Archive for November, 2009

Should I Pay More for an Oceanfront View?

My husband and I are traveling for the first time in years. I spent a few days looking over locations and room rates, but I’m having a hard time choosing hotel rooms. We’ll be driving around quite a bit, so we need at least three if not four hotels during our stay.

There are so many options available when choosing a hotel. Do I want a three, four or five star hotel? Do I need a queen or king sized bed? Do I want an oceanfront view?

My husband and I haven’t gone on an out of state vacation since we purchased our beach house four years ago. Since we almost never travel anywhere other than our beach house I’m tempted to choose relatively pricey hotels.

I think I’m willing to pay a higher premium on rooms at least one or two nights to get a balcony and a better view. The question is how much more am I willing to spend? In some places the cost for an ocean front room is $100 more than a view of the city. Do I really want to shell out that much money just to see the ocean from my room?

While I don’t plan on spending a ton of time in our room, I do like the idea of waking up and looking out over the water. When my husband and I honeymooned in Hawaii we sat out on our balcony almost every night, drinking cocktails and looking out over the palm trees.

So I’m torn about the decision. On one hand we haven’t taken a vacation to a place other than our beach house in nearly five years, so I think it’s okay to splurge a little. On the other hand I hate the idea of shelling out so much money on just the view.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this one. Do you think it’s worth it to pay more money for an oceanfront view?

November 30, 2009 at 4:35 AM 6 comments

Sorting Through My Gift Drawers

Rather than heading out in search of Black Friday deals this morning I riffled through my infamous gift drawers and catalogued all the items I purchased throughout the year. I’m happy to report that I have everything I need for my niece and nephew along with quite a few presents for my mom and in-laws.

I have a few rules for purchasing gifts in advance. I never, ever buy clothes. You just never know if an item will fit and most stores won’t let you take back things you bought months ago. I don’t want friends and family to be stuck with something they won’t wear so I simply avoid buying clothes. I also almost never buy music or movies. These items typically fall in price over time, so there is no sense in purchasing them in advance. (I did break this rule once when Toys-R-Us went out of business. I bought a couple of DVDs for less than $2.) I also typically avoid items that might spoil or turn sour. I once received a re-gifted bottle of perfume that smelled like vinegar, so I avoid perfume, body lotions, etc.

My most important rule when purchasing in advance is to buy items with a specific individual in mind. I won’t buy a random item on sale and then try to find someone to pawn it off on. Every item in my gift drawer is intended for a specific person.

So what can you find in my gift drawers? Well I always buy games, puzzles and books for my niece and nephew. They are still pretty young, (three and five), so I typically purchase toys I know they’ll love when I find them drastically on sale. Most of the items are craft type items, like paper dolls and make-your-own superhero costumes. I also buy them educational games and from time-to-time Barbies and Legos when prices are really, really low. I try to think very carefully about their age and tend to buy items that they’ll grow into.

My mom and mother-in-law really enjoy the holidays. So I usually buy them each some type of holiday decoration or decorative item. One year I bought cute napkin rings, another year little chip and dip plates, and this year I purchased an unbelievably cute cheese plate. You’ll also typically find a few Christmas ornaments in my gift drawer. In the past I’ve also stored pretty glove and scarf sets and blank journals and pretty pens for those family members that like to stay organized.

By focusing on purchasing gifts throughout the year I tend to save a lot more money and feel less stress around the holidays. I even got a head start on my Christmas wrapping this year. I wrapped a bunch of gifts on Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2009 at 11:10 PM 3 comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

My husband and I spent a very quiet day together celebrating Thanksgiving. We woke up late, went to the grocery store and came home to make a tasty turkey dinner. Typically we eat Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws, but it was nice to share this special day alone. We cooked all afternoon together and ate on china in our dining room. Right now I’m sitting in front of a very warm fire with the lights off and the candles on the mantle blazing. I’m so thankful to share my life with my husband.

I’m thankful for so many things. I’m thankful for my 80+ year old grandmother who is getting kinder and funnier every year, for my parents who love me unconditionally, for all the wonderful family members and friends in our lives. I’m thankful for all of the blessings and joys we’ve experienced throughout the year and even the not so wonderful events that have helped me learn and grow.

This list could go on and on, but these were the first thoughts that came to mind. I hope you all have many things to be thankful for this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2009 at 1:20 AM 1 comment

How Do You Find the Cheapest Rates on Car Rentals?

I’m almost finished planning our upcoming trips. The first trip is literally 24 hours, the second is a little over five days. I’ve booked hotels using advice from my absolute favorite website: Trip Advisor, but I still haven’t booked our car rentals. I hope to rent a convertible in Florida, which I know will blow our budget right out of the water, but hey, we’ll probably only drive over the Overseas Highway once in our lives, right?

I looked up a bunch of car rental companies, but all the prices seem to fall within the same range. Does anyone have any tricks for finding cheap car rentals? Are the coupons in the Entertainment book valuable?

My book expired in November and I’m not certain that the coupons will save me that much money compared to the advertised rates. Any suggestions?

November 24, 2009 at 4:59 AM 9 comments

The Penny Pincher’s Pantry

Bored out of my mind and stuck in a never-ending, over-the-phone survey last night I started flipping through the November issue of Ladie’s Home Journal. Much to my surprise, (I’ve only read the magazine a few times before), I and came across a couple of interesting articles. My favorite was a two-page write-up called The Penny Pincher’s Pantry.

