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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?

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.

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.

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!

Rebate Time

November 28th, 2006 at 06:08 am

I know many people don't bother with MIR (mail-in rebates) but I have faith that "the system" returns my money about 99% of the time- as long as I follow instructions to a T. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered I should send out my rebate form for Comcast cable services. Their "free modem/router" promotion is due November 30th. I had to wait on mailing it because they required copies of two months cable bills, and I'd only ordered service September. Judging from some reactions to Comcast, I am a bit apprehensive they'll mess this rebate up, so I made copies of everything....but I'll try to stay optimistic.

I'm lucky I remembered this rebate. Do people have systems for tracking rebates? I do keep open rebates in a folder; my mom will write it on her calendar. Other people actually put together spreadsheets in Excel. And what do people generally do if the rebate doesn't arrive?

An Alternative Thanksgiving Meal

November 22nd, 2006 at 06:55 am

Two words: Hot pot!

My family never really held on to the turkey tradition. Most years, my aunt would bravely roast the turkey, but she is a decidely bad cook (both Chinese and American dishes) and the turkey always came out dry and tasteless (though we all love her for hosting dinners for the past 10+ years). Then somehow I took over the turkey tradition, and thanks to many cookbook consultations, my turkeys have always come out fine (whew) though it stressed me out having to rush back from school and buy all the groceries (usually one day in advance-yikes).

Unfortunately, there was never enough people to partake in the feast. These past few years, it has been just my parents and myself, sometimes my grandma (who is another horror story in and of herself). So about two years ago, my mom suggested we ditch the turkey and just make other foods. One year we made dumplings. This year will be hot pot.

Very simply, we heat up a broth (diluted chicken broth with some Chinese cooking wine), let it simmer, than throw in thinly sliced meats (they'll cook faster), shrimp, veggies, sometimes fish balls or assorted seafoods. The typical "dipping" sauce is called "sa cha" which is sort of like Asian BBQ with black bean and other spices. We crack a raw egg and mix it with the sauce.

I love hot pot because there's always the hot broth/soup to sip in between bites. Plus at the end, we throw in bean thread vermicelli (mei fun), let that soak in the soup, and then slurp it up! Yum!

I hope everyone has a safe, wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! Eat well!

Bathroom Humor

November 21st, 2006 at 06:27 am

*Warning* This really does qualify as potty humor:

Now if I haven't grossed out your morning, I wanted to hear some people's ideas on some savings in the bathroom. One concept that I could never really grasp was what to do with leftover soap slivers. Sure, the most common thought is to mush them all together into back into a gigantic blob, but that has never worked for me- the big blob simply starts disintegrating back into the individual chunks when I proceed to scrub myself.

I have thrown all the chunks into a soap dish and just kept adding water to it, but this is apparantly unsightly for guests and family. Another alternative is to throw slivers into a bottle, add water, shake the heck out of it, and use this as sort of liquid soap.

Any other ideas? Or do people find the price of liquid soap is just as cost-effective as chunka chunka bar soap?

Why you SHOULDN'T get a job

November 20th, 2006 at 03:46 pm

Found this rather, ah, interesting article the other day. I don't know exactly who this Steve Pavlina guy is, or whether he's writing tongue-in-cheek, but he has some pretty strong opinions as to why people *shouldn't* get a job:

It would help tremendously if Mr. Pavlina got off his high horse. His tone is that of disdain towards those of us "bovines" who actually hold a 9-5 job. Among other things, he uses such enlightening adjectives to describe job-holders as "morons," "idiots," and "co-slave."

His most valid take-home message is that ideally, we should earn income by providing value to others. In other words, start our own business. Well. I will be the first to admit that entreprenurship is not one of my strengths. Not everyone has the training or innate knack for it. It's not a fault or an insult; not everyone can be a doctor, or a policeman, or detective or journalist.

