBug Clean-Out, I came across a ridiculous number of strung lights as well as things like Frosty candleholders and garland that I just don’t particularly want anymore. I may also have thrown in some cute dough ornaments from the Dollar Tree this weekend when I was picking up half-price Christmas stockings for that charity I promised to do 15 for.

Then, after a couple of months of near-silence (broken cell phone, and her speech impediment makes it necessary to communicate by text), I heard from Mom-of-9 this morning. She wants to meet up this week, but I asked if we could postpone until next week because of Thanksgiving plans. Apparently she’s quite desperate for supplies though, so I’ve agreed to dig out a few bags’ worth. I’m really quite happy about this – it means I’m reducing the amount of things I’ll have to find room for when I put my apartment back together. Update: she’s also desperate for cat food. She took in a few cats that were abandoned by her neighbor – 3 “lazy” ones and 1 “maine coon bully” who fixed a rat problem brought on by construction next door. Apparently it’s favorite thing to do was to hang out under the baby’s crib and attack any rats that tried to get to it. That cat should be best friend’s with my sister’s cat (saved her from a fire). So I promised Mom-of-9 a dozen or so of the free Fancy Feast appetizers I got for my sister’s cat, and she was shocked at getting some “high class cat food”. God that made me belly-laugh.

Unofficial Shelter Lady emailed me a few days ago asking if I knew anyone in need of a cleaning lady, dog-walker, etc. because things are getting desperate at her place. I suspect her husband’s unemployment benefits are about a month away from running out. I offered to post a flyer in my laundry room, but I think she was really hoping I’d hire her for something… even though I could probably use a better cleaner than I have, I just don’t want to change the relationship I have with her.

And then yesterday, I heard from one of my care package people who normally gets in touch about once a month or so for toiletries. She’s 20, lives with her mom, her boyfriend and his mom are also broke… this time she was asking for any food I had on the go as well, because they’re all having a tough month.

So I’m shopping my butt off this week, working cracker and cold medicine deals at Walgreens and using up my BOGO eggs coupons to give them all quality protein. I think I’ll give thanks this year that my worst problem in 2009 was an extremely minor bedbug infestation.

I’m hoping to put up a post later today with coupon links for all my helpers to print/clip so I can keep my Broke Folks stocked up with a few useful things.

The Cost of Bedbuggery

Last week, my building brought Champ, a cute little sniffer dog, around my apartment. Someone in an apartment along my line about 5 floors down had a serious case of bedbugs, and it so turns out that my apartment was the furthest one to have any evidence of them. No, I haven’t been bitten, nothing is visible even to the professionals with their little mag lights, but the dog is trained to tap at the scent of live bugs or live eggs. And tap he did. Damn you, Champ the Bedbug Sniffer Pro.

They sprayed an organic barrier around my apartment perimeter and my bed – if a bug attempts to cross that line in the next 2 weeks, it will die. I’ve been sleeping on the couch for over a week because Champ didn’t tap it.

The really fun parts begins Friday, when they exterminate – which involves flash-freeze spraying my furniture. I have to pack all my things in plastic by then, and it’s actually worse than moving because I have to wipe every little thing with alcohol first. It took me 3 hours just to do my bathroom. I thought it would take under an hour. Oh boy.

So far this whole adventure has cost me $32 for 6 plastic storage tubs and 3 rolls of saran wrap. And about $680 for nice new Serta Perfect Sleeper Plush (would have been a lot more, but Macy’s got a sale on mattress sets at the moment, and a friend of mine has access to a Macy’s employee charge card, which gets me 20% off). I’ll be throwing out my current bed, a rug, a hassock and a cheap bookcase that just won’t survive another jiggle. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do about replacing those last few things. I’ve got a few weeks to figure it out because I’ll be living a plastic-wrapped life for the next few months.

Okay, so I’m going to cheat and only live in plastic for a few weeks. They come back in 2 weeks for a second freeze-blast in case they missed any eggs, and then we’re supposed to keep things wrapped up for 3 months in case a third treatment is necessary. The plastic isn’t part of the treatment – we’re just keeping it that way so we don’t have to do it again in the event of  a 3rd round. Well, I reckon that, as the furthest the bugs got, I’ve got the tiniest problem. I seriously doubt that I’d be a candidate for #3, so the plastic is coming off after that second treatment in 2 weeks.

Other expenses incurred…well, my mother is coming in to help me on Thursday because, well, she’s a really good mom…so her train ticket plus take-out lunch and dinner. Then I’ll be spending Friday and hopefully Saturday night with her in NJ because the couch will be wrapped in plastic and the new bed doesn’t arrive until Sunday; that’s another $20 train ticket. If Macy’s calls me with an early delivery time for Sunday though, I’m sleeping on my parquet floor. Tomorrow morning I’m hitting up Walgreens for their sale on packing tape – excellent timing. Oh, and this whole thing has had me guzzling Arizona Big Cans of iced tea like it’s…it’s uh…Arizona iced tea. I’m about $7 into this new habit in 5 days. You do know those cans are nearly 24oz, right?

