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Archive for December, 2006

Have we forgotten basic math?

December 29th, 2006 at 05:44 am

Heard a funny but sad, sad tidbit on NPR this morning. Apparantly, some stores in Great Britain are giving away free "shopping calculators" to shoppers to help expedite their ability to calculate the price of marked down goods. Or could it be that people have forgotten how to do what amounts to simple math???

Anyone- seriously!- can learn to figure out just how much that percent discount will save you. Here's what I do; take the price of the item and scoot that little decimal point one space over to the left. Voila, you've just calculated what 10% of the cost is. Now use that as your basis for the rest of the discounts. If an item is marked down 20%, then double your number. If it is marked down 70%, multiply by 7. Hey, stores make it easy for you by using nice, round numbers.

Oh no, what if it is a 5% discount? No fear, just half your 10% value.

If you really want to be a discounting pro, then figure out what 1% of the price is (hint hint, just scoot the decimal point two places to the left) and you have a base by which to calculate ANY percent-off.

Confounding Refunds

December 28th, 2006 at 06:31 am

Happy holidays! I'm sure everyone is in the midst of vacations and time offs. Me, I am back at work and absorbing the overflow of projects due to the absence of half the team. No rest for the weary.

Anyway, aside from me working, I did read that this week would be yet another shopping frenzy, not only as people cash in their gift cards, but also to return unwanted or excess gifts. A helpful hint to all- keep your receipts!!!! Lots of scams going on from people trying to return stolen merchandise, which unfortunately could make the act of returns a big hassle for some innocent, honest shoppers.

I had to return an item as well, but since I'd purchased it online from amazon.com, it was a matter of mailing back the package. I kept the same box, just peeled off the mailing label or xxx'd it out with black marker. Amazon.com had links where I could print out a UPS or FedEx label, then I just dropped it off at a nearby shipping store. There were some ominous "warnings" on the amazon returns page, stating how they'd deduct shipping costs and assorted fees from the grand total, so in theory I shouldn't be getting my full refund. At the time, I thought, oh well, that's the price I pay for convenience of online shopping.

However, I got an email from amazon.com saying they'd received my item and they were issuing a refund. Somehow, despite them deducting fees of some sort, they added BACK an amount because I'd bought the item under the Free Shipping promotion....I think....I haven't bothered double checking the math but bottom line is, I got my full refund! Maybe I shouldn't probe too deeply and take it and run. Yay, Amazon.com!

Gasoline Station Chicanery?

December 20th, 2006 at 10:16 am

Another thing to watch out for when traveling out-of-state are sneaky tricks at the local gas stations! Beyond the obvious, such as how many of us New Jersians sometimes sit like dunderheads in our cars, waiting for an attendant to come out (note to self: most states require you to self-serve and pump your own gas), different states may have different gas filling protocol. Some might let you pay at the pump, some require you to prepay. And then some try to pull a fast one on you to make you buy more expensive gas:

http://www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com/2006/12/19/158.html

I am referencing this post from "Money, Matter and More Musings" because he has the cold, hard pictoral evidence of gas stations switching up the usual "left to right" order of increasing octane grades typically seen at the pumps. The worst I've seen (and nearly used!!!) was once, the diesel line was the leftmost pump, and it was not only the same color as the rest (usually diesel is green or bright red) but even the sign saying "diesel only" was the same b/w lettering as the other signs. Urgh.

As of now, I believe you still have to physically punch the big "87" or "89" or "91" signs/buttons to get the gas flowing, which should automatically alert you to any potential errors. But if the mixup of ordering L-to-R is part of some ultimate "Fooled ya!" plot, then pretty soon they will do away with the extra push-button step (and thus many impatient people will happily pump away, pleased they are saving some precious seconds of their time, but NOT realizing they are, indeed, pumping away some extra \$\$\$\$).

Travel Tips (really, it's not so bad)

December 19th, 2006 at 12:17 pm

I went on a trip this past weekend. With all the recent security issues on airplanes and in airports, I was a bit worried. However, I think the rules have been well broadcast several times that most people are now fully aware of travel restrictions. I saw very few people subjected to "indignities" such as random searches, and most times it was from them not removing a belt or cell phone.