What Mr. Pavlina fails to emphasize is that starting your own business is a job in and of itself. He brags about making $9000 (or "update: $40,000 a month as of 10/31/06") just from his own blog/website; he also dangles the unfortunate bait by asking, "Don't you think your life would be easier if you get paid while you were eating, sleeping, and playing with your kids, too?" Then he goes on to briefly describe "passive income" via websites, investing, or starting a business (*ahem! Who the hell says starting a business is "passive???"). These are the sorts of infomercial poison that entices Americans to shell out thousands of dollars for those "lose weight fast!" diet pill scams. Imagine! You can lose weight by just taking a pill and then sitting back! You can also make money just by starting a blog and then sitting back! Watch the money pour in!

Wrong. As many of you who make income from websites or selling on Ebay or providing a "service" as a side job, it is a job in and of itself that requires some time, effort, and management. In fact, for many, these "side jobs" eventually become full time work. I cannot imagine anyone simply sitting back and having money magically pour in (though that would be nice).

Lastly, what offends me most is how he ignores and alienates those of us who work and who actually enjoy working for our corporations and companies. We choose to work a salaried job and we enjoy doing so. And in the end, that makes us feel proud, too. THough unlike Mr. Pavlina, we don't need to go insulting other people to justify our work ethic.

Happy Friday!! (and indeed it is)

November 17th, 2006 at 06:36 am

Dealing with Eloan had made me feel physically ill, so I'm ecstatic to say I FINALLY got an email response with my long-lost security answer! I have access once again! Whew ^_^

My List of 21

November 16th, 2006 at 01:31 pm

What a great way to pass time as I wait for my 500+ report to print:

1. As a child, I had frequent nosebleeds; so often, in fact, that I refused to go to sleepovers because I was so embarassed.

2. During one of my first piano recitals, I got nervous and ended up playing at warp speed, skipping all the repeats. I was on stage for less than a minute as a result!

3. I hate the taste of rootbeer

4. The first time I ever ate cream cheese (I was in 10h grade....c'mon, I grew up very Asian) I thought it was so delicious, I ended up eating three entire bagels smothered with it

5. In an attempt to "Americanize" my sister and myself, my mom used to insist we eat some sort of fast food once a week. Mostly White Castle or Roy Rogers. Funny how I can't stand that stuff now.

6. On that note, I can't stand the taste of most melons, except watermelon.

7. I also don't like cherry vanilla ice cream.

8. I learned to swim when I was little when I accidentally fell into the deep end of a swimming pool, with all my clothes on. Then you couldn't get me out of the water!

9. I don't believe this story, but my parents almost took the wrong baby home! There was a couple with the same last name as us who had a baby boy at the same hospital where I was born. My dad said he realized something was wrong when he noted how loud that baby was....I was a very quiet baby who rarely cried.

10. I'm still very quiet and introverted

11. I still get carded. Yay, Asian genes.

12. Thanks to my mom, I obsess a bit too much about my skin/complexion. If I get a pimple, I put every homemade concoction known to fight acne onto it.

13. Unlike most women, I don't really crave chocolate. I think it tastes good, that's about it.

14. I was quite the goody-two shoes in school. One day during my senior year, two friends and I decided to leave campus for lunch. When we got back, the principal was waiting for us. My friends actually got off the hook but I didn't, I suspect, because she wanted to set an example of how "tough" she was to ALL students, even the most obedient (usually) ones

15. I've been known to lie about my education, playing it down significantly because I always felt people viewed you negatively if you sounded too smart

16. Unlike most American-born Chinese, I can speak Mandarin fluently and fool people into thinking I'm from Taiwan. However, my reading and writing level is about that of a second grader's =(

17. My family has a fear of me drowning (despite me knowing how to swim). I think that's because one time when we were rafting, I fell overboard and got swept half a mile downstream by the current. I was perfectly fine, not scared, but my dad dove in after me to try and "save" me. The last time I went boating with my sister, she kept a firm grasp of my shirt!

18. I once dislocated my jaw while yawning! As a result, I can't open my mouth too wide, something that not all my dentists quite understand.