And the condo management company is picking up the extermination tab – as they should, but still, I’m glad I didn’t have to argue that. So pardon the dry writing tonight – I’ve been sleeping on the couch for a week averaging 5-6 hours of sleep each night, and 2.5 hours of massage and 5 hours of packing and lifting is taking a toll. Sunday was worse…10 hours of cleaning followed by an 11pm outcall. Yeesh.

Citibank is up to MORE shenanigans

Last week I got a notification that the interest rate on my credit card was about to change to 23.99% unless I did a balance transfer of no less than $3000 by December 10th, triggering that 3% fee ($90). Then I’d qualify for a 9.99% rate for a year on all balances before reverting to 23.99% – on all balances, including any portion of the transfer I failed to pay off in that time. In other words, 9.99% is some kind of introductory offer but for an existing customer with a FICO score over 800. What an unbelievable load of CRAP.

I don’t really care what they do with the rate because I pay it off in full every month and only failed to do so once in the last 5 years, which is when I discovered that you pay interest on the entire month’s balance $1800) and not just the portion you didn’t pay off ($300).  Never again. Anyway, if this is what I have to put up with to keep from paying an annual fee, fine. But as soon as my mom finishes paying off her balance on my Bank of America Visa, I may reclaim that card for daily use – it’s my oldest, and Bank of America has, to the best of my knowledge, not put the screws to their customers in the nasty ways that Chase and Citibank have. My card is still at an awesome interest rate of Prime + 1% on the transferred balance, and I just checked the purchase rate – 7.9%. I was really surprised they hadn’t messed with that, given what the other troubled banks have been pulling on their customers.

So I just dropped Bank of America customer service a thank-you note for not following in the mercenary footsteps of Chase and Citibank just because they could. I’m not really aware of anything they’ve done except cutting people’s credit limits, but I gave them props in my email for doing that – it was a mutually beneficial move and had a minimal effect on the customers they did that to.

The Value of Christmas Drives “For the Troops”?

On Wednesday, my mother emailed me a notice from the International Club at the high school where she works, about a “Home for the Holidays” stocking stuffer drive for our troops overseas. Like my best friend who put me in touch with an organization that puts together stockings for their impoverished clientele, my mother is very aware of the kinds of things I can get for free. She also knows that I enjoy a little challenge.

Well, I opened the file and here’s the list:

  • Hot chocolate packets
  • Oatmeal packets
  • Cup noodles, e.g. ramen
  • Breakfast bars
  • Protein bars
  • Pringles in cans
  • Soup cups w/ flip lids
  • Twinkies
  • Twizzlers
  • M&Ms
  • Candy canes
  • GUM!!
  • Flavor packets to add to water

Okay, so it’s easy enough to figure out that the focus is on edible stuffers, and some of them are definitely treats. But ramen cups and granola bars? Really? Is this what the men and women in the cold mountains and deserts of the Middle East are craving? I assume they’re working from a list somewhere of things they actually want that can easily be shipped. I mean, I know that M&Ms are the only chocolate that can be safely sent because the candy shell prevents it from melting into a puddle.

I haven’t really gotten into the assorted “care packages for the troops” efforts because I don’t really understand them. Okay, so I sort of understood the campaign to send female underwear, simply because I’ve been in that position – I’m convinced no one makes underwear the way we do (or, more accurately, the way we tell the sweatshops in Guatemala to). But really, don’t these women have families to send them undies? And the same goes for all the other stuff I see in these lists. So I got the feeling that these support-our-troops campaigns were mostly just a way to assuage our guilt for being ensconced safely on our couches in our snuggies cuddling a collection of remotes.

Anyway, I’m having my mother check out how much wiggle room there is in this list because it’s so specific. Like, I can get an enormous bag of Skittles treat packs or Charms blow pops for 50% off now that Halloween is over – but it’s not Twizzlers and it’s not M&Ms. Is it still okay? It should be, right? Because, well, guess who has way too many dumb little $1 and $2 Register Rewards from Walgreens and is a little worried about losing track of them, both physically as well as in terms of expiration date? This seems like a nice use for them. And I won’t have to shell out $10 on postage, which is usually involved in most other for-the-troops activities. I really must try to find a way to coupon away postage…

How a Delinquent Loan Saved Me Money

The sister formerly known as Bridezilla (who turned out to be anything but) borrowed $7000 from me in early 2006 to buy a good second-hand 4WD car to get her to and from college in the Rockies. She swore she’d pay me back within a year, I knew that wouldn’t happen. She did manage to pay me back $1000, and I was happy to defer repayment until she got her first nursing job. She started in early August, got married in September, and I just got my first repayment check for $300. It came folded in a notecard that said, “Thank you for believing in me.”

She has apologized on and off over the years about not fulfilling her promise to pay me back, letting me know she hadn’t forgotten. Well, last year I thanked her profusely for not repaying me on time, because I’d have most likely had the money in the stock market and lost more than half of it. Given my complete lack of luck with long-term choices, I wouldn’t have recovered much in this uptick. So thank you, Newlywedzilla, for preserving my capital!