With that said, just a few tips to get you through the security checkpoint:

-wear easy on/off shoes. By now, if you don't know that you must take off shoes, well this is your final warning. Also, after you retrieve shoes from the other side of the barrier, don't clog the flow of traffic by standing in everyones' way just to put your shoes back on. Go forward a mere couple of feet and there are usually lots of chairs (as well as more space) to sit and put shoes on at your own leisure

-The carry-on bag. I've noticed people really pay attention to this now, no more person lugging a gigantic suitcase to the gate and then preaching injustice when told the item must be checked-in. Everyone on my flight had a 22" or less size suitcase. As to items that can be stored in carry-on's, they now include nail clippers and disposable razors. However, given how fancy-schmancy some disposable razors can be, it's probably safer to limit yourself to the no-frills Bic blades that came in the multipack. In fact, it's a good bet to assume that anything can (and will) be thrown out if it doesn't pass inspection. NO KNIVES (except for round-tip plastic butter knife) ALLOWED. I saw a very nice Swiss Army knife get confiscated (froma very nice, distraught lady). Rules are rules.

-Liquids. Yes, you have to pack all liquids in a 3oz or less (don't worry, standard travel sizes are 1oz and that's plenty for one weekend) bottle. That does not mean you can pour out most of a full-size bottle and leave just a little bit at the bottom. That also does not mean you can bring a half-used rolled up tube of toothpaste. I saw one couple in shock as security threw out those exact items. Rest assured, most hotels will provide you with complementary toiletries. But again, best not to bring very valuable items in questionable sizes.

All liquids must fit into a gallon-sized clear ziploc bag. I kept mine separate from my suitcase at first, actually, laid it onto the scanner belt, then after it got cleared, put it into my carry-on. Saved some time messing with luggage to start with.

-In terms of luggage, to save yourself potential embarassment, pack your undies at the bottom of the suitcase =) Just in case you do get called for inspection, your tighty whities probably shouldn't be the first sight to greet the inspector's probing eyes upon opening your suitcase.

-As extra precaution, I also packed all my jewelry and potential metal objects into a bag and put that bag through the scanner before putting into my suitcase. Not a rule but I wanted to avoid as much conflict as possible.

-Take laptops out of ALL bags and place on top of the bag. In my early travel days I kept the laptop in the protective sleeve and thus got yelled at by security.

-No food/drink from the outside. You can only bring food and drink onto the plane that has been purchased beyond the security gates (in the airport).

Have a safe and fun journey! Happy holidays!

December 15th, 2006 at 05:59 am

I'm done with my Christmas shopping, and boy did I save the Big One for last. I decided to go ahead and buy my dad a GPS car navigation device. Usually he is satisfied with anything related to golf but this year he has been laying down the heavy hints about how much he wanted a GPS. As in, "You know, a GPS would come in handy with these roads," or "If I had a GPS I wouldn't get lost driving your mom to _______." So I am assured he'll like this gift.

Yes, I did spend \$600 for the GPS. Yikes! I could have gone with a less-expensive version, but I decided to upgrade for several reasons:

- Did my research and chose to stick with Garmin, one of the more reputable brands, based on user reviews
-Chose to purchase a warranty so my parents would have no problems getting a replacement from a brick/mortar store (since electronics have a sneaky way of suddenly going kaputz)
-Wanted a device with text-to-speech feature, a screen that can be read in direct sunlight/low light, and one with volume that adjusts to car speed- safety features that reassure me that my dad won't be fiddling around with adjusting the device instead of focusing on his driving
-Simple interface/user friendly so my not-so-techie mom can figure it out when she plays the role of navigator

Definitely splurged on that, but I am willing to pay that extra \$\$\$ to ensure peace of mind. And worse comes to worse, at least I know I can return it for no extra charges. But I think he will enjoy it (for many years to come, too!)

Free Stuff and a Contest

December 14th, 2006 at 06:14 am

Recent haul of free goodies that came in the mail:

-Dove deoderant
-Luna breakfast bar (which tastes absolutely HORRIBLE- don't buy it!)
-Downy fabric softener
-some feminine products
-Pills for lactose intolerance
-Razors (what happened to them just having simple names? Why must it be like Mach XXXXL or Vibrance GTO? Razors are starting to sound like car models)

And....I won a contest! Sadly, I declined the prize. I somehow won \$300 towards (get this) laser hair removal. This woman from a hair removal clinic called several times to try and schedule me to come into one of the clinics in the city, but I wanted to know prices first. So she asked what hair I wished to remove (tehe) and I picked the smallest area I could think of - eyebrows. Well, after asking her several times (she'd avoid direct answers) not only did I find out that EACH session was about \$300, but I'd have to go in for multiple (4) treatments to get rid of my sparse facial fuzz. So in the end, that \$300 doesn't go towards much. The woman was defiinitely trying to push me, so I nicely told her, Thanks but no thanks. Better for me to let the prize go to someone who wants it!