19. I've fallen down and tore open the skin on my knees several times, one time requiring five stitches. This is from regular old RUNNING, not skateboarding or anything, mind you. People can't believe it when I say I just tripped and fell and got stitches.

20. I once got hit by a golf ball (my sister flubbed up her swing). It hit my chest area, not hard, and I was laughing up until my mom came up to me and started rubbing my breast in front of everyone!

21. I've had several boyfriends but have only been in love once.

Silver Lining of Sorts

November 15th, 2006 at 07:03 pm

I've been ranting a lot lately, really putting myself into a down mood with craptastic Eloan. Not like me to be so negative. So I want to thank everyone for taking time to leave constructive comments and support! You are a wonderful community!!

And now, to try and find some levity in all this muck, I thought I'd mention this surprise. As per one of your comments, I actually did go to www.epinions.com, to warn fellow peers about Eloan's treachery by posting my review, and also to read the other reviews of eloan (what do you know, lots of bad experiences....should have checked here first). I actually have written reviews for this website in the past, but tapered off as I got busy with school- but I still remembered my account info.

Guess what? Epinions.com actually has a reward system! You get paid (not sure what the rate is) for the number of people who read your reviews. As people rate your review, you also earn money. Seems similar to how people can generate income from website traffic. Without me even realizing it, my account actually had a balance of a little over $10! Granted, I've had my account at epinions for two years, but since I hadn't gone out and vigorously networked/tried to direct attention to my reviews, I'm surprised I even earned that money.

I'm not saying this is some goldmine opportunity. But if you like writing and you like giving your opinions on products, movies, restaurants, websites (ahem, Eloan) etc... then it might be worth your while to put some reviews up and earn a little bit of cash.

Eloan Saga Continues....and Tips on How to Deal with Customer Service

November 15th, 2006 at 01:36 pm

Today, during my lunch hour, I called Eloan once again, just set my phone to speaker and tried to work while being on hold. The first person who answered, a woman who definitely had not had her morning coffee (remember, it was 9AM on the West Coast when I called) picked up after about 15 minutes. I half-exasperated/half jokingly said, "Finally! A human!" which I think set her off because she was very unhelpful. Took my SSN but didn't ask the other questions to verify it really was "me" (the usual mother's maiden name, date of birth, etc) so now I don't even know if she was really helping me at all. I explained my situation but got silence, then I got impatient and reprimanded their customer service, to which her responses were, "These queries take time," and "we're not here working 24/7 like you think we are." I asked if it always took weeks to respond and she actually said, "Sometimes." I then asked to speak to a manager or supervisor and was immediately transferred to someone's voicemail. It could've been the mailman's for all I know. I left a message, then called back.

Second lady answered and was helpful, maybe not sympathetic, but she did try to help. This time, I got her name and asked for a number or extension to reach her at. She seemed a bit put off by this, but gave me a different toll free # from which I've been calling....in the end, though, all she could do was put in yet another IT request ticket (ooooh this one will be marked URGENT!) and then get back to me "in one business day." To that, I laughed. I couldn't help it. Then it was sort of like, "OK....bye." Ended with a whimper, not a bang so to speak.

I'm in a Catch-22 at this point; in order to access my account (and money) I HAVE to go through customer service. So that means more phone calls, more waiting....

However, from this experience, I am learning ways to deal effectively with customer service....some are from mistakes:
-Don't lose your temper. No one likes to be yelled at.
-Keep words simple. Customer service isn't going to care if you have fantastic vocab. They just want you to state your problem as succinctly as possible. They really just want to transfer you onto someone else's head, which leads me to...
-Try and phrase things so it sounds like you want to work with them to find a solution. This is tricky because I think it's natural to believe that "asking" for help or cooperation is less effective than ordering or making demands.
-Get as much personal info as possible. I should've done this. At least, next time you call, you can throw some name(s) around. On a psychological basis, it might put some responsibility onto that person's head, forcing them to get involved now that I know their name.