The article includes budget-friendly recipes for every day staples like pancake mix, chocolate syrup, fresh buttermilk, jarred spaghetti sauce, taco seasoning and packaged bread crumbs. The recipes are ridiculously simple. For example, to make fresh buttermilk mix 1 tbsp of white vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup of milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes and use. The article says you can also combine 3/4 of a cup of plain yogurt with 1/4 cup of milk.

I rarely purchase buttermilk, so I tend to ignore any recipes that include it as a main ingredient. With the new found knowledge that milk and lemons will do the same trick I can pick and choose from a much wider range of dinner options.

I’m also interested in trying the taco seasoning recipe, because I absolutely hate buying those little taco packets from the grocery store. The recipe requires 4 tsp of chili powder, 1 tbsp onion powder, 2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 2 tsp paprika, 2 tsp dry oregano, 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. It says to use 2 tbsp of the seasoning for every 1 pound of beef, chicken or turkey. So I can use this mix for dinner one night and put the rest in the cupboard for another night’s dinner.

I like that these recipes allow you to control the salt and skip out on the preservatives. Since there are only nine in the list I plan on trying them all. I’m all for buying less prepackaged items. I think it keeps us healthier and cuts down on our carbon footprint.

November 20, 2009 at 9:20 PM 5 comments

All That Research and Almost Nothing to Show for It

I spent the last few days researching title insurance companies in the state of Maryland and finally decided to proceed with Stewart Title. I found a very pleasant settlement agent to handle all of our paperwork and patted myself on the back for finding a cheaper solution to the title service recommended by our lender.

After reviewing the various costs and running all the numbers I realized we’d save over $280 with the new settlement company. Almost every fee was less expensive including title searches, title insurance, settlement fees and lien releases. The new settlement agent has a few extra charges for wire services and FedEx, but even with those additional fees the total cost was still $280 less! I must admit I was tickled pink with the savings. After all, we’ve refinanced at least three times before and this is the first time I’d ever shopped around for cheaper title insurance.

Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long. I found out that our lender plans to charge us $200 to review the title work performed by the other company. Suddenly that $280 in savings dropped down to $80.

The last few days feel like a complete waste of time. Here I was trying to be proactive, trying to learn about the process and trying to make more informed decisions. Unfortunately the lender still wants a piece of our pie. While I understand the bank’s desire to protect it’s investment I cannot believe they plan to hit us with a $200 title review charge.

It seems I spent all this time researching title insurance regulations and contacting agents to save $80. While $80 is certainly not chump change it’s a drop in the bucket of our overall closing costs. Oh the frustration.

November 19, 2009 at 4:55 AM 3 comments

Shopping Around for Title Insurance

Has anyone ever shopped around for title insurance? My husband and I decided to proceed with refinancing both of our properties, but I hate the thought of paying for two more title insurance policies. I believe the title insurance on our rental home can be reissued, but I think we will need to purchase a new policy for our primary home. Our lender provided the name and quote of a title insurance company, but I’d like to shop around first to see it’s the best deal. Has anyone ever shopped around for title insurance? If so how did you go about finding and choosing the title insurance company?

November 16, 2009 at 4:45 AM 2 comments

$15 for Five New Strands of LED Christmas Lights

I’ve been eyeing new Christmas lights for the last few years. I love the energy efficiency of LEDs, but I couldn’t bear the idea of throwing away perfectly good incandescent ones. I tried to donate our old lights but I couldn’t find a donation center willing to take them. It turns out that Christmas lights are synonymous with household fires and the centers didn’t want to take on the risk of selling them to anyone. So every time my husband and I passed by Christmas displays I’d point out the LED version and say “one day we need to make the switch.”

Well that time has finally come. It turns out that Home Depot is holding a Christmas Light Trade-In now through November 15th. If you take in your old, incandescent strands they’ll take $3 off your next purchase of LED lights (up to five strands).

At my local Home Depot the customer service representative told me to take the old Christmas lights up to the register along with the new lights I wanted to purchase. The cashier counted each incandescent strand, (five in total), and deducted $3 from each of the five boxes I purchased. Just like that I walked out of Home Depot with brand new LED Christmas lights and managed to send my old ones off to be recycled. Each box was less than $3.

I know some people are skeptical of whether or not companies actually recycle, but here are the details according to the Home Depot ad:

How Lights Are Recycled:
The light bulb coupler and the socket plug are manually clipped. Three byproducts result and four categories of raw materials. Each byproduct is independently shredded for separation, returning glass HDPE plastics, and non-ferrous copper as well as ferrous steel. The prepared separated raw materials are then sent to licensed smelters for re-casting or re-molding, all in accordance with local, state and Federal statutes.

I’m really happy my husband and I made the switch.

November 14, 2009 at 4:59 AM Leave a comment

Thursday Night Link Love

Just a few of my favorite posts and articles from the last two weeks:

November 13, 2009 at 3:45 AM Leave a comment

Inexpensive Donations for Toys-for-Tots


I picked up seven games from Toys-R-Us today including Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Memory, Cooties, Don’t Break the Ice and Don’t Spill the Beans for $3.99 each. For spending $25 on Hasbro games I immediately received back a $10 gift card that is valid through December. I also mailed off a rebate for $2 on each game, for a total of $14. After subtracting the rebate and gift card from the total
I spent only $3.93 on all seven games. I plan to donate three or four of the games to Toys-for-Tots. The rest will be shipped down to our beach house for renters to enjoy.

November 11, 2009 at 4:30 AM 2 comments

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