A New Way to Look at Money

December 13th, 2006 at 05:56 am

To those who commented on my last entry- THANK YOU!!! It is really amazing how much my mind felt at ease after reading your ideas and words. Sometimes it does take one sentence or thought to change your outlook on things.

In short, I feel I've been looking at money the wrong way. As many of you pointed out, "spending" the money on my future house is a form of investing as well. And not to mention, an investment I'm sure to enjoy and have fun improving.

And quite frankly, what exactly is money? Money is really just a means to an end; you save money towards some goal and then you spend it. That's all it really is. Not to get all philosophical, but if I ignore my own values and needs, I'll start to see money as something to amass and collect, rather than to put to use (in a good way).

To illustrate the need to be able to see money "as it is", in a recent episode of "Survivor" the contestants were given \$500 each to spend at an Island Auction. Money? On a deserted island? You can already see the irony. One of the contestants, Jonathan, realized the money for what it was "worth" in that context- playing chips, nothing more. He therefore bid rather freely and ended up with some good eats and beer. In the real world, spending what he did for a pizza and beer would seem ridiculous, but in that gameshow situation, it was well worth the price. What else could you do with that money, bribe the ocean to spit out some fish for you? Another item up for auction was a mystery item that "would give you power in this game." One contestant, Yul, instantly recognized the worth of that word, "power" and thus encouraged his teammate to bid away for that item. When the teammate ran out of money, he lent her some of his. I was rather surprised that no one else seemed willing to use their cash. And why were they hoarding? I suspect many still thought of money as \$\$\$\$ and wanted to save as much as they could.....but again, when you're stuck on an island in the Survivor situation, what good will money do for you?

Scared to Spend Savings!

December 12th, 2006 at 08:15 am

I took a real look at my savings and investments and was plesantly surprised! I'm not a millionaire by any means but I do like the idea that, if I really wanted to, I could go into a decent car dealership and pay for it with cash, in full. Not that I'm looking to abandom my dear Toyota that gives me 30mpg =)

Anyway, I've been putting much thought into purchasing a house, or a townhouse, next summer. I am very frustrated with apartment living. I've done the math and found that, indeed, costwise what I'm paying in rent could be much better spent towards paying off a mortgage for a REAL house.

All said and done, even if I don't touch my retirement savings (I only just started a 401K and roth IRA), I can definitely put down a 20-30% downpayment towards house in the \$200-300K range. Yet....I can't believe this, but after all these years of saving, I am scared- yes, scared!- of tapping into my savings funds. Why? Aren't savings meant to be used eventually? Am I having First Homebuying Panic? It sounds so silly, but I really have to readjust myself to spending money!

Cash in my Wallet = Danger

December 11th, 2006 at 06:31 pm

Unlike many people, I end up spending even more money if I pay for things using cash than if I use credit card. This odd phenomenom started during the two years I worked in NYC. There's always delicious street vendor foods or some deli/coffee shop along each block- multiple chances to duck in and grab a little something something. Now, if I yank out my purse and realize all Ihave are credit cards, I pretty much can't buy those tempting goodies, since those stores tend to have a minimum amount for credit card transactions (and street vendors don't take cc's). But if I have the cash....off it goes towards buying the random snack and coffee, and before I know it, the cash is all gone.

Even now, when I"m not working in New York, I will use my credit card to purchase groceries, but then I'll end up brownbagging lunch and/or cooking most days of the week. If I don't use the credit card, then I'll tend to shy away from making "large" purchases (each grocery trip is about \$30-40) with cash at the grocery store and instead buy lunch every day (minimum of \$5/meal) and also stop off at some restaurant/take out place on the way home from work every night and purchase a bunch of food (minimum of \$10/dinner). So that means about \$75+ worth of meals if I don't do the grocery shopping but keep cash in my wallet. But that's just my mentality.

Best Time to Exercise- part 2

December 8th, 2006 at 06:12 am

Ok, my fingers are cold so I'll type to try and warm them up.
Question: When is the best time of day to exercise?

Noon(ish)-
The sun is out (usually), the temperatures are warmer, and your muscles, as fueled by breakfast (you did eat one, didn't you?), are finally warmed up and ready. So what's stopping you from doing your exercise routine during your lunch break? The most obvious is the "sweat factor" especially when your workplace has no shower facilities. Well, I wouldn't recommend doing a strenuous workout if you are meeting with high-level clients at 1 or something, but it definitely is possible to workout during lunch and still look presentable afterwards, sans shower. A towel is a big help. The other key are baby wipes/wet wipes. Now, they do tend to smell like powder or flowers so I'm not sure what if that's exactly right for you manly men. But in a pinch, a towel and some water works just fine.