Eloan My A@# (this is a rant)

November 14th, 2006 at 04:08 pm

Once upon a time, maybe a month ago, I blithely opened an Eloan savings account. Call it stupidity, call it basic human error, but I did not note my security answer. Little did I know, this would be the start of all evils....

It turns out that to make ANY transaction at Eloan, you need to type in that answer. Either my clumsy butterfingers slipped and inadvertently inserted a typo somewhere, or I just can't remember the damn order of upper/lower case letters, but bottom line is, I can't remember my answer.

So, what to do? After getting frozen out of my account for mistyping three times, I called the 1-866- number. Ok, turns out you can only call them during business hours (Pacific Time) so I had to wait the entire weekend. No problem. I called and got the inevitable wait....and wait....and wait...and (15 minutes later) wait....finally got a human on the line, who unlocked my account. So I tried again. Minutes later, I'm frozen out again. Alright, I call once more but this time never get a human on the line.

Next choice is to send a Secure Message which will be answered "in one business day." THAT IS THE MOST BLATANT LIE IN HISTORY OF CUSTOMER SERVICE. I did not hear back from them until 4 days later....that's actually record time, because all they did was unlock my account, not reset my security answer (or even acknowledge that) as I'd requested. Back to the phones....got a human being after 5 minutes (woah!). She unlocked mya ccount again, then "promised" to send my request to the IT department, who would "respond in one business day." FIVE days later (I have much patience) no response. And, of course, I've locked myself out once more, trying to see if I can unlock my security answer on my own.

Phone call....email....it's been nearly a MONTH since I first contacted Eloan with this problem. The last human I've spoken to was back on November 2nd. He even sent a follow-up email, again with that promise to get the situation fixed in one or two days. I've sent them three emails and just tried calling them yesterday and today. Guess what? 25 minutes of waiting each time and not a human to be found!

I'm lucky I don't need that money, it was just my savings that I'd hoped to add to, to take advantage of that high interest rate. Now I think I'd be lucky to even SEE that money again.

This is my warning to you...Maybe it is my fault in the end, but customer service should not be this horrid PERIOD.

My House Fund

November 13th, 2006 at 04:47 pm

I have decided to start saving for a house- "my house", oh how nice those words sound. Right now, I live in a tiny box of an apartment, and it seriously does not feel like living. I love the idea of having furniture (right now I have the bed and an old sofa) and actual ROOMS to entertain guests. Right now, my "rooms" consist of the various corners of my apartment, and then there's the bathroom and tiny alcove kitchen. I have $30,000 in readily accessible funds, and maybe another $10,000 that I can scrounge up from recalling CDs and stuff (though I don't want to touch that) but I think I should still work/save for the next year or so. It'll be much easier to apply for and earn a loan, plus I'll have more of a safety net, so that 100% of my paychecks won't be going towards paying off the mortgage.

I told my parents this while we were eating lunch Saturday. I'd paid for lunch, but my mom had contributed $5, which wasn't used. She insisted I keep it, and said, half jokingly, "This can go into your house savings."

Every dollar helps!

Airline Tickets

November 11th, 2006 at 01:33 pm

Just a personal observation; the price of airline tickets seems to be fluctuating like crazy these days. I think that's a good sign since thus far, it's been a downward trend. I have to book a flight to Detroit in December and I'm hoping to spend less than $200 total. Seems feasible, since I saw AirTran advertising a price of $183 (for November, though). I don't think Michigan is a "hot" Winter travel destination....I should probably stop procrastinating and book my flight already!

Coinstar Update

November 9th, 2006 at 11:35 am

For those who care, I thought I'd share my *little* experience with ye olde Coinstar machine. Blasted technology! Anyway, so I went for a walk during lunch to the nearby Acme, wherein resided one Coinstar machine. There were multiple signs posted around and on the machine, reassuring the customer that there were NO FEES!!! if you redeemed your coins for a gift card. As if to drive the point home (and encourage people) this was repeated on many of the touchscreens that guided me through the process. The machine counted my coins perfectly, to the exact dollar, then after I chose my amazon.com gift card, it showed one last time that they would reimburse me the full $25 for the gift card.

And then, the "please wait while your transaction is being processed" AKA New Screen of Death showed. So I waited, and waited, about 1-2 minutes, before I got a nice, new screen that told me, "This machine experienced an error and cannot process your gift card. We regret the inconvenience. Please be assured your money/transaction will still be processed" (or something to that effect to say they hadn't eaten my coins for nothing). Next thing I knew, it spat out a voucher for $22.78. So not only did I not get the full value gift card, but the transaction had been considered a "coin counting" transaction, and Coinstar had swallowed their tidy 8-9% commission.

I tried to remain calm about it. Since the voucher clearly stated it must be redeemed at that Acme within the same day, I took it to customer service. I phrased my complaint to say I'd attempted to redeem for a full value gift card, but had gotten my coins sorted/counted instead, and I'd like to get the remaining $2.22. The woman tried to help me by calling Coinstar and explaining the situation and Coinstar rep did agree that I should get the full amount since it was a machine error. However, for whatever reason, Acme could not give me the $2.22 and I have to wait for Coinstar to send me a check to that amount.

The Acme lady then told me the reason the transaction failed was most likely due to the fact the machine uses the store phone line to call out to the Coinstar HQ/computer core, to process everything. And if that line is busy (ie; a cashier is running a credit card transaction?) then the machine fails to complete the transaction.

So...overall, I'm not happy with Coinstar, but I think some of it is the fault of that Acme store. I have no doubt I will receive the check in the mail, which for me isn't the biggest inconvenience to not get all my money at once, but Coinstar failed to give me what I'd wanted in the first place. I think in the future, I'll look to other options as suggested by you, the readers, such as banks and credit unions who offer free coin counting; or maybe I'll make a donation; or maybe just chuck it into a fountain and make lots of wishes!


November 8th, 2006 at 09:43 am

You've probably seen these machines already in some local supermarket- mean, green, coin counting machines. I watched
Coinstar in action once when a friend emptied out his big tin of coins. His reward was a cash voucher good for use at only at that same supermarket. I also noticed a 10% commission fee, which I felt was pretty hefty. It has been brought to my attention now that Coinstar offers other payout options, some of which do NOT take a commission fee. The goodies include gift cards to Starbucks, Borders or Waldenbooks, itunes; or "ecertificates" to amazon.com (and other retailers that I'm forgetting). I am debating between getting a Starbucks card (a personal indulgence reward) or the amazon.com reward that will be useful for Christmas shopping. Hmmm....

Overall, I feel Coinstar has made the right move in the right direction. Instead of being just a conduit for those who are too lazy to count up loose change in their piggy banks (and ending up costing you some money to boot) you now get a useful counting service that reimburses you 100% for all those pennies and nickels (and quarters/dimes) that you so faithfully saved in the jar.

Pay Day and Random Ramblings

November 7th, 2006 at 04:47 pm

I totally forgot today was Payday! I immediately set out to pay my credit cards (I always pay the full amount), then mentally subtracted out $1000 to cover rent + utilities. That still leaves me about $1000 to "play" with- and the best part is, we get paid again on the 22nd. The rent isn't due until end of the month, so I could transfer the whole $1000 into my Ing and/or eloan savings accounts. I'm also pretty happy because I got notice that one of my CDs is maturing, which is perfect timing to cover my upcoming trip to a friend's wedding.

I've slowed down on the spending- whew! Already have my mom's Christmas gift, and have been getting creative collecting little things to put together as gifts for friends. For example, Sephora was having this goodie bag promotion where they give 11 sample items + bag with a $50 purchase. I also have been slowly but surely "deconstructing" and taking apart some old jewelry and reusing the parts as "new" pieces. Oh, and of course I'm going to bake cookies. Makeup, some bling, and sweets- perfect girly gifts ^^ I also have the perfect packaging- these cute, foam bags that were on sale in the $1 section of Target. I'm so glad I started Christmas shopping early

Service with a smile?