The biggest problem I've encountered with running during lunch is the time restraint. I feel like taking the entire hour is sort of pushing it, since it tends to be workworkwork at my office most of the time. Coworkers have expressed much surprise upon seeing me in running clothes (or "jog togs" as my supervisor calls it) and asked me (a bit peevishly), "You actually have time for that?" I normally like to go running for 6-10 miles at a stretch, but with the 1 hr time limit I have to be sure to fit in time for a stretch and cleanup, which means (for me) less of a workout. Another problem, of course, are the unexpected meetings, emergencies, and other work-related business that pop up last minute. So, while your energy levels are at a maximum and the weather is at its' prime, the mid-day timing may not work for everybody.

Afterwork/night-
This has never worked well for me, though there are benefits. If you like having a workout buddy, nighttime tends tobe the best time to meet up. It also seems easier for most people to swing by the gym at this time. Since the gyms are packed, this could be good motivation as well.

Scientifically, your body has been working all day and burning/processing all your food intake into energy. So you have lots of fuel to keep you going. Also, your body is more efficient at converting metabolites into energy, so you're less likely to feel tired.

However, there's just something about it being the end of the day that, well, tires my mind out. I don't know about you, but after work, just want to go home, cook, eat and sleep. But again, other people may seem the afterwork workout to be a great way to burn off the daily stress and to relax.

That's my spiel for now. As many of you have pointed out, exercise at ANY time of day is beneficial, so why not get started now? Have a great workout and have fun!

The "Best" Time to Exercise- Part 1

December 7th, 2006 at 06:08 am

Despite all the debates and arguements, there really is no "one size fits all" answer. As with most "is it or isn't it good for you?" debates, results vary depending on the individual. As an avid runner,I have varied my routine several times to adjust to my changing life situations, so these are my personal observations, as well as some of the more reasonable medical evidence I've encountered.

Morning-
What better way to start your day than with an energy-boosting workout? The early release of endorphins may also pave the way to a good day. Psychologically, exercising in the morning is the best way to "get it over with." Studies have also shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to establish and maintain their routine. Egotistically, you have something to feel proud about (while people were still in bed, you were clocking in the miles on your run).

Physically, though, your body is more prone to injury at this hour. Like your mind, your body needs some time to wake up. Thus it is extremely important that you stretch and warm up prior to starting your morning workout.

As for the question as to whether you burn more fat by exercising in the AM; well, logically, if your last meal was at 7PM the night prior, then when you go exercise 12 hrs later at 7AM, it's likely there won't be as much sugars floating in the system to be converted to quick energy. So, yes, fat is the next source of energy. However, if you have ever looked at the pathway of fat metabolism, you might notice it is an arduous process. Alhough you inevitably burn off fat in a workout, your body is does so slowly. in the early morning hours, the body may not be able to burn fat as efficiently as it could be later in the day.

Despite it all, morning has my vote. The biggest reason is that I've lived in the south for many years, and the summers were so humid and hot that I had not choice but to run in the early morning- and I loved it! The air was fresh and the sunrise was a joy to watch. I loved getting my run done and then having the rest of the day to spend in the lab (bleh). Also, there was the added benefit of being able to shower and freshen up inthe comforts of home.

That's it for now. Coming soon, the pros and cons to working out at other hours of the day.

Am I Being a Grinch?

December 4th, 2006 at 04:54 pm

I chose not to participate in my company's Christmas "Pollyanna" Gift Exchange. Is it because I dislike my coworkers? Not really; I think everyone is easy to work with, though for the most part, we each stay in our offices and do our own jobs. It's just that I think sometimes gift exchanges aren't as "pollyanna-esque" as we'd imagine. I saw and heard more than a few coworkers complaining about the name of the person they drew for the gift exchange. Even going so far as to ask to exchange names. Why? Simply because of the "popularity" factor, I think. People would complain especially if they didn't know who the person was. Made me feel sad inside...then again, I might just be too sensitive towards these things.

I always try to think the best of people, which is my achilles heel because I tend to get my feelings hurt easily. Oh well, I just felt like ranting a bit here.

ING Raises Rates

December 1st, 2006 at 06:01 am

I haven't been able to keep up with these entries....but I did get an email from ING Direct which said they'd raised their savings rate ever so slightly. Now it is up to 4.5%. Here's hoping this is the start to a continuing upward trend!

Happy Friday to All!