November 6th, 2006 at 05:09 pm

One day; two different cashiers and contrasting attitudes/exchanges.

The first- rude cashier at the local bagel store. I only had $5 and sandwiches cost $4.85 +tax, so I could only opt for a bagel. She asked if I wanted cream cheese and I glanced at the prices. Couldn't help but do a double take when I noticed that the additional cream cheese made the price jump from 60 cents to nearly $3! I asked how much plain cream cheese cost and the cashier huffed really loudly and didn't answer. She kept rolling her eyes as I told her, just a plain bagel, please. Yes, I even used "please." She then snatched my $5 and gave me a bunch of change....in loose coins. I again nicely asked if she had any bills instead and again I got the eye roll, the huge sighs, and the "You Piss Me Off" attitude. She dumped the handfull of coins in my hand(s); I again asked if I could have bills instead, and this time the woman SLAMS the button, ejecting the coin drawer out at high velocity, grabs my coins (dropping a bunch on the counter and floor) and then gives me bills. What a horrible woman. Thankfully, I saw the deli helper wrap my bagel, so the cashier didn't have a chance to spit on it or anything.

The second- supermarket cashier. It is the after work rush, there are two people in line in front of me who had rough transactions. One guy tried to pay for a carton of eggs with a very large bill, and the cashier girl had to get extra change; guy gets angry at the delay. Next, a woman tries to pay with a credit or debit card. Does it too fast before the whole transaction is done, so is asked to swipe it again. Woman throws a fit at the poor cashier. Then, me; I expected a sullen, pissed off cashier but instead, the girl smiles and greets me! She rings up one of my items but the sale price does not show up. I kindly asked about it and the girl redid it, giving me the correct price. At the end of the whole transaction, she even says to me, "I like your coat!"

Service with a smile; such a forgotten concept. So cherish those small moments when you encounter them.

Dumpster Diving: Yay or Nay?

November 2nd, 2006 at 05:30 pm

Wow, after the response from my last posting (in case you missed it, I was questioning whether I could still use my student ID to get discounts) it seems there are many strong opinions out there about the ethics of frugality! Just to perpetuate the fun, and hopefully open the floor to some good discussion, I thought I'd throw a new topic out. So, the topic for today is dumpster diving.

Personally, I am conservative about this and would only pick up someone elses' "trash" if it happened to be something I really needed; for example, someone in my old apartment complex threw out some nice woven baskets and I took them, cleaned them a bit, and used to for storage and even as gift packaging. But that's about as far as I'd go. In other words, if it's out on the curb, and no one is around AND it is something I will use, then I'll (timidly) take it.

I have read stories of some peoples' amazing dumpster finds- expensive, working computer and computer parts as well as electronics found in the dumpsters of those well known electronic giant superstores, for example. Incredible....and a bit worrisome, in my mind. Again, if the person needed to fix their computer, or their friends, and they found the working part in the dumpster, then I am less conflicted about it. But if they are just grabbing this stuff and reselling it to make a profit....eh....ok, I sort of see it as an act of "revenge," sort of "sticking it to the man" (or in this case, electronics store) and beating them at their own game. Still....

What I find intolerable is when dumpster divers take advantage of the situation. There are certain people who scour yard sales and the like with only the intent of reselling things for profit. On one forum, I was angered when one woman bragged about returning to people's yard sales when they were over, offering to buy up all their unsold clothing for a ridiculously low price (like $1) and then going straight to ebay or a thrift store to make a profit. Smart, some people will say. I say, sordid. What about donating that bag of clothing to the homeless or battered women's shelter? What if the family holding the garage sale needed that cash to pay some debts or bills?

Every dumpster diver has their own story and situation. I'd be interested to know what other people think.

Is this cheating?

November 1st, 2006 at 06:21 am

During my starving graduate school years, I learned the value of asking for student discounts. The most obvious (and used) place for this was at the movie theatre, where we paid only $6.50 as opposed to $8 (still overpriced methinks). One thing I was pleased to discover was local restaurants and even some take-out pizza/fast food places would throw us poor, hungry students a small (10-20%) discount. But the biggest Plus for me was using my student ID to get discount tickets to events (sports, concerts, clubs). Many times, prices would be slashed by 50%!

Now, a student no longer but still retaining my out of state student ID, I am wondering if I can still get away with the discounts. There is a classical performance in New Brunswick (let me know if anybody wants to attend with me!) and I am tempted to see if I can get away with using this "trick." I'd most likely be asked why I am in NJ if I'm allegedly attending Duke University, and I could lie and say I'm just visiting for the weekend. Am I being silly for pondering the ethical issues of lying? Or am I being smart? Or cheap, trying to shave off some costs of a $22 ticket?

***Thanks for the comments! I wasn't comfortable with the idea to begin with and this confirms my moral beliefs ^_^

About Cooking

October 31st, 2006 at 06:02 am

I sometimes get brain farts and can't think of what else to write. So I'll write about cooking and some tips I've discovered:

-Use garlic. In everything. Even when cooking veggies.
-The microwave can be used to steam fish. My mom taught me to rub fish down with some salt, cover it with scallions, ginger, and gaaaaaaaarlic, cover with saran wrap and then nuke it. Yummy! (and healthy)
-The rice cooker doubles as a steamer; sometimes there will be an insert pan that sits on top, Other times, just improvise by putting a plate on top of an overturned bowl
-That big pile of veggies you cut up, esp. spinach or cabbage, will end up shriveling up and reducing in size by about half once you cook it. So don't be afraid to "over estimate" veggies
-A quick sauce for veggies that my family used for veggie dishes was simply some cornstarch dissolved in water with salt. It forms that viscous, clear sauce that you see in some Chinese dishes


October 29th, 2006 at 03:22 pm

A "big" spending weekend; always hard to plan how much cash I should carry when I go into the city. I try to charge whatever I can (train tickets, meals) and save the cash for cover charges, drinks and tips. My friends and I usually try to plan our night out by going to restaurants and clubs that are within close proximity to each other, saving on subway or cab fare; not to mention, one of them is always smart to check the club's schedule and find out when clubs are having no cover and/or drink specials). I ended up staying overnight at my friend's dorm. Checking my wallet, I was pleased to see "total damage" was only about $50 give or take (plus the $18 train ticket charged to credit card). I returned back to NJ by train, only to discover my car had gotten ticketed for being left overnight in the train station parking lot. Grrr. Now, I shouldn't have gotten ticketed; there ARE certain parking lots (the commuter ones) that have signs up prohibiting 24hr parking (then again, you could argue and ask them how they know it was 24 hrs and not just 12 hours/overnight). But the place I parked was the remote, overflow lot, where there are no such signs posted; I've even parked here in the past and left it overnight (even two days once when I had to go on a trip). So this ticket makes me upset. Most likely I'll get it revoked, but after long phone calls and tons of waiting on the line for a real voice to speak to.

One Year Ago....

October 27th, 2006 at 06:44 am

I was finishing writing up my thesis; my professor had accepted a new position and was playing politics and "reorganizing" (meaning kicking us out) the lab. I was stressing because I still had one paper "submitted" but not yet published, and I would've liked to have it published so I'd have some additional support for when my committee convenes to decide if I can graduate on time. In the midst of this stress, my relationship with my boyfriend was falling apart. Basically, he moved, I stayed. End of story, though we did try the long distance thing.

Financially, I wasn't even really thinking about the future. I received a stipend as a graduate student, and I'm happy to say saved a good chunk of it by making automatic deposits into savings. I had no student loans to pay off, my car was all paid for. So I really haven't faced any sorts of hardships.

Fast forward to teh present. Still renting, still have a significant chunk of cash in savings that I don't feel like touching. Don't need to, since I'm bringing in a regular paycheck. Am enrolled automatically in the company 401K/pension plan. Basically....I still don't feel any financial hardship. I suppose that's why I'm challenging myself to save up for a house or townhouse next year....the next step is to tackle mortgage jargon and that sort of thing.

*Sigh* It's tough transitioning to "adulthood" =)

Useful Kitchen Gadgets

October 26th, 2006 at 06:42 am

I used to scoff at the aisle in the Asian grocery store that sold the cheap-looking household/kitchen stuff (who wants a waving Lucky Cat statue?), but recently, after my electric thermos died, I found myself skulking down that very aisle, glancing with envy at the Tiger, Tatung, and assorted Japanese versions that were out of my desired price range. I also discovered that, aesthetics aside, the aisle actually contains some rather useful kitchen gadgets and tools at very reasonable prices. They may be pink or covered with Sanrio (hello kitty!) cartoons, but they do the same job and cost less than those glistening versions at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Some useful/cool finds:
-splatter guard- a big round screen with a handle that you use to cover your pan when cooking to prevent grease from spitting out and ruining your nice shirts (my poor blue blouse when I was making pork chops)
-long handle wire basket "dippers"- I don't know what they are, but we use them for hot pot, to fish yummy bits of meat and veggies from a boiling broth. The bigger sizes are useful for fishing boiled dumplings out of the cooking water.
-I don't even know WHAT to call this thing, but it has expandable "claw" that you can use to grab the edges of a plate and lift it. My family used to steam things in the rice cooker, so we'd use it to lift the plate out rather than burning our fingers (more on improvised steamers in a future entry).

Coffee Ice

October 25th, 2006 at 05:50 am

This is one of the best tips I've ever heard: Pour leftover coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. Use them in iced coffee (when they melt, they won't dilute the flavour)!

Save me....

October 24th, 2006 at 04:46 pm

Goal next year around this time: buy a townhouse or a house!

So now I'm going to concentrate on some safe short term investments for now. That means I'm taking money out of my brokerage, TDAmeritrade and putting it temporarily into the eloans savings to earn the 5.5% interest; my money in Ing will probably will go into a 1yr CD with Ing or elsewhere; and finally, will open a new Bank of America account and earn the $100 bonus- it has to be done anyway, since I have to transfer my North Carolina account to NJ.

Eloan or -----?

October 23rd, 2006 at 07:05 am

Eloan has jumped to the forefront of internet savings rates, now offering 5.5% with a minimal balance of $5000. I have had my savings sitting in IngDirect for the past 5 years and now am sad to see how far behind they're lagging (only earning about 4.3%). I'm tempted to open this new savings account....but I'm hesitant because what if this starts the vicious cycle where I am constantly opening a new savings account as new banks start competing to raise their interest rates? Would I be better off putting money into a CD- something that offers a definite future deadline to decide where to allocate my savings, taking into consideration my changing financial needs?

Help! I also don't want to become some crazy person, worrying too much about the "best" place for my money and keeping a frantic eagle eye on interest rates...

A Sorta Savings Weekend

October 22nd, 2006 at 03:41 pm

Ok, so I found my mom a cashmere sweater for Christmas- online, though, so there's always inherent risk of it being a shoddy product. Also, after speaking with her, it seems I may have jumped the gun a bit; she was telling me how she liked purple or teal blue colors for the fall. I had bought her a black sweater. Err. Well, it's still early enough to return and search for other gifts.

I know I vowed to hold off on "me" spending, and I've been good, not having lusty dreams (haha) about a certain handbag. But this weekend I dropped by one of the great thrift stores in Trenton, NJ, and came away with two pairs of boots and two awesome (if I do say so myself) plaid wool skirts for $20 total! The skirts were definitely a good find- I noticed a couple of women "stalking" me as I was holding onto the skirts. An aisle later, one of the women came to talk with me- very nicely, I might add- asking if I was really going to purchase the skirts. I almost felt like giving one to her! But...oh....I admit, I was a grinch. In the thrift shopping world, it really is finders keepers.

Otherwise, spent money on gas (lucky car) and was going to finally buy a spare tire for my car, but my dad told me he had an extra tire! All I had to do was come get it. So smart, dad, a way to get me to come visit =)

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